Fair winds and a prosperous voyage

Good luck to everybody preparing to set sail on the good ship NaNoWriMo!

I won’t be taking part, having found several years ago that such a gigantic wordcount was incompatible with a full-time job, at least for me. Besides, I hit fifty thousand words half-way through September (well, I did start in March…) I remember it being tremendous fun, though, and the combination of low stakes, an ambitious target, and a community of enthusiastic people, was a potent mixture.

If you’re writing a novel this November I hope you have a fabulous time.

Crossing the meseta, a rant that isn’t really a rant, and a status update

The meseta
The meseta

The film The Way follows a baby boomer dentist, played by Martin Sheen, and some acquaintances he picks up along the way, along the Camino Francés to Santiago de Compostela.

I am the worst person with whom to watch it – well, me and every other returned pilgrim, I suppose – because I find it difficult to restrain myself from giving a running commentary on every building and geographical feature I recognise. And, at a little more than half way through, screaming, ‘Where’s the meseta gone?’

The meseta is the plain that takes up a lot of Castile and a significant distance of the Camino – nearly two weeks, at the speed we went. It is day after day of flat, grinding, almost featureless, path. It’s either hot and dusty, as it was when we walked it, or bitingly cold, as it will be when my brother cycles it in November. There is an awful lot of it, and it goes on, and on, and on.

You wouldn’t know this from The Way. Oh, there are some shots of cornfields and what have you, but they come nowhere near conveying the sheer thirsty tedium of the meseta. In The Way, you get the mountains at the beginning and the hills at the end, but you don’t get the long, long plain in the middle. It’s like one of those greetings cards that pulls out from both sides to reveal as much again in the middle. It’s an oddly truncated pilgrimage.

Of course, a hundred kilometres of nothing would have made The Way a very different film. Havi Brooks talks about the slow motion montage, how practice (or any repetitive activity, really) feels like you’re not getting anywhere, and how in a film it would be over in a flash, except you’d still have the sense of time passing.

In terms of the current book, I am in the middle of the slow motion montage, half-way across the meseta. Slogging away. Cranking out another hundred words, another page, another five hundred words. Catching sight of a snippet, and thinking it’s terrible. Re-reading a page, and thinking perhaps it isn’t so bad. Re-reading a chapter, and counting the holes in the fabric.

Filling the holes.

Another hundred words. Another fifty words. Another sentence.

I am beginning to see a line of hills in the distance.

What it’s like at the moment

It’s been an exhausting autumn for me. September is always difficult, October takes me further into the darkness (until that blessed moment when the clocks go back and I’m getting up in the light again) and this year it’s been further complicated by my having begun a new job just over a month ago.

I’m enjoying the job, but it takes up a lot of my brain capacity, and by the time I get home I’m good for nothing but a cup of tea and an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Nor are my (usually infallible) train journeys working. Part of it is where I’ve got to with the book: I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns, where the majority of the plot is down on the page, and I don’t have any big scenes left to throw myself into. It’s detailed work now, filling in little gaps, writing perhaps a sentence at a time. Those magic summer evenings when the words were dropping off my pen feel like a very long time ago.

I’ve been taking things easier. For the first time since I started this project, I’ve modified my goal and entertained the possibility of writing less than eight thousand words in a month. I’ve hit the fifty thousand word mark, and from here on in it’s as important to take out unnecessary words as it is to put new ones in.

The traditional storm of doubt has swept in. It feels as if it’s never going to be finished, and that I am going to offend all my friends, and nobody will ever speak to me again, and also it’s not worth bothering with. The infuriating thing about this round is that I now know that this is a temporary state of affairs, so I might as well just push on through. I can’t really allow myself the luxury of a good sulk, because it would feel ever so fake.

There are two things that are encouraging optimism, however:

  1. The majority of the plot is, as I say, down on the page. I’m using the red pen more than the black pen, and I really enjoy editing.
  2. November is just around the corner, and that means that my secret online writing group will be firing up for another month of cheerleading.

 

Talk of the Town

 

100 untimed books: comforting

13. comforting
13. comforting

It’s been a while since I cooked anything out of this book, and years since I lived in a bedsit, but I still turn to it when I need a dose of Katharine Whitehorn’s humour and realism. It makes me believe that I can get through pretty much anything, and reminds me that I’m free of the mice and the leaking roof, too.

100 untimed books100 untimed books

I want to do that

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Unexpectedly, I had lunch with two of my brothers last Thursday. If I’d thought about them at all when I got into London on Thursday morning, I’d have assumed they would be minding their own respective business on the Isle of Wight, but I got a text message at about half past ten asking if I had any plans for lunch.

It turned out that one of them had come up to London to get ski boots fitted and, while he was in the area, to visit the Confraternity of St James and see if they had any advice on cycling the Camino de Santiago.

Why do the Camino?

When one arrives at Santiago de Compostela, one is asked to give one’s motivation for doing the Camino, choosing from religious, sporting, cultural, historical, spiritual, and so on. Well, I am a fairly religious/spiritual sort (often coming down more decidedly on one side of the balance or the other, depending on my mood), and so, when offered a choice by the pilgrim office at the cathedral, I went for that, and got my certificate in Latin. But really, I can’t claim that religious and spiritual reasons were what sent me off down that road.

Why do the Camino?

Because it’s there.

But it’s more than that – at least, it is in my experience. The Camino isn’t pure nature, pure challenge, the way that Everest is. The Camino is a human construct, human roads leading to a human city, and it’s often the human connection that draws us to it.

My brother wants to do the Camino because I did the Camino, back in 2007.

I wanted to do the Camino because a group of family friends did the Camino, back in 2000. The postcards, in Andrew’s spiky or Heloise’s scrawly handwriting, arrived over the course of several weeks, bringing with them the sense of space, of adventure, of time, and leaving me with a tiny seed of a wish.

I wanted to do that.

I did it.

The way I get into most things is by hearing somebody else talk about them, and thinking, I want to do that. I bet I could do that.

My brother wants to do the Camino. He knows about the Camino because I did the Camino, and because Andrew and Heloise and John Murray did the Camino.

I want to do the Camino again because I did the Camino before, and my greatest regret is that Anne, my companion of my last Camino, is not well enough to join me again: my best friend, who, when I said, ‘I want do do this,’ said, ‘I want to do that too,’ and came with me.

As for my other brother’s reason for coming to London? He just thought it sounded fun.

100 untimed books: borders

72. borders
72. borders

Imaginary countries have borders, just like any others. If you’re interested in where the Ruritanian border might be, here‘s a good post on the question.

I really ought to move the Bronte juvenilia up here, but that would mean moving the other Brontes there, too, and anyway the Buchans are only on this shelf until I complete the set of the red Nelson edition on the shelf above (not shown), and, and…

I don’t have enough bookcases.

100 untimed books

LGBTQ Christian fiction book recs

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Note: this began as a spontaneous blog post in 2016 and has metamorphosed into an ongoing rec list over the years. I add relevant books to it as I read them, and am always on the lookout for more.

I got chatting on Twitter with the user of the Diverse Church account about books with LGBTQ Christian characters, and how few of these there actually are.

Now, at least part of the reason I wrote one of my own was that I was frustrated with the lack of representation. However, I’ve found a few over the years, and it only seems fair to share the intel. In this post, I’m only listing books I’ve actually read, but in some cases it was a while ago. I’m adding warnings, but there’s always a possibility that I’ll not have remembered something horrible. Proceed at your own risk!

While not all of these end with hugs and puppies, they do start from, or at least eventually arrive at, the assumption that being Christian and being LGBTQ are not incompatible states, and call, in one way or another, for affirmation.

As for things I haven’t read (yet)… I’ve found Jesus in Love to be a very interesting source of recommendations. There’s also the reliqueer tag on LGBTQ Reads. Do add your own – either for individual books or authors, or for rec sites or round-ups – in comments!

On to the books…

 

Michael Arditti, The Celibate. The AIDS crisis and the narrator’s own personal crisis meet head-on. Warning for some gory Ripperology and [spoiler: highlight to read] child sexual assault, connected with gay identity in a way that I found quite distasteful. But ultimately affirms the holiness of queer sexuality.

Michael Arditti, Easter. Set in a London parish over the course of one Holy Week, with multiple storylines playing out across the congregation, seen from multiple perspectives.

Jaye Robin Brown, Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit. US young adult. The narrator is the daughter of a radio minister, is herself a committed Christian, and is an out lesbian. None of which is a problem in Atlanta, but when her father remarries and the reconfigured family moves to a more conservative part of Georgia, she agrees to go back in the closet, just for the time being. Things only get more complicated when she falls for one of the girls at her new church.

Paula Boock: Dare, Truth or Promise. New Zealand teen fiction of the ‘challenges of high school’ type. One of the main characters is Roman Catholic, and there’s a lovely scene with her priest, which meant a lot to me back in the day.

Catherine Fox: Lindchester chronicles (Acts and Omissions, Unseen Things Above, Realms of Glory). Barchester for the modern day, with outright representation of gay and lesbian characters and engagement with the politics.

Radclyffe Hall: The Well of Loneliness. Definitely short in the hugs and puppies department, but I couldn’t leave it off the list, for much the same reasons as those that Kittredge Cherry explains over at Jesus in Love.

Heather Rose Jones: Alpennia series. (Daughter of Mystery, The Mystic Marriage, Mother of Souls). Low fantasy, early nineteenth century, Ruritanian. I ate these books up with a spoon, but I append a health warning as the fantasy element crosses over with the religious element in a way that might not work for everybody. Nevertheless, they do include at least one character who speaks positively and explicitly about the intersection between her faith and her sexual identity, and absolutely deserve their place on this list.

A. M. Leibowitz, Anthem. A worship leader’s confessional song becomes an accidental Christian hit. Particularly entertaining for anyone who’s ever had to stifle a snigger at the unintentional suggestiveness of some worship music.

A. M. Leibowitz, Passing on Faith. The gay son of one homophobic pastor (and brother of another) falls for his affirming Christian neighbour. This is the first in a series; I haven’t read the rest of it yet.

ed. Gabriela Martins, Keep Faith. This anthology of short stories includes two featuring queer Christian girls: “Godzilla” (Kate Brauning), a perceptive examination of what it’s like to be the token same-sex couple in a well-meaning affirming church youth group, and “Whatever She Wants” (Kess Costales), whose time-lapse structure works well to show how its narrator comes to understand who she is and how her faith fits with that. (I reviewed the anthology as a whole here.)

Alex Sanchez: The God Box. American teen fiction, also of the ‘challenges of high school’ type; engages the question head on throughout the book.

Sarah L. Young, Plus One. Another American YA book. One of the narrators is bisexual and (presumably) Roman Catholic; there’s quite a lot of discussion about how her faith affects her reaction to an unplanned pregnancy, but she doesn’t seem to experience any conflict between her faith and her sexual orientation. (Reviewed here.)