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The Stitchy Itch

When I’m not reading, writing, running a Brownie unit and all of the other assorted things I’ve blogged about, I love to cross stitch. I’ve always enjoyed it, but I really got into it when I was first ill and needed something that I could do on the sofa and would make me feel productive. It is also excellent for keeping the fine motor skills going when you have a condition that makes you shaky and fumble-fingered. And this year, martyr that I am, I have sworn that rather than spend a small fortune in the shops in November everyone will be getting something hand-made.

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This might not seem like such a big deal until you start to realise the size of my Christmas list. I am one of five children, all but one of whom are married (or close enough). My husband is one of five children, all of whom are married. I have 10 nieces and nephews, and one more on the way. I also include my fellow Brownie leaders, a few friends and the children of a few more friends. All in all, my list tops out around 50. That works out at about one project a week.

Luckily, I can stitch for ages. I can sit for hours with a decent DVD and stitch quite happily. I can even stitch while I play computer games if I’m feeling particularly co-ordinated. The problem is that I don’t. Since my health started to pick up a very little about 2 years ago I am no longer housebound and that means that I do stuff. And I get carried away. Back in my housebound days I would probably be about halfway towards my goal by now, but nowadays I’m busy doing things and I’m not resting enough.

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It’s really frustrating sometimes to feel so much better than I was only a couple of years ago and still have to take plenty of time out to rest, and that’s why this project is such a good move. It makes resting guilt-free. Christmas usually costs a small fortune, and if I can make all of our gifts (or at least a good percentage of them) it will save us a lot of stress in the new year. Yes, I could be cleaning the oven, but I need to make this child’s nameplate as well. Oh dear. What a pity. An afternoon of Marple and cross stitch it is. My bank balance and my spoon balance will thank me in the long run.

Over the course of the year you may get updates of how my stitching marathon is going. I’ll have to be a bit discrete in how much detail I provide, as I wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises if friends and family read my blog without my knowing, but it’s a project I’m proud of.

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Have you ever tried to make Christmas cheaper with a pledge like this? How did it work out for you? Let me know in the comments section below.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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When The River Runs Dry

I’ve got stuff on my mind. Nothing important or earth-shattering, and more often than not nothing in any way connected to my writing. It just sits there, rolling around, taking up space in my grey matter. On the whole this is better than the days where I can sit for hours on end with absolutely nothing on my mind, but it does stifle my creativity rather.

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At the moment I have a couple of deadlines looming, as well as my own self-governed attempts to keep getting the words on paper, and I keep finding myself staring mindlessly into the middle distance with another 10 minutes lost to the busy (and entirely fruitless) work of my brain. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because I have deadlines looming that I have gone into meltdown, but if I’m honest I’ve been away with the fairies since before any of this became an issue.

A part of me thinks it might be in part to do with being lost in my fantasy world. I’ve been doing loads of work on my longer fantasy project, and the more the words go down the more I find myself building the world in my head and thinking up incidents that will happen to my characters. I’ve fallen into the trap of writing a whole series in my head before I’ve managed to get the first one written out. This is naughty and I need to stop it.

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But the problem really is that all the while the ideas flow, the words simply don’t want to. And, very often, vice versa. I’m actually finding myself wanting to go with the flow of ideas simply to let them germinate while they are actually there. Even if that means temporarily abandoning a project I love and using my 1000 words a day to get some of the ideas out of my noodle just to clear the way for the useful stuff to find its way back to the foreground.

I’ve said before that I’m a very faddy person, and sometimes I think I need to chop and change to keep myself moving forwards. I just wish that the chops and changes weren’t so crummy when my mind’s like it is at the moment, and that when I’m all geared up and excited about a project I wouldn’t feel like I’m losing enthusiasm for it simply because something shiny has appeared in my peripheral vision to distract me.

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Ooh, shiny.

Right, I’m going to take a couple of days off from my 1000 word target while I compile a couple of newsletters. Maybe chopping and changing designs and content will help me to refocus all of the bubbles in my brain. In the meantime, let me know in the comments section below how you manage to keep yourself focused when real life intervenes.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Names and Faces

I can’t visualise very well. When I close my eyes and try to picture someone I know well they come out looking a bit like this. I focus on a few key characteristics, and roughly construct a face based on the details. It’s quite embarrassing at times, because it means all people look a bit alike to me until I find something that makes that face unique.

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When you bear this in mind, it seems a little bit strange that I can’t write a multi-dimensional character until I ‘cast’ someone as them. They need a face to make them real in my mind. Usually I pick an actor, or someone I know in real life, but occasionally they end up being a face I’ve plucked out of a magazine because they look right. Once that person has a face, their whole personality can start to take shape. It might be nothing like that of the person they’re based on, but that doesn’t matter. All people look alike to me, after all.

I do this when I read as well. As I go through a book I assign the major roles to people to help me make them real in my mind. I hear their voices, notice their mannerisms, smell their scents. It can make seeing a film adaptation of a book I know and love horribly confusing. And this makes me wonder how many other people do this.

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JK Rowling once said that she wanted Alan Rickman for the role of Snape when the Harry Potter films were first being put into production. The casting director wanted Tim Roth. Ultimately, Roth wasn’t available and Rowling got her Snape of choice, but this makes me wonder how many other characters are portrayed in real life by actors who were not what their creators had in mind. To say nothing of how the films would have been different with Tim Roth as Severus Snape. But that’s a debate for another day.

For my longer piece of fantasy fiction, I’ve cast my three central characters in my head. I know exactly what they look like, exactly who they are, and exactly who I would want to play them in a very unrealistic, slightly time-bending film. But what amazes me is that although they are so clearly formed in my head, readers might look at them and cast someone completely different. And what amazes me even more is that I don’t mind.

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I may have mentioned before that I like to be in control. It seems alien to me to hand something to someone else and let them do what they will with it when they might do it wrong. Yet with my characters it doesn’t really bother me. So what if you cast someone else as my leading lady? As real as she seems in my head, that’s the only place that she is real to me. In your head she might be real to you, and you bring your own experience to the words in front of you to let you shape the character as you see fit. And that’s okay. That’s how it should be.

Do you cast novels as you read them? How do you feel when someone makes a film and casts the wrong actors? Does it bother you? Let me know in the comments section below.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Fiction Fifteen: The Giant

As part of my resolution for writing in 2014, I promised one piece of original fiction each month. This is the first of my series of Fiction Fifteen (published on the 15th of each month), and is a poem I’ve called The Giant. It started life when @sarahsalway posted a close-up picture of a toothbrush on Twitter, and I mistakenly thought it was a Christmas tree. She challenged me to write a story about someone brushing their teeth with a tree, and this is what happened.

The Giant by Lady Mondegreen

Once upon a time there was a land
Festooned with clouds and hills
Where the fairies persevere
And giants linger still.

Dragons fly the skies by night
And trolls and goblins roam
Amongst the fire crabs and cavern wights
That stalk the weathered loam.

This story tells the tale
Of a giant known as Threll
Who was twice the size of other giants
And smelled much worse as well.

Threll lived between the two large rocks
Down by the algaed lake,
And every time his stomach rumbled
The earth began to quake.

As the tremors rocked the land
The villagers filled with dread -
The giant would soon leave his rocks
To snack on human head.

It was upon a rainy night
When Threll had dined and dashed
The peasants held a conference
And a dastardly plan was hatched.

The villagers were homely types
Not troubled much by thought.
Their “dastardly plan” was to ask for help,
And a friendly fey was sought.

They rolled up to her dingly dell
With torches raised on high
And politely begged the fairy there
To help them by and by.

She listened to their troubled plight
And a plot came to her mind.
As she listened on and on,
The scheme was much refined.

“Leave it with me,” she told the crowd,
Who cheered and swiftly parted
And left the fairy mumbling
As from the dell she darted.

It took a while to reach Threll’s rocks
With all the magic she could bring
Because the fairy flapped and flew
On tiny fairy wings.

She arrived at journey’s end
Just as the sun was rising
To see that Threll was sitting in
A pose most compromising.

“What’s going on?” the fairy cried
As she looked upon the brute
Splashing in the algaed lake
With his finger up his snoot.

He turned towards the tiny voice
As a host of bubbles rose.
He covered himself with a giant squid
And pulled a moon rock from his nose.

A tiny speck of soft-blue light -
That’s how she looked to him -
Came dancing through the undergrowth
And hovered by Threll’s chin.

“It looks to me,” the fairy cried,
Stifling a laugh,
“As if the fearsome giant Threll
“Is soaking in the bath.”

“I am,” he said, his forehead lined
With painful concentration.
“I like to look and smell my best,”
He splashed with jubilation.

The fairy held her dainty nose
As her eye fell on the algae
And she realised with some horror
What the sludgy weed must be.

“What a thoughtful giant you are
“To keep your body clean,
“Even if the dirty water
“Leaves you faintly green.

“You must tell me, good sir Threll,
“Of other things you do
“To keep yourself all fit and clean -
“How you look after you.”

The giant stood up in the lake
And dropped his giant squid
And the fairy tactfully looked away
Just a moment after he did.

He dressed himself with practised ease
Whence his appearance was complete
With his jacket on him inside out
And his shoes on the wrong feet.

Threll reached up high then touched his toes,
Pulled his knees up to his chin:
The fey could see his exercise
Was ready to begin.

He raised himself on demi-pointe
And turned a pirouette.
Threll performed a ballet dance
The fairy never would forget.

He showed her how he filed his nails
On the rock most knobbly,
And brushed his hair and back and teeth
With a little brown fir tree.

And when the fairy felt the time
To strike was soon arising,
The giant took her quite aback
With actions most surprising.

Threll took a bath tub from the woods
And filled it from the pool.
He sprinkled trees and flowers with
The drops of water cool.

He built a fire and baked a cake
And made a stew from beets,
And animals from near and far
Appeared to sit and eat.

Threll fed and groomed and bonded with
The creatures in his care.
He even freed a unicorn
Caught on a hunter’s snare.

Staggered by Threll’s love for nature
The fairy begged farewell
And flew back to her fairy grotto
In her dingly dell.

She sat inside her titchy house
And pondered all she’d seen.
When the morning came around
She flew to the village green.

The fairy saw the lumberjacks
Chop down the trees for logs,
The hunters trap a centaur foal,
And witches stewing frogs.

She thought “A fairy’s duty is
“To stop the HUMANS messing.”
So she flew back to the giant Threll
And swiftly gave her blessing.

As years went past Threll met a girl
Who could tolerate his scabies
And together they populated the forest
With dozens of giant babies.

Now all the giants in the land
Clean up the mess of mortals
And every now and then men make
A very tasty morsel.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Euphoria

I have a horrible, debilitating medical condition. It has slowly crept into every corner of my life and systematically destroyed it. I’ve spent days, weeks, months at a time in agonising pain. I frequently can’t remember my own name. I’ve seen my IQ plummet, my body mass double and my “friends” desert me because they can’t bear to be around someone like me. And right now, I don’t care.

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For some reason, seemingly unknown to medical science, I get the occasional bout of euphoria. I’m going through a phase of it at the moment, and it’s utter bliss. The aches don’t ache so much. I get stuff done. I don’t care that some people don’t think that people like me should be allowed to live. Because finally I’m enjoying life. It’s still not everything I had hoped it would be before I got ill, but right now everything is hunky-dory. In fact, it’s pretty darn great.

I don’t know what triggers these bouts. Trust me, if I did, I would do that constantly. This time it seems to have been triggered by the perfect combination of cheesy music, extra vegetables and the new series of Sherlock. There’s not much I can do to continue the latter, but I’ll keep up the music and veg. And possibly start a letter-writing campaign to the BBC pointing out that quality television has medicinal properties and that if we have to wait another 2 years for series 4 it could have serious repercussions for my health.

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One of the worst things about having an invisible illness is that people have a tendency to think that it’s either all-in-my-head or, even worse, that I’m faking. This cartoon makes me laugh every time I see it, because I’ve heard most of those things said to me at some point or other. “Have you tried… you know… not having the flu?” has become a bit of a mantra for me when things get bad. It’s all very well sharing things like that cartoon and this story around and trying to explain to people what it actually feels like, but deep down I find that I keep doubting even my own senses.

I’ve been ill my entire adult life, and getting slowly sicker and sicker as the years go by. At first it was a few aches and pains. Then it was some spaciness. Before long I could barely function. It all happens so slowly, that no matter how much I tell myself that this can’t just be what it feels like to be a grown up the insipid comments of the insensitive and my own developing insanity causes me to think “what if I am just faking?” and “perhaps I am just lazy”. If I can’t believe I’m actually ill, what chance do I have of convincing the nay-sayers?

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It’s at times like this that I seem to get something come and prove my internal struggle. In the past, I’ve met new people, changed Doctors, found new hobbies and encountered all kinds of signs, omens and portents when I need them most. My mother has a theory about this, but I’ll spare you that.

Towards the end of last year, I was starting to get very low. I could hardly do anything. My brain was shutting down fast. Days seemed to be over before they’d even begun, and I would achieve nothing but still feel thoroughly exhausted. With this little burst of euphoria I have also been granted a tiny parcel of energy. It’s only small, but it’s incredibly powerful. And it’s let me do ALL THE THINGS.

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As excited as I am to shout about the fact that I’ve written twice my usual quota of words, made vegetable stock and spent ages rolling about on the floor stretching all my stiff and achy muscles yet still have enough focus to construct a blog post, that’s not the real point of my post.

What I really wanted to do was remind everyone, no matter how good your health, that we all have good days and bad days. We all have ups and downs. And when you’re having a down, don’t let the haters hate. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. Tomorrow you could wake up with euphoria, and no matter how awful your situation is it just won’t seem important any more.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and jump up and down like a five-year-old.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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New Year, New Plan

This is my first blog post of 2014. How exciting. I’ve made it this far submitting regular(ish) posts for your approval, and I’m pleased with that. So, for the next phase, I’m going to attempt to up the ante for myself. For 2014, I will add a monthly fiction post on the 16th of the month. It might be a poem, or a short story, or an extract from something bigger that I’m working on. Whatever it is, you will see it here first.

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Occasionally something like Fairy Tale Friday will catch my eye, and I will join in with things that will get posted here as well. It’s great when I get inspired by something like this, but it does seem that I struggle to keep going with them. I have my own projects, which are busy cluttering up my mind and not leaving enough space for outside projects. On the one hand, it’s nice to be so engrossed in what I’m doing, but on the other it does seem a shame not to be entering more competitions. After all, a lot of writers seem to get their big breaks from competitions. And sometimes they produce things that can make you feel really proud. 

I’ve also been invited to join a local writing group this year. I hope that meeting up with other writers on a regular basis will keep me motivated and encourage me to plough on, putting more words on paper. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter what I write, I just need to keep getting those words down in order to stay motivated. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, accredits his prolific reputation to his discipline in sitting down every day and writing 1000 words. 1000 words isn’t much. In my hand-writing, it’s about 4 sides of A4 (wide-ruled). Keep that up every day for three months, and you’ve written a novel’s worth of words. 

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Due to my fibromyalgia, I can’t always guarantee that I will be lucid enough to write 1000 words in a day. If I’m sitting in a trance, trying to remember what my name is and whether I’m wearing socks or not, any words I manage to produce are not likely to be in English. It’s not a bad practice to get in to for the other days though, and those are the days that count.

I’ve also decided to go back to my old day job. I gave it up for the reasons described above, but I miss it. I miss being a holistic therapist. Despite my approach being firmly in the weird-and-wacky camp, I always tried to keep myself serious. I was ashamed of something I was, and am, really good at. So in line with my own resolution, I shall be restarting the sideline. I’ll still keep writing, still keep blogging, and still keep loving it. But now I shall also be doing it over here as well. I might make mention of it from time to time, but I won’t keep plugging it ruthlessly I promise. If you’re interested in that sort of thing you now have access to it, and if you’re not you’re not.

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By the end of 2014, I hope to achieve:

1 blog post each week;

1 fiction post each month;

1000 words a day;

Attend a writing group;

Go alternative;

No shame.

It’s shaping up to be a pretty cracking year.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Words and Pictures

I’ve been pondering how to go about releasing my poetry. Anything short, written for adults I can happily club together into an anthology, and release once I’ve got enough that I feel happy with. Adult epics can be released as they are. The real problem comes when I look at the stuff I write for children.

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Children like to have pictures to look at when they read a story, and find it difficult to imagine ever wanting to read a book without pictures in it. At least, I did when I was very young, and most of the children I read with now say the same things. I even know a 13-year-old who couldn’t imagine reading a book without pictures in it.

It’s very difficult trying to come up with a way of releasing children’s books digitally when they rely so heavily on pictures. Most e-readers will allow for images in black and white, shown in between chunks of text. This is fine for older children, but when you’re looking at something in the 2-5 years range it’s difficult to make that work.

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My brother is an app designer, and I recently spoke to him about releasing a children’s book as an app. He couldn’t see how it would work, even though I tried to explain my idea to him. Alas, he’s not a reader, so he might be struggling to grasp it from the readability angle rather than the app design idea. Either way, it’s not looking promising.

Putting the technical aspects aside for the time being, one big problem I have found is trying to find an illustrator. I’m not particularly arty, so I wondered how to go about finding someone to work with me in producing pictures to go with my words. Words come quite naturally to me, and I find that once I’ve got the idea worked out my stories more or less write themselves. Illustrations, on the other hand, I am led to believe take hours and hours of painstaking work. Illustrations for a children’s story, where you need many pages of artwork to just a few paragraphs of words, take significantly more time and effort than the words themselves.

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It therefore seems ridiculous that I should write words and find an illustrator, finish the project, take control of the release and share the royalties with them. Especially when artists are told never to work with writers for royalties, because there never are any. Surely this should work the other way around? Surely artists should buy text from writers, rather than writers buying illustrations from artists? Surely the illustrator should be at least as involved as I am?

After much confusing and contradictory information from the artist world, I’ve decided that the only way I can realistically release my children’s books with illustrations is if I provide the artwork myself. When I say I’m not particularly arty, I mean I’m not a traditional artist, and am totally out of the loop when it comes to graphic art. I can draw cartoony people, who will grace the pages of my children’s work for now, and if I’m lucky I might find someone a bit more adept than I am to work with in the long run.

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If you can offer me any advice about illustrations, or have any ideas about how a children’s book could be released digitally, please let me know in the comments section below.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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