Tag: ideas

#Amplotsing? What Happened When A Pantser Tried Plotting

#Amplotsing? What Happened When A Pantser Tried Plotting

And playing in the sandbox IS creating, anyway.

I’m a panster.

And, until recently, I never thought about changing that.

I’ve mentioned previously that it works for me quite well. I get to dive into the story and run around after the characters, waiting to see what they get up to and how they reveal themselves to me. I never know quite what they’re going to do when I start writing, you see, as we’re only just getting to know each other. I know what sort of person they are – young or old, smart or not-so-smart, shy or out-going. But until the monsters actually start coming out of the walls, I don’t really know if they’re going to crack jokes, crack heads, or crack up. That stuff they let me know as we go along, and I’m fine with that. It’s fun, and my experience with plotting has been that I may as well doodle on a page for a few days, then put it in the compost. At least that way the worms’ll get some use out of it.

Less fine is the chaos that ensues once I start editing. Because there was a lot of meandering around while I got to know the characters, a few false starts where I thought the protagonist was actually the antagonist, and a bit of confusion when the cat came in and started ordering everyone about. Plus there was that thing with the troll tea party that was entirely irrelevant, and a subplot to do with mutinous garden gnomes that went exactly nowhere.

So editing my first draft is rather closer to rewriting.

I’m surprised my face hasn’t frozen like that.

Which is manageable, in its way. Last time, I sat down and did a full outline before I started the edits, threw some things out, put some things in, shifted a few scenes, and managed to shoehorn the manuscript into something that was reasonably coherent. Certainly enough so that I could get my real editing head on for the following drafts. And, eventually, it got to start looking like a book.

But it does take a long time. I’m essentially writing two books before I even get to a real first draft. And there’s a lot of wandering around the house looking confused, and staring at the page wondering what happens next, and throwing frankly rather unpleasant things at my characters to see what they do. Which they should expect, but it does seem a bit unfair when I then cut a load of scenes out. They’re probably thinking, “Jeez, I’d’ve handled that armoured goat attack a lot better, if I hadn’t already been exhausted from fighting off airborne snails with poison darts. And now she’s just throwing that away? My writer sucks.”

So when I decided to write a Beaufort Scales Christmas mystery, I decided that I would try outlining. (Previous writer self freaks out and starts stuttering about stifled creativity and constricted potential. I throw her cookies to distract her).

We’ve been mystery-solving with Beaufort before.

I had two reasons for this. One, I know Beaufort and his various cohorts reasonably well. I’ve already trailed after them through several short stories and a murder mystery (which I really should have outlined, as it was a serial), and I felt pretty confident that I knew how they were going to behave right from the start. Two, I decided I wanted to do this before I went away for a week and a half, which gave me a grand total of 10 days to write it. This did not leave time for wandering about the house or staring blankly into space while I waited for Beaufort to decide what to do next.

I set a goal of 40,000 words, which was ambitious but not too silly, found some outline templates here (I’d previously used Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet for a post-first draft outline, and I liked it, so I used it again), and started. I’d known I wanted to do another Beaufort mystery for a while, so it wasn’t exactly going in blind, plus I had a few ideas already ticking over. Add in a couple of suggestions from a lovely twitter friend (thanks Anna!), and I was off.

The writer at work.

I’ve heard of people having word counts for their outlines and that sort of thing, but I did all mine on paper, so I’m not sure how long it was in the end. I preferred paper because then I just kept my notebook on my desk, and it made it easy to refer back to, plus I still find writing by hand to be easier and more organic than on the laptop. I wasn’t super-detailed – just the major points that I wanted to happen for each beat of the story. It took me two drafts to feel happy with it, and even then there was some ‘and stuff happens’ bits in the middle, but I think that made my pantsy little heart more comfortable.

Then I jumped in.

I was kind of unconvinced at first, because it did take me a day to find the rhythm of the story. But after that, it was actually pretty fun. I still had my slow patches, but because I knew what was going to happen next, it was easier to find out how to get from one scene to another. Of course, being me, scenes jumped around, vanished, or were replaced by different ones, and a character I introduced who was meant to have one line ended up sitting down, making himself a cuppa and staying. Two of them, actually. But I was still always moving forwards, rather than diagonally, sideways and underground, overground, wombling free, which is more my usual style.

*grasp on reality becomes increasingly tenuous as all time is spent with dragons*

And all of this affected my pace. I can usually do a comfy 2,000 words a day, and have been known to sprint to the end with a 10,000 word-er. Obviously, I would ideally have had more time, so I didn’t have to sprint, but, after the first day, 5,000 words was easy and 7,500 a push but doable. I wound up with two marathon days right at the end, the last of which was a 14,000 word-er, which I am boasting about, because I have never done that before and do not expect to do it again (not least because I was a wreck the whole next day, and dreamed about dragons as soon as I fell asleep. Not that the second part is bad). It was a long day. And the whole thing wound up as a bit over 52,000 words written in 8 days. Yay Beaufort!

Could I have done that pantsing?

I don’t think so. While I may have the overall story in my head, I don’t have the details, and those are the bits I need to build the scenes.

Trust me, Snoopy. I’ve written worse.

Could I have done it with characters I didn’t know?

Again, I don’t think so. I know a lot of writers will include character interviews and so on in their planning, but I don’t know my characters until I see them in action. Getting them to tell me about themselves doesn’t work, because as soon as they’re in place, I find out they lied to me anyway.

Would I do it again?

Yes. It was fun, and ridiculously exciting to throw a story out so quickly. And I didn’t find the outline constrictive at all, which surprised me. Of course, I did consider it as a guide rather than a plan, so that might have had something to do with it. I don’t know how I’d do it with new characters, but I think it’d just be a much slower process and require some more tweaking as I went.

And now to wait until the editing starts to see if it actually worked…

How about you? Plotter, pantser, or somewhere in between? And would you try changing?

 

 

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.
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.
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.

Sunshine Blogger Award

Sunshine Blogger Award

Shiny!

I won, I won!

I’d like to thank the little furry muse, chocolate, tea – wait. Sorry, no. Not that sort of award.

Although I’m pretty chuffed anyway.

The lovely A.S.Akkalon nominated me for a Sunshine Blogger Award (isn’t it cool? And shiny??), and I’m both enormously flattered and a little intimidated, because I feel that this means I have to, you know, live up to this award, which sounds kind of grown-up and responsible. I’ve survived almost 40 years managing not to be grown-up (I couldn’t avoid the responsibility bit), so I’m not sure I’m ready for such big things.

However – I’m immensely flattered because I love A.S.Akkalon’s blog. She’s funny, prolific, smart, has inspired at least one of my own blog posts, and is fully prepared to survive the zombie apocalypse. These are big things. Plus she’s from NZ, which obviously makes her even cooler. If you haven’t checked out her blog, head over there and do so – it’s well worth the read.

So, there were conditions associated with this award (is that fair? Shouldn’t you just get to thank the cat and keep it?), so let’s see…

  • Post the award on your blog. Done!
  • Thank the person who nominated you. Thank you!
  • Answer the 11 questions they set you. Coming up next – you lucky readers, you get to find out the most intimate details about me, such as if I fear the kraken or the black death the most!
  • Pick another 11 bloggers. Okay, this figure is flexible, apparently. So I didn’t pick 11, but I picked some wonderful bloggers who are at the bottom of the post – go say hi when you’ve finished reading!
  • Give them 11 questions. A.S.Akkalon set the bar rather high on these, but yes, done.

Right, so – let’s get started on these questions…

  • What do you most wish people thought about you? She’s an amazing writer? No, I wish more people knew that although I’m really socially awkward, I’m actually quite nice and am not deliberately being rude. I’m just not very good at small talk, and get especially awkward in big groups. Plus I’m easily distracted by cats, or the idea that there may be small sentient beings living under your couch and stock-piling potato chips.

    I don’t JUST sit inside writing stories.
  • What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done? Such a big question. So big. So many things. Sometimes I think my life is a succession of stupid things I’ve done. Most recently, I bought a cat tree for the little furry muse, who scorns all things cat-related, never uses cat beds or scratching posts, and I’ve known this for the 7 years she’d deigned to live with me. She climbed on it once, when I put cat treats inside the little hidey-holes. It’s currently functioning as bulky, expensive shelving for keys and bags.
  • If you were a game show host, what kind of game would it be? Something involving kittens. Kitten agility?
  • Are you more scared of krakens or black death? Definitely the black death. At least you can see the krakens coming for you, and presumably if you get out of the water you’ll be okay. Unless these are a new breed of perambulating kraken, adapted to life above the waves and determined to enslave humanity in underwater factories and conquer the world. In which case I’d have to re-think.
  • What do you wish there was more of in books? Friendship – as in, main characters that aren’t intensely/reluctantly/eventually attracted to each other, but are actually friends. It does happen!

    Also me. Not looking too abominable here.
  • Where is your favourite place to read a book? Anywhere? Curled up on the couch with the cat and a blanket on stormy days, listening to the rain. On the beach in the sun in the summer, swimming in between chapters. In sunny spots in quiet places. Anywhere no one’s going to disturb me, really.
  • What is the most “you” thing ever? Hmm. I’m not sure. I feel like a contradiction in parts, sometimes. Sea and sun, especially as it relates to either sailing or diving, is very, very me, but so too is losing hours in a good secondhand bookshop, or getting over-excited because I found an awesome book on a market stall. Talking to cats and being scared of talking to people. Falling down a red run snowboarding (as in, falling down the entire run because I got cocky) and ending up looking like the abominable snowman, giggling the whole way down and going back to try it again. Sleeping with a stuffed toy. Hating being the centre of attention. Tea and cake. Hiking in quiet places. All of these.
  • Cats eating birds: more proud of the cat or sorry for the bird? Sorry for the bird. I love my cat, and I never shout at her for catching things, because I know it’s part of being a cat (plus she’s fat and it’s good exercise). But I always feel awful about it. Even a bell on her collar doesn’t seem to help.
  • What did high school English do for your love of writing? I was really, really lucky, as I had two brilliant English teachers in high school. They always encouraged my writing and were hugely supportive, even getting me into a national writing workshop, and never insisted that I follow any sort of ‘form’, but that I should experiment as much as possible. Thank you Mr Brady and Ms Aldridge!
  • If you could have a mythical creature as a pet, what would it be, and what trick would you teach it? Ooh. A dragon. A small one, so it could live in the apartment. I’d teach it to roar at people that try to talk to me when I’m reading or writing.
  • If you could have a superpower, what power would you choose? Breathing underwater. I’ve always wanted to be able to do that. And not get cold when I was in the water, either. Basically, I want to be Percy Jackson. I was so jealous when I read those books.
    The little furry muse on the hunt.

    Now to nominate some of the lovely bloggers I follow. This was trickier than anticipated, as I wasn’t quite sure who would appreciate the nomination, and who would maybe not be entirely enthralled by the idea. But, either way, here are the people who I believe deserve the award for being entertaining, inspiring, informative, educational, or any combination thereof, as well as just being all-round lovely.

  • Lisa Sell
  • Anna Adler
  • A J Watt
  • Hannah Mines – check out her answers here (also find out more about being a Library Warrior!)

And finally, my questions for the nominees!

  1. What book made you want to start writing?
  2. If you could co-write with any author, who would it be? (Or would you want to? Why/why not?)
  3. What’s your writing super-fuel?
  4. What’s your spirit animal?
  5. If you could be a character in your favourite book, who would it be and why?
  6. What’s the last book you read that really stayed with you?
  7. What’s your writing uniform?
  8. What was your funniest moment in life?
  9. If you could plant magic seeds, what would grow?
  10. What does your monster under the bed look like?
  11. What’s your most irrational fear? (Is it that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you?)

Thanks again to A.S. Akkalon – don’t forget to check out her blog if you haven’t already.

And since we’re here – any questions you’d like to ask? Questions for the little furry muse are also accepted.

Another happy place.

 

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.