A bout of about me

The first week of April I planned a post which explained that there was no post as I had spent my blogging time that week writing an “about” page. I worried slightly that it might seem like an April Fools’ joke as anyone who has read even half my posts knows that everything here is very much about me. It ended up taking a lot longer than planned due to trying to put links to some of my most popular blog posts under images on the page.  Let me know if the time was worth it.

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This toasted marshmallow also needs to be added to my manuscript

One of the nuggets of advice I’ve seen on the endless “dos and don’ts for bloggers” was “don’t apologise for not blogging or make excuses.” The idea being that it’s your blog and your rules and if you start letting yourself be governed by what you “owe” other people then you are letting the blog rule you. I like the idea, but alas I am British and sorry is my middle name, so I am going to apologise for the recent dearth of posts. Excuses however are not worth it and tend to make the situation worse, drawing attention to the dereliction of duty; I will not therefore harp on about the latest round of colds “oh it’s a fifteen week cough” said the doctor blithely, nor blame school holidays (I know by now that blogging is impossible with small persons underfoot.)

So it’s not an excuse, just a fact, that I have been concentrating on getting my manuscript into shape to be submitted to an editor. My deadline of Easter was self-imposed and could have been reached if I hadn’t got cold feet about the idea of a new submission arriving just as an editor was trying to clear her desk before the holidays. Even so, I nearly overrode such fears (there’s always an excuse to put off something like this if you look hard enough) except for having a sudden inspiration to up the suspense in the story which then opened up a whole new avenue of thought. Just add a child’s pov for three tiny scenes I thought, it’ll make the threat more human and immediate, oh, and then I can replace two smaller characters with this one and make that later scene more intensely suspenseful and personal, and what a coincidence I had already given a minor character a divorce in their backstory, now I can utilise that and the hero can see echoes of himself in the child and the child can offer inappropriate hero worship and make the hero see his actions in a different light and….suddenly I was adding snippets here and there and one tiny improvement was causing a slight but very significant rewrite of the second half of the story.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sorry, it will make the book so much stronger – and is also obeying my critique partner’s plea to cut down on named secondary characters or to merge some of them. The rush of “yes!!!!” as each knock-on effect occurred to me and I scrambled to write them all down is one of the greatest joys of being a writer. Nothing changed plot or character-wise, I just found subtler lights to shine on them and ways to draw out the motivations that had been driving them and helping/hindering them from falling in love. I wish I’d thought of this a few weeks ago, but far better to have thought if it now rather than after I had sent it off. The only difficulty has been switching from editing/revising mode to writing fresh passages, they seem so stilted after weeks of not writing anything new and I’ve been hunting down my writing “voice” – here’s hoping this post helps.

A distraction of thrushes

Anyone wondering how NaNoWriMo has gone may have noticed that my last months tweets have been mostly about injuries and birds (and the on-going horror of world events). I have actually written a reasonable amount (by my standards) but have also been regularly distracted by the views outside my windows. It’s my bad luck that the accepted month for cracking on with writing coincides with the one time of year I can guarantee that thrushes will visit the garden.

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A darkling thrush at dusk

Only by taking these pictures of the top of our rowan tree with its unusual white berries do we see the beauty of the scarlet berry stalks.

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I was reminded recently that the collective name for goldfinches is a “charm” which is so perfect. We know of parliament of owls and murder of crows and on this beautifully informative site  I’ve just been reminded of: a piteousness of doves, a congress – or convocation – of eagles, a trembling of finches, an exaltation of larks, a scold of jays, and of course a gaggle – or skein – of geese.

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Quite charming

What about the everyday birds though? Give the sound in the garden at dawn and dusk I would have suggested a squabble of sparrows – although the list above suggested a ubiquity – which is rather sad as their numbers are now declining so much – or a quarrel of them. I fear it would have to be a bully of blue tits, and a brightness of great tits and a loneliness of coal tits as I only ever see one in the garden.

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The list I found says that there is not an official collective name for Robins but that a Facebook page had among its favourites: a blush, a bobbin, a breast, a carol, a gift, a reliant, a riot, a rouge, a round and a ruby. I tend to think of a friendship, or perhaps a constancy of robins as there is almost always one in the garden, they stay close when you sit out there and they are the first to call a warning when danger approaches.

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A delight of nine

My favourite distraction however is the long-tailed tit. I wasn’t that aware of them until I moved to Worcestershire and saw tiny bobbing families of birds busy in the hedges and high trees with their distinctive piping call. No matter how often I see them I still think someone has glued a lollipop stick onto a table tennis ball; how can any bird be that round and have such a fine, straight tail? They are infrequent visitors to the garden – or else their visits are so brief I miss them most days – so whenever I see them my day is invariably brightened and I always think, “Oh look, a delight of long-tailed tits.”

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It’s been rather lovely to base a post around photographs after two blogs with no pictures at all (although finding the best pictures from the hundreds I have taken took a whole afternoon.) I should add that all of these were taken of visitors to our garden, which may explain any blurring – I don’t clean the windows as often as I should. The robin was just outside the back door and could have been seen from an upstairs window but I was out enjoying the snow that day. It follows that these are not all pictures taken in November.

Do you have a favourite bird? One that lifts your spirit when you see or hear it? Or a favourite collective name – either real or one of your own?

George Orwell had a few views on how refugees might be seen in 1984

Last night to the flicks. All war films. One very good one of a ship of refugees being bombed somewhere in the Mediterranean. Audience much amused… man trying to swim away with a helicopter after him… saw him through the helicopters gunsights… the sea round him turned pink… audience shouting with laughter…you saw a lifeboat full of children with a helicopter hovering over it… a middle-aged woman… a little boy about three years old in her arms… screaming with fright… covering him up….as if she thought her arms could keep the bullets off him….then the helicopter planted a 20 kilo bomb in among them…a lot of applause.

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I started re-reading 1984 by George Orwell this summer as I hoped it would be antidote to a terrible year, that it would show me that no matter how bad things seemed politically, socially and financially; they could be worse. Unfortunately it has seemed more and more as if Orwell’s nightmare future is coming closer by the day. The relentless parade of xenophobia disguised as patriotism has been sickening to watch, the UK parliamentary conference season and the headlines in the British press meant I didn’t recognise my country nor want to be a part of it.

I’ve not blogged for a few weeks or been active in social media and one of my few tweets was along the lines of how I intended to never write about my personal feelings or politics or contentious issues – and how therefore 2016 was the wrong year to have taken up being more active as a writer. There is so much this year, around the world, that stirs a visceral and horrified response. Not just politics – although my longing for the US election to be over is only equalled by my fear of what will follow – whoever wins. So much hatred has been stoked on both sides of the Atlantic, experts are mocked and ignored, ignorance and lies appear to be welcomed and anyone who expresses concern or dissent is told to “get over it” or that they will “get what they deserve,” while Syria is torn apart and aid convoys are bombed with impunity.

The fear of immigrants has been fuelled for years but there was still an outcry when they were described as “swarms” or “hoards” and people seemed to remember that they were in fact human beings – although it took pictures of a child’s dead body to make some people realise this. And now this year they are back to being demonised, or worse, dehumanised. Any offer of shelter or help is contested and given begrudgingly, if at all.

The passage I have quoted from above is on the 6th page of 1984 and it shocked me out of the book with a sickening familiarity. These last few years have been full of tragedies in the Mediterranean, most people now turn away and ignore such stories, the thought of the sea being patrolled simply to turn back such boats, not to help them, is approved. We are not yet at the stage of deliberately sinking them – although there have been reports of grappling hooks used on inflatable boats – nor of bombing them and filming such acts for entertainment – but is it really as impossible to imagine as it ought to be? Some of the baying, jeering crowds we have seen this year might well cheer at such news; how long till they actively welcome the idea and salivate at it?

The image of the refugee woman sheltering the child is revisited later in 1984 when Winston Smith recalls scenes from his own life. The poignancy in the simple description of that sheltering arm, of one human drawing another closer, offering shelter and protection despite knowing it is futile, is, I believe, one of the key messages of the book. The fight to stay human, to care for another person over oneself, to offer hope, aid and shelter even when you have little yourself and know it will never be enough but do it anyway. I’m desperately hoping that 2016 is not the year that urge is obliterated.