Tuesday, September 30, 2008
There I am, standing in a sea of 9 – 16 year olds (something I haven’t done since schooldays!). There’s a buzz in the room as the crowd wait impatiently for the celebrated author to arrive. As I gaze around me I’m struck at how little girls have really changed “since I were a lass”. There’s the same self conscious behaviour, the same brittle confidence, the same embarrassment at parents.
“Moo-oom,” hisses one 11 year old, “I know they’re serving snacks, it’s not like I can’t see you know. No! I don’t want any! Moo-ooom!” It’s curious that the snacks are wolfed down by the mothers, while most of the kids say no; only 12 or 14 years old and already so horribly conscious of their appearance. And all of them are of course dressed in “regulation uniform” – skinny leg jeans, ballerinas or boots, and long hair.
There’s a commotion near the back of the bookstore and an excited buzz ripples through the crowd. “Ooh, there she is, there she is!” and Meg Cabot walks towards the podium.
“Just look at you guys!” she says, “You’re like all so gorgeous. And thank you for coming out on what I’m told is a horrible night in Cape Town!”
Appreciative squeals and giggles ripple through the crowd.
“But oh my god, where are your tiaras? Oh come on, didn’t they tell you had to wear a tiara. But like, you should have known that. Okay, so tell me, like when can you wear a tiara?” says Cabot, herself sporting a sparkly tiara on her head.
“When you visit someone,” offers one young thing.
“When we meet you?” says another.
“Of course!” says Cabot, “when you meet me. And when you get married…”
There’s nervous laughter at this.
She goes on to tell her young audience about the importance of living your dream, of life being short and it being important to do what you love. But in the same breath, she talks about the rejections.
“I had so many rejections, I had like a whole US postal bag full of them – that’s like ‘this’ big! You know I was getting so many rejections I figured, like, you know, all the publishers in New York must be on crack. There must be like, a crack epidemic. Then one of them got off it and accepted my novel…”
She talks in a kind of sing-song way, bubbling and vivacious. She talks their language and connects with them not as an adult per se, but as a sort of űbercool older sister. They in turn hang on her every word and giggle in all the right places. I find myself smiling both at how she holds them and their enthusiasm. It’s kind of, like, you know, infectious - or whatever...
I wonder how on earth she sustains it. She’s exhausted – I can sense that, her luggage has been lost and she’s clearly working to a hectic schedule on this book tour. I wonder, if faced with any of it, how I would cope. I also, looking at her audience, recognise that they are not my audience. I was never the Princess Mia sparkly, ditzy kind of teen and my writing today is most probably not for that audience either. It starts to make me wonder just who might be in any audience I might one day face.
Cabot, a prolific author, goes on to talk her about her children's books (she also writes for adults) and her ways of reaching her market. She has a Facebook account (this I already knew since I’m like, you know, “friended” to her, along with a gazillion others), a MySpace account, a Beebo account, she has a Meg Cabot.com website (where she hosts message boards and a blog) as well as a Meg Cabot.co.uk site and soon Princess Mia will be getting her own website. Her publishers are running a Meg Cabot Ambassador programme. Kids sign up to be an ambassador – they get free books, provided they promote Cabot’s books to their friends.
I’m amazed at how much of the marketing is electronic – almost the whole customer relationship management side of her marketing is done via the internet – aside from the book tours and books signings. But the key marketing focus, it strikes me, aside from having a decent product, is customer relationship management. It’s interesting that in an increasingly competitive market authors are having to focus less on their product and far more on customer relationships in order to up and sustain sales figures. It’s no longer solely about how good the book is, but it’s also about how accessible you are to your market and how you woo them. That gives authors two full time jobs rolled into one – writer/entertainer and marketer. No more sequestering yourself away in the drafty attic or garden shed, if you want to succeed.
Cabot opens the floor to questions.
“What’s your favourite book?” asks one teen.
“I love them all equally,” she says, “You know, just like your mother tells you she love all of you, all your brothers and sisters the same - like yeah…Whatever! So yeah, I love them all equally, because, like, you know, I don’t want any of them to get upset.”
“You’ve like, set the bar quite high for guys in your book…” says one girl.
“Well, yeah, but like Jesse is a ghost… But no seriously, the nice guys are out there, they’re just the ones sitting like right at the back of the classroom, too shy to talk to you.”
“Which of your books do you like the least?”
“Well, like, I don’t dislike any of them. I can’t say I do because my publishers are here.”
It’s interesting that there are questions she will not answer, questions to which she simply says, “No, I’m not going to answer that.”
“What’s the best place you’ve been to,” asks one girl.
“Cape Town! Like duh, you think I don’t know how to answer that question!”
With the questions over, Cabot moves off to do her book signings - followed by a mob of excited teens who just can’t believe their luck. Me? I duck out and head off for sushi and champagne!
Sunday, September 28, 2008
So we went here...
Walker Bay, Hermanus
Well no, not exactly like that... because we're a bit wussy...
We prefer to stay on terra firma.
It's really hard to give you a decent indication of just how enormous these magnificent creatures are. Just think... very, very much bigger than an elephant. Or think, something like an iceberg, what you see above, is just a small indication of what's below.
And because I can never get enough of a good thing, I plan on going back in a week or two's time!
Friday, September 26, 2008
Oh dear, short on words - mind far too occupied with next editing process. The last "big" edit was completed on Monday - I think it was Monday... where does the time go... So goal directed and utterly absorbed. Then I started the read through of the manuscript to pick up typos and such like. Ah, but cannot leave well enough alone, so I find I'm deleting more words, adding others in, pruning here, applying a little root grow elsewhere. It's got to come to an end, or like WH Auden, I'll still be editing long after the novel's published. How's that for confidence, eh - the bold assumption that this story will find a publisher. Oh yes, let's hear it for positive visualisation and affirmation!
But here I sit, in the middle of the morning, still in my jimjams, hair tousled, eyes focussed though perhaps a bit wild, totally away with the vampires, scribbling and then scribbling some more. Just had a new idea, another level of tension that might be added to the plot. Ah, but will it serve a purpose, perhaps, but only if the book turns into a series. Hmm, okay, so I'll put the idea aside for now - in the present context it will add nothing. But it's something to be kept in mind. Who knows... She dreams of the three, or four, or five book deal...
All right, so here's the deal - the bottom line is you're really not going to get anything sensible out of me today - so instead I'll share with you something from my playtime in the digital darkroom when I was taking a break the other day. What day? Don't know, days have been merging into a stream of words flowing together as I hurry towards my dream.
As you'll see from the images, I really am in a less than "real" genre at present...
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Still, that said, I took advantage of the sun on Monday and had a fine time snapping the wee beasties below.
I do love bees, I think there's something quite magical about them. And bee-rescuing is a popular past-time in our house. They inevitably end up in the swimming pool, so it's out with the honey, lots of warm breath on very frail bee bodies (sort of mouth to mouth resuscitation...) and a bit of sunshine - and then it's such a joy when they revive and fly away.
What I love about the mass flowering shrubs of spring is how they attract bees. If you stand next to them in the morning you have the pleasure of hearing the bees singing. Sigh, so good for the soul, that.
Yep, much better focusing on nature than the nuttiness of markets, politics and similar such shenanigans. At least nature is real, whereas the rest strikes me as being an awful lot of hot air and all smoke and mirrors.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Although the mountains around the city still have their layer of snowy icing covering their peaks, today the sky is clear and cloudless, a pristine blue. The sun is shining and the first coucal of the season has been warbling since dawn. The robin is sounding particularly chirpy this morning and even the boubou has been issuing a chirrupy mating call. The guinea fowl are at it all over the garden, much chasing which lasts until he finally catches her, hops on and it's all over in a second. Seems hardly worth all the running, doesn't it!
All around there is the sense of things waking and stretching into life. The trees are already sporting new lime green leaves and the rock rose has suddenly burst into a profusion of pink flowers.
Thank goodness, it's been a long, cold and wet winter with an uncharacteristic amount of snow.
depression rather than a recession. The US seems to be in a state of both financial and political turbulence. Here, government appears to be falling apart. Thabo Mbeki has been asked to resign following on "political conspiracy" in attempting to bring Jacob Zuma to trial on corruption charges. Although widely reported that said charges have been dropped, they haven't, but the process used against him was declared unlawful - the allegations of corruption stil stand. Meanwhile, it seems we're about to find ourselves leaderless while major divides within in the ANC (long overdue, frankly) are really shaking things up.
Sitting here with plans to move the UK early next year, we're suddenly wondering what to do. Face economic turmoil there, or stay and deal with political and economic turmoil here (not to mention the incessant crime and violence and affirmative action). Ho hum, eh?
Yes, well perhaps it is just best to focus on spring afterall.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Not too many words today, been too caught up in editing and am kinda worded-out.
The shots below were taken after we left the Kruger National Park and spent two days mooching around Mpumalanga province's Panorama Route. Mpumalanga means the place of the rising sun. It is full of stunning vistas - fertile land, lush vegetation, big skies, big mountains, and waterfalls. The place where the Drakensberg mountain range rears up to form the escarpment, the land rising dramatically from the savanna plains far below.
The visibility was pretty awful while we were there - very bright light and veld fires everywhere. Winter is the dry season in the northern part of South Africa and the grass is tinder dry. Veld fires break out at the drop of hat and air was constantly filled with a gauzy layer of blue smoke as far as the eye can see. Despite taking a gazillion photos, these are a few that I managed to salvage from the rotten visibility.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
I love Dim Sum and remember first eating them in a little restaurant tucked down a side alley in Dublin. We used to go there at about 11am on Sundays, choose our selection from the trolleys pushed around by obliging waitresses and devour fluffy white clouds of deliciousness whilst sipping Chinese tea. So when I discovered that one of my favourite local restaurants (or what I should say was once one of my favourite local restaurants...) had had an upgrade and was now serving Dim Sum, I was hugely excited. Not put off by the sushi which wasn’t up to par the previous week (it used to be delectable) – I thought, not a problem, I can have their Dim Sum. Ha.
So much for fluffy white clouds of deliciousness or little tokens that touch your heart. After sharing a small selection with D, I was left feeling as though I had a lead balloon, or, if you prefer, a dead baboon, in my stomach – and he was fermenting… I thank the goddess for a gut-saving Traditional Chinese remedy called Bao He Wan aka Relieve Stomach Stagnation.
As for the traditional Chinese tea normally served with Dim Sum, well, I guess the tea-boat from China must have sunk.
"I'm so sorry," I muttered to D who'd never had Dim Sum before, "that wasn't Dim Sum, it wasn't even Asian Fusion, that was complete Asian Fusion Confusion!"
“Did you enjoy your meal?” asked the bright young thing serving us.
“Hmm,” I murmured, “let me just say that that was the most disappointing Dim Sum experience of my life.” And went on to explain what Dim Sum were all about, what they were supposed to have in them, how light they were supposed to be and so on - you know, in the way of the worldly-wise and well-travelled...
As an aside: I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned using the word "disappointing" with service providers is far more effective than using the word "awful". “Awful” hits then over the head like a club and causes them to put up all sorts of prickly defenses. “Disappointing” slips between the armour and slides neatly between the ribs, leaving them defenseless. (Oh yes, I’m getting decidedly and strategically mean as I get older.)
All I can say is that locals going to said restaurant and trying Dim Sum for the first time will be put off for life. Unless they like something which is a combination of vetkoek and dwarf bread* and tastes of nothing in particular. In future I will make my own Dim Sum.
“Ooh,” groaned D, as we drove home, “After all that fusion food I need to be defused.”
Yes, well, preferably not anywhere near me!
* Dwarf bread a product from the Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels is solid, chunky stuff. "It will enable you to survive for days (by making you realise you are surrounded by things that look more edible) and never goes stale, possibly because it was always stale. Its primary use is as a weapon (although it is also used as a kind of currency), and it is made in many different types. Reportedly the process of "forging" a loaf of dwarf bread includes gravel as part of the recipe, and kitty litter is apparently a preferred seasoning."
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
I have, I realise, gone completely bush mad. There’s a nice, but very rude expression for it in Afrikaans, but aware of bloggy sensibilities, I won’t use it here – it’s translatable enough for anyone to understand!
However, I’m that bushmad that I’m trying to get back to the bush. And what I’m wondering is, why has it taken me so long, and literally on the eve of our leaving SA for the Wet and Soggy Place, for me to discover the bush. Perhaps it’s because South Africans just take the bush for granted. We know it’s there, so you know, no big deal. But it is a big deal. It’s an awesome deal – that sheer magic of being out in wild nature is just irreplaceable. I would wish for every single one of you to experience it. And by experiencing it, I mean going out and actually walking in the bush - the real bush, where the lions and elephants and impala live.
As for getting back into the bush, I considered an African swansong – Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwean/Zambian border (staying in Zambia) and Chobe Game Reserve in Botswana. But the thing that really grabbed me by the throat (and totally out-budgeted me) was the cost. Hideously expensive. I’m utterly staggered at the price of safari holidays, at how much private lodges and hotel chains charge for accommodation per night – never mind the airfares and airport taxes, park fees, activity charges etc. There are some people who are making a lot of money out of all this.
And here’s the rub. While hotel chains and private lodges are creaming it, the people who work for them and the people who live in the immediate environment remain horribly poor – often living below, on or just above the poverty line. It’s no small wonder that service in Africa is berated as being awful. How, after all, would you like to work for some fatcat serving “wealthy” tourists, when you don’t even earn enough to put food on the table. At the Victoria Falls curio markets, stallholders will barter goods – clothing, children’s clothing in particular, shoes and pens are all gratefully accepted as currency – because they are so unaffordable and so unavailable.
And this brings me to the next element of this post. Blog Action Day. It’s on the 15th of October this year and the topic is Poverty. I think I’m pretty well placed to write about poverty given it’s all around me. I’m hoping to rope D in to co-write with me, as an ex academic (socio-political theory) and well-published in his own right, he will bring extra depth to anything I might have to say.
Do go and check out the Blog Action site and sign up to participate. If you feel you’d have nothing to say, and I find that hard to believe! the site gives a host of ideas and suggestions for post topics on the day.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Given all the virtual traveling we’ve done for the past few weeks, a few things have managed to slip in and have been given no attention. Time to remedy that before returning to “regular service”.
First of all, I have to share with you the coolest and most addictive widget to hit the internet. The widget was created by the Stray (who is fast becoming a victim of her own success!) of Chasing Sheep, for the delightful Caroline of In Search of Adam – as a marketing tool for Caroline’s new book Black Boxes.
The Black Box widget – see my side bar - is connecting like-minded souls all across the great interwebloggy thing. You can read all about it here and by following the related links. The word blackbox has already morphed into a verb and bloggers are telling each other, "Hi! I blackboxed to your blog". Move over Scotty, no one needs beaming up anymore!
All around the world, bloggers are happily reporting increased stats and are having all sorts of fun making new blogging buddies. Go and try it - click on the "Decide" button, make some choices, leave a choice for others to make, and follow the mystery blog link! It’s great fun – but don’t blame me if you spend hours playing!
Then there are some awards which have come my way and which need passing on.
First, from Sue Guiney, author of Tangled Roots, comes the Perfect Blend of Friendship Award. Thank you, Sue!
Although I hate singling people out, I hereby pass the award on to,
the I love your Blog Award...
the Wylde Woman Award
You girls are such sweeties. Thank you! Big Mwah!
First off, I’m changing the name of that last award and from now on, by the laws of this blog (and supported by the rulings of that wicked chicken, Atyllah the Hen – and you don’t want to argue with her!), it is known as the Wylde award – none of this gender defining stuff, please!
Again, these awards are also supposed to be passed on. But because I totally loathe singling people, I’m bucking the trend. Each one of you is special, I enjoy every blog I read (or I wouldn’t read it!) and you are all equally deserving in your own special way. So I’m giving these awards to all of you – and especially to all those extra-special Wylde Men!
I notice I’ve also been tagged for a meme by Susan at Gottawritegirl – that’s going to have to wait a few days though! Too much other catching up to do after all that virtual safari-ing! And yes, yes, I know Baino, you want more! Later – maybe, if you’re good and my budget allows!