mooooving

Hey everyone, just to let you know that I’ve decided it’s time for a fresh start. I’ve upped stakes and shifted the blog to blot.im. I know it’s kind of weird after so long, but it just feels right.

In any case I’m still at discombobulated.co.nz, but that will point to the new posts. If you want to read the archive (ie here!), that can be found at herself.wordpress.com. I think I will keep the old game reviews on here, just to keep everything together. I hope that’s not too confusing…

If you really, really, really want more I’m also microblogging at discombobulated.micro.blog.

We’ll see how it all pans out, but I’m hoping I won’t have to go through this domain name juggling again for a while!

In any case, it’s been lovely having you all here, and I hope you decide to stick with me. See you soon :)

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The Sims 4: Get to Work review

Main Teaser: In the Sims 4: Get to Work, try your hand at contacting aliens, solving crime, and cake decorating!

Content Tease: The first full expansion pack for the Sims 4 is jam-packed with new features, including playable careers. Now you can wreak havoc at work too!

Last Word: Lots of fun, and jam-packed with new content.

Score: 8.0

Difficulty: Easy

Learning Curve: 15mins

The Review:

The Sims 4 finally has its first full expansion pack, succinctly titled Get To Work. While some aspects hearken back to the days of the Sims 2’s Open for Business, this new expansion brings tons of new content and gameplay, worlds, objects, and even aliens.

Just listing all the features feels a bit overwhelming. There are three new “active” careers, where you can – for the first time – follow your Sim to work. Now you can actively play as a doctor, detective, or scientist. If traditional work’s not your thing, Sims can now buy retail businesses, and experience the joys of hiring and firing, stocking goods, and pricing. There are two new skills: baking and photography. We also finally have aliens, and their alien home world, Sixam, that can be visited by rocket.

The core new functionality of Get To Work introduces, funnily enough, the ability to follow your Sims to work. The general idea here is that you can now follow sims to their workplaces (in the above three careers) and help them through their daily tasks. The working day for a Sim is pretty straightforward: upon arrival at their job HQ, an ever-changing list of tasks is displayed. If your Sim completes objectives from these, their work meter starts to fill up. For someone in the Science career for example, tasks can include anything from making a specific invention to watering plants, to chatting with colleagues (or the invention robot). Detectives can hunt for clues at crime scenes, or take mug shots and fingerprints back at the station. Complete enough tasks and you’ll get your basic pay. Do poorly and Sims can actually hinder their career. The “follow your sim to work” aspect really starts to pay off however when you can max your meter, with some great leaps to your Sim’s career as a result.

The gist of this all is that you really should only follow your Sim to work if their need meters are “in the green.” If they’re tired, or cranky, you’re going to have a hard time filling up that work meter, and their work performance could drop quite a bit as a result. (Fortunately, you also have the option to not go to work with your Sim, which is handy when they’re having a bad hair day.)

When things are going well, the work aspect is a lot of fun. Otherwise, work can be a really frustrating experience. I found with my Science Sim that in the early levels, his work really could be all-consuming. With not much time apart from work and trying to cover his basic needs, it was really tricky to try and keep him happy – especially in his “starter” house with the most basic furniture.

The science career was the first one I tried, and it really was lots of fun. Sims get to go to work in a cool big lab, filled with computers, chemistry sets, and other gear. They can make inventions, try flirting serums out on their colleagues, and there’s even a cool kitchen and workout area. Sims have to collect crystals and metals in order to make these high-tech inventions, but fortunately there is also a handy new interaction to bludge these off your colleagues.

Inventions are also great, in that they have the potential to wreak the most havoc on the Sim world, from making contact with aliens, to creating the Sim Ray, a freezing ray-gun which you can then also customise with extra abilities – like mind control (mwahahaha!) or the ability to transform any object into another one. Wacky zany results abound!

Detective work is also pretty fun. You start out as a cadet working on other people’s cases. A standard day for a detective would see your Sim heading to the police station, where they would be assigned a case, and then head to the crime scene. Once there, they can look for clues, get witness statements, and take photographs of incriminating evidence. Back at HQ, they can analyse the clues and see if they can’t work up a profile of the suspect. Then they issue an APB, and head out into the field to try and catch the bad guy! Once you haul them downtown, your Sim can interrogate suspects, and even play good cop / bad cop with them. You do have to be careful to keep an eye on the time you have left during the working day however. I was cut off and sent home in the middle of interrogating a teen thug, and didn’t get to see if I successfully busted the kid or not.

As much fun as the careers were to play with, I was most excited about the retail aspect of the game (I really loved Open For Business). Unfortunately the copy of the game I was provided with didn’t seem complete in this area. Help dialogs were all blank, and I really didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing. There’s a whole separate build mode for retail lots, where you indicate your pricing scheme, hire employees, and even set or design uniforms. Unfortunately I couldn’t figure out how to actually add things I wanted to sell, and eventually gave up when I couldn’t access the help. (I wanted to create a little bakery – to do double duty with the new baking skill.)

(The “missing text” bug appears to be relatively common, but EA have shared details on a workaround on the EA Answers HQ – Ed.)

Also on the negative side of things, I’ve noticed that loading times have definitely increased. Not hugely, but enough for me to wonder if this bodes well for future expansions. It certainly could have an effect on players’ decisions about whether they will want to go to work with their sims every day, if they have to wait for a minute or two to go anywhere.

Drawbacks aside, there is still so much here that adds to the base Sims 4 game I have to mark this as a “must have” for Sims 4 players. Like I mentioned in my first Sims 4 review, the series is a bit of a living, breathing thing that is always changing and evolving. Bugs emerge, patches are released, and that big old Sims world just keeps on turning.

Blackguards 2 review

Main Teaser: Blackguards 2 is a fascinating strategic turn-based RPG, but suffers from bugs and design issues.

Content Tease: The sequel to last year’s Blackguards is a strategist’s delight, but bugs and design issues may put off more casual gamers.

Last Word: Tough and unforgiving, but enjoyable too.

Score: 7.0

Difficulty: Hard

Learning Curve: 30mins

The Review:

Blackguards 2 is the sequel to last year’s original title from Daedalic Entertainment. It’s a hex-based, turn-based, campaign RPG, set in the Dark Eye world that some of you may recognise as a popular German pen-and-paper RPG. It’s tough, strategic, and not prone to hand-holding; furthermore the “heroes” of the piece are all pretty much bad guys. So far, so good!

You play as Cassia of Tenos, an aristocrat wrongly imprisoned in a vast dungeon crawling with Corapias spiders. Over the years she’s imprisoned, Cassia’s personality is warped (as are her looks), as she is repeatedly bitten by spiders. (The Corapias venom is famous for destroying either the body or the mind.) Eventually though, Cassia escapes from prison with only one thing on her mind: to rule, and punish everyone who turned against her.

As her first step, Cassia gathers “heroes” together under her banner, including Takate the gladiator, dodgy Zurbaran the mage, and Naurim, a dwarf who’s all about the loot. If you’ve played the original Blackguards game, you’ll recognise them all. If you haven’t (as I haven’t), you likely won’t experience the full depth of the story, but it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the gameplay nonetheless.

Even though there are no initial options for creating your main character (or the characters you recruit), there are tons of customisation options. Experience points can be spent on improving weapon skills, character knowledge, learning (and improving) spells, as well as other tactical feats. What’s more, there are no real restrictions to what skills your characters can develop. The options really are open for you to play the way you’d like.

The story, too, is good – something that’s often lacking in tactical games. Cassia is a great character: once beautiful, now mad and powerful. It’s a lot of fun to play her as a really nasty character, and refreshing to come across a game that will let you do so.

Her aim, once she escapes from prison, is pretty straightforward: to conquer all of the areas under her husband Marwan’s control. (Oops, did I not mention he was the one who imprisoned her? Hell hath no fury, indeed! Needless to say – he’s got it coming.) These are marked as points on a map, and you can travel to these, as long as you have established a route to that point.

Occasionally Marwan will attack one of your posts, cutting off access to different areas (and the bonuses that they give you) if he succeeds. It can be a pain to “redo” an area you’ve gone through before, albeit as a defender rather than an aggressor.

In cities, you can bribe spies for info, learn new skills from scholars, and buy things from merchants and blacksmiths. You can also access Cassia’s army’s camp, where she can talk with her heroes (and often open up new lore, or other battle opportunities), interrogate prisoners, and even inspect troops. There is some interesting conversation that develops as a result, but it’s no Dragon Age. Not being familiar with the world’s lore, a lot of the information went over my head, but it certainly gave the impression of a deep, well thought-out game world, that many will certainly appreciate.

But at the end of the day, Blackguards 2’s focus is about the strategic battle. Once a particular battle starts, characters will act in turn based on their initiative scores. One at a time, they move across the hex-based battle area and engage with the enemy, using their different skills and abilities.

While there aren’t many options in terms of pre-battle strategy, it’s nice to see that there are some different scenarios and environmental challenges, and there is a good amount of variety in the different encounters. Sometimes units will start off in different areas from each other, and have to achieve varying aims within the same battlefield.

This part was massively enjoyable, and if not for the bugs and design issues experienced, would have been enough for me to rate this title highly.

But yes, unfortunately, there were a fair number of problems.

To begin with, often battle objectives weren’t clear. Are my units meant to just kill everyone? Pull a lever and return back to where they started? Kill someone specific?

OK, some may love that this game does NOT hand-hold, and there is definitely room for games that assume a certain level of player autonomy. But this reviewer certainly would have appreciated more information, pre-battle.

Furthermore, the camera controls are terrible. Awful. At its most basic level, it is a real hindrance not to be able to rotate the battlefield. Instead you often have to squint past obstacles and move the camera using WSAD keys. You can’t completely centre on the edges and corners of a battlefield, and so it’s often difficult to select hexes or characters that wind up there. Scrolling is slow, and as the game doesn’t properly centre on your characters, you will find you are constantly having to scroll back to a certain area when it’s your turn. Not fun.

I also experienced quite a few bugs, including one near the end of a battle that took close to an hour to play through. Out of nowhere, the game froze in the middle of a bad guy’s turn. He wouldn’t take his action, and so the game wouldn’t progress to my turn. My only option was to crash out and restart from the beginning of the long battle. In another encounter, the HUD suddenly disappeared and the keyboard stopped working. Another crash out.

Add this to the fact that you can’t save mid-battle, and the autosave doesn’t save frequently, and I was a pretty grumpy reviewer at this point. Protip: make sure you save often.

And so, for all the greatness of the actual gameplay, there were many occasions where I shut the game down in frustration. That said, I still believe that gamers who like some good hard strategy with little hand-holding, and who possess a great deal of patience will certainly get a lot out of this game. For someone under time constraints and with little patience for having to repeat a long, slow, tough, scenario multiple times, I have to confess that although I wanted to like it, Blackguards 2 hasn’t been one of my top gaming experiences.

Caveat emptor.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong review

Main Teaser: Neuromancer meets Lord of the Rings in Shadowrun: Hong Kong, from Hairbrained Schemes.

Content Tease: Orks, Dwarves and Elves jack into the Matrix, cast spells, explore transhumanism, and oh yeah, fight Triad gangs in Shadowrun: Hong Kong.

Last Word: High-tech meets old-world Hong Kong

Score: 8.5

Censor’s Rating: PG/PGR/M

Difficulty: Medium

Learning Curve: 30mins

The Review:

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is the third title by Hairbrained Schemes that’s set in the popular tech-meets-magic Shadowrun tabletop universe. If you’re not familiar with the games, or setting, think  Neuromancer in a mash-up with Lord of the Rings. Orks, Dwarves and Elves jack into the Matrix, cast spells, explore transhumanism, and, oh yeah, fight in gangs in the streets of a dystopian Hong Kong.

Right from the start, Shadowrun: Hong Kong feels really good. Character portraits (and the art for NPCs) are fabulous, and the soundtrack by composer Jon Everist, gets the tone spot-on with an awesome futuristic-Asian-tech vibe.

The game begins with you as a loner, living pretty rough in Seattle (you’re able to choose your race, ‘archetype’ and origin at game start). Out of the blue, a message arrives from your former mentor, Raymond Black. Black was the one who took you in when you were young, and got you in off the streets. The message reads: “meet me in Hong Kong, right away.” Black doesn’t mess around. You head out.

Once you arrive in Hong Kong, however, things get messy. Black is missing, and it’s not long before you and your foster brother are framed as terrorists by the government. Just what is going on? So begins the mystery, as you try to determine why you’re being framed, why the government wants you dead, where Black is, and what he’s been hiding all this time.

Your enquiries take you into the underworld of Hong Kong, where a triad boss named Kindly Cheng offers to help get you under the radar. In exchange, you agree to shadowrun for her. As the name pretty much indicates, shadowrunners are dodgy types who run errands in both the “meatspace” and the Matrix.

You set up with a small group of NPCs (including your Ork foster-brother, whose career as a cop has just come to a grinding halt), in a rust-bucket barge floating in Hong Kong’s harbour. Nearby is the walled city of Kowloon, which has a very dodgy past, that you come to find out also has a connection with Raymond Black. You’re not sure of the details, but there is something nasty within the walled city that is causing serious nightmares for people who live nearby.

In addition to you and your brother, your new shadowrunner group includes a dwarf decker (hacker), an ork shaman, a russian “rigger” (with his creepy pet attack-drone), and a ghoul samurai who likes poetry and eating human flesh. Together you start taking on some of Kindly Cheng’s errands, all while you scour the local BBS (bulletin board service) for any chatter about Black, and the circumstances in which you find yourself. The missions you take on are pretty interesting, and include errands to mess up an enemy’s Feng Shui, abscond with an archaeologist’s finds, investigate a murder, and perform industry espionage.

You’ll also, as you get to know them, get involved in your companions’ lives. As you talk to them they will eventually open up to you, and potentially ask you for help with their own problems. Racter the Russian rigger is seeking revenge against his old research partners, who stole his life’s work. Is0bel the dwarf decker, wants you to beat up an old friend and get her memories back – memories of growing up in Kowloon that she erased and gave him to hold on to.

Missions are, for the most part, well-designed. There are often multiple ways to approach an objective, for example charming your way past a guard at an office reception, or to go in guns blazing. The turn-based battles are interesting too. Each character has a number of action points that they can use for movement, attacking, or doing other things like casting a spell, activating a drone, or healing someone.

Fighting enemies is relatively straightforward, though there is a challenge level that you can increase or decrease to your liking. There are some interesting twists to a few battles, which keeps them from feeling too same-y. In one instance poison gas started to pour into a room, right as enemies came in and blocked the entrance. I used Rachter’s drone to climb into a vent in order to shut off poison gas, but I also could have sent Is0bel into the Matrix in order to find the gas switches there.

The Matrix space (as opposed to “meatspace”, which those of you who read Neuromancer will recognise as real life) is interesting too. When a hacker (sorry, “decker”) jacks-in, they need to navigate through an imagined space that’s patrolled by intrusion countermeasures (ICs). These bug-like critters will not only attack you but also raise your System Trace level. When System Trace reaches a certain threshold the alarm gets raised, and that’s when you really find yourself with trouble on your hands.

The trick in the Matrix then, is to manoeuvre around without raising the System Trace to the alarm level. Various things will raise the System Trace – being detected by ICs, or trying to break into locked information using brute force. Even a successful hack will add a few points to your System Trace meter. It’s trickier than the regular combat option, and I confess this part took me the longest time to develop a strategy for.

While the fighting component is a lot of fun, the game’s best features are its visual design and storytelling. It’s great looking (as I mentioned earlier), and the setting of high-tech-meets-old-world just never gets tiresome. Your home hub, for example, is  an interesting mix of floating rafts and junks all tied together, where deckers and mages, and everyone in between, peddle their wares.

That said, I would have loved more interactivity with the world, à la Baldur’s Gate. There’s not much to do apart from following the quests, then returning back to your boat to rest, talk to your friends, and check your computer for info.

Back in your room, you can log on, and check your computer for offers of work, claim payment for jobs done, put paydata that you find in the Matrix up for auction, and search the BBS for information on Black. This part in particular is so interesting – there is loads of lore, humorous interchanges on forums, and media clips. It’s all really well done, and does much to flesh out the world and give it a lot of depth.

While the game is polished for the most part, some bugginess remains. I proceeded through one mission (aptly called “Misdirection”) three times before I gave up and googled it. Turns out a conversation after a battle didn’t trigger properly and as a result I wound up wandering around with no idea what to do next. An obvious way around any trouble here is to save often, which was my mistake the first time around. Others have reported other bugs that I didn’t experience, but with ongoing updates it’s likely these will be taken care of.

Overall however, Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a really enjoyable play. The Hong Kong setting gives a new thematic twist for the series that feels well fleshed-out and interesting, and the increasingly strange mystery you get caught up in makes for a great experience.

Definitely one for newbs and phreaks alike.

Process, and filling up the well

I’ve been beating myself up lately about my lack of writing progress, but in looking through my notes (I’m still using Bear notes, though I did beta test The Archive and liked that a lot) I came across the writing goals I set myself for last year:

- [x] Get paid for something
+ [x] Write first draft of lake story
- [ ] Call down lightning twice more - 4K words, fantasy
- [x] Submit a short story
- [x] Write first scene of novel 2.0
- [x] Finalise submission list & track
+ [x] Set up working doc for rewrite, a la Rudy Rucker
- [x] Write a blog post

Without really realising it, I’ve actually hit most of my goals! The biggest one that I wasn’t sure would ever eventuate (and I hesitated about putting it on the list, as “getting paid for something” is outside my control and therefore something I can’t do, myself, but anyway.) It represents a huge milestone for me, and I’m still pinching myself about it really.

On top of that I received a friendly note from an editor of a speculative fiction publisher to say that they would like to shortlist me for publication, but that it could be a few months more before I hear back. That in itself is great news (moving slowly up out of the slush), and of course publication would be wonderful, but I’m pretty chuffed with just this as well.

But the novel is languishing, and it’s this that I beat myself up about, on a pretty-much near-daily basis. As well as this, I’ve been indulging in some pretty bad habits lately (too much computer gaming, after several years of basically not doing any, not much on the exercise front) and generally feeling like I’m in a rut.

Sitting downstairs in my messy study (which I am desperate to clean up, truth be told), I spotted my old copy of The Artist’s Way, that old touchstone of creatives from the 90s. I certainly went through it back then and it was what spurred me on towards writing a screenplay and going to jazz school (for a while) before heading overseas. And while I hadn’t really read the book much since then, I have been a morning-pages person, on-and-off, ever since. But not much, I’ve realised, since getting pregnant and having my daughter. In fact there hasn’t been a heckuva lot of creative self-care since my late twenties, to be honest.

To whit: I think I ran my well pretty dry there. And I’m trying to fill it back up now. So I’ve picked up The Artist’s Way again and I’m on week two now, and doing morning pages every day before I get out of bed. This morning, I came back from the bathroom to find that Leila had got my notebook and pencil out, and had even turned the page to the next blank one. It seems she’s just as fascinated by the process as I am. And though I do balk at waking up even a minute earlier than I need to, once I’m sitting up in bed and writing, it feels like…coming home. It feels comforting and encouraging and I feel hopeful again. It makes me want to do right by myself. It makes me want to connect to writing as a sort of spiritual practice, a sort of touching the void, inside, out there. I want to contemplate what’s possible in my life, and to break through any negative thinking about can’ts and shouldn’ts and won’ts.

I’m playing the piano again. Printing photos for the scrapbook again (until the yellow ink got blocked and wreaked havoc with my sanity for most of yesterday, but enough about that). Journaling. Feeling the desire to run, slowly building up inside. (Oddly, or perhaps not so odd, I have always run while I’ve been on a regime of morning pages. They seem to go hand-in-hand in my mind.)

I’ve got a whole day ahead of me today: Leila is off after school to play at a friend’s house. I want to feel happy and energised and inspired at the end of the day. I want to work on the book, because as Cameron says, “it is far harder and more painful to be a blocked artist than it is to do the work.”

Lost Souls anthology

Really excited to share that my short story, “The Obstinate One”, has been accepted by Flame Tree Publishing for inclusion in their gothic anthology, Lost Souls.

This is my first sale of a short story and I couldn’t be more excited and proud to be part of this collection. Gillian Whitaker at Flame Tree Publishing has been wonderful and friendly to work with, and I’m looking forward to sharing more about the anthology!

Game reviews

I’ve added a new page to the site, imaginatively titled “Game Reviews,” after finding out that NZGamer.com, the gaming website I wrote for, for over ten years, has closed its doors. It looks like the site itself is no more as well, so in the spirit of posterity (aka sticking this stuff somewhere) I’m going to be slowly adding some of my reviews and features here.

I’m leaving off the previews–I never much liked writing those anyway, and it was the reviews, features and interviews that I really put something into.

Who knows, maybe I can land another reviewing job with this very odd CV of mine. In any case, if you are curious, they are there.

Culture shock

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about culture, mostly because I’ve been reading / watching some great things on world building (Orson Scott Card’s How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy & Brandon Sanderson’s lectures on it in his Write About Dragons series) – and also because in the novel I’m writing, I have a character experience some serious culture shock when they travel from an isolated village to a high-tech society.

As someone who’s more of a “gardener” than an “architect” (thanks GRRM), I don’t over-plan my cultures when I’m writing. But that said, I’ve never had a situation where I’ve set down two such differing cultures side-by-side, and then introduced a wide-eyed innocent to the wonders and horrors of technology.

It’s made me think a lot about my own experience of culture (and culture shock), and how overwhelming cultural differences can be, even when moving between two relatively-similar cultures. When I was thirteen, my family picked up and moved from the Pacific Northwest to a pretty small town in New Zealand. Yep, one English-speaking country to another English-speaking country. We even touched the same ocean, weird as that sounds. We moved to a place we’d visited before on lots of occasions, to a town where we had family already living. And we still were traumatised by it, at first.

So how different was it? Just a couple of examples:

• We instantly stuck out like sore thumbs with our American accents. People at school knew me as “that American girl,” and as nice as it might sound for people to know who you are, even though you don’t know them, it’s actually a really weird feeling. Even my grandparents would tease us about it: “say waterrrr!” My dad’s car was known as the “Yank Tank.” We were “the Americans,” and therefore immediately different.

• Starting a new school was weird. OK, so starting a new school anywhere for a thirteen year old girl is always going to be dramatic. But throw in a totally different syllabus, a school uniform, the accent thing, and hell, even the way people took notes, and the result was total bewilderment for me.

• People would ask me if my school was like Beverly Hills 90210.

• Driving. We brought over our chevy suburban from the States (how American of us, hah!), but before it arrived we drove one of my grandparents’ cars. We were forever getting in the wrong seats – usually my little sister in the drivers’ seat. Also, my grandparents’ car would start binging once you started driving over 98 km per hour. Annoying!

• TV. When we moved to New Zealand, the country had two TV channels. This, for a TV-aholic who was used to cable TV, MTV, Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, HBO, and the rest of it, was totally bizarre. Channel One was news and “old people shows,” so invariably I would come home from school, change out of my uniform, go upstairs to my grandparents’ mezzanine (we were still staying with them; it took us three months to find a house), and go upstairs to watch Neighbours and ‘60s Batman. New Zealand didn’t have Shortland Street just then, so Australian soap operas was as good as it got.

• The smells. My grandparents’ house had this certain smell about it, and for ages I just thought it was the “smell of New Zealand.” After both my grandparents passed away and their house was sold I thought I’d never smell that smell again – until the day my husband and I moved into our current house. I opened a drawer, and woosh. Turns out the “smell of New Zealand” is some sort of drawer liner paper. Huh.

• Culture. OK, regardless of your opinions on America as a hub of culture, living there – especially in the 80s – absolutely gave one a feeling of immediacy. There was so much going on, and it sincerely felt as though the US was at the centre of it all. (Yeah, I know.) I’m pleased to say a great whack of objectivity was acquired after we moved, but it did still feel as though we had moved from somewhere very big, to somewhere very small. As a thirteen year old, this was most noticed by the availability of movies and other consumable media. Seriously – I have to wait six months for Cry Baby to come out at the movies? FML.

February good things

It’s been a semi-productive morning down in the study, today. A big win was rewriting a section that I lost on Monday when my Scrivener syncing went wrong somewhere between the iPad, Dropbox, and my computer back at home. I was really resisting going back and writing it, though the section (mostly dialogue, thank god) was pretty fresh in my mind.

A bit part of my frustration is that I’ve realised I’m basically writing a new story with my re-write. Oh, not really, the main characters are all still there, and their history, the locations and technology, and all the rules of my world. But a large section of the first draft is going to be removed, with the intention to focus more on the path of my main character, and her story. In the first draft it got a little lost as bigger and splashier things started happening. So I’m really happy that all the questions I was asking as I wrote the first draft have indeed been answered, and I know the heart of this story. It’s just the frustration with the process, and realising that a crazy number of hours have been spent on this so far, and there are a lot more needed before I can consider this story finished.

But I wanted to write about some of the (other) things that are making me happy this month. There are quite a few of them, so, yay!

My journal: I’ve really got back into writing in my paper journal, ever since I took a journaling workshop with Helen Lehndorf last year. I’m trying to be more playful with it, pasting in bits and pieces, receipts, maps, scraps of things I find, stickers, etc. I’m terrible at drawing, so I have to make do with looking for interesting scraps in mags and the rest. But it’s fun, and nicer to flick through than my suitcase of earlier diaries and journals with endless scrawl…

The library: I’ve given up buying books at the moment, with my reduced income (I’m hoping to get more hours working this year, but it’s tough, even with my wee one at school; you can’t exactly go full-time, unless you want to look at after-school care, and stress about basically bloody everything all the time. I’d rather have less money, to be honest). I love that I can just go online and reserve books and they get sent from practically anywhere in the Hutt / Kapiti / Porirua and just appear at my local Eastbourne library a few days later. So good. This year so far, Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Embers by Sandor Marai, & In the Dutch Mountains by Cees Nooteboom have been standouts for me. Oh, and the Saga graphic novels by Brian K Vaughan. Oh my god. I love these.

Music: I’ve finally restrung my guitar, and it’s sitting in the kitchen where I play music to Leila when we’re meant to be getting her ready for school. Our latest fave is “Puff the Magic Dragon,” though I have to sing the last verse really quietly, it’s so sad. Steve also got me some replacement speakers for Christmas, to replace the Logitech ones that blew up a year or so ago. It’s bloody brilliant listening to music while I’m at my desk again. On heavy rotation: Trilok Gurtu, Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Smiths, and various Flying Nun playlists.

Telly: yeah, there’s been good stuff on TV lately. We just finished watching Star Trek Discovery, and I’ve just started watching Altered Carbon. Travelers is good too. So much good sci-fi.

Games: I’ve been gaming a wee bit in the evenings. Pillars of Eternity (which I started back when it first came out but never got round to finishing). I love Life is Strange (played the free Vol 1 and will buy the rest once PoE is done!), and Va-11 Hall-a is fab too (bartender visual novel? You make drinks for people who come into your bar, and get different conversations based on what you make them).

There were lots of other things I imagined I’d like to do when Leila went back to school. I really wanted to do the Whitireia novel workshop / class. Really wanted to start Ancient Greek at Victoria. Start some intense exercise program. But being poor means I can’t afford any of these right now. I don’t mind so much – having options limited can be a good thing too.

Everyone did that “word for the year” thing for a bit in January. I couldn’t really decide on one, but I like the idea of GO DEEPER as my motto this year. Not to keep bouncing from different idea or activity to another. To learn more about the things I already have an interest in. To aim for deeper understanding, deeper mastery. It’s as good as anything else, I suppose.

Hi

Hey 2018! How ya doin? It’s been a while.

New year, same old pondering on the place (and relevance) of personal blogs in the web-o-sphere…

I find I am more and more irritated by places like Facebook, where I basically stay for the sake of old friends and family, but to be honest I never check in on it, and I’ve disabled all of my alerts. I still Instagram a fair amount, but that seems to be a nice repository for travel pics, crafting photos, and the occasional journal snapshot.

A couple of days ago I created a (temp) micro blog. Not sure how long it will last (or if I will continue to subscribe once I have to start paying), but the site is discombobulated.micro.blog. At this stage I’m just playing around, but I like the format.

I’ve also been thinking about this blog, and wondering if I ought to migrate old posts somewhere else. There is an awful lot of baggage on this blog (fifteen years), and I’m not sure how I feel about all of those old posts being so accessible.

I updated my profile photo (in the about section here). The other one was far too serious. I think I set that one up back when I was trying to earnestly create some sort of writing profile. The new one is more honestly me.

And in case you thought I was avoiding something, I am still working on the novel re-writes. It has been a surprisingly difficult process for me, and there’s been a lot of downtime. I have felt like I’ve been finally able to get back into it now, what with Leila starting school. Hard to believe she is 5! I’m not sure I want to write about the process of this, but my goal is to finish the second draft by the end of March. Just putting it out there.

Like a witch in the kitchen

Seriously, when a hobby hits, it hits hard around here! Lately I have been so obsessed with dyeing wool (yarn, mostly). It started over the holidays, when I thought it would be something fun Leila might like to do – and to get her away from the TV (obsessed with Octonauts at the moment). We started off with my trusty Ashford acid dyes, which I’d already mixed (months, maybe years ago), and we had fun just squirting it on some hanks of vinagery yarn, and then steaming them.

Then we moved on to making up a pot of dye from all the onion skins we could scavenge, plus a few teaspoons of turmeric for good luck!

It worked out pretty well…

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But ever since then I’ve been getting a bit more serious – ordering some alum mordant online, scavenging for acorns down a neighbour’s driveway, even forcing the child to collect eucalyptus leaves with me at one of Steve’s bike races!

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(Yarn dyed from avocado pits – the two top – and some lichen I scraped off the deck, on the bottom.)

We did make it out of the house over the holidays, even though we had several pretty bad storms blow through. We got to the planetarium in the first week, and in the second, had a fun outing with some friends to the Dowse gallery. Spotted some cool street art along the way!

I’ve also been knitting – doing a scarf in fisherman’s rib, for Leila, with one of the yarns we dyed. Finished some socks for Steve.

And, just in case it looked like I wasn’t getting domestic enough, there’s also a new sourdough starter on the go…

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I’ve also finally – FINALLY!  – found my editing mojo again and have drawn up yet another plan for attacking the novel beastie. Progress is being made!

Rosey

rosey
rosey

We’ve been adopted by a large black-backed seagull, that Leila has nicknamed Rosey. He sits, most mornings, right up on the roof outside the kitchen window (we have an L-shaped house on different levels; the roof outside the kitchen window is the roof over our bedroom, a level down). We feed him Leila’s leftover crusts, leftover pasta from the night before, the heels from the loaf of bread. In return we get to listen to him tap-tap-tapping across the roof early in the morning, as well as regularly hearing his full-throated seagull cry that I’ve taken to mean this place is mine – back off! whenever any other seagulls come around.

He sits on the roof and looks up into the rain; he even sat up there during the last big hail storm we had last weekend. Didn’t budge a feather, not until he was ready to.

You’ll be standing in the kitchen, doing dishes, or just standing there drinking coffee and making toast, and suddenly you look up and he’s there, eyeballing you. I find it strangely reassuring.

I grew up with birds – Mum has had them as pets since she was a little girl. We had a blue-front amazon when we lived in the States. His name was Chester and he had the most amazing vocabulary. We had to leave him behind with my sister’s friend’s family. Her brother really bonded with Chester, and eventually took him to university with him, where he had him in the dorms. We even got to meet Chester again on our last trip to the States. I swear he remembered me after all those years. I whistled the whistle that he used to love doing, and he responded with a hard stare, his feathers puffing up a bit around his face, like he always did when he liked something. Parrots live for a really long time (Mum expected Chester to outlive her), even back then, but sadly Chester was killed by a racoon that broke into his house, and then presumably his cage. He would have put up a fight, but it’s a horrible thing to imagine. He was so intelligent, so funny.

After that, in New Zealand, we got a bird named Cookie, who had apparently had some issues with its previous owners. Cookie was a beautiful big sulphur-crested cockatoo. He was really amazing. But he hated men. He bonded immediately with my mother and then spent the rest of the time throwing seeds at my dad whenever he came into the kitchen. He’d get a huge beakful and then toss them the length of the kitchen – seeds hissing along the floor. He didn’t stay with us for long. Poor Cookie.

After that – a couple of budgies, and then Rosey. Rosey was a galah. Less showy than Cookie, sometimes coy, sometimes a real loudmouth. Mum & Rosey really hit it off, with the rest of us accepted a bit later. He was hilarious, loved dancing, singing, and periodically taking off from the roof of our house (at the top of a hill) to soar down and usually land on a neighbour’s roof. It wasn’t uncommon for us to have to drag a ladder round to someone’s house, knock on the door and explain our parrot was up on their roof, and could we have a look please? The fortunate aspect of Rosey’s aerial escapades was that he had a serious fondness for potato chips and we could usually lure him back from his moment of freedom, in exchange for a snack.

Rosey caught some sort of awful bird flu (Mum reckons from the sparrows who used to go in to his cage and steal seeds, when we had him outside) and died in Mum’s arms. She buried him in the back yard, and put his bell on top of his grave. She never got a bird again after Rosey.

In any case, Leila had no knowledge of any of this when she decided to name our friendly neighbourhood seagull Rosey. But I can’t help thinking of him, and all the other birds in my life, when I watch him up on our roof.

I’d love to have a pet bird, myself, but often struggle with thoughts about animals in captivity. Of course most bird owners don’t just leave their birds in cages – most let them out to roam around and often the birds do come to think of their cages as their “safe place”. I guess it’s the symbolism of it, in part. (Also bird poo is really hard to get out of clothing – that white part (protein?) sticks like anything.) Maybe one day. But for now it’s a lovely feeling to have a sort of friendly acknowledgement, a sort of window into a wild animal’s life. I often think of him when I see seagulls flying around the neighbourhood.

Rememento Mori

I’ve finally got organised and created a new category for the WIP: Rememento Mori. It’s a wanky take on the phrase Memento Mori, which I’m sure you’ll remember is Latin for “remember you must die” or thereabouts. So Re-memento Mori is a play on this, Latin scholar that I am (not), and my wink-wink “remember that you must die…again.” Hopefully I’ve caught all the old posts with it now.

Speaking of… I’ve hit a hard patch in the revision, with new scenes that have felt awkward to write, and usually this is the place where I’d go ughhhhh and go off and play Skyrim for a bit. But I’ve got to get this baby in the bag, got to. So I’m pressing on. Up to page 78 in the revisions, with probably 50% of that new writing.

This part is hard. This is the bit where I find yourself wanting to clean toilets, do some sock knitting, and work on your taxes. Anything but the work. And not knowing even if people will respond positively to the book makes it even more of an unknown quantity.

Hopefully recording the process / progress of this will make for some interesting reading when I look back. Hopefully I’ll be able to draw some lessons from it and find ways to improve on the next book.

(Because, and here’s a dirty little secret, I have already started doing some pre-writing on book 2. It’s a million miles away from the current book and man, it feels wonderful to be thinking about something else. I do it when I’m upstairs and Leila is watching TV or pottering around. Revisions are downstairs, by myself, full concentration. This pre-writing feels like play. It’s wonderful.)