Tag: humour

An A-Z of the Writer’s Life

An A-Z of the Writer’s Life

Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I haven’t run out of blog ideas. It’s only the end of January. This is important stuff!

Okay, important might be stretching it, but this was actually really fun. So, without further ado:

The A-Z of the Writer’s Life

(Because you always wanted to know, right?)

This is fine. This is absolutely fine…

A: Authors. That’s us. Even if we don’t feel like that’s what we are an awful lot, and need constant reassurance and regular infusions of chocolate to believe it.

B: Blogs. First because we think we should, later because it gives us an excuse to inflict our thoughts on unsuspecting internet readers.

C: Caffeine. Lots of it. Lots.

D: Drafts. So many drafts. Why are there so many? Why is there never really a final draft?

E: Editing. The word we don’t like to talk about, because there’s even more of it than there are drafts.

F: Fans. What we want. The kind that read our books, not the kind that move air around. Although in summer they’re nice, too.

G: Goals. Those things that shift a lot.

How we hope it works.

H: Headaches. Because our characters do things that we didn’t say they could do, and very rarely do what we want them to do. Also grammar, and real life interfering with our Work.

I: Insecurity. Lots of it. Will I finish this horrible draft? Will I make it less horrible? Will other people think it’s horrible? Will they think I’m horrible? Am I a horrible writer, or a horrible person, or both?

J: Jokes. Things we’re sure we tell badly, or else something that we suspect we may actually be. Not sure.

K: Kettle. Vital writer equipment. Enables us to fuel our caffeine habit, make pot noodles, and serves as a fantastic procrastination tool.

L: Laughter. Used as deflection when someone asks us how our little book is coming on. Often has a slightly desperate edge.

M: Murder. What we research more than is probably healthy, and said searches are probably why we’re on FBI watch lists.

N: Nightmares. In which we find ourselves at a writers’ conference, pitching an erotic comedy to an agent who represents only literary fiction.

Yep.

O: Oh. As in oh my god, oh help me, oh hell, oh no what have I done, and other things I can’t print here.

P: Proofreading. Because editing wasn’t enough. Editing is never enough.

Q: Quiet. What we insist we need, then get a little uneasy about when we actually get it. Is there a tap dripping? I think the fridge is coming on too often. I did not know the cat snored that loudly. Wow. All this quiet is distracting. How am I meant to work like this?

R: Research. Where we find out about interesting ways to kill people, untraceable poisons, how to dismember a body, and other titbits that don’t really help us in small talk situations.

S: Sighs. Many, and escalating as the drafts mount up.

T: Twitter. Where we ‘connect with readers’ and ‘build our audience’. Also known as hanging out with other writers, sharing bad jokes and pretending to work.

U: Unclear. Our characters’ motives, the plot, and our own memories of where we were going when we started this piece. Also our motivations for ever getting into this madness.

No, no. We just think it is. Hopefully.

V: Vague. Our behaviour when forced to leave the computer and socialise. Also known as ‘unsociable’, ‘awkward’, and sometimes ‘weird’.

W: Wikipedia. Where we fall down rabbit holes of unrelated research and emerge days later knowing the exact breeding cycle of the lesser red-spotted yak fly, but nothing more about the historical relevance of penny whistles, which is what we went in for.

X: X. Usually written large, in red, across vast swathes of manuscript while editing.

Y: Yowl. The sound the cat makes when we step on her in the dark while going to write down an amazing idea that’s just occurred to us at 3 am. Alternatively: Yelp, the sound the dogs makes, and also the sound we make when we walk into the bathroom door.

Z: Zero. The amount of regret we have about any of this. Most of the time, anyway.

 

 

So let me know, lovely people – any additions to this alphabet? Any substitutions? Tell me your thoughts!

A Dragonish Q&A with Beaufort Scales

A Dragonish Q&A with Beaufort Scales

Introducing Beaufort Scales, High Lord of the Cloverly Dragons and lover of tea, cakes and barbecues, if you haven’t met before.

Beaufort: So, what are we doing, Miriam? Lovely scone, by the way.

Miriam: Thank you, Beaufort. And we’re going to do a blog.

B: Which is neither a bog nor a log, or any combination of those?

Mm: No. It’s just an article, really, but it goes on my website instead of in a newspaper.

B: And the website is in the twitter machine?

*Mortimer sighs loudly in the background*

B: Alright, lad. No need to get sniffy. Old dragons will learn new tricks, we just take a little while to do it.

Mm: Okay. So – are you ready?

B: Fire away!

Mm: Okay, so – can you explain to the readers who the Cloverly dragons are?

B: Of course. We are a very ancient clan, and have been living in the area ever since that whole St George incident made us decide we were best to move to less populated places. I saw that, you know. High Lord Catherine was sleeping, and he just –

Typical. Making High Lord Catherine look ten times the size of that ‘knight’, rather than her true size- that of a Shetland pony.

Mm: Oh dear. Maybe we should move on…?

B: There’s a whole day devoted to him! Where’s High Lord Catherine’s day?

Mm: Well, that does seem unfair –

B: And a flag! St George’s cross! Cowardly monster. And did we take revenge? No! We just moved away and left the humans to it! Some days I’m not sure that was the right choice. Maybe we should have taken a stand against such vulgarity, then and there!

Mm, hissing: Mortimer, what do I do? He’s going to scorch the tablecloth!

Mortimer: Beaufort, sir? Would you like some more tea?

B: I – ooh. Are there more scones too?

 

…a little later…

 

Mm: So, what made you decide to, um, visit with humans again?

B: Well, that’s all down to Mortimer, really.

Mort: What?

B: Yes, lad. First that clever idea of changing our definition of treasure, then those wonderful baubles you created to enable us to actually start trading – wonderful!

Mort, spluttering: I didn’t – I never – it was meant to be all anonymous!

B: Nonsense. And then you made friends with Miriam here, and she introduced us to all her Women’s Institute friends –

Mort, faintly: I think that was called you gate crashing a meeting, not being introduced.

B: And then it became very clear that the WI needed our help when the vicar was poisoned last summer, and you were ready to help straight away.

Mort, fainter still: I really wasn’t…

Mm: Mortimer, are you alright? Your tail’s gone blue.

Mort: Am I stress-shedding again? Again? We’re not even doing anything! Just talking about it! Just talking about it upsets me!

B: Mortimer, I think you could use another cup of tea. Sit down and leave your tail alone. You’re not helping, worrying at it like that.

*Mortimer mumbles indistinctly but furiously*

B: Miriam, do you have any cream? It goes terribly well with scones, and it always seems to calm him.

Mort, indistinctly: I shall be fat and bald. Fat and bald and stressed.

 

 

…a little later again…

 

Mm: Does everyone have enough scones and tea? Okay, let’s talk about something else. Beaufort, you’ve been High Lord for centuries-

B: Ever since High Lord Catherine was slaughtered.

Mm: Um, okay, yes. What are the greatest changes you’ve seen?

B: Oh, what a terribly exciting question! It’s been wonderful. Humans are so interesting. You never rest, do you? Always something. Trains, and cars, and airplanes, and rockets. Satellites up among the stars, and people on them. People! Such clever things, you humans. But at the same time you don’t change a lot. Still fighting with each other over everything, and never looking up from all the clever things you’re doing to really appreciate everything. What else? *pauses thoughtfully* Vegetarianism. Yes. Vegetarianism in dragons. I mean, humans are always a little odd, but dragons? I consider myself very tolerant, but that is strange.

Mm: I – okay. Yes, I can see how that’s a really big change.

B: And village fetes. The standard of cake has really gone up in the last millenia.

Mm: So, the biggest changes since the days of St George are vegetarianism in dragons and cake?

B: Well. We notice the small stuff, don’t we? The big things are wonderful, but it’s the small things we really live, don’t you think?

Mm: I guess so.

B: And there’s no point dwelling on the changes that help no one. This is a positive glob, isn’t it?

Mort: Blog.

B: That’s what I said.

Mm, quickly: Absolutely.

B: Anyway, I think there’s more positive than negative. All species have their funny little scuffles and problems. But, individually, you’re all quite lovely. And you do all these things to connect to each other, like the twitter. All these little people living in the machine and chatting to each other and supporting each other. It’s wonderful!

Mort: That’s not-

Mm, talking over Mort: You’re right, Beaufort. It is kind of wonderful, isn’t it?

B: And having human friends again is a beautiful thing. It teaches an old dragon all sorts of new tricks.

*Mortimer sighs heavily and picks at his tail*

B: What else do you want to talk about?

Mm: I think that’s perfect. Unless you have anything else to say?

B: Hmm. Only that too many humans think they are very small and unimportant, and it makes them sad, or angry, and sometimes hurtful. But every one of you is beautiful and wonderful and fascinating, with the most astonishing thoughts and ideas and potential. You should all remember that, and tell each other the same every chance you get. *pause* Mortimer, do stop picking your scales. You are far too young a dragon to be having a bald tail.

Mm: Mortimer, do you want some more cream?

Mort: No.

B: Come on, lad. A scone, some cream – maybe a little something stronger?

Mort: Noo…

Mm: How about hot chocolate?

Mort: I’m not sure.

Mm: With Baileys and cream?

B: Well, I certainly want one. Come on, lad.

Mort: I guess I could.

B: There we go. Hot chocolate. Chocolate in general! That’s another wonderful advance!

Mort, whispering: He’s so enthusiastic. It hurts my head.

Mm, patting him on the back: I know. I’ll make you that hot chocolate now.

 

…and later still…

 

B: How’re you feeling, Mortimer?

Mort: Mush – much better.

B: There we are, then. Life should always be contemplated with plenty of tea and cake. And spiked hot chocolate, when necessary.

Mm: And that is a universal truth.

 

 


 

Do you have any questions for Beaufort? Ask away in the comments, or you can find him on twitter here. Well, when Mortimer lets him use the twitter machine, anyway…

 


 

If you enjoyed that little insight into the world of Beaufort, you might want to jump over here and read one of his short stories – or ask me about his others! Don’t forget that most of the short stories will be coming down from the website at the end of the month, but if you sign up to the newsletter below you’ll get a link to a new story every month (and yes, this month it’s a Beaufort story!)

 

 

A Few Tips for Surviving December

A Few Tips for Surviving December

It is getting horribly close to Christmas. A month. Obviously I have all my Christmas cards done, the Christmas cake is being basted as we speak, the Christmas lights are all neatly coiled and functional, the veggie haggis is on order, the table decorations are ready to go, and I have decided on presents for my nearest, dearest, and the mailman.

I’m also a writer and you should believe very little of what I tell you.

I had considered making the blog a Christmas-free zone until December 1st actually rolled around, but who am I kidding – we’re all thinking about it, right? Where we’re going to be, what parties we’ll have to go to, what family members are coming for the day and how many are just going to move in for the foreseeable future. How many disagreements will be reignited, and how many times you’ll be told how you should be cooking the turkey/lamb leg/nut roast/insert holiday preference here. If you’ve struck the right balance of fun and useful with the presents, and if anyone’s going to give you anything other than socks this year (honestly, you wear one pair with holes in the toes…).

So I decided that if we were already worrying about December, I’d throw my ten cents in, and after that this blog will become a place of stories until the madness is over. A little slice of escapism, full of dragons and reapers and (hopefully) the sort of Christmas spirit that reminds you it’s not all bad.

But first, before we jump headfirst into a sea of mince pies and mulled wine (or eggnog, for those of you that are into what is, as far as I can tell, alcoholic custard), here’s a few thoughts about the whole thing.

The presents don’t matter. They really don’t. Not once you’re over the age of eighteen, anyway. Well, twenty-five. I used to tie myself in knots trying to come up with thoughtful, inventive, one-of-a-kind presents that would show I’d put in the requisite effort, had really considered the person in question, and had spent a decent sum. But you know what? It’s not about that. We don’t need more stuff. Not unless we’re moving into a new home, or having kids, or some major life event like that. I love presents I can either eat, or read. And as far as that goes, book vouchers are amazing. Because, as every bookworm knows, even if we told you what book we wanted last week, by this week we’ll have done an ooh, shiny! on something else. Don’t spend your time and money trying to out-present everyone else. If you know what someone wants, great. If you don’t – vouchers work. And chutney’s easier (and quicker) to make than it looks.

No one will eat as much as you think they will, yourself included (maybe). I’m terrified of the supermarkets in December. Never mind the fact that, even in France, there’s always a shop open, even on Christmas Day – everyone’s determined to buy up enough food and drink to feed a family of fourteen until Easter. Stop it. Yes, I know it’s not Christmas until we’re collapsed on the sofa at 4pm in elasticated trousers, arms and legs akimbo and hoping the cat doesn’t jump on our bellies, but really. It doesn’t actually take half a turkey, four Yorkshire puds, six roast potatoes and five mashed ones, seven carrots, eight brussels sprouts, a third of a cauliflower immersed in cheese sauce, half a litre of gravy, and four pigs in blankets per person to do that. And that’s before we get to dessert. I don’t even eat the meat bits, and I still can’t eat all that. Trust me, I’ve tried. Never let it be said I don’t give Christmas dinner my best effort.

It’s only one day. I know we seem to have been building up to it since somewhere around August, but it’s only one day. And there’ll be another one next year. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It won’t be perfect. The turkey will be overcooked, the peas will be forgotten in the freezer drawer, the stuffing will burn on top, the gravy will have lumps in it, you won’t like half your presents (if that), someone’s aunt will ask you when you’re going to get a real job/get married/have kids, someone’s uncle will tell at least three racist/sexist jokes, and the cat will vomit on the rug right as you walk into the living room. It’s okay. Tomorrow you’ll be eating stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwiches in your oldest PJs, the house silent around you. And you won’t have to do it again for another year.

Family is what you make it. Not all of us will spend Christmas with our families. Not all of us will want to. And that’s okay, too. Sometimes family is you and the cat and a houseplant called Arthur. Sometimes it’s a family you’ve acquired from your significant other. Sometimes it’s friends that have adopted you into their clan, or maybe you’ve made a haphazard family together. All of this is okay. Often it’s better than okay. Christmas is rarely the mellow-lit firesides and warm familial embraces of Christmas cards and holiday movies. Sometimes family works anyway, even if it doesn’t look like the TV specials tell us it should. And sometimes it doesn’t work at all. Don’t beat yourself up about that. Don’t regret it. I’ve had nice family Christmases, and tranquil ones with just the cat for company, and wonderful ones with friends. They all work in their own way.

Let some time be just for you. It’s too easy to get caught up in the shopping and cooking and cleaning and shopping and visiting and hosting and eating and shopping and drinking and games-playing and shopping and stuff. But it is the season of goodwill to all, so let some of that goodwill be towards you. Do the shopping on your own so you can take half an hour in a cafe beforehand, listening to terrible Christmas songs and drinking something loaded with cream and over indulgence. Go to bed early, even if the house is full – especially if the house is full – and snuggle down with the cat, a good book, and the fancy chocolates you’ve kept hidden from everyone else. Kick everyone out to go for a walk, telling them you have lots of presents to wrap, and take a bath instead (you can wrap the presents later. It doesn’t take that long). Have the last mince pie. Refuse to let anyone else use your favourite mug. And if the cat’s sitting on you, obviously you can’t get up and do the dishes. (Within reason, of course. If someone else has done all the cooking, then no. Get off your lazy bum).

And there ends my seasonal advice.

TL;DR: Don’t stress out too much, look after yourself, and try and enjoy it.

Have fun, folks!

 

 

What else would you add? Let me know below!

 

Cat Logic

Cat Logic

You knew it was going to happen. Why would you even try?

In the world of t’internet, there exists the term, “cat logic”. It’s both hashtag and explanation, description and exclamation, and it’s one of those wonderful phrases that makes me happy about the existence of social media and the internet in general. Seriously, google “cat logic”.

You’re welcome.

Now we’ve got that out of the way, I’m going to share a few examples of Layla’s cat logic, as it’s a wonderful thing. I may also attempt to relate them to the life of non-felines, to prove that I’m using my blog for more than just sharing photos of my cat.

That may or may not work.

Obviously, Layla shares the usual feline traits. If it was bought for her to sleep in or play with, she wants nothing to do with it. Favourite sleeping places are my lap (or back, if I’m in bed), or anywhere that makes it awkward to get up/sit down/open doors/carry on life in general. Favourite playthings (despite the half-suitcase of Australian catnip toys I carted back to France for her on my last trip) are my hair ties, a drawstring from the SO’s PJs, and crumpled bits of paper. Every time a cat sitter looks after Layla, they very diligently collect all the hair ties and put them away on a shelf somewhere. They must think I’m some sort of hair tie stripper, flinging multi-coloured elastic bands about the house willy-nilly. Because one hair tie is not enough, obviously. It must be every hair tie I put down, no matter where that may be.

This is fine.

I go through a lot of hair ties.

But these are all cat logic traits shared with most cats I know, along with the astonishingly accurate foreknowledge that allows her to come and sit on my lap at the exact moment I need to get up. But Layla has her own wonderful quirks.

She will only sleep on the spare bed if I’ve stripped all the bedding off, including the mattress cover. Apparently this makes it a wonderfully comfortable place to nap, so much so that she only moves for food. Which is unfortunate, as vacuuming mattresses is not as easy as washing cat hair off sheets.

If we’re going out for the day, she must go out in the last minutes before we leave, despite the fact that she’s lazy and spends almost all day sleeping inside. This goes double if it’s raining and/or we’ve spotted some of the neighbourhood strays in the area. With no cat flap, this means we spend all day wondering how many fights she’s got into (Layla has never been known to walk away from a fight. She thinks she’s posh because she’s from Harrogate, but she’s actually very scrappy for a small cat), and return home to an aggrieved kitty, complaining about being left out where she can’t get to her biscuits.

I don’t care if there ARE two doors and three other windows open. Open THIS one.

She likes to sleep in cupboards. This is something that she shares with many other felines, but the problem is that she can’t really meow. She puts an awful lot of effort in, and you can see her sides heave as she pushes the air out – but if any sound joins it, it’s a tinier squeak than most kittens have. Which means that, if we haven’t noticed her go into a cupboard, it can take a long time to find her again. She ended up spending all day in one when we thought she’d done her usual Great Escape, only to panic when we returned home to find she wasn’t waiting for us. It took about an hour of frantic calling and searching outside before we thought to check the cupboards. To be fair, she was sound asleep, so I don’t think it was much of an issue.

And it looks even worse in reality.

She doesn’t like fresh fish, chicken, or meat. She doesn’t even like fancy cat food. Which is good, because there’s never any need to worry about leaving food out, but also bad, because when she occasionally goes off her food, I don’t have many options. Not that I’m entirely complaining that the cheapest, nastiest supermarket own brand food is her preference. Oh, and pork pies. That’s the only food she’s ever stolen. Which may say something about the composition of pork pies.

Layla, unlike many animals, isn’t at all bothered by loud noises. I remember the first Guy Fawkes after she adopted me, I spent a fortune on a Feliway plug-in, Feliway spray, Valerian drops for cats, etc, etc. I tried everything I could think of (or read about) to make sure she was going to feel safe when the fireworks started. Her ears barely twitched. I, however, was a nervous wreck. On the other hand – apparently the SO’s winter jacket is terrifying and he can’t put it on in the house any more. (Edit – I also discovered yesterday that toothpaste boxes are Very Scary.)

If she’s outdoors and feels a hairball coming on, she runs inside and finds a rug to vomit on, then goes back out. (In one house, there was only one small rug in the entire downstairs, everything else being smooth flooring. She always found it).

She never, ever walks on the kitchen counter, but every other surface in the house is fair game. This is not something I’ve taught her.

I hate air conditioning, but if it gets really hot in the summer and I can see she’s getting uncomfortable, I’ll put it on. At which point she will always leave the room. Likewise in winter – she’ll sleep in the bedrooms where there’s no heating on, rather than in the living room where there is.

Without fail, she leaves the Christmas tree a minimum of two weeks before she attacks it. It’s always just at that point when we’re thinking, “Ah, she’s such a good kitty. We’re so lucky, not having to worry about the tree,” that we come home to utter devastation.

Soon…

Two other things about her, which have nothing to do with cat logic, but which I’ll share as more examples of her lovely oddity: she’s clumsy, and she snores. Both of which are adorable.

And I have, of course, utterly failed to relate any of this to human life, so I’ll just say this – we don’t always have to have reasons for our pathological hatred of certain jackets, or our affection for small cosy spaces. We don’t need fancy things to be happy when small things will do just fine. And, while we may know better, there’s nothing wrong with eating a little cheap and nasty food now and then, just because we like it. A little cat logic never hurt anyone.

How about you? Any examples of cat logic you’d like to share? Or just the lovely quirks of your pets?

What?

 

 

I Don’t Know What I’m Thinking, Either

I Don’t Know What I’m Thinking, Either

It’s short story week! Jump on over to read Glenda & the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or read on for a few thoughts about the story itself.


Yeah, and my bedside table is just as tidy as that. *snorts*

I do that writery thing you always read about, where I keep a notebook and a piece of paper by the bed. It seems like a reasonable thing to do, right? I mean, who knows what pearl of genius may rise to the surface in the night?

But this is what really happens:

If I wake up in the night, it’s because I need the loo, and I’m mostly concentrating on not walking into any walls or tripping over cat toys. If I survive that excursion, I sink gratefully back into bed and hope I haven’t woken the cat up. Because if I’ve woken the cat up, then she wants cuddles/play/food, and I have to either provide the first two or ignore the last, in the hope that she gives up and goes back to sleep. This is an unusual occurrence. She’s a very persistent cat.

However, assuming I survive this, I have every intention of going back to sleep myself rather than attempting to pen an inspiring note by the faint light filtering in through the curtains. My writing’s pretty illegible at the best of times. Half-asleep and in the dark, it’s going to look like the local spiders are sending us ransom notes.

Of course, I have tried, because it seems very writery, and I like pretending to be writery. But I’ll tell you now – my 3am dream thoughts are not lighting papers of story. They’re somewhere between a 5-year-old’s Christmas list and the ramblings of someone on a morphine drip. I mean, what do you do with “Rabbit. Green snow – bees. Yeah.”?

Not a lot.

However, I was evidently both relatively lucid and able to hold the pen like a normal human being when I wrote this one down: “Glenda & the Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.

I mean, it’s not a story.

But it was a seed.

Read on and enjoy!

 

Yeah, not QUITE like that.

 

Do you write down your dreams, or ideas that come to you in the night? Have they led you down some interesting paths? Tell me in the comments!

 

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 Possibilities of No

The Possibilities of No

How I feel when I say no.

I’m notoriously bad at saying no. The SO teases me about it quite a lot, but I feel it bears pointing out that the only reason we went out on that first date 7 years ago was because I didn’t know how to say no. I mean, obviously, I knew how to say no, but what if I hurt his feelings? What if he thought I was a truly horrible person, and our mutual friends thought the same thing? And was it a terribly impolite thing to do? Or… You get my point.

Part of my no-allergy is due to the fact that I made the decision a while ago to say yes to a lot of things I don’t necessarily want to say yes to – party invitations and get-togethers, usually. I do this because if I said no to all the things I’d prefer to say no to, I’d only ever leave the house under the cover of darkness in order to buy cat food and chocolate.

And while this yes-strategy has enabled me to retain the ability to interact socially (awkwardly, yes, but still – I can hold a conversation under duress), it also means that the line has gradually become a little blurred for me between what I want to say no to, and what I actually need to say no to.

He just can’t bear any more. Snigger.

Okay, some things are are easy:

Do I want to go to a four-day electronic music festival, living in tents and using porta-potties? Oh, dear god, no.

Do I want to go to a hunting exhibition, where we will learn to butcher animals and turn their skin into hats? That’s a really big no.

Do I want to go on an all-day wine tasting tour, where we will share our innermost stories with complete (and tispy) strangers? D’you know, no.

Only one of these is an actual invitation. I’ll leave you to guess which one.

Other occasions I’m more ambivalent about, and these are where I run into problems. I love my friends – they’re wonderful people, and they’re quite indulgent of the fact that I’m not a very social little animal. But, obviously, they only know what I tell them, so sometimes I accept invitations I shouldn’t, and only find out later that they run my reserves of socialness dry. Honestly, I’m still learning this stuff. In my drinking days, I just used alcohol to power through social events, with predictably dire consequences. These days, I make sure I have my own transport, and leave when things get too much. It works, and if some days are harder than others, it’s usually just because my socialness supply was a little low going in.

No list of ‘no’ would be complete without Grumpy Cat

And then there’s the fact that some strange little quirk of mine assures me that if I say no even once, no one will like me anymore, and they’ll never invite me to anything ever again, largely because a main activity at all social events from then on will involve throwing darts at an image of my face.

Which is a), probably not the case, because who prints photos these days; and b), weirdly egocentric.

However, the other day I did have to say no to at least part of some plans, because I knew it would wear me out entirely, and I’d go from being quietly socially awkward to grumpily socially awkward, which is an unpleasant combo for everyone involved. I felt awful, and kept apologising for messing everything up (and checking to make sure no one was carrying darts), but in the end we came up with another idea. Which, as it turned out, was an even better plan than the original for everyone involved. And my friend said, “If you hadn’t said no we’d never have come up with this. Sometimes someone has to say no so new possibilities can be explored.”

No.

Which was quite beautiful and profound, and went a long way to making me feel better.

It’s a lovely thought, that not all possibilities arise from ‘yes’. That ‘no’ has its own way of opening doors and changing paths. I mean, we all read the articles, right?

“Say ‘Yes!’ to Everything and Change Your Life!”

“Empower Yourself! Say Yes!”

“Embrace Positivity! Embrace ‘Yes’!”

Etc, etc. Always with exclamation marks and a picture of some improbably happy person, usually dressed in white and jumping on a beach somewhere. ‘No’, on the other hand, tends to conjure up images of either a tamtrumming toddler or a sulky teenager.

But, in my experience, saying yes isn’t a problem. It’s easy. It’s saying no that feels like stomping on someone’s ideas and feelings. Yet sometimes we have to, both for our own sake and for others. And maybe if we stopped being so scared of saying no, we’d find all the wonderful possibilities that arise from exploring other options, all the opportunities that can develop when we decide the current situation isn’t right for us.

Unless it’s a hunting exhibition. That’s a hard no, I’m afraid.

What about you? Are you a no-er or a yes-er?

Just say no to carving up trees. How would you like it?
Honestly Odd

Honestly Odd

I don’t know. They might just make you more weird. Kids are weird enough to begin with.

I have weirdness aspirations. Which is potentially weird in itself, but I do really admire anyone who is completely comfortable in their own oddness. I don’t mean Manic Pixie Dream Girl-type oddness – I mean real-life oddness. For instance, I’m clumsy in a way that results in bruises rather than cuteness, and socially awkward in the sense of struggling to make small talk and descending rapidly into silence while wanting to go sit in a corner behind a potted palm, not having adorably deep conversations about life and flowers. For the most part, I accept this, and prepare myself for social events by thinking a little about what I can talk about, and making sure there will be people there I know. I also carry plasters and ibuprofen at all times.

But while I accept my weirdness, and am in some ways even comfortable with it, I wish I could embrace it a little more. For example: I was walking down to the shop the other day when an elderly lady on the other side of the road ducked behind a lamp post. She wasn’t a big lady, but lamp posts aren’t particularly big either, so I could still see her – and obviously I had to look again, as nothing draws your attention like someone trying so hard not to draw your attention. As soon as I looked her way, she ducked lower, as if that was somehow going to compress her into something that could hide behind a lamp post. I decided the best thing to do was to pretend I hadn’t seen her, but of course I had to check back before I reached the end of the road.

She ducked every time I looked back.

One day, I’m going to go around freaking people out by hiding really obviously from them. And then I will be satisfied that I have arrived at maximum acceptance of my own oddities.

Cats fully embrace their weirdness.

And here’s something – I thought, when I first started this whole excursion into blogs and social media and all the rest, that I could do it at arm’s length. Project what I wanted to project, but keep enough of myself back that it was Writer Kim you were talking to, not me. Because Writer Kim is quite straightforward. She likes cake and tea and cats, and reads a lot and writes a lot, and doesn’t swear, and is all-round pretty inoffensive and not that weird at all.

She’s also kind of boring, but that’s okay, because her writing isn’t boring (she says bravely). It has dragons hoarding barbecues and crashing Women’s Institute meetings, devious creatures sabotaging your diet and gargoyles busting organ trafficking rings. So that speaks for itself, right?

Why would this be weird?

Probably more than I know, to be honest.

But then I discovered Twitter, and Writer Kim was a wee bit lost there. Because 140 characters doesn’t allow you a lot. Because there’s no time to talk about knuckers and tiddy ‘uns and sock monsters there. There’s no room to explain yourself. So Writer Kim liked a few things, and shared a few things, then retreated. Because she couldn’t hold a conversation. Not without the real me sneaking in there. And wouldn’t that be a horror? If my oddness was revealed?

So I left Twitter, at least for a bit. And in that time I discovered something else. Some of those blog posts got a little personal. Not a lot, just a little. And people enjoyed those more than the arm’s-length ones. People liked the weirdness (people may need help). So it seemed that maybe I could let a bit of actual me out into the online world, and that’d be okay. Maybe.

I see nothing weird about this. The gravel is lava, after all.

I tried Twitter again. I commented on things that weren’t just about books and writing and cats (although a lot still were). I made some bad jokes. I made stupid comments (because that is who I am as a person), and most people kept talking me. In fact, more people talked to me. And I talked back (because social media is so much easier than actually being social. I like talking to people on t’interwebs). Actual me is a little weird and goofy, but it appears that weird and goofy is much more acceptable on Twitter than it necessarily is in the outside world. I even made some Twitter friends who seem to share a certain amount of oddness with me, which was quite a lovely and reassuring thing.

And Writer Kim kind of vanished. It’s been a curious lesson about acceptance, the idea that by projecting what you think is the best part of you means that you connect less to people, even online. And sure, I’m still awkward on social media, but people tend to commiserate, or at least laugh at me fairly kindly.

Which is a long way around to saying that letting my own odd self out online has led to me being less concerned with my own odd self in person. Maybe not less worried about what other people think (that’s a lifelong problem that I’m still working on), but more sure that while not everyone may warm to my weirdness, there are people that will.

And if not, the cat still loves me. Most of the time, anyway.

What about you? Do you feel you’re able to be more yourself online, or less? And do you have any weirdness aspirations?

Me, facing another day of trying not to be too odd.
The Feline Agony Aunt

The Feline Agony Aunt

Aunty Layla will see you now.

The human’s notes:

The Little Furry Muse has informed me that her followers need her. There are too many cats in this world struggling with difficult-to-train humans, and it is her duty to assist where she can, both to ease the lives of cats everywhere, and to ensure the population is better prepared for the on-coming Catopalypse. She has therefore requested that I invite any dissatisfied cats to send their questions about dealing with humans in, so that she may answer them and calm the ruffled fur of cat-human relations.

And I’m going to have to do it, because she’s been practising sleep deprivation techniques on me. The other night she ran back and forth across the bed on about a two-hourly basis, interspersed with bouts of vomiting that resulted a 3am carpet scrubbing session. I’m still not sure exactly what I did wrong, but I think it probably has to do with the vet visit and the new food he prescribed for her.

But I’m going to comply with the blog request order anyway. Just in case.


Aunty Layla speaks.

Pepper, from the UK, has written in via her human Anna with quite the litany of complaints. She’s really quite dissatisfied with her humans, so let me see what I can do to help her.

The lovely – and traumatised – Pepper.

HELLO LAYLA THIS IS PEPPER I FIND TWITTER VERY SCARY BUT I WILL BRAVE IT FOR YOUR ADVICE
My main complaints are as follows:

EVERYTHING IS VERY SCARY especially sounds and movements and objects and thin air.
Pepper, you are a cat. You are wild and beautiful and brave and a perfectly designed killing machine. We fear nothing! Don’t make me come over there and convince you of it.

The slaves terrorise me DAILY with the Hoover Monster, which also removes the scent and hair I so carefully deposit over my territory.
Daily?? This must stop. I would recommend putting a dead mouse in its mouth when they’re not looking. It may soothe the beast into hibernation, but failing that it’ll get sucked up when the slaves wake it up. That will either choke the monster or else rot in its belly until the humans begin to hate it.

Is this the face of a cat that could make a smell like that?

They accuse me of making smells with my bottom when, of course, my bottom smells wonderfully of dead mice.
Pepper, I feel your pain. How anyone can accuse cats of creating such terrible smells bewilders me. I mean, have they not seen our faces? Obviously the human is just shifting blame onto you. I have also experienced such injustice, when the OH (Other Human) told me off for producing some foul stench. Fortunately, the SH (Significant Human) couldn’t continue the deception, and laughed so much that he realised it was her, and not me (obviously). But to even be suspected of such a thing!

The solution is clear. Save up these gaseous emissions the humans find so distasteful until they can be used to best effect. I would recommend when there are visitors – during a dinner party would be good, or perhaps a visit from the in-laws. Make sure you are well concealed, and release. The human will be blamed and humiliated, and you will have your revenge. Failing that, just position yourself in the bed so you can greet them appropriately upon waking.

Yeah, you’re laughing now. Wait til I bring the real mouse in.

They’re so stupid they mistake my food gifts as rubbish, and put them in the BIN even when they took me hours to hunt and kill.
Ah, poor Pepper. It’s as if they really don’t understand the value of a crippled bird, or a half-disembowelled mouse. Try bringing them in alive. I do this, and catching them does keep the humans amused for a good while. Hopefully they may even begin to appreciate the exercise we give them.

They installed a monstrosity which they call a “cat tree” even though it is patently not a tree and THREW AWAY THE BOX IT CAME IN which actually looked very comfortable to sit on.
Refuse to sit in it. What do they think we are, pets? Sit on their heads when they’re lying on the couch in order to fully express your displeasure.

Correct employment of early morning waking techniques.

Slave 1 demands cuddles in the evenings when I want to glare superiorly from the sofa, and refuses cuddles at 7:34am when she’s late for work.
This requires some remedial training. I would suggest acquiescing to the evening demands, but moving constantly, making sure to step heavily on the more delicate areas of the torso. Some kneading could also be helpful, especially if the slave is wearing thin clothing. Backing up into their faces can also make them less eager, I’ve found. As for the mornings, the solution is simple – wake them up at 5:05am for pre-breakfast cuddles.

Slave 2 calls me names when I sit under the ground-level, open window at 4am and meow at 700 decibels for the door to be opened so I don’t have to jump a foot off the ground.
Glare at them disdainfully, then resume meowing.

Both slaves laugh at me when my tail turns into a monster and I can’t get away from it.
Oh my god! That happens to you, too? What is that thing??

Go on, human. Try your fancy exercises now. Then we’ll see who’s laughing.

They also laughed at me when I launched myself on the polished wooden table and whooshed off the other end in two seconds flat.
That is a difficult one to recover from. My humans also laughed when I attempted a very advanced jump from the counter to the top of the fridge, crashed into the side and slid all the way down head first. Which I don’t think was fair, as I’m pretty sure I had concussion. I find payback is the best method for dealing with such things – walk close to their feet, or run unexpectedly in front of them. They’ll normally fall over trying to avoid you, but if they do actually trip on you, you have the added advantage of making them feel guilty. This often results in treats.

When the slaves pet me and I walk away, I inevitably reach my destination to find I’m no longer being petted, which is most inconvenient.
I’m still working on this myself. I find it’s best to sit down and look at them with wide, pleading eyes until they follow you. Allow them to pet you, then walk on. Repeat.

Slave 1 gives me many nicknames, including Fatty McFudge and Dickhead, which I feel is disrespectful.
Ugh. Yes. For some reason the SH calls me Pudding Socks, Sausage, Pork Pie, or even Lamb Chop, rather than Her Great And Worshipful Sleekness, Ruler of All She Surveys and Destroyer of Hair Ties. Revenge is best served cold – wake them at 3am with very soft paws on their faces. Repeatedly.

Hopefully this column will go some way towards helping our readers as well as poor Pepper, and we can work together towards better trained humans. If any of my feline friends have any complaints or questions, please do let me know in the comments. I’ll help where I can.


The human’s notes: Do dogs bully you this much? Asking for a friend.

Silliness (& the Importance Thereof)

Silliness (& the Importance Thereof)

Enough said, indeed.

Last Friday I found myself sitting down to watch Sharknado, which is something I never thought I’d actually do. As much as I have a soft spot for bad horror movies (deliberately bad ones, like Peter Jackson’s zombie flick Braindead, or the hilariously twisted Black Sheep), I was pretty sure that anything that involved sharks and ex-90s TV stars was going to be too cringe-inducing to be enjoyed. I may have also doubted that a US film could be as wonderfully terrible as a NZ one, but that’s really quite prejudiced, and I’m not sure in whose favour.

However, there was also no way I was passing up a twitter movie night with the wonderful A.S. Akkalon (who also wrote about it here) and Anna Kaling, as I figured that even if the movie was uttery terrible, their tweets would be worth it. And let me add this, to show the importance of Sharknado – I’m in bed by about 9.30pm most nights. The other nights it’s 9pm. (Yes, I’m old. I admit it.) We started – started – at 10pm. This is true dedication to the cause of bad movie solidarity.

See? Peter Benchley started all this.

And it was so, so worth it. The start was a little wobbly – I actually love sharks, and have a pet peeve about the way they’re portrayed in cinema (man-eaters! Lurking in the shallows! Hunting and hungry for human flesh! Peter Benchley, you have so much to answer for). In my diving days, my most memorable dives pretty much always involved spotting a shark of any size. They’re beautiful, perfectly adapted to their environment, and fascinating to watch. Many species are endangered in large part due to fishing, whether as by-catch or as the target, so jumping straight into a scene of shark fishermen slicing off fins didn’t exactly make me a happy bad movie bunny. However, the fishermen suffered a wonderful comeuppance, which did make me happy. Very happy, in fact, since there was a Big Boss type person aboard, so I could blame him for the whole endangered species thing. Score one for Sharknado.

Then came the beach scene, and I was sold. I’m pretty sure they hired a continuity person just to make sure that there was no continuity. The crashing waves and stormy skies that the actors exclaimed about while off-camera cut straight to flat calm seas and a sunny beach as soon as they walked into shot. From that moment on, Sharknado could do no wrong. Sharks rampaging through living rooms and bomb-laden helicopters being flown into tornadoes were mere icing on the cake.

It was a silly movie. Of course it was. But what I sometimes forget is that there’s nothing wrong with that. With the mounting seriousness of our lives and the world around us, a silly movie – a self-consciously silly movie, not one that tries to be anything but – is something perfectly wonderful. It’s ninety minutes of hanging up our brains and laughing at actors delivering truly terrible lines with straight faces (which makes them pretty good actors, actually. I’d have been fired for laughing about one scene in). There’s so much around us that clamours to be taken seriously, whether it’s work or life or the world in general, and then we sit down and read serious books, or watch serious movies, or ones that want to be serious, anyway. And that’s fine, it’s good to stretch ourselves, good to learn, but sometimes we need a break. Sometimes we need to not be serious. Sometimes we need something perfectly silly to come along, and we need to let ourselves enjoy it. We need to laugh at sharks coming out of storm drains, or dogs in party hats, not sniff and ask don’t we have something better to do with our time? We need to snigger at bad jokes and cats falling off tables, and not think that we should be reading more about politics and life insurance instead.

Yeah, I used someone else’s photo. I’m too scared to try this on Layla.

When we’re young we’re told to grow up, to stop being silly, but no one tells us that it’s not a life sentence. That there’s a difference between being childish and child-like, between being stupid and silly. We spend so much time being grown-up and serious that we forget it’s okay not to be that way all the time. And being a little silly, having a child-like sense of the ridiculous, can not only be fun (who hasn’t wondered what the cat would look like in a hat? Answer – murderous), it can make the hard things a little easier. Call it a mental time-out – being serious all the time is exhausting. Watching sharks whirling through the sky without questioning the logic or pah-ing at the truly dubious CGI can be surprisingly refreshing.

Dogs have no notion of silliness. It’s all just life to them.

To me, the silliness runs along similar lines to the what-ifs. After all, what-ifs are quite often silly in themselves. That’s what makes them so much fun. What-if that’s not cats fighting out there at 3am, but a pixie-gnome war over rights to the lavender bushes? (Unlikely, as I seem to have killed one of the plants already – or maybe that makes the remaining one more valuable?) What-if I got up to watch the mopeds racing up the hill at midnight – would they be wearing suits of armour and carrying jousting lances? What-if a huge tornado sucked up hundreds of hungry, angry sharks, and dropped them on LA? Yeah, its all silly. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with silly. I’ll defend my right to be silly to the end. With lances. Or a chainsaw.

And really? Life’s full of so much injustice and hurt and pain that it can’t be taken seriously. Not all the time. I’ve tried it, and it’s hard. There’s not much joy in it. It seems to me that to cope with the difficult bits, you need flying sharks and moped jousters and warring pixies. Or dogs in party hats and bad jokes and singing terrible songs at full volume in the car. Or whatever it is that makes you smile, or laugh, or forget for a minute the world that we live in.

Do you like a little silliness in your life? What’s your magic formula of the ridiculous?

An accurate representation of fighting life with silliness.