Thursday, 26 November 2015

Land: a poetry post


This is not my land.
This waterlogged clay soil is not my rich loam.
I am the incomer, comeover, the offcomeden;
not from 'round these parts.
We do not share a history,
I do not know your tales,
and you are unprejudiced, but
I don't fit in.
And yet, I find, on returning
to the green-grey valleys of God's own county
this now too, is not my home.
Not my land.

© Cara L McKee, 26th November 2015

Friday, 6 November 2015

poetic: five poems that are on my mind right now

I've been getting interested in poetry lately. 

Now that I spend more of my time writing, I'm more impressed by well chosen words, and by imagery that speaks so much louder than it might be expected to. Here are some of the poems which keep coming back to me at the moment.

1. You are at the Bottom of My Mind by Iain Crichton Smith is a fabulous poem, which you'll find in full if you follow the link. It's also a poem which has inspired me to write one of my favourite poems by me to date, which I'd share with you if you were paying to view this stuff, but unfortunately, I am forced to keep to myself... for now.

2. Snow by Louis MacNeice is a really interesting poem. At first glance it is flowery (literally) nonsense, but it grows on you. It keeps coming back to me. I first came across this poem on googling a line from it that someone had quoted: "World is suddener than we fancy it."

Here's the poem in full. Read it out loud. Let me know what you think. Those capitals would now be frowned upon. And I'm not sure about the tangerine.

     Snow by Louis MacNeice

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes -
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands -
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

3. I'm sure you'll have come across this one. I certainly had before. It's one of those poems that you might even have heard so many times as to have stopped listening, but it's worth focusing on it a while. 

I love its petulant drama, and the way it captures the emotion, and hints at the horror of the fact that life goes on.

I'm told that WH Auden, when he came out of this particularly oppressive period of grieving was embarrassed at the petulance of this poem, but I love the way it expresses it, and think it is really valuable for that.

Stop all the clocks by WH Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. 

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. 

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

4. Another dose of petulance here from Thomas Hardy. I'm not sure that I like it, and I certainly don't like the entitled attitude of the narrator, but I do like the way that a poem which is ostensibly about a woman tells you so much about the attitude of the man (and even though she's being admonished, we do not blame her).

A Broken Appointment by Thomas Hardy

You did not come, 
And marching Time drew on, and wore me numb. 
Yet less for loss of your dear presence there 
Than that I thus found lacking in your make 
That high compassion which can overbear 
Reluctance for pure lovingkindness' sake 
Grieved I, when, as the hope-hour stroked its sum, 
You did not come. 

You love not me, 
And love alone can lend you loyalty; 
-I know and knew it. But, unto the store 
Of human deeds divine in all but name, 
Was it not worth a little hour or more 
To add yet this: Once you, a woman, came 
To soothe a time-torn man; even though it be 
You love not me.

5. And finally, an intriguing poem from the Scottish poet, Miroslav Holub. The Door. I love the darkness of the end of this. This is a fairly recent poem, and I don't have permission to reproduce it, but you'll find it here, and here's my favourite bit...

Thursday, 29 October 2015


When I was young I wore purple. I also had a red hat, that did not go, but let's not take this too far...

That's me in the purple starry dress, made, in velour, by my gifted seamstress mother. My brother, Eoian, is rocking the stripes at the front.
I've been through various colour phases in my life, but I'm now pretty happy in black and sludgy colours (ideally if you think I would fit right in on a quest, possibly with some elves, I've got the desired look).

My hair bores me though. As you can see above, it started out ash blonde, but got darker, until it reached a sort of 'meh' colour, which was just awful.

I started dying it at 15, and soon went BLACK. I loved having black hair, then for a while I loved having purple hair, although I bleached it to get it purple. I bleached it A LOT, and apparently, your hair doesn't like that. As I've got older I decided to attempt to go back to my natural colour. It took a long time, and many trips to hairdressers for things like colour correction, but I eventually got there.

And my natural colour was still boring.

So this year I tried to work out what colour would go with my colouring, suit me, and make me happy...

That'd be dark green.

I love my hair this colour. It makes me feel more me, and I'm hugely grateful to the ladies at Boutique Hair Spa for letting it stay this way (without having a green shower). My hair makes me want to wear makeup again (sometimes), and have more fun with clothes.

I'm loving it, and I'm talking about it because someone called it a mid-life crisis the other day (they were talking about their own coloured hair). I'm not trying to recapture my youth. If I was, my hair would be black or purple. But my green hair does seem to me to be connected with this mid-life period I am certainly in. This is me, now. I'm an incredibly lucky 42 year old woman, married to a loving, hardworking man, and with three healthy and intelligent children, and a sweet, friendly, and warm cat. I love our home, our town, and I'm glad to be living in Scotland. Let us gloss over the weather for now. I am finally in a position where I can focus on writing, which I absolutely adore doing, and while I am content to be bad at it until I'm good, I wouldn't mind getting good a bit faster!

This is a post for the gratitude project, and it's coming out on my birthday. As well as all the above I'm profoundly grateful for the cuddles and gifts I received from my children, far-off friends and family and my husband this morning (the elves have eaten the fudge). and am looking forward to several days of celebration. I am also very happy that my birthday is on a Thursday because that is my faourite day (possibly because of Tomorrow's World, because it sure isn't because of all the homework that must now be done on a Thursday).

42 is of course the answer to life, the universe, and everything. 

What is the question? 

For me, it's 'what would you regret doing or not doing, on your death bed'? 

I would regret not trying to write. I would regret trying to be 'normal' (whatever that is). I would regret missing kisses and cuddles, and snuggly blankets. I would regret not having more time to spend with my kids. So I'm doing my best to be happy each day. 

There will still be regrets, but hopefully, too few to mention. 

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

rejecting rape in high fantasy

I love high fantasy books. 

I've written a post about my love of fantasy fiction before, so I shan't go over that again here. Today we'll stick with high fantasy.

What's high fantasy?

You can check out the Wikipedia entry on the topic, but I'd describe it as big stories, set in slightly magical alternative worlds, often peopled with things like elves. The societies are well worked out, with power structures, religion, and rules for any magic. The most famous books in this genre are probable Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, although George RR Martin is currently vying for that position with his Song of Ice and Fire series and other stories set in the same world.

High fantasy is often set in a medieval-esque world, although it doesn't have to be. Similarly, the books often use medieval-esque societal rules, although they don't have to.

These rules often result in women, and races other than white human, getting the short end of a rather shitty stick.

In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books women are all but invisible. No doubt this was a reflection of Tolkien's real world, writing as a white male academic. He was educated at a boy's only school, then a men only university, before joining the army in World War I. It was then that he started working on what would eventually become his stories set in Middle Earth. You can find out more about Tolkien here.

There are plenty of women characters in George RR Martin's books, many in positions f power, although they are still within a patriarchal system. I would argue that while such a system is not required, it does provide a useful obstacle for many a narrative arc. Also, the possibility of women's inheritance is well explored in Martin's books; the patriarchal system coming across as anachronistic, although it's clear from the actions of Aegon the Unworthy that some system is necessary.

As I've said, you don't have to set a high fantasy story in a medieval-esque setting, but I rather like to. I enjoy historical fiction, including that based on real people, and love exploring grey characters like Richard III. To me, a story has more possibilities if you don't have to deal with pesky things like the rule of law. It makes religion more interesting, and allows a focus on traditions.

So I've set a story I'm currently writing in a medieval-esque world. A world where criminality is a way of life for some families, and where production of the next generation is of great importance to the rich.

In my world the Queen has brought down the monasteries, replacing them with a secular organisation, seeking to contribute to their own version of the Enlightenment, and yet religion still thrives in the margins.

This story happens to be about a man, but there are lots of women in it. I've written the first draft and I'm now doing a whole load of editing, which, up until now, has been way harder, and duller, than the initial writing. I'm onto Chapter 8.

This is the Chapter in which our hero realises he's got in with a bad crowd. He kind of knew this already, but I wanted to show how EVIL they were. This Chapter also sees the introduction of a new character, who will need to be rescued further down the line. So, I had two rapes in this chapter.

TWO RAPES! There are lots of articles looking at why the proliferation of rape scenes in fantasy is bad. I quite like this one, because he gets straight to the point, and keeps repeating it.

Editing Chapter 8, I realised that the new character couldn't just walk into such a situation, get raped, and later get rescued. I want her to seem like a real person, not a tragic doll. So that rape has gone, and, importantly, the character is getting better. This has massive ramifications for my story. Despite me giving this particular character a starring, if horrible, role, I realised I hadn't even created a character sheet for her*. She wasn't a character, she was just a thing. That changing changes the rest of the story, for the better.

On to the next rape. This one is a cornerstone of my story. But it doesn't have to be. In Chapter 8, a nameless woman was brutally raped for entertainment, to show how evil other (named, male) characters are. It's important because it's a regular event, and leads to the deaths of two significant other characters elsewhere in the story, BUT:

    1. My bad guys are really not as a bad as that.
    2. Why would people repeatedly watch that for entertainment when they could go and see a comedian, or enjoy good music?
    3. The characters that need to die, could die in other ways. There are so many other ways.
So, that rape is going too. This is going to involve massive amounts of rewriting, not because there are lots of such scenes, but because of the ramifications.

I'm glad about this, I think the rewriting will improve (and interestingly change) the story.

It's also made me think. People criticise George RR Martin, and the Game of Thrones series for being too sexually exploitative, particular trigger points being rapes in Game of Thrones which didn't happen in the Song of Ice and Fire series. When I've seen these criticisms I've generally thought that the scenes are a result of the world they're in, but it is true that this is a created world.

So, I'm going to quickly share my thoughts on two controversial rape scenes from Game of Thrones (the TV series).

First up, did Jaime need to rape Cersei for his character arc? This is a scene that supposedly went wrong in the making. Cersei was supposed to initially resist, and then change her mind. It was all supposed to be rather passionate. It didn't work. It looked like rape. The scene is taken from the book, but it's in different circumstances (the twins haven't seen each other since Jaime is taken until Joff is lying in state), and although Cersei is repelled initially by Jaime's missing hand, the scene in the book is not rape. Perhaps the people involved with filming this scene were so sure of what they were aiming for that they didn't see what it had become. I think more dialogue could have solved the problem, something like this (just a suggestion George, not fanfic):
Cersei is crying while Jaime keeps vigil. They are alone (with the body) in the sept.
Jaime goes to comfort her.She sees his gold hand and flinches away.He looks at the hand, and then at her, says: "I'm still me."Cersei: "Not all of you." (She turns away)Jaime: "Enough." He embraces her, kissing her neck (echoing their first romantic scene together).Cersei: "Not here."Jaime: "Here and now. When else are we alone?"Cersei turns and kisses him, passionately, and the camera pans away (or they have a sex scene, but it's consensual).
What about the scene with Ramsay and Sansa? Ramsay is a vicious little git and it's hard to believe that Littlefinger doesn't know that, but Littlefinger moves in mysterious ways. He might know but think it's worth the risk to his 'beloved' Sansa.

In the Song of Ice and Fire books, Ramsay does force Lady Hornwood into a politically strategic marriage. Raping her and killing her. He's also a fan of raping and killing peasant women. Ramsay Snow is also horrible in Game of Thrones. He enjoys killing, and torturing. He threatens Myranda, but he does seem to have a loving, consensual, if sadistic (on both sides) relationship with her.

Did he rape Sansa so as to prove his loyalty to Myranda? Is that also why he had Reek watch? Although if it was to prove his loyalty, why not just have Myranda watch?

Personally I think Sansa is no Lady Hornwood. In the TV series she is thought to be the only surviving Stark, and she is in Winterfell. The Bolton's would not be able to hold the North if she's seen to be mistreated. I think Ramsay would have to do his husbandly duty and then maybe leave her alone and carry on his affair with Myranda. The rape seems not only unnecessary, but unlikely. Still, those problems are solved by Myranda's death and Sansa's leap from the battlements.

Enough of Game of Thrones. Back to me. I'm glad that the editing process allows me to get rid of the Chapter 8 rapes, but I'm also concerned about where they have come from. I consider myself a feminist. I did a degree in Women's Studies, so why am I using women like this in the first instance? We create our worlds from what we know, and despite my best intentions, I guess I read too much / watch too much rape.

I don't want to be part of the problem wherein rape is normalised, so I'm not only getting rid of the rape, I'm also working on my characters, and hopefully I'll improve my story in the process.

Then you can buy copies of it for yourself and all your friends. 

*let me know if you'd like a blog post on how I do a character sheet.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Inked: a Poetry post

This is my first link up with The Prompt (click on the link pic below to find out more - or have a look here). I'm finding it hard to work out what to do, so I thought I'd just do it. Eek.


Colours written on the body;
stories told inside the skin.
The ink-ed creature recreates herself.

Inchoate markings clothe in colour:
carnation blooms within the skin.
A crimson kiss comes carmine, but is kept.

© Cara L McKee, 25th October 2015


Tuesday, 20 October 2015

dressing up a cabinet

Mandi Johnson of A Beautiful Mess may think that painting furniture is lazy (although how she can when her idea of painting furniture involves stripping some of that paint straight off again to give it a 'distressed' look, and then coating the piece in something to stop it getting further distressed?), but that's what today's post is all about.

You know how when you decorate something, it makes something else look shabby? Well, when I recently decorated my bedroom, I found myself perturbed at the makeshift look of my husband's bedside table.

It wasn't big enough for all the magazines, e-readers, and general stuff that got put on it, and it was accompanied by a tangle of wires for chargers. Kenny has a great love of devices, and all the many chargers that go with them. In this picture I've shoved the wires behind a bin, under the table, but that wasn't a long term solution. I decided he needed a cupboard, but I had no funding.

What to do?

Well, I had a look around for something cheap, but couldn't find anything that was cheap and went with the new look of the bedroom.

Then my in-laws heard that I was looking for a cabinet and kindly gave me one (they've just had their bathroom re-done).

A white MDF, wicker drawered, bathroom cabinet. It was slightly water damaged, but I looked up what to do about that.

Here is where we sanded away the swollen bits caused by water damage.

I didn't like it being white, so decided to repaint the whole thing.

I had paint left over from painting the room, so I used that, rather than splashing out on anything. But before I did that I cut out a bit on the back panel to allow a plug to pass through and into one of the baskets (this enables the wires to be kept tidy during the day, although they still come out at night). I didn't do a very tidy job of cutting out the hole, but it's good enough.

Here it is after 2-3 coats of the green paint. Kenny's got places to put things, and it fits in in the room alright. There are still wires poking out the back, but it's a lot better than it was, and it will do nicely.

This is a post for the gratitude project. I'm grateful to my in-laws for providing the drawers, and to Kenny for using them.

Painting furniture doesn't seem especially lazy to me, although I don't think this item is a long term keeper!

Have you painted any furniture lately?

Friday, 16 October 2015

loving the fields...

Today for the gratitude project I'm talking about music I love.

I've decided to focus on one particular band which had a massive impact on my life. The Fields of the Nephilim.

Who's that? If you want to find out about the band, their rather gorgeous website is here. Suffice to say that it's a Goth band from the 80s/90s, and one with a particular post apocalyptical pagan style, which involved flour.

I had a bit of a moment as a teenager. I wouldn't want to call it a breakdown, as it seems melodramatic, but then again I was quite melodramatic. I was suicidal, obsessed about what was wrong with how I looked, and felt cast out. I stopped eating and covered all my mirrors.

Fields of the Nephilim. Picture from here
I started to dye things black. I loved doing that. I wanted to be skinny and angular and swathed in black. I found an article in a magazine about the Goth scene. They were talking about several bands, but I was intrigued with what they said about the band Fields of the Nephilim. They looked way more interesting than any of the other bands, and they were talking about magick.

My Dad offered to buy me a record, and I asked for Fields of the Nephilim. Having never heard them. Dad insisted I should listen before I buy. He took me to Crash Records in Leeds, with my newly black hair and clothes, and he asked the young man behind the counter to put on some Fields of the Nephilim. I was mortified. I would have said I loved them even if they'd sounded like Napalm Death, but they didn't. They sounded magical and mystical, and incredibly sexy. Also, my Dad wasn't keen.

Sold to the teenager in the black.

That first record I got was Dawnrazor (released 1987) - Horror movie Goth with a heady dose of Ennio Morricone. I listened to it constantly. I wrote out the lyrics. I fell asleep to it. I taped it, and listened to it on my enormous Sony Walkman.

I saved up any money that came my way, and bought anything else I could find, including a video which I cherished. I cut out any articles I could find, and started rubbing flour (and patchouli) into my newly black garments.

That summer I went / was dragged on a family holiday to the Isle of Man where I met a man who wore patchouli oil and rubbed flour into his clothes (although not into his leather trousers). He soon learned about my utter obsession with the Neph, and modelled himself on Carl McCoy - that was a surefire way to woo me, and one that he would revert to whenever we quarelled. It's probably for the best that I no longer have anyone in my life that will dress up as Carl McCoy (although it would probably still work). Now I find that my characters have a tendency to dress like him. Much better than real life.

I still wear patchouli oil when I feel I can get away with it (and when I can remember where I've put it), but it is YEARS since I've gone out with flour on, which is a shame, because it's an awesome way to get ready for a night out, and really you don't need to be pernickity about stains when you're covered in flour.

But it's not just the great music, flour as fashion, and the lovely Carl McCoy that I am grateful for. I've already mentioned magick. Carl always talked a lot about religion, particularly non-Christian world views. I was interested in that stuff anyway, but Carl, and Storm Constantine, led me to investigate further, and challenged notions of what was scary and wrong. They encouraged me to question the stories that were told. To look at the fairy tale from the point of view of the wicked witch. It's rather wonderful.

I found the Nephilim's imagery and the textures of sound they created to be inspiring. I still do. Celebrate is my favourite song for that. This is a great live version. 

In the early 90s New Model Army went on tour with Fields of the Nephilim supporting. Despite NMA being my other favourite band I managed to miss every single gig. I wish that those two would pair up again. The Neph split in the 90s, and I remember sobbing down the 'phone to my friend Ben, who told me that they would move on to other interesting things. They did move on, but I wasn't interested. Now they're back (playing in Whitby next week). Pleeeeeeeease come to Glasgow.

So, what music are you grateful for? And is it as good as the Neph? ;-)