Wednesday, 28 November 2012

You’re Like Coming Home

Every time I hear this song, by Lonestar, I think of my husband.

While listening to it the other day, it occurred to me that people frequently ask the question ‘How did you know he/she was “the one”?’

In my life, I’ve had enough first dates that I don’t know the exact number – less than twenty, but enough that I can’t recall the number precisely since I didn’t bother to count. Out of that, I’ve had three second dates, and two marriages.

When I was dating, and more often than not refusing a second date with the latest man in question, I was frequently told I was too picky. I reject that notion out of hand – I’d rather be alone than with the wrong man. That may sound bizarre, but when I was on my own, I was just lonely. When I was with the wrong man, it was a constant reminder of what I’d had, but didn’t now have. It’s easier to bury the memories, I suppose, when you haven’t got something rubbing your nose in it and constantly reminding you.

Those are the reasons I didn’t bother with a second date often. If I didn’t feel that ‘click’ immediately, some ephemeral sense of ‘rightness’, I firmly believed it would never be there. Sure, you can grow companionship and a sense of familiarity, but what I was looking for was more than just that. Some might say I was searching for a great passion, a wild love, and to some degree I probably was, but that wasn’t the indefinable something for which I searched.

Some of those first dates never turned into second dates because he also wasn’t interested. A few people told me perhaps I should be more restrained in my personality when I went on a first date, which struck me as the most incredible advice ever. So… I should lie about who I am until… when? When is a good time to suddenly spring on someone that you’re not the person they thought you were?

Since my first marriage ended because my ex-husband turned out to have multiple personalities (see here for all the sordid details), I can attest to the fact there is never a good time to have that conversation. You’re left with a great sense of betrayal, of deception, and impossible uncertainty because suddenly you find yourself in a relationship with someone you don’t know. The best advice I can give you for dating is be yourself. Seriously. If your date doesn’t like you, then he/she isn’t the right person for you. The best gift you can give yourself is holding out for that person who loves you exactly as you are. I didn’t want to change myself. I wanted a man who loved me for what I am.

In any case, I think there is something in the fact that of the three second dates I had, two of them ended in marriage. Clearly one of those marriages ended in divorce, but I don’t blame myself for that. Something like 99% of marriages involving a spouse with mental illness end in divorce, and I did everything I possibly could to hold it together (at great personal expense). But I’ve also never wasted time on a relationship that didn’t feel right, that was never going anywhere, that was just ‘filling time’ as it were. I’ve heard people say things like ‘He’s nice enough, but I’m never going to marry him.’ Then what the hell are you doing dating him??

I knew on my first date with my second husband that it was right. There was a quality to those hours, a comfortableness, a familiarity, something that just made me want to stay. That did make me stay, long after I should have gone home, and even when we did part ways, I didn’t want to go. I had plans the next weekend – my friends were taking me out to get me drunk on what should have been my first wedding anniversary. But he wanted to see me, and I wanted to see him, and so I invited him along – and he came. And survived the experience, which is quite a feat, since my friends are an oddball bunch.

I can’t recall any other man I would have invited out with my friends on what was, essentially, a second date. I can only put that down to the sense of ‘rightness’ I felt, and I can only assume he agreed to come for the same reason. There was something there important enough to be pursued – that feeling was the only thing that got me out on a first date with him, seeing as it was only six months since I’d separated from my first husband. I’d met someone who was too good to not take a chance, even though I was still something of a mess.

I never analysed that feeling he gave me at the time. Emotionally wrecked as I was, that feeling was a soothing balm, and it was enough that I felt it, and recognised it, and it was good. It’s only now I reflect on it that I can put that feeling into words.

Honey – you’re like coming home.

Friday, 23 November 2012

British English Vs American English

I had never in my life met someone who didn’t know there was a difference between British and American English until I joined Twitter. Everyone in Australia seems to know, and it seems that knowledge is widespread in Canada and Britain as well. I also know many Americans who do know there are differences, but by the same token the only people I’ve yet met who didn’t know were also Americans (not that I have, of course, interacted with people of every country on Earth).

I respect your right to change your own language, but I draw the line at being told I’ve misspelled something just because I’ve used British English. The most notable example was when someone tweeted a response to my tweet of my blog post, including the word ‘judgement’ in the title. This person helpfully pointed out I’d misspelled ‘judgement’. Um, no, that’s correct spelling in British English. 

This person clearly hadn’t even read my Twitter bio, or they might have twigged to the fact that a lawyer, of all people, is highly unlikely to be misspelling a word like judgement. To add insult to injury, this person didn’t even have the courtesy to apologise or acknowledge their mistake when I replied it is correct spelling in British English – and I was polite about it too. This level of ignorance is up there with the Republicans who wanted to come to Australia after the election because we have a male, Christian president – but at least that was also amusing!

That was an annoying experience, but far more concerning how this affects writers. It's not generally required to change British English to American English when submitting novels to American markets (thankfully, because that would be painful and laborious, and quite frankly I'd need an editor for that), but some short story markets do require it, and I tend to change all my short stories for the American market just to avoid the debate. Aurealis in Australia is the only market I know which requires all submissions to be in British English. Worse than this inconvenience, is the fact I know authors who self-publish using British English (because, hey, that’s their native language) and then get bad reviews from ignorant readers who complain that the book contains multiple instances of bad spelling and had a poor editor, because they don’t know those words are British English. 

I don’t run around leaving bad reviews of books written in American English because of spelling errors, so why is this happening in reverse?

I have a theory. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, books written in British English are often converted into American English for the American market – this includes not just changing spellings, but changing a word where the name of something in British English isn’t the same as it is in America e.g. a ‘Mac’ in Britain is a raincoat, and these types of words get changed. Harry Potter, for example, was changed significantly for the American market. If you bought Harry Potter in America, I can guarantee you it’s different to my copies purchased here in Australia. 

The reason for this, I’m told, is because Americans don’t understand British English. Say what? American English isn’t translated into British English for the UK, Australian and Canadian markets. What are publishers trying to say? That we’re cleverer than the American market, or it doesn’t matter if we don’t understand? Well I do understand, and I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t understand, and that’s because I’ve been exposed to American English from a young age.  If this tendency had never been catered to, the American market (as a whole, and distinguishable from the individuals who comprise it) would have as much knowledge of British English as I have of American. 

The problem we have now is that this practice in the past has generated a level of ignorance in the American market that now we have to perpetuate the practice in order to avoid bad reviews saying words are misspelled. My horror reached new peaks when Momentum Publishing here in Australia (the digital imprint of Pan McMillan) stated they publish all their digital books in American English, even though the authors are Australian and would have written it in British English. I know why they’re doing it, I’m just appalled it’s become necessary.

What are your thoughts on this practice? Why do you think it started? Do you think it should continue? Were you aware, generally, of the differences between the two styles of English? Do you see value in all parts of the English-speaking world being aware of the general differences between British and American English? Do you think British English should be converted to American? How about American to British? If you’re an American writer, how would you feel if asked to convert to British English? And how would you feel if you were required to convert to British English, but I wasn’t required to convert to American English? I’m fascinated to hear others viewpoints on this issue. 

If I ever self-publish, I can see myself putting a big notice at the front that says the book is written in British English! Not that it will help – people don’t read that stuff. 

A particular sore point for me because the word 'artefact' appears frequently in my novel, and I'm heartily tired of being told I've misspelled it
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Sunday, 11 November 2012

Scotland: The Pipes Call Me Home

I don’t recall how old I was when I first heard the bagpipes and drums. Not very old. Younger than ten, almost certainly. It was a Saturday, and my brother and I were out with Dad, which meant Mum was at work. I know that beyond a doubt because there’s no way my mother would have stopped to listen to bagpipes – no, she would have hurried us past that ‘horrendous noise’. Which is not to say I don’t love my mother, only that her perspective on bagpipes is very different to the rest of the family. 

Mum stopped work in 1992, so my memory of the bagpipes predates that, and hence how I know I was ten, or younger, and my brother likely eight, or younger. Quite small. But the memory is vivid. I remember where it was, and the tartan, and the kilts, the pipes, and the man with the drums with what looked, to my young mind, like pom pom drumsticks. I was fascinated by the way he swung them – not sticks, but on strings, up and over to beat the drum. 

What I remember most, though, is the haunting dirge of the pipes, speaking to my young heart in a way I didn’t understand, but a way that would stay with me for a lifetime. There was something about that unearthly music that cut straight to the soul, and the three of us stood mesmerised by the music for I don’t know how long. It was a sound I have never forgotten, never will forget, and that stirs my blood and conjures images of home. 

My mother is Australian, descended from English and Welsh. Perhaps this explains her deep-set dislike of the noise. For her ancestors, the wail of the pipes was not a happy sound.

My father identifies as Australian, but was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and didn’t legally become an Australian citizen until many, many years after my first encounter with the pipes and drums. My brother and I are Australian-born, but half Scottish by descent, and legally dual nationals. For all three of us, there is something in the sound of the pipes and drums that calls us home, not to a land of droughts and flooding rains, but to the moor and the heath, swathed in purple heather, to the rocky crags of the Scottish highlands, shrouded in mist and rain. 

In 2008, I travelled to Scotland, so great was the desire to see this place of my ancestors’ (indeed, my father’s) birth. We went many places on our honeymoon, but like the pipes, I’ll never forget those first moments in Scotland. 

My husband was driving, and I sat in the passenger seat, staring out the window, with a bemused smile on my face. A huge sense of contentment, and indeed homecoming, engulfed me as I stared out at what was, to my eyes, an unnaturally green landscape.  Despite the fact the scenery itself was alien, a great sense of belonging reverberated through me down to my very bones. The landscape is rugged, harsh, and unforgiving, and you can see how the environment moulded the Scots – tough, resilient, stoic. 

My husband, who also has Scottish roots, later admitted to me that he experienced a similar emotion. Within two weeks of our return home, we were homesick for Scotland, and planning our return. Alas, we’re still waiting, but we’ve set the year – 2016. We’re halfway there now, and the ache in me when I think of it – so close, and yet so far – is deep and long.

Since then, I’ve learned the feeling I experienced when I first heard the pipes (and every time I’ve heard them since) is not unique to me. Many people report feeling the same when they hear the pipes, and they all seem to have Scottish heritage. What is it about the bagpipes that speaks to us, even though we’ve never been to Scotland and may never go? Is this something peoples of other cultures experience? And yet the bagpipes seem unique in being almost universally despised by anyone who doesn’t have Scottish blood.  

I sometimes look for pictures to soothe my longing for the highlands – for it is the highlands specifically I miss, more than the lowlands. But many of the pictures I find, certainly a great number of the commercial images, those in calendars and the like, are not what I remember of Scotland. For instance, an image of the sun breaking through the clouds over Loch Ness. I don’t remember the sun. I remember clouds, and mist and drizzle, and cold, and yet I didn’t care. I am not a photographer, but I’ve shared some of my favourites with you. 

We’d never live in Scotland. We’re too accustomed to the warmth of Australian climes. But if we could, we’d live 6 months of the year here, and 6 months there. Home is where the heart is, and mine is divided, between two different worlds, between Australia and Scotland. 

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Monday, 5 November 2012

Conflict: How Much Is Enough?

Quite some time ago, Veronica Singleton (@mauied92) asked me if I'd guest blog on a writing-related topic. I agreed, thinking November was such a long way away, and of course, as is nearly always the case, it then rolled around with incredible speed. I'd spent a month frenetically finishing Deathhawk's Betrayal for submission to Voyager, who were accepting unagented queries for their digital imprint, when suddenly I realised I still needed a topic.

Thus it was that in the space of a few days I had to come up with a topic, write it and send it across. You can find the result, a discussion of conflict in the written story, here

In case you missed it, my short story, A Magical Melody, is available as part of the newly-released Spells: Ten Tales of Magic ebook anthology, available on Amazon and Smashwords.

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