September 25, 2010

Stars and Bells

Starred—starred—review from Kirkus:

PEGASUS. Robin McKinley. (Putnam: 978-0-399-24677-7)
Classic McKinley, from the original concept (pegasi!) to the lush, dense prose and the careful unfolding of a nuanced tale. In Balsinland, royal humans are bound to royal pegasi, intelligent winged horses. But despite this, communication is nearly impossible, requiring a magician interpreter and still fraught with failures, and so it has been for 800 years—until Princess Sylvi (small, spunky, overlooked and very bright) and pegasus Prince Ebon are bound and find they can communicate in silent speech. This almost stately tale laced with shimmering strands of humor and menace follows Sylvi and Ebon as they navigate a friendship that is of historical importance even as outside threats begin to press upon both their peoples. In some ways, little happens here, and the cliffhanger ending, on the eve of the eruption of everything, will leave readers desperate for the next installment. But in others, everything happens, as an unlikely but charming friendship across species changes the world—and, as with any great change, threatens some and brings hope to others. Magnificent and magical. (Fantasy. YA)

 YAAAAY.  ‘Magnificent and magical’!  YAAAAAAY.*

And while I’m being all bookish and professional** let me remind you that you have less than twenty four hours left to get your silly title in for a chance at a signed copy of A KNOT IN THE GRAIN AND OTHER STORIES.  This is not a judged contest.  You do not have to lie tormentedly awake tonight racking your brains for scintillating fruit loopery.  Any silly title will do, although preferably not one already out there on a book somewhere.  Details here:

Right.  Now back to the important things.    

Our new handbeller showed up again for our standard Thursday practise yesterday*** . . . I think we’ve got her.  Mwa ha ha ha ha ha.  Therefore I’d better give her a name:  Fernanda.  She worries me however.  I think I told you she’s a very experienced tower ringer who burnt out†, and is starting again after a break of several years, and thought handbells might be a way of making ringing shiny and new again.  It’s to her credit that she turned down an invitation to join the big kids’ handbell group—the ones who ring Great Frelling Catherine Wheel Spectacular as a warm-up and go on to methods so advanced and arcane there are no mere words for them—and instead pursued a faint rumour of a Dumb But Friendly group in New Arcadia.  That would be us.  But I have already begun to view her with deepest suspicion.  That amiable exterior hides the beating heart of a perfectionist.  I’m almost sure of it.  And the horror of having an immediately semi-competent†† fourth has already begun:  we’re going to be ringing bob major next week, when Colin is back.  Eeeep.  The worst of this is that since Fernanda is still the official newbie, she is going to get the easy pair of bells and I’m going to have to learn the lines for another two.  Stop that grinning, Niall, or I’ll put salt in your tea.†††  Although, speaking of Niall’s handbell grin, he told me at tower practise tonight that Tom, with whom we’d rung that (I admit) rather good handbell quarter of Totally Absolutely Plain bob minor some weeks back, and who is himself a member of the Super Frelling Catherine Wheel Spectacular‡ group, has been describing my ringing as precise and metronomic:  which sounds a little awful, but is in fact exactly what you want in handbells.  ::Beams::  It’s only taken me years, you know—and the trebles to bob minor are still the only blasted handbell thing I can ring reliably.  But it’s something.‡‡ 

            Meanwhile I’m a little discouraged about tower ringing.  The good ringers all seem to have moved to Birmingham;  we’ve increasingly got more bells than ringers around here, and the ringers we have got are mostly worse than I am.  I’ve already written about not minding ringing lots and lots and lots of basic stuff for beginners—it’s one of the things those of us who can are for, and we were all beginners once (although some of us took rather longer to climb out of that distressing state than others.  Ahem.  I have also blogged about my dislike of naturally really good ringers who don’t get it about the rest of us).  But—yes—I also want to ring stuff for me, and that’s not happening.  When’s the last time I mentioned ringing Cambridge?  That’s the last time I’ve rung it, and I only learn by frequent, relentless grind—which means I’m not learning Cambridge.  Same goes for Grandsire Triples.  I need to ring it over and over and over and over and over . . . and I need to do this week in and week out.  Which I’m not.  Whiiiiiiiine.  I was talking to Niall and Fernanda about this yesterday during tea break:  the usual recourse of people in my position is to find a tower that can teach them what they want, and commute.  The ME kind of means I can’t commute and earn a living and perhaps my priorities are skewed, but the earning a living still comes first.‡‡‡  But even supposing I was willing to commute we were still coming up a bit short of towers with suitable bands who furthermore are willing to teach visitors.  We’ve got at least a couple of crack bands in this area but they’d spit on me, I fear:  not only a visitor but an untalented visitor who needs relentlessness and grinding.  Sigh.  But there are still a couple of towers to try.  The more amusing possibility has another Wild Robert type as ringing master, which is to say mad, but he’s also more miles away.  Stay tuned.

            Meanwhile we did scrape together a touch of Stedman doubles for me tonight—and Leo managed his first plain course without a minder.  Yaaay!  Another Stedman ringer in the making!   I also had a kind of mini-breakthrough of my own.  We were bearing down on the end of our plain course and Leo had fallen out by a couple of blows—and when you’re that close, especially with a beginner who can use the morale boost of getting through it, you really want to winkle it through if you can.  Hey! I yelled.  You should be dodging with me!  He duly dodged, and we made it back to rounds.  Hurrah.  We were all congratulating him and Vicky turned to me and said, That was excellent.  Huh? I said intelligently.  That you said something to him, said Vicky.  This is something else you need to learn to do.  Vicky, you may recall, was instrumental in forcing me into Deputy Ringing Mastership. 

            It’s interesting, the business of helping other ringers by shouting at them mid-touch.  In the first place, if you’re someone like me, you’re almost never sure you’re right anyway, and ringing goes so fast that you have to be hellishly decisive if you’re going to say anything that is going to be of any use.  By the time you’ve made up your tiny mind the moment is long past.  But the second thing is—it feels so impertinent, shouting at people, even when you’re aware that you’re very grateful when people shout at you.§  On top of worrying about being sure you’re about to shout the right thing there’s this enormous resistance to shouting.  I’m not even sure how the right shout managed to burst out of me tonight.  But it did help haul Leo to triumph.

            . . . We will however pass over in silence Niall giving me dodging practise on a big bell.  We were ringing the back six, and I was on the fourth bell, which is biggish.  We were going to ring plain hunt on three for our beginners, which meant that the back three bells would just be ringing rounds—and could essentially go to sleep, which is what I promptly did.  And then Niall called for the four and the five to dodge.  What?  Huh?  Blah?  Arrrrrgh.  He had to call stand while I found my head and put it back on again, and Vicky, who was on the five, was sardonic. . . .  

* * *

* I did ask my editor if there was a link or could I post it and she said Kirkus wasn’t on line but yes.

** YAAAAY is very professional.  Ask any author who gets a good review.

*** Maybe she just likes the hellhounds.

† Silly woman used not merely to ring full peals but long lengths.  Full peals run three, three and a half hours or so of standing there pulling nonstop on your bell rope . . . long lengths are longer.   She said she stopped ringing them because they stopped being fun.  You mean they had been fun?  Would you run the definition of ‘fun’ past me please?

†† Gods I hate these people.  Colin is another one.  Can ring anything in the tower and can therefore have a go at almost anything in hand, although it may take them a little longer and they may make a few more mistakes.  Gah.  It’s hard being the reason why your group is the Dumb But Friendlies.  Bronwen!  Alicia!  Come baaaaaack!  Save me from the humiliation of being the only person who has to learn everything agonisingly from scratch! 

††† There are some perks to being host.  Aside from the weekly necessity of clawing the cottage into some semblance of order so I can risk letting other people in the door.  This regular urgency is a good thing.

‡ So is Niall a member, although he won’t admit it. 

‡‡ My obituary will read:  She was perhaps most famous for her twelve-book series laid in and around the country of Damar and her nine books about an alternate Earth afflicted with vampires and demons and were-chickens and so on, including four novels and half a dozen short stories concerning a young woman nicknamed Sunshine.  And the trilogy about a bunch of flying horses^.  She also rang a hell of a lot of bob minor on handbells.^^

^ Obits always get important stuff wrong.  Pegasi are not flying horses.

^^ She rarely admitted that she could also ring Great Frelling Catherine Wheel Spectacular.  On any pair.

‡‡‡  I of course being menopausal can live without food.  But the hellhounds need their chicken.

§ Nicely.  I’m sure I’ve blogged about the extreme grisliness of being shouted at not nicely.


Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.