Thursday, 31 December 2015

reviewing 2015

How was 2015 for you?

Ours was good. Apart from the weather, but let us draw a veil over that. At least we got a week of sunshine and hot weather in Majorca (awesome - the kids first time abroad, and a tough holiday to beat).

My youngest started school, and I expected to have masses of time to get things done, but it turns out that the stuff I had been waiting to do, well, there was a lot of it. I am definitely getting more done, but it's not been the quick turnaround I'd been hoping for.

As for her, she has now settled in well, despite a horrible start. And I'm really happy to say all the kids are enjoying their school. We're looking forward to a new school being built, but that's not going to happen for another couple of years. In the meantime, the teachers are already working to joining up two of the primary schools in town. I know some people are worried about that because they like their small schools, but I am so happy about it. Ideally I'd like the one remaining primary to join in as well, so all the children in the town could work together and play together, but one step at a time.

We did some big work on the house this year. Converting our garage into another living space, which has made our home feel so much better to live in. There is now always somewhere to escape to, and that's marvellous. Plus the kids managed to get me to drop my red, white, and green colour scheme (even though it ain't broke) for the new room, and I love the fresh feeling in there.

We still have some finishing touches to do, but Kenny put up the clock this morning, and, once the tree is down I'll need to find/do up a good light for that corner of the room, but it's so lovely to have a window looking out on the street. One thing we really love about living where we do is that the kids can all play out (when it's not constantly chucking it down), and having the window makes it all feel a lot friendlier. Our neighbours are talking about doing it too. 

Outside of school the boy has been enjoying fencing and D&D this year. He loves both, and I love sharing his passion for fantasy. We went to see the new Star Wars film on Sunday and both loved it. The girls are doing less stuff this year. The big girl quit Brownies, which I didn't blame her for because it was totally unstructured, and she wasn't getting anywhere on badge work. Instead she's taken up piano lessons, and grudging piano practice. Don't tell her but I'm amazed at how quickly she's getting the idea of where to put her fingers. She's also my favourite person ever to go shopping with, so I'm actually kind of glad that she needs lots of new clothes because she's getting taller and taller, so I'll be taking her shopping shortly.

With the little girl finding it so hard to start school, and not wanting to do any clubs just then, we decided to go easy on her. She is now doing swimming lessons (as are the other two), and loving those. Her teacher is brilliant so she's coming along well.

I'm doing the online admin for Largs Writers Group, but I've dropped out of the choir for now. I love singing, so I'm hoping to join up again after Christmas, or maybe switch to another choir. In the daytime I've been crocheting and writing (that would normally be the other way around but I've been on a crafting mission for Christmas). In November I completed my first NaNoWriMo, which was great, getting the first draft together of a fairy story which I'm hoping to take further soon. I'm making massive changes to the Chaptershill story, which is daunting, but the right thing to do. I keep getting stuck as to what those changes are going to look like, and wondering if I wouldn't be best just starting again, but I figure if I write it then I'll work it out. I've done quite well with poems this year, and it's been a really good confidence boost to have a win, with kind words said and a couple published

We were worried at one point this year that Kenny might lose his job, and are glad to be more secure now, although there will be no counting of chickens. I am really sorry for all those that weren't so lucky, and for those that still don't know. It's a horrible feeling, and I wish that employers could show the kind of loyalty to their employees that they seem to expect.

And what about 2016?  When the kids go back to school I'm planning on writing every day, to put the sort of industry in that went in to NaNoWriMo, and get one of the book length works polished up. Which one first though? The (fairly short) fairy tale or the (long) fantasy novel?

I'm hoping to spend more time with friends and family in 2016, and I hope the weather starts being a little kinder. I'm grateful that we haven't had the horrible flooding that has affected friends in Yorkshire and Cumbria, but just a little time without the rain and the wind would be just peachy.

Wishing you all the best for 2016. What have you got planned?

Friday, 6 November 2015

poetic: five poems that are on my mind right now

I've been getting interested in poetry lately. 

Now that I spend more of my time writing, I'm more impressed by well chosen words, and by imagery that speaks so much louder than it might be expected to. Here are some of the poems which keep coming back to me at the moment.

1. You are at the Bottom of My Mind by Iain Crichton Smith is a fabulous poem, which you'll find in full if you follow the link. It's also a poem which has inspired me to write one of my favourite poems by me to date, which I'd share with you if you were paying to view this stuff, but unfortunately, I am forced to keep to myself... for now.

2. Snow by Louis MacNeice is a really interesting poem. At first glance it is flowery (literally) nonsense, but it grows on you. It keeps coming back to me. I first came across this poem on googling a line from it that someone had quoted: "World is suddener than we fancy it."

Here's the poem in full. Read it out loud. Let me know what you think. Those capitals would now be frowned upon. And I'm not sure about the tangerine.

     Snow by Louis MacNeice

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes -
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands -
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

3. I'm sure you'll have come across this one. I certainly had before. It's one of those poems that you might even have heard so many times as to have stopped listening, but it's worth focusing on it a while. 

I love its petulant drama, and the way it captures the emotion, and hints at the horror of the fact that life goes on.

I'm told that WH Auden, when he came out of this particularly oppressive period of grieving was embarrassed at the petulance of this poem, but I love the way it expresses it, and think it is really valuable for that.

Stop all the clocks by WH Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. 

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. 

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

4. Another dose of petulance here from Thomas Hardy. I'm not sure that I like it, and I certainly don't like the entitled attitude of the narrator, but I do like the way that a poem which is ostensibly about a woman tells you so much about the attitude of the man (and even though she's being admonished, we do not blame her).

A Broken Appointment by Thomas Hardy

You did not come, 
And marching Time drew on, and wore me numb. 
Yet less for loss of your dear presence there 
Than that I thus found lacking in your make 
That high compassion which can overbear 
Reluctance for pure lovingkindness' sake 
Grieved I, when, as the hope-hour stroked its sum, 
You did not come. 

You love not me, 
And love alone can lend you loyalty; 
-I know and knew it. But, unto the store 
Of human deeds divine in all but name, 
Was it not worth a little hour or more 
To add yet this: Once you, a woman, came 
To soothe a time-torn man; even though it be 
You love not me.

5. And finally, an intriguing poem from the Scottish poet, Miroslav Holub. The Door. I love the darkness of the end of this. This is a fairly recent poem, and I don't have permission to reproduce it, but you'll find it here, and here's my favourite bit...

Thursday, 29 October 2015


When I was young I wore purple. I also had a red hat, that did not go, but let's not take this too far...

That's me in the purple starry dress, made, in velour, by my gifted seamstress mother. My brother, Eoian, is rocking the stripes at the front.
I've been through various colour phases in my life, but I'm now pretty happy in black and sludgy colours (ideally if you think I would fit right in on a quest, possibly with some elves, I've got the desired look).

My hair bores me though. As you can see above, it started out ash blonde, but got darker, until it reached a sort of 'meh' colour, which was just awful.

I started dying it at 15, and soon went BLACK. I loved having black hair, then for a while I loved having purple hair, although I bleached it to get it purple. I bleached it A LOT, and apparently, your hair doesn't like that. As I've got older I decided to attempt to go back to my natural colour. It took a long time, and many trips to hairdressers for things like colour correction, but I eventually got there.

And my natural colour was still boring.

So this year I tried to work out what colour would go with my colouring, suit me, and make me happy...

That'd be dark green.

I love my hair this colour. It makes me feel more me, and I'm hugely grateful to the ladies at Boutique Hair Spa for letting it stay this way (without having a green shower). My hair makes me want to wear makeup again (sometimes), and have more fun with clothes.

I'm loving it, and I'm talking about it because someone called it a mid-life crisis the other day (they were talking about their own coloured hair). I'm not trying to recapture my youth. If I was, my hair would be black or purple. But my green hair does seem to me to be connected with this mid-life period I am certainly in. This is me, now. I'm an incredibly lucky 42 year old woman, married to a loving, hardworking man, and with three healthy and intelligent children, and a sweet, friendly, and warm cat. I love our home, our town, and I'm glad to be living in Scotland. Let us gloss over the weather for now. I am finally in a position where I can focus on writing, which I absolutely adore doing, and while I am content to be bad at it until I'm good, I wouldn't mind getting good a bit faster!

This is a post for the gratitude project, and it's coming out on my birthday. As well as all the above I'm profoundly grateful for the cuddles and gifts I received from my children, far-off friends and family and my husband this morning (the elves have eaten the fudge). and am looking forward to several days of celebration. I am also very happy that my birthday is on a Thursday because that is my faourite day (possibly because of Tomorrow's World, because it sure isn't because of all the homework that must now be done on a Thursday).

42 is of course the answer to life, the universe, and everything. 

What is the question? 

For me, it's 'what would you regret doing or not doing, on your death bed'? 

I would regret not trying to write. I would regret trying to be 'normal' (whatever that is). I would regret missing kisses and cuddles, and snuggly blankets. I would regret not having more time to spend with my kids. So I'm doing my best to be happy each day. 

There will still be regrets, but hopefully, too few to mention. 

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

rejecting rape in high fantasy

I love high fantasy books. 

I've written a post about my love of fantasy fiction before, so I shan't go over that again here. Today we'll stick with high fantasy.

What's high fantasy?

You can check out the Wikipedia entry on the topic, but I'd describe it as big stories, set in slightly magical alternative worlds, often peopled with things like elves. The societies are well worked out, with power structures, religion, and rules for any magic. The most famous books in this genre are probable Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, although George RR Martin is currently vying for that position with his Song of Ice and Fire series and other stories set in the same world.

High fantasy is often set in a medieval-esque world, although it doesn't have to be. Similarly, the books often use medieval-esque societal rules, although they don't have to.

These rules often result in women, and races other than white human, getting the short end of a rather shitty stick.

In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books women are all but invisible. No doubt this was a reflection of Tolkien's real world, writing as a white male academic. He was educated at a boy's only school, then a men only university, before joining the army in World War I. It was then that he started working on what would eventually become his stories set in Middle Earth. You can find out more about Tolkien here.

There are plenty of women characters in George RR Martin's books, many in positions f power, although they are still within a patriarchal system. I would argue that while such a system is not required, it does provide a useful obstacle for many a narrative arc. Also, the possibility of women's inheritance is well explored in Martin's books; the patriarchal system coming across as anachronistic, although it's clear from the actions of Aegon the Unworthy that some system is necessary.

As I've said, you don't have to set a high fantasy story in a medieval-esque setting, but I rather like to. I enjoy historical fiction, including that based on real people, and love exploring grey characters like Richard III. To me, a story has more possibilities if you don't have to deal with pesky things like the rule of law. It makes religion more interesting, and allows a focus on traditions.

So I've set a story I'm currently writing in a medieval-esque world. A world where criminality is a way of life for some families, and where production of the next generation is of great importance to the rich.

In my world the Queen has brought down the monasteries, replacing them with a secular organisation, seeking to contribute to their own version of the Enlightenment, and yet religion still thrives in the margins.

This story happens to be about a man, but there are lots of women in it. I've written the first draft and I'm now doing a whole load of editing, which, up until now, has been way harder, and duller, than the initial writing. I'm onto Chapter 8.

This is the Chapter in which our hero realises he's got in with a bad crowd. He kind of knew this already, but I wanted to show how EVIL they were. This Chapter also sees the introduction of a new character, who will need to be rescued further down the line. So, I had two rapes in this chapter.

TWO RAPES! There are lots of articles looking at why the proliferation of rape scenes in fantasy is bad. I quite like this one, because he gets straight to the point, and keeps repeating it.

Editing Chapter 8, I realised that the new character couldn't just walk into such a situation, get raped, and later get rescued. I want her to seem like a real person, not a tragic doll. So that rape has gone, and, importantly, the character is getting better. This has massive ramifications for my story. Despite me giving this particular character a starring, if horrible, role, I realised I hadn't even created a character sheet for her*. She wasn't a character, she was just a thing. That changing changes the rest of the story, for the better.

On to the next rape. This one is a cornerstone of my story. But it doesn't have to be. In Chapter 8, a nameless woman was brutally raped for entertainment, to show how evil other (named, male) characters are. It's important because it's a regular event, and leads to the deaths of two significant other characters elsewhere in the story, BUT:

    1. My bad guys are really not as a bad as that.
    2. Why would people repeatedly watch that for entertainment when they could go and see a comedian, or enjoy good music?
    3. The characters that need to die, could die in other ways. There are so many other ways.
So, that rape is going too. This is going to involve massive amounts of rewriting, not because there are lots of such scenes, but because of the ramifications.

I'm glad about this, I think the rewriting will improve (and interestingly change) the story.

It's also made me think. People criticise George RR Martin, and the Game of Thrones series for being too sexually exploitative, particular trigger points being rapes in Game of Thrones which didn't happen in the Song of Ice and Fire series. When I've seen these criticisms I've generally thought that the scenes are a result of the world they're in, but it is true that this is a created world.

So, I'm going to quickly share my thoughts on two controversial rape scenes from Game of Thrones (the TV series).

First up, did Jaime need to rape Cersei for his character arc? This is a scene that supposedly went wrong in the making. Cersei was supposed to initially resist, and then change her mind. It was all supposed to be rather passionate. It didn't work. It looked like rape. The scene is taken from the book, but it's in different circumstances (the twins haven't seen each other since Jaime is taken until Joff is lying in state), and although Cersei is repelled initially by Jaime's missing hand, the scene in the book is not rape. Perhaps the people involved with filming this scene were so sure of what they were aiming for that they didn't see what it had become. I think more dialogue could have solved the problem, something like this (just a suggestion George, not fanfic):
Cersei is crying while Jaime keeps vigil. They are alone (with the body) in the sept.
Jaime goes to comfort her.She sees his gold hand and flinches away.He looks at the hand, and then at her, says: "I'm still me."Cersei: "Not all of you." (She turns away)Jaime: "Enough." He embraces her, kissing her neck (echoing their first romantic scene together).Cersei: "Not here."Jaime: "Here and now. When else are we alone?"Cersei turns and kisses him, passionately, and the camera pans away (or they have a sex scene, but it's consensual).
What about the scene with Ramsay and Sansa? Ramsay is a vicious little git and it's hard to believe that Littlefinger doesn't know that, but Littlefinger moves in mysterious ways. He might know but think it's worth the risk to his 'beloved' Sansa.

In the Song of Ice and Fire books, Ramsay does force Lady Hornwood into a politically strategic marriage. Raping her and killing her. He's also a fan of raping and killing peasant women. Ramsay Snow is also horrible in Game of Thrones. He enjoys killing, and torturing. He threatens Myranda, but he does seem to have a loving, consensual, if sadistic (on both sides) relationship with her.

Did he rape Sansa so as to prove his loyalty to Myranda? Is that also why he had Reek watch? Although if it was to prove his loyalty, why not just have Myranda watch?

Personally I think Sansa is no Lady Hornwood. In the TV series she is thought to be the only surviving Stark, and she is in Winterfell. The Bolton's would not be able to hold the North if she's seen to be mistreated. I think Ramsay would have to do his husbandly duty and then maybe leave her alone and carry on his affair with Myranda. The rape seems not only unnecessary, but unlikely. Still, those problems are solved by Myranda's death and Sansa's leap from the battlements.

Enough of Game of Thrones. Back to me. I'm glad that the editing process allows me to get rid of the Chapter 8 rapes, but I'm also concerned about where they have come from. I consider myself a feminist. I did a degree in Women's Studies, so why am I using women like this in the first instance? We create our worlds from what we know, and despite my best intentions, I guess I read too much / watch too much rape.

I don't want to be part of the problem wherein rape is normalised, so I'm not only getting rid of the rape, I'm also working on my characters, and hopefully I'll improve my story in the process.

Then you can buy copies of it for yourself and all your friends. 

*let me know if you'd like a blog post on how I do a character sheet.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Inked: a Poetry post

This is my first link up with The Prompt (click on the link pic below to find out more - or have a look here). I'm finding it hard to work out what to do, so I thought I'd just do it. Eek.


Colours written on the body;
stories told inside the skin.
The ink-ed creature recreates herself.

Inchoate markings clothe in colour:
carnation blooms within the skin.
A crimson kiss comes carmine, but is kept.

© Cara L McKee, 25th October 2015


Tuesday, 20 October 2015

dressing up a cabinet

Mandi Johnson of A Beautiful Mess may think that painting furniture is lazy (although how she can when her idea of painting furniture involves stripping some of that paint straight off again to give it a 'distressed' look, and then coating the piece in something to stop it getting further distressed?), but that's what today's post is all about.

You know how when you decorate something, it makes something else look shabby? Well, when I recently decorated my bedroom, I found myself perturbed at the makeshift look of my husband's bedside table.

It wasn't big enough for all the magazines, e-readers, and general stuff that got put on it, and it was accompanied by a tangle of wires for chargers. Kenny has a great love of devices, and all the many chargers that go with them. In this picture I've shoved the wires behind a bin, under the table, but that wasn't a long term solution. I decided he needed a cupboard, but I had no funding.

What to do?

Well, I had a look around for something cheap, but couldn't find anything that was cheap and went with the new look of the bedroom.

Then my in-laws heard that I was looking for a cabinet and kindly gave me one (they've just had their bathroom re-done).

A white MDF, wicker drawered, bathroom cabinet. It was slightly water damaged, but I looked up what to do about that.

Here is where we sanded away the swollen bits caused by water damage.

I didn't like it being white, so decided to repaint the whole thing.

I had paint left over from painting the room, so I used that, rather than splashing out on anything. But before I did that I cut out a bit on the back panel to allow a plug to pass through and into one of the baskets (this enables the wires to be kept tidy during the day, although they still come out at night). I didn't do a very tidy job of cutting out the hole, but it's good enough.

Here it is after 2-3 coats of the green paint. Kenny's got places to put things, and it fits in in the room alright. There are still wires poking out the back, but it's a lot better than it was, and it will do nicely.

This is a post for the gratitude project. I'm grateful to my in-laws for providing the drawers, and to Kenny for using them.

Painting furniture doesn't seem especially lazy to me, although I don't think this item is a long term keeper!

Have you painted any furniture lately?

Friday, 16 October 2015

loving the fields...

Today for the gratitude project I'm talking about music I love.

I've decided to focus on one particular band which had a massive impact on my life. The Fields of the Nephilim.

Who's that? If you want to find out about the band, their rather gorgeous website is here. Suffice to say that it's a Goth band from the 80s/90s, and one with a particular post apocalyptical pagan style, which involved flour.

I had a bit of a moment as a teenager. I wouldn't want to call it a breakdown, as it seems melodramatic, but then again I was quite melodramatic. I was suicidal, obsessed about what was wrong with how I looked, and felt cast out. I stopped eating and covered all my mirrors.

Fields of the Nephilim. Picture from here
I started to dye things black. I loved doing that. I wanted to be skinny and angular and swathed in black. I found an article in a magazine about the Goth scene. They were talking about several bands, but I was intrigued with what they said about the band Fields of the Nephilim. They looked way more interesting than any of the other bands, and they were talking about magick.

My Dad offered to buy me a record, and I asked for Fields of the Nephilim. Having never heard them. Dad insisted I should listen before I buy. He took me to Crash Records in Leeds, with my newly black hair and clothes, and he asked the young man behind the counter to put on some Fields of the Nephilim. I was mortified. I would have said I loved them even if they'd sounded like Napalm Death, but they didn't. They sounded magical and mystical, and incredibly sexy. Also, my Dad wasn't keen.

Sold to the teenager in the black.

That first record I got was Dawnrazor (released 1987) - Horror movie Goth with a heady dose of Ennio Morricone. I listened to it constantly. I wrote out the lyrics. I fell asleep to it. I taped it, and listened to it on my enormous Sony Walkman.

I saved up any money that came my way, and bought anything else I could find, including a video which I cherished. I cut out any articles I could find, and started rubbing flour (and patchouli) into my newly black garments.

That summer I went / was dragged on a family holiday to the Isle of Man where I met a man who wore patchouli oil and rubbed flour into his clothes (although not into his leather trousers). He soon learned about my utter obsession with the Neph, and modelled himself on Carl McCoy - that was a surefire way to woo me, and one that he would revert to whenever we quarelled. It's probably for the best that I no longer have anyone in my life that will dress up as Carl McCoy (although it would probably still work). Now I find that my characters have a tendency to dress like him. Much better than real life.

I still wear patchouli oil when I feel I can get away with it (and when I can remember where I've put it), but it is YEARS since I've gone out with flour on, which is a shame, because it's an awesome way to get ready for a night out, and really you don't need to be pernickity about stains when you're covered in flour.

But it's not just the great music, flour as fashion, and the lovely Carl McCoy that I am grateful for. I've already mentioned magick. Carl always talked a lot about religion, particularly non-Christian world views. I was interested in that stuff anyway, but Carl, and Storm Constantine, led me to investigate further, and challenged notions of what was scary and wrong. They encouraged me to question the stories that were told. To look at the fairy tale from the point of view of the wicked witch. It's rather wonderful.

I found the Nephilim's imagery and the textures of sound they created to be inspiring. I still do. Celebrate is my favourite song for that. This is a great live version. 

In the early 90s New Model Army went on tour with Fields of the Nephilim supporting. Despite NMA being my other favourite band I managed to miss every single gig. I wish that those two would pair up again. The Neph split in the 90s, and I remember sobbing down the 'phone to my friend Ben, who told me that they would move on to other interesting things. They did move on, but I wasn't interested. Now they're back (playing in Whitby next week). Pleeeeeeeease come to Glasgow.

So, what music are you grateful for? And is it as good as the Neph? ;-)

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

using first lines: a writing exercise

Today's exercise is similar to previous exercises I've set out, in that you take six starting points, and use a dice to decide which one to run with. Today though, they are literally (and literary) staring points. The first lines of books you have to hand. 

The first line of a story is very important. You need to grab your reader, and make them want to keep going. So using something from a book you've already deemed worth reading has to be handy, right?

Here are the six I had to hand (references at the bottom of the post if you're interested, although it might be best if you ignore them just now):

1. They found blood on the trail on the seventh day, five spots, red against the grey of old snow.

2. Even though the temperature had not risen above freezing in nine months, the bear carcass was not frozen.

3. The lady of the castle huddled with her children in the shattered tower.

4. The prophet was drowning men on Great Wyk when they came to tell him that the king was dead.

5. He came one late, wet spring, and brought the wide world back to my doorstep.

6. It was hot as the six shades of Hell even this late in the evening, and I'd had a busy day at work.

Now, roll your dice to choose which first line you'll use. You might use that as your own first line for a poem, a story, or whatever floats your boat. Or you're welcome to use something from it instead, if that's what works for you.

I rolled a '1', and here's what I wrote:
They found blood on the trail on the seventh day, five spots, red against the grey of old snow.
     No-one knew how she'd got this far, but here was evidence that she might be weakening, although where the blood had come from they weren't sure.
     "Women bleed." One of the Brethren had reminded Brother Sand, and he had nodded, although he doubted it was that.
     He looked around him. The path followed a boundary line between sparse woods - sparser on the side of the mountains. Clearly well travelled by those heading from their farms and small settlements into the nearby Seat of Learning. With the mountains at his back he could see plenty of the valley below him, even so far as the river, and no sign of her there, and yet the blood was still red. She could not be far away. No dout somewhere in the woods ahead. Perhaps they would find her today.
     He signalled the men to move on, receiving grumbles from Brother Sun, who'd been busy pissing on his tree and had splashed his feet when he'd been disturbed. They slowed him down, these seven men, aye, and meant he'd likely not be able to give Sister Stone te 'accident' she deserved. Stll, he did as he was bid, following the Path he was given, as stealthily as he might with this herd of buffalo beside him.
     "Brother," said young Sister Shoot.
     She was stupidly named, thought Brother Sand. She'd have to earn her name fast or look a foolish old woman. She clearly wasn't going to move on with this thought by herself. "What?"
     "It could be blood from someone else. Something else perhaps. It might not be her."
     Brother Sand wondered if Sister Shoot rather hoped it was not Sister Stone's blood. If she had qualms about hunting down a fellow Sister of the Brethren. He wrapped his travelling cloak around himself to fend off the idiots. "We follow the Path, Sister." He reminded her.
     "Aye Brother."
I so can't draw men. That beard is rubbish, it looks like a veil that's slipped. But there you go, it provides a picture!

What did you come up with?

Here's my sources:

1. JV Jones - A Fortress of Grey Ice; Orbit 2002, p17 (1st line of Chapter 1)
2. JV Jones - Watcher of the Dead; Orbit 2010, p1 (1st line of prologue)
3. Storm Constantine - Sea Dragon Heir; Gollancz 2000 (first line of prologue)
4. George RR Martin - A Feast for Crows; Voyager (Harper Collins) 2005
5. Robin Hobb - Fools Errand; BCA by arrangement with Voyager 2001
6. Charlaine Harris - Deadlocked; Gollancz 2012

Thursday, 8 October 2015

seeing beyond fat

Ages ago I wrote a blog post on ideas of craziness, disordered eating, and doctors unwillingness to see the person beyond the fat. You'll find it here.

Recently the blogger, and marvellous illustrator, Kat of Murder of Goths, wrote a really interesting piece which I'm so grateful that she shared, about her disordered eating. You'll find it here.

She makes the point that if you're fat and you lose weight people automatically see it as a good thing - she gets congratulated, when actually she's in a very dark place and needs support. 

Starving yourself isn't good for anybody. Fat might be associated with certain health issues, but not as much as poverty, and we don't hear doctors telling people to get richer do we?

I've been losing weight this year, which I'm happy about. I've been doing it on purpose, because I didn't feel healthy, and losing weight has helped me to feel better. However, people keep telling me I'm doing great; and that I should keep up the good work. They're trying to be supportive. But this translates to me as 'you are not as hideous as you used to be, but you're not there yet.'

As the weather has started to turn my husband has been working away more, and there have been lots of things going on. I've not been doing so well at losing weight, and I've felt guilty. Feeling guilty has made me sabotage myself, eating more than I want in an effort to prove some ridiculous point. Dieting had been going fine, but it felt like it was becoming something horrible.

Queuing up to get weighed last week, I expected a gain. I felt like a failure, and was bemoaning my lack of will-power. I was almost in tears in the slimming club. I know that the lovely woman that runs it wouldn't want me to feel that way, and she makes a point of celebrating what you've achieved. But. It's hard to recall the progress you've made when you're slipping backwards.
This dress if from Simply Be (here). The belt is from
ASOS (there's a leather version here)

I decided to stop focusing on what I wasn't doing, and focus on how things are. I did Margot Meanie's rebellious self love challenge and took lots of selfies. I chatted with my lovely daughter (Miss 8 (they're both lovely, but I trust Miss 8's opinion more than Miss 5's)). She wanted me to stop dieting. She didn't want me to stop being cuddly. I said I should probably join a gym instead. She rolled her eyes and told me that that was far too boring. I yearn for the day when this girl can drink Prosseco.

So I've stopped. I'm still eating healthily, but I am no longer eschewing cake. I am also looking in the mirror with a friendly eye.

I am still classed as obese, but that's alright. The BMI is a blunt instrument anyway. I might go back on the diet when the weather turns again. I might not. The important thing is to be happy and healthy. Other people might just see my fat, but that doesn't mean that I should.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

capturing Autumn colour

I love the colours at this time of year. The reds against the green, with clouds giving us backdrops of grey and white.

Inspired by Kim Leuenberger (check out her Instagram feed here, or her website, here), I've been taking photos to capture the current Autumnal moment, and trying to use the sky as a backdrop. This should have involved lying on the ground, but people it is WET out there. I read somewhere (sorry, I forget where), that Kim likes to use white skies as the backdrop of her pictures because it brings out the colour in the scenery. That has made me feel a whole lot better about white skies, and even leaden ones. If the light is right they can make a great backdrop.

So, here's what I came up with. Do you like Autumnal colours too?

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

people watching: a writing exercise

Today's writing exercise is all about building up your arsenal of stuff to be used in stories.

You'll need to be in a cafe, or other public space (preferably one where people stay for a while). You're going to need a notebook. You can write stuff on your 'phone or some other gadget if you prefer, but personally, for quick jotting, I'm a big fan of a notebook.

Choose a person. You're going to write about this person. What they look like, how they move, the cut of their jib. Unusual people may be more interesting, but anyone becomes unusual if you look long enough (try not to get done for stalking). Describe, describe, describe. Get a really good idea of the person as a character. You might want to move on from doing this to making stuff up about them - a name, the roles they play in their life. Their opinions on various topics. It's all good. If you're like me, you'll make that stuff up as you go along.

Now you've got an idea about your character, think about what they might have in a pocket or a bag - something they would always carry with them. eg Dr Who's sonic screwdriver.

Think about something that person might regret. And something they might rather be doing.

You don't have to do anything with all this just now, but it's useful to have some fully formed players waiting in the wings.

Here's what I got the other day:

Violet - she's the artist. Not me.
She's all in purple: a purple polo neck with a lace purple jacket on top. Sensible purple trousers. Where is her red hat? Which does not go? She's tipping her chair up and spreading her arms to make her point. Ribbons around her neck hold her keys and her glasses.  Diamonds sparkle in white gold rings clustered on her arthritic fingers. Jewellry passed on to her by her dead relatives, which she will pass on in not too long. But not today. Let's hope, not today.
Straight hair, flat upon her head in a practical cut, never tidy, and greying so now she looks in the mirror and is confronted by an ageing Boris Johnson. She moves on. Plants her glasses on her face and smacks down niceties.
Shall we call her Violet? In her shades of purple, and her violent temper. 
She's an artist. She was popular in the 1970s. She knew rock bands, earned lots of money for a crazy period, and had sex with Jimmy Hendrix (he was not good). But spent it all, and ended up working in a boarding school teaching posh girls art. She had no children of her own but some of those girls, the ones that didn't hate her, the ones she didn't hate right back, some of them are still in touch. Sometimes. 
Today, like every Wednesday, she's out with her neighbour. Although last Wednesday her neighbour was in hospital, and this Wednesday she looks a bit peaky, so Violet is entertaining her with tall tales. It doesn't do to dwell.
They always come to this cafe, because this is the cafe they always come to. Violet suspects others are better, but this will do, and it's not worth risking bad coffee. In her pocket she has smuggled out a biscuit. She doesn't like the ones that come with the coffee, so risks dipping her secret hobnob, released from its handkerchief prison. Who would challenge her, an old lady? Who would do it twice?
If someone asked Violet what she regrets, she'd break into song, 'Non, je ne regrette rien.' But. That's not the truth of 3am, when she lies in her lonely bed, wondering if she'd been just a little bit less fond of 'being herself', could she have made a new self? One that was happy? She has had a lot of sex, at one point, but not now, and truly, it wasn't good enough to last a lifetime. 

How did you get on? 


Monday, 5 October 2015

achieving greatly: my lack of great achievements

This week for the gratitude challenge I'm supposed to be talking about my greatest achievement.

There's nothing like someone asking about your greatest achievement to make you feel like an underachiever.

My first thought was my family, but, although there's plenty of hard work that goes into parenting, to call a happy, healthy family an achievement is neglecting the heady dose of sheer dumb luck that's in there. Besides which, if my children are great, then surely that's their achievement, not mine.

My children - I think they're great, even if they do take turns to whine at me.
Marriage can't really be counted as an achievement either. That's work and love and luck, and not taking things for granted. So, not that.

What about paid work?

I used to have an important job with the Government doing research stuff. I tried really hard to have great achievements, within the confines of my work, but I was a civil servant. I put together briefings on various topics. My two favourites were on shared electric vehicles (good idea, but not cost effective at the time), and on the Right to Buy (terrible idea, although it could be useful if there were lots of programmes in place for building new social housing and getting rid of bad housing stock). Both those, and several other things did very little in terms of impact. Although hopefully they'll be glanced at from time to time by people who follow me and update the information. I also did, or managed, lots of research evaluating government policy programmes. Most of that made very little impact too, although I was told I'd done helpful stuff for some people, so that's good.

It's quite right of course that civil servants shouldn't change government policy. Evidence based policy is a good concept to have, but policy should be about values too. Great policy, like the formation of the NHS, cannot be evidence based, but that doesn't mean we can't learn as we go and make things better.

I would like to think that the work I did in Suffolk running a babies and birthing charity made a big impact. We certainly helped more women have home births, and provided some equipment that came in useful, but it's hardly a great achievement. Also it seems to have died down now that I've moved away. No doubt something else has taken its place.

Everything changes and looking to achieve greatness seems to me to be a good way to fail. I am happy to keep on keeping on, and just try to do a little bit every day which is heading in the right direction... wherever that is.

Maybe I've just not achieved my greatness yet. Have you? 

Friday, 2 October 2015

thinking of Wraeththu - five bands that would not be out of place in Immanion.

Recently, for the wonderful Margot Meanie's rebellious self love challenge (search #rebelliousselflove on instagram, it's fabulous), we were asked to give a shout out to a role model.

I decided on Storm Constantine, because she writes brilliant books, she looks fabulous, and she gives new writers a leg up. She has long been an inspiration to me, from making me feel that writing would be possible, to just basically trying to look like her.

My Mum got the First Book of Wraeththu out of the library (Storm's breakthrough success). She was impressed, and passed it to me. I was very impressed, and hooked into the world of Calanthe (I wasn't allowed to call my first born that), and Pellaz. 

I loved the detail she went into in the Wraeththu world, creating a religion you could believe in, a cast system that could work wonderfully (or be used horribly), and a new world drawn over the top of the old. 

The difficulty of breaking away from old habits and ideas is one of the key ideas of the Wraeththu books, and I loved the way she worked through them, starting with rebellious, beautiful boys, and turning them into creatures which could move our world beyond capitalism, race, and gender.

Her books are so worth a read (and not just the Wraeththu ones).

Storm has a gothic personal style, and her characters are clearly influenced by gothic beauty ideals in the late 80s / early 90s. Today for Friday's Fabulous Five I'm sharing five videos of bands which seem to me to share the aesthetic (I love four of them, the other one makes me laugh - can you guess which?).

First up, Black Veil Brides, because I love the way that guy keeps on smiling with his gleaming American teeth: "I'm not afraid to die (chuckle)." This was the video that gave me the idea to do this post, because it's SO Wraeththu!

Reaching into the past for the next one, from Gene Loves Jezebel. Not my favourite song, but they don't have many videos. Watching this, I'm wondering if I should have put the Dog's D'Amour on the list, but they can just be a little bonus.

Next up it's The Rasmus. I so love this chap's voice.

I only came across Maryann Cotton quite recently, when I was googling information on a historical British possible serial killer (Mary Ann Cotton). The Alice Cooper thing he's trying to do is really sweet, and he's got a good band (one of those hairy axe men is his Dad). He reminds me of Pellaz (while he's working out what he's doing). Also, despite this allegedly being a shock rock band, I do like that he is the one that gets murdered (spoiler), and in another song he tells a girl that whether she wants him to or not he's going to have a crush on her. Awww. Proper modern rock boy.

Last up, it's another blast from the past, and the face I imagine Calanthe having, the very beautiful David Sylvian of Japan, with a little advice for anyone considering revenge porn.

What would you add to the list of Wraeththuites?