Thursday, 24 March 2016

Magnus the Mighty: a poetry post

Magnus the Mighty

Magnus the mighty stands,

spear and shield in his hands,
surveying all of Largs.
Not since 1263
did mighty Vikings see
our chip shops and our bars.
But Magnus stays his lust.
Stand still and strong he must,
withstanding every gust,
lest he should turn to rust.
Magnus of Largs

© Cara L McKee 23/3/16

Have you had enough of this poem format yet?  I've used it before in Know by Now and The Tall One. I think I have found the way I like it to be now, and it might be time for me to move on. My sonnets need more work I think.
Anyway, The Prompt (click on the pic below to go to the link) this week was 'Mighty', and I've been listening to The History of English Podcast constantly, and Kevin has been talking about Vikings in Britain and the Danelaw (so many Vikings - even the Normans were Vikings!). I'm lucky enough to live in Largs, which was the last place in mainland Britain to have been attacked by Viking raiders (of course, there were plenty of Vikings living here by then). Fun fact from the podcast mentioned above - did you know that the language spoken by the Viking invaders was so similar to Anglo-Saxon early English that they could understand each other fairly easily? Maybe that's why we like Scandi drama!? So 'mighty' got me thinking about Vikings and especially Magnus, erected a couple of years ago to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Largs. He was supposed to have an ax to start off with, I don't know why that was dropped. But he was positioned across from Nardinis, temporarily for the festivities, and then there was much discussion about where he should be moved to (and much discussion on whether or not he was rubbish). I love Magnus, and I love him being across from Nardinis, so I'm glad that's where he's getting to stay, for now.

PS. Admin note - I've been losing comments lately. Apparently Blogger are trying to fix the problem, in the meantime I'm sorry if your comments don't appear below, they are getting sent to me, and I will try to find a way around the problem.

Prose for Thought

Comments that aren't showing up...

Rhyming With Wine commented on your blog post
This is great! I love the character that you've captured in your rhyme. I feel like I should meet him and I enjoyed reading about his background and history too. Dawn x #Prose4T

Sara Murray commented on your blog post
Wow, Magnus is pretty impressive! Love the poem, particularly the mention of chip shops, that made me smile :) I'm always impressed with the structure of your poems, I'm so random with mine!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

kissing a tall man: a poetry post

Today I'm trying to write love poetry, which does not come easy to me - I'm more of a doom and gloom merchant (please see my poem 'Edge of Doom' for proof - that's the closest I've come to a love poem to date!).

So I've revamped a couple of existing poems, including changing a Villanelle about adultery into a love poem (I'm hoping that works), and written this one this morning. This is another poem using the pattern inspired by Muse's Butterflies and Hurricanes, like my poem Know by Now.

It was our 12th wedding anniversary yesterday, so I'm feeling terribly guilty that this poem wasn't inspired by my husband (who is taller than me, and has lifted me up), but by another friend who's really really tall, and by a good dollop of imagination. I suspect that friend might read it too, so I shan't name names, and I hope both he and my lovely husband will forgive me!

The Tall One

I tiptoe to reach you,
behind you the sky blue.
You, so terribly tall.
Caught in your warm embrace,
reaching to kiss your face,
I'm beloved and small.
I never felt dainty.
Nobody lifted me.
Didn't know what could be.
You: the he for my she.
Most loved of all.

© Cara L McKee 23/3/16

In other news I'm still working on the Rose book, and I went to a few writing events last weekend, one of which inspired me to battle on with the Chaptershill book (although only after I've finished the Rose). I'm feeling positive about all this!

Writing Bubble
Prose for Thought

Comments that aren't showing up...

Sophie B Lovett commented on your blog post
Aw sweet poem! There is definitely something about tall men :) And yay for inspiring writing events! I could do with a couple of those myself actually... x

Maddy Bennett commented on your blog post
I love the way you write with a particular poetic structure - I keep meaning to try doing this myself (in anything other than the limerick form which I am obsessed with!). I think it's a great poem -

Sara Murray commented on your blog post
Love this, a lot. My husband is very tall, and I'm not, and this really sums up how he often makes me feel, protected and loved. #whatimwriting  

Friday, 18 March 2016

listening to podcasts

I spend so much time listening to podcasts, so I thought I'd share some of my favourites with you today. What podcasts do you like?

Imaginary Worlds

I've only recently started listening to Imaginary Worlds, which is an amazing podcast about science fiction and fantasy, which are two(+) of my favourite genres. It's beautifully and imaginatively put together by Eric Molinsky, and I am enjoying catching up on the back episodes at the moment.

Back in July 2015, one of my favourite episodes came out. All about Heroines, and the issues around their portrayal in Action films. It is so worth a listen. My favourite moment? "I don't need Wonder Woman in it; just don't offend me." Love it, and it's full of truth which should be spoken. It's also helped me to think about what I'm writing, because if everything we watch has these problems (and I love an Action movie), it's easy to think they're normal.

Another great episode talks about the sci-fi writer James Tiptree Jr. A fascinating tale which made me wonder what name I'll put on my books when they're finally published (fingers, toes and ears crossed). You can find out all about her here.

And the last specific post I'm going to link to is this one on Wonder Woman - an absolutely fascinating look at where she came from, and why she's a bit troublesome.

A History of Britain in Numbers

Is it weird that I love statistics?

I do though. I studied Sociology and Women's Studies, and at school I was good at Maths, and so when I went into social research (which is what I did before I did this), I was that rare thing (surprisingly rare I'm afraid), a Sociologist who understands statistics. That meant I got to work on amazing datasets, and help craft questions for really big surveys, like the census.

Statistics do of course get used and abused all over the place, and they get flung about in the news in a way that renders them unintelligible, but this series takes some big themes and looks at them through the ages using large datasets. It's a fascinating way of looking at what was going on, and you can find the whole series as podcasts here. If you fancy just dipping your toe though, I highly recommend the programme on Women.

The History of English

I am currently binge listening to this podcast which covers lots of history (in chronological order, which is fantastic for me because I learned history in topics and this gives me a much better grasp on things), with etymology too! Such a winner! It is a little bit dry to tell the truth, but there's so very much to learn. If you're the kind of person who loves to inform people that the word satellite actually originated in a word that referred to a bodyguard (Satellus), and I'm afraid I am (I know, avoid me at parties), then this is the podcast for you. It's got a website for all the episodes here, but my particular favourites so far (and I'm only half way through) are Episode 27 on Broken Empire and Fractured Languages because of the interesting lessons it gives us about the current imigration crisis, and episodes 37 (Seafarers, Poets, and Travelling Minstrels) and 38 (Nobles, Nuptials, and a Cowherd Poet) on the first writings in English, which were mainly poems (because that's how you remember a story in an oral tradition). My kids are begging me to listen to something else because they cannot take any more random facts. Thanks History of English!


I love the way that Aaron Mahnke tells a story - the structure of the telling of it is fascinating to listen to, and he's a great gateway to folklore (which I play with lots in my favourite stories to write). This podcast has been a remarkable success, for good reason. There's a great Lore website here, and you might want to start listening from episode one, but the Christmas episode, telling about the strangers, other than Santa who folklore tells us sneak into our homes at night. It's called A Stranger Among Us.

The Infinite Monkey Cage

This Radio 4 programme is also available as a podcast, and gloriously, you get more stuff in the podcast. It's a funny science programme which makes you smile as you're getting smarter. Plus it helps keep a steady drip of Brian Cox so you don't get withdrawal symptoms. You can find all the programmes here. My favourite programme recently is this one on Climate Change (which sucks because that's what causing all the chuffing rain). 

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Know by Now: a poetry post

I've been working on a couple of structures of poems lately. The sonnet (as in my poem 'Confusion'), and another structure inspired by Muse's song Butterflies and Hurricanes (I would so love to sing that song in a choir). I mentioned in yesterday's post that I was using this structure to write a magickal poem which I haven't really finished faffing with, so I'm not sharing that.

However, this morning I woke up with a different song in my head - Munich by the Editors:

and I've taken that as a jumping off point for another poem using the same (kind of) structure. My kids helped me work it out this morning, so let me know what you think. 

I'm joining up with the Prose for Thought linky with this post (click on the picture below to find out more), and also The Prompt (see picture also). The Prompt for this week is 'respect'. 

For the last few months I've been troubled by a really chuffing painful shoulder. I thought it might be getting better at one point, but it's not, yet. I'm having to take medication all the time to manage the pain, it's uncomfortable to lie down and I have very limited mobility in that arm. I can't lift my children up, or yank their boots off, or countless other things. So it's not just my body that's in pain. I'm sad too. Sad and tired and just worn down. So I am not strong enough for people taking the mickey out of me, and out of the adjustments I am having to make to cope with this situation. They might be trying to be funny or something, but I haven't got the energy to see the funny side, and I end up just feeling more isolated. 

Recently, someone I thought was a friend has demonstrated that they're not, and it's knocked me for six. So this poem is about respect, about bearing in mind that whatever you can see, whatever you think you know, each person has stuff going on that you may not know about, and even if you do, you only know what they are willing to show, so try to be kind, to show respect.

Know by Now

People are so fragile.
To learn that takes a while,
but you should know by now
that spirits break easy:
Stopping isn't lazy.
It helps to work out how
to go on. Sing the song
of life and living long.
Feeling strong. Going on.
In the sun we belong.
We know by now.

© Cara L McKee 17th March 2016

Prose for Thought


Wednesday, 16 March 2016

writing: What I'm writing just now

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll probably know that at the moment I #amediting.

I wrote a first draft of a story that had been tickling away at me for a while back in November for National Novel Writing Month. It's a modern retelling of a traditional Scottish fairy tale which has fascinated me since I came across it. I'm going to call it the Rose book.

Once I'd tidied up that first draft I put it away for a while. 

I was intending on working on another book. A high fantasy tale which is really rather huge, and which I'd finished the first draft of a while ago, but had then realised it had a massive problem, requiring lots of changes (more on that here). I'm going to call that the Chaptershill book.

I started rethinking things for the Chaptershill book over Christmas and realised that changing little things about the way the society ran had some small impacts, which, like the butterfly effect, ended up having drastic impacts on the plot, and indeed on the characters.

I think that this is all good, but I need to let the ideas fester for a while before I can sort them out.

The Rose book on the other hand was ready to go. I mean, lets face it, with a retelling the characters are already drafted, the story is there, it's just a matter of making it real for now, with your version of the characters. Easy right?

I don't think I much like editing. I am so pernickity, I find myself changing words here and there all over the place. It also makes me feel like I'm stupid, realising that I've told the reader something several times, or that a character is oblivious to something they should know (or knows something they shouldn't). I think you need a longer attention span for editing than writing, and I find it terribly taxing! Still, Ernest Hemingway said "The first draft of anything is shit." So at least it's improving.

I am also getting through it. About two thirds of the way through so far.

Meanwhile I'm doing a bit of research into where I might send it once it's been edited (and that's scary because you don't want to aim too low or waste your effort on aiming too high!).

I am also writing, because writing is what I do. Neil Gaiman says that to be a writer you have to write, and I kind of see it like kindness or exercise. A little bit every day will help when you need to give a lot.

So I've written a short story for my local writers group (I can't share anything else about it because it's being judged right now). That was hard. I don't feel happy in a short story. I want to flesh things out, or deflesh things, or something. I want more.

I've also been writing poetry. Poetry helps me to consider words more, the rhythm, the cadence, the structure. I like writing poetry. I feel like I can get a lot more into a short poem than a short story; there can be more meaning wrapped in symbols. I do find it interesting though, that other people don't have my mind, and can't read my symbols, or read them through their own lenses. It brings new meaning, which is fascinating.

I've been enjoying writing poems inspired by The Prompt over at Mum Turned Mom. Most recently I was practicing writing a sonnet, using the theme of 'confusion'. You can find that here. I've also been taking inspiration from music, using the rhythm of one song and the theme of another to try something new for a magickal poem which needs a bit more work.

And of course, I'm writing here. I keep wondering if I should change the name of this blog, but it is what it is, and I thank you for joining me here. This post is my first post joining up with the What I'm Writing linky over at Writing Bubble (now there's a good name), so I thought I'd do an update to get started. It's been fun to write, and tracking my progess seems a good way to avoid doing too much cleaning and the like and stay focused on the writing. So thanks to Maddy for setting it up. I intend to be back again.

Writing Bubble

Friday, 11 March 2016

enjoying these TED talks: Friday's Fabulous Five

Today on the blog I'm sharing more fab videos from the TED stage that  I've come across lately.

1. First up it's Julia Sweeney, talking about 'the talk'. Have you done it? I attempted it, but was swiftly asked by my son to stop. I clearly need to wait for the question. Eek! Anyway, if and when you do do 'the talk', you might want to have a giggle at Julia's experience.

2. Next is Candy Chang who has beautiful ways of bringing people together which she talks about in this TED talk, focusing on the 'Before I die I want to...' walls which have become popular (not that I've ever seen one). Some of the responses are fascinating. I would be a boring person - I'd want to help my kids with my grandkids, get a book published, and live somewhere warm. What about you?

3. While we're thinking about the cheery subject of death I have this idea of dying and being buried, and little creatures feeding on my body, and contributing nutrients so that someting beautiful can grow on top of my grave... It's not an idea that fits with current burial practices because right now dead people get pumped full of toxic stuff to preserve them, and this makes us actually toxic when we're buried. I would rather not have all that. Jae Rhim Lee has had a brilliant idea which could solve the problem.

4. My kids found some app that lets them play a fake theramin with the mousepad on the laptop. I am remiss, in that I don't know where it was (I'm guessing CBeebies?). Anyway, I googled theramin to show them what someone really playing a theramin looks like and came across this marvel.

5. Last today is Zainab Salbi on the ways that women keep life going during war, and the group she runs: Women for Women International. A fascinating and moving talk.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

technological: anticipating the obsolescence of the smart phone

technological: anticipating obsolescence

What do we mean by 'technology'? I think about 'tech' - apps and gadgets... Perhaps I should google it? (Google's definition is below - thanks Google).

  1. the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.
    "advances in computer technology"
    • machinery and devices developed from scientific knowledge.
      "it will reduce the industry's ability to spend money on new technology"
    • the branch of knowledge dealing with engineering or applied sciences.

If technology is the practical application of science and engineering, then this pen is technology.

The pen was engineered to improve upon the quill. It improved communication, improved historical record keeping, and changed the shape of our letters. This one uses cartridges, so that's even better.

Once upon a time, this pen was a modern marvel. Then it became commonplace, and now it's outdated.

So is all new technology destined to become obsolete? Is everything just a step towards something else?

Our smart phones (which have already got smarter than they were in the first place), were once a marvel and now I for one couldn't go without it. It is my to do list, my camera, my Walkman (literally - that's the music app I use), my radio, my notebook, my shop, my magazine, my means of communication, and so much more. 

But no doubt there will come a time when we reminisce about having no bars, running out of memory, charging wherever you can find a plug, dropping the thing down the toilet and texting on a smashed screen.

I wonder what technology is around the corner? I'm thinking of flexible graphene screens, of finding a way to photosynthesise energy for our devices, to store way more energy than our batteries can. I dream of cyborg technology, I think I could go for that, although not perhaps for the Beta testing, but perhaps that's a step too far for most?

What do you think is around the corner for our miniature computers?

And what's the tech that will be the next thing we can't live without?

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Confused: A poetry post

This week I'm taking part in the Mum Turned Mom Prompt linky, and the subject is: Confusion. At first I was wondering about where the word confusion had come from? Was it some kind of coming together of disparate things? Then I was thinking of the King Crimson song Epitaph (although I'd misremembered the lyric as 'confusion will be my alibi'), but then I thought of the people I have known who have suffered with Alzheimers, and something I heard a man say while he was watching his friend who is increasingly affected by Parkinsons (which is not dementia at all).

The things that happen to our bodies are most unkind.

This is a sonnet because I need practice at sonnets. I don't feel the volta quite works, but I wanted to get the turmoil across. Hope you like it.


Signals spark, but something's unconnected,
the word will not appear inside his mind.
She says it for him; is again affected,
her smile is tight and yet she remains kind.
He doesn't want her kindness or her care,
he wants to be the strength to which she turns.
But when his mind fails him again she's there
with sugared tea, she soothes all his concerns.
Yet still he wishes to participate.
He clings on tight. Will not just let things go.
And yet it's true he can anticipate
the days will come. The things will let him go.
   And will she then enjoy her new freedom?
   Or will she too fall to confusion?

(c) Cara McKee 12th March 2016

Saturday, 5 March 2016

crocheting a cosy blanket

Just as I finished the Attic 24 ripple blanket (pattern here, and my post here), I decided to do something about the jealousy I felt when I read Lucy of Attic 24 talking about meeting up with others and crocheting in a cafe, and set up a Craft and Coffee/Stitch and Bitch/Knit and Natter in my home town. We meet fortnightly at Cafe Bon Bon in Largs, and it's rather lovely.

Many thanks to Cafe Bon Bon in Largs for this picture. That's me in the corner with the green hair.
But I'd finished my blanket, so what could I occupy my fingers with?

When I was taking pictures having finished the ripple blanket, I spread it out on my son's bed for this image:

True confessions from blogland now, that blanket was never going to stay on that bed... but, it did make me realise that my son has outgrown his Ben 10 fleece and could do with a blanket of his own. 

Hoorah for new projects.

I consulted with the boy about blankets. I checked out various patterns and showed him them, finally deciding on the Attic 24 cosy blanket pattern. He may have said 'whatever'. We then chose a load of colours, including oddments left over from other projects and new stuff from the pound shop (they have some fabulous colours, and it's all acrylic so no-one's allergic, until the cat's slept on it anyway).

We chose 15 colours to start off with. I've used Lucy(from Attic 24, not that I'm obsessed or anything)'s technique of wrapping the yarn around pegs to help with colour selection. Some of these were remnants from other projects, and as I've gone along they've ran out.

I think I like that. Initially I was just going to let them run out and not replace them, but I've made the blanket a bit wider than it should have been (and who doesn't love a wide blanket, so no big deal), so I've decided to get some new colours too.

To decide on the order the colours should go in I take these pegs and roll some gaming dice to choose the next one... I then shoogle the order a little bit if I don't like the look of it. I go through all the colours before spending some quality time with the yarn pegs and a D20 again. This will hopefully avoid the preponderance of certain colours in certain areas that there was with my ripple blanket.

These are the colours I've got now: As you can see, I've run out of the bright greens and replaced those with a pale green, and I've run out of the greys and replaced them with a warmer grey. It does mean there are less colours, and I miss that beautiful dark grey so I might get one of those if I come across one.

I've just started watching Outlander and I'm loving the mini capes that Claire is wearing in it, so I'm tempted to make myself one of those in dark grey. Although how would you wear such a thing with modern dress?

Anyhow, here's the blanket in progress.

I'm using my size 4 bamboo hook that I got for Christmas (it's fine, but I won't get bamboo hooks again because they chip too easily, and then they're a nightmare). 

You can easily see where I've run out of wool in this picture. The bridge pattern becomes a row of blobs, and the train track of the simple treble/double crochet stitch with the light green just stops. I'm arguing that this is character.

I like how the colours work together, and happily the boy is too. Of course, this may mean that I need to create blankets for the girls too...

I'm wondering about making one of those flower blankets, but I don't want loads of ends everywhere.

Alternatively something with a gradual colour change might be nice. Not sure how to achieve that over a whole blanket.

Meanwhile I'm wondering what to do with the fleece blankets. I'm thinking they might make nice dresses, but perhaps I should just donate them for those poor folks stuck in Calais?

Perhaps I should just get on with making this one!

I love how it looks when it's all bundled up.

What are you making at the moment?

Friday, 4 March 2016

talking about my parents!

I was born in glorious Yorkshire, and now live in bonny Scotland, but both of my parents came from the red side of the roses (whisper it - Lancashire).

My Mum, Margaret, grew up in a small mill town and would be woken in the morning to the sound of clogs on cobbles as the shift changed at the mill at the end of her street. Her family lived in a terraced house and my Mum shared a room with her Auntie, who never married. Mum's Dad worked nights as a nurse at the local hospital which at one point cared for fifty men. Her Mum did what work she could fit in, as a seamstress, childminder, and later as a chiropodist (podiatrist).

My father, Tony, grew up in a more modern semi-detached house in a city, with a park around the corner. His Dad had a managerial office job, and his Mum worked for BT until she got married and had to leave, but went to work for them again later, when they changed their rules on that.

My Dad loved music, and my Mum loved dancing, so they both went to the Grasshoppers rugby club in Preston for social events. They met through friends. They both went to study in Manchester, and they got together. 

They both had opportunities to go to North America, so in 1967 they took the chance for a holiday. Can you see that Union Flag bag at the bottom of the picture? I swear they must have taken that everywhere! And they did seem to go everywhere! (I also wonder if it's one of the bags that appears in the final photo).

My parents got married in 1969 at the little church in Mum's home town where her parents are now buried. It was a bit blowy (as you can see), and my Dad's brother had a rather splendid cast on his leg and a wheelchair! Mum had her hair in ringlets which is sooo cool. She used to do that with my hair when I was a kid too!

My Dad got a job down in Bedford in sales (which I cannot imagine him doing, but apparently he got on well). Mum worked as a chiropodist, but they didn't particularly enjoy living in Bedford, so moved up to Ilkley in Yorkshire, where they still live to this day!

My Dad retrained in the 1970s to teach maths, which he did until he retired, and Mum worked as an NHS chiropodist until she retired too. They had two children. Me and my 6'4" little brother.

I remember a busy household. We had lodgers from the local college, and later, my parents fostered teenagers too, so there were always plenty of people about.

After my parents split up in 1983 I thought for a while that my Dad was going to go live in a commune. I must admit I was slightly gutted that he didn't, I could quite fancy that!

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

leaving Simply Be.

I have been shopping at Simply Be for years now. About 15 years to be exact. They send me SO MUCH bumpf through the post, and it works! I've bought from them on a pretty regular basis, until November last year when they sent me a catalogue with this in it:

I liked the clothes in the section. The black and the rock styling were right up my alley, and I liked the 'WITH THE BAND' bit, but why on earth did they call them 'groupie styled looks'? Why can't the women be in the band? It's aiming so low, and shows such an incredibly low opinion of the women they're selling to (I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with liking a rock band, or in wanting to have sex with members of a rock band, but it's clearly not aspirational stuff is it?), that I got in touch with them on Twitter to ask about it.

They couldn't be bothered to reply. 

I wasn't overly impressed, but I figured they had just made a mistake until more recently I got this through the post.

Clearly, with this bit of marketing (it's about their denim collection), Simply Be are wanting their customers to do a bit of (unpaid) online marketing for them, using #ShowUsYourSASS but they've paired this with a picture of a model wearing their jeans, and nothing else (on the cover. Other pictures of the same model did show her in a top, and you'd think Simply Be would have plenty of tops to hand. Perhaps they didn't have any that were small enough for the model who is awfy slim for Simply Be clothes).

Now I have no problem with boobs. Feeding babies, being sexy, or just being part of women's bodies. But I do have a problem with women's bodies being objectified in order to sell us stuff, and this is a clear example of a woman's body being objectified. Simply Be are hoping to get more attention because the woman hasn't got her top on, there is no other reason for it.

I can't be doing with objecification. It is not going to sell me anything, and seeing as this was a social media campaign I decided to attempt contact with Simply Be to complain about this ad on Twitter.

The response? Nothing. Somebody called me a prude, but that wasn't anyone from Simply Be, who couldn't be bothered to say anything in response to my accusation of objectification.

And if Simply Be cannot be bothered to respond to complaints about their sexist marketing, I can't be bothered to shop there. 

Simply Be, you can stop sending me stuff now.