Monday, December 31, 2007

Preparations for a new year

Today I went to Borders to get myself a magnificent new diary - a day to a page.

Unfortunately there was also a book sale on (as there always is) and, although I have sworn to myself that I am not going to buy any more books until I've made some more progress in diminishing the TBR pile, I succumbed...

I also bought myself a new laptop bag on a trip to Staples a couple of days ago (to get a planner for 2008)

which has pockets not only for my laptop (so I can write anywhere)

but also my new ipod touch (my much-treasured Christmas present).

Life seems sweet.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tenth Sunday Salon 20.00

Not got through many pages, I'm afraid, but I can see it's good. It's interestingly written: present tense, disjointed, one view point and then another, limited to one person each time: Esme, Iris, Fran - all women. There are verbless sentences which I also like...

Ah, it's no good. My brain seems to have got into a holiday mood of its own and is flitting around like some woozy butterfly. I started a short story based on a film script that I wrote yesterday, then started an email then went back to the book, then the telephone went, then did a little more to the story, thought about continuing my novel, but then went back to yet another book...and on and on. Nothing accomplished at all. Time to watch Casino Royale which we bought for Hodmandod Minor for Christmas with a glass of wine or go back to dreaming about aliens...

Tenth Sunday Salon 14.00

Ah, my last Sunday Salon...This time next week (relatively speaking since earth time will have no relevance where I shall be then) I shall be on Zom Sot's space craft. I am looking forward so much to seeing it. Apparently it is necessary to fuse in some way to the electronics, and there is some sort of implant involved, but Zom is confident they can adapt Sottian surgical practices to humanoids.

Anyway, the book I am about to read for Sunday Salon (I've started late since there is much to sort out with the Hodmandods so they might cope with my absence) is Maggie O'Farrell's THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX. From the title I think I might be gleaning some useful hints. Also, since it is next month's Book Club choice, I shall be passing on what I learn to Zom Sot so he/she might be able to go in my place.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Important: Notice of Takeover

This is notice that the earthling known as the Clare Dudman is about to be transported from your planet and will be replaced by Zom Sot, creative genius and champion weaver of the entrails. The Clare Dudman has graciously allowed the entity known as Zom Sot to not only occupy her space on this planet but has allowed full access to this blog which will be known as 'Zom Sot's Water Cooler Factoids' for the duration. The takeover will start at zero hours (GMT) on 1/1/2008.

Signed Mom Sot (Zom Sot's mother).

Greetings, Earthlings...

Friday, December 28, 2007

HURTING DISTANCE by Sophie Hannah and VOYAGE by Adele Geras.

I have spent a lot of the holidays reading (instead of what I usually end up doing - which is more writing). I have much enjoyed what I've read and reduced the TBR a little.

HURTING DISTANCE was excellent. I am now a Sophie Hannah fan.

I had initially been put off the book a little because of the way I first encountered it - in a supermarket wrapped in plastic together with Ms Hannah's first book, LITTLE FACE. I immediately suspected a manufactured 'best seller' - with associated clichéd writing and a sensationalist Jodi-Picoult-type story line. However, I was utterly wrong. The writing is really engaging and I can quite believe this was a real 'word of mouth' best seller. I would certainly highly recommend it.

It also, rather unexpectedly, made me think about events in my life over the past few months. This quote comes from the end of the book:
'It's one of the most effective ways of ruining someone's life - showing them, suddenly, that their interpretation of the world, everything they think they understand and believe to be true , everything that matters to them, is based on a lie, a cruel sadistic trick. Maybe it's the most effective way to destroy another human being...'
The 'hurting distance', one of the chief protagonists says, is a misplaced trust - and the sort of injury that results can take longer to heal than the more physical kind.

Sophie Hannah's next thriller, POINT OF RESCUE, is out in February 2008. When it comes out in paperback I think it will be my next holiday read.

This morning I went on to read one of Sophie Hannah's mother's books: VOYAGE by Adele Geras. This is a book for young adults and quite short. It is about a group of Jewish emigrés at the turn of the twentieth century. Part of what the book explores is the concept of love and what it means to different people. Here is one view based on an arranged marriage:
Yasha tried to feel love for Naomi. He tried hard. At least a glimmering, a surge of feeling, sympathy, something. His father had said, "Love ? What is love? Love grows. Love is nothing to begin with , a tiny seed, perhaps, but it flowers with time. Knowledge is love. Working together is love, sharing a life. That's what love is. The love we read about in books, my boy, is something else. Maybe sometimes you find it in your life, but most people do not. Marriage is like a good plot of ground for love. It can grow there from the smallest beginnings, grow and flourish."

In another part another of the characters consider the love of parenthood:
Having children does something strange to you. It changes you completely. Do they realise, the young ones? Does Golda realise that never, not for one instant of her life, will she be without some part of her wondering, asking, worrying, loving her child? Do they know it is forever?

Then, at the end, a poor gentile girl is rewarded with a bracelet for feeding a woman's baby and the girl responds by naming her baby after a girl called Mina. Mina had talked to her and befriended her when no one else would. It was a simple touch but for me the most memorable and poignant part of all.

The book starts and ends with the voyage and each character is convincingly and subtly changed by the experience. It is another absorbing read and kept me thinking about it long after I had finished it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Day At The Zoo

How like animals we are -

squabbling like baby elephants;
me looking at you looking at me -

through a murky window;
pretending to ride the sort of ponies that

will not kick or gallop too freely;
and then, as the evening comes,

end it on ice -
round and around
for no purpose

but to feel the wind in our faces,
and know we are

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day

After a day of not doing much but dreaming, I spend the evening dancing on my own in candle-light. I am very happy.

iPod touch

My post using my iPod touch. It took a little experimenting - but now I can post anywhere I can find a server ...maybe. Happy Boxing Day!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Gospel According to St Delia Part II

And it came to pass that the table was laid; and crackers and glasses and napkins and rose petals were placed thereon. And it was good. The fifth hour, I think...

(but to be honest after I had ingested a fair amount of the 'blue magic bottle' I had, by this time, lost count)

but sausages and bacon rolls were spiked in all their host and gruesome pink glory in the sixth hour

and thus the turkey and all the trimmings were finished and the work ended.

And that hour blessed - the table decorations 'enhanced' with the doctor of pepper and the jar of sauce of cranberry - and the crackers pulled and champagne drunk...

...and I ceased to care about anything very much at all.

Has anyone else noticed that paper crowns are actually quite warm?

To quote the great Raymond Briggs - a very merry bloomin' Christmas to you all...

The Gospel According to Delia Smith (part 1)

In the beginning there was the turkey

and it was without form and void (so it got stuffed - with Tesco's best Christmas chestnut at one end and sage and onion at the other, and then buttered and covered in bacon rashers), and it was put into the oven at 170 degrees Celsius and it was good. The first half hour of the day.

Then, behold, there were potatoes (small, young, Maris Pipers, promising yellow flesh when cooked) and these small tubors were peeled, chopped into small pieces and submerged; a firmament in the midst of the waters: and it was so. The second half hour.

Then a Hodmandod said, Let the Brussel Sprouts be brought forth from the garage so they, with the carrots, may be gathered into one place (which shall henceforth be called the steamer); and it was so and it was good also. The third half hour of the day.

Then the sprouts each yielded outer leaves of its kind, and marked with a cross and the carrots a curling peel and this was carried to the compost bin that is at the bottom of the garden and there attracted many moving creatures: small pink worms, woodlice and also a dozy frog and all of these no doubt will multiply after their kind. And although this did not all happen in the fourth half hour it did start then and it was good.

Then the coffee was made and the chocolate box brought forth and even though it was only the fifth half hour, and the work not yet finished it was time to rest

and admire the leather-bound hand-made paper bought by the Hodmandod Major (who is one of my better creations) although he is more the image of Hodmandod Senior for whom he bought this Crook's Radiometer which goes round and round when bombarded by photons from the sun

which is where all this (and most other things) began.

Monday, December 24, 2007


Thanks to Sunday Salonist 'Happily Coupled' I have discovered an interesting new website: This I believe. It is based on a 1950s radio programme and in short essays of about 100 words people describe 'the core values that guide their daily lives'.

There is a database of essays and readers are encouraged to write their own. There is also a book. From the look of it this is a collection of ideas - some of which seem to be unorthodox and therefore very interesting.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ninth Sunday Salon. 19.00

Just had a little break from HURTING DISTANCE to read a couple of stories from an anthology of short stories that arrived yesterday: BACK BURNING by Sylvia Petter. This is a POD volume and it has come out very well - it is difficult to spot any difference from the conventional type of printing. The author is an Australian living in Austria. This in itself intrigues me because as a child I used to confuse the names of these two countries and they remian forever linked in my head.

The stories are very short and extremely well-written with lots of symbolism and interest. I've read the first three so far and my favourite has been the first which shares the same title as the volume. It is about a woman travelling back to England from the funeral of her step-father in Australia and it captures perfectly the odd intense friendships that form on a long-distance flight; how you get to find out the story of a stranger's life and share confidences:
The woman pats my hand. Her skin is soft and I smile weakly. I sip my drink . A taste of dried out tomatoes grates on my tongue. I bite back tears.

Then there is this at the end of the flight when they have disembarked from the plane which I always find endlessly fascinating:
Standing in line, I catch the scent of coriander. I turn and see the Indian woman. She raises her hands, palm to palm, to her forehead. Our eyes meet once more and she smiles.
So much is shared and then you separate and never see each other again.

Lives echo and bounce off each other in this story, and passions are symbolised by bush-fire:
'People were hurt. It had been a long hot summer. No rain. The brush was dry. All it took was one spark. Luckily we didn't lose all that we had.'

The Indian woman looks ate me and smiles sadly. 'Fire cleanses,' she says, 'but it can also bring devastation...'
In the end it takes this meeting of strangers to point out the truth in a life and initiate the epiphany.

Ninth Sunday Salon 16.50

Still reading HURTING DISTANCE. It's good pacy writing, I think. I am on page 138 now and getting the impression that the 'victim' is slightly unhinged. I like the way this is gradually dawning on me - very subtle. I already knew she was a liar; but up until now it has seemed quite plausible. Now she is seeming quite strange; I think it is because she is creepily tidy (and also admires this in other people). Weird.

Ninth Sunday Salon 12.15

I am having a few days of doing nothing. Nothing, that is except reading books, eating and going for a few walks. I am feeling a bit jaded and I think it will do me good to have a change. Yesterday I finished of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BRIDGE by Mary Lawson which was truly excellent - one of those books you are sad after they've ended because you enjoyed being in their land so much. It was a very accessible read, especially for a Booker longlisted book, and quite sad. I thought the structure clever: alternate chapters dealt with Arthur as a young man (an inarticulate not-very-sharp-but-good-natured farmer) in the 1930s and then Arthur as seen through the eyes of Ian about twenty years later. The themes, I think, were sibling rivalry and guilt - and also, to some extent, the concept of 'coming of age'.

At the moment I am reading HURTING DISTANCE by Sophie Hannah - another book I started a couple of Sunday Salons ago. This is another thoroughly enjoyable read - interesting and intriguing in equal measure. Strangely, this too has an alternate chapter style. The 'victim' tells her tale in first person - addressing the man who has disappeared who is her lover; while activities of the investigating officers are described in the third person. It's a really good idea and works well.

Sunday Salon 6.15am

Sunday, and it is still dark. Outside the cars in the street are glistening like glacé fruits - every surface covered in an opaque, sugar-like frost. A solitary bird sings but apart from that everything is still and quiet. No wind. No sign of life.

It is so hard to stay asleep sometimes. A thought wriggles free from the calm lake of my unconscious and thrashes around until it gains my attention. There is always something, always a stray thought leaping up, glittering in the strange silver-light of dreams and refusing to sink again. This insomniac scoops it up and examines it: so many perplexing scales, and such worrying sharp fins - and look at the way it gulps at the air and leaps around as if trying to escape. But I hold tight and watch as the eyes slowly turn from glittering to dull and the gills cease their frantic rooting for water. Quiet now. Be still and I shall drop you back amongst your fellows and we shall both, once again, be at peace.

So how do I let go? It is not supposed to be a good idea to read and yet I do - it is Sunday after all. A couple of days ago this little book arrived in the post - quite a mysterious little surprise - and I was delighted to have it. It was from Andrea See from Canongate and the little book is a tale from THE GARGOYLE by Andrew Davidson due to be published by Canongate in September 2008. The book itself is quite beautifully produced, with many pages of Japanese stencil-like pictures at the end.

The style of writing is very plain; very much like SKY BURIAL which I read a couple of years ago. It is about the daughter of a glassblower in Japan who captures her breath - and her love - in the glass that she blows. It is an enchanting little tale; and very interesting since it has the flavour of something old and traditional and yet startles now and again with a modern reference; for instance the heroine's death is caused by a 'severe allergic reaction' from an insect. Like most fairy stories it is sad but satisfying.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Christmas Carol Concert

Sometimes I feel glad for short days and long nights with bare branches of trees blossoming white bulbs of light and soft fringes of yellow fairy lights fluttering like the epaulettes of dress uniforms stretched from first storey windows

and here a single Christmas tree - multi-coloured and signalling the entrance to the town hall

with its marble columns and pink Cheshire sandstone blocks. Then inside a great wooden staircase, stained glass windows, a chandelier and a smear of green garland. It is Christmas

and time for brass bands and choirs singing carols, and joining in (because I know each word) and feeling that at just that moment I am happy. All the recent cares fall away and I remember how it was when I was young that I meant every word and I too could 'sing in exultation'

as if I too were an angel dressed in a swan-white dress

praising God or blasting the last trumpet or wishing I had been a shepherd with the other shepherds blowing on my fingers against the cold

or, better, in with the wise men smelling of frankincense or myrrh following a star to a stable smelling of a sweet fug of hay and a child mother too young to be anything but innocent and beautiful.

And then the music stops and winter sets in and I remember other Christmases - that time in Manchester when a woman seemed so raw with grief that it hurt to see her from my window on a train, and then, more recently my parents determinedly laughing over unfunny jokes, and last year my mother-in-law delightedly opening presents from a large man dressed as a fairy - and then opening exactly the same presents again with just as much surprise and happiness a few seconds later.

Outside Father Christmas oversees his kingdom and the choir marches past. 'I hate Christmas' one of the altos told me last week - with such a quiet intensity I did not ask why.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Eighth Sunday Salon: 14.00

A late start because I have spent the morning doing stuff for Christmas - and thoroughly enjoying it this year, I think partly because I went to a Christmas Carol concert last night which I found quite wonderful. I shall write a post about that later.

However, since it is Sunday Salon I shall now concentrate on a book. I am half way through THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BRIDGE by Mary Lawson, which I am enjoying tremendously. It is a straightforward tale following one Arthur - a slow-witted boy who has a younger but much sharper brother called Jake, and then, in alternate chapters, a story set about thirty years later that follows a boy called Ian who goes to work at Arthur's farm because he lusts after Arthur's wife Laura.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Thorntons Continental

Well, here they are - Thorntons Continental chocolates. They taste even better than they look.

Anyway, in accordance to the aspirations of a previous post I bought the chocolates this morning and then looked around for some snails to hold over them so they could do some dribbling. Unfortunately all the snails around here seem to have gone into hibernation and since the chocolates won't keep it looks like we may well have to eat them all ourselves over Christmas - which is terribly unfortunate but I expect we'll cope.

Inside there are dried fruits soaked in alcohol, various pralines and truffles, tangy fruity creams, marzipan, nuts...I have tried other chocolates but I don't think these can be surpassed. Pity the snails aren't here though, because I am drooling already.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Not Weird.

Today I spent the day writing a short story submission for qarrtsiluni. The deadline is tomorrow - so I'm cutting it fine as usual. I read it to my mother over the phone and she said 'It's very you.' I asked her what she meant and she said 'Weird.'

Unfortunately it was an opinion shared by Hodmandods Minor and Senior when I outlined it to them. I prefer the term 'original'.

Pessimism and Optimism: Unreliable Futures

Jon Turney has started an interesting blog - about the future. He is writing a rough guide to the future which seems to me such an incredibly broad title I wouldn't know where to start. I wish him very good luck with it - it sounds a fascinating project.

What do we predict about the future? It is a popular question this time of year. The possible disasters seem to me to be many:
a virulent virus wipes most of us out;
that volcano under Yellowstone Park finally blows its fuse;
a massive comet hits;
the earth becomes a snowball;
the earth warms up;
some megalomaniac gets hold of the wrong button;
we are invaded by extra- terrestials;
we all become infertile;
we all become so lazy and stupid we forget how to survive;
we drown in our own waste products.

However, I don't think any of the above will actually happen. I have no reason for this belief - I just have a faith that it won't. I suppose it is my religion of optimism - and as far as I can see it is as good as any of the alternatives.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

URGENT - please sign this petition

My friend Gregory Norminton just brought to my attention this emergency petition which is trying to save the crucial climate change talks in Bali, Indonesia by telling the US, Canada and Japan to stop blocking an agreement.

You too can add your voice by going here.

Dribble of Snail

Thanks to Debra Hamel for bringing news of an essential product: 'Dribble of Snail'. It not only 'attenuate(s) grooves' and eliminates 'scars caused for wounded and burns of first degree' but is 'also demonstrated to be effective to eliminate warts of the skin' (but of course I knew that).

So instead of buying all those expensive skin-care products here is a cheaper and much more effective alternative - induce a snail to dribble.

Now the senior Hodmandods are very good at dribbling: all it takes is a box of Thornton's continental and we are salivating all over the place. I wonder if the same thing would work for snails. I shall buy a box (all in the interests of science you understand), find a few snails hold them over the box and report back...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Launch of REAL WREXHAM by Grahame Davies

Tonight I travelled about fifteen miles south into Wales to the place I was born: Wrexham.

I am very lucky where I live: travel east and I arrive in Wales, travel north-east and there is the tongue of land called the Wirral and then Liverpool, travel due north and eventually I come to Manchester; west and I travel through Cheshire and eventually reach the Midlands, to the south is Shropshire. All of these places have completely different accents and culture. Chester has another accent of its own.

Wrexham is another border town - this time in Wales - and Grahame Davies takes up this theme in his introduction to his book about the town called REAL WREXHAM:

More than seven centuries after the conquest , the place names still clog with Celtic consonants the moment you cross the river Dee , gradients steepen, black-and-white half timber gives way to grey stone, grass becomes gorse, accents, like the landscape lose their flatness and start to dip and climb. It's subtle. Shaded not sudden. But in a short while the change becomes unmistakable.

Sometimes I read something and it seems to be so 'right' it is beautiful - and that is how this short passage seems to me. It is something that often struck me living where I do how exactly does one country (England) turn into another (Wales) - and this describes it exactly. Grahame Davies is an accomplished poet, journalist and critic and is also fascinated by his home town - and it shows. This book; which seems to be part history, part travelogue and part memoir, seems to be the ideal merging of his talents.

The book deals with the various regions of Wrexham and includes Llangollen. It describes the town's obsession with its football team, the two 'Ladies of Llangollen' who entertained eminent people of culture and lived unconventionally as a couple, the steel works and collieries, and the English Maelor to the east. It is illustrated throughout with the author's photographs.

I am looking forward to reading this but I think I shall have to wait a while. I asked Mr. Davies to sign the book to my father and I shall give it to him as a present. When I was a young child we used to live in Wrexham and my father used to teach in the technical college there: chemistry to baker boys, he told me once...which made me wonder.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Writing Clutter

I had dinner with a couple of writer friends last night - Jan Bengree and Gladys Mary Coles. The topic of clutter came up; specifically writing clutter and its tendency to spread around the place and take over. Each of my projects requires information and the best and most satisfying way of accruing this is by buying books. I do tend to buy them rather than borrow them because I usually find I need them long term.

Since over the last couple of years I have been involved in four separate projects - two of which I have had to abandon - I now have four large crates of books I feel compelled to keep. In addition there are the books I buy for pleasure and general instruction - these are generally kept to hand on the bookshelves behind me because I find I sometimes need to go back to refer to them. For instance Martin Amis's MONEY I enjoyed so much I am using that voice as an inspiration for one of the voices in my book. It is not at all the same - but I love its combination of selfishness, hedonism and strange vulnerability.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Seventh Sunday Salon 19.50

It is a sad reflection of my life at the moment that I cannot find the poetry book I was reading this morning. There has been a much needed Hodmandod clear-out resulting in a pile of books by the front door ready for the Oxfam shop. I have been ruthless but the house is still in a mess. I now have to tackle the ironing pile.

I have made little progress with my writing either.

I think that is going to be it for today. I shall leave you with a slice of Christmas Tree...

Word count: 15 700

Seventh Sunday Salon 17.40

Some people lead such amazing lives. So far Joseph McCormick has jabbed himself trying to take blood in an African clay hut from an elderly woman who was clearly very ill with suspected Ebola. The next chapter takes us back to how he came to be a virologist in Africa - so no idea yet how the first story ends. It's an excellent narrative technique that works really well.

Leslie Alan Horovitz is also credited as an author - since he is a novelist he has presumably neatened things up so that it reads so well. It is gripping.

Mostly though I am in awe of these people. They make me feel somewhat inadequate (although in truth I find that a lot of people do that and I console myself that the small differences that we are able to make to individuals count as much...which is my only hope).

Seventh Sunday Salon 13.30

Late start. The Christmas tree has just been brought from the nearby Delamere Forest amid the usual piped carols, hot dog stands, Father Christmas grottos and other things I loathe. It was muddy because there has been a lot of rain but we managed to manhandle our tree in to the car and now it is being decorated in the dining room by Hodmandods Major and Minor. Since Major is now 22 and Minor is now 17 I keep wondering if this will be the last time we do this - whether this in fact is the end of an era. But so far it's not and I'm grateful. I might take a picture later.

So for now I have retreated to my study and am reading the start of Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC. Having already read Preston's THE HOT ZONE and Peter's THE VIRUS HUNTERS I feel I know the authors already to some extent because they feature in that. The introduction points out that viral outbreaks are initiated by humans invading the virus's natural habitat. In other words we inadvertently bring such outbreaks on ourselves.

Seventh Sunday Salon 00.34

Since it is now officially Sunday I am getting ready for Sunday Salon and this weekend's read consists of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. I shall dip into each one. The poetry is STONE LIBRARY by Alyson Hallett who is a friend I met on a creative writing conference, the fiction is THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BRIDGE by Mary Lawson which is this month's book club choice, and the non-fiction is LEVEL 4: VIRUS HUNTERS OF THE CDC by Joseph B Mc Cormick and Susan Fisher-Hoch which is part of my research - I just can't get enough of books about microbes.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Short Review

Here's a good idea: The Short Review (thanks to Titiana for drawing my attention to this). The short story is a much-neglected form. A short story can do much that a novel can't. They can be more experimental, surreal, symbolic and adventurous than a longer piece and can lodge in the mind for longer. I have heard that the short story is the ideal form for modern life and yet collections generally sell badly and are often ignored. The Short Review is aiming to combat this.

Anyway, it looks good and I intend to keep a watch on this.

Word count: 15 500

Friday, December 07, 2007

Ebola in Bundibugyo

I discovered by flicking through Reuters today that at the moment there is an outbreak of a new strain of Ebola in Uganda. Over twenty people have died and over one hundred are ill with several hundred being monitored for symptoms. Borders have closed, people are being screened and all this has been going on since August. Yet this is the first I have heard of it even though I look frequently at the BBC News website every day and skim through the Daily Telegraph every morning.

But worse than this is an outbreak of bubonic plague just north of the Ebola-hit district. It kills more women than men because the men sleep on beds where the fleas that carry the plague can't jump; while the women, by tradition, sleep on the floor.

As I started making dinner just now I thought of this - all those people suffering and their friends and relatives wondering what is in store for them. Then I thought about how parochial we are - if a plane came down anywhere and killed and hurt this many people it would be flashed everywhere - maybe because this could happen to any of us. Ebola outbreaks (and modern-day outbreaks of plague), however, tend to occur in the poor places where needles are shared, the nurses wipe away tears with the corners of their aprons and then comfort their patients with hugs. This part of Africa is remote and beyond contemplation - and so we disregard.

Word count: 15 000

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Unproductive Day

Some days just pass me by. What did I do? I seemed to be busy but at the end of it all there are just 140 words more than there were last night. Time to give up and read a book.

Word count 11 650


In May the anthology LOGORRHEA was published to coincide with the National Spelling Bee contest in the US. You can read a little more about it here.

The word I chose was ECZEMA and the editor, John Klima, asked me to explain why (you can find links to other accounts here).

Why I chose the word ''ECZEMA"

When I was young it seemed like I was allergic to the world. A rash afflicted my arms, legs and fingers. It was itchy and it stopped me doing things. I scratched. It bled. It was something that as far as I could remember had always been there, and with the unthinking acceptance of a child had assumed it always would. But luckily for me in those days there was a cure. In the evenings my mother would smear a cream I have heard is considered too potent to be used now: Betnovate. She would then cover it with sheets of polythene (on my hands I would wear polythene gloves) and I would go to bed. Either this uncomfortable regime worked or I simply grew more tolerant of the world, in any event the eczema eventually retreated.

It is still there though, inside me. From time to time it breaks though on my elbows or on my feet or fingers and it has left a legacy: ridged nails on the worst afflicted fingers and a vulnerability to TB (a rash meant you were not vaccinated which caused me to whoop joyfully back up the corridor at the time until told to be quiet).

So that is my experience of eczema. I know I had a mild case and I know that for some the condition is pernicious and difficult to bear: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN describes such an example. Even so the word resonated enough with me when I read down the list of possibilities for Logorrhea for me to want to chose it. A person with eczema scratches. It is difficult to resist, and inevitably the skin comes off - only in tiny fragments - but still it comes off. Since fantasy often starts with the exaggeration of the mundane I thought the word had potential. Not just a few flakes of skin could go but a whole hide - rather like a snake. Why? What caused it? What would happen then? And, most importantly - what lay beneath?

If you want to read the result the text, together with several other examples, it is here.

Extract from "APPOGGIATURA" - Jeff VanderMeer's take.

Certainly the most ambitious story in the book was Appoggiatura by Jeff VanderMeer. In this story, which had a saga-like feel, Jeff used all of the words that all the other authors had used. Here is the section dealing with Eczema. You can listen to it here (Jason Erik Lindburg has kindly made a podcast of Jeff's work).

ECZEMA by Jeff VanderMeer

Anyone who has seen Eczema’s act for the Babilim Traveling Circus knows it is only enhanced by the equal and opposite reaction created by Psoriasis. Touring erratically throughout Central Asia and the Far East (where not banned by law), the circus has only rarely been captured on film or in still photographs.

Although myths about Eczema’s act abound, most eyewitnesses agree on the basics: Eczema, so nicknamed by her late father, a doctor, for the predominant condition of her formative years, enters the ring accompanied by helpers who carry several small boxes under their arms. Eczema is heavily made up in whiteface and wears a man’s costume more fitting for a sultan, including curved shoes. A fake mustache completes the illusion. In the background a local band plays something approximating circus music.

Eczema’s assistants, dressed all in black, fan out around her. Some of them place shiny green models of buildings upon the floor while others arrange a variety of insects in amongst the buildings, including scarab beetles, praying mantises, and grasshoppers. Some are green or have been painted green, while others are red or have been painted red. A few flies, large moths, and butterflies weakly buzz or flutter above on long, glittering strands of hair plucked from the heads of Tibetan holy men, the leads held by specially trained insect handlers.

Eczema stands in the background as an announcer or ringmaster comes forward and says, “The King of Smaragdine now recreates for you, using his minions, the Great Battle between the Smaragdineans of the Green Tablet and the Turks.”

Reports differ on the battle’s historical accuracy. Certainly, the Turks ruled the area around Smaragdine for some three hundred years, but records from the time are often incomplete.

As for the act itself, some describe it as “insects wandering around a badly made scale model of an ancient city, after which the crowd rioted to show their displeasure.” Others describe “the incredible sight of beetles, ants, and other insects recreating miniature set pieces of ancient battles amongst the spires and fortifications of a realistic and highly detailed cityscape. One of the most marvelous things ever seen.”

During this spectacle, Eczema stands to the side, gesturing like an orchestra conductor and blowing on a whistle that makes no sound.

Most accounts agree that the act comes to an abrupt end when the insects that have not escaped are swept up by the helpers. A few eyewitnesses, however, tell tales of an ending in which “huge bass-like mudskippers hop on their fins through the cityscape, gobbling up the insects.”

Eczema then comes forward and says, in a grave tone, “What is below is like that which is above, and what is above is like that which is below for performing the miracle of one thing. And as all things were produced from one by the Meditation of one, so all things are produced from this one thing by adaptation.”

After this short speech, the audience usually leaves in confusion.

Psoriasis does not join Eczema until the end of the act. That Eczema and Psoriasis are Siamese twins only becomes evident when they stand together and bow, and the declivity between them—that outline, that echo—tells the story of another act altogether.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Working To Plan

I like this way of working. I have a chapter by chapter plan which I have on the screen alongside my manuscript in progress. . I know exactly what is going to happen and when. I have never written a novel like this before and it is giving it a different style. I think it is sharper and has more pace.

Word count: 12 500

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Never Again - or the WI Christmas Party.

A few years ago I wrote a piece called Der Kinderfresser. It was based on the German story behind the real St Nicholas - the patron saint of children. In the folk story St Nicholas rescues some children who have been salted for meat and calls upon an angel to bring them back to life.

I came across this tale when I was researching for my 98 Reasons book. One of the stories in Struwwelpeter is about three boys who are punished for laughing at a black boy by being plunged into a pot of ink by a scribe. In the German version the scribe is clearly St Nicholas. Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann was no doubt inspired by pictures of St Nicholas rescuing the three boys from the salting pot which looks something like a cooking pot...or indeed a pot of ink.

Anyway, this story about the original St Nicholas appealed to me and I wrote my own version.
You can read it here (although I wouldn't advise it).

So...this afternoon I was just writing away, blissfully occupied, when I suddenly remembered that I was going with a group of friends to give readings at a local Women's Institute's Christmas party. Hurriedly searching through my little collection of short stories for one of suitable length I came across this one which was obviously the right sort of length and which I also vaguely remembered was about St Nicholas - and therefore ideal for a Christmas party.

Unfortunately, I didn't also remember how very gruesome it was until I was half way down the page in front of my audience...
'That's sick!' said someone quite audibly.
Which was when I wished that StarTrek was true and that mobile phone in my bag would connect me to the Starship Enterprise because King Kabs, quite obviously, were not going to be able to take me far enough.

I finished it rapidly - leaving out yet more gruesome parts as I read and sat down quickly.
'I think you upset some people,' my neighbour observed (fairly redundantly).

For the rest of the season I just want it to be known that I am retreating into my shell. Someone please tap on the walls when it's over.

Word Count: 11 300

Monday, December 03, 2007

"We're Good To Go"

That's what my magazine editor in San Francisco said just now. The article I wrote from Norway in mid-October has now been laid out (I think that's the term) with some gorgeous photographs and is likely to be the 'cover piece' of their March issue.

Norway, UK, San Francisco...I know I should be used to the global nature of the internet by now but still it thrills me to be part of it from this small room.

At 4am last Saturday morning I got an email asking for a cut of 8 lines and some suggestions for captions which have all been accepted. So lucky I was at my desk, really!

Because the novel is 'going' again now and I'm back to my old habit of waking with the perfect phrase in my head. I think this is a good sign and I'm hoping that this means I might be back to whatever 'form' I used to have. It's an exhausting business, though, because once this line comes into my head I know I can't stay where I am (in bed) but have to shuffle as quietly as I can along the corridor to my study and write it down - otherwise it will disappear.

Anyway, I managed to have 2 000 words written before 12pm today but thereafter became entangled in other essential stuff...

Total word count 9950

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sixth Sunday Salon: 22.00hrs

I have been trying and failing to concentrate on ENIGMA by Robert Harris. I know it is well-written and I should be enjoying each page but my mind is wandering. I'm blaming it on lack of sleep and general exhaustion - definitely my fault not Mr. Harris's.

The blogmeet was fun (Bloggers With Book Contracts). Suffice it to say I met Minx, Debi Alper, Emma Darwin, 'the man who fell asleep', 'Bowen', 'Granny P', Elizabeth Bains, Ash, Rachel North, Barbara and Shona in the flesh. It was a privilege. I have a photo but I'm not sure I should post it since I don't have everyone's permission. We met in the restaurant of a famous bookshop along Piccadilly with a fabulously Basil Faultyesque waiter: 'No, I can't give you a bill now, I'm busy...' he hissed sarcastically one time, and at another time flounced magnificently after failing to interrupt someone's conversation to ask if they wanted a drink.

Some people just do not take well to subservience.

I just told Hodmandod Major that I had gone to London for a blogmeet yesterday. 'What's that?' he asked but when I told him the phone made strange spluttering noises. I am going to have to get that thing fixed.