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Friday, 25 April 2014

Farewell Japan

After more than three years of adventures, it's time to say goodbye to Japan. I'm flying back to Australia tonight and will be settling in Sydney. I'll be stopping in Cairns on the way to talk to the students at St Mary's College about life in Japan, and The Ghostly Grammar Boy.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about finishing this chapter of my life. I'll miss my friends in Japan most of all. But I'll also miss the amazing food and culture. It's going to seem weird when everything is easy again and I don't feel like it's a huge achievement to buy the right groceries or make a phone call.

Thanks for the good times Japan!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Time flies when you've got writer's block

Staring at a blank computer screen, mind frozen, and spirits plummeting… when I’ve got writer’s block the hours fly past in this state, and I can’t write a word. After a while, I’ll start imagining all the things I’d rather be doing. Going to the dentist or getting my thighs waxed seem like attractive options.

Everyone has different methods for dealing with writer’s block. For me, I find the best thing to do is try to keep two things in mind. The first is ‘A true writer is one who writes every day.’ I tell myself I’m a real writer, because I’m sitting here having writer’s block. This makes me feel like what I’m doing is dramatic and not a waste of time. As soon as I capture this exciting feeling that made me want to write in the first place, the words start to flow more easily.

The second thing I remember is something my Mum used to say when I complained about my English homework. She’d say, ‘Squash the critic and write’. It’s hard to get anything onto the page if I’m judging and criticizing every word. Once I ignore the critical voice in my head, and let myself off the hook about writing well, it’s much easier to get the words out.

After all of that, if the dentist’s chair is still looking attractive, I’ll give up and eat some chocolate. Sometimes you’ve just got to give yourself a break.

When all else fails, it’s time for some chocolate.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Book lovers brave a typhoon to launch The Ghostly Grammar Boy

As Tokyo shut down for a once-in-a-decade sized typhoon, the Japan book launch of The Ghostly Grammar Boy was just warming up. Book lovers braved terrible rain and winds on Tuesday night to attend the launch in Tokyo, and their stoicism and party spirit sent the book off to a flying start. The audience came from all over the world: Australia, Japan, Russia, and South Africa, with two things in common – the fact that they were very wet, and an interest in reading the new teen thriller.

Thank you so much to everyone who came along, especially during the typhoon. You made it a very special night and I really appreciate your support. For those of you who missed the night, check out the video and speech transcript below!

The Ghostly Grammar Boy is available on Amazon and Smashwords. Check out the reviews on Goodreads.

Book launch speech and reading transcript

When I was in high school, a phone was smart if it could send a text message; and Facebook didn’t exist, so we stalked our boys by foot. Yet even in those dark ages, high school was still both the most exciting, and the worst experience of my life.

I remember how much fun it was when we poured water all over our school uniforms, and then walked into the classroom pretending nothing was wrong. I remember how upset I was when mum refused to buy me new clothes because “Sandra, it doesn’t matter what you wear, people will just be looking at your face.”

High school is a time where your friends are everything to you, and your parents are monsters who get in the way. I wanted to try to capture the intensity of these feelings in my book but also raise the stakes a bit. What if you had to deal with all these things while also hiding a terrible secret?

The Ghostly Grammar Boy is about Fiona, a fifteen year old school girl. Her greatest dream is just to survive year ten and seem like a normal person. There’s just one problem. She can see and touch ghosts, thanks to her pesky twin sister, Ella, who happens to be dead. Fiona’s plans are ruined when Ella, her ghost twin sister, begs her to investigate the death of a boy from the local grammar school.

As Fiona bumbles along trying to solve the mystery of the ghostly grammar boy, she finds herself entangled in a web of lies, deceit and high school bullies. But mean friends are the least of Fiona’s problems. Because sticking your nose in places where it doesn’t belong can be dangerous.

(Reading) My mood changed instantly when we arrived at the beach. I could almost forget I had a murder to solve, that my friends knew too much about my love life, and that I had a huge pile of homework waiting for me at home. Surf Beach was particularly beautiful today. The sun glistened on the blue-green water, and the waves broke neatly in foaming parallel lines across the beach. The expanse of water was framed on either side by two small, bushy headlands.

The waves lapped at my feet invitingly…

….like a foot massage from the abominable snowman!

It was freezing!

At that moment, a wind direct from Antarctica plastered my board shorts to my skin, and caused every goose-bump on my body to respond in overdrive. A second later, the glistening ocean darkened as the sun went behind a cloud. The temperature seemed to drop ten degrees and my desire to swim disappeared instantly.

But I knew I would regret it if I went back to land-locked Canberra without getting wet. Steeling myself for the cold, I ran through the shallows into the deep water and dived. It was even worse than I’d imagined. The icy water tightened around my chest. I tried to glide back up to the surface for a breath, but… I couldn’t move.

I started to panic. What was happening? I really needed to breathe.

My chest muscles tightened further. The weight in my chest was getting heavier. I was really struggling now.

I pushed my feet firmly into the sand and tried to propel myself upwards. But still I couldn’t move! The pain in my lungs was becoming unbearable. I clutched my ribs, only to get the shock of a lifetime.

There were hands, squeezing me around the chest. One of my friends was holding me down. This wasn’t funny. My chest was going to explode.

Frantically, I grabbed at the hands gripping me and tried to pry them loose. I managed to get one free, but the person quickly replaced his grip with a bear hug. I couldn’t take it much more. My chest was heaving, willing me to take a breath. I squirmed desperately while fighting the temptation to suck water into my lungs.

I couldn’t continue to fight much longer. In a few seconds, I would be joining Ella on the other side.

All of a sudden, the pressure released and I was propelled to the surface.

I gulped air the instant my face broke free of the water. Nothing had ever tasted so sweet.

Suddenly, two wet, matted, female heads surfaced near me. The two girls were screaming at each other, and clawing at each other’s hair. They flailed around, locked in each other’s scratching embrace.

Despite their vicious movements, the water remained still and calm around them.

That could mean only one thing. They were ghosts. And they were angry.

(End of reading)

High school’s hard enough without having to sort out your dead sister’s love life as well. Writing this book really made me appreciate the experience I had at school. I’m glad I didn’t have a supernatural secret and a sister with a dead, troubled boyfriend.

Well I don’t want to give too much away so please read the book and find out how it all turns out for Fiona and the ghostly grammar boy. The print books are on sale tonight, and you can also order the ebook version online at Amazon and Smashwords.

Thank you so much to everyone for your support. I really appreciate you coming out tonight in the typhoon and hearing about my new book. I would love it if you could read my book and leave a review somewhere – whether it’s on Amazon, Goodreads, Smashwords, or my blog, I would really appreciate it. Reviews will help other readers discover my book so if there’s one message I want to get across tonight, it’s please leave me a review.

So thank you very much and please enjoy the rest of the night. It’s all-you-can-drink so let’s get our money’s worth!

Monday, 23 September 2013

The advantages of being a common Thompson

I spend a lot of time on the internet stalking myself. But even if I cheat and look for information I already know exists, I can never get onto Google’s first page of search results. There are just too many Sandra Thompsons. At first my internet obscurity seemed like a good thing. It didn’t matter what I did in life, I never rated a mention on the web. It was a get-out-of-jail-free card. But since I started writing this blog, I’ve begun to doubt whether anonymity is such a good thing. What’s the point of having a blog if no one can find it? Well, last week I discovered something that convinced me beyond a doubt having a common name is a good thing—and it’s got nothing to do with personalised key rings.

You see, I was making a profile on Goodreads to claim The Ghostly Grammar Boy as my book. As soon as I indicated I was an author, my profile became linked up to all the other books written by Sandra Thompson’s around the world. Without lifting a finger, I suddenly had 13 books, 71 ratings for my novels, and a 3.4 star author average!

I was so pleased! All my life, I’ve been slogging away, working for my own name and reputation. Little did I know, out there in the world are millions of Sandra Thompson’s whose work and reputation I could claim for myself.

My future minions

I was just starting to plot the rest of my Sandra Thompson takeover, when I noticed something had changed on my book page. Someone had rated The Ghostly Grammar Boy 4 stars.

I was so excited. I looked at my overall score to see if it had changed too but it was still 3.4. There were so many books and reviews linked to my name now, my one true rating hadn’t made a difference. The other Sandra Thompsons were dragging me down, stifling my first rating. I didn’t need to steal from them, I needed to cut them loose. I asked Goodreads to remove the books from my profile. I might disappear into the sea of Sandra Thompson’s again but at least I’ll get my own ratings.

If you've read The Ghostly Grammar Boy, please leave a review on Goodreads, Amazon, or Smashwords! Reviews will help other readers find my book.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Avoiding the obvious

A few months ago at a party, I met a lady who was a vegetarian. Even though I knew it was probably an annoying question, I couldn’t help but ask her why she didn’t eat meat. I then followed up by giving her a detailed list of all the vegetarians that I know, their reasons for being vegetarian, and what they can and can’t eat. The lady’s eyes glazed over with boredom. As soon as I’d finished my long-winded story, she made an excuse to leave and talk to someone else.

I didn’t mean to be such a boring conversationalist. The problem was that as soon as I heard the lady was vegetarian, I became fixated on avoiding a conversation that she’d had thousands of times before. It became all that I could think about, so in the end, I couldn’t talk about anything else.

It’s the same when I meet a vet for the first time. I can’t help but ask them if they like animals; when I meet a plastic surgeon, I can’t help but ask them who they think needs work; and when I meet other foreigners in Japan I can’t help but ask them where they are from.

If George Vanilla-Gorilla could talk, I'd ask him why he sleeps so much

Until I came to Japan, I’d never had the problem of being on the receiving end of these sorts of obvious questions. I work as a statistician, so this information is usually greeted by a swift change of topic. No one wants to encourage me to talk any further about statistics.

These days I get asked on a daily basis where I’m from and how long I’ve been in Japan. However, I’ve discovered that I actually like these questions. Having something so obvious to discuss means that it’s really easy to talk to new people. These questions also give me an excuse to shamelessly talk about myself.

The problem with these questions is that my poor friends and colleagues have heard me answer them thousands of times. While I get the chance to blab on about myself, my friends and colleagues have to wait in bored silence.

Since I’ve discovered I enjoy receiving obvious questions, I no longer feel ashamed to ask them. However, in order to be fair to everyone, I try to distribute my obvious questions equally. That way everyone gets a fair chance to repeat themselves. So watch out vegetarians, vets, plastic surgeons, and foreigners… Captain Obvious is coming!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Unlearning old tricks

When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time trying to learn novelty tricks - like how to spin a pen continuously around my fingers and how to speed read. I was convinced that learning these tricks would be a long term investment in my future.

Unfortunately, these skills haven’t rewarded me with the lifelong admiration and coolness that I was hoping for. In fact, they have turned out to be terrible habits that I can’t shake. Whilst I’ll admit, I did get a few compliments for my pen spinning in high school, the praise quickly dried up once I graduated. At university my lecturers’ eyes always seem to narrow and glare in my direction if I tried pen spinning during their lectures. And at work, I’ve noticed it tends to make my colleagues flinch… particularly if the pen scuttles across the workstations towards them. I’ve tried my best to stop but when there’s a pen around, my fingers itch to spin it.

By far the worst skill that I learnt was speed reading. I think I must have missed some key points when I learnt this one. Previously, I would read every word, no matter how long it took, or how boring the writing was. Since learning to speed read, I now find that my eyes glaze over and slide down the page sightlessly, but at record speed. I take in at most, two words per page. Then I have to force myself to read it again at a normal speed to actually get the information.

Speed reading gets me into all sorts of trouble in my personal life. For example, the other day, I thought I’d signed up for a bus and hotel weekend package. However when I turned up for the bus, I discovered that instead of staying in a hotel, we were going to be driving all night and using the bus as our accommodation. This was all detailed in the information email which I’d speed read. After a horribly uncomfortable night on the bus, I cursed once again, my high school efforts to be cool.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Handshake gone wrong

One thing I really like about living in Japan is that people don’t usually touch each other when they greet. The great thing about this is that you always know what to do: nothing. There is zero risk of an awkward handshake. In Australia however, I’m always a bit clumsy when I meet people. Should I shake hands? Or should I be more ladylike and warm and give them a hug or a side-cheek kiss? Or is that too familiar?

An awkward handshake

My handshake awkwardness started early in life – during year nine of high school. I experienced a handshake that went terribly wrong, and I blame it for all of my future greeting mess-ups. It happened when I was taking table tennis for school sport. My friend and I had been playing a game against one of the teachers. Let’s call him Mr Tennis. The bell had just rung for the end of the period…

Mr Tennis approached me with his hand outstretched. I assumed that he was being a good sport, and wanted to shake my hand. So I shook his hand and said ‘good game’. But then, Mr Tennis put his hand out again. For some reason, my stupid brain instantly interpreted this as: ‘Mr Tennis is challenging me to a hand squeezing competition’. So I grabbed his hand and I squeezed and squeezed and squeezed. When I’d finished squeezing as hard as I could, I released his hand and looked up at him triumphantly. Mr Tennis said ‘Wow that was a strong hand shake. Now give me your table tennis racquet. That’s what I was asking for.’

And so began my lifelong affliction of graceless handshakes...

Monday, 14 January 2013

Fat cat warms hearts

"If your cat isn't fat, you don't love it enough." - My friend's mum

This is my giant cat George Vanilla-Gorilla. He is too fat for Japan so I left him with my parents in Australia where he has become a neighbourhood legend. He waits on the front fence all day for people to walk past, pat him, and rub his stomach.

Having George (and his twin sister Jasmine Vanilla-Bear) has really changed my outlook on life. I never had a pet growing up so when people talked about their pets and showed me photos I felt completely indifferent and disinterested. I used to nod and smile politely, but inside I was bored out of my brain and I secretly felt like they were being socially inept to talk about such a dull topic.

But then my younger sister got a cat (Wilbur) and she let me cat-sit for a few weeks. During those few weeks, I grew to love Wilbur, despite the fact that he was snooty and refused to be in the same room as me. After he moved out, I missed him and his cranky glare so much. I waited for the feeling to pass but after a few months, when I still really missed him, I decided to get my own cats. George and Jasmine brought so much happiness and joy to my life and, despite being called a crazy cat woman by everyone, I couldn’t stop myself from talking about them and showing people pictures.

I’ve been so surprised by the strength of my feelings for my cats. I had nothing to do with creating them and the feeling certainly isn’t mutual - they couldn’t care less whether I lived or died. But I don’t mind. I love them even more. Now I’m enthralled by other people’s stories about their pets. I can spend hours on the internet looking at cat photos and movies. And when I see a stray cat wandering the streets of Tokyo I feel happy and excited.

This extreme change has left me wondering what other things in life I don’t understand and have misunderstood because I haven’t experienced them yet. For example, I have no interest in car racing and I find it really boring when people talk about it. Am I missing something? Is there a magic trick I can use (like getting a cat) to become interested?