Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Last Year's Words


In these days that end the old year, many people I speak to talk of how difficult or stressful 2010 has been. They have all experienced endings: deaths of loved ones, both human and furry; divorces or relationship endings; ending bad habits or moving from a house they've lived in for thirty years or a job they thought they'd never leave.

As sad and heartrending as many of these endings are, endings are simply a way for the old to make way for the new.

As the great poet T S Eliot says:

"These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
By others, as I pray you to forgive
Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten
And the full-fed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from."
                from “Little Gidding” (Quartet No 4)

I wish you a new year of more beginnings than endings; beginnings that are sung in a fresh and hopeful voice. May 2011 be a year of peace and love for both ourselves and our world.

Free Image from ClipArt

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you a PURRFECT Christmas!


Picasso I am not, but occasionally I feel the urge to turn my hand to art. I enjoy it more than my writing, probably because I know I'm not very good, and so I just draw for the fun of it. I don't try to be original. My art is usually a mish-mash of simple drawings or paintings that catch my eye (this painting was inspired by a long-ago drawing I saw on the web somewhere, but I can't remember where!). When I write I agonise over every word; I seek perfection. When I draw or paint I happily splash away and don't care a bit if a line is skew or the perspective off. 

HRH Theodora insisted I draw a Christmas Cat, so the watercolour feline above is my wish for you and yours during this festive season: may you all have a Christmas that is simple, sloppy and a little bit of a surprise.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Real Men Aren't Violent

When blogging friend Damaria Senne put the call out for guest posts on the Shukumisa website to highlight the 16 Days Activism Against Gender Violence, my mouth volunteered before my head thought about it. As the deadline crept closer and closer and inspiration still failed to descend, I said to Damaria that my "problem" is that (thank heavens) I'm surrounded by wonderful men. How could I write about something I hadn't experienced? Damaria came back with an important statement. 'Write about your good men,' she said, 'to show that there are good men in this world. The 16 days is not about demonising men; it's about helping women.'

And so I wrote about the real men in my life. You can read the article by clicking HERE or reading it below:

REAL MEN AREN’T VIOLENT by Judy Croome

Who are the most important men in a woman’s life? Father, lovers, husband and sons. No matter what the culture, in the best of myths, the males in the family stand ready to protect and guard the well-being of the female family members.

In reality, it happens too often that these same men are the ones who are the cause of violence against women.  It always shocks me when I read about the so-called “honour killings”, where men—in the sacred name of their God—are allowed to (let’s be brutally honest) legally murder their women for ridiculous reasons such as falling in love with a man of a different religion, or choosing to wear sexy clothes. What’s honourable about violence against women? Nothing!

I’ve been blessed with a life surrounded by men who truly know the meaning of honour.  Never have any of the men I love as family or friends lifted a hand in violence to me.

My husband is a highly intelligent and highly educated man. He is sensitive and caring, but strong and protective at the same time. There is a moment that stands out in my memory as being unforgettable; it forged my love for him in steel.

Left: My husband, Beric, preparing for SWC 2010

Recently married, my big mouth (again) got me into trouble. This time with a very large, very aggressive and very angry man in a bakkie. This Izuzu-man cut the corner, nearly taking me with him. Because I’ve never experienced violence from men, I felt safe enough to call him a few choice words…and then I got the fright of my life when he slammed on brakes, scrambled over the hood and made straight for me with fists waving.

And my husband, my cry-in-sad-movies husband who practically faints at the sight of blood, pushed me aside, stepped in between me and the oncoming maniac, looked a long way up at him and said “Leave my wife alone!” The man, as bullies tend to do when faced with a greater inner strength, slunk back to his vehicle, swearing fluently.

But, I can hear you say, the privilege of your husband’s education is what’s given him the edge. Poverty, lack of education and domestic violence are the breeding ground of gender violence.

Not so.

My father left school in Std 6. That was the year he finally stopped hiding in the cupboard his mother had shoved him and his siblings into to protect them from their violent, alcoholic father.  Eventually, my Dad could no longer bear to hear the sounds of domestic violence against his mother. He sprang out of the cupboard, overcame his drunken father and warned him never to raise a hand to any of them again. That was the same day he left school and went out to work so that his mother and siblings could have food to eat and money to finish their education.
Left: My Dad (IB Heinemann) in working gear, 1968

Without education for himself, my Dad’s life was physical. He was a brilliant sportsman and he gained respect as a rough, tough mining man, willing to lead the most dangerous rescue attempts or bring the gold up from the deepest, most difficult gullies.

Do you still say violence against women is bred in poverty and lack of education? How then do you explain that, in the eight-three years of his life, no matter how angry any of his womenfolk have made him (and, believe me, we’ve tested him many times, like when he caught me smoking…, uh, something that wasn’t quite legal) my Dad has never, and I mean never, raised a hand in anger towards any of us?

These men I am privileged to love have two things in common: faith and honour.  Their sacred gods take different shapes; my father is a traditional Christian, while my intellectual husband is a Gnostic. But their honour springs from the same inner strength, the kind that gives their womenfolk the freedom to be everything we can or want to be.

Now that’s what I call real men.

Not all women are as privileged or as blessed as I am. Every day, women from all religions and all walks of life are being subjected to horrifying acts of violence; sometimes in the name of religion; at other times, out of the sheer brutality of weak men who resort to violence to “prove” their masculinity.

I hope that the example of these two special men can inspire other men to rise above the need to use violence as a tool of oppression against women.  And I hope that women the world over come to know that we must not follow the example of weak men: violence is never an answer to violence; gentleness and love are the only legacies worth striving for.

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Judy Croome is a writer based in Johannesburg.  Learn more about Judy at www.judycroome.blogspot.com.


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Monday, 6 December 2010

Meeting Nathaniel

This is why I love living in the new South Africa.  As I drove to our local store (called Pick & Pay) I saw a gorgeous example of the national pride that was so prevalent during the Soccer World Cup 2010:
Nathaniel's home is in Mphumalanga, as can be seen from the MP numberplate

He also has a makarapa (soccer hat), which he doesn't wear when driving because it affects his steering.
The badge Nathaniel is wearing shows that he is a member of the well-respected Zionist Christian Church, which has one of the largest congregations in South Africa

Despite the cuddly evidence to the contrary, Nathaniel assured me he was a staunch supporter of Bafana Bafana (our Soccer Team) and the Amabokkebokke (Springbokke Rugby Team)

Traffic in Johannesburg can get busy; Nathaniel can make himself heard

Africa is a place of vast distances and transport can be a problem.
Nathaniel displays his pride in his own vehicle

Here's wishing Nathaniel many happy travels on his beautiful bicycle!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Bush Snacks

Food is one of life's great pleasures. In the African bush, though, it's not so much a pleasure as hard work. Many years ago we saw a python with its recent kill of impala. It was awe-inspiring watching this snake devour its much larger prey. But, out of respect for the python's hard work, we didn't take photos as the noise of the shutter opening would have scared the python into regurgitating its hard-won meal, and it may have been weeks before it had another successful hunt.

On our recent trip to the Pilansberg Game Reserve we didn't see anything quite as unusual, but we did get to see some interesting bush snacks.

Leopard Tortoise : This little fellow had a feast on a pile of calcified dung it found. Because their camouflage is so clever, these tortoises are not easy to spot. We were lucky enough to have twenty minutes in his (or her) company.

Tucking in with gusto (notice the little pink tongue)












Holding the food steady
Taking a big bite
We were also lucky enough to see a Pied Kingfisher catch its morning snack.
A successful dive. The fish, stunned by being slapped against the branch, was almost as big as the bird itself.
Swallowing food whole isn't a good idea...unless you're a kingfisher!

We were too late to see the actual lions, but this is the remains of a day old zebra kill. You can clearly see the ribs picked clean by the vultures and other scavengers.

This fellow grubbing around for food is not a rare sight; warthogs are common enough in most game reserves. However, this old man had such an impressive set of tusks, I had to include a photo of him.

The bush holds so many pleasures - from the susurration of the warm wind through the dry pale grass to the raucous "go-way, go-way" cry of the grey loeries - that it's hard to say what draws me back time and time again. Perhaps it's because I never know what we'll see next. Or perhaps it's simply that, in the bush, primal and serene, time stands still and the soul is restored.

All photos by Beric or Judy Croome

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Eyes Wide Open and Letters to a Young Poet

“Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke

By turns inspiring and challenging, this collection of letters from the lyrical poet Rilke to an aspiring poet offers wise insights on more than just a career as a writer. Solitude, life, love, faith, sorrow, pain, healing and work are all explored with a sincerity that rings through the words, leaving echoes in the soul that offer comfort and encouragement.

Not everyone will enjoy the philosophical meanderings as Rilke gently attempts to guide a young stranger into a deeper, more meaningful experience of life.

I did enjoy them; at times, his words affirmed life experiences I’ve had for myself. I’ve learnt to accept my strong desire for solitude: Rilke speaks of solitude as an essential part of the human condition. He says, “The necessary thing is after all but this: solitude, great inner solitude.”

At other times, Rilke’s words illuminated interesting perceptions, as when he touched on feminism in Letter Seven. Written in 1904, modern feminism was in its birth throes. Rilke concludes his observations with the belief that feminism will reshape the love-experience “into a relation that is meant to be of one human being to another, no longer man to woman…the love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.”

His poetic genius lies in that, with his tender and compassionate answer to the fears and lonely doubts that haunt so many, he pre-empted many of the “new age” authors of today by nearly a hundred years. His struggle and his sincerity are obvious; this adds piquancy to what was then a different way of looking at life. Even today, one can find in this book much to linger over. Click HERE to buy.

Einaym Pkutot (EYES WIDE OPEN) (DVD Review)

In a far more subtle and heartrending way than “Brokeback Mountain” (because the stakes were higher), this DVD follows the love story of two men from a Jewish orthodox community in Jerusalem.

When student Ezri (the delicious Ran Danker) runs away from his yeshiva (religious college), happily married father-of-four and rabbi, Aaron, gives him a job and a home. The power in this movie lies in Aaron seeing his struggle to overcome his forbidden desire for Ezri as a spiritual challenge to bring him closer to his God.

The superb acting from all cast members and the sensitive direction by Haim Tabakman raised thought-provoking questions around sexuality and religion, hypocrisy and fanaticism. Without relying on the melancholic self-indulgence of “Brokeback Mountain”, “Eye Wide Open” delicately highlights the struggle of forbidden love without sitting in judgement. The intensity of their growing feelings, juxtaposed with their deep faith and their place in a society strictly controlled by highly defined ideas of good and evil, ratchets up the tension.

However, one area where I felt the film didn’t quite live up to its own beauty was in the rather abrupt change in Reb Aaron’s feelings at the end. This didn’t detract from the poignancy of the ending, and makes one realise that death is not only physical, but also spiritual. Click HERE to buy.

If you enjoy "Eyes Wide Open", another BRILLIANT Israeli movie is THE BUBBLE, but only watch it if you're comfortable with fairly explicit same-sex love scenes (which, in both movies, are done with taste and exquisite sensitivity). "The Bubble" is about Ashraf, a Palestinian illegal immigrant to Tel Aviv, and Noam, a Jewish  anti-war protestor, falling in love. I cried my eyes out. The movie explores the young friends and lovers struggle to bring peace to a region, which has been at war for thousands of years, and was told with humour, insight and objectivity.

Where "Eyes Wide Open" is spiritually complex, "The Bubble" is politically complex. Both are outstanding.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Short story published on-line

One of my short stories was recently chosen for publication in the e.07 edition of an on-line magazine called "ITCH". 

Click on Born Beneath a Balsamic Moon to read about loss and grief and new beginnings.

In evolutionary astrology (I did evolutionary astrology charts for about 15 years, before stopping it last year to concentrate on my writing), the balsamic moon phase is when the moon is darkest, just before the sliver of the new moon begins to ripen in the night sky. Any person who is born beneath a balsamic moon phase is in a releasing cycle of evolution.

In its monthly cycle, the waxing balsamic phase suggests a time to rest, heal and release the lessons of the past. In the waning blasamic phase the time has come to look forward to a new future.

I hope the astro-speak above gives some added meaning to the text. If you're interested, the Irish poet WB Yeats was a gifted astrologer. Click here for an interesting discussion on some of his poetry linked to the phases of the moon.
I took this quick snap of the crescent moon on 13th August 2010.
If you look very closely you can see Venus to the bottom right.
The real view was much brighter than this.
Enjoy the story!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

An Open Door

Last year in June  my "furbaby" Josephina passed away. From the tiny kitten I cuddled in the palm of my hand, she grew into a rather large love machine. She became my shadow.  If I was working, I was ignoring her, so she'd jump up on my desk and casually spread herself across the keyboard. When she died at fourteen, I was devastated. After so many years with her, I couldn't imagine how I was going to cope without my furry attachment to comfort me, cuddle me and rule me with a paw of iron.

Little did I know that her big sister Theodora was waiting for her turn! Since Josephina has gone, Theodorable has blossomed. While she doesn't have her late sister's boisterous, extrovert personality - in keeping with her highly pedigreed ancestral line that contains many champions and grand champions - Theodora is fairly reserved, highly strung and, at times, disdainful. As an only furkid, she has come out of her shell, and I've discovered her delightfully gentle, playful and loving side.


I still have company when I work (see above) and I'm still ruled by a (regal) paw of iron. I love it and hope that, having just celebrated Theodorable's 15th birthday, I still get to share many a working day with her.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: When one door closes, another always opens.

Theodorable (also known as H.R.H.) in a regal pose. 


Theodorable (15) thinking she's a kitten with her new teddy toy!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Report back on Basic Editing Course

This past week I went on a three-day Basic Copy Editing and Proofreading Course run by the Cape Town based company McGillivray Linnegar Associates. Looking at the other side of writing was a fascinating experience and, although the course focused mainly on training the participants to become freelance editors of non-fiction, as a fiction writer I did learn some interesting tips and hints that I hope will tighten up my own writing.

When I attend a course, I always think that if I've come away with just one benefit or new skill, I've had my money's worth. I came away from this course with so much new knowledge my mind is reeling. I still have to sift through it at a leisurely pace to fully appreciate all the benefits.

In the immediate aftermath of the course, I know that there are two skills I've fallen in love with: the house style sheet and proofreading marks. These two editing skills will prove invaluable, particularly when revising the first draft of my next novel (which I'm gearing up to begin writing in early January 2011).

The house style sheet is a document drawn up at the beginning of a book project and helps keep track of decisions about style and grammar. For example, is this book going to be edited according to Oxford or Chicago style manuals? Is 'old fashioned' going to be treated as 'old-fashioned' or 'old fashioned'? Are ages going to be written as fifty or 50? As you make these decisions, you record them on the house style sheet and when, later in the manuscript, you came across the same dilemma you can refer back the sheet. This helps ensure consistency throughout the manuscript.

To get some idea of proofreading marks, search google images for ‘proofreading marks’ and see how cute (and handy!) they are.  And it's well worth your while to invest in a good style manual, such as the Oxford Dictionary for Writers & Editors.

Everyone has different tastes and needs, so no course can hope to be perfect. The main advantages of this course were the valuable course content and the lecturer, who was professional, friendly, highly knowledgeable and easy to approach (no-one felt silly asking basic questions; in fact, I got so carried away asking questions on the second day that, on the final morning, one of the other course attendees took me aside before we started for the day and politely asked me to shut up! *blush*). The disadvantage of the course (for my particular needs) was that it was geared mainly for non-fiction editing.

If you want to strengthen your writing skills and you can find an editing course near your home, I’d highly recommend you attend. For those of you lucky enough to live in South Africa, along with all its other advantages, you’ll be able to attend the same course I did.

To find out more about the editing and training courses run by McGillivray Linnegar Associates contact Ken or John on info@editandtrain.com for up-to-date information. You won’t regret it!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Ouma's Bobotie

My Ouma (my Dad's Mom) was Afrikaans; a proper boerevrou. I remember her working in the farm dairy, churning the butter, or outside making her soap in the giant sized potjie (which is now a flower container at my sister Iona's house in England). No-one could roll apricot smeer, make koeksusters or cook bobotie like Ouma could! My husband loves bobotie so I often cook him some using the recipe from my favourite (and first) cook book, Cook and Enjoy It. I've had this particular book since 1978: it was given to me by my brother-in-law Ian, as my bridesmaid present! The book is falling apart; the pages are stained and torn, but the recipes are as easy and as delicious as they ever were. Last night, before Husband could tuck in to his supper, I took a photo (above left). Even though I'm vegetarian these days, the smell and sight made my mouth water.

Bobotie is a South African dish consisting of spiced minced meat baked with an egg-based topping. Made popular by the Cape Malay community - probably in the 17th century - it uses curry powder to give it a slight bite.  The dish can be made with a mixture of mutton and pork, but more usually it's made of beef or lamb or cholestrol-free ostrich, although, as a vegetarian, I also use lentils or butternut or mushrooms for my bobotie.  Bobotie isn't bobotie unless it's served with chutney, especially Mrs Balls Original Chutney, which South African ex-pats the world over will sell their soul for! Oven-baked, bobotie is a complex mix of flavours: curry, onions, dried fruit and spices all make it unique and delicious. It's best served with yellow rice (mixed with sultanas), a cucumber-tomato salad, and red wine (South African reds, of course!).

When Trevor Immelman won the US Open in 2008,  he selected bobotie as the featured menu item for Augusta National's annual "Champions Dinner" in April 2009. I wonder which recipe the Augusta chefs used? Below is the recipe I use from the fantastic "Cook and Enjoy It"; you'll need to adjust it to your personal tastes (e.g. I double the topping to make a thicker crust).

BOBOTIE

1kg (2lbs) minced mutton or beef (or lentils)
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 slice of white bread
1 cup milk
1 T curry powder (mild or hot, to your taste)
2 eggs
1 T sugar
2t salt and 1/2 t pepper
1/2 T turmeric
Juice of 1 lemon
3 T chutney
6 almonds, quartered
1/2 cup seedless raisins
4 lemon or bay leaves, or grated rind of 1 lemon

Simmer onions in very little boiling water untl swollen and glassy. Then chop them finely and brown slightly in hot fat.
Soak bread in milk and then squeeze out the milk again (keep the milk). Crumb the bread.
Combine all ingredients except 1 egg and the bay leaves.
Place mixture in a greased fireproof baking dish. Roll up bay leaves and insert them into meat mix in an upright position.
Bake in a moderate oven at 180C (or 350F) for 1 and 1/2 hours if uncooked meat is used, or for 45 minutes if cooked meat is used.
Beat remaining egg with a little extra milk (you can use the bread milk) and pour this over the meat half an hour before taking it out of the oven.
Remove upright bay leaves before serving with yellow rice and chutney.

YELLOW RICE

Any kind of rice can be used, but long grain rice that needs cooking for more than 10 minutes works better than instant rice or rice cooked in a microwave.

Cook rice as usual with water and salt but for every cup of uncooked rice, add:

1 teaspoon (5 ml) turmeric (you can add 2 teaspoons if you want a darker yellow)
1 cinnamon stick

For the last 10 minutes of cooking, add 4 oz (100 ml) seedless raisins or sultanas. Remove cinnamon stick, fluff rice and serve.

Eet lekker! Enjoy your dinner!

NOTE: This post is proving very popular - it's featured on a Russian recipe blog and on Kathryne's Food Musings, a Canadian blog

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Sunrise over the Serengeti

I cheated! The Serengeti isn't in South Africa; in fact, it's a vast area that stretches over East Africa, thousands of miles from where I live in Johannesburg. My brother-in-law Ian Cockerill is involved in the "Leadership for Conservation in Africa", an organisation that seeks to "find ways to integrate business principles with conservation management, and to actively facilitate the involvement of business in sustainable conservation-led socio-economic development and capacity building in Africa." During the meetings of this valuable organisation, he and my sister are often lucky enough to see the best of Africa's wildlife. This year they flew to Tanzania, and went for a sunrise safari over the Serengeti.

The Serengeti ecosystem is a geographical region located in north-western Tanzania and extends to south-western Kenya and spans some 30,000 km2. Host to the largest and longest migration in the world (considered one of the ten natural travel wonders of the world), the Serengeti contains several national parks and game reserves. "Serengeti" is derived from the Maasai language and means "Endless Plains", although it's actually a diverse landscape ranging from riverine forests, swamps, kopjes, grasslands and woodlands. Blue Wildebeests, gazelles, zebras and buffalos are some of the commonly found large mammals in the region.

Here are a few images from my sister Iona's photograph album of their recent trip to Tanzania:

Above: Moonset on the way to a ballon ride


Right: Lift off! We have a lift off! The hot air balloons carrying Iona and Ian for their morning game viewing take off.




Above: A nursery herd of elephants seen from the air. Note the broken tusk on the matriarch elephant on the left. Damage could have been from a fight, foraging or to deliberately pruned to prevent death by poaching
 
Right: Champagne breakfast was laid out under the trees, and there were ellies on the table too! These elephants were iron table decorations made by the indigenous people as a way of earning money.


Above: A herd of hippos in a pool, seen from the air

Above: Sunset over the plains of the Serengeti.





Above: A lion with a very full tummy after a kill; Iona says just after this photo was taken he fell over into a digestive stupor and went to sleep.
 Serengeti information from Wikipedia
All photographs by Iona Cockerill

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Punctuation (The Best of the Rest)

We’ve reached the end of the road of my writing series on punctuation. We’ve looked at:

The Full Stop
The Comma
The Semi-Colon
The Colon
The Dash
The Quotation, Exclamation and Question Marks

With those dramatic and useful punctuation marks behind us, it’s easy to forget that there are other punctuation marks that can be useful. Before this series hurries off into the sunset, let’s have a quick summary of the best of the rest:

The Ellipses: used to indicate a trailing off or the passage of time...overuse...of these three little dots...can leave your page looking...as if it’s suffered...an outbreak of measles…

The Hyphen: a connecting symbol for a double-barrelled word, the hyphen is not to be confused with the more vigorous dash.

The Brackets(Parentheses): like the double dash, brackets are used to provide the reader with extraneous information. Unlike the double dash, the effect of the brackets (as you’ll see) presents the information in a less formal manner, as if your reader is also your chum that you’re whispering a secret to.

Italics: an attractive way of emphasising a word or phrase for a particular reason, for example, to highlight a book title or to reflect inner monologue. Overuse can annoy the reader as their striking visual impact can dominate the text.

Section Breaks: On the one hand, a section break (usually shown as ### centred) is a useful transition indicator between points of view, time periods or change of settings and, in longer chapters, gives the reader a chance to rest. On the other hand, a section break gives the reader a convenient chance to put your book down. If a section break is necessary at the point, make sure you end it with a hook good enough to bring your reader eagerly back into the fold.

Recommended Reading: A plethora of books on grammar and punctuation rests on my bookshelves. Without their guidance, this series of writing tips on punctuation would not exist. The three books listed below were of particular use. From Lukeman’s New York pizzazz to Davidson’s restrained English phlegm, I found these the most useful in providing clarity and understanding of complex points of punctuation. I’d highly recommend you add them to your library.

Art of Punctuation by Noah Lukeman Click here to buy
Punctuation by Graham King Click here to buy
How to Punctuate by George Davidson Click here to buy

And so we are at the end of our series on punctuation. I hope you learnt as much as I did! In the upcoming months I’ll be attending a few writing courses, which I’ll share with you on the blog. I have other ideas for writing tips and, as usual there will be a few South African Snippets, Book Reviews and other tasty morsels to keep you occupied. 

If you have any special requests that you’d like to see appear on the blog drop me an email at judy@judycrome.com and I’ll see if I can accommodate you.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Water

Quathlamba.

The mystery.

Quathlamba, the Barrier of Spears.

The majesty of the Drakensberg Mountains.

Their stark peaks rise potently up to the blue African skies; their cracks and crevices hold the painted secrets of an ancient land. But the rocky crags of the Drakensberg hold more than the spiritual origins of our ancestors. The source of life itself, water, springs from their deepest heart.

In a land that contains deserts and wetlands, sub-tropical forests and bushveld, oceans and mountains within its borders, nothing is as beautiful as the sight and sound of pure drinkable water tumbling over granite boulders, home to sparkling rainbow trout.


Left: After a long hike under the gruelling African sun, the cold, clear waters of the Injisuthi River, high in the central Drakensberg Mountains, provide a welcome relief. (Photo: Judy Croome)

We leave the mountain retreat, winding our way over dirt roads as herdsmen shoo their cattle out into the grazing lands. Friendly children try and outrace the car as women, some carrying overflowing water buckets on their heads, sway gracefully under their heavy loads.

We drive away from the water sources in the mountains, and watch as the natural water supplies become more polluted and contaminated. Already, over 50% of our wetlands have been destroyed in the search for urbanisation and human progress. The pastoral simplicity of the scenes we carry back with us to the hustling city, with its safe clean drinking water (South Africa is one of only twelve countries in the world where the quality of the tap-water is so high that it’s safe to drink) and easy sanitation, hides a darker side to the importance of water in this land that has, on average, an annual rainfall of 500mm (considerably less than the world average of 860mm per annum.)*

The United Nations Blog Action Day 2010 has focused on the need for bringing water to the millions of people, like the women who live in the foothills of the Drakensberg, who still have no direct access to clean water. In this vital search for a solution, let us not forget the environment. The fish, the birds, the animals—even the water itself—must be considered as important a factor as the demands of an ever-increasing human population.

For water is the source of ALL life; not only that of an insatiable humanity.

(*) Information obtained from “About South Africa

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Rumi, Strange Fruit and others

STRANGE FRUIT by Helen Moffett

This slender volume of poetry seduced me before I’d even opened it. The enticing cover drew me in; the wide range of emotions conveyed by the selection of poetry kept me there. From the playful to the melancholy, the raunchy to the sublime, the searing honesty of this Capetonian poet conveyed images and emotions I could easily relate to.

As I haven’t a maternal bone in my body (seriously, the maternal gene fairy was absent at my birth) I was surprised that the poems that shook me the most were those dealing with the poet’s discovery of her infertility. The painful process of mourning moved me deeply and made me review my own choice not to bear children.

This aching cry was well-balanced with the comforting warmth of parental love and the heat of erotic love. Perhaps the only poem where I felt the poet slipped into unawareness was “In Praise of Younger Men”. For all the valid reasons she prefers those delicious younger men, she didn’t explore the most obvious: do these young men also meet some of her maternal yearnings?

From the exploration of a parallel life to the unexpected joys of nature, this volume packs punch after punch. It deserves a second read, so that one is not lead “to wonder how many other epiphanies we miss because we can’t believe they might materialise in our particular path.”  Click HERE to buy.

THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS by John Boyne

For a little book, this simple story packs a huge wallop. As you follow the innocent explorations of nine-year-old Bruno in a world that is so evil even innocence is tarnished, you come to see the Holocaust from a child’s na├»ve view. A Father who is a stern, but loving man, and also the Commandant at an extermination camp. A Mother who can’t bear to raise her children in such a horrible place, but who escapes into her medicinal sherries, leaving her children in the care of servants. And a lonely young German boy who, delighted at their similarities, doesn’t question the differences between his life and that of his new friend, the Polish Jew Shmuel.

In the plainest, least complex language this story raises the most complex questions about a dark period in history. I don’t want to say too much, in case I spoil this gem for anyone who wants to read it. All I’ll say is that I couldn’t put it down until the second last chapter…and then I could hardly bring myself to continue because I knew what was going to happen. With a powerful ending so inevitably heartbreaking, so cruelly just, this book has lingered with me for days. I have the DVD as well, but I’ll only watch that on a day when I’m feeling very strong. Click HERE for a must buy!

RUMI: The Book of Love (Poems of Ecstasy and Longing)  Translation and commentary by Coleman Banks

The problem with translations is that one never knows how much of what one is reading is the translator’s voice, and how much is the original artist’s voice.

Banks is credited with “popularising” Rumi’s works in America. That’s the essence of the difficulty I had with this translation. To “translate” a work, one “expresses the sense of (a word, book etc) in another language”, while to “popularise” a work is to “present a specialised subject in a popular or readily understandable form”.

In his note on the translation, Banks admits that in “translating Rumi into American” he may have distorted what Rumi searched for in his poems: the ecstasy of Divine Love.

Having watched both live and DVD performances of the Whirling Dervishes (a spiritual meditative dance based on the teachings of Rumi), I approached this volume with the expectation of experiencing that same sense of immersion in – or union with – the Divine beloved. Instead, I was left with a weird sense of dislocation.

While Banks’ intentions in attempting this translation were clearly a sincere attempt to express the ecstasy he has found in Rumi’s original words, this reader was unable to share in that lyrical ecstasy.

Contemporary images celebrated sexual union, but not ecstatic union. While there’s nothing wrong with celebrating sex, Rumi celebrates sex in the same way that Kabbalists would on a Sabbath: as a ‘tikkun’. In this translation, the idea of “sex as Divine union with the Other” was lost in modern crudity. For example, “Is this the way a man prays, with his balls? Does your penis long for union like this? Is that why her legs are so covered with this stuff?” [Pg 85] Stuff? Stuff?

The modern language, too, was conveyed without any mystical rhythm. In musical terms this would be the steady cadence of a liturgical chant (the exquisite sound of the Gregorian or Benedictine chants). In seeking to convey the lightness of the mystical trance in simple, modern (popular!) terms, the language in this translation became heavy and, with a few notable exceptions, left me sadly earthbound.  Click HERE to buy.

THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS by Sophie Kinsella

I’m including this book in the reviews as it delivered exactly what it promised: a light-hearted romp and easy, pleasant reading. Bombed out with antibiotics for a throat abscess, feeling sick and sorry for myself, I couldn’t concentrate on anything and remembered when my sister had given me this book she’d said “It’s cute!” It was. Perfectly easy reading for the time I read it. The rollicking story, likeable heroine and delightful secondary characters (both evil and kind) kept me well-entertained. I’ll certainly consider this author when next I need an undemanding and entertaining read.  Click HERE to buy.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Rain Spiders

I've spoken about Modjadjithe Rain Queen; yesterday I had a visit from a rain spider. This young fellow (or it could be a girl) has been visiting in our house for the past two weeks. This morning he came down close enough for me to carry him to the window and let him out where he belongs...in the garden! Called 'rain spiders' because of their propensity for seeking shelter from the fierce tropical thunderstorms of the African highveldt, these friendly and useful creatures catch pesky insects such as cockroaches and mosquitos. Not quite a spiderling, this teenager clung to the outside of a windowpane as he was quite comfortable in the house and made it clear he didn't want to leave. As they're neither dangerous nor aggressive (unless, like any good mother, the female is protecting her egg sac or young), I'm not too fussed about them in the house.

To the Amerindians, the spider symbolised protection from harm; to the Egyptians, spiders were the weavers of the world.  The way I look at it is, the bigger the spider, the greater the protection. A healthy speciman of a rain spider can measure 100mm. That's a whole lot of spider and a whole lot of protection! The orange flowers in the background are strelitzia reginaes, and the purple bush is a petria.  When they bloom in the garden, it's spring and the start of our rainy season. No wonder this young rain spider (or to call him by his proper name, Huntsman Spider) headed indoors!

If you would like to know more about rain spiders, please contact The Spider Club of Southern Africa at info@spiders.co.za. Rain spider facts from Fishing Owl and Wikipedia

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Punctuation (The Marks Brothers)

Have you met the marks brothers? No, not the brothers Chico, Harpo and Groucho Marx, but the brothers Exclamation, Question and Quotation Marks.

While the exclamation mark and the question mark both evolved from the full stop, the quotation mark stands alone—but not quite alone, as it’s always used in a pair.

The most important uses of quotation marks [“ ” or ‘ ’] are to:

• indicate direct speech  Example: ‘Don’t go,’ she cried.

• indicate a quotation  Example: ‘Shakespeare,’ Tim strummed a light chord on his old twelve-string, ‘said, “If music be the language of love, play on!” I’ll give you as much music as you can stand!’

• highlight a portion of text for a specific reason  Example: ‘We’ll stay at “The Four Feathers” tonight,’ Mr Beeves promised his wife.

American usage prefers double quotation marks [“ ”] for direct speech, while British English tends to favour single quotation marks [‘ ’]. Consistency is more important than worrying about which to use: if you start your direct speech with single quotation marks, keep that format throughout your novel.

The correct placement of punctuation is important when using quotation marks:

• include punctuation that is part of the direct speech inside the final quotation mark

• when a sentence of direct speech is split by a speech verb, the comma must be inside the quotation mark

• short quotations integrated into a sentence can be marked off with quotation marks, but longer quotations should begin on a new line and do not need quotation marks

As quotation marks are quite polite they, unlike the other two marks brothers, work well with other punctuation marks. Exclamation marks and question marks rudely push aside the other punctuation marks.

An exclamation mark [!] replaces the more sedate punctuation marks with extreme emotion. ‘I hate you.’ sounds a lot less angry than the dramatic ‘I hate you!’

But overuse—or, worse, multiple use!!!!!—of the exclamation mark turns drama into melodrama. Don’t fear the exclamation mark; use it judiciously to:

• convey strong emotion
• indicate irony or reverse meaning (Thanks a lot!)
• emphasising insults or expletives (You little shit!)
• command (Get lost! Vamoose!)

The question mark is not quite as brash as the exclamation mark. It replaces the full stop at the end of any sentence that asks a direct question. Compare

They’re flying to Timbuktu. Again. 

and

They’re flying to Timbuktu? Again?

Sentences that take the form of questions may not be questions and therefore do not end with a question mark. Example: Would the owner of the black BMW in the disabled parking bay please move it immediately. Although that’s framed as a question, it’s a request or command, and thus does not end with a question mark.

When deciding whether a sentence should end in a question mark or not, look at the intended meaning rather than the grammatical form. Indirect questions do not have question marks, but direct questions—no matter how long and convoluted they are—always require a question mark. If you use quotation marks or parentheses, make sure you place the question marks at the end of the question they belong to.

The marks brothers serve a special purpose that no other punctuation mark can. It’s best, though, to let their use arise naturally, as they can directly affect the pace and sense of drama in your text. Make sure you get the effect you aimed for.

From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down,
I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.
Groucho Marx

Bibliography
 
“The Art of Punctuation” by Noah Lukeman
“Penguin Writers' Guides: How to Punctuate” by George Davidson
“Collins Wordpower: Punctuation” by Graham King
Marx Brothers Image from FlikR/twm 1340

Monday, 20 September 2010

Whazzup?

It’s time for another progress report to tell you whazzup with my writing journey!

As you know from my last report back on my writing progress in November 2009, I had three projects on the boil:

Project A: This project revolves around the novel I wrote as part of my Master’s degree in English. The long arduous process continues. I’m busy completing the revisions based on the editorial letter I received from literary agent Weronika Janczuk of D4EO Agency.

I’m so pleased with the way the novel is taking shape. I never guessed how much it could improve structurally. Although it’s hard work, I’m enjoying the process. I get a real thrill when I find just this word or change that comma, and it lights up the sentence, page and story in a new and vibrant way. I’m starting to feel like a professional writer for the first time. My confidence in my work is blossoming and all the anxieties generated by the countless rejection letters that this poor ms has received are slowly dissipating!

When I’ve finished the revisions (target date: mid-October) I’ve decided to put the ms aside for a month or two before doing one final check and then deciding what the next step is.

Project B: This was the story I started with the sole purpose of entering into the Harlequin Mills and Boon Modern/Presents 2009 competition. My entry didn’t make it. First and second prize went to romance authors who, although not yet published by Mills and Boon, are multi-pubbed by other houses. I wish the two authors the best of luck with their winning entries. The competition whetted my appetite for romance writing again. I duly submitted a romance to e-publishers Wild Rose Press.

I must compliment WRP on their professionalism, their efficiency, their interest in helping an author and their incredibly quick turn-around times. What a pleasure to deal with a romance publisher who understands, and is considerate, of the author’s needs! The editor I worked with loved the manuscript but, when I received an editorial letter asking for a third round of revisions, saying the novel was very close to publishable standards and a possible contract offer, it was decision time: did I want to write romances or did I want to concentrate on my other writing? Romance, or any type of genre, writing requires a very special set of skills including the ability to multi-task, to write prolifically and to concentrate on good story-telling.

Sadly, I concluded that I am not endowed with those specific skills. Unlike when I blog, when I write I like to work slowly, to concentrate on characterisation over plot and to do detailed research. I can spend two days on re-writing a single sentence until I feel it’s perfect. This is what gives me pleasure - the manipulation and careful layering of words and their symbolic meanings. And so I regretfully declined to complete the third set of revisions.

It’s a strange feeling having made such a final decision. In one way, it’s as if I’ve wasted the last ten years of my life, when I was so determined to be a romance author. To get so close (again–this is the third romance ms that has come so close to being published) and to consciously chose not to continue…ouch! I had to ask myself if I was more afraid of success than I am of failure. Was I self-sabotaging myself because of this fear of success?  After much soul-searching I could say: NO!

In the past decade, I’ve evolved as a person and as a writer. I’ve moved beyond romances in both my reading tastes and in my writing dreams. Of course, my goals must alter too, but I was too stubborn, er, too tenacious, to admit years ago that I needed to re-assess my writing goals taking into account the obvious fact that I’m not cut out to be a Romance Author.

I have a huge respect for those authors who do choose to forge a career as a romance or chick-lit author—they are like master puppeteers, their fingers working dozens of strings at once—but I’ve accepted that I am not cut from that particular writing cloth. My writing skills and unique writing voice lie elsewhere.


So, while there is sadness at leaving an old friend behind, I have a sense of freedom too; a sense of commitment to my writing I’ve never felt before. That tells me I’ve made the correct decision to focus on literary writing, rather than genre writing.

Project C: For a variety of reasons, this project has taken a back seat. My research questionnaire to ex-Border War soldiers didn’t generate much response. Our friend, Colonel Young, who was helping me with it died tragically in January 2010 (my husband is still upset; they were friends for nearly thirty-five years). My reading list has morphed into this mass of books, which has taken over my studio. And another story I was working on before this idea came to me, has starting sulking because I pushed it aside, so I’m thinking of heading back to finish it first (Project E). I’ll keep Project C ticking by compiling a reading list, sorting the reference books into some sort of useful order and starting the reading.

Project D: I submitted a short story to The Literary Lab’s ‘Notes from Underground’ competition, and was chosen to participate in this exciting and experimental writing project. All proceeds are to go to charity. I must write 10 pages of any type of writing and submit it to the editors before December 15, 2010. The bliss of being able to write anything at all, with no restrictions except length, is exhilarating. I’ve decided to send in a mixture of prose, poetry and discourse.

Project E: I outlined this novel in March 2009 while Husband and I were in Bern, Switzerland. I put it aside when the Border War story started taking hold, but now that Project A is so close to completion, I’m drawn more and more to this story. It’ll be set in the same fictional land as Project A, so won’t need the research of Project C. I’m starting to hear their voices, but I’ll have to ignore them until January when Projects A and D are complete.

Blogging: I still have the final post on my series on punctuation to do; also, the final post for the South African Romance Writer’s website due in October (I’ll be focusing on overwriting). I have a few interesting writing topics lined up for my own blog; I’m hoping to do one a month over the next few months. I’ll continue with my book reviews of the novels I’m ploughing through from my ‘to-be-read’ pile. With all the non-fiction reading waiting for me for Project C, I hope I get to read some more of the tempting pile of novels that have been waiting and waiting. Oh, and I’m maintaining Husband’s blog, although that doesn’t take much time.

Writing Courses: I have two  writing courses coming up.

In November 2010, I’ll be attending a 3 day “Basic copy editing and proofreading course” presented by John Linnegar, a well respected local editor and chairman of Professional Editors' Group.

In January 2011, I start a ten week Creative Writing Course run by All About Writing, and presented jointly by published author Jo-Anne Richards and scriptwriter Richard Beynon.

And that’s whazzup in my writing life. I may just have to stop sleeping to meet all these goals, as well as those Life’s Obligations that keep me busy, but I’m excited and energized at the upcoming challenges of the next few months! What are you busy with in your writing journey?