query about Kobo ereader

April 14th, 2011

Thanks for your query Paula. The reader I have is mostly text except for the black and white cover of the current book that appears when you turn the Kobo off. However, I have heard that colour is on the way and that the technology for visuals are in the pipe line.

I like the Kobo because is simple and easy to use and cheaper than some of the other products.

I hope to put some of my current work onto Kobo. It will be a different experience compared with traditional publishing.

The Curse of the Kobo

November 5th, 2010

I’ve just joined the revolution. I’ve bought my first ereader. It is called the KOBO and I am undergoing nothing short of a cognitive rewind. Once I had worked out how to use the ereader (thank you Wendy at the Help Desk in Toronto, you were SO patient) I became an instant convert if not a complete addict.

I am deeply wired into reading from a traditional text. This provides some interesting situations.

The KOBO is a light flat tablet. There is a soft blue button on the bottom right. This button provides access to menu information etc but its main function is to turn the page. So far so good. But for the first few weeks, I often found myself pressing a non-existent button when I was reading magazines and hard copies of books and wondering why the hell the new  page did not appear.

Instead of a left to right turn of the head, I had to learn how to read down one short page and then click the blue button. Talk about confusion. I had not realised how automatic the physical act of reading had become.

The other change was totally unexpected. Each page of the text is much shorter that a traditional paper book. Some readers find this irritating.  But I find it wonderful.

It became clear to me that I had got into bad reading habits over the years; skimming, sneaking a look at the last few pages, folding back single pages to mark a place…

The KOBO has made me slow down.

I feel that my head is being rewired. I am currently reading Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, a book that has always intimidated me by its size and scope. It is one of the free books that are supplied with the purchase of a KOBO ereader. I am revelling in this novel and I am at page 700. Four hundred to go.

Reading the book in short pages fits in with my life style. For example, I leave the ereader on my kitchen sofa and read for ten minutes while the potatoes are boiling. I never did this with a long book. It seemed to require an allotted time, a special reading chair, almost a ceremonial occasion.

The funniest (if not the stupidest) thing I did was to share with my partner my regret over my purchase of yet another novel from KOBO when my book shelves are already groaning with books. Some of the younger family members find this hilarious. I’ll live it down eventually I hope.

For someone of my generation to get their head around the mystical aspects of the Web is nothing short of wondrous. I hold a slim light tablet in my hand. I hold access to almost two million books. The books are everywhere and nowhere.

Tolstoy would have loved it.

Old Books Never Die

November 13th, 2009

Old Books Never Die

 

Blog Number 20: 12 November, 2009

 

For the past seven weeks I have been teaching a course at the Continuing Education Department at the University of Waikato. Teaching creative writing can be a two way street in that the tutor can learn just as much from the students. This group works. A good mixture of men and women, some of them already good writers.

 

I had been wondering why I have begun to go out to Raglan on a regular basis apart from my deep seated almost pathological craving to be near the sea. It came to me during this class. A student said something which for the life of me I cannot remember except for the unspoken elation that followed. Writer’s (and all creative artists) have this experience of a puzzle suddenly falling into place, or of something familiar becoming strange and insightful. This, I believe, is the drug that keeps writers working in the face of adversity and/or indifference.

 

Here is the sequence of events. I had found myself unable to read for a few months after my appointment as the New Zealand judge for the 2009 Commonwealth prize. I read eight fine novels, finalists from around the world. I become satiated. A few weeks ago I began to read again after a long drought. Not newly published work. Old books, that I first read long ago.

 

This can be a sobering experience. A book that you once loved can bore you from the very first page. Conversely, a book that once disturbed you to the point of hurtling it across the room, can become a fascinating read after a long gap.

 

This happened when I began to read Paul Theroux’s book, (Penguin, 1992) The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific. He paddled his collapsible kayak around fifty-one islands after a traumatic marriage break down. Theroux is a prolific writer loosely characterised as a travel writer but he is far more than that.

 

I re-read it with the same fascination and rage that I experienced seventeen years ago. I did not finish the book then, but this time, in spite of his sometimes judgmental statements about the people he met, I could not put it down. I kept reading it until I had turned the last page.   

 

I crave this sort of travel. I always wanted to be a wanderer. I am jealous of Theroux and all the other contemporary writers who have turned the experience of the lonely traveller, the adventurer, into a fascinating literary form. It has been said that Theroux and others of his ilk (like Bruce Chatwin) are egocentric, misogynous and opinionated. I suspect that they have to be, to endure the physical and mental hardships of their journeys and the attacks from armchair travellers after publication.

 

I have made peace with the limitations of an aging woman who still craves to travel alone. It’s all over for me, in fact it never got off the ground. For over twenty years I have found it difficult to walk for more than half an hour due to a defective hip joint. Before this problem developed, I had children to care for.

 

In the writing class I had a sudden memory of reading an anthropological treatise on a group of Micronesians who prior to the advent of colonisation made long journeys using a unique method of navigation. They sat in their stationary canoes beneath static stars and watched the islands glide past them. It is far more complicated than this of course, but it was the fact that the islands moved instead of the canoe that intrigued me. (The best book to read about this is by T Gladwin: East is a Big Bird, Harvard University Press, 1970).

 

I saw the answer to this question: why do I return again and again to the same place at Raglan? Room Four at the guest house, the same bed, the same creaking door, the same battered cabbage tree outside the window?

 

I am in the canoe and the social landscape walks past me. There are always different people staying there. I revel in the superfluous chatter but am sometimes surprised. A young French backpacker once asked me if I had read Derrida and Foucault.

 

And outside, the sea and the wind are ever changing. Some days the waves coming over the bar look like a menacing tsunami. Other days there is a tiny flounce of white water breaking across the bar like an abandoned petticoat.

 

I have reversed the need for constant movement by staying resolutely in the same place establishing the same routine each time I visit the coast. I have no desire to change my place of refuge, just as long as those islands keep floating past to help me navigate my way home and back again.  

 

 

 

 

Mahler in the Morning: the Street at Night

September 24th, 2009

Mahler in the Morning: the Street at Night

 

Blog number 19: 24 September 2009

 

I have changed my work patterns. I leave home and travel to the west coast by bus every fortnight to the small sea side community of Raglan. Laptop, frugal food supplies, minimal clothes, and no access to the Internet.

 

My experiment of leaving town for four days has, so far, proved to be successful. To walk near the sea each day is bliss. To have nothing to do all day but read and write, to leave, even for a short time the broadband and the phone and the routine world that I have constructed around myself and the house that I share with my partner Mike is a treasured freedom, not from the external world, but from that wretched internalised dialogue of what I like to call the Fifties Housewife Syndrome.

 

I thought I had finally killed this Monster, but although it is but a mere wisp of a girl compared with the original model, it lies in wait for me and rears her ugly head when I am least expecting it. Virginia Woolf called this creature the Angel in the House but she became so ‘bothered’ and ‘tormented’ by her that she metaphorically killed her off.

 

Two unexpected consequences have occurred. On my return, I revel in the comfort and the familiarity of my home. This lasts for about four days, then the craving to be close to the sea and to experience once again the bliss of solitude begins to rise up within me.

 

The other unexpected joy is that the small stylish guest house that I have discovered is seldom booked out at this time of the year. I have the run of the kitchen and the sitting room largely to myself. However, on the odd occasion that there has been someone else staying here, they have proved to be very interesting.

 

Last week a young student musician from Japan came to stay at the guesthouse. He plays the classical guitar and wants to become a composer. He played to me for over an hour, and it was wonderful.

 

We discussed the differences between creating fiction and creating music. He said that he found difficulty in reading English literature. I suggested that he use ‘talking books’. He said this would be impossible as the voice of the reader would provide a very different picture that he had in his head of how a character would ‘sound’.   

 

I was fascinated with this idea and hope to be able to incorporate it into my current writing project. He asked me if I listened to music when I wrote. I said of course. I have to play music with my headphones on as I live on a busy street with the University at one end, a high school opposite, and a Mormon church at the other end. The music cocoons me into my own world.

 

He asked what I listen to. I said it changes but I get obsessed with a composer and play all the cds I can get hold of. For the past two weeks for example, I played nothing but Shostakovich. The symphonies are riveting.

 

He was clearly astonished. He shook his head. How can anyone write and listen to Shostakovich at the same time? Can’t be done!

 

I thought about this conversation well into the night. Writers are often asked where their inspiration comes from. I usually say that I have no idea. But after speaking with the student, I have realised that the music I listen to when I write is almost never opera or lieder or oratorio. It is usually chamber music or orchestral works or anything else that does not feature the human voice. If words become involved with the work, I listen in a different way and stop tapping on the keyboard.

 

Last week, I played the Mahler symphonies from one to nine. He uses the human voice a lot in his symphonies but somehow they did not disturb my concentration. I believe that this is because the singers are blended into the work as if they were playing instruments.

 

I write in the morning and early afternoon. By the time night falls, I cannot cope with language anymore; not writing it, talking it, or reading it. My consolation is watching TV. I love to watch predictable narratives written by someone else that does not require the slightest input from me. My favourite programmes are ‘who dunnits’ (silly but stylish ones like the Agatha Christie’s stories), and soap operas like Coronation Street.

 

I find Coronation Street very amusing. Stuck down here at the bottom of the world, it is refreshing to hear characters declare such mysterious lines of dialogue as ‘I would as heck as like’ and the even more mysterious ‘I’m not so green as cabbage looking…’

 

This coming week I plan to play the symphonies of Mahler right through one more time to get them ‘into my head.’ And on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7-30 New Zealand time, I’ll be in front of my TV set to watch two more hours of the Street.

 

From Mahler to the Street, is, I believe a good example of how a fiction writer’s mind works in the manner of a hunter and gatherer, taking inspiration from a myriad of unlikely sources be it music or colourful dialogue from an unfamiliar culture.

 

The Holy Trinity of the Net

August 27th, 2009

The Holy Trinity of the Net: Hardware, Software and Wetware

 

Blog Number 18: 27 August 2009-08-18

 

I am in the process of changing my computer and printer and various other bits and pieces so that I can use the Net more efficiently. I was sparked off last week by the breakage of a hinge on my faithful old HP laptop.

 

When the hinge on my four-year-old HP snapped, I felt stressed to the point of a nervous breakdown. This was, of course, a ridiculous overreaction on my part. The truth is that if anything goes wrong with my home based broadband or any other of the essential technology that surrounds me, I panic. This is not logical. I can usually sort out any problem by ringing my ISP and if the worst happens and my hard drive becomes terminally ill, I have all data backed up on a separate drive.

 

But logic has no place for me when I get into a wetware panic. What happens when the machine withdraws its labour? What happens when the products of hard labour of writing disappears? It’s not just the data that threatens to withdraw, I do too.

 

All the modes of communication that fill my days are connected to the machine. Except oral conversation, just. Yes I have sent emails to someone in the same room, yes I have sent enigmatic one letter texts; k. Or not k. Guilty as charged.

 

The human brain has been infiltrated, secretly, and bit by bit. There are those who believe that we are all cyborgs now. The blending of biological elements with inanimate hardware is well under way in sites that we would never suspect. Some researchers like to make the case that DNA is a form of software that can provide the key to new forms of wetware. The term wetware in this instance refers to all living systems. I like to use it more specifically. For me, wetware is the entity that experiences and produces knowledge and emotion at one and the same time, in short, the human brain.  

 

You can have all your important data backed up, but this provides little comfort. I have seen people weep when they experience a hard drive crash. I have known people to become so dependent on their email and/or mobile phone that they refuse to travel to areas where their machines do not work. They say it is like a death, they say that they are lost, they don’t know what to do anymore.

 

So when the machine turns up its toes or is stolen or becomes mortally wounded by a mug of hot coffee, the wetware is bereft. I suspect that there is a radically different relationship going on here compared with other human/machine interactions. I wonder if this has resulted from a huge shift in the power of the computer over us. We have been able to control all of our technologies up until now. Of course these technologies have done harm to others and to the planet but there has been a level of brute mechanical understanding that makes them relatively easily disabled. Not so the new communication technologies, especially the Net.

 

The wetware is the star player in these new technologies. It is by its very nature a group invention. It cannot exist as a radically individual entity. When the Net goes down the wetware loses its spirit and its nerve. The body experiences a blow to the head akin to a concussion. Memory fails, and with it, goes identity.

 

I have a modem that displays a tiny red light when the network goes down. I am an early riser and the first thing I do before I feed the cat is to go and check the modem. If the light is green I feel a part of the world. If it’s red, I panic.

 

No other machine has ever held me in such tyranny. But I’m making a stand. I am writing this blog out on the west coast in a small town called Raglan. I am in an old house where rooms are let out to travellers. There is no way of logging in. Three days I have endured life without checking my email or my website. The first day I was unable to write. I had to walk to the sea close by and do some deep breathing. But now, I can feel the panic melting away.

 

Maybe my wetware is recovering its pre-internet persona. I doubt it though. I know that the very first thing I’ll do when I get home will be to log in.

Gay Men Cannot Be Murdered

July 12th, 2009

Gay Men Cannot be Murdered

 

Blog Number 17: 12 July 2009

 

Sometimes I get overwhelmed with a rage that is so deep that I find it difficult to articulate any behaviour or emotion other than a destructive and futile desire to shut myself away and not listen or read any news ever again.

 

It has taken me two days to raise my head after reading the news item in the New Zealand Herald (10-07-09) about a verdict of manslaughter in a current court case where an elderly man was horrifically bashed to death by a man called Ferdinand Ambach. The dead man was 69 years old and the murderer was 31. This age gap was not taken into account. The BIG news was that the defenceless elderly man was gay.

 

Ambach was charged with murder but after the defence lawyer had fabricated a scenario of the elderly man attempting to rape the younger man, the jury changed the verdict from murder down to the lesser felony of manslaughter.   

 

The defence lawyer claimed that the attempted rape ‘triggered a monstrous rage’ and Ambach lost his self control. In other words, the elderly man, Ronald Brown, caused his own death.

 

Ronald Brown was the victim of a hate crime, pure and simple. I have no doubt that if the accused had been a burglar and Ronald Brown a straight guy, Ambach would have been found guilty of murder.

 

This has happened before in New Zealand. A sub-text to these tragic cases is that many people still believe that they have a moral right to thump the crap out of gay men simply because of their sexual orientation.   

 

Which leads me to this inevitable conclusion. Gay men cannot be murdered. So if any of you staunch macho guys out there get the urge to punch, or choke, or stab another man, make sure that in court your lawyer describes the deceased as gay.   

 

It will get you off every time. 

Sydney Dreaming

June 16th, 2009

Sydney Dreaming

 

Blog Number 16: 16 June 2009

 

Last week I flew to Sydney from Auckland to visit my son Hamish, his wife Cathy Brennan and their two boys Cameron and Angus.

 

They live in a beautiful old house known in Sydney as a Federation Villa. It has been extensively renovated but has retained its early twentieth century features. Sometimes I look at my son and I can’t believe that I gave birth to him. He is strong and resilient and he moves through the world with a calm demeanour that belies his true nature; that of an innovative risk-taker.

 

Sydney. It is always a place of ambivalent feelings for me, a place where I spent the most difficult years of my life in my twenties and early thirties, a place where I discovered what a tough city it can be. And yet, it has a certain cruel beauty that perhaps relates to the violent history of this stolen land now in the grip of land degradation and water wars.

 

The birds are huge and noisy. Once, during a long drought, I saw dead currawongs fall like hot black rocks from a burning sky. Once, I saw a man lying face down on the stairs leading into the underground railway. People rushing to catch a train walked right over him. One woman stabbed his back with her red stilettos. I tried to help him but was roundly abused by a man in a suit who said don’t be a bloody hero leave the derro alone. As a migrant Fresh off the Boat, I didn’t know what a derro was. Soon learned though when I ended up in a Darlinghurst flop house with bed bugs and roaches and other horrid predators of the desperately poor, aka derelicts…  

 

Sydney. Where there is a sense of excitement and energy on the streets similar to the feeling one gets in New York. We went for a ride on the Manly ferry. It was a gala day in Manly, a food and wine festival.  People wore their half-full wine glasses round their necks on a paper chain. The beach was crowded, what was left of it. A massive storm had swept down the coast a week before and taken most of the white sand with it. Sea lettuce formed great drifts of green at the high tide mark. 

 

Like many New Zealander’s I have family connections with Australia. My paternal grandfather Joseph Fletcher was born at Dead Dog Gulley near Bendigo in 1860.  His parents were participants in the gold rush of the 1850s. His mother Eliza was born in England and came to New Zealand as a girl in 1846. His father James Fletcher was a convict who arrived in Sydney in 1820.

 

I love this country; I love the wildness of it; I love the brash people who know how to cut down authority figures with some of the most colourful expressions known in the English language. Australia has always seemed eerily familiar to me, far more than my real homeland, New Zealand/Aotearoa.

 

I have a fanciful belief that if an ancestor revelled in a particular landscape, found solace there, ate of the fruits and plants and wild meats, then something I call, for want of a better word, genetic memory can remain as an echo passed down to a living breathing descendant. Memory is stretched beyond the limit of one lifetime. I know that scientifically this is a nonsense, but I want to believe it.   

 

And so I do. Passionately.

Total Bliss: the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2009

June 2nd, 2009

Total Bliss: the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2009

 

Blog Number 15: 1 June 2009

 

I have been sitting in my writing room for two whole weeks unable to write. I am in that state described in New Zealand English as stunned mullet, a type of complete amazement or stupefaction. (For those who do not believe that New Zealand has developed its own unique language, have a look at the Oxford Dictionary of New Zealand English published in 1997).

 

The luxury, the privilege, of meeting like-minded writers and academics for a short period of intense interrogation of eight superb works of fiction, left me intellectually energised and burnt out at one and the same time: hence the descent into stunned mullethood.

 

My brain is still recovering but it was worth it, every second.  

 

These eight books won regional prizes from all corners of the world in the annual Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, 2009. Over the years, this prize has gained prestige and is now highly sought after by writers and publishers.

 

My task, along with the other five judges, was to choose one book from the four winning books entered for the Best Book and one out of four books that won regional prizes for Best First Book.

 

Before I met up with the other five judges, I read the eight regional prize-winning books in two weeks. I made copious notes. The standard of writing was superb. This made it easier in a way.

 

Reading novels is my favourite pastime but to read for the purpose of judgment is a different way of reading.  It is impossible to read fiction without bias and personal preference coming into play and in my view, it perpetuates a falsehood to even attempt to do so. There ain’t no such thing as an objective voice in story telling. There is, however, a requirement to look at the techniques employed by a particular writer; the dialogue, the way that character is developed, the sense of place etc.

 

In case you missed it, the two winners are: Best First Book, A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif and Best Book, The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas.

 

One of the terrific things about the Commonwealth Prize is that the judges and writers get to know each other before the final prize is announced and mix together for drinks and meals and public readings. By the end of the week, I had made some new friends.

 

I have read the blogs of some of the people who were involved with the prize and they are fun to read. I particularly enjoyed Andrew Firmin’s blog. (He is the Programme Manager (Culture) at the Commonwealth Foundation.) Before I met him I pictured him as a rather stuffy personage with a posh accent and buffed fingernails. Nothing could be further from the truth. He is scruffy and clever and likes to have a laugh. I am proud that he described me in his blog as a ‘robust defender of the swear word’.

 

It’s a hard job Andrew but bloody hell, someone has to do it.

 

 

 

 

Of Soup and Winter and Literary Prizes

April 20th, 2009

Of Soup and Winter and Literary Prizes

 

Blog Number 14: 20 April 2009

 

Just as I got started on my long suffering (i.e. neglected) novella by way of a careful editing of the first section, and a tentative outline of the plot of the next section, a bombshell blew me away. (Sorry about the cliché but that’s what it feels like).

 

I received an email from one Jennifer Sobol in London. She is the Programme Officer (Culture) of the Commonwealth Foundation. The upshot of her email is that I have been asked to serve as one of six judges in the forthcoming Commonwealth Writers Prize celebrations next month. The readings and activities are part of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival.

 

To say that I’m stunned and excited is an understatement.

 

I enjoy living in Aotearoa. But there are drawbacks. One of the problems of living and writing in New Zealand is that the literary community (if there is such a beast) can sometimes feel claustrophobic or worse, completely invisible.

 

So to get this chance of meeting eight exciting writers selected from over fifty countries to receive a Commonwealth Writers Prize while in New Zealand is a wonderful gift. So too is the intense interaction that I will be privileged to share with the other five judges.

 

The weather has turned. Thunderous rain is playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony against the window of my writing room. My thoughts turn to the comfort of home made soup and the coming winter. And to a wonderful book that I have just finished reading, The Kindness of Strangers, (Kitchen Memoirs) by Shonagh Koea, illustrated by Peter Wells.

 

This book provided me with a powerful reminder that any human life no matter how exotic or daring is defined and shaped by the ‘mundane’ aspects of existence. Shonagh’s difficult life as a child and her triumph of overcoming it through her writing has been shaped by her gift of being able to imbue a sense of style and beauty into something as ordinary as a cake of pears soap or slices of home made shortbread arranged artistically on an antique plate.

 

I am envious of her talent to make the necessities of everyday life into works of art. I have a purely functional stance, a horrible practicality that could lead me to living in a bare shipping container without blinking an eyelid if the need arose.

  

This explains to some extent my obsession with knitting an Aran jumper. I’m trying to make something beautiful, stitch by stitch, something with my own hands. And it’s working I think. I have already used a whole ball of wool. Only 19 to go!

 

Thanks to the readers who sent me emails with helpful hints on how to knit the instructions Tw2R and Cr2L. Trouble is, each knitter gave me a different answer!

 

I have finally solved the mysteries of most of the stitches. And hey, too bad if there is a dropped stitch or two or if a cable panel wanders off course a little. Proves that it’s home made and not mass produced by a machine. 

 

And that’s what I want.

When Language Goes on Holiday

April 12th, 2009

When Language Goes on Holiday

 

Blog Number 13: 12 April 2009

 

I have stolen the title of this blog from the work of the glorious language philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Because that’s where I’ve been since late January: on holiday. I did not choose this, it chose me. First of all I came down with a virus which lingered for many weeks. If only I had been able to download a Microsoft patch to fix this. Alas, the body is more mysterious and recalcitrant than even the most sophisticated computer. My firewall slipped and a virus wasted no time in invading my lungs.

 

Then I injured my back. Excuses, excuses I can hear you say. But I am one of those writers who needs to feel whole and well in my body before I can write my daily quota.

 

So I sent language on holiday and decided to make something creative that did not use words. I decided to knit a complicated jersey in strong cream wool, using the traditional patterns developed by the women of the Aran Islands off the coast of western Ireland. What attracted me to Aran knitting was the discovery that there is a prototype jumper depicted in the ancient Book of Kells. Some people say that the Celtic patterns used in this style of knitting are taken from ancient carvings.  Some people say that each jumper is different so that when fishermen drown and their bodies are washed up on shore, they can be identified by the particular knitter who made their garments.

 

I am still trying to work out some of the very complicated stitches that make up the traditional cables, diamonds and basket patterns. Words don’t help me at all. Does anyone out there understand what Tw2R or Cr2L means?

 

I have almost given up but I am too stubborn to admit failure. What has intrigued me is that I can literally feel my brain stretching in the area that deals with logic and numbers. I was once an excellent knitter but have not attempted anything complex for many years. Rusty memories float to the surface. My fingers are stiff and un co-operative.

 

Today I have decided to bring language back from holiday. Each stitch of my Aran jumper will be assigned a word and each row completed will become a sentence. The whole garment will become a novella; a task done with acknowledgment of narrative tension and plot. 

 

A hand knitted jersey is a living record of events. This where I dropped a stitch from my cable needle, this is where my cat decided to undo C3B by reefing playfully at the wool, this is where a phone call came to report yet another redundancy in my extended family and I lost track of row 2 of Panel Patt B.

 

Come back metaphor, all is forgiven.