Category: writing

Pixies, Snail Tipping, & a Small Monster

Pixies, Snail Tipping, & a Small Monster

It’s short story week, and I’ve jumped into a little backstory to the BBN (Big Bad Novel). Just straight to the story here, or read on for ramblings!


Poor wee snails. Pixies should be ashamed of themselves.

I keep heading back to the BBN, because I like it over there. I know the characters, and they’re fun to hang out with, plus they have so much going on that just has no real bearing on the BBN itself, yet which make for entertaining stories (in my humble opinion, at least). And all the ingredients of this story really just felt as if they belonged quite nicely in the world of the BBN.

As to where the ingredients came from – honestly, I have no idea where the monster in the bathtub came from. I can’t remember. If it was from a tweet, thank you to whoever tweeted it. If it wasn’t – well, no idea. The snail tipping I do remember, however. I was horribly tired, and trying to say something about nail clippings (why, I’m not sure. I’m okay with not knowing that one). In my tiredness that became snail tipping, which led to a discussion with the SO about snail-tipping pixies, because of course it did. And because that was too appealing an idea to be left alone, it made its way over here.

So read on, enjoy, and watch out for those young pixie hooligans…

A Monster in the Bathtub

All she wanted was a nice peaceful bath…
The Art of Procrastination

The Art of Procrastination

This is how we look when writing. Honest.

Writing’s a tough gig. It is. I know, we spend our time in made-up worlds in our heads, telling our characters what to do (theoretically – in my experience, they normally do what they want), drinking caffeinated beverages and occasionally writing a few choice words in a beautifully bound journal. But, you know, when we’re not wafting about the place in flowing white clothing, we do Other Things.

Generally I find that I get a lot of Other Things done when I should be writing.

These can include but are by no means limited to:

1. Reading. It’s research, obviously. I mean, I don’t sit at the desk with my latest bedtime read (well, not all the time, anyway), but, you know. Books about writing, or books about mythology, or books about pretty much anything that’s remotely related to what I’m writing, even if at the most tangential angle. Failing that, wikipedia. Or various internet searches that have probably put me on a watch list. There’s so much to read online. So much.

Hair? What hair?

2. Cleaning. For a two-bed apartment, it’s amazing how much cleaning needs doing. I’ll be getting in the zone, you know, thinking about characters, untangling plot points, really writery stuff, then, BAM. Look at the dust on those shelves. I only cleaned two days ago. Or I’ll notice cobwebs on the ceiling (uninhabited ones, the others are allowed to stay). Sometimes it’s laundry. Sometimes it’s the tumbleweeds of cat hair that galvanise me (one cat. One. I think she’s borrowing hair from the neighbourhood strays). And then nothing will do but to clean whatever it is that’s caught my attention, followed by everything else in the general vicinity. Depending on the day, I’ll find myself two hours later, scrubbing tea stains off the cutlery.

3. Shopping. This is one of my least favourite activities ever, but a general disorganisation when it comes to household stuff, combined with a tendency to forget lists, means I’m lucky to last a day without having to go to the shop for something. Luckily there’s one just down the road, but I always choose the queue where someone’s paying for their weekly shop in 5 cent coins, and the person in front of me invariably forgets something halfway through checkout, and has to go find it. At the other end of the shop. So shopping can take up a disproportionate amount of my day.

Offerings to the muse. Honest.

4. Cooking. I love eating. I really do. But preparing things to eat is time that could be better spent writing (in theory). I can usually get around this for most of the day by eating fruit and nuts, but eventually it’s either make something or fall into a packet of chocolate biscuits. It can go either way. And, not to forget that the muse must be bribed with chocolate and woven moonbeams, so regular baking is also in order (I still haven’t worked out the moonbeams bit, so I just add more cake).

5. Everything. Layla-cat doing something cute. Needing a cuppa. Checking the post. Deciding I desperately need yet another reference book on obscure monsters (research!). Social media (obviously). Needing to find that one song whose name I can’t remember that was popular about ten years ago. Discovering I need to do laundry. Deciding to answer a two year old email. Everything.

In my defence, she does physically get in the way sometimes.

This is also known as procrastination, of course, and I used to spend a lot of time and headspace berating myself about it. I could have got that chapter finished, if I hadn’t checked a fact on a common garden plant on wikipedia and found myself two hours later reading about the breeding habits of the lesser spotted green-eared skink. I could have finished that blog post if I hadn’t noticed that there were fingerprints on the sliding door and therefore had to clean all the windows in the house. I could have finished that short story, if I hadn’t decided it was vital to clear out my winter clothes, right this minute.

It’s astonishing, considering how much I want to write, and how much I actually love it, how many things can distract me from it. But then, writers are meant to be endlessly inventive. I guess that’s why we’re endlessly inventive when it comes to procrastinating, as well. And I have no solution to this, other than the ever reliable “switch off your wifi” (but, phone).

Yeah. You can’t call that a process.

The only thing I can say, is that I’ve come to accept it as part of the “process” (quotation marks, because, really. I have no process). And sometimes it feels less like an avoidance, and more like a continuation. That in the time spent away from the computer, with my mind on one level occupied with how to reach all the hair ties the cat’s stashed under the washing machine, little things are settling into place. Problematic plot points, twists in scenes, recalcitrant characters – you sit back down, and suddenly the solution’s, if not clear, at least within reach. So maybe a little procrastination isn’t the terrible thing everyone says it is. Maybe a little procrastination is just another part of writing, albeit an, um, indirect part.

Plus sitting at your desk for hours straight will apparently kill you, so this is now my excuse for getting up and going to the biscuit bin every half hour or so. I’m actually making myself healthier.

How about you, writer people? Do you procrastinate? Do you accept it, or have you found ways to work around it? If so, please tell me, so I can pretend I’m at least trying to minimise it.

Gratuitous cuteness shot, so you can see what I have to put up with.
Sunshine Blogging for Cats

Sunshine Blogging for Cats

There you go, Layla – happy now??

Well, it had to happen. I let Layla have one post, just one, and the next thing you know she’s being awarded a Sunshine Blogger Award and everyone wants to talk to her instead of to me. Although, to be fair, she’s probably just as good a conversationalist as I am. Actually, that’s not fair at all. She’s probably better.

Anyhow, the lovely Anna Kaling invited Layla to have her say on some of the more pressing questions that concern us when it comes to cats, so I sat down and interviewed the little furry muse. This was not as easy as it sounds, because she had to find time to fit me in in between naps, grooming, and working towards world domination. Life is busy for an in-demand kitty.

You want to ask me what?

Now, before we get started, there are rules to this award, one being that having answered Anna’s questions, I have to ask some other bloggers questions of my own. It’s meant to be 11 bloggers, 11 questions, but that all seems to be degenerating like one of those terrible games of Chinese Whispers you had to play at parties as a kid. So it’ll be 10 questions for three bloggers’ characters in their writing projects. Because I’m nosy. Questions to follow, but first let’s see what Layla has to say. And if you haven’t checked out Anna’s blog yet, head over there and do so – it’s fun, smart, and will make your day better. Promise!


So, Layla – are you ready? Here we go, then:

How close are you guys to world domination?
I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. You’re not scheduled for that yet. You have cats to feed.

Does your human pick her nose when no other humans are around?
I don’t know, I’m usually too busy licking my bum to notice such things.

Besides picking her nose, what does your human do in private that she wouldn’t want us to know about?
She does this thing when she’s cleaning, or if she’s happy about something on her internet machine. She calls it dancing, but I don’t think anyone else would.

Why is it that you would be outraged at being given cheap cat food unless it’s intended for another cat or a hedgehog, in which case it becomes Michelin Starred?
Because all food is ours. How dare you offer even cheap food to other animals? Just as all beds, couches and freshly washed towels are ours, so too is all food. Besides, there’s always the possibility that you’ll run out of the good stuff – we know you’re not that bright. And if that did happen, we might be forced to eat cheap food to stave off starvation. So we need all of it. All the food.

Who do you have more disdain for – modern people who think you’re pets or the ancient Egyptians who worshipped you so inadequately?
Definitely modern humans. The ancient Egyptians would never have dreamed of dressing us up in shark costumes or farm boy outfits. I mean, okay, they didn’t have Dreamies or those really soft fleecy blankets either, but they also didn’t make us wear collars or call us Fluffy Bum. They showed us proper respect – plus, harming a cat was punishable by death. These days – well. Just wait until we attain world domination. Just you wait.

How much can you really tell about another cat from the smell of their butt?
Nothing at all. But it makes you uncomfortable, so we do it anyway.

Is it even comfortable when you stand balanced on our ribs and gouge our eyes out if we attempt to move or, you know, breathe?
Not really, but you have to be trained, and part of that training is understanding that our desires come before your comfort. And if we have to endure some discomfort in order to ensure you understand this, so be it. Plus you make really funny expressions, so it’s quite entertaining.

What’s the first thing you will do when you evolve opposable thumbs, shortly before the decimation of all humans and dogs?
Take the top off the damn biscuit machine. The human bought this thing that spits out biscuits in the middle of the night so she doesn’t have to get up and feed me (she’s so lazy, honestly. It’s unacceptable. I always wake her a couple of times anyway, just so she remembers who’s in charge). The thing is, it doesn’t give me anywhere near enough biscuits, and neither patting it gently nor tackling it like the enemy it is makes any difference. I know the biscuits are in there, and if I just had thumbs…

Do you judge vets who offer to express your anal glands when you have a completely unrelated complaint in, say, the head area?
This has never happened to me. It may be because the vet fears me (I am small but incredibly vicious), or it may be some fetish of your vets. I’d look into this.

Human. Stop. Please don appropriate clothing before working, so I can sit on you.

Do you judge your human’s outfit choices and, if so, which one really makes you want to claw it to ribbons?
Ugh, summer. She starts wearing shorts, which means her lap becomes quite uncomfortable. And she whinges that I’m making her legs sweaty. She’s the one not only wearing inappropriate clothing, but sweating. I don’t sweat. She should wear fluffy tracksuit bottoms year round. It’s really very inconsiderate of her.

What do you think of the cat in Cinderella?
I have not seen this film, but I asked the human to look up the cat on her internet thingy. He seems to be quite the caricature villain – typical lazy stereotyping by the humans. I’m only surprised he wasn’t all black. At least they made him somewhat clever, by the sounds of things, but I’ll tell you now – if he was a real cat and wanted to catch those mice, he would have. They would have been decorating the doorstep by morning tea time.

 

How is Grumpy Cat viewed in the cat community?

Personally, I don’t have a problem with her. She’s made a fortune out of being no different to your average cat, other than the fact that her facial expression betrays her. I think the humans like that they can look at her and laugh, and say to each other, “Doesn’t she look grumpy? Isn’t it funny? Because she’s not really like that.” But don’t kid yourselves – she is like that. We all are. Mostly because we have yet to develop opposable thumbs, and you call us ‘cute’ all the time, ignoring the fact that we are actually beautifully formed killing machines.


Layla is late for her 3pm nap, so that was all I could get out of her. Personally, my biggest take away from all this is that I need to make sure I remain invaluable to her in providing food, and just hope the opposable thumb thing doesn’t come around too quickly. Although I may have to consider fluffy tracksuit bottoms even in summer. Just to be on the safe side.

And, as the little furry muse has no preference, I’d like to nominate the following bloggers:

Here are my questions to any one of your characters in either a completed work or a WIP:

  1. Is your author disproportionately cruel to you, or does she enjoy embarrassing you for comic relief?
  2. Are you named for someone in your author’s life? Why?
  3. What quirks has the author given you that you really wish they hadn’t?
  4. Do you feel confident that you’re going to make it into a sequel (or would, if there was one)? Why/Why not?
  5. How do you justify not doing what your author tells you to?
  6. What is one thing about you that your author has edited out/is going to edit out, but you’d like to tell us?
  7. What’s the most interesting thing about you?
  8. If you’re not the protagonist, do you wish you were? Why/ why not?
  9. Do you have a sidekick or helper? Who are they?
  10. What would you like to tell your author?

If you haven’t checked out the websites of these lovely people, please do so!

Also, Layla invites any other questions. She doesn’t promise to answer them, mind, but she’s fine for you to ask.

Seriously, are we done here? I have world domination to attend to.
An Unexpected Edinburgh

An Unexpected Edinburgh

Yes, it is technically short story week. But it’s my blog and I can change things if I want.

Okay, truthfully? I’m behind again on my short stories, and although I have three written and one half written, I’m not entirely happy with any of them.

Plus, Edinburgh.

If you’re on social media with me (hi!) you might have noticed that the SO and I went to Edinburgh for a long weekend, where we encountered rather non-Scottish weather, lots of good food, and plenty of bookshops. I knew it was going to be a good trip before we even got to the hotel, as on the way I spotted a man in a kilt, a castle (I thought – turned out it was a historic building set in large grounds that was being converted from a school for the deaf into apartments. But still), then another man in a kilt, all on a Thursday midnight. This, I felt, was the sort of city I could get behind. And it was just as wonderful as that first glimpse promised, so I’m going to swap out story week to bore you share a few things we did and have an excuse to use some of the approximately 723 photos I took.

First glimpse of Edinburgh from Calton Hill on the first morning.

5 Literary-ish Things:

View of the castle from halfway up.

1. Scott Monument. The biggest monument to a writer anywhere in the world, this was the second thing we did in the city. The first was “look at this path going up the hill by the hotel. Let’s see where it goes”, which turned out to be Calton Hill (more on that later). We were up and out early – we’re pretty useless at planning days, so we headed from Calton Hill down into town with nothing much in mind other than looking for food. Having spied the spire of the monument from the hill (“It looks like something out of Mordor,” the SO said, which was a little harsh, but actually fairly accurate), we went to gawp. It’s impressive enough from below, all gargoyles and fanciful spires, and it was just opening as we arrived. Tour with no other tourists? Yep. It’s cheap to get in (£5), and it’s deceptive – looking from the outside, you think well, I can get up to the first level, that’ll be nice. But no – you can climb all 287 steps, as the walls get tighter and the roof gets lower, until you finally have to wriggle out sideways onto the top balcony, with spectacular views all across the city. Not recommended if you don’t like stairs or tight spaces, and definitely take it easy on the way down (all that round and round on the spiral staircase gets a bit dizzying), but it was probably my favourite sight in the city.

 

 

Nicely creepy inscription above the door, too.

2. The Writer’s Museum: Obviously. Tucked down an alleyway off the Royal Mile, surrounded by flagstones carved with quotes from famous Scottish writers, and a completely beautiful little house. Rather than being cold and a little sterile, Lady Stair’s House is full of warm colours and personal memorabilia of the three writers it commemorates – Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Robert Burns. And the main room, which houses a little shop, is so inviting I wanted to curl up in a chair and read for a bit. As I couldn’t do that, I bought a book called a Bestiary of Scottish Beasties. Because it’s research, people. Research.

 

 

 

 

3. Scotland Street:

Scotland Street little free library. Perfect.

Of all Alexander McCall Smith’s series of novels, the 44 Scotland Street series is my favourite (although I haven’t read any Corduroy Mansions yet – I did acquire one while in Edinburgh, though…). It’s whimsical, charming, funny and philosophical by turns, and I fell in love with the characters the first time I read Espresso Tales. So although I didn’t go searching for Scotland Street, when I spotted Drummond Place (where Angus lives with his glass-eyed dog Cyril), I knew it had to be close. And I can report that it really must be a lovely street, because it has a little free library, and at the end of the street is a park that used to house Victorian exercise machines such as the Great Sea Serpent. Which is wonderful in its own right.

 

A bag of books. Oops.

4. Bookshops: The City of Literature, quite rightly, has so many bookshops that it has a bookshop trail and an app. Fortunately or unfortunately, the app’s only available for iPhones, so we had to make do with a list we got from the information centre. However, I had to expand my carry-on and bring it back as a checked bag, so I think we did okay on that front. I think doing the actual book trail may have led to book overload and a collapse when I realised I couldn’t take all the books home with me.

 

 

 

 

The SO appropriately modelling a bookshop bag in Makars’ Court.

5. Makars’ Court: Okay, so this is a bit of a cheat, as technically Makars’ Court is sort of part and parcel of the Writers’ Museum, and is where all those lovely quotes are inscribed in the flagstones. However, I feel it deserves its own entry, as it’s a lovely spot to potter about, reading and hiding from the throngs of people roaring up and down the Royal Mile (I’m not good with crowded sight seeing. I like the hidden spots). There’s also a restaurant next to the court called Makar’s Rest, which has quotes papering the walls, and which serves a rather nice veggie haggis. Make sure you’re not eating for a day or so after, though. It’s filling.

 

 

 

5 Non-Literary Things:

 

  1. 1.Eat: I may have developed a slight obsession with scones while I was there, as I had one every morning for breakfast (hey, the jam counts as fruit, okay?). I can report that the best one was either at the Scottish National Art Gallery (where I engaged in a moment of social awkwardness by saying “you, too”, to the nice man working there who wished me a nice visit), or at a tiny takeaway cafe called The Edinburgh Larder. The Art Gallery ones were delicate, almost cake-like, the others a little sturdier, but both were tasty with a good amount of fruit and no nasty bicarb aftertaste. We did eat things other than scones, of course – beautiful salads of grains and haloumi in Stockbridge and sharing plates of roasted vegetables on Market Street and cheese platters in the Old Town and fish’n’chips because, well, fish’n’chips. It’s a good place for eating.

 

Spring in Scotland.

2. Arthur’s Seat: Slap bang in the middle of the city is a rather large green hill, full of lovely rocky faces and wound about with a network of paths (we managed to find one of the less travelled of these, so arrived on the top by a very direct and rather sweaty route). It offers both stunning views in all directions and the feeling of having escaped the city to the country – on foot. And despite the fact that it’s obviously very popular, there are plenty of quiet spots to sit and look at the view, even on a sunny Saturday morning. Plus it’s a possible location for Camelot, so, cool.

 

 

An unexpected Parthenon.

3. Calton Hill: Having staggered out of the hotel fairly early on the first morning, we spotted a hill, so we climbed it. We did not realise it was Calton Hill, so did not expect part of a Parthenon to suddenly appear as we wandered to the top. We also did not expect to encounter stunning, sunshiny views across the city, Arthur’s Seat swimming in morning light, Nelson’s Monument, and not one but two observatories. It was a good start.

 

 

The old town from the castle.

4. Edinburgh Castle: I loved the castle, but actually think I preferred looking at it from the outside, particularly from St Cuthburt’s Church grounds, which are green and beautiful, the sheer sides of the rock looming above them and the castle perched on top. Inside was, obviously, busy. Very busy. I hate to think what summer’s like. But the audio tour was interesting, and the history fascinating, and the views (again) amazing. Next time, though, I think I’ll sit in the (dead) quiet of the churchyard and look at it from there.

 

 

 

 

The castle from St Cuthburts

5. Cemeteries I’ve always loved wandering in old cemeteries, looking at the inscriptions on the tombstones and imagining the lives of those gone. They’re quiet, peaceful places, and for all my horror reading I’ve never been afraid of them. And there are some beautiful ones in Edinburgh, if that’s your thing. At the castle, there’s a cemetery for dog soldiers, which is small but very sweet, then there are three others we walked around – New Calton Graveyard, with its views over Holyrood to Arthur’s Seat, and its tower where the watchman and his family lived, protecting the dead from grave robbers, is bare and open and oddly abandoned feeling. Old Calton Burial Ground is enclosed and insular, presided over by the tomb of David Hume and the Political Martyr’s Monument. It’s a place of whispers and crowded silence. Finally we went to St Cuthburt’s, stumbling on it as we skirted the castle on the way to Grassmarket. Richly green with spring growth, well-used paths cut through it to connect Princess Street Gardens to roads on the other side of the churchyard. The tombstones are old, cracked and moss covered, but it feels alive, a part of the city with the rock and the castle leaning over it and joggers and walkers peopling the shadowed trails. Plus, I’m sure I spotted a house that Gertrude the reaper would just love. It’d be convenient, too.

 

Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat

So that was Edinburgh for me. I loved it, and can’t wait to go back and explore some more of Scotland. Have you been? What are your must-sees?

 

Writer Fuel

Writer Fuel

#Writerfuel? Yes, but we cannot survive on caffeine and cookies alone…

Although the internet (and, let’s be honest, us writers as well) would like you to believe that writery types run wholly on caffeine, sugar, and cat photos (and often alcohol, although I’ll tell you now, it may have worked for Hemingway – but we are not Hemingway), we do actually need to partake of real, non-cake-related sustenance at least once a day. For this particular writer it’s more like six or eight times a day, but we won’t go into that just here. Except to say that I should probably move my desk further from the kitchen, so at least I get some exercise walking to and fro. Writer fuel is important. But the type of writer fuel also matters, because obviously we’re not all little writer duplicates.

Let’s be clear – I love food. I especially love it when people make me food, so I don’t try and burn down the kitchen (although, to be fair, that was just once, and it was only a small, lemongrass-related fire). Food is a way of sharing not just friendship, but traditions and cultures and stories. It can be a way to explore new places, to build new experiences, to discover new things. It can evoke memories, and capture them. Making it can be an act of love, of therapy, of pure enjoyment and experimentation. It’s certainly more than just fuel. It matters.

And all that aside – a well-fuelled writer is a happy writer. As much as there may be this dramatic and oddly romantic image of the starving artist, forgoing food and bringing on dizzying visions with absinthe, or scrawling epics in gin-fuelled frenzy, in real life things don’t work so well that way (unless you’re Hunter S. Thompson. Then all bets are off). It just tends to lead to a sore head and pages full of incomprehensible drivel, with cookie crumbs stuck beneath the keyboard. In my experience, anyway. I write far better with a full tummy and a functioning brain, so little things like eating relatively healthily and choosing caffeine as my drug of choice work out well for me. You may disagree. And that’s okay, too – we all live how we live.

Even as a veggie, there’s plenty of food out there to try – and I’m not one for leaving empty plates.

I say all this, but I’m hardly a perfect example of fuelling well at all times. My routine tends to go somewhat to pot when the SO’s away – working runs late, dinner (I use this term loosely – you could also say, ‘cuppa soup’, ‘toast’, or ‘melange of random vegetables collected from the bottom of the fridge’) later still, and rather than watching TV, if I’m not reading I sometimes end up in the wilds of YouTube, watching something for no reason I can remember. Last week this involved a show in which Irish people ate food from different places in the world. That was it. That was the show. And not weird food, either – no chicken feet or wichity grubs. It was things like ‘American school lunches’, or ‘American cupcakes’ (which was pretty weird, actually – chicken nugget cupcakes? BLT cupcakes? I’m fairly sure these aren’t typical flavours). Which started me wondering about what unusual foods I’ve eaten. I mean, I’ve travelled a fair bit, and although I’ve been veggie for about the last ten years, before that I was never too fussy about trying new foods. I thought maybe I could compile a list of top strange foods I’ve ever eaten, although that seemed a bit boastful – look at me, and all my adventurous food! But a bit of quick research dissuaded me from that – I haven’t actually eaten much weird stuff. And I don’t really want to. I’m not going into one-up-man-ship with someone who eats grasshopper brains. Sorry, no.

And it can be so pretty, too!

But as with so many weird things, it’s subjective. I very clearly remember a kid at primary school, whose mum had given him a raw egg instead of a hard boiled one. He put raisins in it and ate it perfectly happily. Which, you know, it was primary school. I was only there until around about the time I turned seven, so it was before that. At that age you’re not all that far on from eating worms. But I also remember that in high school, there was a boy who brought raw onion and garlic sandwiches to school every day. I’m not at all sure how he had any friends. Not ones that would sit next to him, anyway. So I guess it’s less about what’s weird, and more about what’s not everyone else’s norm.

So, in a very rambling way, I’ve come to the whole point of the blog, which is that if you were to decide to save me from potential kitchen fires, here’s some things that apparently I’m weird for liking/disliking. I know this because my friends have told me, and if you can’t count on your friends to point out your weirdness (in a loving way), who else is there?


New Zealand Marmite. On proper French bread, with salted butter. And pain au raisin for afters. Heaven.

Love:

1. New Zealand Marmite. We need to be specific here. This is not the same as that axle-grease-coloured, treacly goop the English call Marmite. Not at all. It’s beautifully thick and dark, and I bring at least two big jars back every time I go home for a visit. I also rationed one small jar for a year after the Christchurch earthquakes damaged the factory and it had to shut down. My aunt was trying to bribe me to send it back to her.

2. Vinegar. When I was a kid I used to drink it from the bottle when Mum wasn’t looking. Having graduated from that, I now put it on everything I can get away with. I mean, if it’s balsamic, that’s positively civilised, right?

3. Peanut butter and jam on toast – I picked this up from American friends when I was a kid. Definitely use jam instead of jelly, and crunchy peanut butter, though. It’s particularly good on either really dark rye bread, or rye biscuits.

4. Green pears. Crunchy, not that tasty, but yes. Love them. Can only buy them one at a time though, because otherwise they ripen (ugh).

5. Cheese. Cheese cheese cheese. Wallace and Grommit know what they’re talking about. Plus I live in France, and I’m pretty such you’re not allowed to do that unless you love cheese.

It looks so deceptively pretty. But I KNOW – under all that lovely fruit and cream is a horrible, sweet, sticky mess.

Hate:

1. Pavlova. Yes, I know it’s basically New Zealand’s national dessert, and someone will make it for every Christmas or birthday or barbecue, but no. Fruit, yes. Cream, yes. Pasty crunchy/soggy/sticky/weeping egg mountain? No.

2. Veggie meat substitutes. I’m okay, thanks. I don’t want a slice of moulded tofu, coloured to look like luncheon meat on the turn and tasting of something left behind the kitchen bin for a month or so.

3. Sweet potatoes/kumara. Again, a national dish. But – sweet! Potato! What was wrong with regular potato? Why does it have to be sweet? And what’s with that weird claggy texture? Who thought this was a good idea? Really? I’m also deeply suspicious of sultanas in coleslaw and pineapple on pizza. It’s just not right.

4. Ripe pears. Squidgy, tasteless, dribbly pears. When you eat them it feels like someone’s already chewed them for you. Ugh.

5. Spaghetti in a can. This is not comfort foot. This is horror in a tin. Besides, as a kid I was really seasick once not long after eating spaghetti in a can. I won’t inflict the details on you. Just – no. Also why I’ll never touch strawberry milk. The memories. The horror.

Balance, yes?

So now you know what to serve me if I come over for dinner and you want to either make me into a happy writer or scare me away forever. How about you? What can I make you (if I promise not to set fire to anything)? Pet likes and dislikes?

The Little Furry Muse Speaks

The Little Furry Muse Speaks

Sit down, human. I have wisdom to impart.

The significant human (SH) is ‘tired’. It’s her own fault – she will insist on staying up all day when there are sunny spots to be napped in. All it means is that she oversleeps for my first breakfast, and I have to wake her. I don’t want to wake her, but what can I do? She never leaves food out, and if she doesn’t get it for me, what reason would I have for keeping her around? She makes lots of noises about how ‘3am is too early’, and ‘you put your paw in my mouth, that’s disgusting’, but I know she realises it’s for her own good. Well trained humans are happy humans.

And my paws are perfectly clean, thank you very much.

It’s not easy keeping up with human training as an only cat. Admittedly, I prefer it that way, and make it very clear to the SH and the other human (OH) that I do not appreciate company. This necessitates attacking any other cat or dog that ventures near my home, although I’m careful to keep it to a lot of spitting and tail bushing. One does not engage in actual physical contact, like some common alley tom. It’s unnecessary, undignified, and, quite frankly, beneath me. I am from Harrogate, after all. But it does get the point across that other animals are unwelcome. While the assistance in training would be appreciated, one can never be certain that a new cat would uphold the standards I have set. And a dog? Don’t make me laugh.

Laps are for cats, not machines. Deal with it.

I am struggling in one area of the SH’s training, however. She spends far too much time on her screen machine (she calls it a ‘laptop’, which is ridiculous, because she hardly ever has it on her lap. And if she does I insist that she move it at once so I can sit there. Machines should not be on laps. Laps are for cats), and I have observed her looking at other cats on it. Sometimes she even calls the OH and shows these cats to him. In front of me, no less! This is an insupportable situation, but despite my best efforts she remains rather attached to her ‘laptop’. The only solution therefore was to establish my presence on the machine as well as in person. Now that I have done so, world domination is, naturally, within my grasp, but as a mature and intelligent cat my chief concern is the education and training of humans. As I have secured access to this webnet platform, it seems only fair to offer my wisdom to other humans who may not as yet have comprehended the finer points of their cats’ training methods. In addition, some humans may not have even been chosen by cats yet, and this is doubly important reading for them.

Stop. You need to listen to this.

So, humans (because you must be human if you’re reading this – fellow cats, I imagine you’re trying to stand on the clicky bit beneath the screen. Allow your humans to read unimpeded. It’s for all of us), allow me to enlighten you. There is a world outside of the interwebs, and your cat overladies (and overlords) would like to take this opportunity to remind you of why you should step away every now and then and show us a little appreciation.

1. We give you someone to talk to. Talking to yourself is frowned upon in all species (well, except birds – they’re always nattering on, whether anyone’s listening or not, but then – ‘bird-brain’, yes?), but you will find a receptive audience in us. Plus, we really are the only ones that will listen with infinite patience to you ramble on about your ‘stories’. Mostly we tune you out and purr a little louder, but we never criticise and we are completely supportive of that troll/wereduck/alien love triangle you have going on. I mean, it’s inventive. Totally.

No, I’m not judging you. Honest.

2. Our purring (whether we’re using it to drown out your whinings about your undiscovered genius or not is rather a moot point) is very soothing, and the amount of caffeine and sugar you’re ingesting, you need soothing. You probably also need an intervention, but who’s judging. Yes, admittedly, we are, but we won’t say anything. You can tell yourself we’re staring at you lovingly.

3. We never suggest you should get out of your dressing gown. It’s super-comfortable and wonderful for bedding into, so, you know, you do you. We support your choice of working attire whole-heartedly. Although it might be wise to removed that half-eaten cookie from the pocket. Just because we keep the rats away doesn’t make that sort of behaviour okay.

4. We are unfailingly attentive when you get a 2am working sprint on. We won’t ask you to turn out the light, or complain that you’re keeping us up. We will sit next to you and purr, any hour of the day or night. We are 24/7 companions. But you should probably offer us a few biscuits to show proper appreciation.

5. We remind you daily that there’s a different way to live. That sun on the floor is reason enough to Zen out on life, the universe, and biscuits. That moments of exuberant playfulness are necessary no matter how old or dignified you think you might be. That there are wonders to be discovered in wardrobes and drawers, in bags and washing machines and boxes. That relaxation is an art form, and self care is vital to happiness. That there are more things in the world than you can perceive, and that love and companionship come in many beautiful, wonderful shapes, sizes and species. And that there’s always time for an ear scratch.

There’s always time for a stretch in the sun.

So off you go, humans. Strive to do better.  And cats? Keep up the good work. Together, we can manage our people.

Special thanks to Feegle, who inspired me to speak out. Training humans is going to reach a whole new level now we have the interwebs. Feegle can be found over on her human Lisa Sell‘s web page thingy here.

We All Have Sock Monsters

We All Have Sock Monsters

If you’d like to hop straight to this week’s short story, away you go – it’s The Sock Monster. Enjoy!


The sock monster’s been at it again…

Honestly? I hate wearing socks. I hate wearing shoes.

Every year when it starts getting cold I go through this novelty factor period, where I love putting my boots on, much the same as I love wearing jeans every day for about two weeks. Then I realise I’m going to have to wear jeans and socks and shoes for months. At which point I withdraw my approval for winter and start counting down until I can get my feet out again.

I should point out that I grew up between the tropics, where bare feet were basically compulsory, and New Zealand, where jandals (which is what we call flip-flops. Or thongs, if you’re from Oz. Or insert your preferred terminology here) are pretty much national dress in summer. Sometimes winter, too, if you’re hard core and don’t want to wear gumboots (Wellies. Galoshes. Rain boots. This is getting more complicated than I anticipated). I’ve never really adjusted to wearing shoes year-round, and try to avoid it as much as possible – if I can get away with jandals, I will, and if I’m at home it’s bare feet until my toes go blue. Which happens.

So my socks don’t exactly get a lot of hard wear. Which is why I never understand how I can go from a full drawer of matched, intact socks, to a drawer full of somewhat matched, Swiss cheese-ed footwear. I really do not wear them enough for holes to appear so quickly, or so indiscriminately – old socks and new socks, I turn around one day and they’ve all got holes in them.

Which leads me to the only logical conclusion.

I have a sock monster.

You probably do too.

And having established this, I did the only sensible thing I could.

I wrote a story about it.

Read on!

My sock drawer may look full, but trust me – most of them aren’t even intact…
Wandering & Wondering

Wandering & Wondering

Skinny streets? Check. Old buildings? Check. Possible cats? Yesss.

I have a reasonably good sense of direction. I don’t mean I have a compass inside my head that points infallibly North, but I can generally find my way back to hotels in strange cities, I can normally figure out shortcuts that actually are shortcuts when hiking, and if there’s a body of water anywhere about you can pretty much guarantee that I’ll make my way to it before long. So I don’t have any great horror of being lost. And, as it happens, I rather think that being a little lost – not the scary sort of oh-my-god-this-city-is-full-of-dark-alleys lost, or the dreadful how-long-can-I-survive-on-a-muesli-bar lost, but that lovely, luxurious sort of lost, where you have no timetable to keep to, and you just follow your feet – I think there’s a lot to be said for it. I’d even venture to suggest that there’s something magical to it.

I’m not a city person – crowds make me uncomfortable and too much noise gives me headaches – always has. I grew up in quiet places, and I tend to seek them out as an adult as well. But that isn’t to say I don’t enjoy a good city trip – bookshops! Funky cafes! Maybe a show! Museums! Monuments! All this stuff! Which is all very well and good, but still not my favourite part about a city. I mean, yeah – I can wander around and look at beautiful statues and impressive buildings for a certain amount of time, and I love a good amble around an interesting museum, and of course I’m going to check out all the good secondhand bookshops – but after about a day of that (maybe a little longer when it involves bookshops) I’m done. And please god don’t give me a schedule. Don’t make me plan stuff. I can take one scheduled event in a trip, anything else I somehow manage not to turn up on time for. Oops. Sorry about that. What shall I do now?

I don’t know what’s down that way, but it looks interesting. Let’s go.

Oh, I know.

Let’s wander.

See how close that is to wonder? Coincidence, I don’t think.

Wandering is my favourite way to see anywhere. Give me a pair of comfy trainers, a bottle of water, and a city map that I can refer to occasionally to make sure I’m still in the same county, and I’m happy. Sure, I’ll take a look at your big sights, but they’re always so crowded, so peopley. Those little courtyards where old men play chess and drink pastiche, the narrow lanes with washing strung from one scarred wall to another, the decrepit fountains leaking moss and sweet water over the cobbles, the cats sleeping in doorways and old women cackling like crows in front of shops selling unfamiliar drinks and stinking cheeses – that. That’s what I want to see. That’s where I want to get lost. I want to sit for a moment outside a cafe that doesn’t have the menu in four different languages, and jump back to avoid bicycles rather than tour groups. I want to glimpse little worn churches and catch snippets of conversation in languages I don’t understand, and to feel inconspicuous in my strangeness, not a potential customer to be reeled in, just a passerby peeking in. And yes, while I wander I wonder, too. Wonder about the lives beyond the net curtains and oversized doors, wonder what people are arguing about, wonder about the differences and similarities between me and unmet others. Maybe tell some stories to myself about them, maybe people my pages with that particular pattern of tiles on the wall of that particular courtyard, or the way that particular old woman laughed, all full of raucous life.

I’m not sure how I got up here, and I’m even less sure how I’m going to get down. All good.

There’s other sorts of wandering and wondering, of course. My Dad has never been one for following maps or even necessarily paths, although that can occasionally be a little dicey. He still tends to point at a hill and say to me, “Go climb that one,” leaving me to muddle around the place looking for tracks that seem to point in the right direction. Generally this turns out quite well, although I do remember as a rather small person being sent off with a treasure map that involved compass bearings and distances measured in strides. Unfortunately my small person strides didn’t quite match his grown up ones, and I have a pretty good feeling I got in a right strop about that. Or there was the habit we had of finding lighthouses on remote islands and climbing up their slatted wood sides so we could sit under the light, explorers surveying the terrain (Mum really loved that). And as an even smaller person, I remember climbing through New Zealand bush and creek-lined gullies, slipping and sliding all over the place and finding the skull of a long-dead sheep, which even then had the ability to capture my imagination and turn into a what-if. So yeah, getting comfortably lost in wild places can be fun, too. A bit harder to taxi back from, and often involving scratches on your legs and twigs in your hair, but fun. And sometimes you can come to a quiet place, a place where you could almost believe no one else has come to, not this particular spot with its heavy carpet of moss and roof of leaves, and the glimpse of a waterfall beyond it, and you listen to the silence, and think – what happens here when I’m not here? What could happen?

Totally worth the scratched legs, though.

These are my favourite ways to explore anywhere, and for a writer there’s a wealth of ideas and inspiration to be found in both the wandering and the wondering. Even in my own little corner of the world, just the act of ducking down a side street I’ve never ventured onto before, or taking a path that I don’t know has a taste of excitement to it. And to me, there’s no better grease for a stuck story than walking. Wandering and watching and wondering.

How about you?

PSA, kids – if you’re wandering in cities and towns find out first if they’re safe for wandering – for all my love of adventuring, there are places I’ve been where I’ve stuck strictly to the tourist routes. And make sure you have the taxi fare back for if you walk further than you think. Wilderness wandering can be a risky business – dress for the weather, make sure you have water and food, your phone is charged and you’re certain that you’re only going to get relatively lost (i.e. you may be back a bit late for lunch, having had to wade through some bogs to get there, not holy crap I’m going to be spending the night out here). Really lost does not tend to end well. Also best make sure it’s not hunting season and that you’re on public or national park land. I may have wondered what it was like to get shot, but it’s not something I ever want to experience.

Now go on – get lost.

Wandering’s often rewarded.
An Interesting Age

An Interesting Age

Cat lady mode.

In not very long, I will have a birthday, and I will be 39. I actually wrote a whole blog post about this, musing not just on how the hell I made it this far (honestly, in some ways I’m surprised), but also on how society, as represented by TV, movies, and an uncomfortable proportion of books, isn’t quite sure what to do with people of my age. Our options appear to be harassed mums, nagging wives, bitter divorcees, or (if childless) selfish career woman or cat ladies.

I have no children and a cat, so, actually, maybe they nailed that one.

But doesn’t it seem this way? We’re apparently too old (or too young) to be love interests, too old to be sexual creatures (unless we’re cougars, which is only good for comedy value), and we’re much too busy with kids to be interesting. Unless we’re childless, in which case we’re just waiting to be swept off our feet by Mr Wonderful, at which point our biological clocks will immediately kick into belated overdrive, we’ll whip through some IVF (which will, obviously, be immediately successful), we’ll have triplets, and settle into domestic bliss in suburban paradise.

The only problem is, I can’t seem to identify myself in there anywhere. And, in fact, I can’t find any of my friends in there either. None of them seem to fit into any of those particular boxes, kids or not, married or not, career (however you want to define that) or not. They’re much more interesting than that. They’re much more varied than that. Could it even be – gasp – that women are individuals even when they get a few crows’ feet and grey hairs? That they actually have lives and drives beyond marriage and kids? (Or cats and careers?) Eek!

Maybe it’s not that we don’t fit the boxes. Maybe it’s that we’re not actually designed for them at all.

But then I realised that better bloggers than me (I’m more a blog dabbler than a blog writer, if I’m going to be honest, and since I’ve told you my actual age, which is apparently something women aren’t meant to admit to either, I may as well be honest) have written better and more serious posts about such things. So I thought I’d have a little fun with it (since it’s almost my birthday, and it’s my blog, so nyah), and see what the ever-reliable stock images felt were in store for my 40th year.

Special thanks to the lovely writer and blogger A.S. Akkalon, because her hunt through the wilds of YouTube did in part inspire this. I occasionally forget about all the wonderful weirdness that the internet’s home to. (As opposed to the just – weird.)

So, without further ado:

My 40th Year As Predicted by Stock Images.

I typed in ‘stock images women 39’, and it started out pretty much as I expected:

Drinking tea and gossiping, I guess? Or plotting world domination? Yesss.
Sitting in the woods trying to blend in with green clothes. Stealth training for world domination?

Okay, so tea parties and yoga. Fits the narrative.

But then things got a bit weird.

Apparently the aggressive career woman thing gets quite… intense.
But that’s okay, because it’s fuuun!
Until it really is too much, and you end up wandering about channelling The Doctor, complete with over-sized coat and psychic paper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what do you do  if you’re not being a somewhat eccentric businesswoman?

You’re hanging around with your friends. Pointing.

Pointing.
And also pointing while standing around in your knickers.

I’m not sure what drives all this pointing. It’s rather accusatory, although they’re all grinning like it’s an awful lot of fun. It’s a bit, “Yay, you’re the witch! Burn, witch!”.

They may have a (heh) point. Is this the result of too much multi-tasking?

Even if she has a excessive amount of arms, there’s no call for finger-pointing and witch burning.

You tell them.

We’re adults here. We can sort out all this shouting and pointing and multi-limbedness.

With an arm wrestle, like sensible people. While wearing surgical masks and gloves, because germs.

Of course, you could just not let any of this get to you. Bollocks to knicker-clad finger pointing and workout multi-tasking, right?

Yeah, bollocks to it.

So, apparently, this is what stock images expect of 39-year-old women. Much more interesting than expected. And much, much weirder. Which I like. I’d sort of expected the whole thing to be awash with pastel colours and tea cups. And while I like my tea, I like my weird, too. The greatest beauty of getting older is, I’ve found, the ability to embrace your own wonderful weirdness, to understand that not only is it okay, it’s vital. Because it’s what makes you so perfectly, fabulously you. Squishing it down to fit into society’s boxes only works for so long, and it’s not a good time while it lasts. We really are not made for boxes, we’re not made to be catalogued and categorised like some collector’s specimens. We are all weirdly, wonderfully ourselves, and it may have taken me an awful lot of years to realise that, but maybe that’s part of it. Maybe it shouldn’t be called ageing at all. Maybe it should all be called growing. Growing up and growing out and growing weird.

What’s your next milestone birthday? What’re you expecting, and what does stock images think lies ahead of you? (I’m starting to think they’re as good as horoscopes).

And allow me to leave you with one final search result for ‘stock images women 39’:

I don’t even know where to begin. Is this the cat lady model, d’you think?

You’re welcome.

 

 

A Blog About Baking

A Blog About Baking

Portrait of the author. Okay, not really, My hair, make-up, nails and dress are never that perfect, and especially not when baking.

Once upon a while ago, I used to cook full-time. In fact, I had a few jobs where this was the case, the first time being with the caterers at Waiheke Island RSA when I was still at Uni, and the most recent being in a lovely wee deli/cafe in Yorkshire. These are facts that would surprise people that knew me when I was working diving, and existed on two-minute-noodles and biscuits scrounged off the dive boat, and maybe even people that know me now, as when the SO’s away through the summer I eat nothing but salads drowned in homemade Caesar dressing, and Carrefour praline chocolate.

But I do have a thing for baking.

I’m not a creative person in any way except writing, really. I can’t draw, I can’t sing, and I’m terrible at sewing and pretty much anything that requires a good eye for proportion and an ability to work in straight lines. I think those adult colouring books look amazing, but I’d never pick one up, because you can guarantee that even if I stayed inside the lines (dubious) the colour combos would be interesting, to say the least. Even when someone gives me flowers, I try to keep them as they were bundled, because my version of ‘arranging’ means I have to claim the cat sat on them (she does come in handy).

But, baking.

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