Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Terrible Consequences of My Little Pony

I remembered a strange thing yesterday. I remembered the name of the first world I made up.
I can’t tell you the actual name of it, because it is hideously embarrassing*, but I can tell you I was probably about 7 years old and my primary interest in life was My Little Ponies and other mythical beasts- this probably gives you a good idea of what the name might have been like.

It wasn’t the first imaginary world I’d come up with, but it was the first I remember giving an actual name and political system to. Well, I say political system; essentially there were two sides to this world, a good one with forests and glades and rainbow strewn waterfalls, and a bad one with rocks and fire and stuff. The pleasant side was governed by an, um, unicorn, and the nasty side by a lion. Clearly, along with My Little Pony, I was somewhat influenced at the time by that old nursery rhyme “The Lion and the Unicorn”, which I vividly remember reading with great interest in one of my many nursery rhyme books- I still don’t know what plum cake is, but it sounds nice. I would also probably have been reading the Narnia books at the time, although it sounds as though I didn’t really take to Aslan, having cast him as a bit of a baddie in my own world (the Narnia books were abandoned a few books in thanks to my reading Lord of the Rings in the middle- Narnia struck me as rather tame in comparison, thank you very much. And that was before I was even aware of all the Jeebus nonsense).

This is interesting I suppose because it occurred to me that I am still doing the same stuff; making up worlds and then watching to see what stories come out of it. The Primary School Age was undoubtedly my most creative period, when my only responsibility each day was to come up with some new interesting world for me and my friends to play in (and if that world could involve undead creatures of some sort, I would be happy). I wish that was still my only responsibility, because it is brilliant. Still, I’m glad that I found my way back to doing this stuff, and I no longer have to force my small friends to act out scenes in a chilly playground.

*Two people in the entire world know the name, as it was with them I used to act out the stories set in this world. If you just happen to be reading this (you know who you are!), I’m sorry I broke your camp bed that time and sat in your cocoa pops.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

An Extra Large Spotted Dick

I’ve just remembered that it’s Blog Tuesday, and do I have something to talk about today? Do I buggery.

However, I have some vague thinkings that were circulating my head and in want of anything useful to write, I’ll stick those down instead. Someone asked me if I considered myself an “Englishwoman”, and if I was a patriotic person. The English as opposed to British question bores me a little bit, as I have never particularly cared either way. If I were filling out a form I would probably put down British, although I couldn’t really tell you why. Technically, I am English as I was born in England. Fine. In truth, if I feel like anything, it’s a Londoner, even though I grew up on the weird outskirts of the city, where no one is sure if they’re in Kent or not.
Am I patriotic? Well, I’m not sure. I’m no flag waving Royalist, that’s for sure, and I don’t watch the Queen’s Speech at Christmas (my Dad would be most annoyed at this. He made us stand up for the National Anthem). But in my own small, quiet way, I do love Britain; it’s lands and it’s people. And I started thinking about why.

1) I like our weather. YES, I said it, I like our crazy sunny one minute pissing down the next climate, because in truth, it’s not actually that crazy. We have marvellously moderate weather here, no matter how over excited we get about four inches of snow, or those two days in July where it’s unbelievably hot. It’s rarely so extreme that it causes problems, and on those odd occasions when it does, we get fantastically excited about it. Seriously, the snow we had last year that meant no one could get anywhere for one whole day, was the most excited I’ve seen this country in… well, ever.
Our weather is never likely to kill us, and I like that. I like chilly autumn days, and lazy warm summer evenings, and London rain.

2) Sense of humour goes without saying, doesn’t it? But I think it’s worth pointing out that it goes deeper than the obvious things, such as Monty Python and the Goons, Not the Nine O’Clock News and Alternative Comedy… British people just can’t help making jokes. In any conversation at all. Even if they’re bad ones- especially if they're bad ones. If you listen to any two British people talking, one of them will inevitably try to make the other one laugh. Maybe it is that stereotypical British reserve turned on it’s head; we don’t feel comfortable talking about important things, so we’ll make a joke instead.
In the car going to my Dad’s funeral we couldn’t help joking with each other. And once we’d noticed that my Uncle Alan’s leather jacket made a farting noise every time he moved on the seat, we were well away (oh, the British, how we love our fart gags). I clambered out of the car in the midst of a giggling fit, much to the disapproval of the vicar.

3) An appreciation of small pleasures. In my experience, you will only ever hear a British person say, “Oh, we’ll have a nice cup of tea when we get home,” and you know they are genuinely looking forward to it. And if there’s a biscuit with that tea, they’ll be over the moon. A chocolate biscuit?! TRUE FACT: There is no higher pleasure. I remember Bill Bryson writing something like this in his Notes from a Small Island, about how only the British could be truly excited about an extra large raisin in their spotted dick. When I read that I knew it was true; I don’t need any more evidence than the level of hysteria caused by a fresh tin of biscuits at work.

So those are a few of my reasons. If there are any small things you love about your place of birth, tell me; this Tuesday could do with a bit more love.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Blogging Keeps You Regular

Blogging once a week should be pretty easy, or at least that’s what I thought when I decided recently that my blog needed a good kick up the bum. I had read in various places that writers should blog, and as often as possible, and it sounded like a good plan. Some suggested updating every day, but that seems, quite frankly, a bit unhinged. If you are a jet setting author with a mind-crushingly glamorous and exciting life, and the ability to get more done in one day than any human person, like Neil Gaiman for example, no doubt this makes sense. But I’ve no clue what I’d begin to tell you about if I were writing this every day. I think, to be quite honest, I’d bore myself. However, as it is time for my weekly blog (now sounding like a bowel movement of some kind) and I have absolutely no clue what to talk about, I shall regale you with the sort of inconsequential details I might tell you if I were writing everyday:

Our floorboards are being ripped up. Yes, when I get home, I expect to have to employ some stilts or the Force to propel myself around the flat. The alarmingly manky carpet has gone, along with its red wine and birthing fluid stains (yes, really) and supposedly something else will be taking it’s place. Not sure what.

I’m reading Magician by Raymond E. Feist. I am enjoying it very much, even if it is a dramatic change of tone from the Song of Ice and Fire series. I keep expecting people to be sleeping with their sisters and pushing people out of windows, but everyone in Magician is much too nice.

We finished watching Supernatural series one, alas. I have decided it is a Series Worth Following, and I’m particularly fond of the central relationship between Sam, Dean and Daddy Winchester. It is ever so manly and angsty.

The new book is puttering along, just starting to form into a proper story with a beginning, middle and end; as long as I don’t look at it directly or anything. In fact, I find if I turn my head to one side and squint at it with one eye shut, it appears to have vampires, witches, zombies AND pirates in it. This amuses me.

That’s it for now. Tomorrow I shall update you with whether or not that milk we bought at the weekend will last for the evening’s tea, and if I’ve managed to buy a new pair of jeans.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The Joy of Big Fat Books

I’m feeling vaguely accomplished today for two reasons, and as this doesn’t happen very often I will dwell on it a bit (I think it was Alan Bennett who once said something about how writers never feel like writers unless they’re physically writing; the rest of the time they feel like frauds).

I have the first draft of Bad Apple Bone sitting in front of me, in glorious chunky paper form. It’s the first time I’ve seen it printed out, and it looks ginormous. It’s lovely, to feel the heft of it, to see all those words collected together in one place, and to flick through to read random bits; grimacing at some, laughing at others. There will be lots of problems with it, because I started writing the book without any idea what I was doing, or indeed any idea I was writing a book, and no doubt I’ll have made lots of terrible, first-time-writer mistakes, but I think I’m going to enjoying reading it again nonetheless.

Secondly, after four mouths and a scattering of days, I have finished the rough draft of Ink for Thieves. I struggled over the line at the weekend, so toasts were made and Snoopy dances were danced, and I saw my characters off into the sunset with a tear in my eye.
It’s been an interesting experience, this one. It started as a novella for NaNoWriMo, but grew quickly into a larger book within the first week of writing, and I realised this one had a bigger story to tell. Coming just after a bit of a cock up with A Boy of Blood and Clay, which fatally stalled at 63,000 words, it was a relief to know I could still do big stories. Around about halfway through a minor tangent turned into a major story arc, and by and large, Ink for Thieves was a joy to write. It certainly had it’s difficult moments, particularly when I realised I was three quarters of the way through and still had no real idea how the Big Bad was going to be resolved, or getting too bogged down in the detail of a city that only appeared in the first chapter, but for the most part I had a lot of fun. The characters really did have a life of their own this time round, and I was amazed (and slightly annoyed) that I could not put any of them in a situation together without there being a blazing argument; their actions often surprised me, and showed me parts of the story I hadn’t been aware of. Following where the characters lead has been an interesting journey, almost as interesting as Guido’s dangerous and frantic journey across the Embers.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Supernatural and the Baywatch Effect

(Note on spoilers- teeny spoilers if you've never seen any Supernatural. Also, if you have seen all of it, please bear in mind that I haven't, so no spoilers for me please. No spoilers for Baywatch, unless you are unaware of the boobie content ;p)

My lovely boyfriend kindly bought me series 1 of Supernatural on dvd for my birthday. It’s a series I’ve been keen to catch up with, having been tantalized by all manner of bizarre confessions on Fandom Secrets and the tiny bits of it I’d managed to see on ITV 2 or 3 or whatever it was (never on at a reasonable or regular time, it seemed). We’re currently slap bang in the middle of the first series, where the intrigue and clues over the main story arc are coming thick and fast.
I am enjoying it very much. As Marty has said, it’s a bit of a Monster of the Week show, but that was when I enjoyed the X-Files the most, and Supernatural certainly owes a lot to Mulder and Scully (aside from the references to the show, of course- Cigerette Smoking Man was in the last episode!). Most episodes follow a pattern; something nasty happens somewhere, Sam and Dean find some tenuous reason to investigate, Dean tells an outrageous lie (that normally backfires) in order to win over the authorities/hot blond woman who is inexplicably involved, the brothers do a bit soul searching, nasty thing is defeated, hot blond woman inexplicably fails to get off with either brother, brothers do a bit more rueful bonding. Nothing wrong with any of that, quite frankly.
I like Dean the best, closely followed by the car, closely followed by the dad, and then Sam sneaks in there somewhere with his Kevin Bacon nose. I like the references to geeky things, and the hints at a dark being manipulating the events from afar, and the likeable and chemistry laden bromance at the heart of it all (sadly, I don’t believe they’re sleeping with each other, despite all the support at Fandom Secrets). One thing I did notice is that Supernatural appears, so far, to be subject to the Baywatch Effect.
The vast majority of women in the Supernatural universe are leggy and blond, with long flowing tresses. They are all kind of interchangeable, but that’s almost fair enough; the show already has two very pretty male leads, so they have to balance things out with some eye candy for the boys, no doubt. This is so prevalent though, that as soon as a woman with short hair turns up, you know instantly that they will either be dead in the next ten minutes, or reveal themselves to be evil.
I call this the Baywatch Effect, because Baywatch sort of had the same deal. I was watching Baywatch one afternoon (you’re totally allowed to watch it ironically, especially if you’re a girl) and I noted the female character with short hair and a flat chest. I joked at the time that she was clearly going to cop it before the end of the episode- how could she survive amongst the mountainous boobies and cascading golden hair that the camera was much more interested in filming? To my own slight surprise, she did indeed die in the following thirty minutes, and big bossomed ladies mourned her loss (at least she wasn’t evil).
The last episode of Supernatural featured two young women with short hair. The first, who had a dark bob rather like my own, died horribly in the first ten minutes, and the second, who had a blond pixie cut, was evil- I called both of them, thanks to the Baywatch Effect.
This isn’t a criticism of the show at all, and I’ve certainly not seen enough of it to say whether the Baywatch Effect will last throughout its entire run. I live in hope that a lady with short, funky hair and possibly even piercings of some kind will reveal herself to be super capable of running away from the monsters, or even better, kicking them in the face and running away. We shall see.