Tag Archives: feels

Whatever the weather

Saturday morning… a glorious time. The morning after the night before… And to top it all off, a new month as well. I’m feeling pretty positive today. I have a ton of work to do, but I PROMISE I will do it. Honest Injun.

But first…

Let’s talk about the weather. As an Englishwoman I feel pretty well attuned to the weather. Having an opinion on the elements is hardwired into the DNA of my national stereotype, after all. This morning, helping my mood, the sun is out. Inspired by this I have opened my bedroom window (gasp!) though I’m sure I will regret that soon because it’s not actually that warm outside.

I think about the weather when I’m writing (if I’m writing. Sigh.) because it’s all part of the experience of the story. Just like in film. Even though it might not be as obvious in writing – a thunderclap isn’t quite so epic, come on – all those little atmospheric details go in and register in the reader’s brain.

At school, writing stories in English would inevitably make the teacher ask us “What was the weather like?” “What time of day was it?” because we were so focused on the action of the narrative nothing else occurred to us. It might also have been another way to boost word count. But mainly, it was to help us to realise that the reader does not automatically see from our writing what we saw in our heads when we wrote it. I can tend to have the opposite problem. I’ve written things before (yet another unfinished something) that I’ve shown parts of to friends who told me it was quite dense, quite description heavy. Well yes. I wanted them to see what I saw. Exactly. Exactly as I saw it. No. Other. Option. Yet as a reader I am happy to get into debates about what characters look like and how it differs from perhaps an official author-description or an actor who plays them in a film, or the cover art (see Chris McGrath’s Aragorn version of Logen Ninefingers on the cover of Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself).

I think I have to let go of that sort of thing. The weather on the other hand, can be fairly explicitly portrayed. And it can affect how we see a character or a plot point and the way we perceive the emotions tumbling out on the page. The weather can match or counter point a character or event.

When something awful happens: it’s more likely to be raining, or threatening rain.

When something cool is happening: sun, warmth, clear skies

That’s the basics. Obviously you have to take the season into account. Also, snow makes everything magical (I think this is a The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe cultural hangover – the Tumnus part, not the Jadis part).

Take this morning: I was jazzed! The sun! The warmth! Vibes! If it had been raining my mood probably wouldn’t have been so good, OR I’d have been bouncing off the walls to banish the gloom and keep my high. Same with the above. It’s almost as much of a stereotype to go against the weather for dramatic effect now as it is to go with it to enhance the overall emotion of a scene.

Something awful happens: The sun is a spiteful ball of joy in the sky. The warm summer breeze could not lift the chill in his heart.

Something good happens: Not even the darkest clouds could spoil the day! Electricity in the air from a storm just makes people more excited!

…aaaand snow makes everything magical.

The weather is so important to storytelling. Thomas Hardy was a big fan of scene setting. So much so that when we read Far From the Madding Crowd at school our same English teachers who told us to add weather details told us to skip three pages because it was all just Hardy waxing on about the bucolic joys of the countryside in spring. You win some you lose some.

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Crisis

I’ve not written much for a while. My laptop suddenly died and I have a new one, but…

Like a complete idiot, I never backed up anything. I was planning on getting a new laptop anyway this month so I was literally a day away from transferring things across to an external hard drive when my poor, overheating, dying baby went kaput.

So there’s 240k of words trapped and lost in an oubliette of my own digging. Some of them were even pretty good, I thought. I don’t think they’re gone forever – they’d better not be or I think I will throw myself out the window – but getting things off my hard drive and back into view will take a while.

I was one of those people who thought it could never happen to them. Even after a bluescreen on the last day of NaNoWriMo 2012 when I thought I’d lost everything. Even that didn’t make me start putting things on Dropbox or something. Well now it has happened to me and I have a few days off work and I really want to write… but I have three drafts that are unavailable.

It’s like I’ve lost a part of me. In a way I have. It’s more than the drafts: photos, short stories, poems, work documents… cast adrift in a little broken bottle in a sea of tech that I can’t do anything about.

Learn from me, people of the intertubes. Learn from my despair.

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Happiness – July 2011

“Happiness,” said Maria, “is that kid down there on the skateboard pretending he’s Superman.”

“No,” said Jack leaning over the balcony to look. “Happiness is that blonde girl trying to catch bubbles.”

“Stop being philosophical,” laughed Maria, squeezing his arm.

“You started it.”

The bubbles drifted higher as a flock of boys on push scooters swooped towards the swings.

“Maybe happiness is that boy on the climbing frame,” said Jack after careful consideration.

“No, that’s just a broken arm waiting to happen,” answered Maria with a grimace.

“Alright then,” shrugged Jack, taking Maria’s hand. “Happiness is the warmth between our fingers.”

They sat in silence for a while, watching the swings and wincing at the shrieks of the blissful.

“My palms are beginning to sweat,” announced Maria wrinkling her nose.

“Delightful.”

“Maybe happiness is that girl in yellow?” she asked.

“The one doing laps of the slide?” he replied. “You think happiness is running in circles?”

“No,” said Maria. “Happiness is the part where you get dizzy.”

Written from a Spanish balcony, dodging a million ants, looking out over a busy playground. July 2011.

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Conversations with Spirits

The Higgins version of “based on a true story”

“You saw a medium?”

“Several.”

“Did she make contact?”

“My wife? Yes, once…” I replied, “with the aid of a Mrs. Trubshawe, when I visited her in her lodgings in Bow.”

“And what message did she have for you?”

“She advised me to pay Mrs. Trubshawe sixpence. And when I asked why her voice sounded so different, I was informed that in the afterlife everyone has a cockney accent.”

(Chapter II – The Redoubtable Harry Price)

I first read part of Conversations with Spirits on a website called jottify.com where I used to be a member. It’s a site for writers to post their work and get comments and if they have finished stuff they could put it up for sale for ebooks and stuff. The author, E O Higgins, got the book picked up by Unbound and pushed for pledges. I pledged. I got a signed first edition.

Higgins and I regularly exchange witticisms (his are usually wittier) on Twitter and that makes talking about his book a little weird. I know I talk about Rivka’s books a lot but we live together and I cheerfully tell her the reactions her books give me. She writes quite emotive and stormy stuff. Spirits is altogether a more genteel affair. And I mean that in a good way.

I mentioned that I had been reading it in the bath. I consider such behaviour a little decadent. I never used to get the “reading in the bath” thing. But Spirits is a sumptuous book that deserves to be savoured. The opening line…

“I AWOKE IN the shadow of Sibella, the crumpled blackness of her crinoline dress hovering lightly before   me…”

(Chapter I – A Working Man)

it’s going to be iconic. It rolls around your brain like the first mouthful of a delightful scotch tickles the tongue. I always say that Chocolat is the book I wish I’d written, and that’s still true, but Conversations with Spirits is the book I wish I could paint onto myself like a full bodystocking tattoo. That one sentence fits the tone of the whole book: Sibella hovers with a shadowy form (from Hart’s dishevelled perspective) like an impatient spirit.

Set in 1917, it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Trelawney Hart is a drifting, cynical alcoholic with the brain of a cold hearted materialist. It is very easy to forget how young he actually is. I had a shock when I remembered Hart is only thirty-two, given his hard drinking and railroading speeches. He acts older than his years but then he has suffered: his upbringing was clinical and he has lost his wife (a large part of the need for drink). He lies and he bluffs and he stumbles (literally at times) from insult to injury to indignation in his quest to prove that there is nothing supernatural going on in Broadstairs. Hart has been engaged to witness and scrutinise a potential miracle: a man called J P Beasant walking through ten feet of solid brickwork.

The book involves the quite real personages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Price, the rise in popularity of mediums and spiritualists, and the academic conflict between the Materialist (realist/scientific) and the Spiritualist movements. Higgins wisely chooses to keep to the miracles end of things and steers clear of too much ghostly haunting of a sheets and chains kind. Those talkative spirits are both the liquor-induced whispers of memory and guilt that Hart is desperately trying to drown as well as the messages from beyond he delights in debunking. Hart scoffs at the supernatural and decries all mediums and psychics as being charlatans, but is (wilfully) ignorant that he is being haunted by his memories of Katherine. His refusal to acknowledge his turmoil does not make it any less real.

The spirits/spirits theme is there from the off

The spirits/spirits theme is there from the off

We know from the beginning, when Hart meets Price on the train, that of course it won’t be a miracle. There is a nice bit of foreshadowing where Hart demonstrates his powers of reasoning to explain a simple conjuring trick that Price performs that allows the reader to truly appreciate Hart’s disdain for anything irrational, including the behaviour of ordinary people. As the details of Hart’s education and upbringing splurge out in lumps when he’s feeling particularly callous or annoyed, we come to understand why Doyle compares him to Sherlock Holmes. There is no doubt that however carefully this spectacle is staged, Hart will figure it out and expose it. But it isn’t a straightforward journey.

The narrative is in the first person, making this fervent denial even more gripping. Going back to the opening, to Sibella, to the only woman in the book to have true substance, her concern (and affection) is seen from Hart’s perspective as nosiness and unwelcome interference. It is Sibella who arranges the first meeting with Doyle and who packs Hart’s luggage, though he is less than appreciative:

SIBELLA, IN HER usual marmish fashion, had packed a carpet-bag for me containing some fresh linens and toilet equipment. For whatever reason, she likes to do these things, and I have realised— perhaps a little late in our association— that it was easier just to accept these foibles. Not requiring the extra burden, however, it was my plan to deposit the bag in the Left Luggage office at Victoria railway station, should time permit it.

(Chapter II – The Redoubtable Harry Price)

She responds to Hart with lashing sarcasm and it is only after “four days of feminine criticism” on her part that he emerges from the first chasm of his grief following his wife’s death. As the book unfolds, it becomes clear how dependant Hart is on her: she even helps to organise and write up his manuscripts when she’s not busy making him get off the floor and drink something other than brandy. Though Hart blearily dismisses her caretaking as “mawkish” and “sentimental”, it does seem to occur to him that he appreciates her in his own way. After all, for a woman he is constantly criticising, he thinks about her a lot during the weekend.

It is Hart’s interactions with others – seen from his own clearly superior perspective – that give the book its best moments. He matches wits with Conan Doyle, finally getting a puissant last word that led to a full on chortle (which I won’t spoil); toys with Horrocks the long-suffering Hyperborea Club barman in full abuse of his social standing; and generally bullies his way through any situation. Hart is infuriating at times in the best possible way. He made me smile and cringe and snicker and glower so if nothing else this book gives the face a full workout. He isn’t necessarily a likeable character, but you can’t dislike him either. He is a person suffusing pathos and bedraggled pride from every brandy-clogged pore.

With a reluctant smile, Doyle added: “Between ourselves, I have always considered Knighthoods to be the badge of the provincial mayor.”

Nodding absently, I muttered: “I understand completely. I rarely ask people to use my title either.”

There was a moment’s pause within the carriage. Finally, Doyle leant forward in his chair: “Your title?”

“Oh? Didn’t you know?” I returned mildly. “I’m the eighth Duke of Roxburghe.”

(Chapter X – A Departure)

Beasant himself, the miracle worker, is a slightly pathetic figure that seems uncomfortable with the glare of the spotlight in which he has found himself. He is not a charismatic and flamboyant showman who is going to perform a spectacle; he is reserved and self-deprecating. Hart is not impressed with him when they meet by chance, though he manages to wangle an invitation to a small private séance anyway. Beasant reminds me of Sybill Trelawney from Harry Potter, in that it seems he does have a hint of real talent, revealed only subtly at first as he makes claims of a spirit guide and disembodied voices that Hart dismisses as the usual spiel.

Events at the séance, however, unsettle even a dyed-in-the-wool realist like Hart, and he later dreams of his wife. He wakes after the dream ends with his teeth falling out. It is a common theme of dreams but I doubt Higgins chose it at random. Losing teeth in dreams apparently represents feelings of powerlessness and difficulty dealing with loss, telling lies, and possibly even that the dreamer places all their faith and belief in the tangible and rejects the spiritual. Sounds about right. Thought you could sneak that one in, Higgins? I’m onto you.

Hart’s companion for most of the narrative is the bedraggled Billy Crouse, Ramsgate native, who is pressed into becoming Hart’s local ‘guide’. The two of them spend a lot of time drinking, though Billy is more used to cheap and nasty concoctions than the good stuff Hart is fond of. Hart feels sympathy for Billy as he too has lost his wife, and really the only thing that separates them is social class: Billy was a joiner while Hart is the son of a Colonel and by his own admission doesn’t work. Hart has been sheltered in the Hyperborea Club while Billy has been reduced to a vagrant. Their paths intersect and while Hart’s influence appears to be doing Billy some good – he can afford to eat properly and he has new clothes – Hart deteriorates through the weekend in both health and spirit.

Billy has a quiet dignity and a firm moral compass – he doesn’t like Hart lying to Beasant – but he knuckles under to Hart’s upper class bluster and becomes a useful gofer. He is also more intelligent than people give him credit for, including a sharp sense of humour. And of course he gets he best line in the whole book:

I blinked across at Billy, who was looking very intently at me. Finally, he broke the silence in the room and, in an anxious tone, uttered:

“You had your honeymoon en Basingstoke?”

(Chapter VIII – Lost Souls)

I was in the bath for that one.

So why do I want this book to be tattooed on me forever? Well, the language and vocabulary are stunning. When I read the first chapters on jottify it was clear that this was Higgins’s soul between the lines. The pages are dense with detail including newspaper articles and the manuscript of Doyle’s draft report following the ‘miracle’. No one ejaculates, but there is some hallooing which is always welcome. The tone wavers between condescending and self-pitying, with brief stops in arch and wry. Each word has clearly been chosen with care and with an attention to register and structure that frankly beggars belief. It has been sculpted. It has been honed. It is so worth it. There is not one wasted syllable in this book. It’s the leanest sirloin you could hope for.

You may remember I’m a less than staunch supporter of Neil Gaiman and his works quite often have a similarly super-edited quality to them, but the difference for me is that Higgins doesn’t get pretentious about it. Or maybe the whole book is so damned pretentious it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. But I don’t think so. The strength of the character voice and the eloquent language reminds me of Memoirs of a Geisha. The attention to period detail is luxuriant. From the brandy bottle bedecked endpapers to the excellent note about the font at the back of the print edition (I love this kind of education in my books) the only fault I can find is that it ends…

According to the man himself, paperbacks will be available from February 2014

Learn more about E O Higgins at his website or follow him on Twitter.

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Essence

Having a bit of a mixed day. I’m keen to get some more writing done tonight and I think I need some Evanescence to see me through. Fallen and The Open Door should jumble me up some more.

I mentioned way back at the beginning of my blog – in the rant about book covers – that I was a bit of a Goth back in my younger days. Amy Lee and I are old friends. In a similar way to my rediscovery of Linkin Park, I hear so many different things in the lyrics now than I did when I had less life experience. I mentally tag songs to different people or feelings, and right now I need some angst to get this next scene finished. Music is a great motivator for me. If you were following my tweets during November you’d have seen a few music-related ones. The best music I’ve found to write to so far has been banjo bluegrass hillbilly music. I mentally try to keep up with the banjo 🙂

So here’s Lose Control, lumped together with Everybody’s Fool, my current Lyon songs. If you blend them together with a little Going Under for the days I really hate myself, it sort of sums it up. I feel a little zen drawing on that tumult right now, possibly just because he’s very far away, but last night – this morning if we’re being technical – I made myself another, under the wire, Resolution. I’m going to give not being so flipping angry a go. I might not seem like a particularly angry or anxious person on the surface, but given my propensity to ragequit when anyone uses the cheese knife for anything other than cheese and/or NOT use a cheese knife for cheese when there’s one right there… *cough* you see? Chalk it up to national identity if you like. I’m also filled with road rage. I fair turn the air in my little car blue sometimes. It’d make a sailor blush. Not that I know any bad words. I’m a lady. I digress…

Whisper is sort of an in-joke to me right now. It wouldn’t make sense if I explained it, and it’s a bit close to the bone. It makes me laugh in an otherwise-the-crying way. Similarly Imaginary. I heard someone playing Imaginary on the piano in the basement of my halls of residence back in 2006. It is one of my best memories.

My Last Breath really fits the book at the moment – it’s Christmas Eve and the action is in a parkland type area – and it’s quite a desperate time. That’s definitely going in there.

I should get all the lyrics and make one huge “essence of Evanescence” song that explodes into the tear ducts and cries havoc with the uncontrollable feels.

I’m already looking ahead to when the draft will be done and I can edit the beast. I have some things earmarked for change or deletion already and I’m itching to get to it but I know I need to get this thing to a conclusion or it will never have one. It’s an old project – my first NaNoWriMo – that I started in 2009, and I’ve decided it’s called Once Bitten possibly with a pretentious ellipsis as well. It depends how buoyant I’m feeling.

Anyway, it’s very YA but it represented an interesting time in my life and now it’s sort of cycling around again. I’m still facing some of the same problems and some of the same worries, and getting back into the protagonist’s zone isn’t very difficult, but I’m a little afraid my current feeling of disillusionment will rub off too much.

Ha, I actually got distracted making an Ubernescence song. If only there was a tune that all of these phrases would fit to:

Closing your eyes to disappear
You pray your dreams will leave you here
But still you wake and know the truth
No one’s there

Say goodnight
Don’t be afraid
Calling me, calling me
As you fade to black

Let me stay
Where the wind will whisper to me
Where the raindrops
As they’re falling tell a story

In my field of paper flowers
And candy clouds of lullaby
I lie inside myself for hours
And watch my purple sky fly over me

Catch me as I fall
Say you’re here and it’s all over now
Speaking to the atmosphere
No one’s here and I fall into myself

This truth drives me into madness
I know I can stop the pain
If I will it all away
If I will it all away

Blurring and stirring the truth and the lies
So, I don’t know what’s real and what’s not
Always confusing the thoughts in my head
So I can’t trust myself anymore

I’m dying again, I’m going under
Drowning in you, I’m falling forever
I’ve got to break through

You don’t remember my name
I don’t really care
Can we play the game your way?
Can I really lose control?

Just once in my life
I think it’d be nice
(Just to lose control, just once)
With all the pretty flowers in the dust

Without the mask
Where will you hide?
Can’t find yourself
Lost in your lie

I know the truth now
I know who you are

Guess it wasn’t real after all
Guess it wasn’t real all along

If I fall and all is lost
It’s where I belong

 Til next time, kiddos.

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