Amateur Orchid Care–3rd From the Top


In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Third From the Top.” (March 25th)

In the Reader’s “Blogs I Follow”, from the third post in the list, work the third sentence into your own post.  So I pop to the reader (often forgotten, sorry), and there, third from top, is Avalon-Media. And the third sentence is:
“From creating to storing, the following tools are not essential for making your own herb and spice blends, these tools are not just practical but convenient and useful.”
I am Not a Cook, so this will take some “working”, methinks.

I’m an amateur Orchid lover, and only a few years ago realised for how long I’d been touched by orchids. Firstly at age eighteen in 1970, boarding with a beloved aunt, Edie – a Master jeweller – who had orchids in her garden, and every Monday throughout the year would take a spike of blooms into her store, to create a corsage for every woman brought in by her fiancé to purchase their engagement and later their wedding ring. Now, with an extending collection, I can call myself an Orchid Amateur.

One of the distinctions between an Orchid Amateur and an Orchid Enthusiast: Enthusiasts want to know the whole scientific name, from Genera down to variety. We Amateurs don’t bother–we like the blooms, and don’t really care that the lack of the name won’t win us any prizes.

I joined the Orchid & Bromeliad Society in our new city, and have joined in on trips to visit shows in other towns, nurseries, a native orchid reserve, and attended demonstrations of care practices. I’ve fallen for Bromeliads, especially Bilbergias and Tillandsias.
But I’ve learned Cymbidium orchids are my best success stories in terms of blooming and easy care.

From creating baby orchids (observed and learned only, not practised) to displaying blooms, the following tools are not essential for having success with your orchid as an amateur, but these ‘tools’ are not only practical but convenient and useful.”

  1. The right place. Cymbidiums need coolness in winter when not in flower, so the bulb can be shocked into realising it will have to bloom come late spring. A place on the polar side of the house is best. This is subject to the next point…
  2. The right medium. Cymbidiums can be established in the ground–if you live in a warm climate. Otherwise, a bark or pine chip mix, in pots you can move. (Check the bag for warnings about using a dust mask, please.)
  3. Feed specific to orchids’ needs. My Dad (this horrified our society president) only ever fed his Cyms with the rinsings from an empty milk bottle.
    Commercial products do give you a more balanced feed, but seek advice on how strongly to mix it, and when, how often, and how to apply it – it all depends on the variety.
    Basically, Nitrogen feed leaves, Potash feeds roots, Potassium feeds blooms.
    Plastic Shadehouse 2014-05 18
  4. Shelter from summer’s extreme heat. Under the eaves, under a shade-cloth affixed to the fence and draped over a frame work will do. A car-port is perfect. One friend had the local sail maker create a covering shaped to fit her rotary clothesline–it worked, but interfered on laundry day.
  5. Deterrents for bush cockroaches, slaters (known as pill bugs in the US?), earwigs, and other diners on roots, bulbs and flowers. (Copper tape around the top edge of a pot apparently “fritzes” snails and slugs trying to cross it on their way to eat the petals, but it can be expensive.)
  6. A place in the house. When my Cyms start to open their first blooms (late spring to summer), I shift the pots into my bath room. Actually, into the bath tub. Once finished flowering, I move them back outside.
  7. A rubber, raised-edge mat. I use one which was designed for the garage, to collect any leaking car oil. It sits inside the bath tub, and prevents staining from the bark colouring when watering the plants. In the bathroom (which has plenty of natural light) I can check them every day, they are not too hot in summer, and I can select one to put on display.
  8. Old wire coat hangers and wire cutters. (Huh?) Use these to form pieces of the coat hanger into sticks with a curved hook on one end, to be rammed into the pot beside a new flower spike to force it to grow upwards. Sideways growing spikes get too heavy to support the weight of their blooms, which end up dropping down to the soil and become ragged. (It’s possible to buy these ready made, btw.)
  9. Secateurs – and a sterilising liquid. Use these to clip dead flower spikes ‘way down at their base. Don’t try pulling them out, as they’re likely to tear the plant apart, or out of the soil. Sterilise the secateurs between plants – avoid spreading disease.
  10. Spare pots. Recycle old ones, by all means–but sterilise them.
  11. A hooked garden hand-fork. When the time comes to lift a potted orchid to either repot for health or to divide and repot when crowded, this makes it much easier to gently separated the tangled roots from clinging bits of old potting mix.
  12. A piece of broom handle. Use this to tamp down the newly potted plant’s medium to secure it firmly.
  13. A camera. What’s the point of working hard to help your Cymbidiums to flower well if you can’t brag about it?

5 Parenting Tips for Dummies

24 Mar

– or, How Not to Parent

– Take a complicated subject you know about, and explain it to a friend who knows nothing about it at all.

Okay, fellow parent-dummy. Here are a few tips… picked up from my own muck-ups, and observations (as teacher) of parent-child interactions at the school classroom entrance, at kindy (as mother help for the day), the supermarket, the book store… on what Not to do. Unless you Want to be a parent-dummy, of course. In which case, move on…nothing to help you here.

First Tip (i.e. My worst muck-up)

If you are a teacher and contemplating an impending childbirth – Keep right on Teaching!
I did for my first trimester, then quit. BUT (second child at school, and me teaching as a reliever a class of ages eleven to twelve) I took my third baby to visit my class, all of whom fell over themselves in the rush to see what Mrs S. had produced. And, believe it or not, those rushing most were the boys. They were so sweet with my baby daughter, (and confided so accurately (as I was advised quietly by the Principal, later) the inadequacies of their replacement teacher) I softened up, and baby was in day care full time from three months to when she was of school age. And I kept teaching. For years.

Now we have all joked how the last person to fix a dripping tap at home is the parent who is a plumber. Similarly, if married to an electrician, one does not expect the fuse to be replaced, nor the hairs drier to be repaired. The gardener is the last person on whom to call for landscaping his own garden. Sad to say, a tired teacher at end of day finds it hard to interact as a mother to the children at home.

Second Tip (i.e. A Dummy move some make)
Buy for your crawler rug-rat those books with tags, tabs, flip-ups etc.
Supposed to involve the young‘un in the story, it doesn’t do it. It teaches them that books are tactile things, not something with a story to which baby listens until years later s/he reads it on his/her own For Pleasure in both the story and the achievement.

The worst of these “action” books I’ve ever seen, after five weeks only, had been chewed on, slobbered on, and ripped, torn, shredded… Nngaargh!

Third Tip (i.e. Another Dummy move some make)

Take on All the parenting. After all, your partner has worked So Hard all day to earn the family income, you cannot expect him/her to bath children, serve the evening meal, feed the baby, clear the table, do the dishes, fold the nappies/diapers and other laundry…sitting at a desk is Such Hard Work! (Yeah, right.)
This will result in the child/ren feeling they can totally ignore their working parent in matters of discipline, advice, school support, etc. and may also result in the children feeling Mum’s too tough, doesn’t understand. Worse, it can lead to the children learning to play one parent off against the other.
(And if the working partner resents being asked to parent – sorry, you picked a wrong’un; should have discussed this ‘way back before conceiving.)

Fourth Tip (i.e. Another of my muck-ups)
Choose a day-care facility at which the staff greet your child first thing with
“Good morning {name}, don’t you look good today!”

Instead, demand they compliment your child with a remark on how they have managed preparing themselves for the day. For example:
“Good morning, {name}—haven’t you combed your hair well /chosen sensible clothes for the sandpit, today!” (Or similar)
See Fifth Tip for further explanation….

Fifth Tip (i.e. Another of my muck-ups)
Buy your young daughter a Barbie, a Barbie-clone, a Bratz…doll. Also, continue buying the doll new outfits, accessories, play hoses…all the shut the manufacture can push.

From this she will learn appearance is everything, not accomplishment. She will throw hissy fits in the mornings because she’s already worn that outfit to kindy, and while her histrionics may give a sense of parental pride in her drama abilities, her self esteem will become reliant on other people’s real or imagined opinions.
Girls with low self-esteem are fair game in their teens for all sleaze bags.
Boys with low self-esteem may defy it with bullying, manipulation, or maybe by finding a sympathetic male figure.


I could go on and give more tips for Parenting for Dummies, but this is titled 5 Tips, so that’s it for now.  I Hope you enjoyed this bit of fun, and I didn’t upset or offend you.

Saint Patrick’s Day – 2015

17 Mar

Saint Patrick’s Day 2015

I’m of Irish ancestry—so close to straight through the generations as to say No Argument. I am proud of that heritage, and class myself in surveys as “Other ::  New Zealand Irish Descendant”.

Whenever I’ve lived alone, I’ve privately celebrated Saint Patrick’s day by popping into an Irish bar and having a pint of Guinness with a single malt Irish whiskey chaser. Even the one round was enough to give accord to my ancestors.

In one city, there was a large Irish bar beside a narrow lane. Down the lane and opposite were two one-room specialty bars. Every St. Patrick’s Day the three would combine to apply for council approval to have the lane closed and declared for the evening as private access only. They would combine budgets to cover the cost of organising a band to provide music.

Further up another main road was another Irish bar, smaller than the larger mentioned previously, but big and popular enough to get a license to close the footpath outside and be allowed to have it cordoned off as part of their premises, with part of the road re-defined as a footpath, with the traffic lanes narrowed to allow usual traffic,

One year, I and a friend went to the alley for the evening, expecting crowds, and good craic. We bought our drinks, manoeuvred through the crowd to an outside table from where we could both see & hear the band and watch for friends arriving.

After a while, with the band playing bland pop covers, I grabbed a coaster and wrote on its back.

I pushed through the crowd, stood at stage front, and held up the message to their lead guitarist: “Do you cover The Pogues?”

He shook his head. “No.”

Back at the table, another coaster back: “Do you cover The Corrs?”

He shook his head. “No.”

Back at the table, another coaster back: “Do you cover U2?”

He shook his head. “No.”

Back at the table, another coaster back: “Do you cover ANY fecking Irish Rock?”

He shook his head. “No.”

Back at the table, friend and I were shaking our head in disbelief. Which turned to shock when the band’s singer announced (something like ) “And now, the style preferred by our friends and followers.” And they began to blast us with Reggae!

Fecking Reggae–on St. Patrick’s night?

Within twenty minutes, forty of us (all unknown to each other) had walked away. To where? The Other Irish bar–where Irish–both rock and trad–was pumping out full blast. TXT messages flew back to friends elsewhere. Within an hour, the managers had to call the Police, who (they must have been Irish darlings) moved the footpath barrier out to the middle of the left vehicle lane, and the ‘tween lanes’ cones out to half across the right lane, and asked car owners parked there to move their cars

Now That was great craic!. But was my last St. Patrick’s craic for a while, as I battled a disabling health problem for years.

And today? Me darling daughter invited me to go to a good Irish bar here in Rotorua – Hennessey’s. We popped across the road to SaveMart, and she bought a beautiful flash dress and other fun stuff for the day. I found two scarves at 0-99c each, so set them on the counter. Then I spotted two junk jewellery necklaces. I was looking for a skirt, but…when one has tried on a size-10 one likes, then a size-12 one likes, and neither fits, and no other skirt takes one’s fancy, one changes one’s focus, yeh? I settled for a great green shirt instead.

Back home, we’re into trying combinations till we’re satisfied. We attempt the green nail polish thing, but as I’m not used to applying it, and we found it was a thick, gloopy, slow-drying kind, I removed mine completely. (It’s in the bin now,)

Satisfied at last we were looking as good as we were ever going to, we’re ready to go. Hang on, I need to take my meds first. Remember that little bit of an item, there.

The bar had a competition to win a big ol’ Leprechaun Guinness hat. I’d asked a few days before …

“What do you have to do to win that?”

“Have four Guinnesses.”

“Do halves count?”

“Yeh, we just stamp your card.”


We arrived today at Hennessey’s bar at a wee bitty after two.

“I’ll have a half, and a single malt chaser.”

“Which whiskey, ma’am?”

“Irish of course.” And I made sure he gave me the entry card and stamped it.

Daughter had bumped into some pals, so we sat together. Eyebrows raised when I finished both drinks fairly quickly and went back for round two. The barman informed me the whiskey was a Hennessey’s (tucking that away for future reference).

We moved to sit outside, and before sitting at the table they’d found, I stopped off to chat to the musicians performing just by the door. I joined the others, finished round two, and went back inside for round three.

Daughter’s friends were good company–and not just because everyone is on 17th March. One noticed the single malts were becoming smaller. But, soon, they had places else to go–fair enough.

Daughter ordered some carbohydrates – a plate of chips (fries for US readers). A welcome distraction, as (unlike previous occasions) my head was starting to spin. I finished round threerather more slowly– one has to pause for carbohydrate intake, after all. A head starting to spin may also have been part of the reason for the slow-down, of course.

I made my way–zigzag path– to the comfort rooms. Once the cubicle door closed (but before I could lock it) it really hit me. I wavered and wobbled while reaching Miles for the lock. Then I had to step Metres back to the porcelain. Then I fumbled and flolloped around getting my belt buckle undone.

Then… I slowly folded down to my knees on the floor. Rawther gracefully, considering. (But then, I have to say that.) I backed up to the porcelain, and then had to actually Think about which body parts had to work to get me up and onto it!

I did make it. But when I rose and eventually made to haul up the jeans, that fecking belt had shortened, I swear. It would not fasten. In fact, it popped the little bar of the buckle out onto the floor–not once, but twice. Have you any picture in mind of what a person looks like when they have to rely on the wall and the door catch to gracefully lower themselves to the floor so they can find that fecking bar and then get back up and try again to fasten the belt? Well, too bad you can’t picture it–there are no photos to show you!

I finally decided (is a drunken person even Capable of deciding?) to not even try, so i rolled up the belt and shoved it into my back pocket. (Two attempts–not bad, considering.)

In the meantime, daughter’s outside the cubicle.

“You all right, Mum?”

I explained I was having a bit of trouble. (A Bit!?) She waited then asked again, and I had to admit I’d need her arm so she could walk me out to a table … at which I friend of mine was waiting for me. Earlier, I had spontaneously TXTed her to invite her to join me, and she’d arrived before I’d got a grip on the balance of the world.

As we sat and nattered, I had to confess to daughter I was not going to be able to win the hat, and she had better TXT her Dah (my darling hubby) and ask him to fetch me as I was too drunk to wait till he arrived after work to act as sober driver to get us home. She did that, went to the bar, and bought a fourth Guinness for herself on my card, so I got the hat after all. That’s how sweet she is.

Hubby arrived–a bit more than an hour before he’d planned on joining us and driving us both home. (Do the math if you like–arrival ten past two; departure at ten past five.) Daughter stayed on (more friends had arrived, and she had stuck to the Guinness) and hubby led me out to the car.

At home safely, I managed to make my way to the bedroom (touching gently off opposite walls down the hallway). I was supposed to be sleeping it off, but I kept recalling things to do: putting away outfits tried on before we’d gone out, helping hubby fetch in the dry laundry and folding it, fetching my laptop.. .Now I was a-buzz.

I did nod off, but had risen from the pillow to begin this saga. Hubby (he’s a bit of a darling) brought my dinner to me on the bed. Right now, I feel tired, super-relaxed, and thoroughly pleased with my Saint Patrick’s Day with my daughter

But, next year, no meds before going out to the bar. And pre-book a green nail job for the 16th. And to hell with winning a Leprechaun’s hat!

Sepia Soldier

14 Mar

Set It To Rights - Daily Prompt  11March ‘15
[Think of a time you let something slide, only for it to eat away at you later. Tell us how you’d fix it today.]

Years ago, as a child, I found in my mother’s jewellery box a sepia toned photograph of Jimmy, a U.S. soldier who would have been in New Zealand just after WW2, probably in Auckland. (Wellington hosted marines only, and Jimmy’s uniform was military). Mum never explained who Jimmy was, and was angry I had brought his photograph out into the family lounge to ask her about him.

I used to often look at his photograph, autographed on the back with fountain pen ink. His penmanship was clear, and for many years I could remember and spell his Polish (I thought) surname. No longer—all I know now is it began Pj… and ended …ski. He was a handsome man, and as Mum told us how Teachers’ College hostel students were often invited to attend dances held to host the Americans, I guessed she may have had a dance or two with Jimmy.

Years later, as an eighteen year old, I stupidly fell pregnant. Mum wept and wouldn’t look or talk to me, except to tell me I was not to write to nor call my younger sister and brother. (My elder sister had been in the room when I’d told mum and dad.)
Dad arranged for me to leave town and go to a south Auckland uncle and aunt, who would take me to a hostel to live “for the duration”. When I got there and read the sign over the door, it was a humiliation to learn the whole city would see I lived at “Bethany House, Home for Unmarried Mothers”. I returned to aunty’s and asked may I board with them.
I stayed with them, working in Newmarket, until giving birth. After being in the maternity hospital for about five days, I left baby there to be collected by her adopting family, and stayed at aunty’s another week, pacing the floor, in tears, awaiting confirmation baby had been fetched home. Aunty and uncle realized I was an emotional mess. Dad paid the airfare for me to fly home. Mum never once asked how I felt, physically or emotionally.

About thirty-four years later, mum passed away from lung cancer.
(Dad had passed away a few years earlier,)
We had the sad task of sorting their possessions: which of us four wanted what? Mum’s finely stitched tapestry fire-screen, the tapestry covered dining chairs, a hand-crafted chest, decorated at mum’s request with stained carvings of native birds, her jewelry box with its hand-painted arched lid…
No one wanted Jimmy’s photograph. (I did say I’d have it, but the others talked me out of keeping it, figuring he couldn’t be anyone important or Mum would have explained who he was.)
So that’s what I let slide, and it was set aside with other rejects for dumping.

During our next cull session we found legal papers, and learned our “cow-cockie” father had in Form Four won an Auckland Essay writing competition, and been awarded by his school a prize for it. We found the old chocolate box full of his drawings for the bone carvings he made. I had seen mum’s art work, and knew they were Dad’s style. There were legal papers from his share-milking contracts, mum’s academic certificates, yaddah, yaddah yaddah..

And—we found their wedding certificate…dated nearly two years after my elder sister had been born, and just a few months shy of my birth. Mum, too, had been an unmarried mother—twice.
Her hypocrisy threw  us into silence.
My elder sister was furious. My younger sister and brother were shocked. (I had told them about my baby long before then, and they knew mum had rejected me.)

My elder sister began doubting whether our Dad was her Dad. She kept bringing up memories of events which she felt proved mum didn’t love her as much as she loved the rest of us. She figured Dad didn’t show her any love. She agonized over who was her Dad.
“Hey Sis, he never offered any of us a pony – you got the pony!”.
My sister is no longer fretting over the question of who is her Dad—she accepts that your  Dad is the man who raises you, not the one who created you. I love my Dad, although I have stopped loving my mum.
As things stand, sister has moved on, but her resentment of mum is ‘Stet’.

If I could set it to rights, I’d have to turn back time.

I would grab Jimmy’s photo, and in private trace him and his family. I would ask the Education Ministry to provide records of mum’s teaching positions in the fifties, when it was not uncommon for an unmarried female pregnant teacher to be posted to a rural, sole-charge or small school…where many met and married a cow-cockie.

My conscience needs to solve the mystery, and maybe get an understanding of why mum took my pregnancy so badly. I want to know what the connection was between mum and Jimmy. If Jimmy did have a closer connection than merely a darling dance partner—well, should he now make up for walking away from mum, who kept that photo until the day she died?

For all that mired our relationship, still I hope she wan’t “dumped” by the soldier whose photograph she kept all those years, for would love not be a probable reason for keeping a sepia soldier?

Conversation with author Stuart MacBride, August 2013

6 Mar

When I had MacBride’s crime novel Close To The Bone to review, the distributors gave me the opportunity to interview Stuart in August 2013. It became more of a conversation–a more charming person one could not have for one’s first “interviewee”. As per Stuart’s request, the recording was sent to the Distributors to forward to his publisher, but I heard no more.

Reading through it today, I decided it is not too bad. Our chosen site for the interview – a roadside seat at a café across the road from his mid-city hotel – was a bit of a mistake. Road works nearby, cutlery and crockery clatter, and a delivery truck left with engine rumbling right beside us…nngaargh!

In all its “glory” (?) here is the transcription; breaks caused by traffic and cutlery clatter

REDPENN:   What triggered your first realization that writing was your call?
STUART:       I’m one of these guys who writes his first novel at age four, …and I had a couple of friends when I was in my mid-twenties who were writing fantasy novels .. But …[that wasn’t for me]. I began to write a crime novel, but I started… Yeah, I know, it was pretty…

REDPENN:   So you did try the fantasy genre yourself?
STUART:       I’d love to. I used to love fantasy when I was growing up … [I was with] Russell Kirkpatrick last time I was here touring South Island. I’m touring around North Island, and we’ve been discussing how fantasy novels of some kind come together, in the car, and I’d love to – I ‘d love to have a go.

REDPENN:   If I tried writing a fantasy novel myself, (with fantasy fans full of expectations of whatever elves “can” or “can’t do”), I’d be too lazy to do the research.
STUART:       The thing is, elves [laughs] don’t exist – you can write whatever the hell you write. As long as you don’t write in “Tolkien” you’re right. Go for it!

REDPENN:   You’ve always enjoyed writing crime?
STUART:       I’ve always read crime.

REDPENN:   I’ve loved your books.
STUART:       Ooh, thank you. Now, this could’ve been the awkward part where you’d said “I hate your books! [laughs] We’ll carry on anyway, shall we?”

REDPENN:   The book you’ve just released, “Close to the Bone” – when I’d reviewed it for Booksellers, they asked me to interview you and I had to say “Well, I can’t really interview him when I’ve only read one book,” so they sent me a few. I’m halfway through, and I love them. I love D.I. Steele – she is such a … She makes me laugh.
STUART:       She’s unusual, isn’t she? She’s one of the people you either love or hate. I do sometimes get emails saying ‘Retire her. I never want another word about this woman ever, just get rid of D I Steele, please’.

REDPENN:   But who could you replace her with? You’d have to write in a strong character.
STUART:       The thing is, I think I could probably kill off Logan if I keep writing the series, but I don’t think I could kill off Roberta Steele, and still have the same … It just wouldn’t work.

REDPENN:   No – the interactions among the teams …
STUART:       I could do “D. I. Rennie Investigates”, that would be fine, but not, not D. I. Steele.

REDPENN:   How do you get inside the heads of your “baddies”? Do you have a “dark side” and never let on?
STUART:       Oh, everybody does. Now, I’m a big believer that there’s no such thing as an evil person, there are just people who do evil things And, we all have that [just lurking] inside us. Just, to me, it requires justification. You, know, you can do anything if you can justify it to yourself.
So, if someone kidnapped your son, for example, and was going to kill him, and someone else who was part of the gang knew where he was, how far would you go to get that information out of that guy?

REDPENN:   I’d kill for a child of mine.
STUART:       Yep, exactly.

REDPENN:   The Israeli Army recognized women as more ferocious than men in defending family and home than men are.
STUART:       Well, in modern times. Back in ancient times Celtic warriors were quite often women. But, that’s what it is – it’s just finding that bit of humanity inside the darkest character, and just showing to people, it has to make sense to them. And, say, it doesn’t matter if they’re a cannibal, or … …

REDPENN:   Someone like Roadkill?
STUART:       Yeah.

REDPENN:   [laughs] He made me laugh.
STUART:      You cruel person! [indignant, but grinning] A poor damaged individual …

REDPENN:   I laughed at the situation, imagining all these weird houses, all stacked with road kill, thinking ‘Oh, God, that pitiful clean-up crew…”
STUART:       Well, everybody has to have a hobby.

REDPENN:  What would it take to have Logan McRae take a trip outside of Scotland?
STUART:       Well he has, he has; in “Blind Eye” he takes a trip to Poland. He flies into Warsaw, takes the train to Krakof, and has a little adventure there, and then comes back to Aberdeen.

REDPENN:   And have you yet fulfilled your promise to set a novel in Aberdeen in summer?
STUART:       I have, I have indeed. And the book, set in the height of summer, and I got So Bored of – [in monotone]- ‘The sun was shining and it was lovely and -‘
Oh, for goodness’ sake; who cares? Rain! Please! So I had to put in a big thunderstorm.
Awh! Oh, that feels much better, yes, now I think I can get on with the story now. ‘Cause I like the rain – I love the rain.

REDPENN:   Now you’ve broken away from the series and given us a few stand-alones.
STUART:       I have, yes.

REDPENN:   Have you enjoyed writing them?
STUART:       It’s a very different thing. When I’m working the series, there’s always a thing that’s like “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to go mad, and do things I wouldn’t be allowed to”, because for the series I have set rules for Logan’s world – the characters and so on.

REDPENN:   All the characters having their own personalities; you can’t have them suddenly take on something too different.
STUART:       When I start writing the stand-alone book it’s got to be different, it’s got to be better. It comes with its own set of challenges, and at some point I’ve thought “it’d be nice to be writing the series again”!

REDPENN:   In terms of sales, how have your stand-alones done, compared with the series?
STUART:       Well, there’s only one straight crime standard so far, and that’s “Birthdays for the Dead”. And I wasn’t sure how people would take it, because it’s basically a Shakespearean tragedy, and that’s the structure that I write to, for form. And it sold more than the fourth …. So I’m very lucky that people didn’t just go “Oh! This is different! I’m not buying this.”

REDPENN:   But usually by the time they’ve worked out that it’s different, they’ve already paid for it, so you don’t mind. [laughs] I’m sorry, I never said that!
STUART:       Yes, but … well, they can always tell someone “Ooh, don’t buy that, it’s different”.

REDPENN:   When you’re writing, what comes to you first- the plot? Or the villain?
STUART:       Oh, sometimes I don’t know who the villain’s going to be until … even more than halfway through the book. Sometimes even right from the beginning. I don’t write…
Ah, this’ll be complicated. I don’t really write in a straight line, but I do …
I start at the beginning and I go through to the end, but if I get to chapter three and decide something would be better, I’ll go back to chapter two and fiddle with stuff and have a go.
I’m always bouncing – like a bungy cord, going up and down, up and down, up and down, so I can be three quarters of the way through the book and I’ll go ” Oh, I know! that would be much better” and I’ll go back to chapter three and make changes there, and work backwards and forward until it all makes sense.

REDPENN:   I use a crime scene line, branches coming in, or leading off, and once I have the whole story plotted, I can write whatever scene I feel like writing, but make sure it all flows and fits together. Are you a “Planner” in any way like that, or ..?
STUART:       Well, sometimes I do Mind-maps, which are something similar to that, but more like word association, and I’ll fill my whiteboard with that and then start writing. But it means I’m not entirely certain of what the scene’s meant to be, just that I have a rough idea of who’s doing what. Sometimes. Maybe.
But I’m one of these writers that, if I start and something shiny takes my attention, I’ll go off on a tangent from the plan, and then the whole plan will have to change because of the new place I’m in. There’s no “Oh, let’s go back to the plan!” It’s “No, let’s just see what happens if we go from here.”

REDPENN:   How do you keep McRae fans keen for more?
STUART:       I have no idea. Absolutely no idea.

REDPENN:   It’s just the adoration for the character?
STUART:       Well, hopefully it’s just that they can connect with him, and like the world, but I don’t sit down and think “Hhm, what would the fans like?”
I sit down and think “How am I going to make this story work and make sense?”

REDPENN:   I’ve read them in the order of eight, one, two, three, –
STUART:       Oh, the dirty one …

REDPENN:   (‘Uh?!’) … then five, and I’ve wanted to know, right from the first there’s a pre-story. Are you ever going to write book zero?
STUART:       No

REDPENN:   You’re going to leave it open?
STUART:       I don’t think I need to [write it] because – mmm –

REDPENN:   Enough’s been [covered] through the other books?
STUART:       Over the first four books, you get enough to tell what happened. I’m not a fan of back stories.: I don’t like the books where you get “And now, previously, on Logan McRae…”

REDPENN:   [laughing] Sounding like a soap opera?
STUART:       Well, exactly! You get two characters saying:
   “Do you remember what happened last year, John?”
“Yes, I do, Philip. When the serial killer came and killed my brother.”
“Yes, he did do that, didn’t he John.”
My God! If it’s not… If it doesn’t matter for the story, I [as a reader] don’t want to know about it, and if it isn’t important then I want it to come out through the characters, how they act.

REDPENN:   [teasing] But wouldn’t it make a marvellous competition for your fans to–
STUART:       [mock horror] No –no–God, no!

REDPENN:   –write book zero?
STUART:       No, we’re not doing that!

REDPENN:   Not even if ‘Stuart will not be the judge’ [laughter]?
STUART:       No, we’ll get the lawyers! [chuckles]

REDPENN:   At what stage do you celebrate finishing the book–when you finish the first draft, the last edit, or when it hits the book stores?
STUART:       Well I celebrate completing the first draft, the second draft, the edit, the copy edit –

REDPENN:   All the milestones …
STUART:       But not page proofs, and not publication, because there’s not a lot about that stage I can say. I don’t do anything much, as far as [celebrating] because I’m home most of the time, or I’m on tour somewhere.

REDPENN:   So, how do you celebrate?
STUART:       Normally it’s a bottle of fizzy wine from this part of the world, and usually some prawns.

REDPENN:   Prawns?
STUART:       Yep, ’cause that’s our little ritual, my wife and I.

REDPENN:   I’ll think of you, next time I have prawns.
STUART:       And remember the fizzy wine.

REDPENN:   What personal reading do you like–other crime writers? Something completely different? STUART:       Oh I do read a lot of crime fiction; ever since I started going to crime festivals I’ve met a lot of crime writers, so I like to read the people I like, so I do read a lot of crime fiction.
I’m very eclectic in my tastes…I’m quite happy to read chick-lits, and … Um … Anything at all–biographies, romance, fantasy, fiction, science fiction, any good books.

REDPENN:   If someone were to say “I’ve never read any Logan McRae books”, which one would you suggest they jump right into, without necessarily starting with Cold Granite?
STUART:       I would say, the most recent one, because when I wrote “Cold Granite” I wrote it as if it was in the middle of a series, which is why there are things that have obviously happened to Logan but you don’t get told that.
It was always meant to be … we haven’t started at the beginning, getting introduced to everybody – it’s already up and running. So you should be able to start anywhere you like. And if you like that book, go back.

REDPENN:   As you suggested, I read the latest book, and found the first three on Amazon at 0.99 cents. STUART:       I had no idea!

REDPENN:   Then the publishers sent me hard copies of the rest. Which one of the series gave you the most angst while writing?
STUART:      Every single one of them. Well, except the first, as that was under contract then, so I was just writing for fun. I didn’t have to worry about anything.
But as soon as the first was published, from then on I was very much aware that there were people whose jobs depended on me. It is important that I don’t cock it up, and there are readers who don’t want me to ruin things for them. I’m very loyal as a person, and very duty oriented, so as soon as that first book came out I was like “work harder, do better”.

REDPENN:   When you’re busy writing, are you elsewhere or are you at home?
STUART:       Everywhere

REDPENN:   Anywhere?
STUART:       Yes, I was writing in the hotel room this morning, and in the plane flying up from Wellington.

REDPENN:   So you’re not like some writers, tied to one writing corner, in one room?
STUART:       I couldn’t. I couldn’t meet deadlines and such if I did that; I would never get a book finished. So…the back of taxis, airport lounges, you name it.

REDPENN:   Are you averse to questions about your family life?
STUART:       Depends what it is.

REDPENN:   I’d like to ask how your wife feels about you spending so much time at a keyboard somewhere? – Instead of rubbing her toes and bringing her lilies?
STUART:       Well, it’s … Hey! What about my lily needs? No, we’ve done remarkably well with the books, and she’s very much aware that this is what I do, this is my job. Yes, I’m home all the time, but I’m not sitting there eating chocolates and watching sport on television. I have my free work space, and that pays for nice things.

REDPENN:   Final question–would you like a CD or an e-version of the recording of this interview or would you like a copy of the interview questions and answers sent to you?
STUART:       Well if you wouldn’t mind sending a CD to Harper Collins that would be nice. They’re always very, very keen.
I can’t stand listening to myself. I go “Oh, no, I’m burbling a lot of nonsense again!” I can’t, I just can not listen to myself.

REDPENN:   I’m going to finish there, because you’ve kindly answered more than I needed. It’s been an honour and a pleasure, Mr MacBride. Thank you. The tea’s on me.

Excuse me, your ignorance is showing.

5 Mar

Excuse me, your ignorance is showing..


This link will take you to a blog post about the dilemma of pondering whether or not to correct someone’s faulty grammar (aka ignorance).

I “love” the memes, and endorse the blogger’s message.

Go, read, enjoy…

Rare Disease Day – 28February 

4 Mar

I’ve always been driven by positive stress. It has given me the drive to work my butt off in education, in supporting husband’s businesses, in parenting. Before I stopped teaching Secondary school, I’d start the year at about eight stone, but by school year’s end I’d be about six and a half to seven stone. I left teaching, commuted for three years to another city to study for an IT degree. Then the stress of finding no IT work in my home town, so into a lecture room at a tertiary institute, teaching IT. And throughout, stress.

On three separate occasions, I trip over nothing; on the last two occasion I break a toe (one in each foot). I put it down to clumsiness, or failing to take note of where I was stepping. One day in the supermarket, while searching the shelves for a particular product, starting at the bottom shelf and scanning each higher shelf for what I wanted, I realize that I’m feeling dizzy, and I fall back and down. Bang my head on the metal lower shelf behind me and dent it. I put that one down to being hungry.

Then comes the day when, as I walk through the kitchen to the dining room, intending to turn left into the lounge, my legs plant themselves and stiffen. I fall and cannot lift a foot to step in any direction to brace myself. Down I go, as straight as a powerpole, landing on and fracturing the neck of stem of the hip. Hubby just at that moment pulls up in the back yard and cuts the motor. He hears me go down and rushes to raise me. I scream in pain, and he realizes it’s Ambulance time.

At the hospital they ignore my description of freezing in place (they ask hubby do I drink during the day!). They replace the hip joint, and next morning ask me to leave the bed and walk, propping on a high frame. I feel like screaming, it is so sore. My legs are trembling, but I am told not to be so stupid and get on my feet and walk. Repeat later in the day.

The next day, repeat – this time hubby is with me. I tell him “I don’t care what they say, it feels as if it’s still broken!” My stress level is in the clouds by now, I am so scared to try and stand, let alone walk. But I do, and my legs stiffen and my feet root themselves to the floor.

I am sent for another x-Ray which reveals that, as typical are men, they have rammed home the stem of the replacement too hard, and have split the femur another six inches. Another replacement, and an extra feature- a spiraling wire to hold the femur together. As I come around, and they explain, stress again.

Next day, back to try the walker. I ask for the waist-high one with handles, and after arguing, they allow me that. I start to manage walking.

But the stress of the actual fracture and operations now has become anxiety, and I am stiffening up, hunching down into a near foetal position over the walker. By day’s end, I am having shaking spasms, as I try to walk, and as I lie in bed.

The tremors and spasms worsen over the next few days. The ward doctor doses me up with biodiazepines, and eventually they send me home to recover from the hip fracture.

But the spasms continue, and and I have episodes of such extreme stiffness I cannot speak, not move willingly, nor control spasmic movements of my arms, flailing beyond my control. Sometimes I black out.

I get taken to A & E, by either hubby or an ambulance. When hubby has to take me, he’s alone, and has to use a forearm to hit me across the groin to make me bend, to sit on the car seat. As I spasm into a stiff log, he has to swivel me around to face forwards, and again hit me, this time in back of the knees so my feet will get into the car.

At A & E they leave me in a bed, barriers up for me to hold onto (I am terrified I am going to fall off the side), with or without a sedative – according to the mood of the staff of the moment. They send me home as soon as they feel I am back in control.

As soon as I have to put a foot to the floor, back into spasm I go. I am yelled at, cursed (once), and grumped about, but ignored. Hubby is ordered to take me home, no matter what. On two occasions they refuse to allow us a wheel chair to the car.

On one day at home, my daughter came to visit at about midday. She found me in full spasm, and spent three hours sitting on my bed, watching me, and whenever I black out, she breathes for me. No phone within reach, and she’s too scared to leave the room.

Hubby arrives home, relieves her, and I spasm again,

A few days later, with someone home, I spasm about four times. Each time the ambulance arrives, we decide that as the A & E only leave me to myself and send me home after a while, the Ambos won’t bother taking me to hospital. On their fifth call out, the darling Ambos call my doctor and describe how they have found me during the day. My doctor calls A&E and demands they admit me to the Medical/Surgical Ward, so at last I am admitted.

Not good news as at first thought. The Ward Doctor has no idea of where to start with a diagnosis, what to consider as a cause. He refers me to Psychology. Their two leading staff come to my room, and find me asleep. I don’t respond to any stimulus so they sit beside me as I sleep.

Suddenly, I am six inches above the mattress! A full spasm, unable to breathe, arms flailing, unable to speak, all abductors and adductors in full tension. I’m arching – my heels and back of my head are all that are on the mattress. As they said, psychological conditions don’t eventuate from a dead sleep. It’s Neurological.

So I’m off to Wellington for MRI, x-Ray, and CAT scans. As I complete the last, the nurse who travelled with me assists me to the toilet, and as my bare feet touch the floor, I’m away – full spasm, face down over the loo pan. Luckily, before I’d used it.

Nurse calls the neurologist and others come too, and watch this weird manifestation of … What?

When I come to again, I’m back in the consult room.The lead Neurologist comes into the consult room, and does the physical manipulation tests all over again. They draw blood and send it off. And they diagnose Stiff Person’s Syndrome.

The cocktail of Meds is changed, and this time I do improve. After weeks, I leave the hospital dependent on hubby and home-help to shower, dress, toilet, prepare a cup of tea. Hubby copes as well as he can. My youngest daughter helps him and me.

With physiotherapy, I manage to learn to walk, but only around the block at first, and with a walker. One barking dog and I’m back to curling over Ito the near foetal position over the walking frame. A therapist walks with me, and she too admits that dog scares the b’jasus out of her. I graduate to walking around the block and to the corner store. One day, after turning the corner having  passed the place with the dog, I hear a screech of brakes, a squealing yelp, and silence. The dog had leapt over the fence, and been run down. Does anyone blame me for feeling … absolutely nothing for that dog. I return to the driver’s seat, and drive myself to supermarkets, parks…just for the sake of the independence.

Until another stress trigger. My son is involved in a major car crash, near fatal, at the other end of the island. He may be dead before we can get to him. But we make it, he makes it, and starts a long recovery. Hubby is with me, until his boss demands he return to work to compete end of academic year tasks. So I am on my own, crossing wide open spaces between family hostel and ward building, and worse, crossing third and fourth floor gangways from building to building, with glass balustrades. I walk the centre line, and feel the anxiety pulling me down into a crouch as I go.

Back home with a surprisingly, wonderfully recovered son, the stress takes over again. Back into the hospital for R & R. This time, knowing we would be relocating to a new city for hubby’s new position, the hospital give me a motorized hospital bed with air mattress, a bedside commode, a commode chair to get me to the shower, a tea trolley for trying to make snacks, bed pans, a leaning stool for propping as I try to work at the sink…who knows what else.

The movers shift everything in one day, setting up the hospital bed exactly in the best place possible – beside a garden view, and able to see and interact with family in the lounge, dining and kitchen.

But, the spasms become uncontrollable again. An ambulance takes me to the Rotorua hospital A&E, and when hubby tells them “it’s SPS” they don’t bat an eyelid. I’m in a four bed room, and the specialist arrives. He reads my meds list from the previous town, and asks (be prepared for asterisks) “What the f*** have they got you on this s*** for!” He tears up hubby’s list, sends a nurse straight to the pharmacy, and tells hubby to dump everything we’ve had me on up to now.

New meds, new understanding, new attitude from nursing staff. I leave the hospital with a supply of Fortisip – my spasms had made it impossible to eat solid food. Even the sight of a drinking straw coming at me would make me jerk backwards, and I’d be feeding the pillow or wall. My weight on final release was six and a half stone.

Since then, I have recovered weight (more than I really wanted), am able to walk distances, catch buses, and work at a desk job I created for myself. I do get pains in the back, tremors in legs when in bed, moments of dizziness if I forget my limitations and try to boogie, cramps in my calf muscles or toes.

But I have been so lucky compared to so many more SPSers. Yet, there are not “so many” more. There are so few of us, that one sufferer was able to place all FaceBook SPS group members onto a Google map. Thus I learned of someone living in a nearby city.


Researchers need funding to learn more about causes, positive identification, effective medication combinations, therapies and support funding.

We suffer. The range of manifestations of SPS is broad, and SPS accompanies or brings with it other syndromes, diseases and problems. There is no single cure or treatment. Medications alone helped me, and I helped myself with meditation and Tai Ch’i. Other SPSers face regular transfusions, stem cell transplants, or high and increasing dosages of medications without full release from their debilitating pain.

Our families suffer – some families split because of the strain of caring for a partner who is fine one day and gibbering, screaming, writhing in pain the next. Our children suffer – many miss out on sitting on a parent’s lap to read a story, or to tell a secret…or to have a moment of hugs. My elder daughter could only freeze in panic and withdraw without helping if I was in a spasm needing help.

Our friends suffer – what do they do if an SPSer goes down in front of them? What can they say? How can they understand the ups and downs from day to day? My friends see me at my current state and I know they have forgotten how only five years ago I was bed- and wheelchair-bound.

I am writing this at 9:00 pm on Saturday 28th in New Zealand time. Please publish, for the sake of this disease so rare you didn’t even have it in your list!


This was originally written for Rare Diseases Day, in an Internet text box which was so small I couldn’t read back to correct errors. Until it was published at http://www.rarediseaseday.org/stories/5193 I had no idea how fatigue had affected my typing skills! Hence this corrected version, at last readable.

Please also realize that some details may be not in the correct time order. Brain outages can do that–foul up one’s memory. Thank you

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