Marharba!

Apparently, when Evelyn Waugh visited the Mena House hotel in 1929, he had this to say. “The Pyramids were a quarter of a mile away; it felt odd to be living at such close quarters with anything quite so famous – it was like having the Prince of Wales at the next table in a restaurant; one kept pretending not to notice, while all the time glancing furtively to see if they were still there.” That pretty much sums up my feeling over breakfast upon my arrival in Cairo yesterday morning.

Mena House Hotel – not your average breakfast location!

I decided that there was nothing for it but to jump right into the cultural experience and so I fed on a feast of good, if unusual, things compared to my standard matutinal menu of crumpets and Vegemite. Hello hibiscus juice, eggplant mush thingy (really yum!) and pita pockets with hummus.

After goggling at the Great Pyramid of Cheops for a while I was so sated, stunned and jet lagged, that I had to go have a little lie down, first in a most salubrious bed chamber, and then by an even more salubrious palm-lined swimming pool. Oh yes, indeed I was surely on holidays and certainly no longer in Narooma!

I think I need to be quite clear here. My business in Egypt is not to wallow in decadent and pampered luxury, although I’m afraid that will be somewhat of a necessary concomitant of my planned itinerary. My mission is to explore and revel in antiquities and ancient wonders and today I launched the assault with the first stop being – of course – the pyramids.

Oh yeah!

About a million writers have tried to describe the immense and brain-shrivelling awe of these structures, so I’m not even going to try. I will instead share with you a few interesting factoids: there are more than 2.7 million two-tonne blocks of limestone in the Great Pyramid; it was built for the Fourth Dynasty Pharaoh Khufu, and was completed around 2560 BCE (yep, that means it’s coming up for its 5000th birthday pretty soon!); the ratio of its circumference to its original height is equal to the value of pi: 3.14 – a mathematical calculation that was not rediscovered for more than another millennium (it’s facts like this last one that have spawned theories that the pyramids were built by technologically advanced aliens…). And, of course, the pyramids are the last of the seven great wonders of the world still extant.

They are certainly wonderful. And popular. And right on the edge of the throbbing outer suburbs of Cairo. So despite the miraculous absence of hordes of people in the pic above, there were in fact plenty of other keen Egyptophiles swarming all over the site, and queuing up to experience the thrill of penetrating the structure and navigating the ascending passages to one of the tomb chambers. How could I resist such a lure?

Cheops – entry point…

I did not. Armed with my special ticket I approached the entrance to the tunnel with reverence. Finally I would be able to feel something of the frisson of a Carter or a Mariette, boldly going where no one had been for millennia in search of lost secrets buried with the remains of long-dead pharaohs. I could pause reverently in the sacred chamber and imagine the scent of incense and the beating of funereal drums …

What I found was an Occupational Health and Safety hazard situation of epic proportions, with literally hundreds of beetroot faced tourists trying to edge past each other in both directions of an oven hot, near-vertical, crawl-space sized tunnel with no ventilation. After a few minutes attempting to breathe calmly and slowly while waiting for the crush to abate sufficiently to take another step upwards, something switched in my head. Dear readers, I fled. Without reaching the burial chamber. Thus perish some of our fondest dreams …

Monumental…

But, as previously advertised, I’m the most incorrigible of optimists – you can’t keep a good Boomer down. And if the interior of Cheops didn’t match my clearly delusional fantasies, the exteriors and context of all of the pyramids could not fail to satisfy in every possible way. I’ve stated that the pyramids nestle snugly alongside the homes and shops of Giza, but if you narrow your field of focus and squint a bit it is possible to imagine a time when these great landmarks were a beacon for camel caravans arriving from the Western Desert.

The Western Desert

Which brings me to camels. Back in the 70s my mother and father visited Egypt, and I have a prized photo of my dad (fetchingly outfitted in a baby blue safari suit) mounted upon a camel with a pyramid in the background. What, I thought, could be more romantic than sitting aloft in a Berber saddle as your ship of the desert sways among the dunes? Then again, what could be less romantic than feeling like you would be committing and perpetuating serious animal cruelty in contracting any arrangement with the hawkers of transportation flesh in locations like this? No, I decided, despite their sartorial attractions, there would be no camel ride for me.

Not for mounting …

Given half a chance though I would have jumped at the opportunity to go for a run up the Nile in a solar boat. These were funereal barges which were used to transport the massive sarcophagi of pharaohs to their final resting places, and back in 1954 a fully-intact solar boat was unearthed from its own tomb in the shadow of the Chephren Pryamid. This fully-functional, 44 metre-long, 5000 year old-boat is now housed in its own special museum. Awesome!

Sun boat – 4500 years old!!!

And finally, for today, a visit to Giza would not be complete without paying one’s respects to its most famous monument. Yes, the sphinx is indeed a lot smaller than you’d think from pictures, but it is every bit as potent, mysterious and compelling as the most fervent of my imaginings.

Sphinx satisfaction

Tomorrow we head for Luxor and the Valley of the Kings …

Bon voyage!

It hardly seems possible, but this time next week I will be posting my blog from Egypt. After so long a time nurturing this writing dream, it’s about to become reality. I’m excited and terrified, unsettled and eager.

On the eve of departure, I’m stepping back from envisioning the delights ahead and finding that I’m dwelling instead upon all that I will undoubtedly miss while I’m off on this adventure. And as I write, one of them is sitting purring on my knee – our beautiful Bentley.

Bentley

Bentley is a thoroughly over-indulged British Shorthair, and has been with Martin and I from the very beginning of our time together (he even travelled to New York with us and appeared to thoroughly enjoy his Manhattan apartment lifestyle!). In the absence of children, he is our baby, and I’m going to miss him dreadfully. We are very lucky though that we have found a lovely young couple who will be house-sitting for us and who have promised to indulge Bentley in the manner to which he is accustomed.

I’ll miss my family of course, but I think I’m going to really pine for my dear friends. Last weekend and this one, a couple of them have really pulled out all stops in the farewell celebrations department.

Firstly, Julie threw a fabulous dinner party at her place and spoilt us with Croatian culinary delights followed by a riotous session of dancing and singing. Our rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody was a wonder to behold!

Catherine, Hannah and Julie rockin’ out

And last night Hannah hosted an all-French extravaganza at her place to help get us into a suitably Gallic mood. We had a huge amount of fun scouring our cookbooks and devising a mouth watering menu of French cuisine.

Many hours of chopping, boiling, blending, blanching and baking (not to mention dousing the boeuf in flaming brandy!) resulted in a mouth-watering feast of fine things. And when Hannah puts on a show we’re also talking about fully themed table decorations and frocking up in costume. So, for a French dinner, of course there was Le Menu:

Yum!

Fine food, good wine, lively conversation and shared friendship are some of life’s greatest pleasures and we were fully sated on all fronts last night. HWB and I are going to eagerly savour French fare in Carcassonne but we won’t be sharing it with such fine company.

Vive la France!

Later in the evening, Hannah and I had a good old chat and she told me once again of her unalterable conviction that I’m going to write a brilliant book which will not only be published but will be adapted into a blockbuster film. She asserts that she is going to buy a new pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes for the red carpet opening night event. Such faith in my endeavour both humbles and emboldens me and I know there are going to be many moments in the coming months when I shall yearn for her unfettered enthusiasm and support.

Hannah’s Tarte Tatin – lush!

There is of course such a thing as Skype, and I hope to keep in touch with my cheer squad online. But they say that writing is one of the loneliest of occupations, and I suspect I may find myself experiencing the pangs of isolation and too much solitude.

Actually, no. I’m an incurable optimist. I will have the pleasure of keeping in touch with those I care about at home, and I hope that I’ll make a bunch of new French friends with whom to share this fantastic adventure! Je suis prêt à partir …


En mode français

To Reveal or Not to Reveal…

Since I began this blog I have been quietly pondering an important question. Should I, or should I not,reveal to you the plot, characters, themes et al of my book?

Observant followers may have noted that I’ve dropped a few clues along the way. My story will be set partially in a town much like Narooma. My heroine, Tess Falkner may appear in an early scene in a radio studio. And the working title of the book is Under New Management.

Well, I have decided that I shall not bare my soul. While it is in draft form, the secrets of my story shall remain shrouded in mystery. I will not be sharing the substance of the tale – you will just have to wait for the triumphant moment of publication 🙂

That said, I thought this week I might explore a few of the core questions which exercise the nascent writer and in the process give you a bit of a sense of the type of novel I’m writing. First of all, let’s consider genre.

I want to put on record – loud and clear – that I have absolutely no intention of endeavouring to write literature. You will not hear me raving on about writing the great Australian novel. I won’t be striving to be nominated for any illustrious authorial awards. I will plumb no depths of angst and anguish. I have no desire to be considered a ‘serious writer’.

Nope, I’m going to write light-hearted fairyfloss – the sort of book with a colourful, quirky cover that is stacked in airport bookstores begging to be picked up and taken to palm-fringed locations and consumed along with brightly hued drinks with little umbrellas in them. Merely expressing a desire for my book to be in such a place absolutely precludes me from any pretensions to greatness. I brazenly state that I want to write popular fiction.

Within this category you have the thriller, mystery, action/adventure, historical, fantasy, science-fiction, crime, dystopia, horror, romance and women’s fiction genres. There will be no spies, aliens, guns, serving maids,
zombies, intergalactic wars, detectives or throbbing members in my book, so it follows that I will land somewhere in the women’s fiction realm. One definition describes these as books having plot lines characterised by female central characters who face challenges, difficulties, and crises. So far so good.

Within the women’s fiction field there are several sub-genres, one of which is the category of chick lit – a term that attracts considerable disparagement and nose-wrinklings from top-lofty literary types. Chick lit novels feature protagonists aged in their 20s and 30s, and are generally written in a humorous and lighthearted style. My Tess is going to be 33, and I’ve already revealed my intention to be light-hearted, so technically I fall into the chick lit pool. But my book is going to be about a lot more than the search for the perfect man/pair of stilettos and I’ve been feeling a bit squirmy about labelling my baby as chick lit.

So, imagine my delight when I stumbled across a newly-minted genre called up lit (uplifting literature). This type of work is marked by optimism, everyday heroism, human connection, kindness and empathy and is apparently the hottest emerging trend in publishing. Bingo!

So, nestling comfortably into my identified genre I began to ponder another agonising question – whether to write in a first or third person point of view. The pundits have a lot to say on this topic. The first person point of view is considered more intimate and you can create a distinctive voice, but the format can be claustrophobic. You are limited to describing only what your protagonist sees/experiences directly which can throw up challenges for elements of action that occur ‘off stage’ so to speak. Third person narrative is regarded as being more immediate and flexible, you can move the camera around to tell the tale from many perspectives. But this mode can make it difficult to really get inside the head of your characters.

Writing effectively in first person is considered more difficult, and something generally to be avoided by the novice author. After considerable contemplation I’ve decided to flout the pundits. My story will be narrated from the point of view of my Tess. The challenge will be to make her so engaging, interesting and compelling that readers will want to hang out with her for 80,000 words or so.

My third quandary has been whether or not to fictionalise the location of my novel. There are certain elements of my plot that make Narooma the only possible location for the story. But Narooma is a very small town and I quake at the thought of accidentally creating a nasty fictional character that turns out to be the spitting image of a real Narooma resident who subsequently slaps me with a million-dollar defamation suit. In a fictional New York or Paris no-one is likely to recognise and point the finger at an individual. Not so in a small seaside town of only 8500 people.

I haven’t come to any concrete conclusion on this one yet, but I think I’m going to go with the real Narooma location in my first draft with an option of fictionalising it later on if I run into strife.

So, there we are. Under New Management will be an up lit novel, set in Narooma and written in the fist person from the perspective of my protagonist Tess Falkner. Game on!

Prompts, Prods and WooWoo …

With less than three weeks to go I have started packing for my grand adventure. As well as puzzling over how to cram three months worth of everything into a single 25 kg bag, I’ve been gathering my writing tools.

Inspiration is going to be essential, and before I hunch down over my keyboard I’m going to be getting bucketsfull. For the first two weeks of my jaunt I shall be ‘on holiday’, powering down my work brain and having adventures.

First of all I shall realise a dream I’ve been harbouring for 30 years. With my dear friend Amanda, I’ll be cruising up the River Nile, gazing in awe at the pyramids, imagining myself as a temple maiden of Hatshepsut in the Valley of the Kings and taking tea on the balcony of the Cataract Hotel in Aswan where Agatha Christie was wont to weave her whodunnit plots. Amanda and I have some travel form, having previously jaunted together to Club Med in Noumea and the island paradise of Lankawi and I’m agog with anticipation for this next chapter.

Girls adventure, Lankawi

Once I’ve had my fill of Egyptian antiquities I’ll be flying to Prague to rendezvous with HWB. We will explore this most beautiful of cities, and nearby delights such as Cesky Krumlov and Hutna Kora, before locomoting our way through Munich and Lyon en route to Carcassonne. So, being a well-prepared traveller I’ve packed a couple of essential items in the form of travel guides (thanks heaps for these Mariella!).

As previously stated, once we get to Carcassonne it will be game on and I will need to draw on every possible tool available to support my ambitious daily writing targets. I have previously written about some of the tricks of the trade that writers employ, and I’ve adopted some of these and created several of my own devising. First of all, let me introduce you to my ‘Inner Critic’.

This dude won’t mess with me!

The idea is that inside every writer lurks a nasty, toxic spoil-sport who whispers disparaging remarks about work-in-progress in the authorial ear, crushing literary confidence and stymieing the flow of brilliance. By creating a physical representation of your Inner Critic and keeping it on your desk you can remind yourself to disregard these self-whisperings of doom and press on with the creative process. I had a lot of fun making this dude, and he will sit prominently in front of me in Carcassone. I shall blow raspberries at him if he starts playing his tricks.

Building on the ‘a writer writes always’ theme, I am packing equipment to ensure that I am never without the means of jotting down snatches of dialogue, scenes or other bit of inspiration that might fly into my head at odd moments. Journal – check. Coloured pens – check. Authors notebooks (thanks Rachel!) – check.

I am also an advocate of the inspirational quote. I once created a little handwritten book with hundreds of the best quotes I could find by luminaries ranging from Lao Tsu and Martin Luther King to Marcus Arelius and Omar Khyyam. The book opens with this one from Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it – boldness and genius, power and magic in it.” I’m on the job Goethe! But my very favourite is this one which I’ve had printed on my mouse-pad:

The quote book also features quite a few words of wisdom from one of the most inspiring authors I’ve ever read, a bloke called Dr Wayne Dyer. Some call him a ‘self-help’ author, but I believe he is a master of insight and a powerful teacher. He is of the ‘what you think you create’ school of thought, and a key message of his that leaps out for me is this one:

The idea here is that you need to train your heart and mind to believe that your success (whatever it may be) has already happened. You need to see it, touch it, feel it, smell it, live it. You cannot allow thoughts of failure to obtrude – if you think about failure that’s what you’ll get. I’ve laminated this piece of wisdom and it will also sit on my Carcassonne desk, next to my Inner Critic.

So, what I intend to create is a published novel imprinted by a major house, and acclaimed by authors whom I humbly hope to emulate. I had a most entertaining afternoon designing the cover of my book (with apologies to Harper Collins and Marion Keyes for my temerity in appropriating their endorsement):

Working title …

And finally, at the risk of scornful mocking, I’m going to reveal that I’m not above reaching into the woowoo draw in my efforts to leave no inspirational stone unturned. The colour blue has long been associated with imagination, intuition and inspiration and is the colour of the throat chakra (the home of self-expression) in the Vedic tradition. The power of blue in creativity has even been scientifically proven. So, I’m packing every item of blue clothing I own along with my collection of lapis lazuli adornments, the gem stone associated with truth-telling, insight, wisdom and written and spoken communication. Fully kitted out …

Lovely lapis