October 31, 2009

Coherence Not Guaranteed


Due to one or two little recent events which I may have mentioned here, I haven’t been sleeping to call, you know, sleep.  There’s the semi-horizontal-in-the-bed thing* which goes on for a few hours in the wee smalls, but sleep is an inaccurate description.  I’d like to say I’m at least catching up with the last eighty-four years of the London Review of Books but . . . I’m not.  Every time I nod awake again I’m rereading the same blasted paragraph**.

            So quality of anything at the moment, life, hurtling, blog entrying, is a little wobbly.***   There were moments at bell practise tonight when I seemed to wake up out of a vision of palm trees and blue water† and think where am I and what am I doi—aaaaaaugh?††  But at least I have some automatic pilot for bell ringing—I’ve told you that learning change ringing is perhaps less about learning methods per se than it is about acquiring an auto pilot to ring anything at all—the naked-and-alone factor of both my frelling music lessons††† is severe.‡  At least you need several people all at once pulling on bell ropes to ring a method, even if it does take only one of you to wreck it.

            I still haven’t decided if piano duets are more or less appalling than having him idly sitting there listening to you.‡‡  I’ve been in such a flap the last few days that while having—once again—made an excellent start on this week’s pages of Warlock‡‡‡ the last two days have been a bit of a haze.§  Oisin made me play anyway.§§  Gah.  Frell.  Arrrgh.  The whole lesson today felt like coming in by yourself in ‘He Was Despised’ §§§—which is to say heinous and abhorrent.  But there’s a very different quality to the naked-and-alone factor when you’re doing it with someone else:   you’re not alone.  Duh.  Some evening when I’m a little more awake ¤ I want to pursue this further;  I’m probably more fascinated by the difference between With and Alone than most working stiffs, because most of you aren’t stay at home free lancers.  Most of you have colleagues, with whom you get along to a greater or lesser degree. The vast majority of my working life happens by myself.¤¤  I’ve told you this is part of the attraction of bell ringing for me:  chiefly it’s the bells and the noise they make, but this teamwork swindle is also pretty intriguing¤¤¤.   Piano duets are suddenly like singing lessons:  it’s a whole different animal from practising your piece of the havoc, er, musical creation, at home by yourself. <

            This afternoon, however, after having been goaded through several pages of bits of Capriol that I can’t play yet, Oisin said, you don’t really need any more of Bransles this week, do you?  I acknowledged that—since I’m only halfway through the first page even pretending to have learnt it—that I did not.  It goes on forever, he said, flipping the pages.

            I have the ‘primo’ part.  About four pages in the ‘secondo’ caught my eye:  it has some really grisly looking running chords in it.  Ah, I said.  No, give me the next couple of pages please.  It’s a fine old hallowed method of motivating the student to practise, having her espy an opportunity to make her teacher sweat.   

* * *

 * At least this is all happening in pink sheets.  If it had been happening last week it would have been in dark maroon sheets.  Dark maroon sheets are fine for sleeping in, but they’re rather oppressive for having insomnia in. 

** “Early in 1966, when I was 23 years old—married, with a baby, and a graduate student at Cambridge—my wife and I, tired of poverty, entered domestic service.  In exchange for lodging and a tiny allowance, we were to act as boilerman and char in a damp Victorian mansion whose chatelaine could no longer afford the retinue of servants for which such buildings were designed. . . .” Michael Neill, warming up to review Shakespeare, Love and Service by David Schalkwyk, from the 22 October issue.^  There’s no way I’d make it through the book, but I recommend the article.  http://www.lrb.co.uk/  But the lrb still has the old-fashioned notion that if you want to read its articles you should subscribe, so I can’t link you to the article itself.   Or anyway if I used my subscriber number to link here they’d come after me.

^ I too have worked as a domestic slave, er, servant, which experience almost made me a communist.    

*** I want to believe that the rewrites on PEGASUS, while trudging along a little slower than optimum, are nonetheless progressing in a stable and steady manner.  I have a fairly good chance of being right about this:  I’ve always been able to write usable prose dead, drunk, asleep, raving with fever, or all four:^  I just do it a little slower, and I possibly want to check the spelling rather carefully when my eyes are focussing again.  But it’s another of those proofs that I don’t make this stuff up.  I’m just the vehicle.  Some days I’m a Maserati.  Some days I’m a pony trap with one wheel and no pony.

^ Although I don’t recommend this as a method. 

† Oisin has palm trees and blue water on his screen saver.  I find this outstandingly disconcerting.  You look up from your Mozart and your^ Steinway baby grand^^ with the green English garden out the window at your elbow, and . . . palm trees and blue water.  It would probably disconcert me less if palm trees and blue water were my kind of fantasy.  Maybe I should give him a castle in Scotland screen saver for Christmas.

 ^ I wish 

^^ I don’t wish as hard as you might think, however.  I love my piano. + 

+ Note to self:  I must tell you the story of how I found her.  It’s just, once I have, it’ll be over. 

†† It seems to have been a long week for several of us.  We persevered through a long touch of bob minor where approximately three of the six of us were doing what we were supposed to be doing, which is not a desirable critical mass—I was one of the others—and furthermore I got stuck in one of those loops where every other call forced me to do another Evil Three-Four Down Single which involves stopping your steady descent down to the front and lead, dithering for two blows, and then grinding your way back up again to the back.^  Evil Three-Four Down Bob Minor Singles are the dread and terror of mediocre ringers all over the country.  We have nightmares about them.  We lie in bed on insomniac nights playing Evil Three-Four Down Single reruns across our mind’s eye^^ and whimpering. 

^ Changing direction suddenly on a bell rope is always a ratbag.  When you come down to the front and turn around, or out to the back and turn around—which is the basic line all methods are some variation on—you’re expecting it.  

^^ This is particularly devitalising in dark maroon sheets. 

††† Remind me whose brilliant idea music lessons were?  I must have mentioned it here some time. 

‡ I can see the attraction of orchestras.  Unfortunately I play piano.  If you want to call it playing. 

‡‡ Or out in the kitchen making a cup of tea and pretending not to listen to you.  I wonder if there’s a way he could play his half of the duet from the kitchen?  

‡‡‡ Bransles.  Of which half the fun is trying out alternate pronunciations of the title. 

§ I am so taking blondviolinist’s words about practising to heart however.  Fifteen Minutes a Day or Bust.  This now means half an hour since there are two instruments to abuse, but it’s an interesting thing, I find, that they tend to support each other rather than creating an Insurmountable Obstacle of Lack of Time—it’s more like they’ve attained gravity by there being the two of them, and they drag me to the piano bench^.  And once I’m there, of course . . . 

^ Horizontal gravity.  The physicists are still working on it. 

§§ Something about the way the sparks fly out the end of the cattle prod is very inspiring.^ 

^ There’s a Cruelty Module right after the Sincerity Module+ in teacher training college. 

+ ‘That’s terrific!  That sounds so much better than last week!’  —Sometimes they can even take you in this way if you’re not careful. 

¤ And, preferably, the PEGASUS rewrites have been successfully turned in 

¤¤ Semi-optional hellhounds.  They do provide atmosphere.  Peter doesn’t really count, because he’s doing exactly the same solitary thing I am, he just happens to be doing it in the same physical space. 

¤¤¤ Don’t quote me, but ringing exhilaratingly well with someone you don’t actually like is a strange and unique thrill.  

< [Ungleblarging WordPress won’t pick up my little house footnote symbol]  And I totally think the ‘accompanist’ is a full-ranking member of the performance.

Help update

Amazon has (finally) joined the modern world.

Barnes & Noble and Borders are still showing the old WATER.

Are we having fun yet?

Here’s my next unwelcome question:  is anyone seeing either FIRE or the new WATER on real live three dimensional shelves?  Possibly in clandestine, inscrutable places like libraries and bookshops?  Have the books made it out of the warehouse?   Someone posted to the forum that she’d ordered the old WATER, not realising there was anything else on offer, because how would she know?, and received the new one.  So at least one copy has escaped the Romulan cloaking device.   And I know FIRE exists because after relentlessly harassing my editor’s assistant (whose job it isn’t, just by the way, but I can only harry and beleager someone whose name and email address I have) she sent us three copies* . . . but we still haven’t seen the new WATER.  What happened to advance author copies?   Usually one or two of these just arrive.  You don’t have to hold anyone’s first-born hostage for them, or go to great lengths to make your editor’s assistant hate you.

But the day is not total waste and ruination.   Hellhounds ate both lunch and supper.**

 * * *

* Two of which were today inserted into the teeming maelstrom that used to be the Royal Mail and is now a lot of union stoppages and shouting.  These copies may never be seen again, and when our dedicatees’ pre-orders from Amazon arrive they’ll wonder why we never told them.  Actually, they may not wonder because they may not notice:  because everything about the current McKinley-Dickinson publishing situation doesn’t suck enough, the book designers, in their infinite lack of wisdom, have pasted the dedication at the top of the copyright page.  This looks like shit.   A dedication is a present, you know?  You’re giving someone something nice.  Or at least that’s the idea.   You’re not giving them something really stupid that nobody would want anyway so just park it in the corner and go away, okay?, which is what this looks like.

** This nearly makes it a good day whatever else is happening.  Nearly.  But they climbed out of their bed and came and milled while I was building their supper.  This doesn’t happen in the hellhound universe.  Not only that but after they’d eaten they hung around staring at me so intently–humans are also having chicken for supper^–that I cracked and gave them a little more and they ate that too.

What it is, I realise, is that I’ve wandered into an alternate universe.  This explains a lot.  Now, is there a version where the hellhounds eat and my books sell?

^ We don’t get the special grain-free kibble though.  Poor us.

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And, needless to say, tell your friends!


 Any of you booksellers or librarians or other book-professionals out there know a live body at Amazon—or for that matter Barnes & Noble or Borders—you can actually talk to and get human words from?  Preferably words that make sense? 

It is now official publication day for FIRE ELEMENTALS.  The six-year-old WATER ELEMENTALS has been given a new jacket (as you can see to the left of your screen here) and a new little story-intro and reissued with FIRE.

And Amazon—and Barnes & Noble and Borders and I assume every other on line bookstore on the planet—are still showing WATER’s old jacket and the old 2002 pub date. 

I’ve been screami—I mean politely pointing this out to Putnams for several days now.  And I keep getting emails from them saying, oh, we’re on it, not to worry.  This includes an email I received yesterday morning saying, the new jacket will go up on Amazon later today.

It is now tomorrow and the old jacket is still up there.*

Short stories (at least SF&F short stories) traditionally don’t sell all that well to begin with, unless you’re JK Rowling.  I don’t have to remind you that neither Peter nor I is JK Rowling, do I?  Reissuing WATER at all is a bit of a gamble—it’s a flattering gamble and even a reasonably sensible one, it making a pair/first two of a series with FIRE—but it’s still a gamble.   The only thing that makes the reissue make any kind of sense is that it’s getting put out there with FIRE. 

Only it isn’t.

And when the reissued WATER sells 2.5 copies and dies, there isn’t going to be a big red footnote on the balance sheet saying ‘it’s not the book’s fault, nobody knew it existed’.  It’s just going to show as selling 2.5 copies and dying.  I’m not going to say that this is going to make it harder to sell EARTH and AIR** when their times come.  But it’s sure as hell not going to help.  Not to mention being a waste of the shiny new WATER with its shiny new introduction.  And one hell of a morale-crusher.

So . . . is there anyone out there who knows anyone who might be able to flick a switch or press a button or hit someone over the head with a brick, or something, that would get the new WATER up on line?

I wish I were a better songwriter.  It worked for the guy who had his guitar smashed by the airline.  That story has a happy ending.

And don’t let my tone of mildness and rationality mislead you.  I want someone’s head on a platter about this.  I want a whole series of heads mounted on the palisade. 

I’ll provide the palisade. 

* * *

 * Shall I point out that the new one should have gone up several weeks ago?   Pre orders, building excitement for FIRE as the second of a series, and a new little boost for the old WATER and all that kind of thing? 

** And gravel, vinyl, time and roses

Pupdate – First Day of School

by B-Twin

The pups are now five months old.  Gee whiz they grow fast! LOL

It seems like yesterday that they looked like this:

Pups - Day 1

Pups - Day 1

Now I can barely get a picture of them they are so fast!



Yesterday Brighid and Bramble had their first real sheepy-experience.  I’ve been holding off because I didn’t think they were quite ready.  Starting dogs on sheep is fraught with risks – mostly that the pups will have a negative experience (a dominant sheep, for instance, that charges at them). A dog that turns tail and runs every time a sheep stops and looks at it is not a useful sheepdog!

There is also the possible situation that a pup/dog may show the wrong sort of interest. This may include behaviour such as running at the sheep rather than circling the flock. A good sheepdog will always bring sheep to the handler. Therefore the dog needs to be on the opposite side of the flock to the handler, or on the flank.

Generally speaking you start pups on quiet sheep that won’t be too snarky about the dog being there. The pup has to win every battle early on to build its confidence.

So, in the morning I shifted a small mob of Merino ewes (with older lambs at foot) into our “house paddock”^.  After they had gorged themselves on the fresh grass and were thinking about staggering out to sit under a shady tree for the rest of the day I walked down with Belle and the two pups. I kept Bramble on a short lead and I had Brighid on the long lead^^.

Belle did the primary gathering of the sheep (in shepherd terms: she “cast out” around them) and then as they waddled towards the exit I let Brighid have the freedom to trot off and explore. I was not disappointed when she quietly skirted around them at a safe distance, watching them intently all the while. Just as she was about to hit the end of the rope I called, “Stop!” and she did. It freaks me out a little as to how smart they really are. You can’t truly practise “stop” until they are in situ so to speak. I’ve tried to incorporate it in the lead training but it is a whole new ball game when they are 10 metres away from you and confronted with fascinating sheep.

We repeated this exercise a couple of times and then I called her back to me and switched leads on the pups. This time it was Bramble’s turn to be able to explore. I’ve had the feeling for a while that Bramble isn’t maturing as fast as Brighid. She has a short attention span, despite which she does learn things. However, I was again pleased with the lack of rushing at the sheep. Not quite the intensity of Brighid’s response but good nevertheless.

The sheep passed through the gateway and on the spur of the moment I sent Belle to head them off and hold them. Repositioning myself, I let Bramble go fully off the lead. She trotted calmly around the sheep until she got to the front of the mob (called “the point of balance”) and lay down.

I was gobsmacked. A good sheepdog is supposed to go to the point of balance, then wait before bringing the sheep to you. This little five month old pup had it nailed in one. And then she came when she was called.

I have hope… :)

So here is Bramble on the day she was born:

Bramble - Day 1

Bramble - Day 1

And this is her now:

Bramble - 5 months

Bramble - 5 months

Remember “Big Girl”?



She always was big… :)

Brighid - 5 months

Brighid - 5 months

Motherhood agreed with Belle too – she’s finally gained some bulk! (But both pups will be bigger than her before long.)

Belle & Bramble

Belle & Bramble

Because I had my hands full with the sheep exercise I had to video the pups later.

So here is 3 Border Collies buzzing past the camera.

And here is 3 Border Collies playing Wrestle-mania.


^ called such because it is in the “garden” but it really is “paddock” still – it just hasn’t been fenced off!

^^ it’s about 10m long

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