Saturday, March 29, 2008

James Hilton

I confess I have a weakness for a novel that tells a story. It can do lots of other things besides, and its scenes can be laid in Tennessee or Timbuktu or Tibet. But a story, please, a story. I believe that people like stories, and I believe that romantic and adventurous stories will hold their popularity because, with all its drawbacks, the romantic and adventurous view of life is the most sensible.

James Hilton
, author of several famous novels, including Lost Horizon and Goodbye Mr Chips.

Quoted in the Afterword to Lost Horizon, Readers Digest edition, 1990

Friday, March 28, 2008

The confusing world of mattress toppers

Be careful how you write. And be careful what you go looking up on the Net.

I was searching for the combo of writing and the phrase mattress topper tonight, and came across a site where someone is describing Memory Foam Pillows and Mattress Pad Memory Foam. I can sort of understand what a memory foam pillow might be, but the second phrase seems a bit out of kilter. This pretty much goes for the rest of the article as well, where we're told the memory foam contains unique properties that no more pillows can match. I presume we mean no mere pillows?

Further down the page we have this interesting statement: Memory foam has mass-produced its way into the forefront ever since it was found that the foam molds to the shape of your body applying your body's have heat. You can understand what it means, but you wonder how the words got into that arrangement.

But that last sentence wasn't anywhere near as scary as this one: With a memory foam cervical pillow, your head and neck remain aligned with your spine as you sleep. I struggled at first to think what word should be there instead of 'cervical,' but it turns out in fact that though I thought cervical only applied to a certain kind of cancer women get - relating to the neck of the womb, apparently - the word is also used for the neck and upper spine area and is perfectly correct.

So I learned something, at least, from this article!

Anyway, all that aside, the article this comes from is listed as being written by one Frank Vanderlugt, with the date Mon Dec 26th, 2005 beside his name. But on another site the credit is given to Chris Rodriguez. According to another site, Chris Rodriguez is an Expert Author. Obviously a complete command of the English language isn't required of Expert Authors.

The plot thickens. At the bottom of the first article, we have this comment: Chris Rodriguez is andy skinner and webmaster for Chris is Andy? Or is she Mr Vanderlught? I don't know who anyone is!

How did I get into this? I was only looking at mattress toppers!

Jurgen Wolff

I went to link Jurgen Wolff's name in the last post and for the life of me couldn't find a reference to him in any of the blogs I thought he'd be in. There should have been a mention of him in my Travel Blog, because I met him in Birmingham, when we both attended the Podcamp there.

I thought I might have written about him in one of my blogs, but even though I did write about the Podcamp there (as well as in the Travel Blog) there's nothing about poor old Jurgen.

I can't believe I missed him out. We didn't have a lot of contact there; merely sat beside each other in one of the workshops and spoke a little at the beginning to each other, but it was quite fun to catch up with someone whose book I'd read when I still ran the bookshop, and whose e-letters I've been getting for some years.

Well, here he is now.

Sarah Grace - and a bit about my music

Via my old 'friend' Jurgen Wolff (in the mostly Internet sense - though I have actually met him), I came across a blog written by Sarah Grace.

Sarah writes longish posts (although I guess I should check out the length of some of mine) and talks a lot about the joys and woes of being a writer. She's also a Christian, and discusses that in some of her posts too.

The post that Jurgen pointed me to was 10 lessons I've learned from both running and writing.
A neat post, full of good comparisons.

I began writing another piano piece during the Easter break. I'd begun two other pieces, one of which was going well and then fizzed; the second seemed a great idea when I improvised round the piano with the main idea in it, but somehow there seemed to be too many options when I came to write it, and at the moment it's just sitting going nowhere, with only a page of music.

The one that's nearly finished, however, took off from the start. I'd had this idea of naming the pieces with some reference to a famous composer: the first is called Someone's Knocking - is it Beethoven? The title only arrived after the piece was part way done. The second started out with Bach in mind from the beginning, and is called, Bach does the Housework.

The most recent one, however, missed out on having a composer in the title. I was working through it, going fairly well, and suddenly had a kind of moment when I thought, this has something to do with a cornet/trumpet player. Opted in the end for the cornet player, and so it's called, The Cornet Player goes on Holiday. Having that in mind gave me a real impetus to keep moving on it. I wanted to write something that was lighter in tone rather than heavy, and the holiday element kept me focused.

I'm not a composer who's good on structure, as I think I've mentioned before, and I'm better composing a piece that's four to six pages long than a symphony. (Much better, in fact - there ain't no Crowl symphonies.) With music I find that I just have to sit down and start and see what happens. The structure usually sorts itself out in the end, but composing is a bit of a journey for me. (Like writing, really, though I tend to see the overall structure of written things better than composed ones.) If the journey goes well, I'll finish a piece easily. If it doesn't seem to get out of the gates of the town, then it may stay there for a very long time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A matter of probabilities

If shrinking shirts is one of the most commonly-searched key phrases on this site – don’t ask me why – then drug rehab must be one of the least. I’ve just checked out HitTail, looking for a trace of this phrase, and there’s not one to be found. ‘Charity shop bolivia nc’, yes; ‘celia cromer wedding’, yes; ‘bugs flies compost pile’, yes; ‘all sort of home kitchen crowl insect’ – surely that must be ‘crawl’ – yes.

But nothing about drug rehab. Yet drugs and drug rehab is something I’ve written about a number of times, for various reasons.

The infinite puzzles of the Internet, eh? Who can fathom the mind of the Google Spider, or deduce her ways?

Plainly then, there’s more real concern about shrinking shirts in this world than about drug rehabilitation. Maybe it’s just that more people wear shirts than take drugs? I guess in terms of probabilities, that would be the case. Or maybe HitTail has a problem with drugs?

The other rather curious thing about key word phrases and my blog is that Henry Lewis Gates is fairly high on the list. Off the top of my head I couldn't recall who he was; nor did I remember writing about him. I had to go back through the blog itself to check him out and find he’s mentioned rather ironically as having misquoted Burns by saying it was Shakespeare who talked about his love being like a red, red rose.

He's rather more important than that -which might account for so many people looking for him.

Catching up on writing

Over this Easter weekend I've managed to get on and do some more writing for the Triond site, where articles can be left indefinitely, and can keep on getting viewed, and making money. (Peanuts, but it is money.)

I sat down a week or so ago and tried to chart out my writing/composing priorities. Doing an article a week for Triond was one of them. I kind of caught up by writing four articles, a couple of which were rehashes of pieces I'd done before.

So for those with an interest in other things I do, here are the links:

Blowing My Own Trumpet.
This is a piece about trying to promote yourself on the Net. Self-referential is the term, I think!

Friends for Life. This one looks at some of the books on my shelves and concludes that some of them make better friends than the real people I know. Hmmm. This was a piece I started some time ago and never did anything more with.

The Delightful Lives at 44 Scotland St. Another 'rehash' - in the best sense. I've taken the four book reviews I've done of the four episodes in Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland St series and woven them together into a long overview. It's called recycling.

Support Your Local Circus.
This was written new and fresh yesterday after I went to see Weber Brothers' Circus in Mosgiel, one of the outer suburbs of Dunedin. It's a lovely little circus, full of energy and life, with clowns that are genuinely funny, and some wonderful Asian acrobats. And three absolutely crazy motorcyclists racing around and around inside what seems a very tiny metal globe.

Photo by Atelier Teee

Shrinking Shirts

It never ceases to amaze me (though it's not hard to amaze me at the best of times) that there are so many searches on the Net for Shrinking Shirts. It's a phrase that comes up time and again on my keywords on HitTail, but it also appears daily in a Google alert I have for the topic.

You can even find video clips on You Tube on the subject. Here's a very earnest gent telling you how to stop your shirts from shrinking (and what to do about grime on your collars and cuffs).

One of the more delightful alerts I received in the last couple of days relates to a guy on Yahoo Answers asking about the problem. He asks:

I just bought a few cheap flannel shirts that fit me perfictly, but when i washed one of them it shrunk so much i could not where it anymore. I have wear them more as a light jacket, so they doen't get very dirty. Could i just throw them in the drier and skip the washing machine to semi-clean them? This would not shrink the shirt would it?

I've left his spelling as it was in the post, by the way. Fortunately he gets some very sensible answers - more so than the last person I came across on the Net who was asking something similar.

So what has all this to do with my creative work? Hmm, nothing really. It's just one of those things that interests me. And Artists Should Always Be On the Lookout for Interesting Things.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tune in the head

I don’t know how it is with other composers, but I find when I’m working on something (as I have been on the third of the brass band pieces I’m currently writing) a tune from that piece will get itself in my head and hammer away at every opportunity. I know composers aren’t supposed to write tunes anymore (sez who?) but I write tunes still; that’s the way I am. At least two of the three ‘movements’ of this brass band collection have big tunes, ones where the tune is built up gradually from a small number of players to the whole band. Listening to it on Sibelius is quite exciting as you hear more and more instruments joining in.
But having the tune go round and round in your head for days on end is as annoying as seeing one of those funny t-shirts where you catch the words on the front but don’t have time to see what’s on the back. Or vice versa.
Or it’s as annoying as reading a review by James Berardinelli and finding that he likes a movie you hated. Or vice versa.

Photo courtesy of Steve 9091, on

Saturday, March 15, 2008


One of the other books of music I got when I went to the recent Regent non-book sale was Granados Masterpieces: 12 Spanish Dances.
Having been playing the piano now for around 55 years, you get to the point where you think there won’t be any more music coming along that can really make you sit up and do some real work. I’ve become very stale about a lot of music, particularly the piano music I’ve got, (which is perhaps why I’ve had to write some more of my own!), and it’s great to find something that triggers of the musical responses again.
At first I thought the pieces were sight-readable. They are, up to a degree, but they’re also full of little tricks that you don’t expect, and consequently sight-reading them doesn’t really cut the mustard.
The most well known of the dozen is Andaluza, but it’s by no means the only one worth playing in the set. I suspect I’ll get my teeth/fingers into all of them in due course; meanwhile it’s great to have something to play that requires a bit of work, but not so much that you want to give up frequently.
The other thing about them is that most of them have very little in the way of melody or development. Granados takes a phrase or two and works away at it like someone chewing their cud (but rather more artistically). Things don’t actually go anywhere, which is part of his charm and his style, I guess. Curiously enough it reminds me of John Adams, or Reich or some of these other minimalists. I wouldn’t have thought of Granados as a minimalist, but perhaps he’s the forerunner of some of them?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What's in a Name? Quite a bit, actually

When we were in England we went to the deadening town of Milton Keynes, a place that was purpose-built for the overflow from London (I think). It struck me as an unpleasant place to live when I went there more than thirty years ago. It hasn’t improved, in spite of having one of the longest malls I’ve ever been in.
But I only mention Milton Keynes because there was a stall in the middle of the mall (always the poet!) where they were selling Dead Sea Salts. Apparently these are very effective for all manner of illnesses, including psoriasis treatment – which is rather odd, since you’d think that the dead helping the dead wouldn’t really work. Seems it does.
What struck me more though was the name itself. It must have taken some grit to insist that they stick with the word ‘dead’ in giving a name to various facial creams and lotions. Still, the Dead Sea Salts have been regarded fairly highly for many decades, so I suppose they thought they could risk it.
Must be one out of the bag, though.


The other movie I got was Solaris, which deserves a post to itself, rather than being stuck in with Unfortunate Events. Although there are some Unfortunate Events in Solaris too: a couple of murders, a couple of suicides, some hasty and painless dispatching of people who aren’t really people, madness, an abortion, and lives lived without God.
Which makes it all sound very grim. In fact it’s not. The love story at its heart preserves it from being a minor version of Alien, and quite honestly, whatever Solaris is doing to the people on the space ship, it doesn’t seem particularly malicious.
It’s a very slow movie – though nowhere near as slow as its Russian forebear, which takes twice as long to tell the same story. But the slowness isn’t a negative feature, and I found it absorbing. (Not so my wife, who switched off very early on, even though she managed to tell me quite a bit about it later.)
George Clooney revels in having a role that’s got some depth – the role of Ocean is more like a paddling pool by contrast. Natascha McElhone (how did she ever get into movies with a name like that? It would never have been allowed in the good old days!) is an English actress I didn’t recognise, but she was in The Truman Show, and has turned up in a variety of other things, including tv episodes. Her lovely wan smile is used to great advantage, as is her puzzled air. She seems exactly right for the part.
There are virtually only two other actors in the piece: Jeremy Davies, who’s currently incarcerated in Lost, and Viola Davis, who’s one of those actresses who’s in everything but never seems to become familiar. Davis plays a maddening character who turns out not to be who he is, and Davis is a grim reaper of a woman, determined to beat the planet Solaris at its own game. When she figures out what it is.
This isn’t a film I’ll watch with my wife again in a hurry – she said you can watch it on your own sometime – but I’d like to figure it out a bit more. The central mystery becomes obvious enough, but what’s the ending all about? Is it just there to confuse us a little further?

A Series of Unfortunate Events

A couple of weekends ago, the Regent Theatre Trust held its first non-book sale. It focused on DVDs (which all went within minutes of opening), videos, sheet music, paintings and jigsaws. And of course, vinyl recordings by the mile.
I’ve already mentioned that I picked up some music at the sale, but I probably didn’t say I got two DVDs – the only two I could get my hands on in the crush. One was the film version of a book I read in late 2006 when I worked in a very boring job where I had next to nothing to do all day except sit and wait for the phone to ring. Which it didn’t very often. This was Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
I enjoyed the books - there were three in the volume I got, all of which come into the movie. So-called children’s books often have a style and charm that’s lacking in many novels for adults. Of course the movie thins down the storyline considerably, as you’d expect, but it manages to maintain the conversational style of writing by having Snicket as a character in the film (played by Jude Law). What it does even better is cast Jim Carrey as Uncle Olaf, and he gives it everything he’s got. His highly stylised characterisation is wonderful, never missing a beat. He’s surrounded by artwork that is also absolutely spot on. It makes the movie worth watching several times, I’d think.
Some of the other actors aren’t quite as stylish as Carrey, which is a pity. The three children are fine: Liam Aiken, with eyes that convey amazing amounts; Emily Browning, beautiful and resourceful, and the Hoffman twins, who seem to have no qualms about being hung from a table edge with their teeth sunk deep into it. And Timothy Spall is his usual superb self. I’ve never seen him put a foot wrong.
But Billy Connolly, playing the gentle, snake-loving uncle is rather flat and seems to wonder what he’s doing there, and Meryl Streep misses the boat (not literally, as she spends quite a bit of time in one) somehow, something she seldom does.
In the end it’s the children, Carrey and the mise-en-scene that makes this a memorable movie. And of course, Mr Snicket’s humour.

There are times when I could do with a pair of Bose headphones. Even though our tv has surround sound and you can improve the bass, it comes across as very variable. I'm sure the sound would be better heard through headphones, just as it is with my Sibelius music program on the computer.

Hi Ho Silver!

I can remember the phrase, Hi Ho Silver!, but I’m lucky if I can remember the name of the actors who were in the films. Though I seem to remember that there was another horse called Tonto. Or was that the Indian’s name? Oh, dear.

Once I could quote you the details of umpteen films, naming the actors, directors and probably several other facts you didn’t need to know. Now I’m lucky if I recognise half the stars I see on screen.

And talking about silver, I can remember the fact that stocks of silver bullion are becoming hard to get, because I’ve had this fact hammered home to me on a number of occasions in relation to one of the writing companies I work for. But don’t ask me some other ‘facts’ I should know. I probably won’t be able to tell you.

I discovered that all this is perfectly normal. I suspected that it was, but I found a new book at the library the other day called Where did I leave my glasses? : the what, when, and why of normal memory loss. It’s by a woman who must now be getting on for seventy (she was a child in the forties) and who’s obviously been a top article writer for generations. Her name is Martha Weinman Lear, (of course I had to check it out on the book’s cover, because I’d forgotten), and she writes with great good humour and plenty of sense. She dispels the myth that most of us are heading for Alzheimer’s, and she includes plenty of sound scientific stuff in a very readable way.

She writes non-fiction the way I’d like to do it: plenty of information, but made so palatable that you just keep on reading. Years of experience probably helps, but for me it’s the sort of thing that’s quite hard. Maybe it is for her too. I don’t suppose she gets up in the morning and composes twenty pages on the trot without recourse to a few moments of thought.

I have written some good pieces in this sort of vein in the past – mainly for the NZ Listener – but I don’t seem to have the opportunities so much now. And many magazines have got deadly serious, so that humorous articles don’t get picked up readily. Just have to keep blogging then, to pay the bills.

Of course I should have checked earlier, but Tonto was the Indian. His horse was called Scout. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the name of his horse: The origin of Tonto's horse, Scout, is less clear. For a long time, Tonto rode a white horse called White Feller. In the episode titled "Four Day Ride," which aired on August 5th, 1938. Tonto is given a paint horse by his friend, Chief Thundercloud, who then takes and cares for White Feller. Tonto rides this horse, and simply refers to him as "Paint Horse," for several episodes. The horse is finally named Scout in the episode "Border Dope Smuggling," which was broadcast on September the 2nd, 1938. In another episode, the lingering question of Tonto's mode of transport was resolved when the pair found a secluded valley and the Lone Ranger, in an urge of conscience, released Silver back to the wild. The episode ends with Silver returning to the Ranger bringing along a companion who becomes Tonto's horse, Scout.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Point of View

I finished reading Christopher Priest’s The Prestige a couple of days ago. I came across it because my son and I were having a discussion about a particular video of a quick-change-costume act that appeared on tv recently. In spite of watching several times and taking my son’s advice to not look at the two principals, but to watch away from them, I still missed seeing whatever trickery they were up to. Whatever it is they do to achieve their extraordinary quick changes, it’s superbly done.
Anyway, Ben mentioned Priest’s book because it talked about illusion and distraction in magician’s acts. But it turned out to be a lot more than that: a marvellous tale of deception and feuding between two rival magicians with some strange electricity thrown in, and quite a bit of distracting of the reader away from what the author doesn’t want you to see; well, at least not until he’s ready.
In the end the story is just a little over the top, leaning towards fantasy - and yet there are no cheap flights of fancy; it’s all told in a seemingly pragmatic way. That the events in the story are often much less than pragmatic is another thing altogether.
Priest manages four different storytellers very successfully (or is that six?), conveying the contemporary laidback attitude of the first narrator, the slightly bumptious and curiously doubled storytelling of the first magician, the background to the events told by another modern character, a woman this time, and the last long section told by the other magician – who has more than a few tricks up his sleeve, and isn’t anything like the character the other magician makes him out to be.
We get the same story more than once, and yet each re-telling peels back more layers of strangeness, showing that Priest, while not exactly leading us the garden path, is certainly not giving us all the information all the time.
Telling a story from four points of view is an achievement in itself. I know how difficult I’ve found it to successfully switch back and forth between two characters in the most recent novel I’ve been writing. (It has the working title of My Twin is Dying, but isn’t likely to finish up with that.) Priest has the advantage over me of retelling his story; I’m trying to tell a chronological story but varying who’s doing the telling as it moves along.
A friend of mine – she calls herself Sanchona on the book cover – discussed point of view at length with me (and other writers apparently) while she was writing her book A Family of Strangers. It’s one of those subtle things in writing that most new authors don’t quite see the need to deal with; great writers seem to do it without thinking.
Sometimes I think writers in discussion groups on the Net go overboard on how point of view should be achieved, and are too restrictive. Take any decent classic novel and check out how they’ve done it. I can guarantee there are as many ways of doing pov as there are of telling stories. The thing is to know what you’re doing in the first place.

Simon Barnes....again

For the past six weeks or so I've been reading Simon Barnes' book, How to be Wild. The following quote comes from section 63.

Science cannot replace religion, still less. God. That is not the job of science, despite all the fuss made by Dawkins, the proselytising atheist. But science can at least address the God Questions; and give us a deeper and more vivid understanding of life. And as I read about life, and as I walk along my own entagnled bank, I can feel very deeply that there is grandeur in the deep, puzzling, buzzling, complex nature of life that these great books have shown me.

The reason I'm taking so long to read the book is that it's very much one that you pick up in an odd moment and put down again after a couple of its short chapters, unlike The Prestige, which I devoured in a few days. (More on that book in a later post.) So I've just got Barnes' book out of the library for the third time, and hopefully will finish it on this round.

And speaking of Dawkins, I came across this quote about him and other atheistic popularizers in a blog I read most days, The Website of Unknowing. Carl McColman's referring to a book by Becky Garrison, called:
The New Atheist Crusaders and their Unholy Grail: The Misguided Quest to Destroy Your Faith.

He writes:
Basically mimicking the fetish for intolerance that has come to characterize religious conservatives in our day, the new atheists have made it fashionable to dismiss religion as not only “untrue,” but unworthy of even the right to exist.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

How do you say No?

In years past I used to accompany soloists from the Saints, one of the local brass bands. That came to a sudden end due to economic reasons, I think, and since then I’ve only spasmodically had anything to do with them. However, one of the trombonists is a buddy of mine from church, I see a 'retired' member of the band waiting at the same bus stop most nights, and their principal cornet player, John Lewis, seems to like my accompanying and has asked me to play for him on several occasions, so I’m still in infrequent contact with them.
It's slightly surprising that he still asks me to play, as on one of the more important occasions when I last played for him, I played the introduction with a sharp or flat extra. Not a good start, but we recovered, as old pros do.
John has just rung me tonight, and asked if I’d be interested in playing for him and a few others in the Invercargill Regional Comps, to be held in April. It’s a chance to do some playing for something particular, rather than just sitting at home practicing my scales (!), but I’ll also be rehearsing for the play by that time, which means I’ll have a bit on my plate.
I don’t want to join the wine club (sorry, whine club) but I have to think about how much time commitment is involved.
The play isn’t too involved, as far as I’m concerned – and I do need to keep my fingers in motion, so…
So I’m sitting debating whether I should be saying No, or whether I just do what I do in other years and go for it. Hmmm.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Scoring for the orchestra

People who’ve been reading this blog for a while may have noticed that I have a bit of an anti-thing about Douglas Lilburn, who’s currently classed as a Great New Zealand Deceased Composer. In fact, he may even be The GNZDC.
As I’ve said on a number of occasions I find most of his music lacking in something. Not all of it – his earlier pieces have some energy about them, but as he got older things seemed to get less and less lively (I hesitate to call them lifeless), and then, of course, he went down the dead end of electronic music.
Anyway, all this is by way of mentioning that at the Regent Non-Book Sale last Saturday, I actually found a Lilburn score. A full score, in fact. I would have picked up more full scores (mostly in miniature form) if the woman in front of me hadn’t been hunting desperately for them. So desperately that she was tossing anything that wasn’t a miniature score to one side in a heap. I can never understand why people do that to books or music in a sale. It damages what are often already fragile items, and shows a complete lack of concern for other buyers.
However, I managed to snaffle the Lilburn. It’s a conductor’s score, rather than a miniature, and getting it for $3 was quite a bargain, I guess. Even though it was Lilburn (!). I did pick up one miniature score as well, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.
I was interested in getting the scores, because it’s good to see what composers actually write when they’re producing full orchestral scores. Often the details are quite different to what you hear, and often you wonder why is there so much detail. Is it just to give the musicians something to do? Or to fill in the gaps? Or to add volume? It’s hard to know.
My one and only recent foray into the orchestral world – in terms of playing in the orchestra rather than composing for them – was when I played the piano part in Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antarctica. The piano does quite a bit of work at times in this symphony, but to be honest, 60 to 70% of it goes unheard in terms of detail. It’s filler stuff, added to give depth to the orchestral sound. This was just as well, as not being the world’s best orchestral player, I often found it hard to keep to the conductor’s beat, and consequently was playing to a rather different drummer than the rest of the orchestra on more than one occasion.
There’s an advantage in being hidden under dozens of other orchestral sounds, of course. You note it most particularly when you’re suddenly not hidden. That’s really scary.
After that I was determined to stick to solo playing, or accompanying. That I know how to do.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

I've got a little list

In line with what I said in the last post here’s a quick overview of the creative factor in the Crowl world as at this date:
Lined up for a small part in a play called And Then They Came for Me: remembering the world of Anne Frank. It’s written by James Still.
Writing some brass band music in the hope that one of the A Grade local bands might consider playing it.
Writing some piano music with tongue-in-cheek titles.
Considering writing some songs again, including a song for the dramatisation of C S Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which our church is producing later this year.
Writing four blogs mainly, and posting occasionally to a couple of others.
Considering a way in which a novel I’ve virtually finished might be published on the Net, bit by bit.

That’ll do for the moment. Meantime, I’d like to alert you to a poem I wrote which gets advertised at times in a widget along the side of these posts. It doesn’t get many views from people, so I’d like you to have a look and either leave a comment here or on the site of the poem itself.

A change of direction

I’m changing the focus of this blog.
What focus, you ask? You mean there’s been a focus?
All right, I’ll admit sometimes the focus might have been a bit obscure; that’s the nature of a blog entitled Random Notes, as you might expect. It isn’t surprising to find posts about wrinkle cream reviews and travelling in Asia and all manner of other things in a blog that’s random. However, even though a few of these random element might remain – indeed will remain – I want to do something about the music/arts/movies focus.
This has been all over the place, and there’s been nothing to distinguish the blog from thousands of others (except perhaps, its superior writing!)
From now on there’ll be an increased focus on my own creative side: the articles, reviews and even the blogs I write; the composing I do; the piano-playing I do; the music I play and the movies I watch. Sound egocentric? It isn’t intended to be.
The intention isn’t to plaster the reader with Mike Crowlishness, but to give you a genuine picture of the creative side of my life – a side that’s reasonably extensive, even though I’m by no means a full-time creative person. Like many others in blogworld, I have to work for a living.
Crowlfulness is a niche market: the other Crowls I come across on the Net aren’t focused on creative stuff – usually the Crowls I read about are into football (American version of) or other less arty affairs.
And because no one else has quite the knowledge about the Crowlicity that I do, I can claim to be more informative on this subject than anyone else.
So that’s how it’s going to be – at least until I have another brainstorm and decide to take a different tack. Here goes!

Making some changes

I'm intending to make some changes in the focus of this blog over the next weeks, which those of you who are regular readers (all 2 of you) will no doubt notice.
Meantime, I've also revamped another blog I have - it goes under the name of Mike of All Trades. It focuses now on the books and other items I'm selling on various online sites, and gives some background and anecdotal material relating to the books sold.
I think it'll be very interesting!

Brent Stavig

I just need to make mention that in a Google Alert that arrived today, there's a link to a profile on Brent Stavig. Brent has made a number of appearances in these pages, as a result of my searching for a poet by the name of Stavig, some time ago.
He probably finds it odd that some obscure blog keeps mentioning him, but, what the heck - this is the nature of the Internet world.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Travelling in Asia - for those who do

Last week, my boss and I spent a good couple of hours trying to book hotels online. These were in Sydney and Brisbane, and though we found the ideal place in Sydney, we couldn’t for the life of us get it to go right through to completion stage. It kept telling us we were spending more than forty minutes on the site, and that was too long. We must be some kind of bug/virus/bot or whathaveyou.
I was reminded of this just now, because of looking at sites advertising Cheap Hotels in Singapore, Cheap Hotels in Bangkok and Cheap Hotels in Kuala Lumpur. Bear with me if I seem to be repeating myself here! It’s the leftover result of struggling to book Cheap Hotels in Brisbane or Cheap Hotels in Sydney.
Booking hotels online has its ups and downs. When we were in Europe we had to book hotels and hostels as we went. The result was that we got a very mixed bag of accommodation, as I’ve said in my Travel blog. In Barcelona we had to climb five flights of stairs to get to our room, even though there was a lift in the building. The lift, however, was reserved for permanent residents. Good grief.
In Rome we paid a fortune for a very ordinary hotel. Not only that, but it was a long bus ride from any of the tourist spots.
In Hamburg, the shower wasn’t just en suite, it was literally built into the room! In Heidelberg there was absolutely nothing in the room except the bed and a hatstand.
On the other hand, in Valencia, where we stand for a week, we had two wonderful apartments; in Florence we were within spitting distance of all the tourist places and could walk comfortably to them; in Cologne we paid about half the price of the Rome room for exactly the same kind of accommodation. The luck of the draw, obviously.
It would be interesting to have a go at doing the same thing for Asia - if I ever get a chance to go there!

The various photos of come from, and were taken by
MsAnthea: Bangkok
Storm Crypt: KL (Note that this is the building Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones hung between in the film, Entrapment.
Christopher Chan: Singapore

How to Write

In the end, if you really want to write, you just have to do it. Reading a book about it may help – but it may also be a bit like sitting disconsolately on the edge of the pool with a book called How to Swim.

Jeremy Treglown writing in the Financial Times, and reviewing several books on helping people to learn to write well.

One of the books he mentions is Jurgen Wolff''s Your Writing Coach
It's a book I keep thinking about getting, but as Treglown says, it's a matter of sitting down and doing the nitty gritty of writing, if you want to do it. There's no easy way to write, any more than there's an easy way to build a house.