Tag: creativity

Courage for Creatives (or, a love letter to my online friends)

Courage for Creatives (or, a love letter to my online friends)

Courage, my friends.

I know I say this as if I’m some brave adventurer, standing atop a convenient outcropping with one hand on my hip and the other either shading my eyes as I gaze dramatically off into the uncharted distance, or waving a sword around in a vaguely threatening and assertive manner.

I don’t feel much like an adventurer or a swordswoman.

Although the pen is apparently mightier than the sword, so there is that.

And I don’t think there’s too much danger of being marauded by barbarians, devoured by non-Beaufort-type dragons, or lost in unmapped and surely monster-infested wilderness this particular evening. Unless there’s a sudden reality shift, but so far so good.

Which begs the question: what, exactly, am I talking about? Why am I wishing people courage like some deluded explorer?

Well, life.

The creative life in particular, but also life in general.

That stuff’s scary.

This was the first image that stock photos had for ‘writer’. Really. This is why we need other creative friends.

And I have so much, honest-to-goodness, hand-on-heart, sword-presented-hilt-first respect for all of you, whether you think you’re nailing it or not.

Because you’re doing amazing.

I mean that.

Some of you are so on top of this life thing, looking after little people and running businesses and having your clothes on right-way-round, and somehow not even wanting to murder anyone – you’re amazing. You also scare me, and I’m not sure you’re not at least a little bit magical, but you’re amazing all the same.

Some of you are debating the wisdom of getting up today, let alone showered or dressed – and some of you will decide that the only course of action is not to. You’re amazing, too. You’re getting yourself through this illogical confusion of life the best way you know how, and that’s something to be proud of. Incredibly so.

Some of you are alternating between days that make no sense whatsoever and others where things seem to be coming together (only to fall apart again by 4pm the following day), and I’m right there with you. You’re amazing, too. You keep pushing through the what-the-hell days, and making the most of the almost-making-sense days. That’s not easy. You rock.

Life is hard. It’s complicated and confusing and scary and wonderful all at once, and we don’t all have the same armoury to deal with it. Sometimes we gain weapons as we go along, and supplies, and companions to help keep the monsters back, but sometimes we lose them, too. Sometimes we don’t have anything except ourselves and our own small voices, walking unpleasant roads alone.

How it feels when you first start putting your work out there. THEY’RE ALL LOOKING AT ME.

But isn’t that amazing? That we keep walking anyway? Sometimes it’s very slow, but we keep going.

And then, on top of all that, people quietly put themselves out into the world, with writing and drawing and painting and music and so much beautifully honest creativity. And they bear the fear of it, the anxiety of what others will think, not just of their work but of them, because what are our creative efforts but parts of us, held out for others to see? And they take the knocks, the sneers and the condescending advice, the being ignored and the being noticed by people that have nothing good to say to anyone. But they persist. And they find each other.

I find it astonishing. I’m reminded of this over and over as I lurk about the place on social media. All these amazing people that are not only finding their way along the paths of their own lives, arming themselves against the monsters as well as they can, but who are forming bands against the darkness, communities of other travellers that wash up against each other in the depths of twitter and discover common goals. And how wonderfully supportive they are, these people that shout back the monsters for each other, defend each other and share firesides (and often a very peculiar sense of humour).

Or friendship, which is the same thing 🙂

Anyone that thinks online friends can’t be real friends should spend a little more time in the creative wilds of social media. It’s beautiful. And maybe in real life we wouldn’t even be very good at having a conversation together or even looking at each other, but that doesn’t matter. We do just fine online, where we can be open and honest and a little (or a lot) weird. And we can find each other.

So when I say courage, I mean carry on. Carry on all you wonderful, beautiful people. Carry on creating amazing things and putting them out there. Carry on standing up for each other, and speaking out for each other, and loving each other’s work and telling other people about it. Carry on getting through life the best way you know how, and showing others how you manage it. Carry on exploring the wilds of the world and finding your way around the swamps and cliffs and dark places of it. Carry on even when you’re down to your last match and you can’t find any dry wood. Carry on because you’re wonderful, and amazing, and astonishing, and I’m in awe of every single one of you.

Carry on being brave and creative and confused and lost and strong and hopeless all at once. I think that may be, after all, what it is to be human.

 

 

How about you, lovely people? Have you found good friends on social media? Do you sometimes feel like being creative (and life in general) is a tough old business? 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!

 

#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?

 

 

Stuff for Sunday – Chemicals, Inspiration, & Flowers

Stuff for Sunday – Chemicals, Inspiration, & Flowers

Ah, Sunday. Time for this week’s collection of the weird and wonderful, where I share with you all the weird and wonderful things I’ve come across this week.

Well, maybe not all of them. This is a PG site, after all.

 

 

The Paris Review: What’s Inspiration, Anyway?

“You cannot write a poem until you hit upon its rhythm. That rhythm not only belongs to the subject matter, it belongs to your interior world, and the moment they hook up there’s a quantum leap of energy. Yow can ride on that rhythm, it will carry you somewhere strange. The next morning you look at the page and wonder how it all happened. You have to triumph over all your diurnal glibness and cheapness and defensiveness.”

The full article is paywalled, but there’s a lot that you can still read on the site free.

 

 

The Big Think: What All Those Chemicals On the Periodic Table Do

Never mind the fact that I won’t remember any of them five minutes later, it has cool pictures!

“Impress your friends and yourself by learning the applications of astatine (radioactive medicine), molybdenum (cutting tools like scissors), krypton (flashlights) and other elements.”

 

 

The Guardian: Quentin Blake on Illustrating New Roald Dahl Characters

“I was able to get really close to the Minpins themselves. Dahl mentions them having old-fashioned costumes, in brown and black, of two or three hundred years ago, and I suppose my Minpins are in a sort of confused 17th-century attire. They are also described as having eccentric headwear – another rewarding opportunity. And they are referred to as being present in thousands: that is easier for a writer than an illustrator. I hope I may be forgiven in the pictures for them being merely numerous.”

 

 

Flavorwire: Underwater Photos of Flowers Gone Wild

Not that sort of wild.

Although, they’re flowers. Being wild probably just involves them flinging pollen around with abandon.

 

 

 

What weird and wonderful things have you discovered this week?

 

The Magic of Movement

The Magic of Movement

Accurate depiction of my feelings regarding PE.

Just in case you’re new ‘round here, let me start by saying that I am not a coordinated person. I was the kid that was always picked last on sports days, could never catch a ball, and actually almost failed PE (Physical Education – I’m not sure what the translation to other English is. For us, it was those horrible days when you had to put on your very old, very stained sports gear and broken-down shoes, and hope you were ignored rather than picked on for the next 45 minutes). I don’t think anyone knew it was possible to fail PE before that.

These days, I no longer have to deal with sweaty gym rooms and hormone-loaded teenagers, and I get to choose how I move. Which means it definitely doesn’t involve balls I can neither hit nor catch, or team sports that I can never quite fathom the rules of. And movement, I’ve discovered, is a wonderful thing when it’s on your own terms.

Yeah, swimmings great. I feel so much more relaxed. So. Relaxed.

I never decided to be a person who moves. I just sort of fell into it. My first job when I left home was working in a dive shop, and that was active – not just the diving itself, but lugging tanks and gear and in and out of the water constantly. When I left that, I found I wanted – I needed – to move. So even when I was working on boats I found time to swim lengths of the nearest shore once a day (added advantage – sneaking up on turtles, barracuda, and even sharks before all the snorkelers came up and scared them away). Later, I started to run and do other little snippets of exercise, all very unplanned and disorganised, but it was the moving that mattered, not the rest of it.

Life, as it does, went a bit hideous for a while, but I still somehow kept moving. Not all the time, but here and there. It reminded me that I was alive, that if nothing else worked, my body still did. And when I started to drag myself out of the bad times, it was movement that kept me sane. Not moving to lose weight or achieve some bikini body ideal (I think I’m a bit past those days, anyway), but moving because I could. Because moving meant I was alive, and I had survived, and this body would carry me forward. And because, once the desperation had died down a bit, it was fun.

Layla believes all movement should be fun. And involve catnip.

Because it is. Moving’s fun. Whether you’re falling out of side plank in a circuit work out, or tumbling out of warrior three in yoga, or running down some muddy track in the rain, or splashing around in a pool – it should be fun. I think too many of us are put off because it seems like a chore, whether we enjoyed it in school or not. Or we’re so focused on goals that we forget to take pleasure from how we get there.

All of which is to say that if we can move, it seems a shame not to. If you have the time and the ability to make space for some movement in your life, try it. It doesn’t need to be much – if you have room on your floor to lie down, you can do a workout. Finding the time can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be long. It’s so hot at the moment that most of my workouts are around 30 minutes. I’m a puddle of sweat by the end of it.

Okay, weird writer person, you’re thinking. You reckon these things are fun. But why else should I try it?

Proper supervision is essential.

Alright, lovely fellow writers (and everyone else – we’re not the only ones that get stuck on things). Here’s the thing. Moving clears your head. Stuck on a plot point? Walk. You don’t even need to think and walk – just walk, and maybe something will surface while you’re watching someone do a terrible job of parking, or arguing with their dog about which direction to go in. Frustrated with your characters? A few burpees and star jumps will work that right out of you. Stressed out and tense from too much time in your head? Ten minutes of sun salutations may not completely clear it, but you’ll certainly be back in your body again.

Now, I’m not saying it’s a cure-all. I don’t even know if it’ll work for you the way it works for me. But I know that walking is about as close as I get to meditation (yeah, I know I said I do yoga. It doesn’t mean I’m good at it), swimming makes me feel like I’m returning to my natural element, and most of my bad moods don’t survive a heavy HIIT workout.

So what d’you think? Do you move? What’s your favourite way to do it? And does it help you?

 

Okay, that sort of team sport I can get behind.

PSA: Results can include mysterious sore spots (annoyingly, I don’t bruise. I’ve fallen on ice with all my weight on one knee, and had nothing to show for it. It’s very irritating when you’re looking for sympathy), and occasionally embarrassment (sometimes public, sometimes not). Plus little doses of happy.

Honestly Odd

Honestly Odd

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

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

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

She ducked every time I looked back.

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

Cats fully embrace their weirdness.

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

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

Why would this be weird?

Probably more than I know, to be honest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Feline Agony Aunt

Aunty Layla will see you now.

The human’s notes:

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

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

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


Aunty Layla speaks.

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

The lovely – and traumatised – Pepper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Correct employment of early morning waking techniques.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Silliness (& the Importance Thereof)

Silliness (& the Importance Thereof)

Enough said, indeed.

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

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

See? Peter Benchley started all this.

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

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

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

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

When we’re young we’re told to grow up, to stop being silly, but no one tells us that it’s not a life sentence. That there’s a difference between being childish and child-like, between being thoughtless 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.
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?

 

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