May 26, 2012



IT IS TOO HOT.*  I didn’t sleep particularly well last night and I woke up when Pooka chirruped at me in that ‘text message incoming’ way, which I will sleep through—if I’m asleep.**  It was a friend telling me that I’d just been mentioned on Radio Four as an author who had used a hedge as something fairies come through.  The things Radio Four thinks of to create programmes around.***  Also, THE DOOR IN THE HEDGE is thirty years old—and sold about thirty copies.  However.  Whoever that person with a deep and surprising interest in obscure fantasy literature is, thank you. 

            Meanwhile, it’s too hot.  We were promised a Cooling Breeze and what we’ve got is a sirocco.  It ripped out the velcroed-on piece of screen in my bedroom window and threw geranium petals gleefully all over the upstairs.†  I daresay I should be grateful it wasn’t the geraniums themselves.  But everything I laboriously watered this morning wants watering again because hot dry violent winds are . . . violently drying.  Various long whippy green things needed tying up NOW before they beat themselves to death and I have a novel to finish in between the handbells and the singing for Oisin.  At the end of the singing for Oisin he said mildly, I think it’s time for Phase Two.  PHASE TWO?  WHAT DOES HE MEAN, PHASE TWO?  Seeing me starting to panic, he hurried on:  you need to face me instead of facing away. 

            Ugh.  Unfortunately he’s got me on this one.  I face away so I’m not flapdoodling overwhelmed both by the fact that he’s the real thing and I’m not and because the piano is so much LOUDER than I am.  I’ve got louder, and while a Steinway baby grand is still a whole lot louder, he doesn’t pound the freller, you know?  But the crucial thing is that I keep going on in my weedy way about making music with.  Making music, if you’re a soloist by neither ability nor personality, is about doing it with someone else.  In a choir there’s a lot of you.  But when it’s a singer and an ‘accompanist’, the accompanist counts, you know?  And of the stuff I sing with/for Oisin, one of my big favourites, and I want to work on it more when I’ve got more to work with,†† is Britten’s arrangement of The Ash Grove, because the accompaniment is so perverse.†††  And . . . I just like doing it with.  Even when I come in wrong.  As I often do.

            Okay.  Face him.  I can do this.  I can.‡ 

* * *

* And I have a non-eating hellhound.  Arrrrrrgh.  Although I think in this case it has more to do with the ingestion of cat crap than it does with undesirably elevated temperature.  This is why I frelling hate cats.  I keep trying to tell myself it’s not the cats, it’s their owners—and the frickfracking law that allows people to dump their cats outdoors and let ’em fend however they like.^  And while, yes, most dogs have disgusting habits and the fact that my hellhounds think cat crap is a delicacy is also not the cats’ fault . . . but I don’t want cat crap ALL OVER MY GARDEN.  Which is where I have it, at Third House.  And so far as I can tell, they have crap rivalries where every neighbourhood cat strains to outdo all the others.  The chosen arena is, as it has ever been, Third House.   When we went up there this evening about six cats leaped for the fence as hellhounds and I came through the gate—the frelling fence trembled.  ARRRRRRGH.^^

            Meanwhile, back on the cottage cul de sac, the hellcat has started targeting me.  When I’m out front, fussing with my pots^^^, he sits in his driveway, stares at me, and howls.  His people are home!  I am not necessary to happiness (and food)!  

^ If I had a two-pound coin for every person who’s told me complacently that they don’t even have a litter box because that’s what outdoors is for, I could buy the Isle of Wight.  

^^ Some forum person said that while if she had to choose, she’d choose cats, but she considers herself a critter person—sure.  Me too.  And, I suspect, most people who come out for any critter at all.  I think it’s that first yes/no that’s the most important—yes I want domestic fauna, yes I want something else in the house that breathes besides my human family+, if any, or no, I don’t.  I come down on the dog side, obviously, but I’m anti-cat because they are effectively vermin in this area.  I’ve told you, haven’t I, that the black cat that used to live on the corner of the cul de sac used to run under Wolfgang’s wheels, as we came home at mmph o’clock in the morning, so often than I had an actual plan for what I was going to do when I ran over it?  ARRRRGH.  Fortunately it moved house with its people—but a few weeks ago, coming home at mmph o’clock, a frelling black cat ran under Wolfgang’s wheels at the other end of town, which is where our nemesis moved, and I thought I KNOW YOU.++ 

+ This does of course also include plant life, even if they’re quieter about it.# 

# Someone tweeted me today that she’d love to have a dog but her significant other says that fish are less messy.  Hmmm.  Okay, you don’t have to sweep every day, but I’d rather sweep every day than clean out a fish tank ever.  It’s not just the enormous faff—and the way filters seem to exist to clog up or misbehave in some manner that involves gallons of water all over the floor and/or hidden invidious leaks that suddenly make the ceiling fall in downstairs—it’s the enigmatic quality of fish.  Other mammals are hard enough to read.  Dogs may wag their tails when they’re happy.  Cats may purr.  Fish?  The clue that a fish is happy is that it’s not dead.  

++ The other end of town is closer to the vet.  But the middle of the night emergency calls may happen pretty much anywhere in Hampshire depending on who’s on duty.  

^^^ And on the subject of the ‘I don’t live here and therefore these people and these people’s property don’t count’ tourist, one of my favourite examples of this behaviour was the day I heard loud voices under my sitting room window and saw one of my rose-bushes lashing back and forth as if it were in the grip of a sirocco, and when I went outdoors to see what the frell was going on . . . discovered some d—— yanking at the bottom of it.  There was an extremely anxious-looking woman with the d——.  I don’t think I managed to say, What the hell do you think you are doing?:  the d—— volunteered brightly, Oh, I’m just taking a cutting.  YOU F—— WHAT? I said.+ 

            He was offended.  He didn’t like my language.  )]#(*&^%£$”!”!!!!!  It’s not just cats, you know.  I hate people worse.  

+ Even aside from questions of courtesy, this is illegal.  Most modern roses—although I admit in this case it was not a modern rose, but I doubt this bloke had said to himself or his anxious companion, oh this is an old rose so it’s okay!—have what is effectively copyright on them.  I can grow the one I bought, but I can’t clone it and give it away.  And he’s stealing.  

** Yes, I sleep with my technology.  But remember Pooka is the phone number for the emergency button Peter wears around his neck.  

*** Although Oliver Rackham’s HISTORY OF THE COUNTRYSIDE is a fabulous book, and has a lot of hedges and hedgerows in it. 

† And speaking of undesirable indoor behaviour, and in answer to a number of people’s inquiries, I have no idea how my bats are doing.  I haven’t seen or heard a whisker of them this year.  And while every night I go back to the cottage and there aren’t any small furry frightened exhausted things with wings smashing themselves into the corners^ is a good night, still, I’d like to know they’re all right.^^  I haven’t made a dedicated effort to be, not merely in the garden, but paying attention to the significant corner of the eaves, some twilight, but when they’re in force you don’t have to be paying attention, and I haven’t seen them ducking and diving around either.  Maybe they’re just late—because of the funny weather.  I had them in April last year, which was early.  They’re supposed to reoccupy their nurseries in May. 

^ Or unfrightened, unexhausted things swooping around my chandelier. 

^^ Speaking of being a critter person. 

†† . . . I live in hope.  I will run to the end of Nadia’s miracles sooner or later, but I hope it’s later. 

††† Mind you, Oisin can provide perverse.  When my voice is in a funny mood, which it is in this heat, we often start with a simple, unBrittened folk song.  Oisin looks at the accompaniment that even I can almost play, and launches into the ad lib Stockhausen version. 


            Chaos threw up the extremely unlovely contents of his stomach and then . . . ate his dinner.

            That fish tank is suddenly looking pretty good.


Summer, gardening, blood and leg warmers


Summer arrived like a brick to the head two days ago.  WHAM.  It is now SUMMER.  We have SUNLIGHT.*  We have HOT.  Don’t we frelling ever have hot.  The temperature went from borderline frostbite to borderline heatstroke in about eighteen hours.  Hellhounds are cross.  I’m cross.**  The garden says, Whooooa, finally, and is rushing out pretty much visibly.  It (or they) also say:  WATER.  WATER ME.  WATER ME NOW.  WATER ME AGAIN.   WATER ME MORE.***  It’s been such a peculiar year, with a mild winter and then suddenly weeks of frost and then no rain for weeks and then nothing but rain for weeks . . . punctuated by the occasional decorative little further frost how charming.  This year’s geraniums, for example, which usually get on with it with great dispatch, have done nothing, and a lot of my annuals have done so poorly I’ve gone so far as to reorder some of them.†  Meanwhile, even in a garden the size of mine at the cottage there are areas that are working and areas that have clearly gone over to the dark side.††   Most of the edges at the moment look rather pleasing††† but the centre is . . . the sort of place you need Flowerhair and Doomblade‡ to cut you a swathe through first.  Rules to live by:  I don’t care how hot it is, do not garden in shorts in a very small garden that is TOO FULL of roses.  The phrase ‘bleeding from every pore’ occurs to me here.  OWWWWW.‡‡

            Which totally explains why I finally finished sewing up my first pair of leg warmers a couple of nights ago, pretty much simultaneously with the temperature soaring like a . . . raptor on an updraft.‡‡‡   I FINISHED SOMETHING!  I HAVE FINISHED MY FIRST KNITTING PROJECT!  YAAAAAAAAAAY!   —And we’re not going to get into the ‘leg warmers?  You know it’s summer, don’t you?’ thing, are we?  Hey.  In the first place . . . And your point would be?  In the second place, anyone who knits knows that things take time, and autumn is coming, and I need at least two pairs by September.  In the third place . . . I get these people saying things like, oh, I’m sure you’re ready to tackle something more challenging, you should knit a cardigan.  Actually, since you ask, I am knitting a cardigan.§  But I am not going to carry a cardigan around with me, and leg warmers are small and fit into even a small, discreet knapsack.  Some people knit socks.  Some people knit leg warmers. 

            And I want you to know that it is only my extreme sense of blog duty that compelled me to put LEG WARMERS ON IN THIS WEATHER.  Not to mention ripping a couple of the afternoon’s fresh scabs off in the process.  Arrgh.

There ARE lumps, but the ones visible here are the result of my not having pulled them smooth.



But I will wear them smushed up like this and . . . NO LUMPS ARE VISIBLE. This was the PLAN.


And the second pair is UNDERWAY. (I've got another row knitted now, waiting for photos to load.)

* Gosh.  Sunlight. 

** But then I’m always cross.  Hellhounds are mostly not cross.  

*** A bit like robins and mealworms.  And the first nest produced at least two fledglings who have grown to full size (although they’re still stripey:  stripey is good, though, the moment they show any red their parents will revert to territorial little despots, and run them off) because two of them were in the courtyard yesterday having adolescent tantrums at the kitchen door because the Mealworm Lady owes them.  I don’t know why it’s so funny—or at least I find it funny—seeing adolescents acting like nestlings.  From their perspective, they learnt that this is the behaviour that got them fed when they were babies, why shouldn’t they go on using something that works?  Although if they’re doing it at me, it may mean that dad is now fully occupied with the Second Nest, and it’s not working so well any more.  Wherever the Second Nest is.  Hmmph.  My nose is out of joint too. 

† In the hope that this will inspire the current tenants to pull themselves together and thrive.  Best trick of the season is that I have one snapdragon that came through this winter outdoors.  Snapdragons, while tender, hate being indoors, either the indoor jungle thing at the cottage, or the green/summer/house/shed at Third House.  This one is on the shelf in front of the kitchen window at the cottage where it should be getting a fair amount of heat leakage and it’s tucked in behind one of my you-don’t-mean-you’re-growing-that-in-a-pot roses^ which is probably as effective as bubble wrap.  Whatever.  It survived.  And it’s blooming, the gallant thing.  Pink.  Yaaaay. 

^ Phyllis Bide.   She really likes her pot.  She was more modest and tactful growing up a pillar at the old house. 

†† And Third House . . . . aaaaaaaugh.  AAAAAAAUGH. 

                 I have limited time for gardening because I have a novel to finish.  So that I can have more backlist in the attic. 

††† Because I’m seriously potbound in the cottage garden anyway I’ve indulged myself in a few of the acid-lovers I can only grow in pots—camellias, for example, and little rhododendrons/azaleas^, and while I probably shouldn’t say this out loud at the moment I have several live meconopsis^^—and my latest insanity is little Japanese maples.^^^  I’ve had one since I moved into the cottage but they’ve become fashionable so I keep seeing them everywhere and I already had a tendresse, not to say weakness.  I bought two tiny fronds of things this winter#, and they’re now busy putting out leaves and becoming tiny ebullient fronds of things.  One of them has deeply cut dark red leaves and is beautiful and elegant . . . and the other one has hot pink young leaves with an emerald green edge and is about the cutest thing I have ever seen in my life.  

^ But don’t tell Peter, because he hates them.  

^^ Blue Himalayan poppy.  They are amazing in person.  They are also a mega-mega-mega sod to grow.  

^^^ There is a rumour they don’t need acid soil.  I suppose if I’m going to start collecting the frellers I should find out. 



‡‡ This is not assisted by frelling Chaos coming out and looking at me interestedly every time I make an unseemly noise.  It’s so hot the kitchen door is open, of course, but the courtyard is full of little green things in process during a gardening afternoon, and hellhounds are extremely de trop.  

‡‡‡ There are probably important boundaries about self-reflexivity.  So you don’t fall up your own fundament. 

§ Give me a minute.  I’m not going to tell you everything all at once.

New Thing, aka KES, 12


The Story So Far…



Oh, McFarquhar, get a grip.  Somebody lets their dog wander around loose.  They’re not supposed to, but it’s the sort of thing that happens in the boonies.  Get used to it.  You live in the boonies now.

            Maybe it’s a stray.  Maybe it’s lost and lonely . . .

            Maybe they put something in the Golden Tippy Whatsit.  I decided the Friendly Campfire was a good place for me after all.  I could go to bed early and read something, something comforting, the way I’d done when I was a kid, when the funny shadow flapping across my window wasn’t Mrs Whortleberry’s laundry, strung illegally from the fire escape, but a nightgaunt looking for a tender young victim.  My Diana Wynne Jones books, many times proved nightgaunt repellers, were near the top of that carton . . . supposing I could find the right carton.     

            I looked over my shoulder kind of a lot as I walked slowly back to the main road and (successfully) turned in the right direction for the Friendly Campfire.  The sound of my All Stars slapping the pavement was eerily loud (also I have big feet).  The sky was so clear that in spite of the (feeble) streetlights you could see the great smudge of the Milky Way.   That was pretty cool.  Maybe I’d like living in the boonies and having the Milky Way for a neighbor.  Maybe a great-great-aunt I’d never heard of would die and leave me a gazillion dollars and I could move back to my city.

            I stared at the back of the van for a minute.  There was no way I was going to find the right carton in the dark, and if I took too much stuff out I might not get it all back in again.  I climbed the steps to cabin seven and said goodnight to my rose-bush.  I turned around and looked back down the street I’d just come down. . . .

            And there was the low—no, wait a minute, not so low—four-legged black shadow, not trotting, but standing still.  Standing still as if looking in this direction, near the entrance to the motel’s parking lot.  There might have been a raised tail.  There might have been pricked ears.  There might have been the glitter of eyes.

            I might have been losing my mind.

            I let myself somewhat hastily into cabin seven and turned the radio on to drown out the trees and the crickets and the pitter-patter of trotting shadow feet.  After an ill-spent youth listening to Led Zep and Nine Inch Nails I’d morphed embarrassingly into a classical nut.  On Gelasio’s money we’d had a season subscription to the Metropolitan Opera.  On the Friendly Campfire’s radio I could get exactly two stations:  the one that played Shrieking Monster Guitar Death and the one that played Turgid Gelatinous Maudlin Swoon.  I almost preferred the crickets.

            I looked at the silent television and shuddered.  I hadn’t watched naked, unfiltered TV in years.  I had learned to wait for the boxed DVD set—and watched it on my laptop.

            In desperation I ran a bath.  The Friendly Campfire went up in my estimation for the scalding hotness of its hot water, and the sound of the water drowned out all other sounds for several minutes.  I got in with a lot of superfluous splashing plus all eight verses of Early One Morning (I sing:  sue me) and then . . .  fell asleep.  Being boiled alive tends to give you vivid dreams.  I was apparently still worrying about Flowerhair’s skirmish with the attack mushrooms, because an origin story of her opponents assembled itself:

             In Ancient Times, there ruled a Demon Wizard Overlord so thoroughly evil that very atoms of his body were evil.  (Wait, said the Supreme Editor, who exists to make my life that of never-ending clash and combat, are there atoms in a fantasy?  Depends on your fantasy, the Hack Writer replied.  Shut up.)  In an Epic Battle, he was vanquished by the Twelve Heroes. They divided him up (note:  eww) and journeyed to the most distant Twelve Corners of the Earth (twelve-book deal!) to bury the pieces and purify the ground with their own mortal blood. Except one guy who fell off his horse and hit his head on a rock on the way to his Corner deep in the Deep Forest. His sister took up his sword and completed the task but wasn’t privy to the purifying the ground bit and wasn’t a Hero in any case. Unknowingly she carries evil atoms away from the site on her hands. And on the sword.                     

              Generations pass, a giant tree has grown up at the site, drawing the evil atoms (Supreme Editor clears her throat.  Hack Writer says hastily:  Particles.  How about particles?) up from the ground. It eventually dies and from the rotting log grow . . . *

              I woke up.  The water was cooling.  I can use that, I thought.  The sister has done the world a favor, although there will be a lot of whining when the news of the atoms/particles gets out, because being protected by a bunch of self-sacrificing Heroes is bad for your character.  And so the sister will found a School of Heroines, who are much more practical than Heroes, to deal with the new threat. . . .

* * *

* With thanks to Blogmom for the attack mushroom creation story.  —ed.



Of Blog Fiction



I feel that A dog is guaranteed at some point. 

Well . . . yes.  Kes is, after all, a parody of me—Kestrel MacFarquhar?  Please.  At the same time she’s had a life of her own since the idea of writing about her first occurred to me—since the idea of writing about her revealed itself as possible.  And she wouldn’t be possible if she didn’t, if you follow me.   But I’ve told you that one of the ways I know a story is ready to stop slamming around the inside of my skull and start going down (more or less politely) on paper/screen is that I can read the first sentence in my mind’s eye.  That was true for KES too—and I have never been married to a Greek geek.  And, um, no, ‘Greek geek’ only occurred to me as I was settling down to write this blog.  But one of the things that makes her possible, makes writing fiction for the blog possible, is that every time I have to make a decision—every time I’m not sure what comes next—every time the story wants a little help from me, I think, okay, what would I do?  What would I want?  Very often the response from the story is NO WAY JOSE but it gives us somewhere to start negotiations.  I’m a kind of tent-peg to pin the flapping thing down in this frelling wind.  I don’t myself feel you get to rip yourself off quite this blatantly in, you know, real fiction.

            But when you’re guessing about what’s going to happen, well, keep me in mind, as it were.  Although I am not going to give her ME. 


Or, to really make life trickier, she could find a stray alpaca. Good thing she has a van. 

Unfortunately the van is going home tomorrow*, although she’s going to end up with a somewhat unconventional (and possibly alpaca-friendly) vehicle.  Or anyway not the vehicle she had in mind.  The problem with alpacas is that I don’t know any.  I keep wondering what would happen if I tried to shine up to one of the local alpaca keepers.  ‘Hi, I write novels for a living, and I want to put an alpaca in one’.  I’m afraid they might back away from me slowly.  Or not so slowly.  I know lots of critters, so I’m happy to make one up till it comes alive and takes over—the dragons in DRAGONHAVEN are like that:  I knew that Jake was going to raise one, and I knew how that relationship began, and I could guess it would have a strong personality, but that’s about all I knew—but while your story is its own thing if it’s going to be worth reading by strangers, it can still only eat you.  If you haven’t got the vitamins and minerals it needs, it can’t grow that way.  I can’t grow an alpaca.  Maybe some day.  I love the whole guard-alpaca/llama thing. 

            There are a few alpacas at the critter shelter where Maggie works in SHADOWS.  But they barely have a (ahem) walk-on part.  Sigh. 


Still imagining Wonderdog versus the Crickets of Doom.
With the cricket chorus breathing like Darth Vader. 

City Girl moves to the country for the first time at the age of (almost) forty?  And plans to live alone?  She so needs a dog.  I’d spent a fair amount of my childhood in the country, and then boomeranged back and forth between city and country for a while as a grown-up.  When I first left Manhattan and went back to Maine (this hadn’t been the plan, but that’s another story), I had housemates, and I still remember the way the nights sounded out in the sticks again.**  Then when I moved alone into my little house in Blue Hill—and that was even in a village, although it was (then) a small village and I was kind of tucked away in a corner of it—THE NOISES GOT LOUDER.***  


Am I the only one who really wishes she had a copy of these Flowerhair books? 

I answered this already, didn’t I?  But since then . . . I’m trying to stay some eps ahead of what I’m posting, so I have some idea where I’m going†, and have recently written Kes remembering her first meeting with Flowerhair.  She’s like, what?  What’s happening?  —which is a fairly common author reaction, or at least this author reaction.  And I realised that I’m going to write that scene at least:  the what is happening scene.  At this point I have no idea if there will be more interpolations or not. 


Roses.  Methinks our heroine may in trouble… After all, you generally just start with one 

Kes is already in more rose trouble than she realises.  Mwa ha ha ha ha ha.  


Don’t stop there! What DOES K stand for? Kareen? Kiss? Koala? Kaiulani? 

Snork.  I would have been devastated if one of you had guessed (and posted it) correctly, so I’m glad you didn’t.  At the same time . . . how many birds begin with ‘K’?  If you’d twigged that the parody was deliberate and, um, not very subtle.  I had various friends trying to suggest more mild mannered birds and I was all, No!  She is a RAPTOR!  Kestrel occurred to me very early on but I spent some time dithering (and reading up on raptors) in one of my fits of oh-gods-maybe-I’ve-only-got-it-half-right.  But she is Kes.  She just is. 


What does the ‘K’ stand for?”

I hesitated.

This is the woman who said she doesn’t like cliffhangers?  

The blog has ruined me in a number of ways.  I didn’t use to like puns either.  But I can’t imagine cranking out a blog without getting to play with the language punnily.  And cliffhangers . . . remember that torturing my readers is one of my pleasures.  The blog is a lot of work, and I couldn’t do it if it weren’t also fun.  And it’s not like I ever torture you extensively, or for long.†  


Oh small towns. How I love and loathe thee. No one ever used house numbers – we lived in the “Johnson” house for a decade. My husband’s family has now lived in the same small town for OVER TWENTY YEARS and had 7 kids go through the k-12 school and they still aren’t considered “local.”  

Sure.  But your nosy neighbour will also bring your washing in when it rains and you’re loading up at Godzilla Foods three towns away—possibly including picking up that package of frozen raspberry and onion lo-gluten bagels she asked for.  You can buy fresh lobster from the fisherman who’s a friend of yours at the end of the dock, and he’ll slip you a moose steak when he goes hunting that winter, even if he likes to pretend you’re too urban to deal with either one.  Myself, I’ll take my neighbours knowing who stays overnight at my house (ahem) in exchange for my knowing that if I’m ever snowed in, somebody will get me out.  And twenty years, eh.   Twenty years isn’t so long.  I’ve been twenty years in this particular five-mile stretch of Hampshire and I am certainly not a local. 


Kestrel eh? Pretty odd name, but could have been a lot worse (eg something along the lines of Bliss or Desire (but beginning with K obviously)).

You mean like, ‘Kissy’? ‘Kasandra’? I wonder what other ‘K’ names we could come up with? An opportunity has been missed. 

Kalinda.  Kacey.  Kelly.  Katisha.  Remember I like Kes.  


Ithilien wrote on Sat, 19 May 2012 21:48
But is it a friendly or unfriendly shadow???? ::dangles on tenterhooks::


I know where I’m placing my bets but I don’t want to share my guess in case I’m right. 

Hold that thought.  I don’t write mysteries—although I think Cathy may have some evil plans, they may just be that it amuses her to see me jump and scream—but I’d be grateful not to have things given away.  But it’s probably only honourable to warn you that it’s a fair time before you see the shadow close enough to identify.  I’m not sure when myself.  It’s just that even tomorrow is still kind of a ways off and I don’t think it’s tomorrow. 


Would you have a problem with one downloading the episodes of the New Thing into one’s Nook? I’d hate to impinge on any sort of copyright whether it’s imposed by law or by the wishes of the author. 

How very nice of you to ask.  Thank you.  Extra points, a gold star and a very large chocolate brownie.  The short form is, as you already know, that I can’t stop you.  The very slightly longer form is . . . I want you to enjoy KES so if putting her on your Nook makes you happy, then please feel free.  The very, very slightly longer yet version is that I would like to hope that there will eventually be some official pulled-together version of KES, but I can’t see that far into the future, and at the moment she’s only about 20,000 words long ( . . . I told you I’m writing ahead).  You will be the first to know. . . . 

* * *

* Tomorrow in the story.  Tomorrow is a long way away in terms of episodes. 

** Right down the road from E B White.  Just by the way. 

*** Although it’s true I had a stream outside my bedroom window. 

† It also gives Cathy a chance to look over my shoulder before it goes public. 

† Unless you’re going to hold it against me how long it takes me to write proper published books.  Which would be very unkind of you.

Nonstandard Monday


Today has been a long spectacular hurtle that even almost six years with hellhounds ill-prepared me for.   I am expecting to fall off my chair and lie on the floor moaning and twitching feebly . . . probably before I finish this blog.  I can possibly semaphore to Darkness what buttons to press to hang it* but I do not guarantee my usual elegant peroration and epigrammatic finish.**

            I was so unnerved by Oisin’s praise last Friday that I’ve hardly known how to practise.  This is that old ‘something to lose’ thing.  The great thing about beginnings is that you don’t know how yet.  It’s all good.  Once you start learning anything . . . you have somewhere to fall.  Down.  It’s very frustrating having no particular talent—or in this case, voice—but it’s also liberating.  I don’t have to take it seriously.  I can obsess, because I will obsess, frivolously.  La la la la la la.  And (for better or worse) it’s not like I’ve discovered my inner Beverly Sills or anything.***  But there are increasing numbers of (fleeting) moments when there is maybe even something going on with my singing . . . and occasionally, thrillingly, a few of these moments string themselves together.  It’s not the high F in Che Faro—F is not high—it’s the terrifying sticking your head above the parapet.  This is your big moment . . . Noooooooo.  Eeeeeeeeep.  And I tend to sing it accordingly.†  Plus that ratbag ‘ben’ you have to sing it on, which is not singer-friendly and which does not help.  The other song I particularly wanted to look at is The Minstrel Boy—yes, I am a sap, sue me—because I start the run up to that first (unhigh) F without much trouble and it’s like ‘okay I can do this’ and then on the second run up to that same F I lose my nerve and get all thin and squeaky.  I think it’s something about emotional engagement—you may remember that this song got mixed up with Diana’s death for me—and it’s like suddenly, whoa, uh, no, maybe not.  But I love the song.  I want to sing it.  Singing is so frelling revealing, even when you do it badly.  Your Blasted Body Is Your Blasted Instrument, Get Used to It.  Um.  And I don’t know what Nadia did—I never know what Nadia did, even though she tells me††—but my last go through was rough and raw and rather awful, but there was something there, you know?  My problem is mostly about shutting down.  This was about opening up to the extent that I could no longer control it.  Speaking of eeeeep.  Eeeeeeep.

            The day was already going a lick.  I’d got down to the mews late (of course) and had my head down over my computer slightly longer than I should have and thus fed hellhounds lunch slightly later than I should have.  But they were milling around my feet looking for Mysteriously Dropped Chicken Bits Oops so I (foolishly) wasn’t expecting trouble.  Whereupon Chaos decided not to eat.  This was absolutely classic Chaos—he was clearly hungry, it wasn’t that he’d picked up some bloody tourist’s dropped chicken bones in the street yesterday—but some frelling ritual or other for a Monday in an even-numbered year when Aldebaran is in the ascendant and Jupiter aligns with Mars had been left incomplete.  ARRRRRGH.  At slightly after the last minute he ate after all YAAAAAAAY, and we then tore back to the cottage because I had an errand to run on my way to Nadia†††.

            I was at best going JUST to make it back to New Arcadia for Niall to pick me up and blast off to Curlyewe.  But I made it.  And then we sat outside the Curlyewe church for fifteen minutes because our handbell apprentices were late.‡ 

            We rang handbells till people started showing up for tower practise.  And then I grabbed my new tower.  And . . . the worst of it is, I like Curlyewe.  Nice bells.  Very nice bells.  And, furthermore, eight of them.  We rang Grandsire Triples.‡‡  The last thing I need is another Monday tower that is, furthermore, too far away. 

              And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to fall out of my chair. 

* * *

* No, you’re wrong.  If I can learn to circumvent the WordPress gremlins and hang a blog post . . . so can a moderately intelligent dog. 

               Of the local selection, Darkness is the one who is willing to find problems outside his immediate self-focus interesting.  Chaos . . . not so much.  Chaos does not speak the standard human-canine language.  There certainly are days when I shout YOU ARE THE DUMBEST ANIMAL I HAVE EVER MET . . . but I’m speaking to myself.^  Sighthounds have been bred for thousands of years^^ to make their own decisions.  They can’t be asking you for help when they’re flat out after a gazelle.  This has its drawbacks in modern urban life.  Darkness, however, is clearly trainable as most of the world understands dog training, and I am a Bad Owner because I am neglecting this because I don’t know what to do with his brother.  Chaos has his own view of the structure of the universe and while I am the centre of it—more theatrically so than I am Darkness’ holy altar of all—manifestations of his zealous dedication are his own and not particularly open to negotiation or adjustment.^^^ 

            Anyway.  If this post ends abruptly and there are a few short dark steely-grey hairs drifting across the margins, you know why. 

^ Today, for example.  I had a major hissy fit meltdown this afternoon—worst in some time.  Worst since I started singing when my computer is really pissing me off because screaming hurts my voice. +   The cause is that most of my ME symptoms, barring the really life-stopping no-brain, what planet is this, no-energy, never mind I don’t care worst ones, have all come back in a mean-spirited rabble, as a result of . . . wait for it . . . my daring to eat a little restaurant food with Fiona the other night.  I ordered carefully, it was a small meal and there was nothing in it I’m not allowed.++  All my joints hurt, sleep is something that happens to other people, and anything I eat makes me ill.  THIS IS SO GREAT.  THIS IS SO, SO, SO GREAT.  I was running upstairs at the cottage just before I shot off to a long rest-of-day series of events and one of my frelling knees gave out and I had suddenly  Had.  It.  Paroxysm ensued, complete with radical and substantial screaming.  This was right before my voice lesson.  It’s also a really idiotic waste of energy, when you already have ME. 

            I’ve never met a dog this stupid. 

+ I admit this works better some times than other times.  There was a fair amount of shouting at the Metropolitan Opera last night.  

++ Okay, what was in that tea bag? 

^^ No, really.  Salukis have been around recognisably since 7000 BC or so. 

^^^ See:  eating. 

** What?  

*** All right.  I admit it.  Siiiiiiigh. 

†  Siiiiiiigh.  Another category of sigh. 

†† Except occasionally.  When she invokes Teacher Secrets. 

††† My watchband broke.  Months ago.  It’s a perfectly good watch.  And they don’t make watchbands for it any more.  Finally about the third jeweller I took it to said that she thought their repairpersons could do it.  And they did.  But it still doesn’t close correctly and I predict the mend is not going to last long.  Then what.

            And so to cheer myself up, on the way back to Wolfgang, I made a lightning raid on WH Smith and bought . . . five knitting magazines.  Just to see what they’re like, you know?  The one I was looking for was Vogue Knitting, because they keep trying to sell me a subscription to my iPad, and I have this nostalgic craving to see it in hard copy first.^  On first glance, VK wins hands down for the yarn porn aspect.

            I need more stuff to read.

^ One of the ones I bought is American, so it’s not that imported knitting magazines are too subversive for the UK market. 

‡ It’s okay.  I was knitting. 

‡‡ Only a plain course.  But something went Horribly Wrong and I thought nooooooo I can’t even ring a plain course any more, kill meeeeee, but Niall told me afterward it wasn’t me, it was someone else.  Well, I’m sorry for the someone else, but I’m relieved to be permitted to go on living.  Even if I did make a, ahem, dog’s dinner of Cambridge.

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