Saturday, November 24, 2007

A tricky start

Would you believe I'm still muddling with the start of this book?
I've written and re-written the first six pages countless times, have spent days at it and I'm still not happy. Unfortunately, I'm one of those painful writers who have to get it right before I can move on. It would be so nice to just fly ahead with a rough draft and come back to these pages later. But I can't.
I've wondered whether I'm starting in the wrong place, have tried other possibilities, but no this is where I need to be.
It's getting better -- like a lump of clay, slowly taking shape. One big thing that's helped is a change of name for my hero. Amazing how that tiny element can have so much resonance and impact.
The interesting thing for me, that I've noted many times now, is that writing a book is like labour -- the giving birth kind. I've had four children and each labour was different -- different speed, different rhythms, different levels of intervention, but fortunately each time there was a wonderful result.
The books are the same. Each one presents unique problems and develops in its own sweet way. I know that. I don't know why I'm so impatient this time.
We're off to Tarzali tomorrow...
It will be interesting to see if that makes a difference.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Back to work…

I’ve actually been back at work ever since I got back from Japan, but there have been other more interesting things to post about. I had the printout of Adopted: Outback Baby waiting for me to proofread when I got back and I had to re-read and polish my latest manuscript and send it off.

And then I had a new book to start. That’s the really hard work.

Editing, revising, polishing, dreaming new stories, conflicts, characters and plots are all fun for me. Those tasks don’t feel like work at all.

The hard part is getting that story down on the page. Filling that blank screen – making what’s in my head come to life. Finding the words and finding the best place to start the story. I sit at my computer and write rubbish and scrap it. I try again. And scrap it. I go for a walk, get a better idea, come back full of enthusiasm and try to write it down. Realise it wasn’t such a great idea after all. And so the painful process continues until finally, finally, I keep little pieces of the rubbish and then I stitch them together and I see that my story is at last emerging.

That’s where I am today. It’s always a relief to get my muse's green light.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Byrne & Fiona in Estonia

My book In the Heart of the Outback has been translated into Estonian!

I found it accidentally while cruising the web. How exciting. My book is No. #001, so maybe it's a first for the line! This brings the total number of languages my books have been translated into to 23!
At least that's the number I've counted, so far.

I still get a buzz from thinking of anyone else reading my stories. I suppose it's an ego thing, but it's built into the reason we write -- to bring pleasure to others. And it's fantastic to know that those others are living in so many different countries in all kinds of flung flung parts with different languages and cultures and possibly no real idea of Australia.

I must confess, I had to do a Google search to find out exactly where Estonia is and there it is, just across the gulf from Finland and tucked in between Russia and Latvia. Even if I sell four and a half copies, it's fun to think about.

They have rather a flash website for books here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Last glimpse of Japan...

Our last, but possibly most fascinating trip into Tokyo began at Omatesando. This is a major fashion shopping avenue lined with huge cherry trees and filled with mega trendy shoppers and, because it combines Prada and Gucci with an avenue, it has a very Parisian feel.

We had lunch in a side street in a Spanish restaurant, of all things. The food was fabulous. I haven't said a lot about the food in Japan but we had some amazing eating experiences, including a Korean inspired meal where you cook your own meat and fish over a small grill set in the middle of the table. There are, of course, all sorts of accompanying side dishes and dipping sauces. It reminded me a bit of the fondue parties we used to have back in the 70s.
This (above) was part of one of those meals. I'm afraid I couldn't manage the partly coddled quail's egg in a nest of raw meat -- but only because I'd already eaten so much -- of course!!

From Omatesando, we walked on to Harajuku, which is a big intersection just outside the park that houses an important Meiji temple. And here, on Sunday afternoons, lots of 'alternative' (??) young people hang out, dressed in all kinds of costumes -- mostly Gothic. But dressing as a blood splattered accident victim or paramedic is also popular.
Interesting psychology...

From here, we went through huge shrine gates, similar to those at Nikko, into the Meiji park -- a beautiful, quiet forested area that eventually leads to the temple.

The First emperor of the Meiji restoration led the modernization of Japan. He sent Japanese all over the world, wanting to learn as much as he could about the west, planning to adopt what was good from other countries and reject what wasn't acceptable. As an example to his subjects, he cut off his traditional pigtail. I think modern Japan is still a fascinating blend of the old and the very, very new! (You should see the neat MP3 player I bought at Akaharbara!)

At the Meiji temple, I was fascinated by all the little girls we saw in traditional dress and then Andrew suddenly remembered that there are certain days in the year when girls aged 3, 5 and 7 are brought to the temple for a special blessing because it was traditionally significant to reach these ages -- to survive infancy. And we'd happened to come on one of these days. So I begged Elliot to snap some of the families posing for shots. I find them fascinating. (P.S. The little boys get a National Holiday for their special day!)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Asakusa contd...

Blogger spat the dummy when I tried to add any more photos, but there were two more from Asakusa that I wanted to share. On the right is this crane girl, who was a part of the procession. We were so lucky that the girls stopped and opened their wings when they were directly in front of us.

And below is the temple Senso-ji. The number of stalls in front of it and the crowds were amazing. That's incense you can see burning!


We were incredibly lucky that our visit to Asakusa coincided (quite by accident) with the annual festival associated with Senso-ji their local temple, and so we saw the most fabulous procession.

I'm afraid I can't tell you many details. Andrew was translating announcements for us at the time, but most of it's flown from my aging brain.

People lined the streets for ages before the procession started, but we sneaked away for a lunch of tempura and soba noodles (made from buckwheat) and were back in time for the fun. I was fascinated by a patiently waiting group on the other side of the road in traditional dress. All the children I saw in Japan were very well behaved -- but I'm sure they're normal and have their "moments."

The procession was led by a golden dragon.

And there were several traditional "bands". I'm so used to brass and pipe bands for processions, but this Japanese music was very calm and restful, by comparison. Still stirring, however.

Of course the samurai were very stirring. Don't they look splendid?

I loved these women (below), but I'm afraid I can't tell you who they are.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Japanese readers...

Japanese readers are voracious. I don't think I've ever seen so many people reading. Mind you, they spend A LOT of time on trains. Ex pat Australian, Belinda Hobbs, Managing Director of Harlequin's Tokyo office (with Elliot, left), said that some of her staff have a one and a half hour commute each way, each day, so they have plenty of reading time, I guess. But, until this trip, I don't think I'd ever seen so many people reading while standing in line on the platform.

(BTW, they are wonderful at standing in line -- for HOURS if necessary! You should have seen the lines waiting to try the simulator at the railway museum!!!!)

They also read standing up, with the book an inch from their nose in really tight peak hour crushes on the train.
Their books are produced in a sensibly small format that is easy to hold and they have these wonderful little plain covers to put over the book. Everyone uses them. Ostensibly, these covers are to keep the books clean, but it also hides the publisher's cover and people can read anything they like in public without any embarrassment. I think that's so clever!!!

Belinda and her enthusiastic team took us to a lovely lunch in a Thai restaurant. (Even though Japanese food is wonderful, they love foreign cuisines as well!) There, I met my very sweet Japanese editor, Miyoko Kobayashi ( and presumably the editor for all Image books, pictured right).
Miyoko told me that the Secrets We Keep trilogy will be released in Japan next May, June, July and my RITA book, Claiming His Family, will be out next August.

Miyoko and others commented that both Elliot and Belinda's husband treat their wives very nicely and they decided they would like Australian husbands!

At this lunch, I also learned that there are quite a lot of very popular Japanese romance authors. At least, they call themselves romance authors, but their stories often end unhappily. They are extremely popular, however, more popular than the Harlequin books. But our happy-ending stories are slowly making inroads. Our books are especially popular as downloads for cell phones -- selling amazingly well, apparently.

I gave Belinda at copy of Sizzle, Seduce & Simmer, with messages from Australian authors and she loved it (of course!). Is very interested in having it translated. I guess it needs to do well in ANZ first. Fingers crossed.
At this lunch I also learned the Japaneses romance readers love hard working heroines, but strong Alpha heroes. They don't seem to like particularly feisty heroines. No surprises to learn that Betty Neels is as popular here as everywhere else.

I also went back to the offices -- four floors of a skyscraper in inner Tokyo, where I met the rest of the team and signed books, which was fun. After we left, I was on my way back down the street and in the middle of a pedestrian crossing, when a sales manager came running after me, asking me to sign a cover flat for a reader who had lost her home in the earthquake in July, which I was, of course, very happy to do.

Yesterday, I was sent a translation of that reader's response, part of which said...

"Your company's kindness towards your reader just made me really happy. I imagine Harlequin staff are people full of love and joy, just as your books are.
It must be wonderful to have a job like yours that can make people happy. Your books have always made me happy, and I look forward to reading many more of your books in the future. "

That just about sums up my experience of the company, too.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Japan travels continued...

Before I start sounding like a tourist guide , take a look at this (below). It's a rooftop wedding chapel, and we took this shot from our hotel window. There are angels with trumpets, pink flamingos and all manner of fancy lights. Don't you love it?

Japan is a true mixture of the old and the new... and this was no more apparent than when we went into Tokyo and saw the Imperial Palace.

But unlike Buckingham Palace, you can’t see all the buildings, because they're cut off by a moat and a high stone wall.

The best view of the palace is from the Nijubashi bridge. The palace was almost completely destroyed in 1945 and was rebuilt in the 1960s.

The palace gate (below) has quite a romantic name that I've forgotten, but I know someone famous was murdered there by samurai in 1860. (Isn't that helpful? No wonder I don't write historical fiction.)

Here you can see modern Tokyo, just beyond the Imperial parkland. Everywhere in Japan, trees are carefully groomed and manicured and encouraged into artistic shapes. It took a little getting used to, but after I was there a few days, I began to appreciate the Japanese mindset and these "neatened" trees began to feel fitting and right.

After we'd visited this district, we hopped on a subway for the Ginza district, which is very uptown shopping. Actually, when I stepped out of the subway, it was like arriving on Fifth Avenue in New York.

The Japanese women are incredibly inventive dressers. Because they're so tiny, they are great with layers -- lots of frills where you don't expect them, dresses over jeans, lots of fancy leg wear and gorgeous boots, all sorts of clever scarves.

Now, let me to tell you about the toilets!! They are the most fantastic toilets in the world, I swear. To start with, the seats are warmed and extra comfortable. If you're in a public place, they will most likely have a button at the side with musical notes. You should press this, because it produces a pseudo flushing sound which camouflages more natural but embarrassing bodily functions. And then, when you are done, you can press a button to wash your bottom. Amazingly, it can hit exactly the right spot every time. Or there's yet another button if you'd prefer a bidet function.

Of course, you can be unlucky and occasionally encounter an equally clean toilet that is set in the floor for squatting over. I was really worried that once I was down, I would never get up again, but if you look carefully, there's usually a "western" toilet close by. No photos of these. :)

More tomorrow...

Friday, November 09, 2007

I'm ba-a-a-ck!!!!

Had a fab time in Japan, but my mind is whizzing with all the things that have happened while I was away. Ally Blake has had her darling baby, Bridget Ava. (Don’t you love those names?) Sizzle, Seduce & Simmer has been launched with great excitement and aplomb in Dymocks in Melbourne. And the news filtered through that Anne Weale, who first started writing for M&B in 1955 and who was one of the most fascinating authors I have ever met, has died. Anne was such a strong and intelligent women, it's hard to believe and terribly sad that she's passed away.

My little journey seems quite insignificant by comparison with these important events, but I’ll record it here anyway, because I’d like to get it down before the memories fade.

We flew out from Cairns, which is always a spectacular way to leave Australia (in my unbiased FNQ opinion). The cays on the Great Barrier Reef looked like pieces of jewellery – olive green, fringed by iridescent aqua and set in the deeper blue of the sea. It was just after the full moon in October, which is when the coral spawns each year and I also could see strings and clouds of this white coral spawn in the deeper blue water.

Our flight took us over Port Moresby and we also saw Lae on the coast as well as some of the amazing peninsulas of PNG, long stretches of beach and pretty offshore islands. It would be perfect sailing country if it weren’t for pirates.

On the flight I read Susan Wiggs’s “Dockside,” Book Three in her Lakeshore Chronicles. I’m loving that series and now have to wait till next March for Book 4 which will be Sophie Bellamy’s story.

It was wonderful to see my son, Andrew, at the airport, looking spiffy in a new black velvet jacket. (The Japanese are v fashion conscious.)

And health conscious. One of the first things I noticed about Japan is how very clean it is. Considering its huge population in such a small space, I think this is quite remarkable. The trains, the airport, the stations and streets are all litter and dust free. On the first morning, I looked out my hotel window and the first thing I saw was a neat little tiled courtyard across the road, complete with a topiary garden and a little man in a uniform and cap sweeping the yard and the seats. Later, all the shopkeepers swept the footpaths in front of their shops.

On our first day, after a breakfast that was a mixture of Japanese and western for me ( gorgeous steamed dumplings, a slice of omelette, smoked fish and kale, then fruit and yoghurt), we set off with Andrew for Nikko. (this was a complicated journey involving 5 train changes. Thank heavens Andy is now fluent in Japanese!)

Nikko is a beautiful village to the north of Tokyo, set in the foothills of majestic mountains, some of which had snow on the top. When you get out of the train, you are virtually at the bottom of the village and there is a long street lined with all kinds of dark, interesting cafes and fascinating old shops selling weird dried fish and vegetables (pictured top left). This road winds its way up the hillside till you reach a classic, old red arched wooden bridge crossing the Daiku River.

This is the beginning of the truly scenic and important part of Nikko – the State forest with shrines and temples.

The hillsides here are covered in gorgeous trees – enormous, ancient pines – and liquid ambers, which should now, in the middle of autumn, be covered in red and gold. But thanks to global warming, autumn is late this year. Only a few threes had begun to turn, but these were enough to show us how spectacular these hillsides will look in another few weeks.

The really important feature here is the shrine of the Tokugawa Ieyasu , the warlord shogun who conquered Japan. He had never been to Nikko, but he’d heard so much about its beauty that he chose it as his burial place. A year after he died, he was made a god and now the shrines and temples surrounding his tomb are all v important. This isn't his shrine, but we photographed it because the tree was so pretty.

I was fascinated to see these pieces of paper tied to trees and to learn from Andrew that they are prayers people have left there. The Shinto priests gather them up and take them into the temple to include in their prayers.

I don't want to weigh you down with too many details. There were many more temples, shrines, sculptures and beautiful gardens at Nikko than I can show here.
Nikko is also the site of the carving of the famous three wise monkeys, which inspired the well known legend and saying -- Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

More tomorrow...