Sunday, 31 October 2010

Trimming the Flab

Trimming the Flab is my last guest post for the South African Romance Community. Click here to read how to turn yourself into a lean, mean writing machine.  The pointers I discuss, which help you identify what to trim, are:

◦Redundant words and phrases
◦Overusing intensifiers
◦Crutch words
◦Filler phrases
◦Non-essential information
◦Clichés and Euphemisms
◦Use of Action Verbs

In writing, less is more and trimming the flab from your first draft will help you ensure that every word counts.

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 naïve 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