Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Writing, Telepathy and Merricat's Sugar Bowl


Since I’ve been editing and reading more than writing at the moment, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes me stick with a book. More than that, actually, what makes me love a book. There are lots of things, of course, but I think part of it is writing that really makes you see.


When I was a kid I wasn’t tremendously fussy about what I read. In fact, I would read anything left in front of me for too long, including my grandad’s newspaper, my nan’s historical novels, cereal packets, instruction manuals… These days I’m a lot pickier, and I will dismiss a lot of books out of hand because they don’t grab me in the first few pages, or give me a clear idea of what my mind should be looking at. Does this make sense yet?


In Stephen King’s book On Writing (which is a great read even if you’re not interested in the writing process) he talks about how writing is the truest form of telepathy, and I think that’s what I’m trying to get at. Through words on a page the writer attempts to convey to you what is in his or her mind; when the writing is really good, you see it vividly, almost as if you were really there.


Not all fiction works this well. Sometimes you plod through a book and although you enjoy the story and like the characters well enough, you never really feel like you’ve been transported. You never experience that delightful sense of dislocation that comes when you’ve been so immersed in a story that coming back to reality is a serious jolt to your sense of self. I love that. I search for that when I’m looking for a book to read.


Terry Pratchett is a good example for me; the Discworld has always felt like home, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are practically family. I can see the Chalk and I know the streets of Ankh-Morpork. When I was reading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House I felt disorientated right along with the characters, and in an even creepier example, the section where the House tricks them all into being relaxed and happy, I felt relaxed and happy. That is a strange and wondrous piece of magic right there.


Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (one of my all time favourites) was almost like a fever dream, full of vivid weirdness – I could see Merricat clearly in my mind’s eye, and will see her forever, I suspect. You know when the writing really sings – the world around you drops away and you’re with Merlin in the crystal cave, or trawling through the haunted halls of Faerie in search of the man with the thistledown hair…


George R.R Martin said that we write fantasy to see the colours again, to speak in the language of dreams, and I think that’s what I’m looking for when I’m reading (and when I’m writing too, of course). Writing is magic, like friendship and My Little Ponies.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

A Few of my Favourite Things

I am not an especially girly girl.

No, it’s alright, I’ll wait here while you pick yourself up off the floor. It’s a shock, I know.


I’m not a girly girl, at least not in terms of the media’s perception of what is girly, anyway. I have no interest in shoes, only the required minimum of interest in clothes (you do have to wear something when you leave the house, after all) and I never had a crush on a boyband member when I was a teenager (true story: in primary school we were all asked to name our favourite band or pop singer – pretty much everyone else said Michael Jackson or New Kids on the Block. I said Frank Sinatra. See? I was a hipster before hipsters were invented. How hipsterish is that?).


Anyway, the one slightly girly thing I do love is make-up. Make-up and smellies, as my mum would call them. I was pretty late to the cosmetics thing, remaining a tomboy until I was about 17, and then I discovered that make-up was sort of like painting your face and then I was well away. So for today’s blog I thought I would randomly list some cosmetics that I absolutely cannot do without, just to have one post that isn’t about writing or video games.



Geek Chic Cosmetics: Captain Tightpants eyeshadow

Really, how can you resist a set of eyeshadows named for Firefly characters? I got really overexcited when someone pointed out this site to me – geeky references and make-up? Heaven! All the eyeshadows I’ve ordered from here have been top quality, but Captain Tightpants is worth a special mention because it’s become my “everyday” shade – a lovely shimmering copper that goes with my hair. Plus it’s relatively cheap and you get loads of it.

Veil of Twilight perfume sampler box from Black Baccara

Tiny vials of perfume oils with fabulously gothic names. My favourites from this collection are Nosferatu, Raven and Boneyard – winsome, mysterious scents with a hint of the macabre. And when someone asks you what perfume you’re wearing there is a particular pleasure in giving them a sinister look and hissing, “Poisoned Pudding, if you must know!”

R&B from Lush

Hair conditioner of the gods. The only stuff that has ever successfully tamed the frizz puff that is my hair, R&B is also amazingly good value – you only need a tiny bit rubbed into your fingers to sort out your barnet, so the big black pot lasts forever. I take it with me in my bag everywhere. Oh, and it smells lovely too, all fruity and creamy.

BAD Gal eye pencil by Benefit

This is my one big indulgence. Lord knows I can’t afford anything else from Benefit but this kohl pencil is worth the investment. Chunky and smoky, the line is such a lovely deep black, I’ve never found another pencil to rival it. Plus it actually stays put most of the time, instead of migrating down your cheek somewhere (you will notice that the one in the picture is now worn down to a nubbin). 

Vaseline pot

Essential thingy! Like my kindle, this is never more than six feet away from me at any time. Sorts out dry skin, chapped lips, vanishes make-up mistakes, looks vaguely suspicious in your handbag… my mum recently gave me a Vaseline gift set, such is my dedication to the small greasy pots.

Anyone else have any cosmetic essentials? There’s always room in my handbag for more…

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Vague Olympic Post


There’s quite a lot of sport happening in London at the moment, I don’t know if you’ve noticed. I’ve even watched some of it – mostly the stuff you don’t see very often on telly, like the synchronised diving, or the judo (which looks like full body contact thumb war to me). It’s lovely to see everyone enjoying it and generally having an ace time, and I love that London is essentially having a slo-mo sports festival; there’s a lot of cheer in the city.


One of things that all this sport makes me think about is how much I am not a  sportsperson. This surfaced briefly as a twitter discussion last night, but competitiveness generally makes me very uncomfortable – not because I think it’s bad, but because I’m just not wired that way. There’s been some incidents of competitors contesting goals, points, medals even, and there’s been footage of people celebrating their hard won medals, only to have it taken away because someone else contested it; cue hugely disappointed faces, misery, despair. I’m not sure that I could do that to a person, especially not after they’d done all the jumping about and cheering. Ah, you may say, but what if you’ve trained every day of your life for 4 years for it, all focusing on this one moment, all to be the bestest competitor of all… but that’s my point, I suppose. I’m not that person.


There was also the interview with the poor chap in the Judo who lost his match in one devastating throw (interviewing him directly afterwards was pretty unfair, in my opinion). I can’t imagine dedicating so much of your life to that one moment, just to have it snatched away from you – it’s terrifying, and incredibly brave. At least if you spend years of your life writing a book and the publisher you desperately want to take it on rejects it, there’s still other publishers, still other people that might love it as much as you do. It isn’t over, and the thing that you made will always be there.


So, I suppose what I’m taking from this is: the athletes in the Olympics are brave, and not just for wearing lycra; making things is great because they remain with you forever and are not diminished by comparison to other things; and there was little chance of me ever enjoying P.E anyway.


ps) I've decided that I love the weird Olympic mascots, specifically because they look a bit like baby Great Old Ones.