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!