Katherine Hayton | 2014 September

September 2014

My darling strolled across my author’s page the other day – it’s only been in existence for two months so it’s a relatively quick find for him – and was appalled to see that I interact with other humans beings on what he insists on calling the inter-web or the face-net.

There were exclamations of horror at the list of tweets on my page. Why are there hardly any words? What does it do? But what’s it for? And just when it seemed like his disbelief had peaked he discovered my blog feed.

But this isn’t about anything. Why are you writing it? Who’s reading it? Is this a My-Space thing?

Bless his little heart, he got all worked up about it. I tried to reassure him that the general world population was almost completely uninterested in anything I was putting on the Internet (forever!) so it didn’t matter if I put a few opinions and observances online, but the upshot is that I’m banned.

No more twitter. No more blogger. No more.

Once my hilarity subsided I pointed out that I pay for our internet and phone connection so if he liked I could continue to do that and he could continue to not have an opinion that anyone in the household was going to listen to. We’ve agreed to forge ahead on that basis.

Oh, and I assured him I would never write a blog post about this.

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40,000 words reached this morning so I’m somewhere between half-way and two-thirds of the way through my first draft. A wonderful milestone to reach – or at least it’ll do until I reach the actual milestone I should be at now which is a fully completed first draft. A deadline already well postponed from the original one at the end of July, and possibly pushing back publications date to next year unless I get my skates on.

Never mind. As Douglas Adam’s used to say ‘I love deadlines – I love the wooshing noise they make as they go by.’

At least my teenage character is starting to behave herself, and is even showing up places and participating in scene’s in a way I’m envisaging beforehand. Is it her, or is it me? Maybe it’s both of us? (it’s her)

At this rate I may be able to spend more time reading than writing on holiday. That would be a fine treat! My to-read pile continues to grow, though since moving to Kindle it’s far easier for it to get out of hand because you don’t have to move the furniture to encompass it. Still, it’s also easier to give one up and just hit the delete button – not nearly as guilt and failure inducing as lugging a pile of half-read books to the local school for a fundraiser. And not nearly as hard as forcing yourself through something you don’t want to read just because you bought the damn thing and it’s sitting on the floor recriminating you every time you step over it.

But, onto better and brighter thoughts. Monday over – only four days to go before FREEDOM FOREVER!!! For a fortnight. Then BACK TO WORK!!!

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Well, I’ve spent most of the day charging up every single electronic device that I possess in anticipation of our holiday which begins next Saturday. I’ve a cute USB station shaped like a robot, and his little arms and legs were all filled up with plugs all morning. As soon as one charged up I swapped it out for another.

I’ve also dug out the pretty pale blue instant camera that I bought last year on a whim, and last used on our holiday a year ago. Still, I hold out hope that it’ll come in handy. After all, it’s possible that my phone may run out of battery at just the wrong time to take a much better photo with more detail, more realistic colours, and the ability to transmit anywhere around the world at a moment’s notice. Or, I may decide that it’s far easier to carry around a large, heavy, poor-at-taking-photos-but-amusing-at-spitting-them-out camera. Especially as we’re expecting the weather to be around 28 degrees each day (for those of you on Fahrenheit rest assured that’s a lovely hot temperature.)

My bags are packed up with all my summer clothing. It’s a very easy thing to be packed up as I wouldn’t dream of wearing any summer clothing at the moment for fear that my fingers and toes would go blue. Or unless I piled a decent layer of winter woolies over top and cranked up the heat-pump.

Now there’s just the last-day items to remember.
1) Clean underwear, freshly laundered on the night before we go.
2) Personal items that will be used up until the last minute and then tossed in the bag such as hair-brush, fudge (for hair – not eating), toothbrush, and razor.
3) Phone, Kindle, Laptop – into my bag as the taxi pulls up at the door at the ungodly hour of 4.15am (my oversize handbag that is – I need something to do on the flight)

I feel a tiny bit aggrieved that tomorrow I still have to go to work, and will continue to have to for the entire working week, but I imagine that feeling will pass.

By Friday afternoon I reckon. Bon Voyage.

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My last review disappeared off Amazon earlier this week. Poof! Gone forever. I’m trying very, very hard not to take it personally, but it’s quite hard to when it seems so… so… so… personal?

My darling, my one true love, my partner and soul-mate read my book when the proofs first arrived. I might hasten to add that neither of us really believed he would finish it, and I had long ago given up the idea that he would even start. My darling’s taste runs to more of a military bent, and even that can’t be tainted with things such as emotions from people involved in the operation of military equipment, or – god forbid – tales of their families. He and Jane’s Information Group get on very well indeed.

The last novel he tried to read was Insomnia by Stephen King. He’d enjoyed a few Stephen King books up to that point – the ones with more realistic settings and fewer monsters. He didn’t finish this one though. And he never tried again. So from 1994 onwards he has been fiction-free.

He finished it in three days and was quite pleased with himself and with me. When he said how much he liked it, I said “well why don’t you review it then” which he did.

Amazon approved his review, and then took it down overnight.

So, no family members allowed then. Odd, since I am self-published so it might well be expected that for a while the only people I will realistically be able to sell to are family, friends and co-workers.

Onto the friends then!

A friend’s review went up. Perfect. It stayed up for about three weeks, and then it disappeared off the face of the earth.

“But you can always get them to re-post it,” I can hear you say, because I often carry on full-length conversations with a variety of different people that I’ve never met in my head (it’s how I win arguments you know) so I’ll tell you what I’ve already told the inside-my-head you. NO YOU CAN’T.

It’s hard slog to get someone who’ll say something nice about your book to your face to actually type that same something up and put it on a website. That’s five, maybe ten minutes out of their lives that they’re not getting back, and they are quite happy to let you know it.

So my darling popped his up again and this time it stuck. One day, two days. I got used to seeing it there whenever I clicked on my book to see what it looked like (something that I either pridefully or paranoically do every day at least once.)

And then another friend was cajoled into buying my book on Kindle.

(as a short aside I’d like to reassure you that these aren’t the full extent of my sales BTW. I may be a debut self-published novelist which I realise makes me less in the publishing world than the dirt sticking to the chewing gum on the underside of your shoe but I do have some manipulation sales skills)

He read it in less than a day and came over to tell me how wonderful it was. I agreed wholeheartedly with him, and then mentioned how reviewers get into heaven before nuns even. When he agreed he would indeed like to do that I nearly wept with joy. Two reviews. Two. On Amazon. It was going to be a thing of beauty. Knowing how promises fade with the walk out of our front door I even set him up on my computer, logged myself out of Amazon and let him log in, while I tried to stab clickers in the neck with hand-made shivs in the other room.

The review never made it.

Amazon sent him a lovely email saying they wouldn’t post the review, so he popped it onto Goodreads instead. Not only did Amazon not accept his review, they seemed to notice once again that my darling had reviewed my book and took that review down as well.


So now I have a lovely link saying ‘Be the first customer…’ and a lot of sadness in my little author heart.

Why, Amazon. Why? Surely you could just let them put up their three puny reviews? Is it really so horribly misleading that people I know buy my book and like it? Shouldn’t they have the same opportunity to hold an opinion as the one offered to people who don’t know me? (I realise that I’m making the presumption here that Amazon is not just callously taking down US and UK reviews as well for my book – but I don’t have proof of that, and now I’m starting to wonder…)

If you would like to see some reviews, from people who both do and don’t know me, then feel free to avail yourself of the following links:
Barnes and Noble
Google Books

Those sites love me Amazon – why don’t you?

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05 Sep / Advance voting

This week I got the chance to experience advance voting for the first time. We’re going away on holiday next week so we’ll miss all the fun of voting day. Hopefully we can still stream a bit of the election night fun over in Aussie.

We tried to find out what we’d need to take to the voting booth. Our plane tickets? Our passports? Maybe we’d have to sign some sort of statutory declaration to affirm that we were indeed going to be unable to make it to a voting booth on the actual election day?

Turns out no.

We did need to repeat our names a couple of times to the sole electoral employee manning the booth, and he did have to mark next to our names to make sure that we didn’t vote again, but that was it. Two ticks behind the counter and we’re done.

No queues. No waiting. No verification. I’m keeping this in mind for the next election.

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Today is the 4th anniversary of the Christchurch Earthquake. Not the one that closed down the Boxing Day sales. Not the one that caused mass chaos, closed the central city, rerouted 2/3 of the traffic flow, spilled 400,000 tonnes of liquifaction silt onto the cities lawns, footpaths and roads, and brought a terrible and undeserved end to 185 vibrant lives. Not the one that brought a miserable mid-winter to a populace already shaken to the edge of their tether. Not the one that came as an early Christmas present just when everyone hoped it all may be settling down again, but the one that started it all.

The one that triggered not only the events above, but also the other 13,000+ aftershocks that have rattled our small city to its bones. Aftershocks like the magnitude 2.1 earthquake at a depth of 6km that we had this morning at 4.15am. 13,000+ plus one.

On Saturday, 4th September 2010, I woke up around three-thirty in the morning. I routinely swing between bouts of insomnia that keep me awake until the wee hours of the morning, and insomnia that plunges me into a deep sleep as soon as I fall into bed but wake me in the wee hours of the morning. I was in the latter stage at the time. I am again today, which probably means its a seasonal thing or something. Whatever.

I was knitting, my hobby at the time, and watching the penultimate episode of The Tudors season one. When the earthquake hit, the whole house started juddering. I waited for it to pass. We live on the pacific ring of fire, a huge fault-line run diagonally through our entire island. We’re used to having an earthquake large enough to feel every year or two. Still, at least our South Island volcanoes are extinct – not like the North Island. At least, we’ve been led to believe that. Experts can be wrong too, you know.

I waited for about twenty seconds by my internal count – or two seconds in official clock-time – and then realised that this one wasn’t going away. In fact, it seemed to be gathering momentum in an unsettling way.

I leapt off the couch and ran for the nearest doorway – advice drilled into me as a child which “they’ve” changed their minds about now as I found out later. I had to pull the door open as I’d closed it so I wouldn’t disturb my partner. In case he was missing the fun I yelled “Earthquake!” at the top of my lungs. A cry which he didn’t hear over the roar of the earthquake.

I lodged myself with my back jammed against the doorframe where the door joined, and my arms braced against the doorframe where the door wasn’t. And I mean lodged. My back held the impression for a good half-hour afterwards.

Above I’ve referred to the roar of the earthquake. I should probably mention here that I didn’t have any experience of sound during this period of time. I know that the earthquake was loud because I didn’t hear the brick chimney fall onto the concrete driveway just over the road. I know it was loud because I didn’t hear books popping off the shelves in the spare bedroom – 2kg books not paperbacks. I know it was loud because I didn’t hear an entire bookshelf collapse in the front room, falling onto my spare wardrobe and disintegrating both structures.

My memory of the earthquake is characterised by these dichotomies. On one hand there are entire senses that are missing. On the other this is the strongest memory I have. There’s an instant transportation when I think of it, something my other strong memories don’t have.

Even the memory of watching the hearse carrying my mother’s coffin away from the church and with it the final realisation that I was never going to see one of the people I loved most in the world ever again – a memory that’s making me cry right now as I type – doesn’t have the instant attachment of emotion that this one does.

Maybe deep sorrow doesn’t flood through the human body as fluidly as instinctive fear.

As the earthquake started to ease the “STOP stop STOP stop STOP stop” that was beating time to my pulse also let up. I looked to my left. Nothing in the kitchen had fallen. It was over.

And then the whole house lifted up and was shaken – hard – back and forth, back and forth. The cupboard doors all swung open, slammed shut, swung open, slammed shut. I tried to wedge myself in harder and instead almost lost my footing altogether. There weren’t any words left in my head, just wide-eyed terror.

The lights went out. It was pitch dark. My eyes wouldn’t adjust.

Back and forth, back and forth. My fingernails dug into the wood of the frame. At some point I knocked my head so hard that an egg rose up on the back in the hour that followed.

One more jolt probably would’ve tossed the crockery out onto the floor. The plates had rocked out two inches over the edge. The glasses would’ve fallen, but the front ones were out on the bench from where they’d been used the night before.

And then it started to ease again. And finally rocked to a stop. A second before the final shake the lights flickered and came back on, whatever connection had been knocked out was knocked back in. They went out again with the first aftershock and stayed out, but for a few minutes we had light.

For months we told our stories of what happened. Where we were, what damage our houses suffered, what fell down, what bubbled up. There was the one in Kaiapoi whose house was a wreck, the one in New Brighton who had to shovel a driveway back into their property, the one who hadn’t even woken up and had to have a knock at the door and a talking to when a worried friend got sick of no response to their phonecalls and paid a home visit.

We told our stories compulsively while the aftershocks worsened our house damage day by day, and our office tried not to take it personally when it felt like the whole of Christchurch hated us because of our profession. We banded together into the had-been-there hadn’t-been-there groups. We tried to find out who was worse off than us, who was better off than us. We tried to turn it into the event that happened in 2010, to let it go and let it be gone.

The realisation that the Earthquake had no intention of going was slow-dawning at first. It wasn’t until February stirred everything up again – except 185 times worse – that I understood that we’d all been incredibly lucky (for unlucky people), and I also began to comprehend that this was a long way from over.

So it’s four years down the track. Our central city is still in the process of being turned into flatlands. Things open up every day – new homes, new shops, weird and odd little attractions that turn despair into opportunity. It’s still projected to be another two to three years away from completion, but the progress is now visible everywhere. Roads are under true reconstruction instead of the slap of tar and crossed fingers that happened initially (so we could all at least have roads to travel on.)

And every time a large truck goes by and the house shakes; every time a train passes by our building and the meeting room vibrates; every time there’s a noise I can’t immediately identify – even for a split second – my brain screams “Earthquake!” My fingernails dig in. And I brace.

Lets hope four years from now I just think, “Oh – a train.”

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Technology is wonderful, but not in the hands of people who don’t know how to use it, or when it pits itself against you.

This morning I spent a nice time sorting through a report, counting columns, ticking boxes, trying to get scope on a project. Lovely, dovely. The numbers weren’t adding up to me – the percentage of one package to another was all out of whack – so I tried to find an example of where the report could be wrong by trying to find an un-uploadable risk on a farmpack. Needles and haystacks spring to mind. Or, more accurately, one oddly shaped needle in a giant needle-stack.

After a half-hour I gave it up in lieu of complaining loudly and insincerely to colleagues. Whatever. I’d look at it later.

Ten minutes later as it turned out when an email from the originator of the report came through to say that it was wrong, but a new one was attached, and hopefully I hadn’t spent too much time on it.

So I started again. Joy. This is why I come in early after all.

Later on, I was creating a new page on our website. Lovely stuff. Pictures, titles, icons, lists, questionnaires, more pictures. Half an hour of work I spent molding it gently to my liking. Adding and moving and typing and trying to find tiny little errors in large screeds of html to shape it into a work of art. A work of art that experienced a fatal error and reset to the title only.

Never mind. I’ll start again. That’s why I stay late after all.

Where’d my life go?

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I think the worst thing in the world is to leave for work one morning, and never return home again. Because someone else made the decision that you would die.

Yesterday, there were six Work and Income New Zealand employees who turned up to work for Monday – already the worst day of the working week – and only three returned home. One is in hospital, the other two deceased.

A gunman opened fire in the morning, systematically shooting targets in the small office. Except they weren’t targets, they were people. And their co-workers and clients had to run for their lives; running away with legs that probably felt like they were moving through concrete. Running while waiting to see if they would feel a bullet in their backs, hoping they wouldn’t. Terrified.

The man got tired of shooting people and left the office to make his get-away. His bike was chained up to a post at the corner of the street. Because that’s what you do, isn’t it? This man is armed with a sawn-off shotgun, he’s about to go into an office with the intention of shooting people to death, but he chained up his bike. Because it might get stolen.

In the getaway he left his bike helmet lying on the street.

It’s awful. It’s unexpected, but at the same time it’s always expected.

I work in insurance and we’re security aware, but I’ve still lived with the thought in the back of my head for the past four years that there are a lot of frustrated people, and a lot of desperate people, and a lot of angry people, and that one day this might be happening in my office to my co-workers, to me.

It’s happened previously to government workers, to bank tellers, to office workers. And one day it may happen again.

The worst thing in the world. To leave for work one morning, and never return home again.

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