October 31, 2013

Book Rec: The Professor’s Daughter, by Joann Sfar & Emmanuel Guibert


That would be graphic book rec, or if you prefer fabulous comic book rec.*

. . . Oh heavens, how do I try to tell you what a hoot it is, and how adorable?  Especially when my head is going bang bang bang as the inevitable result of two and a half hours in a dentist’s chair today.**  Well I can start by saying that it’s perfect reading for lying on a sofa with an assortment of hellcritters and a sore head***.

A charming young Victorian woman, whose famous father is an archaeologist, wants to go for a walk in Kensington Park, but has no chaperon.  Being an enterprising sort, she fishes one of her father’s mummies out of his sarcophagus, dresses him in tails and a top hat, and drags him outdoors.  They listen to Mozart.  They take tea.

They fall in love.†

Mayhem ensues.††

One warning:  the plot, such as it is, is very, very, very ridiculous, and for pity’s sake don’t expect consistency or for all the loose flapping bits to be tied up before the end.  Once you’ve got your seatbelt on—and your rational intellect sent off to read Schopenhauer†††—you’ll be fine.  But I spent the first several pages going, Wha’?  Wha’?  I don’t read much illustrated storytelling and am not used to the tropes.  It’s okay, I went back and reread the beginning.  But I hope you won’t have to.

I loved the drawing—Queen Victoria alone is worth the price of admission‡—and the text is full of divine one-liners.  I usually figure that anything in the first few pages doesn’t count as a spoiler but in a very short graphic novel, um.  However . . .  our mummy gets drunk on his tea:  ‘ . . . I’ve had neither food nor drink in thirty-two centuries . . .’  While he’s sleeping it off he dreams of his children, and they guess he wants to marry the pretty lady.  Maybe her father won’t agree to it, he says.  Why wouldn’t the lady’s father agree? they ask.  ‘Because I’m dead and it’s just not done,’ he replies.

A word here also for the translator, Alexis Siegel, who must have had a hell of a time in both the good and the bad way.

Go for it.

http://us.macmillan.com/theprofessorsdaughter-1/JoannSfar ‡‡

* * *

* I’ve never quite become friendly with the ‘graphic novel’ or, since they’re not always fiction, ‘graphic literature’ terminology.  Having spent my entire professional life being whacked around by one or another genre label^ I feel that graphic literature sounds like an attempt to civilise something that at its best is often enthusiastically and energetically uncivilised.^^  But I admit I don’t know fiddlesticks about that corner of the publishing world, so I may be tilting at non-existent windmills about this.

^ When are you going to write/have you ever written a real book?

^^ A bit like F&SF, for example.  Or what the Victorians did to fairy tales when they decided to dumb them down for kids.

** Yes.  Shorter than predicted.  He didn’t finish.  Moan.

*** Even if the need to keep the youngest of the party firmly trapped in place was not ideal in these circumstances

† Well of course.

†† Well of course.

††† Rikke

Schopenhauer at one point uses the example that in case of a child’s death a woman with a lesser intellectual capacity will suffer less than a woman with a developed intellect.

 The point being that the analysis and understanding of death and its consequences enhances the pain far beyond the mere acute animalistic pain. Thus the higher evolved the intellect the more the suffering. . . .

I’m afraid this chiefly makes me want to climb in my trusty time machine and race back through the centuries so that I can rip Schopenhauer’s head off and give it back to him on a platter with an apple in its mouth.  Of all the . . .

And just by the way I observe that it’s apparently only the woman who grieves?  Presumably there had been a dad involved in this situation?  Presumably men are pure intellect and don’t stoop to mere weak mortal grief at all?  Grrrrrrrr.

Note that I hated Philosophy 101 in college.  Just for reasons like these.  My [male] professors weren’t overly fond of me either.

‡ Although once I got my seatbelt on, the one place I was thrown out of the story again was by reference to Queen Victoria’s corgis.  It’s not Queen Victoria who has corgis.^

^ Okay, it’s a joke, fine.  Don’t joke about DOGS.

‡‡ And it’s totally cool to have a book rec about a thirty-two-hundred-year-old mummy named Imhotep on Halloween.  Eat your heart out, Boris Karloff.  Or Arnold Vosloo, for that matter.



I’m so glad it’s short Wednesday, I’m so tired I am in grave danger of falling off my chair.*

Also, I am in shock.  Which is very tiring.




It’s taken my bank nearly four months and they’ve still got both my name and my address wrong BUT NEVER MIND.  THEY APOLOGISED.  They’ve REFUNDED the substantial number and £££ of fines they charged me and have sent me copies of all the letters they wrote to all the people whose cheques bounced—including scary, credit-rating-ruining people like my credit card companies—saying it was THEIR FAULT.  NOT MINE.  THEIRS.  THE BANK’S.  THE BANK’S FAULT.


Good news.  I can USE some good news.***  And I can continue to contemplate the goodness of this news tomorrow during the three and a half hours I am due to be in dentist from R’lyeh’s torture . . . I mean, chair. † I think you had better expect tomorrow night’s blog to be short too.††

* * *

* It was a bell-ringing night, one of those nights when there were only six of us so all of us had to ring all evening.  You know retired people may still have some BRAIN left by the end of the day. . . .

Also my beloved Celtic-knotwork-pattern-cover cushion is going—has gone—to pieces.  There is no security in this insecure world where things wear out.  I am sure I am much unsteadier in my chair in the mews kitchen with my chair cushion in SHREDS,^ whether or not I just spent an hour and a half on the end of a bell-rope.^^  And I’m totally failing to get my head around replacing it.  There are gazillions of cushions out there.

^ It disintegrated all by itself, with no help from hellterrors whatsoever.

^^ One of the other ringers, whom I would have said I had never met before, stared at me for a minute and said, I know you.  I rang a wedding with you at Ditherington last year.  You’re the knitter.


** Pity they can’t make an itsy-bitsy further error, move the decimal place over six or seven or eight places to the right and make me wealthy.^  Then I could not only keep Third House I could build a conservatory off the sitting-room.^^  I suppose, having noticed one error, they might notice this one too.  No, wait . . . I pointed their previous error out.  I had to point it out.  Hmm.

^ And for those helpful people telling me if I’d only write this or that book/sequel I’d immediately become wealthy . . . in the first place *&^%$£”!!!!!! and the frelling horse you frelling rode in on.  In theory this blog nonsense—and the Twitter nonsense, and the Facebook nonsense, and the public email address nonsense—is so that public people can have some direct contact with their private readers/fans/supporters.  And vice versa.  Which seems to me to be mostly a good idea:  we’re all human beings first and last.  But shouldn’t there be some FAINT responsibility in that vice versa-ing, for paying attention?  Which is to say HOW MANY RATBLASTED TIMES DO I HAVE TO SAY I ONLY WRITE WHAT I AM GIVEN TO WRITE?   I’D BE ON SUNSHINE SEVENTEEN AND DAMAR THIRTY-TWO BY NOW IF I COULD.

And in the second place . . . SUNSHINE and Damar didn’t make me wealthy the first time.  There’s no reason to think that a second or a third or twenty-seventh book would do any better.  Remember that for every GAME OF THRONES there are 1,000,000,000 series that only did well enough to bully the poor sweating author to keep trying.


. . . an autographed book sale? I’m sure that the hell-hounds and -terror would cooperate to place ‘official’ pawprints.

Sure.  The minute I finish the last frelling doodle from the now-ancient-history Bell Fund.  Siiiiiiigh. . . .

^^ Have I mentioned that one of the knock-on effects of letting Third House is that I won’t have the little summerhouse as a greenhouse this winter?  I have therefore, with Atlas’ aid, brought the grow-light to the cottage and hung it from one of the big ceiling beams in the already-small sitting room, and in cold weather we will have to have handbells at Niall’s because my sitting room will be full of PLANTS.

*** There are way too many alligators in my immediate vicinity.  As the saying goes.

† On Halloween.

†† And apropos of nothing at all, any of you folk on this side of the Atlantic have experience with Lovefilm vs. Netflix?

McKinley FAIL


Fiona was here again today—she was here one day last week on the same task—sorting and packing up backlist in the attic at Third House.  Last week she was here on a day when the ME had me more or less nailed to some sofa or other with occasional totterings outside to allow hellcritters to stretch their legs and perform certain functions.*  Today I was at least upright and mobile–and downstairs gazing despairingly at bookshelves full of other people’s books.

I’m getting Third House ready for rental.  Yaay.  Not.

I realise it’s not the end of the world.  It’s not even not the end of the world as I know it.  But it’s the end of a little piece of the world as I want to know it.

I’ve earned my living as a free lance writer for—yeep—nearly thirty years.  But I’ve never been a best-seller** and I don’t write frelling fast enough.  I managed to buy Third House during an uncharacteristic little flurry of getting out a book a year for about three years.  For which I am devoutly grateful.  At least I do own it.

But at the moment I can’t afford to own it.  I didn’t have enough money to do a really thorough remodel;  I went way over budget as it is to get the frelling weight-bearing, which is to say backlist-bearing, floor put in, because of the building regs about weight-bearing floors.  And it turned out fine for someone who mainly wants space for lots and lots of books, but it’s not at all laid out for normal people with, you know, kids and families and things.***  So while I’ve been watching the bottom of my bank balance get closer and closer and plainer and plainer† I’ve also been wondering if it was even worth trying to let Third House, with its peculiar floor plan and paucity of bedrooms.  Eventually I went round to our nice local realtor . . . and the answer is yes . . . just.  By the time I’ve paid to have an assortment of small annoying problems scolded and told to pull their frelling socks up, frelling broadband installed, the (frelling) garden thumped into order†† and all that extra-frelling backlist and a few bits of furniture flung into storage . . . I’ll do very slightly better than break even . . . after about a year to earn back what I put into making it up to rentable standard.†††  But I think it’s probably worth it to have someone else paying the shockingly unhilarious council tax on a small not-all-that-old house that happens to be inconveniently located in a quaint village downtown deemed a Conservation Area.

Meanwhile . . . storage will be slightly cheaper if there’s less stuff to store and if I do some of my own packing.  Hence staring at my bookshelves and hence Fiona, bless her many, many times with yarn sales of extraordinary splendour and a satnav that is never wrong.

But I’m still not feeling exactly chirpy about the whole thing, so you’ll excuse me if I go to bed early with a good book.  One of the ones I brought home with me from Third House. . .  sniff. . . . ‡

* * *

* Days when the ME is bad it would be very nice if they were taller.  I can rebalance myself delicately with fingers resting on an alert hellhound head.  The hellterror, however, is probably roping my ankles together with her lead or using my knees as a rocket-launcher.^  It’s not that she can’t hurl herself six feet into the air after a squirrel, it’s that she can’t maintain it long enough for me to lean on her.

^ I was on the floor this evening being a hellterror-toy and Fiona said, are you aware that your right rear pocket is parting company with your jeans?  Yes, I said, that’s because the hellterror sticks her hind feet in that pocket when I’m carrying her under that arm.  And a good thing too, what she weighs.+

+ I had occasion to be carrying Chaos a few days ago.  He weighs barely more than she does.#  It’s just the long trailing legs make it harder to get him over a dog-unfriendly stile.

# Of course she eats, which might have something to do with it.

** Yes, I’ve been on the list a few times.  But these things can be both mutable and evanescent.  I’ve never been a best-seller like Ninety-Eight Shades of Chartreuse is a best-seller.

*** All three of our current houses together would be about half the floor space of the old house—and about twenty per cent of attics, outbuildings and garden.  Granted that was a big house, and bigger than we needed.  Still.

† Is it more distressing to have your monster super-global corporate bank jerking you around when you have a lot of money in it, or only a little?  Discuss.

†† I hope my future tenants like roses.

†††This is not the wild American back of beyond, but hopelessly over-civilised southern English village society.  Rose Manor wouldn’t get a booking in New Arcadia.^

^ But KES is going to make my fortune after all and then I can have Third House back.

‡ And I’m NEVER HAVING OVERNIGHT GUESTS AGAIN.  The sofabed at the cottage isn’t going to have room to open any more, after the twelve more boxes of books imported from Third House. . . .

After the storm there is singing



I think the frelling rain last night left bruises—hellcritters certainly wanted me to think so—but other than that we got off pretty lightly around here.  I have some seriously unhappy dahlias and a kamikaze geranium but I did NOT lose any of those huge unmovable pots I’ve got braced up in a foolhardy manner at the top of the outside half-flight to the greenhouse and the bins.  I took the little pots down off their various walls and posts and wedged them all in up there between bins, water-butt and house walls (mine and Theodora’s) and they’re all fine . . . so long as I move them back again before someone stumbles up there expecting to be able to walk on the ground.  Me, pre-caffeine, for example.*  I also, very late last night, got out of bed and padded downstairs and out into the screaming gale in my nightgown to unhook the frelling hanging basket from the front of the house.  It and I both came dripping indoors again.**

We do have some trees down and as hellhounds and I were sprinting off toward Nadia at 10:15 this morning there were several tailbacks where the road was down to a single lane:  the heroic road-clearers with their electric vorpal blades had been out since dawn, but they were still at the clear-one-lane-and-get-on-to-next-total-blockage stage.  Tonight the wind is still frisking around rather—making early compost out of all those autumn leaves—and the electricity is also still bleeping off and on, much to the consternation of our older technology***, and the internet did say hahahahahaha you must be joking for a while last night at the cottage.  But according to the meteorologists (if you believe meteorologists) the worst is over.

I made it to Nadia’s.  It has not been a good week, for singing or anything else—some of this will be brought out of the shadows, dusted down, its hands examined for stickiness, and introduced on the blog†—and I went in clutching my music with no great hopes of anything.  But I . . . sang again.  This is almost becoming a habit.  Golly.  I do feel I need to keep reminding you that we are talking relative here.  On an absolute scale where Beverly Sills is a ten and the East Water Vole Debating Society’s surprise performance of CATS in which Old Deuteronomy is played by a Dalmatian dog named Spot is a one, I am somewhere between .0025 and .003, depending on the kind of day I’m having.

This is nonetheless significantly up from being an ungradeable tinny wailing from the void.  I was trying to explain to Nadia that having any voice at all is disconcerting and in a weird way it feels like starting all over again because I have no control over it.  Yes, she said immediately, it’s like when you change up from the 14 hand New Forest pony to the 15.3 thoroughbred.  Yes.  That is very like—even if it’s a thoroughbred you got cheap because nobody else wants it.  It’s still 15.3 . . . which is a lot bigger than your pony . . . and it wants to work.  Which brings me to the next thing I was trying to explain to Nadia:  I now sort-of have a voice, which I have attained by ridiculous struggle, but here it is.  And there is apparently responsibility involved.  How more-than-ridiculous is that.  It’s like a dog is for life and not just for Christmas:  if I don’t give my voice regular exercise and attention it sits in a corner looking at me with large sad forlorn eyes.  MCKINLEY.  GET A GRIP.††

I still frelling go to frelling pieces as soon as I have to sing an actual song.  Let’s just stay with exercises where I have a prayer of remembering everything.  THERE’S TOO MUCH TO REMEMBER WHEN YOU’RE TRYING TO SING A REAL SONG.  And I don’t mean memorizing the lyrics, although when I do—usually inadvertently, from pounding through the poor thing so often bits of it helplessly adhere—that actually helps because it’s one less thing to have to remember consciously†††.  Meanwhile you’re trying to negotiate the jungle full of things with teeth of maintaining air space and support, keeping your huge fat tongue out of the way, melody, dynamics, meaning, emotional commitment and expressiveness, twiddly bits and so on. . . .

I’m presently rather madly floundering among not one, not two but three Mozart arias, all in Italian.  Well, I love Mozart, I can just about sing Italian‡, and the prospect of my ever singing Verdi even as an amateur doofus are not at all good.‡‡ And then Nadia told me I had done very well with my first German song‡ AND SHE GAVE ME A NEW ONE TO LEARN.


* * *

* Gwyn_sully

I hope none of you are at your best and brightest when you’re reading it and, if I’m lucky, making amusing/interesting/engaged comments on the forum.

Oh yes. I read this blog as part of my morning routine during the work week. Aka prior to caffeine ingestion. . . .

You can READ before caffeine?!?  You can make your EYES FOCUS and your BRAIN TRANSLATE THOSE SQUIGGLES BEFORE CAFFEINE?  I’m so impressed.

** I would probably have risked it for myself but I was having visions of a freak tornado throwing it through some neighbour’s window.

*** I AM SO GRATEFUL FOR SELF-SETTING CLOCKS.  Especially when frelling Daylight Savings Time has just begun/ended less than twenty-four hours before a major power-chopping storm.

† And some of it won’t.

†† The development of some kind of singing capacity is not unlike my struggles on the end of a bell-rope.  When I was a young ringing thing groping through trebling to bob doubles . . . progressing in time to the horror the horror of ringing bob doubles inside . . . the idea of ringing Stedman was beyond my capability to imagine.  And that was just Stedman doubles.  Stedman triples was something that only happened among superhumans.

Well.  No.  I ring Stedman triples.  I don’t ring it very frelling well, I’d better be on the one or, if it’s a only plain course, maybe the two and I’m totally dependent on the rest of the band being SUPERB to get through a touch at all.  But I do ring it.  This was inconceivable to me nine years ago.

You wouldn’t want to hear me singing Voi che sapete—or Dido’s Lament or Linden Lea.  But I am singing them.

††† Which is just great till I suddenly REALISE I’m singing the lyric from memory and then panic.  And forget, of course.  This happens regularly with Nadia.  Sigh.

‡ It sure beats singing in English:  all those consonants.  All those diphthongs.  But I haven’t given up on Linden Lea.  Or The Roadside Fire or Finzi’s Fear No More.  I am a sap.

‡‡ Maybe Azucena.  Siiiiiiiigh.  Stride la vampa is even in my Big Cheezy Book of Mezzo Opera Arias.  With Voi che sapete and Dido’s Lament.

‡‡‡ Mind you it’s taken something like six months.  Maybe more.  I thought I never would get my head around those frelling words.  And then quite suddenly it started becoming possible.  I still sound about as German as a chipmunk sounds like Brigitte Fassbaender . . . but I sound a lot more German than I did six months ago, and I don’t just keep breaking down spewing gggrrrrmmmmvvvvzzzzzgrzldblgggg any more.




It’s frelling tipping it down out there—no, hurling, smashing it down.  Anyone who either lives here or likes following global weather will know that the south UK is in for a hammering tonight.  The weather guys are permanently twitchy since the seriously under-predicted storm of ’87 that pretty much took out the south of England* but they’re rolling out ‘worst storm since ’87’ warnings now, although maybe that’s only foolish young reporters who were still in grammar school in ’87.

The storm wasn’t supposed to start till later but I’ve just had an undesirably exciting time driving back from church** where there’s so much water on the roads in some places that you’re effectively fording, with a bow-wave higher than your bonnet/hood and the water showing a deplorable tendency to slash across your windscreen and there’s enough rain there already thank you.  And you’re white-knuckling the steering wheel, which wants to sashay with all that water slamming into the wheels, and KEEPING YOUR FOOT DOWN on the ‘go’ pedal because if you get water up your tailpipe you will stall and then you are there till someone with a tow-chain rescues you, which is not a good position to be in at the beginning of a major storm.

So I’m going back to the cottage early and posting what in my case passes for early and short here before I leave because I’m expecting the internet to go belly-up any moment, and probably at the cottage first.***  Very possibly followed by the electricity.  I should be able to find torches/flashlights, candles, oil lamps and matches in the dark but I am so not looking forward to trying to convince an assortment of hellcritters that these are the current conditions, and the sooner they get on with things the sooner we can all go back indoors.

I’m supposed to have my voice lesson tomorrow morning. . . .

* * *

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Storm_of_1987

When I moved over here in ’91 it was still practically speaking recent because you can’t regrow old gardens and forests that fast.   I saw a lot of what it had done in Hampshire and Kent.^  And as the Wiki article tells you, that the meteorologists missed it has become a standard British joke.

^ And am in the process of remembering the storm itself, like I now remember the ’40s well as a result of being married to Peter.  The really weird thing is that I remember the American forties.

** Having had a pretty undesirably gusty drive to ring afternoon service at Forza with Wolfgang bucketing over the road like a cold-backed horse.^

^ The ringing wasn’t much better.  But for once it WASN’T ME.+  I held my line through most of my feeble repertoire of methods—there were only eight of us at full strength—while not everyone else successfully held theirs.  This might be more satisfying but in the first place it’s a lot more fun to ring in a good touch than a bad touch as well as less nerve wracking since there’s always the (in my case dreadfully justified) fear of someone falling off their line dragging you with them.  And in the second place you always feel crummy ringing badly for service, especially when it’s something the band ought to be able to ring, which it will be or you wouldn’t be trying to ring it for service.  AND IN THE THIRD PLACE while it wasn’t my fault, I’m an erratic enough ringer that things are more likely to go wrong—and less likely to recover—when I’m on a rope.  Good ringers can hold their rhythm as well as their line when other parts of the row are falling apart.  I can sometimes hold my rhythm on six bells just because I’VE BEEN DOING THIS FOR NEARLY A DECADE and most of that time has been on six bells.  On eight bells, forget it.  If the person I’m supposed to be passing or dodging with has drifted astray all I can do is go clang and look for my next victim, and hope that I’m not now so far out that we will fail to find each other too.  Sigh.  One so wants to be on the side of the angels, instead of the side of the bodgers—the side that finds itself using safety pins on its hems because it doesn’t have time to find a needle and thread, the side that finds itself making chocolate apple cake because it discovered after the shops had shut that it’s a little short of both chocolate and flour but it has lots of apples . . . the side that sets out to write a short story and finds itself writing a frelling trilogy.  I am a bodger through and through.

+ It wasn’t I, either.  This blog tends to be pretty colloquial.

*** I am so tired of living with wiring made of pipe cleaners and chewing gum.

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