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In this newsletter:
*** Quakes
*** News & Current projects
*** Cool Things Friends Do: MAria Aragon
*** Writing Strong Women


Since I missed out on my big summer holiday this year (see the January newsletter) – I decided to take a bunch of micro-holidays instead, while the hot weather lasts. A micro holiday might be an afternoon spent on the bike, or driving out to one of the many and varied Wairarapa beaches for a swim, a walk and a bit of lazing in the sand.

Each of the narrow, curvy, mostly unsealed roads branching off State Highway Two and its tributaries, leads into its own separate universe. The variety of landscapes which can be found in such a fairly small stretch of mountain range and coast astounds me, every time I take a new turn down a new road. And I have by no means explored all of them yet.

One of those roads recently took me to a place called Awaiti, just north of White Rock. Sitting by the water on that stark and rugged coast, looking out across a sea that stretches down to the Antarctic, one does get a strong sense of sitting on the edge of the world. What is New Zealand but the result of two of the earth's massive tectonic plates pushing against each other, and breaking over the surface of the planet's vastest stretch of water? Every contorted rock shape, bent strata of geology sticking up into the air at improbable angles, is a reminder that this piece of earth moves.

Last Tuesday, the city of Christchurch experienced the second devastating earthquake in the space of six months. Unlike the quake in September, this time people died. Others were injured, or trapped under rubble for hours. Many had their homes severely damaged, and are camping out in tents as I write this. And the city lost a beloved landmark - Christchurch cathedral was severely damaged when its tower collapsed.

It's a strange thing to witness an earthquake from the intimate distance of your Facebook account. The first I heard about it was via a friend's post who'd been folllowing the news, about an hour after it struck. Wiithin another hour or so, most of my Facebook acquaintances in New Zealand, and a few overseas, were aware of what was happening.

Unlike the tv news, which tend to focus on broadcasting gruesome images of death and destruction, and emotional interviews with shell-shocked witnesses, the news that spread through the social networking sites - mainly Facebook and Twitter - was of a more practical kind. There were calls to offer emergency accomodation to people stuck in Wellington airport unable to travel on to Christchurch, and a request to stay off the mobile phone networks, so urgent calls could get through – at the time there were people trapped in collapsed buildings, and some of them had phon on them. Within a couple of hours, Google had set up an online people finder service, and the University of Colorado, of all places, chimed in with a map of quake damage based on analyzing relevant posts on Twitter.

Three days later, in usual Kiwi fashion, there has been a massive outpouring of help. Walking around Wellington yesterday, there were notices all over the place: The Central Library announced that people could drop off goods which would be ferried down to Christchurch the next day. Shops were offering a percentage of their turnover as earthquake help, and within a short time, private temporary accomodation had been found for about a thousand people, mainly overseas visitors stranded in Christchurch, who were being evacuated to Wellington.

Red Cross Christchurch Earthquake appeal

Mostly, everyone was anxious to make sure their families and friends were safe. A friend of mine in Christchurch was able to confirm via her Facebook page that she was alright, but a friend in Wellington I spoke to yesterday had to wait a couple of days for the relieving phone call – her family was camped out in tents and dealing with the "liquefaction", but otherwise unharmed. Liquefaction being a new word I just learned. More or less, the ground turns into quicksand and the ground water level rises. Imagine this, and a damaged sewerage system. Not a pleasant thought! And not what you usually see on the tv news.

Devastating as it is when a city suddenly collapes into rubble, there isn't the sense of outrage one often feels after a disaster. There isn't anyone to blame for the deaths and the destruction that have occurred. Unlike the people of Haiti, New Zealanders generally are about as well prepared for an earthquake as one can be. It is part and parcel of living on these islands.

Does it worry me, personally? Even though I did not have to fret about close friends or family, I've found the news strangely upsetting. Witnessing an earthquake and its consequences at such close quarters certainly brings home the fact that it could happen to anyone, anywhere around here.

Wellington has been waiting for the "big one" for as long as I have lived there, and I must admit that some of my relief, when I got out of the city and shifted to Featherston, had to do with the fact that here seems to be a lot less rubble which could fall on someone. Although if I thought I was now safely away from the Wellington faultline, I soon discovered that the equally sizeable Wairarapa faultline runs almost literally through my backyard!

Still, I will never forget the nights I spent camping on the feet of Mt Taranaki, when I was at the Parihaka festival several years ago. Sleeping on the ground, I could feel a perpetual slight tremor from the nearby volcano – but rather than frighten me, I felt like I was snuggled up against the skin of an immensely large, breathing living being.

From: Tania Williams. Submitted 3 March 2011 11:56 am NZDT

thank you for explaining what liquefaction was exactly. It was new word to me too. I found my self in the same situation as you as to thinking I was in a safe zone when I moved to Featherston, until I also realised there was faultine in my backyard. Oh well, I guess it doesn't matter where you live, there will always be dangers. Thats life...

From: Asni. Submitted 3 March 2011 3:25 pm NZDT

At least it might be more interesting than dying in a car accident, or something. Sorry - was that morbid? :)

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News & Current Projects

This month has been quite busy with various painting and digital art projects, but – February being such a short month, which always trips you up – not all that much for show at this stage. I completed another watercolour still life, which has been doing very well on Deviantart (if that is indicative of anything). This is now turning into a neat little series: if I paint another one in a month or two, I'll have Four Seasons. That might make a nice pack of greeting cards!

I have also been working on the next assignment for my London Art College course – and plan to work away on it this coming weekend, but that will be just a little bit too late to include it in the newsletter. Meanwhile, I have been making studies of various body parts, namely hands, and eyes, as part of the assignment (it's about anatomy, if you haven't guessed). I might, for good measure, just draw my feet as well.

Speaking of DeviantArt – they made the front page of "Entrepreneur" magazine this month, a tribute to the great work they do in supporting artists of all levels of skill and professionalism to promote their work online. And a nice nod of acknowledgement to the flourishing online art scene which is happening outside the established pathways of gallery shows and professional publications. Read the online article here.

The Middle-earth New Zealand 2011 calendar has been featured this month on tolkiencalendars.com. I have still been selling copies throughout February, and am now down to some 6 copies. Seeing that they seem to be turning into an official collectable – I have already had a few enquiries for previous year's editions – I reckon I might as well keep the remaining copies and put them out on Ebay in a few year's time as a rarity! Mwuhahahaha. :D

The Online Promotion workshops will kick off again in April, at the Featherston Community Centre. I have just confirmed the dates - April 12 through to May 17, Tuesday nights from 7.30 to 8.30 pm, six sessions in total. Please contact me if you are interested in attending, so I can keep you up to date about the course content etc.

And speaking of online promotion, here is a strange thing that happened recently in the weird and wonderful realm which is cyberspace. Remember that drawing of the Erlkönig with the face of David Tennant I posted last month? Well, I posted that same drawing on my Facebook profile, with a comment along the lines that "wouldn't this face make a great elf king face". As indeed, there are persistent rumours flying around of David Tennant's possible involvement in the Hobbit movie, and I am a great advocate of him being cast as King Thranduil. I mean, David Tennant in a blonde Legolas wig? Who am I to resist. I might even wind up going to watch that movie!

A couple of weeks ago, it came to my attention that IMDb now semi-officially lists "The Hobbit" as one of David Tennant's upcoming movie projects ("rumored", it says) – and the part he is supposed to be cast in is King Thranduil ("rumored", it says – mind you, most of the other possible parts are already very officially taken).

Well hurray I thought, just what I've always been saying – but I wonder how much substance there is to that rumour. Well, it turned out that it seems to date back to an article posted on TORN on 11 January, citing an article from Digitalspy.com, to the effect that there are persistent rumours of a possible involvement of David Tennant in the Hobbit movie, and "he has been linked to the part of Thranduil".

Now I wonder – I mean, not to sound paranoid-megalomaniac or anything, but it did seem like a bit of a weird coincidence. I posted that image, and my suggestion that David Tennant has a great Thranduil face, on Facebook on 8 January. The people on my friend list include Michael Regina of TORN, and a few others prominently involved in the fan community, or indeed the making of the movies themselves.

Serendipity, or a butterfly fluttering its wings? I guess we'll never know, but I have begun to think that perhaps I should charge more for my online promotion tuition. A LOT more.

And hey – just to test a theory here – I would really enjoy a free ticket for David Tennant and Catherine Tate's performance in Much Ado about Nothing in London later this year. First week of June would be excellent! Thanks. :D

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Cool Things Friends Do: Maria Aragon

Yet another fellow DeviantArtist, Maria Aragon is a self-taught painter born in Southern California. She spent formative years moving about the US, including a couple of years in Alaska, before ending up in the Washington DC area, where she now lives. Her paintings are a unique combination of classical mythology, with a strong Italian Renaissance influence, and Indian spiritual iconography - with a bit of Wonder Woman comics thrown in!

Painting goes hand in hand with writing for Maria - As an 'indie author' she has published her own works on Lulu.com, and they are also available via amazon.com. "When the world tells you no, you say YES! ", is what she says about the business of self-publishing. She also has an Etsy store, where she sells a selection of her mythological paintings, as well as a series of small size sunset studies she completed last year, while undergoing radiation therapy to cure her cancer.

Please tell us something about your work!

"I've always been into mythology and ancient history/anthropology/archaeology. This custom I've developed of combining eastern figures and symbols with western mythological figures started with a little eureka moment. I had worked in the Sackler/Freer Galleries in Washington DC, so I was inspired to do some Buddha images. I had just completed a Buddha painting and wanted to do an Aphrodite painting - one which I still have, framed, hanging in my room by the way. When I had finished the Aphrodite, her expression struck me as very Buddhist and it hit: Aphrodite Bodhisattva.

I started reading up on more of these ancient Greek deities and their origins and noticed that they seemed to originate from more than one place or culture. I also noticed that Western depictions of Greek gods, like Apollo especially, influenced the way artists in Afghanistan sculpted their Buddhist figures: the Gandhara style. That idea beguiled me so much that I decided to return the favor and depict Apollo from a Buddhist/Hindu style. It opened up a whole new, rather revitalizing dimension to these figures, inspiring tremendous research, more paintings, and two novels .... so far. I love the idea of inclusiveness.?"

Do you consider your paintings to be religious paintings?

"They can be. Some have seemed to be such after I'd finished them, which was a little surprising. The painting of Christ upon the Waves wound up being something like that because, as it turned out, I had finished it within hours of the death of a cherished relative.

Christ is a tricky figure for me to do. I'd like to do more, but he's kind of a fidget. He keeps moving around in my mind, plus he's been done by the best: Caravaggio, et al, so if you do him, you kind of want to bring something of your own perspective to him. Buddha is a similar challenge, except that he fades in and out of my mind, so he's hard to get a lock on. Quite a few of these paintings have a meditative quality to them, which can't hurt."

How did you get into painting? Did you have a formal art education?

"I started painting in watercolors in order to make a present for a friend's birthday. I painted in watercolors for about ten years and then experimented in alkyds and finally in 98-99 took oil paints. Other than a class in Junior High and one life drawing class in Community College, plus a couple of weeks in a course at the Corcoran, which I did not finish, I have little formal training. Needless to say, I am constantly pushing myself to improve through study and observation."

Last year, you were diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo radiation therapy. How has this affected your work?

"Chronic illness is a total pain in the neck. The radiation therapy really messed up my ability to use my imagination in the manner I like to do. I got tired easily and could only do sunset studies and landscapes, which satisfied the painting urge to a moderate degree. It was frustrating to be unable to even think of an idea to paint that came from pure imagination. I've been on a wild painting tangent for about four weeks now and it feels marvelous. I love the smell of oil paint!"

From: Tania Williams. Submitted 3 March 2011 12:04 pm NZDT

Absolutely gorgeous work!

From: Asni. Submitted 3 March 2011 3:28 pm NZDT

Isn't it? I thought so too.

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Writing strong women

I've had a few discussions recently about female characters in literature. Jackie Morris, an illustrator from Wales who is mostly famous for her recent covers of Robin Hobb's novels (well, at least that's how I know her) – invited people to suggest their favourite literary heroines, after she'd listened to a radio programme where it had been declared by a prominent British author, that amongst the strongest characters in British novels through the ages, there was only one who was a woman. The discussion which ensued wa animated, and a great many heroines were suggested. It was also agreed that some people really need to get out of their male anglo saxon ivory tower, but then, what else is new.

Mary Victoria, a Wellington author who is currently in the process of publishing her debut fantasy trilogy, started a series of blog posts on the topic of Writing Strong Women, and invited several of her speculative-fiction-writer colleagues to share their thoughts. Though reading through some of the discussions, I got the impression that some people really need to come out of their misunderstood female kiwi fantasy author misery pit (and I'm not meaning Mary), but then, what else is new.

I have also finally picked up Doctor Who season five – and it completely and utterly failed to impress me. Why? Precisely because of the way the female characters are written. And because it is such a crying shame that this would happen, after the wonderful work the team on series one to four had done.

I was perfectly prepared to be, at the least, pleasantly entertained, if not as profoundly emotionally engaged as I had been by the previous four seasons. I think I knew it wasn't going to happen by the time we meet grown up Amy Pond – the new companion – who is introduced with a shot of her high heeled stocking legs, revealing an anorexic baby faced girl in a fake police uniform (mini skirted, you understand), who sports a pair of handcuffs with which she has just, what's the word, bondaged? – the Doctor.

But she's not a real police officer, we soon find out. She's a "kissogram". If you wondered what a kissogram was, because you've never heard of kissograms – well, she goes around to parties and kisses people. I guess it would be fair to say that a kissogram is sort of like a lifesize rubber doll. And as the series progresses, we find out that poor Amy has been assigned all the personality of a lifesize rubber doll by her script writers. I got to the end of episode six, and I still had no idea who the heck that young woman was, or indeed why I should care.

Please understand that I have absolutely no issue if they wanted to have a companion whose day job is whore. As long as it was a real whore, not some late pubescent male script writer's wet dream while playing with his rubber dolls. For that matter, I have greatly enjoyed watching the fabulous Billie Piper in her current tv role as Belle de Jour in Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Then again, this is a series which appears to have an all female production team. That's probably why they don't take all these professional activities that Belle is engaged in at all seriously. I can see how for some guys, watching this show could be really sobering.

Then there is Professor River Song. Please don't get me started on Professor River Song. I wasn't too keen on Professor River Song even when she made her first appearance in season four's "Silence in the Library" (and I tell myself it's not just because I think Rose deserves the whole Doctor, not just the hand – a hand just isn't an appropriate substitute for the whole man). I just, you know, I just don't like bossy people. Especially when they are so obviously cut out of cardboard.

And that's the thing. Amy and River Song are both variations on the same theme – the bossy, handcuff-slinging, revolver- or sword-wielding, high heeled, rubber skinsuit-clad caricature of a strong, self determined woman that seems to be the common knee-jerk reaction, these days, to the helpless fainting damsels in distress of yonder. The problem is, they are both equally unreal.

Handcuff-wielding, skinsuit-clad high heeled bossiness has got absolutely nothing to do with strength. It does, however, seem to have a whole lot to do with a certain complex of sexual fantasies, which may have given rise to the phrase "being scared stiff". Which wouldn't really worry me if it wasn't for the fact that the characters we see on our screens, or read about in our books, really do determine the ways we think we can behave, or expect other people to behave. And I am heartily tired of every other male acquaintance – and quite a few female ones too – secretly expecting, or perhaps hoping, that one day I'll drag them off to handcuff them in a basement and treat them to my whip, just because I know how to program a computer.

Russell T Davies and his team created characters who were rooted in reality. Rose, Donna, Martha had families, jobs, a life. They had emotional attachments, pet hates, fear, curiosity, cattiness and courage. They liked chips. They could type 400 words a minute. They had their knickers out to dry, went on diets, and wore floppy pyjamas at night. And we cared for them, and we could believe how the Doctor would care so deeply for them.

Do the new makers of this show really believe that people have embraced the revival of the classic tv series to the extend they did, because it has cooler gadgets, brighter Daleks, and bigger Sonic Screwdrivers? What is even more disappointing is that Stephen Moffat, who's now the executive producer, has actually created two of the most luminous, and genuinely strong female characters for the previous seasons. Nancy, in "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances", puts most other tv heroes I can think of to shame. And there is the gorgeous portrayal of Madame de Pompadour, which I have already written about in a previous newsletter. So what happened? Why is it now back to boys and their toys?

Amongst my other explorations of the Whoiverse, I eventually also picked up the very first Doctor Who episode ever aired, An Unearthly Child, which was broadcast in November 1963. And listening to the commentary track was quite a revelation. The commentary was provided by Verity Lambert, the original producer, and Waris Hussein, the director of this and several other of the early episodes.

Verity Lambert was at the time, not only some twenty years younger than most of the other BBC producers, but also the only woman in that job, while Waris Hussein was the first director with an Asian background to work for the BBC. They both reminisced how there was a whole lot of resistance to the series being made, as being something very different from the BBC's usual fare – and it's probably a fair assumption that theirs was regarded as a job most other people in the organization were not too keen to do.

At one stage, Verity Lambert remarked that she would have preferred it if they had been able to concentrate more on actually making the show, rather than fighting so many battles to get the things they needed for getting it made. This, I thought, is almost word for word the same as I have summed up my experience at Natcoll. It would have been so much nicer if I had been able to devote all my time and energy to working on my assignments, rather than fighting all these battles to get them to pass. Seems like nothing much has changed in that particular industry, in the last fifty years.

Doctor Who is now officially "The most successful show on TV" according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It was a very graceful gesture when Russell T Davies accepted that award on behalf of Verity Lambert – who had died in 2007 – at the San Diego Comic-Con last year. But it was also in keeping with how he had honoured the origins of the show, in the way he envisaged it during his tenure as head writer and executive producer, aided by a team who were obviously keen to pull the sled in the same direction.

Halfway through Season Five, I decided not to bother about the rest of the episodes. Instead, I got myself all three seasons of Torchwood from the library (Torchwood is a Doctor Who spinoff aimed at an adult audience, centered around the dashing Captain Jack Harkness, and also produced by Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner). Then, with a sigh of content, I remembered that I still hadn't watched the commentary tracks on Doctor Who season one.

So, if you want to know how to write a strong woman: this is a good one to watch. One of the defining moments in Rose's character development is when, in episode five, the Doctor confesses to Rose's mother that what he could do to save the day, could also kill her daughter. "Don't you dare", the mother says, but Rose replies simply: "Do it". Because Rose, throughout whatever she does, never particularly cares if she is "safe".

Arohanui, from Asni

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