Radio Three’s Live from the Met[ropolitan Opera] series has semi-migrated this season. Sometimes it happens on Saturday as it always has, and which I admit is no longer ideal because I’m at the monks’ for most of it; but sometimes it happens on Monday. I am not in favour of the Metrofrellingitan Opera hammering me on a Monday. I have my dinglefarbing voice lesson on Mondays. I am feeling fragile on Monday evenings* when it comes on, if it’s a Met Monday night. It was tonight. And it was Madama Butterfly, for pity’s sake, one of the hugest soprano roles in the flapdoodling repertoire.** I’ve decided to devote the rest of my life to collecting pieces of string too short to save.
I went in to Nadia today saying, I am having a crisis. As crises go it is not an important crisis and since I have no intention of giving up singing it’s not really a crisis at all but I listened to my recording of last week’s lesson and TELL ME WHY I AM BOTHERING.
She said, I wondered if I should let you tape last week. You have a lot going on in your life right now and it’s sitting on your voice. Yes, you have tuning problems, and you have a habit of going flat when you’re under stress, that’s you holding on. You’ll get over this. That’s why you’re bothering. (Also, you love to sing.) And right now? Don’t obsess. It’s the SITUATION. It’s not YOU and it’s NOT YOUR VOICE. Sing. Keep singing. Um, try to enjoy it?
I stared at her, wondering how much I was going to risk believing. Okay, I said. But . . . how do you STAND it? I sound dreadful.
Only to you, she said. Yes, you’re flat a lot of the time. Yes, you sound worse than you did two months ago. But I can hear a lot more than you can hear. I can hear what’s underneath what’s weighing on you right now.
. . . Okay. Just to be going on with, I’m going to believe her. . . .***
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* Fragile isn’t really the right word. ‘First cousin to chopped liver’ might be closer. It astounds me that I used to go bell ringing regularly on Monday nights, after Nadia. I have thought that it was a sign that either the ME or old age was creeping up on me that I can’t any more but I think in truth it’s that I’m investing more in my voice lessons. I’m not becoming a great singer, but something is sure getting winkled out of hiding and integrated with the rest of me. This is a tiring process.
** I’m a late convert to Puccini. I’ve always liked Boheme, but I was also always a little cranky about what seemed to me the bogus gloss of verismo, and yes, I know, Puccini gets on the list of verismo opera composers, it’s what he does.^ But stick to the tragic love story and let the poor starving artists thing be a little background colour, okay? You can still bump Mimi off. Violetta dies of consumption too and no one has ever accused La Traviata of being verismo.
But I failed to warm to Butterfly. The ugly American aspect got on my nerves and Pinkerton bringing his wife along on his US Navy warship is a piece of suspension of disbelief I am incapable of.^^ And I always found Butterfly herself way too much of a blunt instrument for thwacking the audience into Tragic Mode. ALL RIGHT. I GET IT. NOW BACK OFF. I also heard Butterfly the first thirty times or so with Renata Scotto singing it and—sue me—I’ve never liked her voice.
I’m not sure what happened. But ten or fifteen or twenty years ago—it was in England but at the old house—Un bel di, that old war horse among old war horses, Butterfly’s most famous aria and one of the most famous tunes in opera^^^, came on Radio Three and it stopped me dead in my tracks. Oh. I can’t even remember who was singing it. (Not Renata Scotto.) But . . . oh.
The problem with having come round to Butterfly, however, is that the opera really is that emotionally manipulative and if you go along with it you squirt out the other end and fall with a splat like the last squeeze in an old tube of toothpaste.
^ Uh huh. Now let’s talk about Turandot+ and ::PET PEEVE ALERT:: the homicidal fairy-tale princess who kills a lot of guys but is INSTANTLY CONVERTED TO SWEET FEMININITY BY TRUE LOVE’S KISS and everybody lives happily ever after, except, of course, all the dead guys, including the slave girl she tortured to death because the princess is a bad loser. No amount of fabulous music can save this libretto and Puccini loses a lot of points for trying.++
+ And Tosca? Verismo? Please. A famous opera singer, her famous painter lover who is doing well enough to own a villa and the sociopathic chief of police. And all of these people eat, wash, sleep and dress well. It’s a melodrama.#
# I admit I can’t actually think of many operas I’m willing to call verismo. Carmen, certainly. Cavalieri Rusticana, which kind of started it all. Maybe Pagliacci, which CR is often paired with. Um . . . ~ But opera doesn’t lend itself to realism (say I), it’s not what it’s for. Melodrama is what it’s for. All these ridiculous people bursting into song all over the shop. It’s a tough job for realism.
~ McKinley, stop thinking. You have to go to bed.
++ And that it killed him is no excuse.
^^ Do your frelling homework. Show me a maker-up-of-things, and I’m assuming it’s as true for painters and sculptors and performance artists as it is for writers, and I’ll show you someone who has got it wrong in public in ways that, if they are prone to insomnia, keep them awake at night.+ But at least check the obvious stuff, okay?++ Cheez.
+ Ask me how I know this.
++ Illustrators who blithely draw dogs and horses and haven’t bothered to make sure they know where the joints in their legs are should be . . . made to hose down kennels and muck out stalls and hang out with the occupants of each till they learn better. There’s always a shortage of critter-care staff. So these pinheads could be contributing to society while they de-embarrass themselves. Call it a work-study programme.
^^^ And I’m sure it’s been used to sell loo rolls and coffee grinders and lawn mowers.
*** And while I was mostly still flat—and it’s not like I don’t know I have tuning problems, especially when I’m upset about something or feel overfaced by what I’m trying to learn to sing, BUT TAPING MY LAST TWO LESSONS HAS BEEN REVELATORY AND NOT IN A GOOD WAY—Nadia had a very good go today at releasing some of the seethe that’s going on under the lid I’ve involuntarily slammed over myself: by the end of the lesson I was making my own ears ring.^
My warm-up exercises hadn’t started off too well and Nadia stopped, looked thoughtful, and said, what’s your favourite swearword?
Um, I said. *&^%.
Okay, she said. You’re going to sing *&^% on a descending scale. Go.
*&^% *&^% *&^% *&^% *&^% *&^% *&^% *&^% /!!!!!!! I sang.
Excellent, said Nadia. Now let’s try a song.
^ I didn’t tape it today. . . .
I’ve just spent my blog-writing time hacking at an interview with http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/ which is reprinting Hellhound—which I will attempt to remember to link to when it comes on line. Although all of you have OF COURSE already read Hellhound in Peter’s and my FIRE stories a few years ago . . . and the truth of the matter is that you’ll also have read everything I have to say in any possible interview some time in the last six years on this blog, in most cases several times, if you’re one of the stoics that have either been here from the beginning or, on insomniac nights, read back to the beginning. But it might amuse you to reread some of it. I think I’m getting harder to interview as I get older. I HAVE NO CLUE WHERE MY INSPIRATION FOR A STORY COMES FROM. I HAVE NEVER HAD ANY CLUE WHERE STORY INSPIRATION COMES FROM. But the frantic desire to say something remotely responsive to some nice person who is paying you money* to reprint an old story may result in some rather strange non-answers.
And speaking of how totally hopeless I am as a self-publicist, and of links . . . the UK ebook of SHADOWS became available over a week ago. Have I . . . erm . . . mentioned this? Maybe I did and I’ve just forgotten. I can’t give you a link—you’ll have to go strive with amazon.co.uk yourselves—first because I do not go near my own pages on amazon, Goodreads or any other site where readers congregate and talk about books and never will, unless someone holds a gun to my head, which I would be very, very grateful if they did not. Secondly because I do use amazon, cautiously and guardedly, and I haven’t had any trouble with its denying my existence and cancelling my credit card lately and I would like this happy conjunction to continue. It’s one of those oppressively clever sites that recognises you the minute you sign on however—so far as I can tell wherever you sign on from: it took your virtual fingerprints with your name and address back in the day—so if I send you a link, I’ll be linking you to my account. I don’t want to log out to do it because I guarantee we would go through the you-do-not-exist-your-password-does-not-exist-and-your-credit-card-is-a-hellterror-chewtoy experience when I tried to log back in again—I’ve been through this—and I would find this wearisome. Just as I found it wearisome the last time it happened.
But the SHADOWS UK ebook came out on 5 December. So any of you foolish enough to be waiting for me to tell you it’s there waiting for you—this is how I keep eating: you would be forgiven for assuming I would tell you in an expeditious manner that a book of mine is available for purchase—IT’S WAITING FOR YOU. Go and buy several copies. Good Christmas present.**
And now for the piece de resistance:
Some splendid person on Twitter posted this and because I am a moron I forgot to write down who it was. If it is someone who reads this blog THANK YOU SPLENDID PERSON. I laughed and laughed and laughed . . . and then I went and punched a few holes in the wall because it is so true. It is so true it’s almost not funny.
For example, there’s a variation to number two, where the person the author is talking to says, oh, have you read X? You must read it! It’s just like your book Y, ONLY BETTER!!! —I still cannot begin to imagine what this person was thinking of. Since it happened to me***, and the person who told me to read X because it was like my Y only better, was a bookseller in a bookstore. Quite a large and famous bookstore in fact. And . . . I have as a result never read ANY of the novels of the author of X. Because I am a cow, and an easily traumatised, unfair-grudge-holding cow. Mooo.†
Number four also includes that the person is going to offer to split with you sixty/forty if you write up their great idea because the idea is the important thing (which is why they’re retaining the sixty percent) and you already know how the writing thing works so they don’t have to bother. There are advantages to living in a small unidentified town.††
And number seven: ARRRGLE ARRRRRRRRRRGH ARRRRRRRRGLE. Possibly my pet peeve of pet peeves: readers that do your book down because it isn’t the book they wanted to read.
Number fourteen: I came in from trying to answer an interview question about my writing process. . . .
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* Sure it’s a modest sum. The point is it’s any sum.
** There is a way to send ebooks as Christmas presents, right?
Oh. Cool. I might even be able to do this.
^ I have NO IDEA why this isn’t appearing within my account. Amazon just likes yanking me around. I knew that.
*** And this is one of those stories long-term blog readers have read before. It haunts me. Well it would.
† Also, you know, life is short and there are a lot of books I’m never going to read. I judge books by their covers too. Do I want to have to look at this cover in my house? No? Great. Don’t buy it. I have too many frelling books already.
†† And yes, it would take you about thirty seconds to break my alias, if you really wanted to. But that I alias everything does suggest that I don’t want to be found, doesn’t it?^ So don’t bother to email me and suggest coffee. No. I don’t drink coffee anyway.
^ It’s also fun. How else would I get to invent town names like Sagging Dormouse or Smedley-on-Cucumber? They’d never let me put it in my fiction.
I really need a night off.* So I thought I’d leave you with two Exciting Announcements and a few links.**
Peter’s IN THE PALACE OF THE KHANS has been nominated for the Carnegie long list:
And just in case you haven’t already bought your copy, here’s a reminder:
The ‘buy now’ takes you to amazon.uk but amazon.com and Barnes and Noble have it as well.
And SHADOWS is coming out in the UK:
EBook 5 December
Paperback 2 January
The cover will look pretty much the same and the blurby stuff has been rewritten but it’s still about Maggie and some very peculiar shadows. It should be available for pre-order by now.**
And if you wish to be encouraged, possibly inspired, but not to say hectored, pleeeeease read this:
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* You know there are several people out there who have offered guest posts and then disappeared. . . . Just thought this might be worth mentioning.
** You’ll have to look the link up yourselves. I don’t go near the Robin McKinley pages on amazon.
*** Or if you want to be reminded of my back catalogue you can read this:
I need something more nearly resembling a night off than my usual shortish Wednesday. So I thought I’d give you someone else’s story.
Someone tweeted me this a few days ago and I was avoiding work* or something and clicked through to read it. I really liked it. Don’t let the typos at the beginning put you off—as they nearly put me off—these things do happen, especially when you’re attempting to perform your proofreading late at night and you just want to hang the freller and go to bed.**
I like the way she’s taken a fairly ordinary things-that-go-bump-in-the-night story arc and made it real through her characters. I like the way the characters aren’t quite what you’re expecting. I like the seamlessness with which she makes her characters not quite what you’re expecting***.
There are more stories where this one came from on her web site, and she’s got a book for sale on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/City-Ghosts-Stories-Betsy-Phillips/dp/145369983X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382572476&sr=8-1&keywords=Betsy+Phillips+A+City+of+Ghosts
I haven’t bought it yet but the ebook is CHEEEEEEEAP and I’m sure I’ll decide it’s wasteful not to buy it.
. . . And just in case you need a Silly Animal Video:
Although my informant says it’s gone viral so you may have seen it already. I do feel that the human in question is a trifle naïve to have put that cat gym next to the door and then be surprised at the result. . . .
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** Ask me how I know this.
*** I may also be extra-disposed to like stories with porcelain-faced dolls in them at the moment because I’m reading ALCHEMY OF STONE.
I’m better. But I’m not enough better. Although this may be a good thing because I cancelled my dentist’s appointment for tomorrow—three hours, no lie, and at £300 a minute I’m expecting my entire mouth to be gold-plated with cabochon diamonds generously studding all the teeth that show when I smile.* If I ever smile again after paying the bill. Anyway. I was supposed to go in and be hammered and excavated and shot full of creepy toxic dental anaesthesia tomorrow, but I don’t dare so soon after a major ME shut-down day. I’m not actually thrilled with putting it off—now I have to go through the Approaching Dread phase twice—but because I am a clueless la-la-la brain I’d managed not to notice I have a handbell wedding—that is, a wedding I’ve agreed to ring handbells for—this Saturday. The three of us, Niall, Gemma and I, are finally only getting together for a practise run-through this Friday, the day before—and the day after I was supposed to spend three hours at the dentist. If I’m very polite the ME will probably let me do this: I have no negotiating skill with dental anaesthesia hangovers. So it’s kind of just as well it’s turned out this way. I cautiously went to tower bell practise tonight, which was not a total disaster although the brain was definitely deliquescent by the end, and Gemma was asking anxiously about the wedding (it’s her friend’s daughter who’s getting married). The worst that happens is that we’ll have to ring plain courses, I said.** And I may have to sit down occasionally. And we may have to shift to smaller bells*** if my wrists give out.† ME is just one big fat frelling har-di-har-har after another. Arrrgh. Anyway. I’m better.
Meanwhile it’s still short Wednesday.
A friend send me this a few days ago: http://www.matthaig.com/some-fucking-writing-tips/ ††
The link’s address gives you fair warning about the one thing you need warning about. If bad language bothers you, don’t go there: he does say going in that he’s just coming off a long gig where his only directive was that he couldn’t swear, and he had a lot of catching up to do.††† But the writing tips made me laugh and laugh.
Although this one made me laugh even more:
Haig also writes very good, very funny books. I even blog-recced about TO BE A CAT. I admit I am shamelessly waiting for THE HUMANS to come out in paper. I could buy the e version . . . but I don’t want to. I want to be able to drop it in the bath when I laugh.
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* Supposing there are cabochon diamonds, but I don’t fancy scratchy facets against the inside of my lip.^
^ I think tongue, cheek and lip piercings look painful.
** I ring methods on handbells, remember. Not tunes.
*** It’s a big church. Even big handbells are going to be kind of lost. Maybe we could stand on a large box with a megaphone. Handbell weddings I have attended previously have been at seriously quaint old rural churches, not some frelling urban monster which except for the exigencies of church hierarchy which I don’t understand ought to be a cathedral.
† One of the oh so terribly amusing things about Growing Old with ME is that you have no idea what’s frelling causing anything. Do my hands hurt because I’m having an ME flare or a rheumatism/arthritis flare?^ Discuss. No, don’t bother to discuss. Have a cup of tea and think about something else.
^ I read somewhere recently that almost everyone has at least some arthritis by the time they’re sixty. So I have lots of company.
†† I especially commend #1 to your attention. All of you who think being a writer is some kind of glamorous.
††† And—ahem—on a bad day I sound just like this. On a day when the hellhounds aren’t eating, the hellterror has just eaten another blanket,^ PEG II is dead in the water, it’s raining and the right-colour All Stars have a hole in the bottom, the house is full of spiders and my singing voice is full of crackly splinters I SOUND JUST LIKE THIS.^^
^ She has MILLIONS of toys! She’d rather shred her bedding! ARRRGH!
^^ If I can’t sing I might as well shout.
‡ Although #3? Feh. He’s a Brit, he can find a bell tower to join. And #9 made me laugh so hard I nearly threw up. You might not want to be eating when you read it. Or maybe it’s just I’ve heard from JesusRainbowUnicorn too. Although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Idaho. Possibly Yorkshire.