Tag: inspiration

Zen & the Art of Making Mistakes

Zen & the Art of Making Mistakes

In which I show you the books that inspire me to keep writing, in the hopes that all their good thoughts will rub off on all of us. Plus a reminder that mistakes are good, failures are just works in progress, and to always hug your writing buddies, virtually or in real life.

I hope 2018 is a fabulously creative year for you, and that, most importantly, you have fun in what you’re doing, whether that’s writing, rewriting, editing, or something else entirely. Because if we’re not having fun, then we might as well be cleaning the loo, right? And no one wants that.

 

 

Do you have any favourite books you turn to when you need a little lift, in writing or life? Let me know in the comments!

 

Writing Prompts & The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

Writing Prompts & The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

A video in which I get over-excited by a book.

Wait – does that describe all my videos? I think maybe.

Okay, so to be a little more specific – I talk about The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, which is a stunning picture book with a story behind it, as well as all the stories within it. I also show you some of the pictures, so that’s fun.

And, just to justify my picture book fixtation – this book is actually a treasure trove of writing prompts, so it’s really a writing tool. Honest.

 

 

Do you use writing prompts? What do you think of these ones? Let me know below, and please drop a link if you’ve written any stories inspired by these pictures!

 

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!

 

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.

An Unexpected Edinburgh

An Unexpected Edinburgh

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

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

Plus, Edinburgh.

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

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

5 Literary-ish Things:

View of the castle from halfway up.

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

 

 

Nicely creepy inscription above the door, too.

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

 

 

 

 

3. Scotland Street:

Scotland Street little free library. Perfect.

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

 

A bag of books. Oops.

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

5 Non-Literary Things:

 

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

 

Spring in Scotland.

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

 

 

An unexpected Parthenon.

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

 

 

The old town from the castle.

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

 

 

 

 

The castle from St Cuthburts

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

 

Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat

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

 

Writer Fuel

Writer Fuel

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it can be so pretty, too!

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

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


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

Love:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hate:

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

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

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

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

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

Balance, yes?

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

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.
A Blog About Baking

A Blog About Baking

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

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

But I do have a thing for baking.

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

But, baking.

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Bookshops, Road Trips, & Preconceptions

Bookshops, Road Trips, & Preconceptions

When we decided to head to Paris for a few nights, I had two things I wanted to do – visit the Catacombs, because they were closed the last time we were there, and visit a few English secondhand bookshops, because this has become a bit of a thing for me. Unfortunately, the Catacombs are conspiring against me, as they were closed again, so that left the bookshops – which was really more than enough. And as this is, of course, a blog primarily concerning the reading and writing of books, I thought I could make quite a nice little blog post about visiting them.

So let’s start with a couple of scene-setting shots…

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