Saturday, December 01, 2012

34,280 out of 50,000 ain't bad

Well, I've done my best. Last year I got the word count but not the quality. This year, I sincerely hope it's the reverse!
As an exercise, it's very useful because you have to be so organised and disciplined in order to do the work without allowing everything else to slide. I joined the NaNoWriMo Spain page on Facebook, and that has been fun too - mutual support without wasting time we haven't got on actually getting together in a bar somewhere!
I can't write without editing, but there's been more writing and less editing this year, or less micro-editing, anyway. Characters have come into focus and developed voices of their own: in some cases, my first impressions of them have turned out to be false - which has been interesting because it's then been a matter of rethinking a back story to get to the character and behaviour I originally had in mind, or working with the new version, which naturally affects where the story is going. Being too rigid leads to two dimensional characters that you couldn't possibly care about. Being too flexible leads to plot anarchy, and a ship that runs aground because everyone's arguing over which direction they're supposed to be sailing in. Or becomes a ghost ship, its crew and passengers doomed to a melancholy twilight existence because the captain's secretly given up and snuck overboard for a cup of tea and an extended sojourn on Facebook...
Anyhoo, not swamped in research this year, although I could probably get a respectable A Level in Physics by the time I've finished, and my long-ago Geography teacher Sister Columba would be bemused at my new-found enthusiasm for the geology of the British Isles.
Not mired in main character's mawkish navel-gazing like last year - when neither I nor she knew who she was or what she was supposed to be doing.
I don't think I've idealised - or idolised - my central characters, and I hope the occasional unsympathetic character gets a proper hearing, rather than being rolled onto the stage in pantomime stocks, under big placards saying 'Boo!' and 'Hiss!'
Still got a coherent plot, on the whole... and I think the structure works. Hope so.
And I think I'll have the first draft finished by the end of the Christmas holiday fortnight. That looks realistic from here, given that there are other also other things to be done in the next five weeks!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2

Last year I did something astonishing, and not a little barmy: 50,000 words in 30 days. This was my first experience of  NaNoWriMo - or National Novel Writing Month - in which some 300,000 otherwise sane people from around the world commit to a 30 day timeframe in which we are supposed to write - not read, rewrite or - in  fact - edit in any way - a bit like this sentence  in fact - until we hit that magic number, after which we can switch off the laptop, reach for the rehydration salts and gold foil wrap, and return pie-eyed and gibbering softly to normal life.  I did it to see if I could do it, and lo - I could and did. Mind you, what was supposed to be a 50,000 word novel turned out to be a 50,000-word half-novel that didn't stand up to scrutiny after the event. But it met the criteria for white water writing: I finished the course and survived - and whoa! What a rush!

So, talking to my brother yesterday I discovered that he's also up for it this year. My husband - whose birthday it is today - has got more sense. That's the wisdom and maturity thing in action, but I'll be 75% of the way through NaNoWriMo by the time I catch up, so ha!

Still, I don't guarantee that I'll manage 50,000 words this year, because there is the small matter of the responsible-and-satisfying day job, also preparations for that festival which it is still FAR too early to mention in polite company, also basic requirements like sleep and the odd spot of ironing, and also wanting to be still married come midnight November 30th...

But I took a similar approach last year, and made it, so we'll just see, shall we?

Last year's Lemonade was rather fab in places but got terribly maudlin as I got more tired. Plus, what should have been - I suppose - a coming-of-age novel for a teen/young adult readership, lost focus as I got too interested in the other characters and generations who figured in the life of the central character. I like novels about families, communities and connections, and I would really like to be able to write one. Something as complete, satisfying and deceptively simple as an egg, rather than the literary equivalent of the kitchen drawer that won't stay shut. 

Anyway. Last year's identical twins and ESP (Oh no, not another twin bond story.....) gives way to this year's non-identical twins and genetic predisposition. Indeed. Evolving, you see. The North-West of England instead of the South-West and south coast. Physics rather than baking. And this one's definitely about and for young teens. I can more or less see and hear Tattie and Philip and their immediate family. I've got the back story and the central puzzle, plus a notion of how it's resolved. I've got ten days to plot the missing elements without actually writing a single word. Then I'll have 30 days to put it all together in a reasonably coherent first draft - which would definitely be an improvement on last year.

In the meantime, it's still October. What a shame you can't stockpile sleep as if it were canned food or toilet rolls.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

New needlework blog

Sorry about the mess, but I'm doing so much  knitting and sewing these days that I thought I'd put it all in place where those of us who enjoy such things can wallow together. Meanwhile, those for whom the word crochet recalls the abomination of  70s macrame owls, Fair Isle tank tops, fitted bathrooms in puce and avocado, and living rooms dominated by noxious purple, brown, green or orange wallpaper in interlocking geometric patterns...... well, it's changed a bit since then, but I understand that - like me - you may never fully recover from the trauma. So you just go away and lie down till you feel better, and maybe pop back here from time to time. I tend to pop in during school holidays and then disappear for another three months, so you've got time.

That's right, put your feet up. Breathe. Soon be all better.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Happy New Bed

We've got a new bed: 135cm x 190cm, with a storage base. WoooooooooHOOOOOOooooooooo! I have dreamed of this day. (Actually, it was the day before yesterday. Yesterday was a public holiday, and I spent it rearranging STUFF, and filling the bed base with - oh - a spare duvet.... some extra cushions... and felt, cloth, embroidery materials, beads, rug canvas, yarn, the accumulated and - until now - crammed and less-than-accessible accumulation of years of making things. And half-making things...) I have a confession to make: In the last five years, I have gone from messy (always) to almost pathologically untidy. But I now have reason to believe that I can put a lid on it - or more precisely, a hinged 135cm x 190cm mattress base. (See previous WoooooooooHOOOOOOooooooooo! and double it, adding ridiculous skippy dance in middle of miraculously clear floor.)

I would just say that that I'm also very good at tidying up. I crave order and a sense of spaciousness, and in fact, if these were all I required of my living space, I might well live happily ever after in magnolia-walled, glass-fronted, built-in contentment. However, I love beautiful design and hand-made things around me, and I won't, can't, settle for neutral at home. It may take some time, and I might sometimes wish I could just settle, but that ain't the way it works. And I do have fun. And it nourishes my rather frazzled soul, reassuring me that there's more to us than the sorry shamefulness of what makes the headlines. Art (even art I don't like) speaks to me of human creativity and individual restless questing. In craft traditions I recognise the soul and sense of belonging and sharing. And then there's the broad, shifting Everyman's Land in between, which the academic border guards cannot keep people out of!

In Tony Hillerman's novels about Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police, he writes about the Navajo concept of Beauty, and a way of life informed by the sense of harmony between all things. Clearly, this can be a tad tricky for a police officer (and central character in a crime novel!) but there is a Beauty Way ceremony for when someone needs to restore this harmony.

Walking in Beauty:  Closing Prayer from the Navajo Way Blessing Ceremony

In beauty I walk
With beauty before me I walk
With beauty behind me I walk
With beauty above me I walk
With beauty around me I walk
It has become beauty again
Today I will walk out, today everything negative will leave me
I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body, I will be happy forever, nothing will hinder me.
I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.
In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.
With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful…

(Brought up Roman Catholic, I was reminded of
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
         Christ behind me, Christ before me,
      Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
         Christ to comfort and restore me,
      Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
         Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
      Christ in hearts of all that love me, 
         Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. 
.. which I have just found out is from a long poem called Lorica, or St Patrick's Breastplate)

Anyway, while I am a bilagáana, the Navajo equivalent of a guíri, I see beauty above me, when I'm out and about in the city with the sky overhead. You can't beat the sky for beauty; even in the past week, when it has seemed best to view it from behind glass, wrapped in a shawl, and sustained by numerous cups of tea. Then there are trees. (Pause for quiet, reverent wow...)

And beauty beside me in the man-made details of thoughtful architecture: planes and angles, windows and doors, patterned brickwork, wrought iron, roof tiles, plasterwork. And the quirky, human happenstance of people's ordinary lives expressed in balconies of strange cacti, laundry, cagebirds singing their hearts out all day long, and solitary chairs and stools angled to catch the sun or shade. And pensioners walking their dogs, and parents pushing toddlers on swings, and the greengrocer who polishes every piece of fruit as he builds his pavement display each morning. More than enough to distract eye, ear and heart from the regular patches of spiritless and bland, and occasional outbreaks of full-on ugly. (O... M... G...!!!!!) Oops. Bad case of urban - beauty within me is always the tricky one, but the others help.

So, can I have beautiful please?  Personally, I lack the spark that makes the artist, the skill and confidence that marks the artesan, and the discipline of either. Forever the amateur, driven by enthusiasm, but hampered by two and a half thumbs and limited time and patience, my progress through painting (acrylics, water colours), drawing (pencils, pastels), needlework (dressmaking, quilting, embroidery, knitting, crochet, weaving), handicrafts (metal sculpture, origami, paper engineering, clay modelling) and gardening (pots, allotment, garden, balcony, terrace) resembles a long series of handbrake turns, or a world record number of driving lessons. Sigh. So, yes, my greatest natural talent appears to be that of creating chaos out of order, like a puppy in a wool basket - Woofdidoo! But now... 135x190... =D

Still, I know what I like, and I like a lot of things. I have a very good eye for colour, line and form. My eyes, ears and skin appreciate texture. So do my nose and taste buds: when my husband emerges from the kitchen in the evening, the fragrant steam rising from plates of home-made pie and gravy - or  salmon, tiny green peas and  dill-speckled sauce - or beer-battered chish & fips - or yesterday's bolognese sauce reworked as chilli con carne on a bed of white basmati - ooh... I succumb...

However, when I aspire to beauty at home, that's when the trouble starts, because as is apparent, I don't just look, I like to make. Now, if I did have real talent or skill (and a sense of direction...), we'd be fine, because I would have a studio for my mess, or would have developed tidy habits over time. But no. Almost inevitably, I start at one end of the sofa, with ideas, assorted materials, and a book or two; subsequently colonising the rest of the sofa, the footstool, sometimes the dining table, and occasionally the sewing machine and ironing board too; bashing away enthusiastically, and gradually narrowing it down to a central idea. I usually get a beautiful result, in the end, but getting there is an object lesson in how much mess one person can generate in a living room in a short time, and then sustain for - oh - however long it takes to work out where she's going, and how to get there. I think I've probably got worse since I  discovered Ravelry and crochet, and the amazing possibilities of a deceptively easy  handicraft that has been hammering at the doors of Art for decades now. Who knew? Oh, only thousands and thousands of people all over the world. Ooh! Freeform! Ooh! Irish crochet! Ooh! Russian crochet! Ooh! sock yarns! hand-dyed yarns! plastic! wire! Working on my skills, reading up, consulting...... If a butterfly took speed... Maybe I should change my user name to What-a-mess.

But storage permits organisation, and organisation permits order, and out of order may just come beauty.

Next time, though I want one of these!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

April to May

Well, we're doing all right for April showers. I put the houseplants outside to get the benefit of Thursday's mist, which developed into drizzle later the same day, and a then a whole string of downpours that are going to continue for several days to come..

This was mist, not rain.

These rather battered beauties in yellow, orange and red are ranunculus. I love the way their petals fluff up like tulle underskirts or the leg feathers on fancy chickens, and it was cheering to have full-on sun colours after the beautiful purple and apricot of the winter pansies. As you might expect, they're about as enthusiastic about wind and rain as a socialite at Ascot, so when I saw the weather forecast a few weeks ago, I brought them straight inside. It wasn't so much the forecast of wind, but that the weatherman said that the Tramontana would start at 1 o'clock the next day. A wind so distinctive that it has a name, and you can time its arrival? Duck for cover. Sure enough, the next day, it started: powerful, gusting and sooooo cold; blowing clouds across the sky so fast that rain came and went and came again throughout the days and nights that followed. The temperature dropped abruptly.

In fact, if we're getting the Tramontana, it's with a small t, because the original is cousin to the provençale Mistral, originates in the Pyrenees, and causes mayhem among the good people of Catalonia. But there's still something blowing in from our Sierra Guadarrama - tra our montanas! As for the ranunculus, even indoors, they don't like it, but after sulking for a while, they perked up and were great fun for weeks. Recently, though, they've been moulting like nobody's business. Usually, the first thing I do when I get new plants home is repot them, but these girls' petals are so fragile that I didn't dare, so I suspect they're potbound by now. Definitely not happy, anyway. So I put them out again in Thursday's misty morning air as a treat. Oops.
The Season is definitely over for them.

The herbs are doing well, even the basil (total diva). I love the taste and smell of basil, but the plant's a  bore. We've bought three plants for a full trough to be sure of a plentiful supply. I'm investing in some irrigation gear this year, to save water and my back, but I'm bringing most of the herbs indoors to the glazed terrace, because they didn't cope well with last summer's heat. I do love the sight and smell of them indoors, and of course, the kitchen opens straight onto the glazed terrace, so they'll be really handy for Keef. On the left are last year's lavender and flat Italian parsley, which I thought would thrive outside but it did neither better nor worse than the curly English parsley (not great). So the parsley's coming indoors, as is the basil and oregano. The coriander and mint flourish anywhere, so we'll have some in pots inside, and more in troughs on the terrace.

Also to come -

salad greens

cucumbers, green peppers & red peppers-in-waiting

peas! (and holly in flower)

proto-lemons, which start out as the purple heart of the blossom, and then turn green, and then, if we're lucky, stay on the tree long enough to get big and yellow and delicious
aubergines - there's one right there - so exciting!

and also, most important, shade - work in progress 
      don't know what it is, but it's looking fair to cover the frame of the  parasol that got trashed by the wind last year

and we've got two of them

Jasmine, also heading up and - I hope - over. Scented shade! 

Spring in Madrid

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ravelry makes me happy

In December 2009, I joined Ravelry 'a knit and crochet community'. Online. Now, I have a rather awkward relationship with the virtual world. As a source of information, especially English language information, it's very, very useful for me. But in my experience the word 'community' is frequently hijacked by commercial and political bodies to leverage new markets, or as a useful buzzword for disguising cuts to social funding. And what is communal about staying in, facing a screen?

Ah, but.

Ah, but, when genuinely community-minded people have the vision, skills and taste for hard work to boldly go into the virtual world and create the conditions for a welcoming, inclusive, mutually supportive and downright inspiring community - a community where people from all over the planet can come and grow - even I am won over, no, delighted and excited. And that's what Ravelry is about. Much as Jess envisaged in a blog seven years ago this month.

Running parallel to and enriching my 'real' life I now have this 'place' where I can encounter other people with the same or related interests, who share their knowledge, triumphs, messes and learning curves, people I wouldn't otherwise meet because they live in the UK, or Norway, or Mexico, or the US. It's just like a 'real' club, except it doesn't matter if you have to work late, or you've only got ten minutes, or you can't get a babysitter, or you've no money for the bus, or that you live in a different time zone.

It reminds me a bit of when we were in Dubai, where there's much more of a social mix of cultures, professions and levels of seniority than is common elsewhere in more permanent, and therefore homogeneous, societies. A twelve year old American schoolgirl got in touch. Great-grandmothers who are knitting for new babies. Men Who Knit. OK - that's more common than it used to be. But, Men who Crochet? Yes! People in their fifties and sixties dyeing yarn and selling it through Etsy. Full-time designers and makers. Many blog, some do podcasts, several have books out.   And there are professional and amateur spinners, and weavers, and-and-and-.

And in between, we're at work, or school, or looking after our families, in Russia or China or Estonia or Ireland. It's great. And if you don't speak the language that that wonderful pattern is written in, often someone has translated those instructions from French, or Japanese, or German. It's awe-inspiring, really, how it works.

I must admit, I've only recently moved from lurking, 'favoriting' and leaving the occasional comment, to chats and participating in forums, but I've learnt such a lot - I'm learning all the time - and I've been touched by so many people's enthusiasm for their particular skill, or tradition or discovery. I'm having a ball! I even manage conversations in Spanish, without the pressures of real time dialogue in a second language. And there are groups for teachers and theatre luvvies and gardeners - even a dedicated group of composters who knit and crochet!!! Of course I've joined!

So, here are some of the things I've made and am pleased with. The big discovery for me has been the extraordinary scope and versatility of crochet. I've always been a knitter, and never could get my fingers and thumbs round crochet until a couple of winters ago. Since then, though, I've progressed from fat 5mm diameter hooks and fat, cheap, reasonably stretchy acrylic yarn in stripes and rounds to granny squares and flowers and to snowflakes on 2.5mm hooks and fine cotton - not fine fine, on 1.25mm and 0.6mm (?!?!) hooks, you understand (Never gonna happen.) - and simple tops, to basic Irish crochet, and looking at alternative materials like string, plastic and wire.

Perhaps best of all, my virtual life feeds back into my real life. I'm not talking about my unevenly increasing skill and knowledge, but about discovering how many colleagues do their own thing outside work. It turns out that some of my colleagues are also into crochet or knitting, or working with paper, or making jewellery, or baking or sewing or basketry or clay-modelling. It's nice to know. There's a sense of understanding and being understood that adds another dimension to our relationships. And it makes a change from Facebook.

Happy Birthday, Ravelry!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

¿Conejita feliz? Bunny of Happiness. Choju Giga

I am a happy bunny.... a choju giga (OK, so this is a hare.)
I've just come back from a lecture at the Japan Foundation on the evolving role of the Japanese woman in the modern world, starting with the Confucius-inspired prescription during the Tokagawa shogunate, right up to the present day. It was all in Spanish, and the speaker talked incredibly fast in order to get through her material in an hour and a half....... and I understood it! I am so chuffed with myself! Major milestone!

And next week, the focus is on the Japanese woman in theatre - Noh, Bunraku and Kabuki. I am so looking forward to that, particularly now that I know that however fast the next lecturer speaks, I'll be able to keep up. ¡Qué día frabojoso! (je je je...)

Acabo de asistir en una conferencia en la Fundación Japón, con una profesora muy lista y llena de entusiasmo, pero quiéne habló a la velocidad de un AVE ¡y le entendí casi todo lo que dijó!
Increíble. ¡Una revelación! Es como cuando, hace dos veranos, acompañé a un grupo de alumnos en una visita guiada en un museo..... en español..... y entendí la mayoría de la información. En conversación, me cuesta mucho a entender la mitád de lo que dicen mis amigos españoles, y estaba un poco aprensiva que no entendería la conferencia, pero fui con dos amigas muy simpaticas, y todo pasé bien. ... conejita felíz...

Es parte del Ciclo de conferencias de Primavera, con la tema de 'la mujer japonesa: mito y realidad.

A lo largo del tiempo, diferentes estereotipos de la mujer japonesa han seducido a Occidente, desde la elegancia de las geishas, hasta la sumisión de Madame Butterfly. Imágenes que han atraído la mirada hacia la mujer japonesa y que han suscitado interés en esta figura. Así, la compleja realidad de la mujer japonesa se ha visto ocultada tras los filtros del orientalismo, por un lado, y del machismo, por otro. Es por ello que se dedica el ciclo de conferencias de primavera a la mujer japonesa mito y realidad.
A través del mismo se ofrece la posibilidad de conocer en profundidad las diferencias y las similitudes entre el estereotipo y la mujer japonesa real, sumergiéndonos en los diferentes enfoques propuestos como son el arte, las artes escénicas, la literatura y el mundo actual.

Me he perdido las conferencias sobre la mujer japonesa en la literatura, y a través del arte (que me interesa mucho - soy muy decepcionada), pero asistí ésta tarde (...en el mundo actual), y estoy esperando a la proxima conferencia, la que trate de la mujer japonesa en las artes escenicas - Noh, Bunraku y Kabuuuuuuuuuuuuukiiiiiiiiiii!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pequeñita aventura en la calle (Que nada arriesga, no gana.)

Pués..... estoy volviendo en casa al fin de la jornada. Hay un hombre paseando el perro (un perrito encantador, como dos fregonas atadas). Me sonrie (el hombre, no el perrito), y dice algo. No oigo bien. Paro.

- ¿Perdón?
- Quiere amor? Busco una mujer, si quiere amor, ¿sí?
- Primero, ¿quizás si hablamos con mi marido...?

Nos reimos, y vuelvo en casa... a mi marido... :)

Y el mes pasado, cuando sustituyé a un compañero que estaba de baja - varón que tiene algunos 28-30 años, con barba - dijeron los alumnos, -¿Eres la madre de Neil?

-Qué no... Neil es irlandes, y yo soy inglésa...