Wednesday, 16 April 2014

singing the songs of our lives

I did a couple of posts recently, choosing songs for the soundtrack of my life so far.  You'll find them here, and here.  Writing them was great fun, mainly due to enjoying lots of blasts from the past on YouTube, but the feedback from you readers has been great too.  I thought I'd share some of their suggestions with you.

Let's start with Adam Ant - Stand and Deliver was the suggestion, and it took me back to being at my Dad's school (he was a teacher) on one of the occasions when he was working, but we were on holiday.  One of the boys at the school had lots of Adam Ant LPs, and recorded some for me.  Fantastic.  I love Adam's glorious appreciation of style over substance.  I also love dancing to this song - Diana Dors style.

One that was suggested for work was Head Like a Hole by Nine Inch Nails.  I love the strength within this song, even though it's well cushioned in despair.  Top tune to bear in mind next time your boss is getting you down.

We went down a bit of a Country and Western rabbit hole, wherein I was reminded of the truly glorious mystery song, Ode to Billie Joe, by Bobbie Gentry.  Do you like Country and Western?  This might be my favourite (just right now).  I like to think that Billie Joe was a girl.  What do you think?

I've also been introduced to Amanda Palmer through this, for which I am very grateful (thanks Steve).  If you haven't had the pleasure here's one to check out.  Here's Amanda (not for the faint hearted, or children)

Amanda has odd eyebrows for that video, which brought to mind another band I'd had recommended by a friend (only because of odd makeup really). I have Robin to thank for introducing me to CocoRosie.  Here's their marvellous video for Lemonade, and it's beautifully odd.  I'm not sure I could sing along with it, but I would like to dress like that (maybe skip the beard).

My little brother asked if the lists I'd put up were my desert island discs.  They're not.  I'm not sure quite what my desert island discs would be to be honest, although I'm thinking on it - watch this space.  I'm guessing I can't just take a smartphone as my luxury item?

Anyway, I'd love to hear what songs you might have for the soundtrack of your life so far, and indeed, what your desert island discs would be.  In the meantime, if you liked this post here's some other's you might like:

The book challenge
Words at 18/4/14 - 74,500.  
21,500 words done since the challenge began, 6000 so far this month.
Where I'm at in First Draft - beginning Chapter 15.
What I did last - planning chapter 15 (first multi-pov chapter).

happy for 100 days: days 31 to 40

Did you see that clip of Pharrell that's been doing the rounds on Facebook lately?  He was on Oprah, talking about how people from all over the world have made video's of themselves dancing to 'Happy'.  It made him cry, bless him... it could nearly make me forgive him for writing Blurred Lines.  Nearly, but not.  'Happy' is a great song.

It's the Easter holidays for us, and we've been on holiday.  The sun has got his hat on, and there are lots of things for us to be happy about.  Here are just a few of them, from days 31-40 (they're all in my Instagram feed too).  What's been making you happy lately?

If you fancy taking part in #100happydays you can find out more here.

I pulled the suitcase out to start packing, and discovered that my husband hadn't emptied all the small pockets before putting it away (he doesn't use the small pockets), so found £40 Xmas money, previously presumed lost.  Result for day 31.
Feels like ages since I've seen my little brother (he's 6' 4", so not that little), so I was very happy to see him again on day 32.
Day 33 brought joy in a double whammy - not just my little brother, but my little sister too!
We all had fun at the safari park on day 34.  Going through the monkey enclosure was particularly good fun, but I liked this picture of the giraffe the best.
It's a real shame I'm not a Christian, because I seriously love a cathedral.  The one we visited on day 35 was in Wells, which is a super visit (the cathedral, and the place).  I loved these steps, and the room to the right - The Chapterhouse, was gorgeous, with amazing acoustics.  There was also an utterly fantastic clock which I've mentally taken down from the wall there and placed in the town square in the story I'm writing.  The Chapterhouse might make it in too.
On day 36 we visited Cheddar Gorge, which is massively over-priced, and the stalactites have mainly been broken off in the 1960s, but I did love the reflective qualities of the pools in the caves.  They were like mirrors.  How do they do that?  The Gorge itself was really interesting, and apparently inspired Tolkien's Helm's Deep.  
On day 37 we discovered Nunney Castle.  A gorgeous little castle in a lovely little village, and the best bit is... it's free!  We enjoyed the sunshine, had a walk, and played a game of frisbee, in a beautiful setting.
Day 38 saw us enjoying the delights of Talgarth in Wales.  There is a seriously good cafe at the mill.
It took HOURS to get home on day 39.  We were all truly sick of being in the car, but it was so good to see our fabulous cat again.
Day 40, and the prize-giving at my local writing group.  I got a lovely batch of certificates, but I was very happy to see Alasdair, a great writer, and ever so helpful too, win more trophies than he could carry.
I keep losing count of which number I'm on!  If you liked this post, here's some others that you might like too:

The book challenge
Words at 15/4/14 - 73,000.  
21,000 words done since the challenge began, 5000 so far this month.
Where I'm at in First Draft - middle of Chapter 14.
What I did last - explaining the rings on the fingers of one of my more awesome characters.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

singing along with women: the seven ages of me in songs by women!

My last post was on the songs I could use as the soundtrack of the seven ages of me, so far. I messed up though, I only had songs by men. In an effort to both put that right, today I'm doing the same thing, but only with songs by women (I'm losing the term 'by' loosely here).

My Mum and I, camping in knitted jumpers.

My Mum is great at singing along with stuff. She'll sing along with anything. Actually knowing the lyrics is not required. This song was my favourite to sing with her in the car, because of the harmonies. Chapel of love by The Dixie Cups.


As a hormone riddled teen my music choices mainly involved men with long hair and eyeliner, but I was also mad about the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and this song (written by Richard O'Brien but sung by both him and Susan Sarandon) was one of my favourites, and I still sing it today.  I made lots of friends singing along with this film.  The song is, There's a Light.


I explained yesterday that I had an odd couple of years between school and university.  During that time I'd bought the album Blue, by Joni Mitchell, mainly because it reminded me of my Mum.  I would listen to it (and sing along, of course), when I was feeling low.  Little Green, about the beautiful mess Joni Mitchell made in her own life, was one of my favourites (and I'm so glad it worked out OK in the end).


I really grew into myself at University.  I loved it.  I also loved my music.  I had a big thing for Rosetta Stone, Depeche Mode, Japan, and Voice of the Beehive, while I was there.  But for today's post, I'm sharing the song I sang when I was in the RAG week blind date, by one of my favourite bands to sing along with.  Shakespeare's Sister's Stay.  I love it.  See that one on the stairs?  That's me that is (not).


Not sure anyone is happy with the title of this category!  I guess it just means that period of time when you're putting yourself into possible relationships, which mainly fail.  It hurts quite often, but it can be fun too.  Apparently people in this phase of their lives have less sex than married people.  Hmm.  Here's a great song which I have cried to (but I can't sing along with it).  Weak, by Skunk Anansie.


So excited that I get to pick this song, because it's totally awesome, and it fits perfectly here.  I love me a bit of Country, and this Dolly Parton song is just perfectly fitting for all those awful admin jobs, and indeed, more highly qualified positions.  Plans thwarted by rubbish bosses, and being part of the employment mill.  Sing it, Dolly.


There's nothing quite like motherhood to highlight the differences between men and women, and their roles in the family.  I am very happy that we have me to focus on the family, while my husband earns.  I had the necessary equipment in the early days, and now he earns more than I could, so it makes sense.  But some days, when my daughter has hidden her socks because we need to leave the house, when my son is refusing to do anything other than nag me to give him more screen time, when there is more laundry than you could shake a stick at and also homework and cleaning, and arguments and all the rest of it, well then this song comes to mind.  Running up that Hill by Kate Bush.

I'm wondering what your seven songs are?  Assuming you're around ages with me, here are your categories:  child, teen, youth, student, lover, worker, parent/partner.  Please share.

Other posts you might like:
The book challenge
Words at 15/4/14 - 73,000.  
21,000 words done since the challenge began, 5000 so far this month.
Where I'm at in First Draft - middle of Chapter 14.
What I did last - explaining the rings on the fingers of one of my more awesome characters.

Monday, 14 April 2014

singing along: the seven ages of me in music

What songs would you use for the soundtrack of the seven ages of you, so far?

In his play, 'As You Like It', William Shakespeare's character Jaques gives a monologue, which starts with "All the world's a stage..." in which he outlines the seven ages of man:  infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantalone (kind of translates as foolish old person) and old age (dependent).  

I'm still only 40 so I've changed my seven ages (so far) to be: child, teen, youth, student,
lover, worker, mother. These are based loosely on the traditional seven ages, but adapted to fit a woman, and because I'm not old yet.  I hope you'll give this a go too, you can adapt your seven ages any way you see fit.

Me, taken by my Dad, on our last family holiday

I was a lucky kid, I had a super family, and good friends, but my parents divorced and I didn't want them to, and there was a song that got played around the time that I liked. Let's Stay Together, by Bryan Ferry.  At first glance it seems a simple song about not wanting a relationship to end, but I was also kind of interested in the dynamic at work here. Bryan Ferry is saying he wants to stick together, but you get the impression that he's the reason she's leaving, and that he's not sorry for whatever it is he's done. He's telling her to stay because she said she would, not because he wants her to. You know it's not going to work, even as he's singing it.


This was a tough one to choose. Music was so important to me at this point. I loved to put my walkman on, stick the tape in, and be in my own little world. Also at this time my musical world was changing.  Moving from my Dad's rather fabulous record collection (he was once Entertainments Secretary at UMIST) to follow my own path.  What to go for? I'm tempted by Black Planet by Sisters of Mercy (I love the beginning of that song), or 225 by New Model Army, because, well, because it's just pure dead brilliant, and NMA were my local band. However, when I became Goth I was utterly obsessed with one band in particular. I would coat all my black clothes in flour and patchouli before leaving the house with their tape in my walkman. I still listen to them often. After the nasty man in the car park last week, I listened to one of their albums (on my phone) to calm down. Can you tell who it is yet?*  I chose this track because it's one of the first I got, and it's great for faux horse riding.  They don't make video's like this any more.  Preacherman by Fields of the Nephilim.  Thank Goth for that.


In between school and university I had an odd couple of years. I left home, and immersed myself in a different life. It didn't turn out how I'd envisaged, which is a shame, because I was a different, less trusting person afterwards. Just growing up I guess. The song I've chosen brings to mind my relationships back then, and it's by another band I love.  Earth, Sun, Moon, by Love and Rockets.  This is beautiful, and yearning, and perfect.  It's a shame they didn't make more videos back then because Daniel Ash was pretty perfect too.

Me, and my mate Nathan, in 1994.


Shortly after the above picture was taken, I went to University.  It had taken me a while to get there, but I revelled in it.  I loved spending lots of time in the library, and getting heavily involved in student politics.  I also had a massive fit of religion, and a bit of a panic about my romantic future.  I did feel like I got to be me finally, and that was awesome.  I carried my big box of LPs between Halls of Residence and digs and home while at University, but the song I'm going to choose was on one of my new CDs.  The Witch by Rosetta Stone.  I went to see Rosetta Stone whenever I could, although I was never a Quarryman.  I felt tremendous fellowship with their followers, and I still love their music.  This is one of their covers, but they do it so well (and the witch thing kind of works - see what I did there?).


What a thing to call a category!  Ahem.  I'm using this to mean the period between University and my first proper job.  A period which included a few relationships, going to University again, and a whole lot of admin.  Yawn!  It also involved a lot of drinking, not enough money, and a lot of stress.  It was better than puberty, and at times it was incredibly good fun, but I wouldn't do it again.  I've chosen this song for the beat, for the incredibly wrong sexiness of it, and for the tinge of despair... and also because it is guaranteed to get me on the dancefloor.  This and sex dwarf.  Should I have chosen sex dwarf?  The song is called Closer and it's by Nine Inch Nails.  Grown ups may choose to watch the video.  I wouldn't recommend it.  The song is great.  The video not so much.  Why are all rude YouTube videos on Vevo?


This is the grown up bit.  Things did come together.  I met a man who didn't know anything about Goth music, and fell in love.  We finished our respective University courses, got proper jobs, and got houses.  We even got married. 

This bit is called 'Worker' and it's that that I'm focusing on.  I had a real job.  One you needed a postgraduate qualification for.  I had a job that involved meeting with senior people and providing advice.  It was weird.  It was good too.  There were lots of things I liked about my job, but one thing I did not like was meetings.  Don't get me wrong, I liked the meetings where you travel to meet with someone to get a good understanding of what they're doing about something.  Those meetings were great.  The meetings I hated were those ones where you have a meeting because you always have a meeting on Wednesday.  The meetings where people talk about how many spoons are missing from the kitchenette.  Surely we have better things to do with our lives than have those meetings?  I also hated the regular meetings with my boss where she would dissect everything I had done to point out the flaws in it, and I would not punch her.  Again and again.  What I did do, was imagine getting up out of my seat and singing this song.  One Step Closer by Linkin Park.  I know they're not a proper band, but this song is awesome.


So now we're up to date, with where I'm at in my life now.  A full time mother to three weans.  Truth be told that last song doesn't go completely neglected, but as a mother I've spent an awful lot of time with children who are nearly asleep, or should be asleep, or won't go the 'ahem' to sleep.  When the child does finally sleep, whether they look gorgeous or not you have that amazing moment to realise how wonderful this whole thing of creating life and getting to live with these little people is.  I love this song.  I Don't Want to Miss a Thing by Aerosmith.

So that's me, so far... way too many men represented!  I'll have to do another version with women.  What's that about?  Anyway, I'm wondering what your seven songs are?  Assuming you're around ages with me, here are your categories:  child, teen, youth, student, lover, worker, parent/partner.  Please share.

Other posts you might like:
The book challenge
Words at 15/4/14 - 73,000.  
21,000 words done since the challenge began, 5000 so far this month.
Where I'm at in First Draft - middle of Chapter 14.
What I did last - explaining the rings on the fingers of one of my more awesome characters.

Friday, 11 April 2014

loving apps

What app have you got that you couldn't live without?  What's so good about it?

I love the flexibility of apps for phones, tablets and Chrome, and I am often amazed at what some of the good ones can do (and curious as to the point of some of the bad ones).  

A blast from the past, from
I use some apps, like the camera app on my phone (just the standard one it comes with), like Gmail and Facebook so often that I don't really think of them as apps any more.  They're all great, but if for some reason they're not working (the Facebook app used up too much memory to ever work on my last 'phone), then I can survive.  I have used different apps for the camera.  I used to be a big fan of Vignette, but there are so many camera apps out there.

Other apps are newer to me. I've just got Timehop (yesterday), which gives me a daily blast from the past of my status updates and photos from this day in previous years.  Today, I've got this picture of the little girl from two years ago, wearing a very fetching ensemble of bobble hat and summer PJs, and a couple of songs that were on my mind in previous years.  I like Timehop.  It makes me feel that time is moving more slowly than I had feared.

However, the app which I couldn't live without is not one I use every day (although I do use it most days), and it is not new to me.  It's marketed as a great tool for work, and great for making lists in.  I use it all the time, to make notes, to draft blog posts (because the Blogger app is truly awful), to keep a note of those web sites you come across that you think will be useful one day, and also for lists of books to read, places to visit, and things to pack (but lists of things to do are done in Remember the Milk - it being the best of a bad lot to replace the marvellous and now dead app, Astrid).  I got Evernote as a friend had been raving about it, thinking I'd hardly use it, 
Find Evernote here
but it is so incredibly useful.  Not just because of what it does, but because of its marvellous ability to sync.  You can draft a blog post on your 'phone while you're on the train, do more to it on your tablet later, and then transfer it from Evernote on your computer when you get home.  It's so easy to use, and just generally brilliant... so I'm expecting someone to buy it, take all the staff, and leave its carcass drained of blood in an elephant graveyard.  Hope not.  

If you've not used Evernote yet, do give it a try.  It is, honestly, awesome.

So, what's your favourite app?

Other posts you might like
The book challenge
Words at 10/4/14 - 72,000.  
19,000 words done since the challenge began, 4000 so far this month.
Where I'm at in First Draft - middle of Chapter 14.
What I did last - lots of worrying from my new POV character.  Not sure how to carry on from this bit, but it'll come to me.  Don't want too much information.

I'm still blogging too much and not writing enough of the book, so I'm reducing the blogging further, to focus on the writing.  That's the theory anyway!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

reading fantasy books

I love me a book with a map at the front.  

One of Ian Rankin's books
about Edinburgh.  More in Ian
on his website, here
I love reading, and I especially love fantasy stories because you can get really into the telling of tales, without all the faffing around with fact-checking.  I read plenty of stories that are in the real world too (I'm reading the incredibly good story 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum' by Kate Atkinson at the moment, and would highly recommend it), but it really annoys me when you get too much focus on where something is happening, and of course, all places have a lot of baggage both in the writer's, and our own imaginations.  I find Ian Rankin particularly maddening on this front.  Edinburgh is a bigger character in his books than is Rebus.

Creating a made-up place enables the writer to create their own place-baggage, and also to create religion, social mores, societal structures and so on and so on and so on.

All books need research, but the nature of fantasy books is different - the writer creates a world, and all the things within it.  Of course, they don't create that out of thin air.  It's based in their own experience of life, and of the things that concern them.  A lot of fantasy tests out what ifs of political or societal situations.  

  • What if there was a crisis of fertility and the American Government became yet more Christian? (Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale)
  • What if something happened that got rid of gender?  (Storm Constantine's Wraeththu series)
And some tests out how historical events might have worked out in different contexts.  George RR Martin, for example, plundered the Wars of the Roses, Scottish history, and the rather fabulous Borgias to create The Song of Ice and Fire series.  I'm very glad he did, because I love historical fiction too!

All fairytales are fantasy stories, and I totally love fairytales too.  I think that getting away from stories that might be true lets us explore truths about people.  I also think that stepmothers get a bad rep.  I suspect it's the fairytale connection that makes people slightly wary of these stories as grown ups, but we love them when they hit the screen.  Every book group I've been in, the other members told me they didn't like fantasy.  I think it's seen as something for kids, and something for men too.  

I like fantasy so much, I'm writing my own!  Go on, give the genre a go.  Here's some great books to try.

Game of Thrones is not only a fabulous TV series, it is also the first book in the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin.  It is a big book, and the series has an awful lot of people in it, so it can be easy to get lost, but this book is pretty easy to follow, as it mainly follows the story of the Stark family, and how the person sitting on the iron throne is affecting everyone's lives.  Lovely characters, an interesting story, and plenty of rules of stories broken.  It's not giving much away to say that they don't live happily ever after.

A Cavern of Black Ice is the first book in the Sword of Shadows series by JV Jones (her name is Julie, but like many women writing fantasy, she's not giving away her gender on the cover - that way she increases her sales sadly).  I love the world that Julie's created, especially the people who live in the North - the clans are beautifully explored, and I love the concept of the maimed men.  To be honest with you, I'm not that keen on Ash March, and her magical powers, but there you go.  The clans really do make up for it.

The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit is the First Book of Wraeththu by Storm Constantine.  There are lots of problems with this series, the largest of which is that it is rather dated (why does future fiction date so badly?), but it is also fabulous.  The Earth is taken over by an alien species which only has one gender.  New societies are formed, and it's all very frontier.  I love the ideas Storm has tested out here, and her characters are great.  It's very easy to get caught up in the glamour of Calanthe in particular (although our hero, Pellaz, is a bit wet if you ask me).

Margaret Atwood calls the genre for her books speculative fiction.  They're set in imagined futures, but I don't think they age as badly as most such books.  The Handmaid's Tale is one of the most famous.  There's a very good film of it as well.  It imagines a dystopian future where America is ruled by Christian fundamentalists, and fertility has become such a problem that fertile women are used as handmaids to produce children for the infertile rich.  It's based on a story out of the bible... and against the odds, they do live happily ever after.

I'm not usually a fan of short stories.  I love to get my teeth into a nice big tale, with lots of colour and texture, and I always want more.  I often wait until there's a trilogy before I'll start reading.  However, Angela Carter's short stories are fascinating, and in this collection (The Bloody Chamber) she challenges some of the truths we know about fairty tales.

I notice that I've got a preponderance of women writers, again, so to attempt to balance it out a bit, here's another man.  Patrick Rothfuss is still writing his Kingkiller Chronicles, but the first book, The Name of the Wind, has an interesting world, and some utterly gorgeous writing.  I particularly like the opening paragraph:
It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.
Don't you feel the need to know more about the texture of that silence?  Love it.

What fantasy books would you recommend?  Or are you someone who reckons you don't like it?

Other posts you might like:

The book challenge
Words at 10/4/14 - 72,000.  
19,000 words done since the challenge began, 4000 so far this month.
Where I'm at in First Draft - middle of Chapter 14.
What I did last - lots of worrying from my new POV character.  Not sure how to carry on from this bit, but it'll come to me.  Don't want too much information.

I've come to the conclusion I'm blogging too much and not writing enough of the book, so I'm reducing the blogging to focus on the writing.  That's the theory anyway!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

derided (updated)

To the man who stood in the car park at Tebay services, complaining at me, on and on and on and on and on, even though I had apologised when the car door was blown out of my three-year-old's hand and slightly grazed the door of your car. 

Who never offered to help hold the door in the high wind while I strapped my daughter into her seat, but merely commented on how I couldn't hold on to it, again and again and again.

The incident with the man happened as we were
leaving Tebay, which is a shame because it's
the best services (check them out, but do avoid
parking next to a Skoda Roomster)
While my husband was writing down our details for you to claim to have your fancy Skoda Roomster returned to it's previous no doubt pristine state, you stood there, telling me how stupid I was, and using language in front of my children which I would be horrified for them to pick up.  Meanwhile I struggled to get them to stay in their seats while a man was being horrible to their mother.  You probably noticed it wasn't easy.

Was I looking harassed while you were explaining to me how stupid I was for letting the wind blow the door open?  Was that why you took such exception to me?  Or was it the way that I apologised?

Whatever it was, I hope you feel happier soon.  I hope you can maintain your belief that a slight scratch on a car door is worth haranguing a woman in a car park for.  I hope you don't find yourself waking up in the morning and wondering if you were actually being a toe rag.  I suppose you must have been having a very difficult day, and you thought you'd share it with me.  How generous.

Thank you for reminding me not to do that.  Thank you for reminding me to think about other people, and that stuff really does not matter... well not enough to berate someone for anyway.

Have you been berated by a toe rag lately?  Did you think of a witty retort after they went away (or did you just have a cry like I did), or are you one of those awesome people who can shut these things down?

Update - one week later.  We've received a bill from toe-rag man.  It's going to cost me the price of a new dress to re-pristinify his Skoda.  I hope he uses it to buy himself something nice.

Other posts you might like:
The book challenge
Words at 8/4/14 - 71,350.  
18,000 words done since the challenge began, 3000 so far this month.
Where I'm at in First Draft - start of Chapter 14.
What I did last - making the last chapter a tiny bit less rude, and working out what's going to happen during the next few weeks of the story, also very excited to be introducing a new POV.