Thursday, December 30, 2010

food and family, that season

Not too much to say here, just enough to keep the photos from being too puzzling.
Chris came for Christmas, is now off at a cabin in Sooke (not our old home, but one with power and running water) and will be back for New Year's. He just missed connecting with my brother, my sister-in-law Laura (pictured here with Mark and the back of Cedric's head) and their kids, who came by on the 28th and filled the kitchen nicely, as you can see by the second photo below.
The hare hanging from the rack is plush, we are not aging our meat in the historic fashion.

These are most of my nephews and nieces on one side of the family, with a significant other for leavening (he's the one in the striped shirt).
We had to bring in a few extra chairs. It was raucous and cheerful, and the cat hid upstairs until everyone had gone.
Can I remember names? Um. Cedric, who sings opera; Jason, Piper's significant other; Piper who's supposed to look like me; Graeme, Ivan the youngest, Josephine the shy one; Helen whom you can't quite see, Hannah who has been carving Christmas dinners all week - and I'm missing someone, I know it.

Happily baking still, and just the other day finished decorating the cookies with this batch of golden bells. I'm quite taken with the little holly leaf sprig, as you can tell.
I do need to do another dozen tarts, because the pastry won't keep forever. Mark has asked that I stop at 3 dozen butter tarts, so I may do the rest as pecan tarts (that is, the same filling, but over chopped pecans instead of raisins), or look at some other tart recipes. If I'm feeling adventurous. Maybe there's one that can use up an apple or two.
We had roast ducks with wine & bitter cherry (correction per husband: sour cherry) sauce for Christmas. Duck curry the next two days. I took the leftover cherry-wine sauce and used it in gingerbread cake, but I have to say the water-from-boiling-grapefruit-peel is more effective. I suppose the spices and molasses overpower any weaker flavours.

And since I promised, here is my super-garish birthday cake!
It's a butter cake with butterscotch icing, ornamented with butter icing left over from the roll cookies in a festive design of stars and holly (or possibly, green bats with red eyes). Around the outside is happy birthday Barbara in sloppy red icing, or Barbara happy birthday, or birthday Barbara happy, depending where you start.

New Year Merry Christmas and Happy to you!

Monday, December 27, 2010

walking into the books

This is the post about Hemingford Grey Manor that I promised weeks ago.

First, background: the Manor was built in the 1100s, of stone, and is perhaps the oldest continuously inhabited house in England. It has been adjusted in various ways over the centuries, most notably in the Tudor age and the Georgian, when it belonged to the Gunnings (of the 'beautiful Gunning sisters') who completely covered the Norman stone with a symmetrical (and much larger) Palladian exterior--which burnt down in the late 1790s.
In 1937, Lucy M. Boston bought the Manor, and spent the next two years restoring it. At the time it looked like a 'semi-derelict Georgian farmhouse', only one Norman window showed and only two rooms were livable. But she had fallen in love with it, and decided 'if this should prove to be all there was, I would yet live in a house that had a window into the twelfth century.'

The Manor became her muse. 'All my water is drawn from one well,' she said. 'I am obsessed by my house. It is in the highest degree a thing to be loved.'
At the age of sixty she began to write, and her first novels were published in 1954. The Children of Green Knowe was illustrated by her son, Peter Boston, and her publisher explained that they did not illustrate books for adults. So it was published as a children's book, and became the first of six Green Knowe books.
The Manor, under various names, features in all her novels except one (The Sea Egg), always as a haven, sometimes an ambiguous or embattled one. The countryside around the manor plays its part, from the winter flood that The Children of Green Knowe opens with, to the river Ouse (in the picture here) that is the setting for The River at Green Knowe.

The books: In the first book, young Tolly (Toseland) goes to stay with his great-grandmother, whom he has never met. He arrives during a flood, and is rowed to the doorstep. I want to quote swaths of this, because it is beautifully and sensually written, from the train crossing railway lines covered with flood water, to the entrance hall 'hung all over with mirrors and pictures and china'. But I'll try to restrain myself.
'Toseland waved the lantern about and saw trees and bushes standing in the water, and presently the boat was rocked by quite a strong current and the reflection of the lantern streamed away in elastic jigsaw shapes and made gold rings around the tree trunks.'

He meets his great-grandmother: 'She had short silver curls and her face had so many wrinkles it looked as if someone had been trying to draw her for a very long time and every line put in had made the face more like her.'
Tolly's father and stepmother are in Burma, and he feels alone and placeless. At Green Knowe he finds his family's past, in a place where past and present are not so easily distinguished, where he is welcomed to both.
While Tolly has an ancestral claim, his mother's family of Oldknow being descended from the Roger d'Aulneaux who built the Norman house, the other child who finds a place there is Ping, a refugee child who arrives in the third book The River at Green Knowe. By the fifth book, An Enemy at Green Knowe, Ping and Tolly stand together to defend their home against the conniving Dr. Melanie Powers.
'Green Knowe was full of mysteries. Certainly it was welcoming and comfortable and rejoicing and gay, but one had the feeling that behind the exciting colours and shapes of its ancient self there might be surprises from the unknown universe; that the house was on good terms with that too, and had no intention of shutting out the un-understandable. Of course, it was largely Time. Surely Now and Not-now is the most teasing of all mysteries, and if you let in a nine-hundred year dose of time, you let in almost everything.'
The house: With the aid of Peter Boston's line drawings and scraperboard illustrations, I knew Green Knowe as well as my own home. The nursery with its angled ceiling and rocking horse casting shadows across the wall, the Knight's Hall with its arched windows and high ceiling, the entrance with carved cherub and witch-ball. The thick stone walls that had withstood centuries, and the river that ran quietly alongside, sometimes waking and spreading across the fields.

Before taking up writing, Lucy Boston was a painter and musician, and along with her writing, she was a remarkable quilter and gardener. The fictional topiary garden of Green Knowe and the actual topiary garden of the Manor grew alongside each other.
Here is Mark taking the path through the gardens to the river walk. We came in November, when the gardens weren't at their best--they are famous for roses--but the topiary remained stalwart.
The weather had turned bitter cold and windy, and when we reached the house, Diana Boston told us to come in even though we were early. Mark said he'd be glad to come in out of the cold. She laughed and said 'Out of the wind, maybe. Not out of the cold.' Stone houses are not known for their insulating and heat-retention capacity.

No pics of the Manor, sorry, but you can see a little in their gallery here. Outside it was too bloody cold to stand about, and inside they ask that you don't take photos--though I expect there are plenty on flickr, taken with cell phones and all.
I had been to Hemingford Grey in '04, but without Mark, and since he was also a fan of the Green Knowe books, coming to them as an adult, I'd wanted to visit again with him.

Visiting the Manor is like walking into the books. Over the years, as Lucy Boston describes in her memoir Memories in a House, she collected things that had appeared in the books, and added them to the house. The most recent addition, Diana Boston told us, was the Saint Christopher statue that protects Tolly from demonic Green Noah. Lucy Boston based it on one in a nearby church, and when The Children of Green Knowe was filmed for British television, the company created a statue, which Diana managed to acquire rather than letting it go into the rubbish.
The first time I visited I was in a constant state of 'oh look, there's the Green Deer! there's the window Tolly and Ping look out of at the end of Enemy! there's the carved cherub!' and when Diana Boston put Tolly's carved mouse into my hands (close your eyes first) I was in something near book-ecstasy.
I managed a bit more restraint this time, but it still taps into that childhood imagining that if somehow I could manage to want to enough, I could get into that other world, step through the looking-glass, open the wardrobe door, climb into the painting, shrink to toy-size and catch the dolls moving.
I don't know of another place where the walls between real and imagined are so thin, as thin as the walls between past and present are in the fictional house of Green Knowe.
The nursery is the exemplar. In the photo linked, it is tidy, but depending when you visit, the toys may be put away in the chest or strewn about the house, being played with by visiting grandchildren, great-nephews and nieces, or recently rescued from dogs--the wooden doll has had its arms chewed off--because it is part of a living house, and at the same time it is the very room in Peter Boston's illustration.

Hemingford Grey village is madly picturesque. Here's just one of the thatched timber-frame cottages. Up the street is the post office, which came near being closed down for lack of funding, but was taken over by the parish church.
The colour of the plaster is Suffolk pink (though this is Cambridgeshire), it and yellow being favourite colours of plaster in East Anglia. (They were made with local ochres originally, and you can now buy housepaints in the same tints)
The village does manage to support a gastro-pub, the Cock, where I had the local cider, Cromwell, and the pigeon breast pictured in a previous blog entry.
Hm, I think I should leave the Ghost Story evening to another post, since this one is already longish.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas

And Happy Boxing Day! Have some shortbread with sparkles.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

afterlife of books

I've been effectively offline for a week, so it hasn't been just my blog I've been neglecting, and I do still love you all. Truly. What has been occupying me was the United Way booksale, an annual pre-Christmas event at UVic. Donated books, cds, LPs, etc. are sold off in a 3-day binge that takes weeks of prep, a day to set up, and at least a day to clean up after. I came in peripherally, as a scout for more-valuable donated items that could be put into the silent auction, and ended up being on board for the whole week of the sale, aside from two meetings already booked.
When I went home each day I was too wiped out to go online--I'd just eat dinner and go to bed. So I have no idea what's been going on in the world all last week. Or even what's been going on in Fandom Wank.

On the other hand, I got to spend five days messing around with printed books, which is always a Happy Thing. I know some writers find the proximity of many many books to be dispiriting: Robert Benchley was said (by Dorothy Parker, I think) to find (used?) bookshops depressing, because he would look at all those volumes and think of every one of the writers behind every one of them, and how each writer had finished writing, put down his pen and thought 'there, that's it, the last word, all that needs to be said.' And the books sitting on the bookshelf, unwanted.
Some writers are agin' the resale of used books, given that the authors & publishers get nowt for them. Others are cheered by the possibility that readers of their used books will go on to buy copies of their new books--this option only open to writers with continuing careers. As a reader, I know I've gone on to buy books by authors whom I learned of from library or 2d-hand reading, so it does work. And, um, yes, I did bring something like 3 boxes of books back from the sale, myself.
I promise you a later post, with pics, from the 1960s-70s cookbooks I snagged during packing up. Though I admit to bitter, bitter disappointment that the photo for 'Novelty Meat Square' is only b/w and not full 1960s colour.

There's something rather marvelous (to me) about the way books go on, as physical artefacts, having a life in the marketplace long after the authors and even publishing houses have gone toes-up. Students and seniors arriving at the cash desk with armloads of biographies and travel books, mysteries and fantasies, art books, and here and there a bestseller from two years back. Books to be read and studied, still wanted.

In other news, a rejection for God's-Meat, though a nice one:
Thank you for your submission to Shimmer. I thought your story was
well-written and evocative, but ultimately didn't think it was exactly
what we look for here. I'm going to have to pass on this, but I wish
you the best of luck placing your story elsewhere.

I'm not hugely surprised, since they buy mostly contemporary stories, and God's-Meat is a take (a piss-take, possibly) on heroic fantasy, but it never hurts to try.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

snow has fallen

And Victoria grinds to a halt. That was the newspaper headline a day or two ago: Victoria grinds to a halt. I'm sitting in the kitchen sipping on my second cup of tea and watching the snow fall. It would be nice to get the woodstove going, but there's not really enough time before I leave for work. And yes, I'm being a wuss and getting a ride in and out, rather than biking. Which there really is no excuse for, because it's not icy at present, and it's ice that I refuse to bike on, not snow.

I'm working on a writing-related post--or reading-related post--on characters with Destinies and what I think of as 'unearned specialness', but since it's something that annoys me as a reader, I keep wandering off into sidetracks about specific books, and having to delete.
It's an odd thing to be a writer as well as a reader. Suddenly the opinions I have about books and stories become opinions about other people's work, and that dubious ground between creator and creation becomes even boggier. It's as if I've compromised myself.
And yet I've been a reader all my life (even before I could read for myself, my parents read to us and told us stories) and a writer only since, oh, 2004. And a critical reader, too, encouraged to analyse and to put my analysis into words.

Some writers give up reviewing or commenting on what they read, or review only books they loved, because of the discomfort of saying anything negative about the work of someone who is in a sense a colleague, or whom you might meet at a convention or workshop.
I wonder what I'll do?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

island of eels cathedral

From Cambridge, I made a day trip to Ely. It's only about 15 minutes by train, and I might have been able to bus there. I'd been briefly in Ely a few years ago, and wanted to spend more time looking around, instead of rushing through.

Like Lincoln, Ely is in the midst of fenlands, very flat fenlands. Like Lincoln, it's a town on a hill that used to be an island. The name (pronounced Eel-ee, not Ee-ly) means Eel Island, so you can guess what the waters were full of.
Fortunately, Ely isn't nearly as steep as Lincoln, with only a bit of a climb from the railway station. The day began gray and chilly, as you can see from this photo. What you can't see is the wind, which came pouring through the cathedral doors and made me stop and push them shut again.
What you might be able to see is that the wall leading up to the cathedral has little gargoyle heads along it, some knocked off over the years, many still in place.

I had somehow forgotten that Ely Cathedral has a maze. It's Victorian (1870), not medieval, and lies just inside the entrance. The guide pamphlet suggests you use the labyrinth to concentrate your mind and consider your path in life and your way to God as you enter the house of God.
Naturally I walked it, with due concentration. This pic was taken from the centre, just before I walked out again. (I'm so glad my new camera doesn't need a flash--flashes inside a church just feel rude). I was surprised by the number of people who didn't notice the maze, but just walked over it as if it were an ordinary bit of floor.

You can perhaps see from this that the maze isn't the overused Chartres design (she said sniffily) or the standard Cretan labyrinth, but an original design by Gilbert Scott, who restored much of the cathedral in the 1800s.
Like all labyrinths, it is a long journey in a compact space, and takes more time than you would think to complete. I stopped in the centre, wondering if there would be any resonance between the maze under my feet and the maze over my spine, but no. It was a cool moment, all the same.

From the maze I went on to the Stained Glass Museum, housed in an upper gallery of the cathederal. It's a well-done small museum, with a good sampling of glass from early medieval to modern, and decent explanations of the revival and the different schools and movements. Plus dioramas of glass workshops showing the cutting, painting, firing, assembly and so on.
The only problem was that no photography was allowed inside the museum--and the catalogue pictures were small and did not include measurements! So I put my hand alongside the pieces I was interested in, as a measure, then sketched my hand beside the catalogue photo.
The pic here is from outside the museum, of the Victorian glass which fills almost all the windows now, the original glass having not made it through the centuries. While Victorian glass is not hugely appealing to me, I have to admit that it makes a brave show in the sunlight--which had appeared by then, though the day was still not warm.
And again, reason to love my new camera, as it was able to capture the light through the stained glass windows falling on this pillar.
After the Stained Glass Museum, I wanted a cup of tea, and perhaps a scone with clotted cream. I was cold. But! That morning a water main had burst, and Ely had no water. Thus no tea. Also no lavatories.
Rumour had it that the Costas had water, but rather than chase rumour about, I walked over to the Oliver Cromwell House and took the tour there, where it was warmer, being a timber-frame plastered house that might even have been stuffy on another day. Oliver Cromwell's life was represented by mannequins rocking cradles or sitting at writing desks, some with unnerving head-tilting action. Then to the Ely Museum, a cooler (stone) building that was once the gaol, and had a suitably depressing (distressing) display of mannequins chained to the wall and floor for violent crimes, and a despondent family of debtor mannequins. None of them had convincing hair, but perhaps that can't be helped.

Finding no water nor tea, I returned to the cathedral, and visited the Lady Chapel, which has an unusual modern statue of Mary, but I admit I was more stirred by the discovery in an aisle window of fragments of medieval glass, patched together into roundels. Here's a closeup of one such. The diamond quarries around it are about the length of my stretched out thumb and index finger, if that helps. The fragments look to be late 14th to late 15th century.
I also photographed the 13th or 14th c. wall paintings of the martyrdom of S. Edmund, but those aren't visually exciting unless you're already a wall painting geek, so I'll skip those here. If you are a wall painting geek, you would probably have shared my fangirl moment in Lincoln when I discovered that Eastbridge Hospital had an E. W. Tristram copy of its much faded Majesty painting--I'm not sure which I was more excited by, the original or the Tristram.

This head is one of those decorating the Prior's Door, which dates from about 1150, elaborate Romanesque carving. Very flash. I'd expect it was painted originally.
It was after 3 by then, and I was wanting my tea, so I decided to walk down to the river and see if the water main had been fixed.
Outside, I saw that the slanting light had turned the cathedral stone golden, and stopped to take even more photos. I'll spare you most of them, and only observe that the stabilising feature is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Also the larger screen, which makes it much easier to tell if a photo is blurred or out of focus.

Here's the pic I think came out best. The zoom feature is so good, and the screen so large, that I was pretty much using the camera as a telescope, to show me details I couldn't make out by eye alone.
Ely has a great collection of gargoyles. I don't know how many are restorations, but there are so many! I could probably have populated this blog post entirely with gargoyles.
However, I finally tore myself away and headed downhill.

Reaching the bottom of the hill, I found the riverside walk, and strolled along it. A couple of fishermen stood on the paved bank, and one brought in a fish as I walked past him. Ducks with bright red beaks stomped over to him, perhaps wanting their cut, or protection money. They didn't really look like law-abiding ducks.
Here's a swan and a canal boat. If I ever end up with time to spare in the UK, I want to ride on a canal boat. One of my cousins lived in one for a year or so, but that was long ago.

Alas, the restaurants and pub along the river were also closed, though the pub hoped to be open for supper soonish. But I didn't want supper on my own, just tea.
So I explored the riverside walk a bit more, and found several massive willows, any of them big enough to be the one from Willow Knot, sheltering the little cottage under its leaves. The trouble is that the massiveness just didn't seem to come across in the photos. This one is the closest to showing itself properly.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

home again

We made it home Monday afternoon, despite yea, even more travel glitches--specifically, Delta deciding that there was insufficient connection time between my arrival in Seattle and my departure for Victoria, and cancelling that last flight for me. My husband's reservation, made from the same flight to the same flight, they did not cancel, though it (obviously) had precisely the same amount of time to make the connection.
Maybe they figure girls can't run as fast as boys?
The wonderful staff at Horizon/Alaska, though, got me on to the very same flight I was originally booked for, even though it was overbooked by one already.

But, you say, what about the rest of my trip? Didn't I promise a full post on Hemingford Grey? Have I said anything about London? Where have I been and what have I seen?
Though some of you, faithful readers, may more likely be griping that I've babbled enough about travel and how about something relevant to writing, like whether Willow Knot has had any nibbles yet.
And yes, I will be alternating travel and writing posts for the next little while. In brief, WK has had one very nice rejection in the 'don't think we can market this one but show us the next' vein, and two of the 'doesn't work for me' sort. Cost of Silver is slated for expansion with MOAR HISTRY & MOAR PPLS PLZ.
Yesterday morning my doctor told me that my kidney function is down a trifle and so I will get more tests and potentially a kidney biopsy. Ick ick ick. I'd look it up on Wikipedia, but I'm almost certain it involves Huge Needles and that I might be better off not knowing the details.

So! More later. I'm not jetlagged, but I am uncommon tired, so please excuse the brevity (or appreciate it, as your tastes dictate.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

not travel, just books

While travelling, one does tend to read. Waiting at train stations, waiting at bus stops, waiting for something to open, before going to bed, and so on. Here are two quotes that struck me in recent reading.

From In a Dark Wood, by Amanda Craig, Fourth Estate 2000, a contemporary lit novel about a man struggling with the breakup of his marriage and the stalling of his acting career, on a quest to discover the truth about his dead mother, through the memories of her friends and the book of fairy tales she wrote and illustrated.

Ruth fixed me with her eyes. 'If you read fairy-tales carefully, you'll notice they are mostly about people who aren't heroes. They don't have special powers, or gifts. Often they are despised as stupid. They are bullied, beaten up, robbed, starved. But they find they are stronger than their misfortunes.'
'How? How?'
'By luck, or courage, or kindness.'
'Ruth, you must know that in real life, none of those things work.'
'How do you know?' she said. 'Have you tried them?'

And from The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova, Time Warner 2005, enough of a bestseller I don't need to precis the plot.

The thing that most haunted me that day, however, as I closed my notebook and put my coat on to go home, was not my ghostly image of Dracula, or the description of impalement, but the fact that these things had--apparently--actually occurred. If I listened too closely, I thought, I would hear the screams of the boys, of the "large family" dying together. For all his attention to my historical education, my father had neglected to tell me this: history's terrible moments were real.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

pigeon post

Back from Hemingford Grey Manor, the original of Green Knowe, and that deserves a long and thoughtful and amazed post. Which I'm not quite up to at the moment, after two half-pints of cider. So instead I provide a sampling of the pigeons of England. Honestly, pigeons everywhere, in flocks like starlings, inside train stations, all over churches as if they were auditioning for a John Woo film, pecking around the street markets, everywhere.
This is at Dane John tower, part of the walls of Canterbury. An arrow slit, the perfect size for a pigeon hole.

This is part of the overhang of the roof at the Peterborough train station. There's a whole series of spaces on the inside, with a walkway--pigeon size--along the interior. Thoughtful of British Rail, isn't it?

Cambridge, a statue on the outside of one of the colleges. When I first noticed the pigeon, it was roosting on the statue's wrist, pretending to be a hawk. By the time I had the camera out, it was wandering around the wig and had met a friend.

Just for a change--gulls! And can you guess why the first pic is on here?

Monday, November 8, 2010

really just more photos

Because I found this one while looking back & deleting, and thought it was better than the daylight one of the same spot - Northgate in Lincoln, the Roman wall.

And this is Lincoln's Eastbridge, viewed from the water walk. If you walk up the High Street, you may not even realise that there's a bridge - that timber-frame building there is a cafe, and you can't see the water at all, on either side.

Just above Steep Hill, which is the road to the left. Just here is where, at night, with a light rain, I saw a young man, unhelmeted and with his legs swung out to the side for balance, careen down the cobbles on his bike. I just stared.

And here is the sight that you meet just after getting off the train in Cambridge. Bicycles are locked everywhere--every set of iron railings has at least one layer of bikes chained to it, sometimes stacked vertically, sometimes horizontally.

walled town to university town

Writing now from Cambridge, but of Lincoln. Reunited with me EEE, hurrah!

Lincoln is another walled town, medieval walls on top of Roman walls. Here's a nice bit of Roman wall, the North Gate, on Northgate. The sign nearby has a fine b/w photo of a goods lorry stuck midway through the arch, with a stone block (on the upper right, you may be able to spot it) crunching its corner.
The b&b was pretty nice, recently redecorated I think, firm bed and pillows rather hard, and no smoking signs just everywhere you turned, including a dire warning about sensitive smoke detectors connected to the fire station and the penalty for false alarms.
A good full English breakfast, with slice of black pudding (research!). Visited the Museum of Lincolnshire Life, which has some thorough dioramas of stonemasons, basketweavers, tilers, and other things I had to take photos of (for research!). May put up pics later, but for now only brief postings.

Lincolnshire is flat fens. Lincoln is a hill. A steep hill (the name of one of the streets). It is remarkably like Nelson in that way, that one can't really get lost because there's always the slope to orient yourself with. Plus Lincoln has a large pointy cathedral at the top of the hill, so you can orient yourself by whether the cathedral is at your right hand or your left.
Walking in Lincoln is a good way to stay fit.

Here, in St. Mary le Wigfort's, oldest church in Lincoln, right next to the railway station, I had tea with fellow ABE forumites Rocambole, Ferret, and 2manybooks.
After that we climbed up nearly to the cathedral and had lunch at Brown's Pie Shop (details to be filled in later and photo added), then descended bookshop by bookshop. I had to be removed from the Lincoln Historical Society bookshop so that Roccie and Ferret could catch their train.
It was a pity Zolah couldn't be there, but in another two years there may be another chance...

Somehow, yet again, I did not make it into the castle, but here is a picture taken while leaving.
The night before, I walked about Lincoln in the dark, while belated Bonfire Night fireworks went off scattered about the town. I stood in the courtyard of the medieval Bishop's Palace, old stone walls all about me, and a skein of geese flew overheard, gabbling and barking. I looked up and saw them as a frayed bar across the deep blue sky, like a single ragged creature.
Then I walked to the Church of St. Mary Magdalene to hear a concert of early music. Do feel free to envy me.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

the pilgrim way

From Canterbury still, but leaving tomorrow morning. Mark for London, me for Lincoln. The EEE goes with Mark, so I won't be posting for a few days.

Canterbury is a walled city, though the wall is down for about 2/3ds of the way. A good part of it is still walkable, and that's how we came from the train station to our friends' place. Opposite here is the view from their front door.
It's a school, no public admission. Used to be St. Augustine's Abbey. That's the gatehouse in the photo.
Presently, nearly half the population of Canterbury is students (about 30,000), with the University of Canterbury and the University of Kent, and various schools.

Perhaps relatedly, there are a lot of pubs.
We've eaten twice at the Parrot, where I had pork-belly with mashed potatoes and candied black pudding and crackling and broccoli and green beans and carrots. So good. Transcendent. The second time I split mine, and was able to try out puddings (desserts)--the four of us split Eton Mess (meringue, whipped cream, strawberries, raspberries & sauce), Banoffee (digestive biscuit crust, sliced bananas, toffee & choc drizzle), and chocolate mousse.
I had my required English cream tea, so that's taken care of, at Tiny Tim's Tearoom, 'the quintessential English experience' they say. The name is because there's a haunted room, where a volume of Dickens is supposedly always pulled out and left open to the same passage with Tiny Tim. I was a bit disappointed to visit the Ghost Room and see that the book on the table was a book about hauntings and not Dickens at all. And I couldn't hear the mysterious laughter and whispers of children because they have a student film continually running, which has a soundtrack of children whispering. Harrumph.

Less corporally, yesterday I went to a service at Greyfriars Chapel, a lovely Norman stone building straddling the river. About 20 people attended, at least 5 being Franciscans (wearing brown habits--the information board on the ground floor explains about Grey Friars wearing brown or black). I was one of the youngest there, except for a young woman with her 4 yr old daughter, who was remarkably patient during the service.
The homily was for Richard Hooker, whose anniversary it was, and prayers were made for President Obama and the newly-elected representatives, thence down to the local council in Canterbury, and names provided by the congregation members.
I didn't take pics of the interior - it seemed a bit rude right after the service (followed by tea and biscuits), but it's a fine small open space, whitewashed walls and wooden beams. It sheltered Huguenot refugees once, who used the beams for their weaving, which is pretty cool.

There is much else I could say, but Mark wants to check his email, and I need to get some sleep.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

WFC 2010

Posting from Canterbury.

Well, the whole enterprise very nearly ended before it began, when I arrived at the airport to check in and the woman at the counter pointed out that my passport had expired 2 weeks ago.
Yes, I am an idiot.
However, the Victoria passport office worked absolute miracles for me and had a new passport for me by 1 pm the next day (can you believe that? I brought them a tub of cookies and a bag of apples) so I flew out the next evening.

I have now met my agent, and a number of her other clients, all of whom think she is wonderful and are ready to sing her praises. (I had confirmation from another client that all the revision that goes on before submission makes a difference and that she had less revision required from her editor.) In case anyone is wondering about the high-flying life of those of us with hot New York agents, for our meeting we ended up in the hospitality / consuite after the cafe got too noisy, and had free tea and pop. And crackers.
We talked about The Cost of Silver, and what I see as the highly uncommercial aspects of it, and what could be done about those. I have the go-ahead to write bigger and broader this time, to really use the historical setting (England in the Stuart and ECW era), and to write several povs or storylines, tying them in rather than leaving those as secondary or tertiary characters.
I suspect this means that revising the first draft will not be finished by the beginning of February as previously estimated.
The question of 'what books is this book like' came up again. So far we have Iain Pears' Instance of the Fingerpost, Kostova's The Historian, and that Dan Simmons' book that starts in a Roumanian orphanage.

I got to visit with Terri-Lynn and Cal from VPX, and to fangirl Martha Wells, among others. I got a signed (and inscribed!) copy of Terri-Lynn's book, launched at the con--Finder, published by Hadley Rille. Memo to self: find sparkly gel pens for her to use for future signings. The queen of sparkles needs to have a sparkly signature.
Got to meet Cal's daughter, a bright and talented young lady, with an awesome Goth coat.

Here's a photo of us, taken by Terri's stalwart husband. I don't know how well Terri's tattoos show up, but they are works of art.

Good con stuff: excellent food in the consuite; a talk by Mary Robinette Kowal on how to improve readings, truncated to a half-hour and continued in the bar. I had to miss the latter part because I wanted to attend the panel on Fantasy as the Art of Leaving Things Out, which was also pretty good. And here's a picture of that panel, with Martha Wells in the centre, moderating. Somehow I missed catching her in the big autograph session--missing people there seems to be a gift I have. But I was able to meet Lane Robins and engage in some mutual squeeing over how good The Wizard Hunters is.
Also met Alaya Dawn Johnson and bought her last copy of Moonshine (ha ha!) and was able to tell her that I'd looked for and bought her previous two books, the Spirit Binders series/trilogy after reading the sampler at last year's WFC. So the sampler works.
I picked up my tent card after the signing session, but with only 4 e-stories to my name, I don't have anything to sign, myself.

I don't have the programme book with me, so I can't do a full con report, but overall it was a good con. I never got into the art show, which was a pity, because it looked good although out of my price range.
Not quite as many books in the bag as with previous years, and the swap table pickings were fairly lean--there were four books that were fairly constantly present, and others were only available briefly. I was happy to snatch up a copy of the new Holly Black, and to have a copy of Secret History of Moscow in my bag.
Then I posted all that back home, because when I'm travelling I try to carry only books I'm willing to leave behind when I've finished them. So I picked up a copy of Night of Knives from the table, and unfortunately while I'm quite willing to leave it behind, I'm not nearly as willing to finish reading it. The story is okay if you like gaming-based heroic fantasy where the story fills in cracks of a much bigger storyline, but I'm having trouble with the author's persistent misuse of words and clumsy sentences. ('rind of bread', 'cantered' for 'canted', 'malinger' for 'linger', etc.) The character with a crossbow strapped to her leg, lying on a rooftop, kind of boggled me too (and she's an adolescent girl: does the author know what upper body strength is required to draw a crossbow?).
Oh well, gripe gripe gripe. I've picked up a couple of books from the Oxfam shop to tide me over.

More later!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

my tattoos

Brand new and still healing.

This is the labyrinth pattern I build with stones each year at Fort Rodd Hill. I wanted a human figure in the centre, like the female figure in the Sibbo wall-painting, but it wouldn't have been legible without making the labyrinth huge. So a dot, standing for me being midway (a labyrinth is a two-way journey, there and back)
Also, if I forget the pattern next year at Fort Rodd Hill, I can just ask someone to look at the back of my neck.

A jellyfish, on my right shoulder, for the phosphorescent ctenophora at Martha's Vineyard during Viable Paradise (yes I know this isn't a ctenophore, it's a moon jelly) and for my first pro-rate sale, which features flying jellyfish.
And VPX, for Viable Paradise Ten, my year and my tribe.

Garden in autumn

These are all photos that Mark took, and since I've been slack about posting this month, I'm taking the chance to show off his work.

Here are rosehips, from the rugosa in the front yard, I think. The gallica in the back still has a few blooms, or did until the winds last weekend, but the rosehips are making a fine display.
You can eat rosehips, just don't eat the hairy bit in the middle. Ptah!

Crocus! The kind that produces saffron--see the lovely yellow stamens? The bulbs were planted years ago, and only now do we have more than three showing up in a year.
Mark harvested the saffron and made saffron rice.

A white slug. I've never seen one all white before. I'm much more used to the small brown ones and the big banana slugs (childhood memories of stepping on a banana slug, and the slime making everything stick to one's bare foot afterwards).

It's rather beautiful in a slimy translucent way.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

clawing my way

from under a heap of apples, rather like James T. Kirk in the tribbles episode, only apples are hard and some of them have mushy bits or bug-bites.

Last weekend I was in the Interior, attending the Golden Swan event and spending time with Alis/Rajpal and Lucy, my most distant apprentices. Riding with me was Deirdre Greenwood, with whom I am in apprentice negotiations. This was the road-trip test, to see whether either of us had such annoying habits that the other would want to leave them behind at a rest area.
I am pleased to report that we both made it back to our respective homes. Though the last part of my trip makes for a long and convoluted story that can only be properly shared in person, and all I will say at present is that I am really surprised BC Ferries has apparently no provision at all for dealing with someone who falls ill during the trip. I mean, not even a place to lie down.
But I am back now, and mostly recovered. It has been a social month so far, with the spare bed not having a chance to be folded back up between Deirdre, Alis and Sitavati, and Stephen visiting, and that just at our place, not counting travels & socialising.

Me with three apprentices, in front of my little tent, Cawston BC.

The apple trees have taken advantage of my absence to start dropping fruit in earnest. We gave two buckets away, and I still have a sinkful to process into dehydrator loads and frozen crumbles. I'm missing the boy and his appetite for apple pies, since the freezer will only hold so many. I may have to start pushing frozen pies onto stray visitors: 'What do you mean you'll be on the road for 3 days? Look, I'll bake it for you, then you can just eat it on the way!'

Then there's deciding on an itinerary for the UK visit, booking b&bs, and figuring out how to pack for the very professional & businesslike World Fantasy Convention and also for hiking around the UK in the cold. Which I admit is a damn fine problem to have, and I'm not actually complaining, just noting what has my brainpower booked lately.

Do I have any writing-related thoughts? Yes, I think I do. As with other times that I've attended Golden Swan, which is a persona-development challenge (sometimes called competition, but since there can be several winners or none, it's not really competing), I notice that what makes a presentation of one's persona work is not so much the big-picture info-dumps, but the small details of the texture of one's life. Lucy did well with her entry, in part because she knew the layout of her home, the way down the stairs with the low beam, drawing water in the courtyard to wash. Another entrant did less well because she knew how 'male children' were taught, but could say nothing about her own son's education, whether he liked his tutor, what he learned quickly and what he was slow at.
The other thing I notice is that while those small, telling details are effective, they need to be researched, or you risk breaking the illusion with a mistake. Anne Rice broke the illusion in Cry To Heaven (for me) by having a character burn a parchment letter in a candle flame--I've worked with parchment, which is essentially fine, thin, smooth rawhide. Imagine burning a dog-chew and you see the problem. Similarly, an entrant this year presented an 11th or 12th century noblewoman and told us about her psalter, made by 'students' at the nearby priory. Um, no. Personal ownership of books is a watershed moment, and it comes at the earliest in the late 14th c. by which time books are being produced in secular workshops. She had, essentially, told me that she'd researched everyday life in the wrong century, and skimpily at that.
Ah well, pedantry: hobby, sport, or vocation?
Or just a relief from the burden of apples?

Monday, October 4, 2010

GoH gofer go!

Apparently I am both awesome and organised. How about that?
Back from VCon, where I set up the SF-Canada table, which was fiddly but not difficult, and followed Cherie Priest about, which was fun. I was unsure how officious and flunky-like to be, but she is among the least diva-like people imaginable, and by Sunday I was just waving as she went by and asking 'Need anything?'.
So, y'know, it was mostly a matter of not screwing up majorly, which I can often manage, though I did splash dumpling-filling over myself at the Shanghai River (which is a restaurant). Mark and Cherie ate a good deal of a rock cod, unfazed by its head and outspread fins.
Should I be chronological? Can I do that and still skip the boring bits?

Let's see.
Thursday: I packed like mad. Took 1pm sailing to Tswawassen, then bus and skytrain to Richmond. Walked to the Marriott. Found VCon people, found that Cherie had been safely picked up and was sleeping in her room. Helped carry stuff to art room. Helped carry stuff to hospitality. Went off with Michael Walsh (the man with the Daffy Duck tie) to haul stuff from their place to hospitality. Hung about in lobby waiting for people to show up. Introduced Dave Duncan & Cherie Priest to each other. Went for dinner at the Mad Greek with guests of honour and concom (this for being liaison/gofer for a GoH). Cherie Priest and Heather Dale are good raconteurs (raconteuses?) and Cherie told ghost stories plus amusing stories of personal injuries.
Returned to hotel, found husband setting up his tables, in midst of considerable confusion over how all the dealers tables would fit in the room and question of whether hotel was really going to supply the tables originally requested (request having been lost and hotel disclaiming knowledge). Situation not aided by dealer coordinator walking off with one and only layout map several times. I am encouraged to take one of the tables and set up, so as to be harder to dislodge. Do so. This works, although table is several times moved, finally squashed into corner which does have advantage of providing vertical visibility for SF-Canada banner. Books are brought, accumulating to a lively display. Every single one of the plate-stand book-stand thingies that I bought and that Mark lent me is eventually used, as is every one of the DISPLAY COPY slips that I printed out. About 1/3 of the table is dedicated to display copies, with notes about where they can be purchased at the con.
Friday: more setup of table, and rearrangement as it is moved. Registration is having trouble connecting and setting up. I make roughly calligraphed signs saying PRE-REG and REGISTRATION but wickedly do not bother to pick up my registration packet until much later when the computer setup is mostly working and the nasty big pre-reg line has died down.
Registration is supposed to have Cherie's schedule, but cannot find it in the database. I borrow Johanna-the-lovely-Media-lady's programme book and mark all of Cherie's panels in the pocket program, then deliver a marked copy to Cherie. Later I meet Pauline who has a thumb-drive with the schedule in it. She gives me printouts and a tent-card to deliver. Do so. Run into Dave Duncan who is off to dentist to have tooth glued back in.
Attend opening ceremonies possibly first time in years. Go for dinner at Shanghai River with GoH and own husband. Terrifying tales of book launches and book fairs. Attend Heather Dale concert.
Saturday: breakfast at hotel's buffet, mostly okay. Knock on Cherie's door to find her working on article for Subterranean. She comes for breakfast and chat. Terrifying tales of deadlines. In between table duty and rearranging books as more arrive, and hearing rumours that Chris and Shannon are on site, I attend You Suck! No, You Suck! panel on workshops; GoH interview; How Did That Get on My Cover?; Draw Me This!; and am invited onto the Vampire panel by Sandra Wickham, which is very flattering. Finally find Chris and Shannon at that panel. Mark, Chris, Shannon and I go for a family dinner at No. 9 restaurant. SF Canada party and bed, in that order.
Sunday: breakfast at hotel buffet. Check schedule with Cherie, who now knows her way around the hotel better than I do. Final bids on art show (trying for another of Danielle's cool little shadow boxes). Make it to panel I really want to attend - History is my Playground. Pretty good. Book takedown and packing, pick up art show wins, sneak some time at Turkey Readings, yay!

Clever things I did: asked my niece Piper to cat-and-house-sit.
Found two small red tablecloths, so I could put one at each end of the SFC table, with the white cloth in between suggesting the Canadian flag, PLUS the two contrasting colours meant a book could always be put on a surface that let it stand out (yes, I totally planned this, and it had nothing to do with the first two tablecloths I pulled out of my someday-I'll-paint-this box. Nothing.)
Married a man who would lend me almost a dozen stands for books so they could be visible from a distance.
Asked my BNF friend Betty about the duties of a gofer.
Made up flyers with text swiped from the SFC website.
Went to bed by midnight each night.
Got almost all the money and leftover books back to someone responsible by the end of the con--except for those needing to be mailed, which remain with me.

There was a multi-author book launch Friday, in a room with rather definite acoustics. And just for Terri, here's a little film of one table, with Dave Duncan and other members of SF-Canada:

Lately, as my regular readers will expect, I have been beset by apples (which as a phrase is very nearly a googlewhack), to add to which I inexplicably brought home two large buckets of apples from my brother's trees. So, I've been processing apples to make apple crumbles, and when I have sixteen or so in the freezer I'll move on to pies. I'm feeling somewhat paranoid about getting done with the apples, since I'll be away for very nearly 3 weeks from the end of October, when they'll be dropping like mad.
Which is to say that I've been processing apples most nights, interspersed with packing up stuff for a sales-and-display table at VCon, trying for 600 words minimum each morning (which seems to be my comfortable rate for an hour's work). And trying not to worry about prep for the trip to Golden Swan, or about how to pack for both World Fantasy and hiking about in the UK in the rain.
Which is to say that I probably could have been more organised, but things went reasonably well nonetheless.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

time and motion

Last weekend Mark and I were in Powell River (the SCA name is False Isle, because although it's part of the mainland, it can only be reached by ferry, however you come to it) teaching at a small event. I taught four two-hour classes, which is taking it easy, since I usually try to teach the whole time so they'll have their money's worth for the travel costs of bringing me over (or if I'm paying my own way, so it'll be worth it for me - no point paying $100+ to sit around drinking tea, when I can do that at home for free).
In my free hours, though, I was able to take Stephen's class on understanding medieval music, for which I didn't need to be able to read music, yay!
The event was low-key and fun, with a potluck feast, like events from 20 or so years ago in Seagirt (Victoria) or Lions Gate (Vancouver). So I don't quite understand why I've been so slow and sluggish all last week. Either travel is tiring me much more than it used to, or the change of seasons is affecting me.
Anyway, that's my excuse for not posting much just lately. Although! Exciting things are happening.
Today I'm driving up-island to Honeymoon Bay to visit my brother and his family, and my (half) sister Darlene.
The first weekend in October, I'll be at VCon, organising the SF-Canada book table and being a gofer for one of the Guests of Honour, which I hope I do okay at, because I haven't done that specific job before.
The second weekend I'm driving into the interior of BC to the Golden Swan event, where I'll visit with my amazing and talented apprentices, Alis (aka Rajpal) and Lucy. The scenery will be gorgeous, as usual, and the nights will be freezing-bloody-cold so I'm taking lots of bedding and wool. Also bringing Deirdre, with whom I'm discussing apprenticeship--it will be the long drive part of the testing, whether either of us will want to leave the other at a rest stop and drive away.

Then--head down and write, because I need to have this draft of Cost of Silver all filled in and smoothed before the World Fantasy Convention at the end of October. I'll be flying out to Columbus Ohio, and there I will be meeting my agent face to face for the first time. She doesn't usually do WFC because it's over Halloween and she has young children, so this is a rare chance. I'm not twitchy about it yet, but I may be by the time I get there.
She expects to be hearing back from publishers after WFC, and cautioned me not to get impatient because publishing is a slow business. Fortunately I have something to distract me from worrying (besides doing revisions on Cost of Silver) which is ....

I'll be in England for the first two weeks of November. Researching, yes, this is TOTALLY WRITING-RELATED, yes. Mark will be at the London Coin Fair for part of it, and going behind the scenes at museums, so it's very work-related for him. I'm hoping to meet up with the UK Scribblers and other writer friends, so it's time I started planning where to go and what to do--if only there wasn't so much else going on to distract me.

December and January are booked for revising Cost of Silver. We'll see how that works out. And probably for deciding which book to work on next. Dark, gritty fantasy is my market presently, so mysteries and modern-day fantasies will have to wait, or be my backup if my first couple of books fail utterly.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

fish, fowl or red herring?

Please remain seated during paradigm shift.

So, I was getting organised for VCon, looking for room-mates, checking out programming, and popping off emails because I seem to have volunteered to organise the SF-Canada book table (oh, yeah, I'm a year-old member of SF-Canada, did I mention that previously? by virtue of 2 short story sales to online markets). I went to the VCon website to see what had been updated.

Oh, look, I said to myself. There's a Writing Workshop this year, yay! Because last year there wasn't, and I was sad. VCon in 2006 was my first experience with a face-to-face writing workshop, and I really enjoyed it, plus got practice for the crit sessions at Viable Paradise right afterwards.
Do I have anything to submit, I wondered, running through my very short list of short stories, and shorter list of those never workshopped. And who'll be running the sessions?

I looked at the list and felt dizzy. There's Dave Duncan, writing since the 1980s, and Eileen Kernaghan, award-winning YA author, and a half-dozen others, but--I know all the names. They're names (not surprisingly, once I thought about it) from SF-Canada.
Of which I am a member.
I'm not up there with multi-published authors who've been writing for 20 years, but still related in kind (species? phylum?). Not ready to be on the pro side of a writing workshop, but--I think--at the point of it probably being awkward to be met on the receiving side.

Rather unsettling to be neither one nor the other, and leaves me deprived of face-to-face workshopping with people who understand sf/f. I suppose the only remedy is to keep at it until I earn my place on the pro side.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

into the wide world

Last Sunday I went outside very early to see if more pears had fallen. The sun hadn't risen, and the sky was mottled grey. I heard a honk, and looked up to see a flight of geese, not so much an arrowhead shape as an inverted checkmark, or a hockeystick (yes, they must have been Canada geese). They were flying low, so low I heard the beat of their wings, an insistent repeated fwish fwish fwish, like a small child doggedly learning to whistle.

I've picked all the pears and plums that I could reach, leaving about 3 on each tree. This afternoon I had a last bowl of blackberries with cream. It's down to apples now, and I'll have to race the deer for the windfalls.

After a last flurry of finding an almost entirely different list of books my book is like, and writing a few paragraphs on What Fairy Tales Mean to Me, I smash a bottle of virtual champagne over the bow of The Willow Knot and my agent steers it out to sea. Or to the stony hearts of a half-dozen NY publishers.
Hopefully it will not imitate the Mary Rose.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

done done done

Wrapped Archipelago up at 11:35 last night, with 19,700 words approx. Didn't quite break the 20k barrier, but getting closer!
I'd call this one 'Barbara does Jo Clayton', and closer to Trading in Ghosts than it is to Culture Heroes, which was more like 'Barbara does Ursula K Le Guin'.

I can say with confidence that it will NOT make the shortlist, but it was fun, so I'm not bothered.

Monday, September 6, 2010

despatches from scouts

I've just hit 13k and suddenly I know how it's going to end. Hurrah!

Now I just have to get there.

last written last night

Malina's head hurt, pain rocking back and forth in it. Her mouth tasted dry and sour, and her stomach rolled in contrary rhythm to her head. She let the bodily misery hold her and fill all her thoughts, keep out some thing worse, some thing she dared not let herself remember. Instead she catalogued the present agonies, the strengthlessness of her arms, the stickiness on her chin and neck that might be vomit, the old-fish reek of her surroundings.
Jofroy is dead.
The convulsion of her guts bent her in half, then rolled her onto her face. She coughed and retched up nothing but spit.
They killed Jofroy. Who else?
Because of me.
I want to die. I want to disappear. Jofroy is dead. Jofroy who winked at me and called me his mermaid. I want to die.
But she did not want to die, not quite. She didn't want the pain, the blood draining out, or water filling the throat and lungs, bursting.
I wish I was never born. Then nothing could have hurt anyone because of me.
She cried for a time, great gulping sobs that hurt her chest, a sorrow that needed no words or names to spur it, a loss so great she could not name all she had lost.
The only comfort that came to her was that she would die soon, when the fishermen discovered she didn't bring luck--what luck had she brought to her parents, to the scientists? (to Jofroy?)--they would give her back to the sea--her father--and she would drown.
Would they feel stupid when she drowned, or think it was some kind of trick? She could not understand people who did not admit empirical knowledge to affect their beliefs.
She ran through her despair as her sickness and head-ache lessened to bearability, and began to take note of her surroundings. She lay on a pile of nets, smelling of salt and fish and damp. It must be the hold of the fishing boat, sometimes full of silver-scaled fish wiggling and heaving. Now only her, and the water that slopped beneath her nest. It was quite dark, but that was no clue how long she had been unconscious, because she guessed the hold of a ship must be quite water-tight, and thus impervious to light as well.
I mustn't be afraid. They want me to be afraid so I will cling to them and do what they want. But if I'm afraid, I won't know what to do except what they tell me. So I won't be afraid. I will be clever instead. And I will stay alive.
Some long time afterwards, light spilled over her from a square opening above. Malina fisted her hands tight and stiffened her arms. She was only a little girl, but she knew about thinking. The voice that followed the light broke all her resolve.
"How can you leave her there? Would you treat your own daughter so? If she is the sea's daughter, what will the sea think of her lying there like flotsam, frightened and alone?"
"Doctor Soonan!" Malina shouted. "I'm down here!"
"I insist. Either you bring her up, or you put me down in the hold with her. I will not leave her unattended."
Malina could not make out the words of those who spoke then, only an abashed and resentful rhythm of speech. A rope sling came down to her, then shouted instructions on how to fit it around herself safely. She wriggled it quickly about herself and snugged it. Then the swaying, swinging lift to the open air and Doctor Soonan's embrace.
"Jofroy," Malina sobbed into the doctor's raw-silk breastpocket. "All bloody--"
Doctor Soonan stroked her back, the long brown fingers skilful. "I did not see, my dear. I had walked down to the cove, feeling somewhat uneasy about the others who might be on that boat, or coming into land by some other route. Yona did so poor a work of encouraging us to give you up that I could not help suspecting he was mere distraction."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

first 500 words (more or less)

"There lay my love among the flowers," Agnesa sang as her oars dipped into the glassy water. "The fairest bloom if truth I tell--" A pause with her intake of breath as she bent over her braced legs. "I took her in my loving a-arms, and all to ash, to ash she fell--"
The skin-boat skipped over the little waves. Agnesa risked a glance over her shoulder to be sure that the island of statues was where it should be, a green-black turtle-back waiting for her, its only visitor.
We might live there, she thought, letting the song fall into the skin-boat's wake. There's houses and all, and I'd not need to row for fuel. She imagined broaching the plan to old Gresa, and laughed aloud at the picture her mind tossed up of her grandmother's face, wrinkles doubling and tripling with her furious frown. "She'd lose her eyes and nose in her own wrinkles."
"Where have you and I dwelt but here, child," she said, squeaking her voice to an old woman's cracked register. "And what have you and I been but safe, safe while all the world turned itself over and threw its legs in the air. And now you think yourself so wise, is it, that you'd plump yourself down and take your meals and spread your bedding in the midst of them as perished? Well, you'll not do that while I live." There. No need to have the real argument.
Agnesa supposed her grandmother wouldn't live forever, but who was to say? All things had changed mightily, and it might even be that Death, that old snake, was stuffed full-fat and sleeping for an age or two.
On her right side a slender pillar jutted from the water, copper-cladding stained to a soapy green. Agnesa grinned and lifted one oar so the skin-boat spun in place. She slowed it with a quick practiced twist of the oar-blade and brought it to stillness.
The boat rocked light as a bubble as Agnesa shifted cautiously to look over the side. Sunlight shot down through clear water, depths dying it to gold-yellow, then green-yellow, then dim green. Her own face, sketched in grey chalk, floated above all, round-cheeked, narrow-eyed, her short hair hanging down like a flower's ragged petals. Her gaze jumped past that too-familiar image, to down below. This was the treat she gave herself, reward for the labour of rowing and chopping fuel.
Bars of green-gold light fell across a pathway, red bricks showing where currents had brushed the silt away. The path wandered casually to a little humped bridge with latticed sides and carved pillars. Agnesa sighed happily as a school of red-and-black fish flitted over the bridge, threading through the latticework. One inspected a pillar carved with a little peaked roof, and jerked away startled.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

weekend warrior

I'm all fidgety and flighty and for why? Because this weekend is the 3-Day Novel Contest, and I've just staggered free of rewriting my synopsis and a bio and a few paragraphs on Fairy Tales and Me, only to jump into making shopping lists and notes about characters and setting.
Yes, I will take a break from writing to challenge myself with ... more writing!

At present I have a setting of archipelagos of a drowned continent (cue legends of churchbells ringing underwater) after some ill-defined disaster (maybe Reality collapsed?) and two young characters. One is the daughter of scientists in an isolated research station, crippled by a birth defect that fused her legs together (and yes, the Little Mermaid--notDisneyfied--is invoked). The other lives with her grandmother, and is much closer to the Little Robber Girl in archetype.
There will be a scene where the second girl rows to another island full of statues of jet, of people staring into the sky, the former population of the island, and hacks chunks off the statues to take back for fuel. (Yes, this was in a dream of mine, and it was too weird not to use.)
That's all. It may turn out kind of dark, even though the sun shines a lot on the islands, beams sinking down through the clear water to show the drowned buildings of the valleys below.
And it may turn out totally incoherent. Because that is the chance one takes.

Next, because it's been a while since I caught up on this--

Recently read: Darkborn, by Alison Sinclair. First in a series (trilogy?) but works as a stand-alone.
Intriguing worldbuilding - due to a goddess's curse, the world is divided into two races (maybe 3) those who live by night and are scorched to death by the sun, and those who live by day and cannot abide shadow. The Darkborn race cannot see, but have a sonar sense called sonning.
There are a bunch of questions raised by this arrangement, in my mind, and some are answered in this book, others presumably in the next. A few I thought were handwaved, but maybe they'll be covered properly later. Overall the author does a good job of incluing rather than info-dumping.

The first book is set, as you can guess from the title, in the world of the Darkborn, who are wary of magic and prefer technology - they have steam trains and clockwork automatons, though Sinclair doesn't really push the steampunk aspect. The society feels early 19th c. Anglo-French - they even have the beginnings of psychotherapy, which I thought was a really fascinating touch.
Balthasar Hearne is a physician who also treats nervous disorders, married to a gentlewoman who is hiding her magical talents (she'd lose her place in society, already precarious by her marriage). When a former love comes to his door minutes before the deadly sunrise, he is forced to shelter her - only to discover that she is about to give birth to the child of a mysterious lover. He delivers her twins and realises that one of them at least can see.
After that, things move quickly. The mother tries to murder the children by exposing them to daylight (a method of execution among the Darkborn), then thugs come after them and kidnap one of Balthasar's young daughters. In the meantime, the Shadowhunter, Ishmael Strumheller, is set on a secret and possibly suicidal mission by his spymaster, the crippled Vladimer, which will see him aiding Balthasar's wife, Telmaine - and unwillingly falling in love with her.
Overall recommended, for original worldbuilding and attention to court intrigue and commoner politicking both. There are hints of the next book in the Hearne's Lightborn neighbour, Fiamma of the White Hand, a female mage and assassin, and in the risk of outright war between Darkborn and Lightborn, possibly encouraged by the mysterious Shadowborn (creatures of the wild Shadowlands).

Another in the Blackbird Sisters series - Cross Your Heart and Hope to Die, by Nancy Martin. This time, impoversished socialite Nora Blackbird is covering a fashion show for a revolutionary new bra developed by Brinker Holt, whom she remembers as a bullying, unpleasant adolescent. Murder (naturally) occurs soon afterwards, and the hotting-up of Nora's romance with Michael (son of a well-known crime family) is chilled by his becoming a suspect.

The soap-opera side of the series develops nicely (I don't mean this as derogatory, only to distinguish it from the mystery side) with Nora's sisters continuing their messy, complicated lives, Michael's mob connections being a real obstacle to their being together rather than just a fillip of bad-boy spice, and Nora's career developing rather than being in stasis. The mystery is pretty easily solved, but there's a fair bit of amusement about the fashion industry in between.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan, Random House 2010, book trailer here:

It's tempting to summarise this book as "George A. Romero does The Village" (I suspect Carrie Ryan felt utterly sick when The Village came out) but that would be a disservice.
Mary is a passionate, questioning teenager living in a walled village ruled by the Sisterhood. The Sisterhood teaches that there is nothing outside but the Forest and the Unconsecrated. But they are hiding a girl named Gabrielle, who comes from somewhere else, somewhere outside ...

This is an intense, harsh book. Ryan doesn't mute the horrors of Mary's world, and she does a good job of balancing the deadly and constant threat of destruction by the Unconsecrated with the immediate adolescent misery of hopeless love. The fact that Mary must be married and having children so young, that she doesn't have the freedom to date and break up and make up again, that the choice she makes will be the one she must live with forever, does keep her agony from being trivial, even to an older reader who never experienced adolescent love.
She also, I think, does a good job of handling the worldbuilding by keeping a lot unknown and unknowable to our pov character. Much of what Mary does know turns out to be lies or mistaken, so the reader is in much the same uncertainty as she is.
Where I might fault the book is characterisation. The male characters, Travis and Harry, are lightly sketched, and I never really got a clear sense of why Mary loved one and was repelled by the other. I wondered whether characterisation was sacrificed to pacing (the book is fast-moving) or a reflection of the unreasoning nature of her affections. The brother, Jed, is more fully realised.

There's a sequel out - The Dead-Tossed Waves - which I will almost certainly buy.

On a lighter note, Magic Below Stairs, by Caroline Stevermer, Dial Books 2010

"Frederick Lincoln is the sort of boy who works hard, does what he's told, and uses his head. But when he's plucked from the orphanage to live 'below stairs' with the servants as a footboy for a wizard, that is easier said than done.
"Unbeknownst to him, he's accompanied by a mischievous brownie named Billy Bly. The wizard has forbidden all magical creatures from his manor. But Billy Bly isn't about to leave Frederick, and when they discover a hidden curse on the manor house, that might turn out to be a very good thing indeed."

This was a nice light read. I was pleased to find an orphan hero who doesn't have a Tremendous Destiny and isn't the True Heir to anything. Frederick has the old fairy tale virtues of hard work and kindness, and is duly rewarded. (I also did a bit of happy hopping to see the Belly Blind featured in a novel.) The characterisation is light, as one might expect from a middle-grade novel of 200 pages, but Frederick does have some convincing conflict, misery, and jealousy to get through, and some good friends to find.

The setting is after Sorcery and Cecelia, after the marriages and before the children.

With apologies to Terri for any inadvertant additions to her TBR pile.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

i r srs riter

The big news first. Word back from my agent that the last set of revisions makes The Willow Knot good to go, and she will be showing the ms. to editors in September (the publishing industry shuts down through August.
She asked me to provide the following:
1) a revised synopsis to be used in her pitch letter
2) a 1-2 paragraph biography, mentioning my short story credits
3) a list of books similar to Willow Knot, also for the pitch letter
4) list of my next projects, for possible multi-book deal

Rewriting my synopsis was the hardest part, unexpectedly. A lot had changed, not only the order of events in the story, but the addition of scenes and characters, fleshing out the love story (heh, heh) and giving Alard more space, Asafia's storyline being brought forward, and so on. After a week I decided to take what I had down and send it off with a note that I was willing to rework it further.
The bio was easy, after writing similar ones for submissions and author notes.
The list of books like mine. That had me clutching my head and groaning, in full flush of that great Canadian sentiment, who do you think you are? where the Central Committee for Due Modesty would knock at my door politely before coming in and smacking me around for getting above myself. I cast myself on the mercy of my beta readers, both the Furtive Scribblers and my VP-mates, and finally came up with a list. Which is, as was pointed out to me, not me saying I write as well as any of those on the list, but that I wrote like them. (relieved sigh, Central Committee drives past my house but doesn't stop)
The next books. It happened that I had been enlivening a moderately dull meeting by making notes to myself and arranging my next stories in the order I thought might make sense. This presupposed, perhaps, more writing time than I could really expect, but who knows?
The Willow Knot - sorta historic fantasy, retelling of 'Brother and Sister' (Grimm 11)
The Cost of Silver - dark historic fantasy, alt-ECW period with vampires and witchhunters
Skinned - sorta historic fantasy in WK's world, mashup of 'Bearskin' with 'Snow White & Rose Red'
The Fate of the Dead - historic fantasy, alt-Georgian, ghosts invading England
Interspersed with three YAs using the Aerial Mail Express world, each with a different protagonist and different peril: sky-pirates, the gold rush, the fur trade. Pretty sketchy yet, but would make a good break.

Next bit of good news is that "Bluebeard Contented" has been accepted - by the first market I sent it to, Cabinet des Fees, which seemed the perfect place for an odd little Perrault-ish retelling. Much woohoo! that they agreed.
We would like to accept "Bluebeard Contented*" for publication in our January 2011 issue. It is too good to pass up, but it doesn't really fit in with our forthcoming September issue. If this is acceptable, please let me know and I will issue your contract.

Acceptable? Oh yeah!

Two rejections, to keep things balanced.

Thank you for submitting "Climbing Boys" to ABYSS & APEX. It was well received here, but after some thought we have decided not to accept it for publication.

I hope you'll consider us again, and I wish you the best success in placing this story elsewhere.

and another for "Gods-Meat" from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, with Scott continuing to give excellent feedback, which is a great plus for submitting there.

Thanks very much for sending this to me. I'm sorry that it's not quite right for me. I liked the stormy vibe in the opening, but I couldn't get a feel on what general sort of world it was, Weird West or something more traditional fantasy. More importantly, I also couldn't get a feel there for the narrator's character. His early internal monologue gave a great voice to the bleakness of this place and normal existence there, but I didn't feel as much of himself coming through in that as I was hoping, his own attitude or hopes or fears or drive, what was pushing him as a person forward and what might be pushing the story forward too. I appreciate your interest in the magazine. I enjoyed reading your work again, so I hope you will feel free to send more.