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Permission to wish. Permission to really, really want something. I find this difficult. I have a superstitious conviction that letting myself really, really want something will alert some contrary-minded force to my desire, and I won't get it.

It's a defensive little monster in my mind, promising me that if I manage not to want something then I won't be disappointed when I don't get it. It's first cousin to the Angel in the House (who has been quieter of late, but is still in there somewhere) who sits in my head telling me that whatever it is that I want cannot possibly be as important as whatever it is the other person wants, and that if I get it instead of the other person, it will all go wrong and will all be my fault.

Of course it doesn't stop me wanting it. I catch myself thinking, 'well, if I get it, I'll...' - or, more dangerously, 'well, when I get it, I'll...' Wear this. Say that. Be able to do the other.

There's nothing that I can do at this point to make it more or less likely to happen. These little mental tricks will make no difference to the outcome. All I can do is wait.

I tried forgetting about it, but it hasn't worked. I'm still watching my emails, listening for the letterbox. (There's a lot to hear from the letterbox at the moment, but it's mostly Labour and the Lib Dems fighting for this marginal seat.)

Let's try an experiment. There are ten days left of uncertainty. Let's try really, really wanting it for those ten days, and risk the disappointment. Truth is, monster, I'll be disappointed anyway.

Very well, then. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I wish...

Just for a second, I manage to really, really want it.
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'Oh, I'm so lucky!' my mother exclaims, whenever she remembers where she lives.

This is why:

Standing on her garden wall, you see Ventnor falling away below you in higgledy-piggledy terraces down to the sea, and the Channel stretching out. France is over there. Thataway.

I don't have the English Channel, but I have taken to thinking the same way about the river Cam. I live three minutes away from this. I am still overwhelmed by the fact that I am lucky enough to live here, and I've been doing it for nearly a year so.

There's something about living near water, I think. There's the huge, calming vastness of the sea. The river doesn't quite do that, but it's full of life and activity. The ducks, the rowers, the houseboats, the swans - there's always something going on, always something to look at, and you have to go out very late at night if you want to be sure of not meeting anybody.

The days draw out, and even on work days I leave home in daylight and I return in daylight, and I cycle to the shops, or I walk to the pub, or I sit by the river and eat an ice cream, and I watch the ducks flying downriver and the boats hauling upriver and the swans nibbling at the grass from the bank, and the trains pelting over the bridge, and I think, 'Oh, I'm so lucky.'

I love living near water. One worries, vaguely, about flooding and cliff falls, but they haven't happened yet. I've always lived either near water or within earshot of a railway, or, as now, both. The one time we did flood we were way out in the country, and that was the river Teme remembering its prehistoric course and coming straight through our cellar. It was all right: we lost the freezer, and that was about it.

I love the trains, too, but in a slightly different way. Water is huge and full of activity; the trains are contained. Human creations, orderly, predictable, going where they're meant to go. They make me feel safe. Even in the awful bedsit, the worst place I ever lived, I heard the trains rattling past at night, down in the cutting underneath my window, and I could think, 'I can get away. If it gets too bad, I can get away.'

Here, I have trains and water. This is what makes me feel lucky.
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Sometimes I wonder if I will ever... shh. Don't wonder too hard. You'll wake it, and it needs a rest. So do I. It's asleep, curled up in a cave somewhere in the Mariana Trench. Don't worry. It'll come back when it's ready.

We're not talking about this today. We can talk in generalities.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever make my living by writing - and then I realise very swiftly that I don't want to.

Oh, I dream. I wander along the banks of the Cam and wonder which house would be the best to live and write in. I think of having a studio with a balcony and looking out at the swans and ducks and rowers. I imagine how my books will change people's lives. I daydream about being interviewed in my beautiful home, and all that guff.

In the mean time, I write on the train to work.

Here's a confession. Even in that dream life, I still go to work.

I was talking about other people's expectations early in this round. I think there are just as many levied on artists, of whatever ilk, as there are on everyone else. Just as everybody assumes that the temp can't be happy until they've found a real job, everybody assumes that the artist must really want to chuck in the real world and devote themself to art.

It's the dream, isn't it? Chucking in the [soulless bullshit job] and giving the whole to [one's vocation]. But is it really the dream?

I have a friend who, in his forties, left the air conditioning trade and went to university (which is where I met him) to study French, with the ultimate aim of becoming a teacher. He tried teaching, hated it, and is now back in air conditioning, although with a life much improved (or so I believe) in other ways. Meanwhile, my uncle has left teaching to become a lorry driver. (He's also an extremely accomplished musician and photographer.) Life is, as ever, more complicated than that. And people vary.

Personally (and I know I was ranting about the conflation of these concepts earlier in the round, as well) I would no more like to be a full time artist than I would a full time mother. I like my day job. I like getting out of the house and going to the big city. I like interacting with amusing, knowledgeable people. I like my forty-five minutes of writing time on the train. (Hush. Hush. It's all right. Not you. I didn't mean you. Nobody's writing anything more on you at the moment.)

Even if there were a way to earn a living by writing without the nicotine and/or alcohol dependence and chronic financial insecurity that characterised the only household I knew where anyone tried it, would I want to? I don't think so. I am learning to take better care of myself than that.
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Cycling south and west, parallel to the river. The first cup of tea of the morning is beginning to kick in, or perhaps it's just the cool air rushing past me. Swans squatting in the beer garden of the Green Dragon. The morning sunlight drenching the house on the corner of Ferry Lane and Water Street until its pale green paint glows.

It doesn't happen every day. For three months of the year it's dark when I ride down Water Street. Sometimes it's raining. Sometimes it's cloudy. On the days when the sun and I are in the right place and the right time, though, this is the best part of my day.
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The moment I enter the kitchen I feel as if my perspective has been subtly altered. I wake up; I slow down; I remember things I'd forgotten.

Sometimes, of course, I think, 'oh, sod it, the washing up,' or even, 'ooh, tea...' But it shakes things up.

Because of the slightly unusual layout of our flat, the kitchen is in the middle, between the bedroom at the front and the living room at the back. It's comparatively dark - its only natural light seeps in from other rooms - but I walk in there from the front and the wash of light from the french windows is a surprise. Going the other way, from the conservatory or the living room into the kitchen, the darkness is soothing, cooling. Entering the kitchen from my study takes me out of my cocoon and back to the world outside.

It's a hub, a portal. It moves me from darkness to light, and from light to darkness; from work to rest, from sleep to action. Even though neither of us spends very much time in it, it's the centre of the home.
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I immediately feel my body tense up whenever I hear the sound of the telephone.

Who is phoning me? What do they want? Are they going to ask me questions to which I don't know the answer? Are they trying to sell me something? Ask me for a charity donation? Scam me? Is it family? Bad news? Hassling me for a decision that I haven't yet made? Wanting to know my plans for August when I haven't thought beyond May?

Even if it is somebody I want to hear from, the chances are I'm in the middle of cooking my dinner, or eating it. Sometimes, when I'm alone in the house, I let it ring and ring off, and then dial 1471 to find out who it was and whether I want to call them back - in my time, on my terms.

I am glad that I was born into the age of the internet, when communication is moving back towards writing. It's not so much the fact that it's written, as that a delay is built in. On email, even over instant messenger (though I have that turned off most of the time, as well), there's space to breathe between sentences, time to assimilate what I've just been told, and room to come up with an appropriate answer. There's a moral panic that the internet encourages a demand for instant gratification; so far as I'm concerned, it's got nothing on the telephone.

I like to think that, in centuries to come, our descendants will view the telephone as a quaint artefact of the uncivilised twentieth century. One summoned one's friends with a bell, and expected them to drop everything and speak to one? How unutterably rude! Now, if you'll excuse me, I must just answer Xanthe's mind-telegram while I remember. No hurry, though. She knows I'm well; she'll have seen my neutron update.
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I wouldn't call it a collection as such, but I do seem to have a lot of scarves.

I have so many scarves that the other day when I was trying to put one back on the hanger (it's a device in the shape of a pair of wings, with many holes through which one can stuff the scarves) I pushed a little too hard and the thing snapped in two.

I love scarves. Instant costume. I have one or two faithful favourites that I wear most of the time, some that go with particular garments or outfits, and a few that I almost never wear but which are utterly lovely.

The current faithful is a miracle that I got for a quid in a charity shop. It's a patchwork of velvet and silk in deep jewel colours - red and orange and olive green and magenta and purple and blue - and goes with everything I own, or at least with everything I'm likely to wear in the winter. Sometimes I wear it with a very short black dress and tuck the ends into a bright pink belt; then I feel like something by Diaghilev. It occupies much the same position as a deep purple damask faux-pashmina that I bought in France when I was seventeen. The black and silver cotton scarf that I inherited from Héloïse.

The warm, winter scarves: the long blue slubby one that deposits fluff on the collar of whichever coat I wear it with. The red-orange circular scarf.

The white shawl that makes my navy blue dress work with my navy-and-white shoes. The pink velvet one embroidered with flowers that only goes with a tiny beige embroidered dress. The red and orange one that was a present from the in-laws and goes beautifully with the little red needlecord smock.

A red and white cotton headscarf patterned with pilgrims on foot and bicycle, which I bought in the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.

The ones that I hardly ever wear, but that I keep because they are wonderful. An exquisitely fine black lace shawl. The shot-silk pleated green and red one from Hobbs. The hot pink feather boa from my hen night. A white fake-fur stole, lined with satin in a pattern of black and white lozenges, which I made to dress up as Cruella de Vil.

A disguise. A costume. A small strip of luxury.
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It's the first thing that comes to mind when I wake in the morning and the last thing I think of before I go to sleep.



The sheets so smooth; the duvet so warm; the alarm so very far away.


Complete and total exhaustion is, to be fair, a well-known phenomenon of the week after Easter, and I had a concert on Tuesday on top of that. All the same, I think there's more to it than that.

I intend to run a thorough, relaxed, luxurious investigation into this concept of looking after myself.

Beginning with sleep.

Night, all.
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Whenever thunder grumbles overhead, I think of where I am. Am I indoors, outdoors? Am I standing in a safe place? Can we get to the car? Is everything switched off at the plug?

Then I find an appropriate window to watch from.

Then I think about how it works. How does the lightning know what to strike? Is it striking everywhere, all through the storm, but only completes the circuit when it finds something that will take it all the way down to earth?

Then the lightning strikes.

Then I think, wow.
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One of my greatest sources of inspiration has always been books.

A conventional answer, but none the less true. I've always had more books than I could ever possibly read, and I like it that way. When I was a child, I was blessed with a superabundance of books. A school in the area closed down when I was four, and my parents, looking ahead, bought up half the library. Fiction, history, geography, biology - I learned as much out of books marked 'Westdowns - DISCARDED' as I did at school. I remember with particular fondness one called 'Blood', which talked about black pudding and blood brothers, and had a family tree illustrating the progress of haemophilia through the royal families of Europe. There was one about weightlessness and gravity populated by zany cartoon characters ahead of their time. And a whole swarm of Ladybirds.

Then there were the Blue Peter annuals. My first one came from a church fete at Elton. Book Fifteen, with a blue, trapezey cover. My mother bought it for me: 'You'll like these: they have things to make in them.' Didn't they just. I'm not sure I ever made very many of them - I remember covering a spice pot in halved clothes pegs to make a pencil holder - but the idea was there. Books contained things to make, and I liked making things.

The funny thing about the Blue Peters was that we never had a television. Or perhaps that wasn't so funny. I never joined the Brownies, either, and yet I had a dozen Brownie annuals at one point. And again, when things got a bit much in the house, I went round to our traveller friends' bus and read their copy of 'Mary Berry's Step by Step Desserts'.

The thing about all these books was that I read them and thought 'I could do that'. Sometimes I went on and did it. Sometimes I didn't. It didn't matter.

Fiction, too, suggested that anything was possible. I have been thinking a lot of Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes recently. That was a book about determined women earning a living by doing something that they thought was worth doing, and it has modelled, consciously or otherwise, my ideal of an integrated artistic life. It talked sense about the importance of hard work and luck as well as that of talent.

Poetry, most of all, drew me in, dancing on the page, persuading me that I could do that, too. (I couldn't - not at first. But books also tell you to keep going, to keep trying, that not everything is perfect first time round.)

Books, whether they be fiction or not, contain stories. The best ones invite you in to join them, and then send you out equipped with new tools, new ideas, to try it for yourself.
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The last time I felt completely relaxed was one and a half years ago. Due to a complicated chain of events that I can't now be bothered to go into, I was staying with a university friend and his parents. I was being fed, housed, amused. I slept in a comfortable white-sheeted bed. I walked twenty minutes to work and five minutes to church. Regarding future plans, I'd fallen into the exact job I needed. After a summer of horrible, grinding insecurity, it was bliss. For two weeks I was comprehensively, deliciously, looked after, and I let myself enjoy it.

Have I really not felt relaxed since then? Apparently not. I was moving house, and then I was unpacking, and then I was ill. I've been feeling very well over the past week or so, but it's been the sort of bubbling glowiness that I get when I'm coming out of depression. Wonderful, but not at all relaxing.

I am not very good at looking after myself. When other people look after me it's lovely (depending, of course, on the people), and I am learning how to accept it graciously (again, depending on the people), but - well. It is all very well for me to collapse on the sofa, but first I have to take all the books off it. And the fact that the books got there in the first place, and have remained there, is probably a sign that I should have been looking after myself better. There. It is so very easy for it to become another 'should'.

Comment requests on this post -
I would welcome: general acknowledgement of the trickiness of this question; hearing how you look after yourself; anecdotes about being looked after, whether in a way that you wanted or one that you didn't
I would not welcome: advice; suggestions of things you think I should do; assumptions about my feelings; rhetorical questions beginning 'why don't you...'
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My great-grandmother, having introduced her former beau to a suitable young lady, was wont to say of the resulting offspring, 'I feel I brought those children into the world'.

History does not record what the suitable young lady said about that.

Which is to say that birth as a metaphor for anything that is not birth has never worked very well for me. It somehow manages to diminish both birth and work, and I am really uncomfortable with using it of my own projects.

I am not entirely sure why that might be. It's not as if I am particularly squicked by the concept of birth - I spent my teenage years as unofficial chief proofreader for Midwifery Matters, and as a result I probably know as much as anyone who hasn't actually been there and done it about the physiological, practical and political aspects of birth. I can tell you what 'O. P.' stands for both in the Latin and the vulgar. I can explain why a common party balloon makes a reasonable model for the uterus. I can talk about the importance of continuous one-to-one midwifery care. What I absolutely cannot do is apply this to my own work.

Possibly I'm too much of a literalist. Take my long-going novel, for example. I resist applying the birth metaphor to that, because I am irresistibly drawn to the conclusion that the pregnancy has lasted seven years but nobody actually knows whether the conception was successful. I end up wandering through the animal kingdom ('Well, horses and deer and things are born and then stand up within a few hours, while human infants need intensive nurturing for years before one can safely leave them to their own devices. Birds lay eggs - which is the nearest thing to birth - but then have to incubate them for weeks...') and end up concluding that the current project is actually a marsupial.

And, jumping back behind the metaphor to what I think is the intention behind the prompt, my most recent project, into which I put a huge amount of work and of which I am extremely proud, has the unedifying title 'Private Contractors Database'. One can't talk about 'birthing' a 'private contractors database' without falling about laughing. At least, I can't. The metaphors that do spring to mind are building (largely, of recent weeks, in the context of Rudyard Kipling's If: 'If you can see the things you gave your life to, broken/And stoop and build them up with Sharepoint 2013...') and transformation.

The Private Contractors Database wasn't my idea. It already existed, in an embryo (ha!) form. My role in bringing it to where it is now was more like this:

My manager: Well, we have six white mice and a pumpkin. We need a coach. I want you to look into coach-building possibilities.
Me: No problem; let me think about it.

Six months later, after a lot of hard work (important point! 'hard work' is often a translation of 'magic') we have a coach.

This is all very interesting, because I had thought that the part of me that was a fairy godmother had packed up and flown off when I stopped temping. I'd been looking after other people too much; it was time for me to look after myself. (I have a feeling I'll be writing more about this soon...) But I look at the projects that I'm working on at the moment, and I see: one is a quilt for a baby. One is a necklace to surprise a friend.

Even the novel is a coming-of-age present for some imaginary godchild, to tell them that, whoever they are, they are turning out exactly as they should be.
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Ten years ago, I was almost exactly at the mid-point of university, half-way through my second year. I lived in the House of Weird (12 Mowbray Avenue, Exeter) with people who are still my best friends. I was, by and large, having a whale of a time. Ten-years-ago me was bright, cheerful, had a social life that current-me remembers with affection and mild envy. She spent her time reading, walking, planning extravagant fancy-dress parties. Ten-years-ago me was having a fantastic time, and, more to the point, knew it. I'm not sure that there's a huge amount that I could teach her.

Knowing what I know now, I would tell my ten-years-ago self,

just these few things that might have made her life a bit easier:

- bisexuality is an identity that exists, and you are perfectly entitled to adopt it at this point in your life. Even though you are not sure that anything with 'sexual' in it applies to you. Even though you are thinking seriously about permanent celibacy.
- that thing from last year? Not your fault. Not your fault at all. He was taking advantage of your being socialised to be nice. You don't need to feel guilty about it any longer.
- you are allowed to say 'yes' the first time. People don't ask you to do things unless they want you to.
- you are allowed to spend money on yourself, to buy yourself nice things. It isn't your job to mitigate the shortcomings of the entire world by depriving yourself.
- don't set your heart on the Church (not that she'd have listened to me on that one. She didn't listen to anyone else!)

And (the one thing that might have changed things):

Don't forget this. Don't forget who you are now. This is a high, and I think you know it. Just see if you can't find a way to carry some of this momentum forwards into what comes next.


No matter, because you did well. Good job. Keep it up.
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'Well, you've all got it.'

Half the office, it seemed, had hung around to see whether we would get it. Four of us, employed on temporary contracts for going on for two years in some cases. I was the youngest, and the newest, having been there only since mid-January. Now it was August, interviews had taken place over the past two days, and I was beginning to dare to hope.

When I came in, I was as low as I ever had been. My previous temp placement had been three months at the local hospital, handing out hearing aid batteries and making appointments. The job I was covering came up, and I was interviewed, and I didn't get it.

The annoying thing was, I would have liked temping, if I'd felt that I was allowed to. It appealed to my fairy-godmother persona: I was the person who flew in, swept up the mess, and flew off again. I had no particular desire to stay in any workplace long-term; most of them had been horrible. But one couldn't admit to that. I'd bought in to other people's ideas about stability and permanence and planning for the future.

And yes, I would quite have liked more of those things in my life as well, but I could have done without the corollary, that any job with an end date wasn't worth having. I could have done without writing myself off as a failure even as I had a job, even as I was supporting myself, even as I was learning how to operate as an adult in the workplace.

Temping for temping's sake would have been fun. Temping as a stepping stone to a permanent job was depressing. I was always wondering if this was the one, and feeling that if it were I'd have to be grateful. I was very lucky that the one turned out to be the one it was. I'm still there, five years, four job titles and two offices later.

When I think of the others - the hospital library (lovely people, but a boring job); the exam script-checking (awful - we were treated as if we were back at school); the hospital medical records library (eight months with no natural light, no wonder I got depressed that year) - I am very glad that this was the one that stuck.

I remember how we all clustered at the end of that day, knowing that the interviews were done, knowing that the decisions were being made. I remember the glinting silver blinds, the slight August stuffiness.

I remember the waiting.

Well, you've all got it.

That's how I knew that this chapter of my life had ended.

And now I was free to...

get on with the job. Devise and put in place systems that would make things run far more efficiently than I'd dared before. Finish all these projects I had started. Ask to be moved to other tasks. Get more experience.

Finish other projects, outside the workplace.

There is, after all, something to be said for security. It quiets everything that tells you, 'don't rock the boat', and some boats need rocking.

I'm never quite free, though; even five years on, I have those phantom chains around my ankles, and I have to consciously kick them off. 'You can't finish this,' my past self whispers to me. 'What if they decide they don't need you any more?' And I tell her things about redundancy law and experience, but she still isn't quite convinced.

And of course, they might decide they don't want me any more. Nothing is certain, and in a job that is as dependent as mine is upon the political climate, I can't be sure that 'they' won't decide they don't need me any more. All the same, I know this:

- that I was a decent temp
- that I'm doing a better job now that I'm not constantly worrying about where the next month's work is going to come from
- that my worth is not defined by how much someone is paying me
- that I would manage. Because I did before, and this time I know it.
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For once, I'm at home on a Wednesday. I now have several weeks to catch up on, and will probably miss stuff.

Currently Reading

Sunbathing in the Rain (Gwyneth Lewis) - was recommended to me by a clueless ex-colleague as being thought to be generally good on depression. Mostly it is, though I do not think there is anything in it that I hadn't learned elsewhere over the three or four years since it was recommended to me.

Pigeon Post (Arthur Ransome) - because I missed one train and the next was late, and I'd just happened to pop into the Oxfam bookshop and filled a number of holes in my Swallows & Amazons collection.

Carpe Jugulum (Terry Pratchett) - I'm now into the ones we have in hardback, most of which I hadn't previously read.

Recently Finished

The intervening Terry Pratchetts.

High Life in Verdopolis (Charlotte Brontë) - which I enjoyed hugely. I am now resolved to seek out the remaining works in the Angria and Gondal universes.

Following on from that, Firebrand (Ankaret Wells) - tremendous fun. I am a sucker for an airship and a Ruritanian landscape. This has both.

Really, what with Discworld, Angria and the half-real half-imagined Lakes, I have been having a lovely time in imaginary worlds recently.

Dracula (Bram Stoker) - for book club. I can't remember when I last read it - early twenties, I suppose. I was very struck, this time round, by the insistence on technology, and how very scientific our heroes are being in their approach to the supernatural.

Smile or Die (Barbara Ehrenreich) - a most enjoyable rant about the cult of positive thinking. Interesting to read in tandem with Sunbathing in the Rain, which is equally perceptive on the dangers of denying reality.

The Divide (Nicholas Evans) - didn't live up to the promise of its first chapter. Sentimental and unconvincing, with characters who failed to hold my sympathy.

The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter (Ambrose Bierce) - my favourite sort of unreliable narrator. I'll say no more than that.

Alexander's Bridge (Willa Cather) - my goodness, she could write. Alexander himself was tedious, but the prose is worth it.

Up Next

Some thing about London whose title I have forgotten, for book club.

Possibly The Maker's Mask, now that I have got started on Ankaret Wells.


The Heart's Time (ed. Janet Morley) - is not quite as useful to me in Lent as Haphazard by Starlight was in Advent. I think this is because I find Lent more difficult generally.


Snow (Orhan Pamuk) - I put this down to finish Dracula, and when I picked it up again I couldn't remember where I'd got to and what had happened, and didn't really care what happened to anyone. So I left it under a seat at the TUC, and I hope whoever picked it up enjoys it more than I did.

Other Media

A lot of Thunderbirds, which is delightful in its combination of appalling science ("Well, Mr Tracy, the gas seems to evaporate...") and horrific workplace health and safety practices. I'm rather wishing I were liveblogging it, because it's the only way to share the joy. I cringe through the sixties attitudes.

Long Road to Peekskill (Will Kaufman) - a presentation on the life of Woody Guthrie, with an emphasis on his formation as an anti-racist activist. With songs. As one might expect, shocking and depressing (particularly when one considers e.g. Ferguson) in parts, but very interesting indeed.
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I first came across [livejournal.com profile] elisem via [personal profile] kaberett. Or it might have been [personal profile] oursin. It doesn't seem to matter; this morning I saw [personal profile] zirconium, whom I know from a completely different corner of the internet, posting in the Magpie Telegraph too. Sooner or later, I would have found the beautiful things that [livejournal.com profile] elisem makes. Loveliness. And there is a sale on.

I'm wearing some at the moment: Explaining Tigers, which are all black and shiny and sophisticated, but a little bit world weary and dangerous with it. I've just been singing Evensong: they go with the black-and-white dress code, but are subtly outrageous at the same time. Not a tame tiger. Oh no.

They came in my first ever package along with Miss Prometheus Jones, I Presume, which are possibly my favourite of the lot. Part of it's the lovely skew-whiff myth of the title. Part of it's the weight and the swing. Part of it's the fact that one is wearing a shooting star, damn it!

My other favourite is my only [livejournal.com profile] elisem necklace, Lipstick Mermaids. It's the one I'm wearing in my userpic, shameless reds and pinks, roses and cockle shells and all sorts of gorgeousness. Mermaids are secret code (not very secret!); cockle shells are important to me because of Saint James. It was my reward for finishing a significant stage of the mermaid project, and I wear it to invoke useful mermaid powers. Or just because I want to.

The rest are all earrings. The Balloonist Replies: light and airy and all about reflections. The Landscape From The Inside, another pair that I wear a lot; the brown-green-gold scheme reminds me of autumnal afternoon light, and King Arthur in Avalon, and things like that. [personal profile] kaberett connected me and All Dressed Up and Everywhere To Go and they were right. How To Talk To Friendly Monsters is a skill that I have been working on recently, and these are good earrings to wear when the conversations in my own head are getting out of hand. And, just for the hell of it, electric frog pond.

Loveliness. All of it.
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I keep missing Wednesdays. Sometimes because I am out discussing what I’ve been reading. Sometimes because I am at concerts instead. Sometimes because I just forget.

Currently Reading

Cold as Death, T. J. McGregor – cosy mystery with hurricane devastation and psychics. Follows the age-old convention of having the amateur on very friendly terms with all the professionals involved, which for some reason is irritating me intensely in this case. Possibly it’s just that it seems more implausible that the victim’s mother and the policeman involved both had a psychic reading from Our Heroine than it is that Miss Silver was governess to half of England or that murders are particularly highly concentrated in St Mary Mead and Midsomer. The plot seems to be running on pure handwavium anyway.

Twenties Girl, Sophie Kinsella – reading this in bits, but I do want to finish it.

Hogfather, Terry Pratchett – I think I may not even have read this one before, just seen the TV adaptation. I like Hex in this, and the wizards are magnificently terrible as ever, but Susan never seems to be characterised quite consistently: she’s very matter-of-fact about the supernatural, except when she’s in denial, and it always feels a bit off to me.

Recently Finished

Feet of Clay, Terry Pratchett – this is one of the best Watch ones, I think (unpopular opinion?) – very good on humanity, equality, prejudice and similar variations.

Annie On My Mind, Nancy Garden – such an angry, sweet, hopeful book, this. Some parts are almost too painful to read, even from thirty years afterwards. But I never quite manage to believe in the dénouement; I think the breach of privacy is so outrageous that if I were to believe it I’d lose all sympathy for the main characters.

Sparrow Story, David Rhodes. Complete disaster. I am interested how I managed to forget that this is written entirely in present tense à la Damon Runyon. I last read this ten years ago, but still...

Mary Anne, Daphne du Maurier. Rollicking. Definitely rollicking. Sex and scandal in high life. This was a rattling good yarn with an enticingly flawed protagonist. I felt that it ran headlong into a brick wall, however; the end came a little too abruptly.

Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel. No doubt I am an uncultured yob, but I found this pretentious and superficial and altogether too pleased with itself. I only finished it because I had to get a slow train from Liverpool Street instead of a fast train from Kings Cross.

Up Next

Dracula, Bram Stoker. Maybe Solstice, Joyce Carol Oates.

Other Media

Two Wednesdays ago I took my partner and brother to see Straight No Chaser at Cadogan Hall. Really excellent night: they are fantastic showmen as well as skilled musicians.

TV - Cosmos, original series – annoying me somewhat with its occasional ‘end of science’ assumptions – or, rather, its assumption that scientists of previous centuries were being wilfully ignorant rather than doing the best they could with the tools they had. Have got hooked on Only Connect. And I have at long last moved on to series two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (How, we ask, is anyone meant to take Spike seriously? I fall about laughing every time he opens his mouth. Cor blimey, Mary Poppins!)
kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)
Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it. -Colette, author (28 Jan 1873-1954)

I subscribe to A.Word.A.Day, which, as the name suggests, emails me an interesting word every day. I know a lot of these already; many more are completely unusable; a few have potential and I put them away for future use.

It also comes with a Thought For The Day. The above was one of them.

I’m rather flattered. I want to say, ‘no, no, that’s the easy part’. Or, ‘I’m not an author, I’m just a proof-reader’. You see, proof-reading has always been the easy part, for me. Or, rather, since I started bothering to do it to my own work, it’s been the easy part. I have been proof-reading since I was in my early teens. I’ve always had a good eye for spelling and grammar; I know without having to delve into the rules how a word should look and where a comma wants to be. I’m as happy with a red pen in my hand as with a black one, and crossing through a word of my own hurts no more than crossing through a word of someone else’s. ‘Purple and derivative – cut!’ is no different from ‘Check your deadline here – you say 5pm on p. 17!’

Writing is the hard part. Oh, ‘everything that comes into my head’ is all very well, but it tends to leave me with an archipelago of unrelated scenes, snippets of description, brief exchanges of dialogue. What comes next is raising the ocean floor to make two islands into one, building bridges and tunnels to join two or three others into a coherent route, adding piers so that one can see a little bit further.

And then I simply go through and take out everything that doesn’t need to be there. Blow up a bridge or two. Bypass one of the original islands. ‘Simply’, I say. It’s a long, tedious, process – since I started writing ‘Speak Its Name’ I must have deleted at least as much as there is in the current almost-finished file – but it doesn’t hurt. ‘Murder your darlings’, they say. It doesn’t feel like murdering to me. It’s more (if we’re going to mix our metaphors) as if I’ve been building a cathedral, and I’ve had to do masonry and woodwork and everything from scratch, and until I’m quite a long way through the process I can’t see what’s scaffolding and what’s a flying buttress. I put in what needs to be there at the beginning, but when I approach the end I find that some of it doesn’t need to be there any more.

I suppose I don’t really murder my darlings. I take them out of class and put them to bed. Sometimes they reappear, adapted for a different character’s point of view or a flashback to somebody’s past. Sometimes they slumber in ‘might come in useful’ for ever. I don't much mind either way. Resurrecting a paragraph or two isn't so much like saving a life as picking a useful plank out of the skip, finding that it can fill a hole after all.

An author? How I’d love to accept Colette’s title. I can’t help feeling though, that I don’t really, or really don’t, deserve it; that it ought to be harder than that. Perhaps everything feels not-quite-hard-enough when you’ve already done it, when you know you can.


Feb. 6th, 2015 07:41 pm
kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)
It was my own damn stupid fault. I remember thinking, even as I copy/pasted the information into the email, that it probably wasn't the best idea. But I had two and I needed a third, and I thought it would do, and nobody would be interested, anyway.

Stupid of me.

They always pick the one that you threw in to make up the numbers. Always. No matter how many choices you have to supply, no matter whether it's a choice of restaurants or films or towns, they always pick the one you hoped they wouldn't. It's a law of the universe.

In this case it was a book. My turn to choose the book, but you have to make a shortlist of three. And this group reliably reads and talks about the book, too; it's not like the other book group, which is an excuse for white wine and gossip. I was going for a theme: books by people to whom ten or twelve extra sales might make an appreciable difference. The first two were easy: online friends, both of whom had published books in the past year. The third - well, I thought a while, and remembered a friend of a friend, or, I suppose, a friend's mother, whose book I'd read a decade ago, and thought was OK. Probably. Anyway, it wasn't as if anybody was going to pick it.

And when they did, I figured they knew what they'd let themselves in for.

No. I had forgotten that I had read the book and they hadn't, and so while I knew it was a reasonably faithful (in every sense) retelling of the Gospel, updated two thousand years, set in a nameless occupied territory and narrated by a sparrow, they thought they were getting a searing commentary on Palestine.

And because nobody reads the same book anyway, what they saw was the sort of book that gets handed out to the church youth group to pass on to their friends, a shameless attempt at conversion. Not, I was assured, an attempt by me, but still...

The first irony is that it is more the sort of book that is aimed at sending a rocket up smug churchgoers. It makes Oscar Romero look centrist, and spares the institutional Church not one whit. But I do not blame anybody for bouncing off it before that became obvious. I am feeling awful that I put anybody in a position to bounce. I should have reread the thing before I nominated it - but even then, would I have noticed? I have my issues with it (why no lefty Mary-the-Mother-of-God? and what is going on with the faux Damon Runyon prose style?) but it hadn't even occurred to me that people might think... argh.

The second irony is that, after years of feeling guilty about feeling ambivalent about attempting to convert people, and consequently never attempting to convert anyone, I have only recently come out and said that I do not proselytise, dammit. And, I find, I am mortified to think that anybody might have thought I had been, even for long enough to discard the idea immediately.

I think the moral of the story is twofold: firstly, never to choose anything that you wouldn't actually want to watch/read/visit; secondly, that I need to do a lot of work on this 'not giving a damn what people think of me' thing.

And, a bonus half moral, to trust my damn instincts in the first place.


kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)
Kathleen Jowitt

April 2015

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