Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – a reread

book shorts blue (2)This is part of Shorts Series of book reviews (skimping on all aspects except Use for Writers)

By Douglas Adams                          Pan Books 1992                     Adult Fiction

Score: 9.5/10                                                                 Genre:  Science Fiction comedy

Arthur Dent lies in front of a bulldozer. He’s not happy. His house is about to be demolished to make way for a bypass. But his day is set to get a whole lot worse. Vogon ships gather around the earth to supervise the demolition of the ‘insignificant blue-green planet’ to make way for an hyperspatial express route. Arthur’s Dent’s friend Ford Prefect (from the Beetlguese star system) saves Arthur from obliteration by hitching a ride on a Vogon cruiser.

I could go on, but you really don’t read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the plot you read it for the wacky characters, such as the boorish, disgusting Vogons or Zaphod Beeblebrox, the reckless, egotistical,  multi-armed and three-headed ex-president of the galaxy. You read it for the clever concepts such as the babblefish, which, once inserted in your ear, interpret foreign languages; or the super computer designed to find the answer to ‘Life the Universe and Everything’, and of course the wonderful ‘Guide’ with, DON’T PANIC, emblazoned on its cover and entries that are entertaining and often totally useless.

I frequently chuckled to myself as I lay in bed reading Hitchhiker’s Guide.  My husband, who has also read it more than once, finally put down his own book and said, ‘Just read it to me.’ And so I did. In our 28 years of marriage this is the first time he’s ever asked me to read out loud to him. That is the power of Hitchhiker’s Guide you’ll want to share it, to quote it and revel in its escapist wackiness with other fans.

There are very few books that have worked their way into the everyday vernacular and psyche to the extent of Hitchhiker’s Guide. As if to illustrate this, I turned on the radio the morning after reading aloud and the announcer said ‘I’ll be talking about, life the Universe and everything.’ In our family it is one of the only books/movies we can all agree upon as being fabulous. We once even named an anemone in our marine tank, Zaphod (It was also reckless – kept climbing into the filter).

I only reread the first book of the series this time but have the other three – The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life the Universe and Everything and So Long and Thanks for all the Fish. I will save these, like a bottle of happy pills, for when I’m in real need of escapism.

Use to Writers

Humour is (I believe) the hardest thing to write and hardest thing to analyse. Even those who write comedy for a living don’t always know where the laughs are going to come.

I guess I can only say we should give ourselves permission to be wacky, play with words, be observant, notice character quirks (Douglas Adams based many of his characters on real life people), see life’s ironic situations and odd societal trends. Keep a diary (or your phone) close to note situations that tickle your funny bone or make you scratch your head. There aren’t many genres (if any) that don’t benefit from an injection of humour.

The chances of another Douglas Adams arising in the universe is infinitesimally small (unless you happen to have an improbability drive) but maybe your own brand of wackiness will strike a chord with readers. I can’t end this review without sharing one of the many passages that made me giggle. Here, Ford is talking to Arthur:

… you’d better be prepared for the jump into hyperspace. It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.’

‘What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?’

‘You ask a glass of water.’

Arthur thought about this.

‘Ford,’ he said.

‘Yeah?’

‘What’s this fish doing in my ear?’

Our native forest fruits 2

nature shorts colourThe other rainforest fruit in our garden is the dear little tree that keeps on giving – no thorns here. To go with its sweet nature it has a sweet name – lilly pilly. Ours is a  Syzygium australe. The commercial name was Brush Cherry but these names can vary.

Lilly pilly’s  have a wide natural range from the rainforests of far North Queensland to the temperate rainforests of the southern states. Our lilly pilly occupies a shaded spot in the garden where nothing else we’ve planted over the years has survived.

It was  planted as small sapling only a year ago and has grown,

Lilly Pilly saplingIMG_8358

From this …..                                      to this.

It’s gifts are many and varied from leaves – glossy with red-tinged new growth,

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the light green buds,

lilly pilly buds 2

delicate white flowers,

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And of course the edible fruit which change from delicate pink to dark crimson.

Young lilly pilly fruitCrimson lilly pilly fruit

I have eaten the fruit at both stages, the darker fruit has a sweeter flavour. Other sites describe the fruit as a cranberry-like, but to me, they are much more like a tart light-textured (imagine lighter than a nashi pear) apple with a hint of rose flavour. I pick and wash them and eat them as is. Samantha Martin, known as the Bush Tukka Woman, says: ‘Lilly pilly berries are a perfect addition to any smoothie or fruit salad. They are also fantastic in jams, chutneys, ice-creams, savoury and sweet sauces, and can be baked into muffins for a sweet, healthy treat.” http://www.onyamagazine.com/lifestyle/food-drink/foodstuffs/move-aside-acai-berries/

http://www.booktopia.com.au/bush-tukka-guide-samantha-martin/prod9781741174038.html

Some of the lilly pilly fruits have largish seeds but others have a seed no bigger than a grape seed (which I just swallow)

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Here in the Illawarra our lilly pilly starting fruiting in March and is still bearing edible fruit in late May.

Lilly Pillys picked in late May

Berries I picked yesterday

This can’t be the perfect tree? There must be a catch. Well there is. Many lilly pilly varieties are affected by psyllids (Trioza eugenia). These are tiny cicada-like creatures that lay their eggs on the leaves. The nymphs embed themselves in the leaf making a pit which shows as a lump or pimple on top of the leaf.

psyllid bumpspsyllid pits

My lilly pilly is psyllid-affected, but not badly. The nursery recommended removing affected leaves and keeping the plant healthy. We have subsequently installed a watering system and fed with Seasol.  Some sites recommend the pesticide Confidor – but I would definitely steer clear. The neonicotinoid chemicals within  Confidor have been implicated in decimating bee populations. http://www.see-change.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/PROTECTING-BEES-flyer.pdf

Besides, I prefer to keep a thriving ecosystem in my plants. This is just a few creatures I found on the lilly pilly  in the space of half-an-hour – potentially some of them feed on the psyllids.

 

small praying mantisBronze jumping spider?

A mantis and a small spider  (bronze jumping spider – Helpis minitabunda??)

 

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A green planthopper (a sap-sucking insect) with nymph (I didn’t even notice the yellow-striped nymph when I took photo). Black beetle – I’m hoping these eat the psyllids

You can purchase lilly pilly varieties that are resistant to psyllids including Acmena smithii and Syzgium luehmannii.

I am not the only one who loves their lilly pilly. It is a favourite in Australian gardens for hedges, topiary and feature trees. But maybe it should be appreciated a little more for its bush food bounty.

The bored-doodle certainly does. She became goat-like when the lilly pilly came into fruit.

 

Our native forest fruits 1

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It was bad mowing weather in March

nature shorts colourOn a damp, March day after a weeks of torrential rain I ventured into the wilds (of my backyard) to seek the fruits of the exotic finger lime. I waded through long grass in mortal fear of stepping on an undiscovered dog poo.

I manoeuvred carefully between the webs of the St Andrew’s Cross spider and the leaf-curling spider – steadfast guardians of the prized fruit.

Ouch ! those spines are painful.

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Back through the long grass to get my gloves.

Finally with webs in my hair and puncture wounds in my hands. I plucked the long glossy fruits and took my spoils to the kitchen.

~~~~

Finger limes  (Microcitrus australasica) are native fruits of  south-eastern Queensland and northern NSW but ours grows well in a sheltered spot in our Illawarra  (southern coastal NSW) backyard.

The best way to extract the flesh from the finger lime is to cut off one of the ends and just squeeze with your fingers.  It is amazing how much comes out of such a skinny fruit. Using this method you avoid scrapping any of the bitter pith.

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Don’t cut like this. Cut at thin end and squeeze flesh out

The little balls of citrus ‘caviar’ make a pleasant sour explosion in your mouth. This year the taste was really good – light and clean – probably due to the high rainfall. I’m not certain of the variety of my tree, but from googling it looks like a, Jali Red.

I use the  finger limes to add zing to water and drinks for the table but have also used them on fish (often mixed with soy sauce). There are more suggestions here if you are interested : http://boutiquecitrus.com.au/finger-lime-recipes-and-ideas/

Our finger lime is a ‘rescue tree’ (alright, alright I’m compensating for not getting a rescue dog). It was given to me as a sapling, by a friend who said her husband refused to have ‘that bloody spiky thing’ in their garden. Overall it gets very little love or light as it is overshadowed by a grevillea and lemonade tree in a south-east corner of the garden.

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As long as you don’t put it in a thoroughfare (ouch) and water regularly (it is a rainforest plant) the finger lime tree is low maintenance and an interesting plant to cultivate. I found the fruiting season runs from late December to March in the Illawarra. The fruits don’t hold on very tightly and generally fall off in your hand when they’re ready to pick. This can be a disadvantage –  make sure you pick them regularly before they drop to the ground and rot.

 

 

 

Footnote: When I began to write this blog post I fell into writing it like the well-known picture book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ ie

We’re going on a lime hunt.

We’re going to pick a big one. etc etc

Back through the spider webs Sticky icky..

Back through the long grass swishy swooshy

It was then I realised 12 X 12 – a year-long picture book challenge was getting to me (more about that later) I also realised that the average age of my reader is probably not 4.  So, I hope you like my grown-up version better.

 

Big Little Lies

By Liane Moriarty                           Pan Macmillan Australia 2015                  Adult Fiction

Score: 10/10                                                    Genre: Australian suburban drama/suspense

book shorts blue (2) This is part of Shorts Series of book reviews (skimping on all aspects except Use for Writers)

There is death and mayhem at the primary school trivia night. Big Little Lies deals with the circumstances leading up to this tragic event. There is school-yard bullying, over-involved parents, dark secrets hidden behind closed doors, fraught relationships and firm friendships.

My first 10/10 book for the blog!

This book deals in part with dark subjects of domestic and sexual violence. But, like real life, these don’t exist in isolation. The farcical ‘mummy wars’ and the cringe-worthy helicopter parents are both humorous and all too familiar. The mystery is suspenseful and teased out in chapters in varying POV’S. But above all the dialogue and characterisations sparkle with authenticity and wit.

Use for writers: Liane Moriarty depresses me. Sometimes when I read a good novel I can convince myself of one of two things:

– I couldn’t write it because I don’t have the life experience or the time/resources to research the subject material.

– I think I can emulate aspects of the novel.

But:

-Moriarty doesn’t write about the unfamiliar – this is suburban coastal Australian. It could’ve been set at my local primary school, in my suburb. So, the first excuse is null.

–  And for the second: Moriarty so deftly handles structure and characterisation that it would be easy to try and do what she does, and fail.

The structure of both, Big Little Lies, and her novel, Truly Madly Guilty, follow the pattern of: A terrible event has taken place. What are the things that lead to this event (flashbacks and forwards). The who, how, and exactly what of the event. The fallout from the event.

Moriarty reveals each part of the mystery and each character’s secrets just at the right time. The changes in points of view enhance the pacing and add to the suspense. The dialogue and inner thoughts of the main characters are so witty that I wanted to reread sections just for fun. I particularly loved the use of the humorous snippets (flash forwards) of the police interviews for the minor characters. If you are thinking of writing a Multiple POV novel it would perhaps pay to do a table/map of POV changes and time shifts throughout Big Little Lies to get a sense of its structure.

Multiple POVs and fragmented timelines have the potential to make for a confusing read but not here because:

-We are kept orientated with statements about the length of time till the trivia night eg FIVE MONTHS BEFORE TRIVIA NIGHT.

– The voices and the houses/circumstances of the main characters are so different that you never lose track of where you are and whose head you’re in.

Madeline, the sassy older mum with fierce loyalty to her friends is a wonderful character. In this excerpt she is with her new friend, Jane and older friend, Celeste – on her birthday, feeling sorry for herself due to an injured ankle. The last passage shows how Moriarty cleverly segues into the future police interviews.

‘Let’s have some now!’ Madeline lifted the bottle by the neck suddenly inspired.

‘No, no,’ said Celeste. ‘Are you crazy? It’s too early for drinking. We have to pick the kids up in two hours. And it’s not chilled.’

‘Champagne breakfast’ said Madeline. ‘It’s all in the way you package it. We’ll have champagne and orange juice. Half a glass each! Over two hours. Jane? Are you in?’

‘I guess I could have a sip,’ said Jane. ‘I’m a cheap drunk.’

‘I bet you are, because you weigh about ten kilos,’ said Madeline ‘We’ll get on well. I love cheap drunks. More for me.’

‘Madeline,’ said Celeste. ‘Keep it for another time.’

‘But it’s the Festival of Madeline,’ said Madeline sadly. ‘And I’m injured.’

Celeste rolled her eyes. ‘Pass me a glass.’

***

Thea: Jane was tipsy when she picked up Ziggy from orientation… Young single mother drinking first up in the morning. Chewing gum too. Not a good first impression. That’s all I’m saying.

Footnote:  After this I read Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty – also brilliantly structured. I give it 9/10. I favour Big Little Lies because the overwhelming feeling when reading Truly Madly Guilty was one of dread (it involved the possible drowning of a young child). This dread keeps you turning pages but perhaps not as entertaining as the mystery and humour which infuses Big Little Lies.

I am currently reading the, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, also by Liane Moriarty.

 

 

The pleasure of peewees

nature shorts colour

I’m an average nature photographer. I don’t use manual mode and have just started to using aperture priority/f-stops (AV mode) to control depth-of-field. 70% of the time I still use Auto or P (ISO only control) settings on my Canon 100d.

I don’t own amazing equipment. I don’t have a dedicated macro lens, but with my Canon 18-55mm lens I can take decent close-ups. I don’t have a serious bird photography lens but if I’m close enough and the lighting good I can take a reasonable shot with my Sigma 18-250mm.

I don’t travel a lot (maybe one day) – many of my photos are taken in my local area and in most cases very local (my backyard).

In other words, I won’t win any photography competitions. There will always be those with better equipment, greater expertise and more exciting subjects.

But that’s fine because that is not why I take photos. I take photos to

Practice patience

To be observant

To learn about the natural world.

It once took me twenty shots and half an hour to get two decent shots of yellow robins as a family of these tiny birds flitted amongst the sheoaks (Warning! Nature photographers can be very boring company on outings). During this time of intense observation I was totally lost in the robin’s world. It was pure escapism. Environments, even familiar ones, take on a much more complex and exotic nature when I think like a nature photographer. Appreciation and quiet joy go hand in hand with close observation.

The fun part doesn’t end with taking the photo – at the end of the day I go to my computer and books. I identify and learn about the flora and fauna captured on my sd card.

I didn’t expect to learn anything about the pee wees I snapped in the backyard. After all peewees – also called magpie-larks or mudlarks (Grallina cyanoleuca) are one of Australia’s most common and unassuming birds. My bird book shows that they have an impressive range over the whole of Australia excepting an area of Western Australian desert. My only real thoughts on peewees were that they have a perchance for pecking at their reflection in shiny surfaces. That night my research revealed I had snapped a male and female pair. It turns out that male and female pee-wees have different plumage patterns. All my life I’d been looking at pee-wees and hadn’t realised this. The pleasure of finding facts like this, that will stay with me forever, is the reason I take nature photos.

Females : Females have a white throat and white face (around beak). From side view you can see they have an unbroken strip of white extending from chest up the neck to head.

Males: Black throat and black face with white ‘eyebrow’. *

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Female Peewee

 

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Male Peewee

  • I think of an old man with whitish eyebrows – such as an Albert Einstein – like figure or one of the grumpy old men on the muppets to help me remember this feature belongs to the male.

 

The Dry

By Jane Harper                  Pan Macmillan Australia 2016                                     Adult Fiction

Score: 9/10                                                                                    Genre: Australian Crime Thriller

book shorts blue (2)   This is part of Shorts Series of book reviews (skimping on all aspects except Use for Writers)

Aaron Falk, a federal police investigator, returns to his drought-stricken home town, Kiewarra to attend the funeral of an old friend, Luke Hadler. Luke is the apparent perpetrator of murder-suicide in which his wife and baby were killed.

Falk reluctantly stays to assist the local police sergeant in an attempt to find answers for Luke’s bereaved parents. The town holds bitter memories for Aaron including the suspicious death of childhood friend – Ellie. Falk’s investigation reopens old wounds and sets him against old enemies. What is the secret Falk keeps and is there a connection between the recent deaths of the Hadler family and the death of Ellie, 20 years ago?

This is the most gripping book of any genre I’ve read in many years. I am generally a slow reader but I read this in less than 3 days (a long train journey helped too).

Use for writers:

If you want the ingredients of riveting, crime page-turner – study this book. Some of the reasons why ‘The Dry’ is so gripping:

-The investigator is not a dispassionate outsider with no stake in the community or the crime. Aaron Falk has murky history and the suspense arises not just from the whodunnit aspect of the Hadler murders but the slow reveals of event’s in Aaron’s past.

-Jane Harper engenders empathy for Aaron Falk. She gives a him a tough motherless childhood, awkward teenage years and a haunted but thoughtful adult persona. As much as the reader wants to know who is responsible for the Hadler murders they also want to see Falk redeemed.

-There are, of course, the classic crime novel strengths of multiple suspects and motives. Who do you trust? However, unlike many crime novels I’ve read none of the secrets or motives seem strange or too convulted. The final solution is satisfying and plausible.

-The setting of a drought-stricken town where tempers and livelihoods are fragile adds to the tension and the constant underlying threat of violence.

Extra note about the writing: ‘The Dry’ stays in third person, past tense but when relating witness accounts rather than stay in Falk’s POV it switches to the POV of the interviewee (who has perfect recollection of minute details). It is a strange technique that threw me at first. It didn’t allow for lying and the reader appeared to be getting more information than Falk. I came to the conclusion it was cheating a little but allowed for more evocative, descriptions of past events and, therefore, was more entertaining than a question-answer interview. I have shown a short example below. Falk is talking to Luke’s father, Gerry. The switch to Gerry’s POV is in italics, as it is in the book. No spoilers here.

‘Is it connected with what happened to Ellie?’ (Gerry)

‘I honestly don’t know, Gerry. ‘(Falk)

‘But maybe?’

‘Maybe.’

A silence. ‘Christ. Listen, there’s something I should have told you from the start.’ (Gerry )

Gerry Hadler was hot but not unhappy about it. He tapped a light rhythm on the steering wheel whistling to himself. The evening sun warmed…

Gerry glanced at the bottle of sparkling wine lying on the passenger seat. He’d popped into town to pick up supplies and spontaneously nipped into the bottle shop.

***

What do you think about this technique?

Playing catch-up in shorts

I’ve been slack, very slack with this blog of late. Because like a true Geminii I get bored easily and am tempted by the next glittering thing. The next glittering writing project/genre/challenge and the next platform on social media. But here I am back with a renewed fondness for my blog because, let’s face it, I’m verbose. Restraining my word count is not my strong point. So really Twitter, Facebook and recently Instagram just don’t fill my rambling need.

And I admit I lost faith in my blog for a time I’ve been reading other excellent writing blogs and did a course on social media for writers and realised I’m doing it all wrong.

I should have a brand, a focus for my blog. I should target my potential fiction readers.  But like my restless Geminii personality my blog is a hotch-potch of nature photography and taxonomy, book reviews, writing (in all genres and ages) travel and general musings.

Who is going to follow that? Who has my eclectic blend of interests?

Probably nobody.

But that’s who I am. And even if I write to nobody but myself at least I’ll be writing a variety of things that’ll keep me interested. If one week somebody visits my blog who is interested in the Asian House Gecko and the next week another person reads my poetry challenge efforts and the next week a dystopian enthusiast reads my book review on, Wool then, to me, that’s thrilling. Not practical. Not good marketing. Just fun.

So what to do now? How do I play catch-up?

Well I’m writing a series of shorts. Not so succinct they are Twitter or Instagram size, but short enough to summarise my endeavours and observations over the last 8 months. Including:

 Reading shorts – Mini-reviews of the books I have read recently with a focus on my, Use for Writers (as there are plenty of reviews out there which have good synopses and inciteful opinions) – on my Book Reviews blog.

book shorts blue (2)

Creativity/Musing shorts – What I’ve learnt, where I’m heading on my writing journey and how I stepped outside my comfort zone in the last 8 months – on my Literaleigh blog

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Nature shorts – this is the one I am looking forward to most. I’ve taken many photos and want to share some observations – on Nature Lovers Log.

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