While living and working in Edinburgh in 2008 I set out to write one million words in 366 days... but only managed 800,737.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Death Knell

I have a new blog. It's called This Fluid Thrill, which may or may not refer to a sharp firm percussion on one part of the abdomen and feeling a shock wave over a distant part of the abdomen.

This is now offically my old blog.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Got nowhere else to spruik this, so...

Essential Zealand Short Stories, edited by Owen Marshall, first came out in 2002. It featured 45 stories from 45 New Zealand writers, from Katherine Mansfield and Frank Sargeson, through Lloyd Jones and Witi Ihimaera, to Emily Perkins and Chad Taylor.

This month, an updated edition has been published featuring five new stories.

Essential New Zealand Short Stories

If you turn to the last story, you'll find mine ('Copies').

It's far too early for me to be sitting in a book alongside Mansfield, Marshall and the Maurices (Shadbolt and Duggan)... but when the collection was reviewed on National Radio this morning, 'Copies' got a special mention. Listen here if you're interested.

My only complaint with the book is the lack of author bios. Okay, for all the luminaries you can look up their NZ Book Council page (I like the new look, by the way) , but for the "fresh young talents", readers have to make do with whatever Google throws up.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

All Good Things

Well I'm back in New Zealand for the first time in 23 months. People ask, "Is it weird to be back?" and, truthfully, it isn't. I like it here. Why else would I come back?

A few things have changed. I've noticed my hometown of Palmerston North is a lot more Australian than the last time I was here, and this may be true of the Kiwi culture more generally, I'm not sure yet.

I have a little over a month before I have to submit the final manuscript for my short story collection. I also have to find a job and a place to live (both hopefully in Wellington).

So you'll forgive me if I takes a wee while before I decide what to do next in the blogosphere. I have some ideas (including one frontrunner), but no announcements yet.

As for writing, it was strange reverting to a non-writer for over five months after last year's insanity. Not difficult, just strange. I only made about 10 pages of notes in my notebook over that time. So I wasn't exactly brimming with ideas. I may write a travel-related story in the next few months, but it's one based in Turkey and Australia (drawing on experience from almost a year ago to the day).

So, as I ease myself back in behind the keyboard, here's some holiday snaps taken since my last blog entry...




Costa Rica







Saturday, February 21, 2009


I´ve now been travelling for two months, and what better way to celebrate than with some lists...

Countries Visited Since Leaving Edinburgh

Costa Rica

Countries Left To Visit Before Returning to NZ in May


(* perhaps)

Best Meals

* Falafel in pita with salad, Luxor, 1 Egyptian Pound (an eighth of a British Pound)
* "Enchillada" (unlike western enchilladas, this was a deepfried pocket filled with spicy rice then topped with coleslaw and wrapped up like a soft shell taco), Grenada, 5 Nicaraguan Cordobas (about 50p)
* Guanabana yoghurt drink, Lima (1L for about a pound)... a meal in itself

Common denominator, as ever, is price. All that street meat (and veg) means I'm pretty immune to most of the nasties out their. (NB: I did get really sick in Cairo, but that was a bug that went around the tour... nothing to do with the cuisine).

Best Historical Sites

1. Karnak Temple, Egypt

2. Philae Temple, Egypt
3. The Sphinx and Pyramids, Egypt
4. Valley of the Kings, Egypt

Egypt is pretty hard to compete with when it comes to ancient stuff. The mayan ruins at Copan in Honduras were pretty cool, but just can´t compete with Egypt when it comes to age, scale, presevation or quality of artistry.

Best Museums / Art Galleries

1. Vatican Museum, Rome
1.a Egyptian Museum, Cairo

At the beginning of this trip, I was most anticipating a visit to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and by the size of the queues (4 hour wait to get inside without a 4 euro booking) everyone else was too. But it was just a decent art gallery. Sure, there were five or six pieces I studied back in High School Art History, and I´m glad I went, but I was not blown away as I was with the two places above. Both wow with scale: the Vatican museum has whole rooms dedicated to scultpures of animals, or busts, or maps of Italy. In the Egyptian Museum you can find rows upon rows of sarcofagi, or figurines included in burials, or trinkets, or stamps (used with ink rather than postage stamps). And both have pretty awesome pieces de resistance (Tutankhamon´s sarcofagi; Sistene Chapel).

Best Views

* Half frozen Niagara Falls, from the Canadian side of course

* Being a foot and a half away from a snake (first snake I've seen in the wild) in Costa Rica... and not just any snake, a fer-de-lance
* Top of the Empire State Building at night (freezing cold and cliched as hell, but totally worth it)

Best Cultural Experiences

* Seeing an NHL hockey game in Canada (Toronto Maple Leafs vs Pittsburgh Penguins, 31 Jan 2009). The game had everything: former captain's banner ceremony (+ free Dougie Gilmore bobbleheads), nine goals, an awesome fight (my video below), and the Leafs won (a rare occurence).

* Taxi ride from Cairo airport
* Dancing in jandels and shorts in Nicaraguan night clubs

Biggest Pains in the Bum

* My aforementioned sickness in Cairo
* Trying to change a flight with Aerolineas Argentinas (ongoing)
* Being talked to in English in Costa Ricano matter how hard you try your dodgy Spanish

Oh well, that's all for now. Off to the Peruvian Amazon tomorrow. Bring on those Anacondas!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Driving Tour of Italy...

...with Mario Mario



[Faster than the train]



[On the way to Capri]

[Isola di Capri]


[Even video game American-Italian Plumbers need to do laundry]


Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: The Year of Eight Hundred Thousand Words - - Summary Extravaganza

800,737 words

My total has not moved since 20 December, but I have. I've spent Weihnachten / Christmas in Northern Germany, and now I'm in Florence for Anno Nuovo / New Years. I'll be in Rome and Cairo for my birthday (I wonder if any customs officials will wish me happy birthday?), Honduras for Waitangi Day, and probably Argentina for Easter.

I haven't arrived at any New Year's Resolutions for 2009 yet as I'm still getting over 2008's.

Which brings me to:

How I Got To 800,737 words...

From 2 January to 22 March 2008 I was ahead of target. Those were the days. The blue flatlining at the end of the year is a bit depressing / misleading. I recommend you focus more on the steepness of the section that just precedes it.

Breaking it down further...

And further still...

(Week 50 stands out, don't it?)

And further still? Okay...

It was neck and neck between Sunday and Tuesday for a long time. In the end, Sunday contributed 420 more words than it's weekday rival. I'm still shocked that Tuesday did so well. I guess it's because there's never anything to do on Tuesdays except write, and I still have a bit of energy left from the weekend without it being a Monday...

By taking out all the days I was away from home, Sunday clearly outperformed the rest (adjusted average of 2,807 words versus Tuesday's 2,619).

But it would be remiss of me not to address the fact I was aiming for 1,000,000 words and not 800,000.

As Mike LaFontaine would say, Wha' Happened?


2008 contained no less than seven international trips, ranging from long weekends to nine day absences from my desk: Madrid, Norway, Paris, Turkey, Greece, Estonia/Latvia and now Germany/Italy (and beyond). Then there were the trips within Scotland exploring the Highlands and Hebrides, and the day trips, and the shows during festival...

The link between travel and the ever-widening gap between me and my target was summed up pretty well by this graph from back in week 39:

But travel wasn't the whole story. There were 43 goose eggs in 2008 (days when I wrote no words) - - all travel related. But if I had those 43 days again, I'd still need to write around 4,600 words a day to crack the million. The longest span over which I averaged that many words was eight days => Verdict: unlikely.

There was, of course, the dreaded day job to contend with. Or day jobs. After an extended Christmas break, I started a six-week temp job in mid-Jan. Queue first drop-off. Then, in March, I moved straight into a more difficult job. I still spent the same amount of time away from home, but I was left with much less energy in the evenings (and less time to dream up things to write about while filing...).

But travel and employment aren't really excuses. I don't regret the places I've been or the money daytime drudgery has earnt. I always knew writing had to fit in around life: the Quest For A Million Words came about as a way of shifting writing up the list of priorities (however artificially), and in that respect it was a success.

But there were other 'contributing factors' to my failure to reach one million words:

My inability to commit to, and finish, a novel-length narrative. Perhaps it was due to the pressures imposed by this scheme (which I devised to force me to finish another novel). Perhaps it was the difficulty inherent in writing a novel in evenings and weekends? (If and when I jump back on that Clydesdale, I'll look long at hard at doing it without working a day job).

Or perhaps I wasn't ready to write another novel? Perhaps I'm just not built for them?

Related to my cooling off with the novel as a form, was my increasing interest and passion for shorter forms, both in prose and poetry. Short stories yielded me my biggest success of 2008 (though my collection won't be published till 2010), and they made up the biggest chunk of my writing pie this year (see below), but I don't think I could have written much more that 300,000 words of short fiction this year, or any other year. There are only so many ideas you come up with, and only a percentage of these stand up to being put on the page, and only some of these warrant sticking with and revising...

Same goes for poetry, though it's more pronounced due to the lack of WORDS in them...

I don't regret any of the time I spent on poetry or short fiction, so I cant turn around now and say I wish I tried harder with Novel A and Novel B. They'll still be there when I'm ready.

Recipie for an 800,737 word pie

Blogging is a rather large constituent. I expended about as many words writing about my travels for friends and family on my travel blog as I did on Novel A. I probably didn't put as much care and attention into those posts as I did in my rock'n'roll novel rewrite, but when I read over some of the 'improvements' I thought I was making to the novel, I was clearly way off base. On the other hand, when I read over some of my travel blogs, I don't cringe as much as I would suspect (typos aside), and find that without churning out 2,000 words of "We did A, then went to B, then had C for dinner..." I would have forgotten some details which might one day wriggle their way into my fiction (or poetry).

The moral: travel blogs (and update-type emails, see larger green segment) contain some value and deserve to be included in the word count.

As for blogging here, sometimes it has been a postive, sometimes a negative. The weekly wordcount updates helped push me along, but sometimes it all felt a bit too public. I'm liked having a place to air my thoughts about short story competitions, or the evolution of my musical tastes, or nuwanubianism... but wonder now if there shouldn't be a cooling off period before some things get posted, and an expiry date after which some posts cease to exist.

And since this blog, with it's quest-y title and optimistic and soon-to-be-outdated url, is so 2008, I have a decision to make: continue to blog here, create a new blog (with another gimmick?), or lapse into silence...?

It's a decision I am yet to make.

For now, the Quest For A Million Words remains open. I will appear at random intervals to post photos and perhaps even anecdotes from my travels. When I have a job and a place to live back in New Zealand, and have sent of the final manuscript for my short story collection (title still to be determined), things should be clearer.

But for now, here's some photos from Germany...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Status Report: Week Fifty-One

[Since my landlord's laptop has OpenOffice software rather than Microsoft Office, the graphs look a bit different this week.]

Week Fifty-One – The Stats

Weekly Wordcount: 13,957 words (compared to 30,863 words last week)
Average: 1,994 words per day (compared to target of 3,001 words/day)
Most productive day: Monday 15 December, 4,141 words
Least productive day: Sunday 21 December, 0 words
Year-to-date: 800,737 words

This post was written on Saturday, but, thanks to the wonder of post scheduling, is appearing on Sunday: technically the last day of week 51 and the last day I woke up in Edinburgh.

Hence the goose egg for Sunday.

Apart from the occasional post on my travel blog and an email here or there, it's going to be goose eggs all the way to April 2009.

No fiction. No poetry. No rambling blog posts about Muriel Spark or The National.

I don't know if I can go cold turkey.

I may have to write hundred word stories on restaurant menus, sonnets on ticket stubs, grand ideas for Novel C on the back of my hand...

Week 51 was quite a come down from the record-breaking of its predecessor. Too many errands to perform. Too many people to catch up with one last time. Too many things I never got around to fighting for my attention.

Seems a shame to end 2008 on a downer, writing-wise.

But hey, I made it to 800,000 words. That's 80% of a million words. Or 2,188 words per day. If you take out the 46 days (past and future) in 2008 when I was unable to write due to being outside the UK, the average becomes 2,502 words per day.

But I'll hold back on further number crunching until my graph extravaganza.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Well, my laptop has just gone bye-bye. Don't worry, I'll see it again in 150 days, give or take. Along with other possessions Marisa and I can't bear to part with but can't lug around four continents in our packs, my laptop will be cruising the high seas back to New Zealand. Barring catastrophe(s), the box will beat me home.

I'm using my landlord's laptop to type this, if you were wondering.

I could have knuckled down and written on this computer this morning after taping the box shut, but I couldn't face it. It felt unfaithful. Me and that black slab of increasing obsolescence have been through a lot these past twelve months. Sadly, it won't be around to see my eight hundredth thousand word of 2008.

That should come later today when I start my big wordcount summary...