But what can you tell about a book owner from her books?
I have been heard to complain about the amount of trashy fantasy cluttering our bookshelves. But when we moved last time, Frood very kindly bought some new bookshelves so we had enough space to put out all of our books, about half of which had been in storage for years. He worked out, using the measure of length of stacked books, that we had around 1.3m for every year we’ve been together.
You can keep all your decomposing flowers, expensive chocolates and dubiously-mined gemstones: that’s romantic.
I have a couple of favourite exercises I do to get a firm grasp of any character I am writing. These exercises do not necessarily make it into any finished story —nor does the character, in some cases— but I find they work for me. One of them is the “what does he keep in his pockets?” exercise (which for one WIP turned into the “what does she keep in her courier bag?” exercise, as cyclists tend to keep not much in their pockets). You can tell quite a bit from what someone keeps in his or her pockets (or bag).
The other one is what the character’s living space looks like. What do they keep to hand? What do they have on display? Is it done for other people or for themselves? Why do they have those things? What meaning do they have?
Sometimes I look at what I keep around me and reflect on what it says about how I’ve changed through the years. My desk, where I write, is arranged differently from the way it was just a couple of years ago, and not just because we’ve moved twice in that period. Some things are the same —the inkpots, some of the pictures, the Penguin of Death— and some things aren’t (it’s a lot emptier now). It’s not possible to recreate a previous living space in a new environment, of course, but we also make very conscious decisions about what to leave behind and what to keep when we move house, and not just in the material sense of decluttering, or paring down to reduce the cost of the process. I imagine most people are the same in that respect.
Taken to the extreme, if a character had to keep moving, all the time, without having a chance to settle, what he chose to keep with him would be very telling. Then the two exercises I described above might become the same exercise.
I think I quite like what my bookshelf says about me these days. But then, it was Frood who stacked it for me.
Do check out his website. It has cool art and hypnotised rocks.
Blimey! It has been a while. Prolonged internet absence has made updating the blog a near impossibility. So what has been happening on Planet Sam?
In the last 6 months we’ve moved house, twice — as mentioned in this previous post, we moved from Edinburgh to Aberdeen last year as I was offered a new position in the day job — first of all to temporary accommodation and then into a wee cottage where it took nearly 2 months to get (very slow) broadband connected (although, on the plus side, we have open fires in every room, a garden full of birds, the perfect length of cycle commute and horses coming to say hello whenever we step out the back door, which is fabulous). Both Frood and I have been very busy in our enforced absence from the Virtual World. He has been looking for work and I have been getting to grips with a new territory and new responsibilities.
People kept saying to me: “I suppose you don’t realise how much you rely on the internet.” Oh, I did. I so, so did. At the time our internet went live I had been without a home internet connection since October last year. It has been frustrating, to say the least. On the other hand, it has given me the space to concentrate on other things and I suspect the experience will change my future internet usage. For the better. I know which things I missed the most and which I didn’t miss as much as I expected (cough FACEBOOK cough).
On the writing front I’ve already made more submissions this year than I have in the last two and am now a member of Lemon Tree Writers, which is proving most interesting. Frood and I are also hard at work on a comic that will allow us to pool our creative silliness into something we hope others will enjoy reading as much as we’re enjoying the process of putting it together.
In March we attended Hi-Ex, which was a great hoot, and definitely going on the repeat list for next year. Many thanks to Vicky and Richmond for putting on a great event and to all the guests for donating their time and effort.
I’m taking another year off triathlon, primarily for financial reasons. It’s an expensive sport, once you figure in the gym membership and travel expenses, and as I’m still working on getting my run fitness back, there’s no point investing in the rest until I’m sure I’m going to be able to complete a race distance. That doesn’t mean I’m sitting on my backside, though. This year’s Dumb Run has been swapped out for an away match. We are doing Edinburgh to Aberdeen instead, with an epilogue of Pirate Adventure Golf and, potentially, GoApe!.
I think that’s enough of a summary for the meantime. Hopefully entries will go back to being at least semi-regular from now on. I’ll leave you with a photo of a badger we took at the gallery in Inverness while we were up for Hi-Ex. We felt very sorry for this badger, who was probably a very respectable, fairly conservative mustelid while alive, and had been permanently fixed by the taxidermist in a position that can only be described as “provocative”:
As has become something of a tradition over the past couple of years, we’re spending Christmas away from (temporary) home in the company of family. As is also something of a tradition, we’re spending the holiday season in the back of beyond where there is almost no phone reception, so if you have sent me any text messages wishing me good cheer and I haven’t replied it’s not because I don’t love you any more: I haven’t received it. We do, however, have wifi and this year I brought a laptop so I can continue writing.
The lodge where we’re staying is amazing. Seriously amazing. I could live in a house like this quite happily. The only thing that could make it better is if it were a lighthouse, but I’m being picky. The weather so far has been fairly grim and dreich, so the light has been far too poor for taking photographs. Still, I snapped this shot of the view from the upper balcony in an effort to show the spectacular view of the torrents roaring constantly in the background. We sleep with the window open.
Yesterday Frood and I went out with the parents on a short but windy, wet and enjoyable bike ride to explore a little. Needing something that would fit on the rack, and with most of the noble steeds in storage, I was obliged to bring Shackleton, sporting his brand new wheels (more on that particular saga later). The thing is, I’ve put the Hutchinson Gold Cross tyres on him in preparation for the snows, and I left the 16 tooth sprocket on, so he’s currently rolling around with gear inches in excess of 70. This would be fine for the hill-free streets of Aberdeen, but out here in the wilds the roads come in lumpy. I think we did all of 6 miles yesterday and my legs are no longer speaking to me. I am seriously out of practise on fixed!
Finally, here is medium-sized Stitch (still on his Scotland tour) wearing the Stitch slippers Nick and Candice got me for my Christmas:
We’re packing up the flat today — to be fair, Frood is doing most of the work. Partly this is because there’s not much space to work with all the boxes and things stacked up all over the place, partly it’s because he has ninja packing skills and I’m rubbish; and partly it’s because I’m completely cream-crackered at the moment and feel like a limp dishrag that can’t so much pack as flap feebly at items in an attempt to shoo them into their boxes. I thought I’d come and blog a bit while he’s dismantling my desk. I am sure I’d only get in the way. Every time I offer to help he says no.
I was a big fan of speculative fiction even when I was younger. I read Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed when I was 10, although I didn’t really grasp all of the themes until I was much older. When I was at school I discovered Moorcock, and although I found the Elric and Hawkmoon books more entertaining (at the time), the series that stuck with me was that of Jerry Cornelius.
There is a scene in The Final Programme where Cornelius is attempting to infiltrate his brother Frank’s secret base somewhere on the coast of France, to rescue his sister. Some of the base defences are psychedelic in nature, blasting out hallucinogenic experiences that come straight from a bad acid trip.
When I saw this foghorn on the Torry peninsula Moorcock’s anarchic, polysexual superspy was the first thing that popped into my mind. I can all too easily imagine it blasting out rays that boil the brains of anyone foolhardy enough to approach too close, leaving them as dribbling wrecks whimpering about Cthonic colours and hyperdimensional clowns with spleens where their faces should be.
It has been a month of big changes. When we moved to Scotland — a return to home territory for me but a new country of residence for Frood— we initially lived in Fife. I was born and mostly raised in Fife (even if my most potent childhood memories are all of the west coast, Highlands and Islands), so the territory was one with which I was gratefully familiar. It’s hard enough making a change of job that significant without having to learn a new geography as well, at least when the job requires a good local knowledge.
After a year or so I transferred to Edinburgh, as Frood was working there and was tired of the lengthy commute and the seasonal rail fares taking up a significant chunk of his monthly pay. We’ve been living and working in and around Edinburgh for four years, which is by no means the least time I’ve spent in any one place, although it’s towards the bottom of the scale.
I am restless by nature, easily bored and always looking for the next intellectual challenge. I doubt I will ever be satisfied with going in to work to do the same thing day after day. My comfort zone is not static. It’s more of a bouncy castle, floating in a swimming pool on the deck of an ocean liner in the middle of a storm.
Fortunately, just as my feet were growing itchy again, the desire to get back to dealing with the technical specialisms of water pricking at their otherwise insensitive soles, an opportunity came along.
This month we’re in the process of upping sticks and moving to where granite rock glistens in the salt spray of the North Sea and radon seeps from the ground in quantities insufficient to have any significant health implications, never mind be enough to activate the Marveliser (dammit). Here the local tongue is the Doric and I will be as linguistically handicapped as Frood, for my knowledge of the Doric starts and ends with poorly-remembered episodes of Scotland the What? from an old audio cassette we used to have.
I have managed to get lost three times in the last week, a decent sense of direction apparently being insufficient when there is a complete lack of familiar place names and/or landmarks. I am learning that it gets dark damnably early, especially since the clocks went back, and that the warnings about it being cold did not take into account the preferences of a cryophiliac like me. My ride to work in the mornings is short enough that I arrive before I’ve really got going. The supermarkets have the same names above the entrance and yet their selection of goods is both entirely expected and unfamiliar: along with the dubious pre-packed pizzas and DVDs for £3 I can buy daikon radish at the Morrison’s on King Street —an item of exotica never seen in Granton’s Waterfront Broadway store— and, wondrous wonder, CR2032 batteries, yet I cannot buy gluten-free plain flour there. The Sainsbury’s in Berryden, in addition to the usual range of chocolate and teabags, sells special handles for poach pods but doesn’t have any Spanish smoked paprika or Clearspring white miso.
Cultural and consumable differences aside, what has struck me the most is something both more and less mundane:
That’s the view from my office window. This is my lunchtime run route.
I think I’m going to like it here. I hope Frood will, too.
Now I just need to find somewhere selling Celestial Seasonings Apple and Cinnamon Spice tea.
On Monday of this week it was Frood‘s and my twentieth anniversary. Two decades, five weeks and five days exactly had passed since we first met; twenty years two weeks and five days since we got engaged; and thirteen years exactly since we got together with friends in a circle of stones millenia old and promised to do our best to make one another happy for the rest of our lives.
For our twentieth anniversary we made it official and legal in a manner recognised by the state. In other words, we got married.
We were lucky with the weather: it was the warmest day of the year so far and the sun shone for us. There was nothing traditional about it save for the exchanging of rings — the bride and groom would have been the first ones there if we hadn’t had our friend Andy staying with us.
I did, however, manage to resist the urge to have GLaDOS sing “This was a triumph” as I entered.
My thanks to everyone who sent us good wishes, cards, gifts and luck on the day. My especial thanks to Calum and Puzzle, Will, Andy, Neil, my brother Nick and of course my parents for making it a special day to treasure. It was a good day — a great day — because they made it one. Seriously guys, you are all awesome and I’m incredibly lucky to have friends and family like you.
Here’s to at least another twenty years of what Red Stags Morris once called, with visible relief, mutually assured distraction.
I have a minor Stitch obsession, as a few of you might know. This one I got not that long ago. He came inside a massive mug covered in Stitch faces. He is referred to as ‘Scruffy Little Stitch’ to distinguish him from the various other Stitch incarnations in the house, including, most recently, MegaStitch (there will be a picture of him along later).
Scruffy Little Stitch lives on my desk along with the Penguin of Death and the Lara Croft figurine. He’s one of my favourites, despite his small size, because he always looks like he’s holding his arms out for a hug.
At some point Frood put him on the Gorillapod he bought me for my birthday. Stitch then refused to come down — perching up there despite me thumping the desk quite hard — reminding me of the plush Cthulhu we put above the fireplace in Devon as a Christmas decoration one year. He wouldn’t come down, either. He stayed up there for 18 months or so.
He has a particularly smug look about him in this photograph. Either he’s pleased with my word count or he knows something he’s not telling. Being a suspicious cow, I suspect the latter.
Once I’d taken his picture he came down all by himself. He just wanted his picture taken. Such an exhibitionist.
Oh, and this is Christmas Cthulhu. I think I might have been slightly squiffy at the time:
“Urgh, gerroff. You’re lying on my food.”
“I’m not lying on your food, I’m lying on your ribcage.”
“And it’s pressing all my food over. I have a food baby.”
“You have a salad baby?”
“And maybe a pie baby. Because of the half a dozen mini pork and pickle pies I bought in the shop.”
“YOU HAD SIX PIES?”
“No. I had one pie.”
“You said you had six!”
“I bought six. I had one.”
“What happened to the rest?”
“I was mugged.”
“You were mugged.”
“Yes. By a bat.”
“Yes. It swooped down and mugged me for a pie.”
“But that’s one pie.”
“Then I was mugged by a doggage. It swooped down too.”
“A swooping doggage?”
“And the next pie?”
“I was mugged by a cathedral.”
“Did it swoop too?”
“No, it was lurking.”
“Okay, so that’s four pies. What about the fifth pie?”
“I was mugged by a band of unruly elementary particles. They wafted in and stole it. I don’t know what sort they were because they were too small to see.”
“Elementary particles. Right. What about the fifth pie?”
“That was han archangel.”
“Really. Which one? Because I’ll ask them.”
“The archangel Piethief.”
“Are you sure you didn’t just nom all the pies yourself?”
“No! I only had one pie, the pie you saw me eating. I didn’t buy half a dozen pies and schrompf them all, oh no. I was mugged. By a bat and a swooping doggage…”
“And a cathedral.”
Note that you too can share in the brain-melting world of Frood by following him on twitter. Good luck and be warned: it’s catching.
My last day of work before the New Year’s break had Munky emailing me to inform me that my birthday present had been nabbed by customs. My birthday was way back in November, and I knew he was getting me something because he’d told me it was going to be late, so you can imagine that the sense of intrigue was somewhat fierce by this point. Being told that it had failed to get through customs made this even more so.
Shortly after I got home Frood emailed me, subject line: “You can has claws!” I opened said email and found the following message and attachment.
“Didn’t get through postal customs.”
At this point I jumped to an over-excited conclusion. Because the man in the picture is wearing trousers very similar to the ones Frood had been wearing when he left for work and I’d received that mail from Munky explaining that my birthday present had been caught by customs, I figured that Munky had got these for me as a birthday present and sent them to Frood because he works in a postroom, Frood had taken delivery and this was a picture that a colleague had taken on his phone.
I was so excited. I had visions of filling a room full of cardboard boxes painted as ninjas and running around yelling “Meega nala kweesta!” and “Snickt, bub!”
I mailed Frood back immediately, peppering him with questions, no doubt sowing the seeds of confusion. His response:
“No, they are from a news story. They were seized at the international mail hub in Coventry. So you can’t actually have any claws. “
Only, in my now-disappointed excitement, I failed to see the first sentence and fired back another email suggesting that perhaps all we had to do was present ID to the post office and pay the duty charges and we could get them through. Then I grabbed the phone and called Munky.
Munky: Hey you! How are you?
Me: Never mind that. What’s this about claws?
Me: The claws! The claws stuck in customs!
And then the whole sorry story came out and finally, with Munky gasping for breath in hilarity at how I had been beaten very profoundly with the coincidence stick until I’d grasped the wrong end of it and clung on like a kitten with a catnip mouse, I realised that I could not, in fact, has claws. At all.
And I still don’t know what he’s getting me for my birthday.