Friday, August 31, 2012

wandering around

Maze pictures!
Because of the new campsite for Living History Week, I was able to place the labyrinth much closer to the tents and make it easier to spot. Because of some great help bringing up stones, I got it finished on the first full day, and later on tweaked it a little to make the 'walls' more curved and natural looking, though I don't know whether that really shows up on the photos.
It annoys me that apparently there's no way to zoom or enlarge a photo once it's posted on Blogger. Argh.
Anyways ....
 The maze in early morning, uninhabited.

 The maze in full use by the young and spry.

The maze for contemplation by the more sedate.
The ghost of the maze, all its bones removed.  (photo credit Joan Kew)

All symbolical this is for me, because tomorrow, right after midnight, the 3-Day Novel Contest begins--though I will not myself begin until something like 6 am, because I am old and need my sleep--and I am less prepared for it than I have ever been.
Seriously. I have less of an idea than ever, no outline, no characters. I might have a setting, in that my brother suggested I write about our childhood running about in the woods and lake and so on, specifically this passage from my website bio:
"The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings taught me that forests were full of magic, and my brother and I spent most of one summer looking for the secret door to other worlds. We thought we'd found it once, where a huge tree had broken above our head-height, and toppled to land on another, making a rough gate. We walked between the trunks as many ways as we could think of, with different things in our pockets or hands, but never got through into the other world."

Will anything come of this? We shall see. 

labours of the months, 1371

Our Living History Week is over for this year. A new campsite, just down from our previous one which is now becoming a Garry Oak meadow. I was a bit apprehensive, but it worked out nicely. So, a few pictures of everyday life in the 14th century, below.

 Isabeau at the churn. Behind her you can see information booths for some modern enterprises. She's actually quite close to the kitchen, which is just out of the shot.

I love this medieval style iron-shod spade. Unfortunately we aren't allowed to do any real digging onsite, but I got Mark to pose with it as a model for a potential calendar of the labours of the months

Ditto with Havise, performing one of the labours for November (rather ahead of time)--baking bread. This is a labour for every day, to be accurate. Yes, we had fresh-baked bread from the oven and fresh-churned butter. Life in the Middle Ages was nasty, brutish and short, and everyone was starving and clad in rags, don't you know?

Alicia card-weaving. Ingeniously, she is able to adjust tension by turning the tent-pole her work is fastened to. I have a video as well, but given my past lack of success at posting them, I'll wait to attempt it this time. 

My studio this year. I found the big easel at a consignment shop and snapped it up right away. I managed to finish off the two paintings on it, and begin a new one. The smaller one in front is, yes, baking bread as the Labour for November. 

A final picture of the oven, with two loaves of bread successfully produced. Beside them you can see the ashes of the fire that heated the oven and was pulled and swept out so that the loaves could be put in for baking.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

how to write a bestseller

I really need to be packing for Living History Week at Fort Rodd Hill, but so selfless am I that I pause to drink tea and share a revelation with you.
Whenever there's an unexpectedly huge bestseller--The Da Vinci Code, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey--people who enjoy reading or take pride in writing graceful prose, tight plotting and thorough characterisation tend to have their heads meet their desks in a painful and repeated fashion. Why, they ask, why this book, of all the thousands published?

So here's my theory. Which is only about novels, because I don't care about nonfiction bestsellers.

First, the trick of becoming a bestseller is that a book needs to appeal to non-readers. Because the novel-reading public is just not numerous (or uniform) enough to make a breakout bestseller.
 How do you manage to appeal to the non-novel-reading public? By speaking in a voice that is not like a novel, but like something more familiar and comfortable, so they're not startled away.

The Da Vinci Code is famously written in the style of bad journalese, with its 'renowned curator So-and-so', and its flat clunky sentences that cram too much in. It's like reading a second-rate Newsweek article, but that's the key point:  it is not like reading fiction, because reading fiction is scary and uncomfortable.

Twilight and 50 Shades I can consider together, what with one being a fanfic of the other, and thus having a very similar voice (though frankly E.L. James makes Stephenie Meyer look pretty good as a stylist). That voice is not a literary voice at all. It's the voice of your flaky neighbour, or your drama-queen BFF, the one with the complicated love life and massive angst. She's sitting across from you at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and crumbling a muffin into bits because she is too upset to eat. She's telling you about this guy she's involved with, and you are listening in horror and fascination because you would never get into that sort of situation (and if you did you'd handle it better but you can't tell her that). Sometimes you want to shake her and other times you're a little jealous and now and then you think she's got to be kidding. But you keep listening.
And the best part is that she's a book, and so you can shut her up and go have dinner or go to bed. You don't have to keep pouring her coffee until neither of you can sleep, or make up the bed in the spare room because she's too upset to go home or her parents have kicked her out until she stops seeing this guy.  The experience is much better when controllable by the listener.

There's my theory, kids. I'll have to finish Cost of Silver before I can write my blockbuster bestseller, so you can probably get a good head start on me.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

making an oven again

 More extensive photos of this are on Facebook, but here's a summary of what I helped make last weekend. You may recall that our last year's Living History week's oven fell apart over the winter (sounds of weeping offstage). So we are learning from that experience and doing it better, with the help of Build Your Own Earth Oven, 3d edition. Reportedly in the 4th edition he says that making a portable oven is a bad idea, but that's what we need to make.

So! In a wooden frame that allows the oven to be moved (since we can't have a permanent oven at Fort Rodd Hill) on a layer of insulating fill, a firebrick and cob base is laid.

A sand form patted into place to be the core. This will be removed after the oven is built around it.

A layer of newspaper to make it easy to tell which is the sand form and which is the cob wall.

A layer of cob is the innermost wall of the oven. 

And here's the crew watching the door being opened up at the end of the first day.
 The second day. The cob layer has dried somewhat. Cracks have been covered with more cob.

Adding a doorway that the wooden door (leaning against the platform) can rest against. The doorway is built of straw ropes rolled in slip. 

An insulating layer of slip and wood shavings is patted on.  The sand core was pulled out at this point to allow the interior to dry more easily.

An outer layer of cob mixed with chopped straw comes next. This is where any modelling and decoration is applied. We limited ourselves to two 'ropes', similar to the decoration of last year's oven.

And here it is, smoking away with the first drying fire. Quite expressive, don't you think?