Week-end: cold and beautiful

A street corner on a bright wintry day. Above the houses a cathedral tower rises, hazy in the mist, and surrounded by white-frosted trees.

The good

I dragged myself out of the house this morning and was glad I did: a heavy, spiky frost had turned all the trees white, and the cathedral was wearing a misty veil and looking like an enchanted castle from another dimension.

I have had a little more go, and even managed a bit of piano practice on two days. (I have been teaching myself to play the piano, very slowly, for the last five years at least.)

Lots of post on Thursday: my author copy of Bicycles and Broomsticks (Tony got his on Friday, so I think most people should be getting their Kickstarter rewards soon); cotton mending yarn in jolly bright colours…

The mixed

… and the probate application form, which has been doing the rounds of us executors. It is a sad thing, but it is good to keep things moving.

The difficult and perplexing

Never mind Blue Monday, Wednesday was an actual depression day. I am looking on the bright side and thinking that it is useful to know that I can in fact tell the difference between being knackered and being depressed.

Mixed news from the Church of England, and as usual I’m having trouble working out what I feel about it and feeling hesitant about expressing that, whatever it is.

Also, I shrank my favourite jumper. I’ve stretched out out again over the drying rack, but it is not what it was.

What’s working

Alternating activity with lying on the sofa.

Reading

I seem to be starting loads of books and finishing none of them. Yet. I continued with Sisters of the Forsaken Stars. My romantic suspense book club is now reading Death in Cyprus (M. M. Kaye) – satisfyingly awful characters, including the ones who are meant to be sympathetic, and some gorgeous descriptions. I also returned to Switzerland’s Amazing Railways, which had the entirely predictable effect of making me want to go to Switzerland and ride on (more of) the railways.

Writing

Not a huge amount, but I did type up all the longhand I did on the train last Monday. I still haven’t worked out a routine or set-up that works in my current state, and I’m not sure whether there is a routine or set-up that would theoretically work, or if I just need to wait things out and write little bits when I have the energy.

Mending

Two of Tony’s tops and a pair of my tights.

Watching

As in the rest of the month: Detectorists, Our Flag Means Death, quizzes and winter sports. I am not all that invested in the sports, but I enjoy looking at the snowy mountains.

Looking at

Small but Perfectly Formed: an open exhibition at the local art gallery. There were a few pieces I really liked, quite a lot that were just Not My Thing, and several that I would have liked had they not been given horrific twee names. (I am much more a ‘willows with heron’ person than a ‘gone fishing’ one.)

Cooking

I continue to experiment with the Instant Pot. Last Sunday I made a stonkingly good boeuf bourguignon on the slow cooker setting. Yesterday I did lamb tagine with the pressure cooker. I like this thing.

Eating

As above. Also, yesterday I had a falafel and halloumi wrap from the market; it was not as good as the ones from the stall in St Pancras new churchyard, and was also more dribbly than I’d have liked, but was still not at all bad.

Drinking

Tony and I tackled the mocktails menu at Poet’s House yesterday, considering all four items on it (I noticed too late that there was a Dry January blackboard with several other options) before going for a Virgin Mary (him) and a Galaxy (me). The latter is made of pineapple juice, and I think soda water, and made partly purple with butterfly pea powder (sole function of latter seems to be making things purple). Then I was falling asleep again so went home.

Moving

Swimming on Friday morning: probably a bad idea, in retrospect, even if I was careful and did about half what I’d usually attempt. Still, I’ve managed to walk into town and back, or further, every day since Thursday, so maybe that’s progress. People keep assuring me that the fatigue will pass. But why does nobody mention it alongside the sickness and the forgetfulness?

Playing

Home on the Range. Repeatedly.

Noticing

A goldfinch.

In the garden

Finally got all the pear trees and all but one of the apple trees pruned. And obtained an enamel soup plate to replace the birds’ water bowl, which cracked in the last frost.

Appreciating

Long johns. Hot shower. Bed. All the organising I did in November.

Acquisitions

The copy of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (Rebecca West) that’s been tempting me in Oxfam for months got sufficiently reduced for me to buy it. And I got Arsenic for Tea (Robin Stevens) and Unseen Things Above (Catherine Fox) while I was in there too.

Hankering

I wanted to get a peanut feeder for the birds with an anti-squirrel cage, but such a thing was not to be had in Wilko. I want interesting socks, but not enough to learn how to knit them for myself. And I am still tempted by a 21-hook darning loom.

Line of the week

Loads of candidates this week! Either I am reading some very good writers or I am reading more attentively and appreciatively. Both good. This is from Death in Cyprus:

Amanda’s hair – a deep golden brown with glints in it the colour of the first chestnuts in September – was a glorious anachronism.

Sunday snippet

This is from the ‘don’t quit your day job’ workbook thingy.

One of the great gifts of all this has been that I have ceased to feel guilty about the things I’m not doing, whether that be writing, or washing up, or piano practice, or getting cat hair out from under the TV stand.

Things happen when they happen. I am actually pretty good at getting things done, but I get them done when I have the time and the energy, and when I don’t I don’t waste time and energy worrying about them.

This coming week

The long haul south. Pancakes. And what looks like it’s going to be a very frosty cycle to the station tomorrow morning.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!

Bicycles and Broomsticks – Kickstarter live now

Bicycles in a museum display

Bikes in Space is back! This is a more-or-less annual publication by Microcosm Publishing, and aside from the bicycles and the speculative fiction implied by the series title there’s always a strong feminist theme. This issue’s theme is bicycles and broomsticks.

And I am back in it. My story is called Layings Out and Lyings In, and features a couple of no-nonsense witch-midwives, one of whom is an early adopter of that marvellous invention the safety bicycle. I had a good deal of fun writing this one.

This is all, well, kicked off by a Kickstarter campaign, and backing the Kickstarter is certainly the quickest and probably the easiest way of getting hold of the book. I should also say that, the more the Kickstarter campaign raises, the more I get paid for my story – so, if you were planning to get it anyway, getting it earlier is more profitable for me.

Unfortunately international shipping is getting ever more ruinous and prohibitive, but readers outside the US can at least get the book itself posted to them, and liaise directly with the publisher to work out other add-ons. Those inside can add on all sorts of goodies (personally I’m casting an envious eye at all the Bikes in Space back issues). Either way, here’s the campaign page. Take a look.

(The bicycles in the picture are in the transport museum at Dresden, which is well worth a look if you’re ever in that neck of the woods.)

Week-end: pale green, tastes faintly of liquorice

Glass jug of water containing springs of mint and round and long seeds

The good

I had some news about a short story that’s coming up for publication next year. (More news on that in September or October.) That was a welcome interruption to the you never do ANYTHING, you are a failure as a writer chorus. And I learned the theme for the next-but-one anthology, and over the next couple of hours an entire plot and some basic worldbuilding unspooled itself in my head. In the words of Billy Joel, that hasn’t happened in the longest time.

My premium bonds came up. Well, one of them did. Twenty-five quid; thank you, ERNIE.

The mixed

The trains have been all over the place this week. There have been delays and cancellations because of overhead wire failures and points failures and speed restrictions and warm weather, and every day I’ve travelled by train this week there has been some kind of disruption.

However, every train I’ve ended up on has had a seat for me and working air conditioning. This is peak ‘mustn’t grumble’, but still, mustn’t grumble.

The difficult and perplexing

I really don’t like the heat. And seeing everything shrivelled up and yellow is depressing. Ugh. Please could governments and industry take some action on climate change, rather than leaving it all to overworked and guilt-ridden individuals?

My feet continue to discover new and frustrating ways to be painful. Most of this week it’s been the ball of my right foot, as if I’d stood on a drawing pin (I’m sure I haven’t); that’s now eased, but I think I’ve been compensating elsewhere, because now my left knee is very grumbly, particularly when I go up and down stairs.

Reading

If you’re going to be stuck on a train you will do well to have a book with you. For me, Monday’s shenanigans (sitting outside Stevenage for a good hour) provided an opportunity to return to Neither Present Time (Caren J. Werlinger), which I’d started a while ago but abandoned when it turned out I wasn’t in the mood for being shown not told an emotionally abusive relationship. It was actually very readable once I got past the stuck point, and was much better structured than the only other book I’ve read by this author.

I also read European Stories, a freebie from that time I went to the London Book Fair. It’s a collection of five short stories by previous winners of the European Union Prize for Literature, published with an English translation alongside the original text. I had a brief go at reading the original of the one in German, but I wasn’t up to that. I wouldn’t quite say that it filled me with Remourner sadness, because a lot of it was dealing with themes like racism and xenophobia that we know are a problem inside the EU just as much as they are out of it, but there’s definitely a sense of regret about being on the outside of a creative, collaborative project.

And I revisited some stories I wrote about a decade ago. I can in fact write fascinating amoral villains and witty narrators and plot. If I recall correctly, the secret there was not giving a damn what anybody else thought.

Writing

A thousand words yesterday on the new story mentioned at the top of this post, and today a thousand words on the Romeo and Juliet thing. (Current working title: Your Households’ Rancour.)

Making

Still working on the secret patchwork project…

Watching

… the Commonwealth Games (yes, I know they’re over. BBC iPlayer is working hard).

Eating

A very few tiny wild strawberries, straight off the plant.

Looking at

The Breaking the News exhibition at the British Library. This was arranged by theme rather than chronologically, so footage of the aftermath of the Grenfell fire appeared next to a newspaper report on the Tay Bridge disaster, which in turn was next to a report on the Great Fire of London. And so on across Scandal, Celebrity, War, Fake News, etc.

Over the last few years I’ve become increasingly aware that we live in history (and not at the very end of it, either), that today’s news is tomorrow’s history just as today’s history is yesterday’s news. Even so, there seemed to be a lot of history in this exhibition that I remember happening at the time, that time being the last five years or so. I suppose it’s compensation for not remembering the fall of the Berlin Wall. And there has been a lot of history going on.

Drinking

A recommendation from a colleague: water chilled with mint (or cucumber, but we have mint), coriander seeds, fennel seeds, and cumin seeds. It’s pale green, tastes faintly of liquorice, and really does have a cooling effect. More so than plain water? I don’t know. It’s certainly more interesting. I recommend pouring it through a tea strainer.

Other ways of staying cool, incidentally: shutting doors and windows and curtains before the inside gets as hot as the outside; taping silver foil over the window that doesn’t have a curtain; putting feet in a basin of cold water; a wet towel around the back of the neck.

Moving

I went swimming today for the first time… since the pandemic? It might well be. It was certainly my first time at our local swimming pool. It’s not the same as a rainy Tuesday morning at Jesus Green Lido, but it was extremely pleasant on a day such as today.

Acquisitions

A different colleague has been clearing out some Body Shop stock, and I have relieved her of some perfumes: White Musk L’Eau, White Musk Flora, and Indian Jasmine. The latter is pretty powerful and indeed very jasminey. I haven’t tried the others yet.

Line of the week

From Out of the Woods by Luke Turner, which I’ve been reading a chapter per week except for when I haven’t been at home on Sundays, and which is therefore taking a while:

The forest and newspaper archives tell of riots, unlicensed preaching, political agitation, robbery, drunkenness, illegal gherkin sellers, poaching, blinding songbirds to use as decoys to attract and then cage more, gambling, prog-rock concerts, female boxing, children trampled by a donkey derby gone out of control, dogging, wiccan rituals, biker meets, an unnatural act with a sheep near Debden, poaching, crazed Aunt Sallies, perverts on bicycles, teenage catapulters of swans, the first motocross race.

This coming week

People! Lots of people! And some fandom, which is made of people.

I’d like it to be less hot, please. Maybe we could have some rain.

I want to keep riding this story wave. And I also want to get the patchwork to a state where I can start quilting it this weekend (in among the fandom and the people, yes).

2022: the year that got away?

A tub of tulips, one about to open in a deep pink colour, frosted with raindrops
It must be April. The tulips are flowering.

In twelve days, it will be Easter. I’m not quite sure how. This year has slipped past without my really noticing.

I noticed Candlemas, because that was the day of Pa’s funeral. I noticed Ash Wednesday, because we had a friend staying and she reminded us about pancakes. I noticed Lady Day (the first day of the year, in old money, and maybe this is a good year to claim that do-over), but I was in no position to do anything about it because I was flat out on the sofa with Covid. And now here we are in April, and this Sunday will be Palm Sunday, and the Sunday after that will be Easter.

2022 has felt rather as if I’m bobbing around on a raft on the ocean, and every time I get myself and my raft the right way up another huge wave has crashed down and swamped me again and all I can do is hang on.

That sounds gloomy, and, oddly enough, I’m not feeling all that gloomy. Not tonight, anyway. I’m reasonably confident that the shore’s over there somewhere and, so long as I keep hold of the rope I’ll wash up on dry land eventually. But the first three months of this year have disappeared in death administration, and fortnightly dashes to the Isle of Wight, and Covid, and I assume I must have been doing my day job in between times.

What I haven’t been doing much of is writing. Or at least I think I haven’t. I never write much on the Isle of Wight. It’s like another dimension. The train journeys have worked their usual magic, it’s true, but I’m way behind on typing up the longhand from those train journeys. I’m very aware that I’ve been neglecting this blog. And the last two weeks have been (wait for it) a write-off. All I managed to write when I had Covid was a report on the event at which I caught Covid.

And I was feeling gloomy about this on Sunday evening.

I had high hopes for this year. I was aiming to get an anthology of short stories out in time for Ventnor Fringe and the Ruritanian novel done for Christmas. Those would have been entirely reasonable goals, if this had turned out to be a usual year. As things are, not only have I lost three months, but those projects have got all tangled up with grief. Technically, they need ruthlessness. Emotionally, they need gentleness. The Book Bus will be at Ventnor Fringe, and I’ll be there too, but there’s no way I’m going to get those little stories finished off and tidied up for July, not when they’ve been joined by hundreds of other stories that perhaps aren’t mine to tell. And really I was writing the Ruritanian thing for myself and for Pa, and at the moment I can’t quite bring myself write Buchanesque chase scenes with trams when I know he won’t read them.

So I’m regrouping. The Ruritanian novel is reclaiming its ‘frivolous side project’ status, and I’ll work on it for fun, when it becomes fun again. The book bus stories will happen one of these years, but it won’t be this year. I’m shifting my focus to the 1920s Romeo and Juliet thing. That’s a little annoying in that I have 26,000 words on that, compared to 58,000 on the Ruritanian thing, but it’s going to be quite a lot easier in that it’s character-driven (very much my strength) as opposed to plot-driven (very much not).

This leaves me with the question of what I publish in 2022. Of course, nothing is an option. But I’ve been publishing a book every even-numbered year since 2016 now, and there’s part of me that’s reluctant to spoil the pattern. One possible answer is an anthology of short stories – not the book bus stories (well, maybe I’ll borrow one of them), but a selection of vaguely sapphic vaguely historical things. Things like Stronger Than Death, which appeared in an anthology by a publisher that has since stopped trading, and The Sisters’ House, which was written for a very specific call for submissions and wasn’t selected, and Prima Donna, for which the rights returned to me ages ago, and The Secret of the Glacier, which has never been published at all. I’d quite like to pull them all together, and write a few more stories to round the collection out. I should be able to manage that over the next eight months. Although, now I come to look at my calendar for May and June and July and August, it might be more of a challenge than you’d think…