Week-end: lounging

A fluffy black and white cat sprawls across the top platform of a floor-to-ceiling grey plush cat tree, like a lazy gargoyle

The good

Two days off! And another one on Monday. I have been napping, writing, watching figure skating, planning a holiday and getting my hair cut. It’s much less straggly now, although if I don’t blow dry it then it still curls the wrong way at the bottom. Also the plumber came and replaced the kitchen tap. The new one doesn’t drip. It’s wonderful.

The mixed

I have the time to write. Where is the energy? And the motivation? I’m doing my best to trust that all this napping and skating-watching (and napping while skating-watching, sorry again Roman Sadovsky, though since that free skate turned out to have dropped him out of the medals when I woke up again maybe he’d rather I didn’t watch it) is going to get me to a place where I can write enthusiastically and freely, but that’s advanced practice.

The difficult and perplexing

Still tired.

What’s working

Well, the new kitchen tap. The shower is still temperamental, though cleaning the head with vinegar has helped a little.


I started The Paris Apartment (Lucy Foley) on the train home from York (did I say that last week?) but haven’t got any further with it. I got slightly irritated by the sheer profusion of unnecessary cliffhangers (oh no! she has been hit by something heavy and sharp! two chapters later, it turns out to have been a cat jumping on her!) but will probably pick it up again on another train journey sooner or later. I’ve been dipping into Atlas of Imagined Places (Matt Brown and Rhys B. Davies), which is great fun, even if it’s making me painfully aware of my lamentable lack of pop culture knowledge. This is bound to feature as a Reader’s Gazetteer special when I’ve done a bit more dipping. And, in Sunday afternoon Christian reading, I’ve just begun Intimate Jesus: the sexuality of God incarnate (Andy Angel).


I finished the first draft of Starcrossers. Hurrah! It’s three and a half thousand words too long and I could easily make it longer. Oh dear. I’m going to let it sit for a month and see what’s to be done about it in December.

I also began a blog post about the Belgian Coastal Tramway, which I’m hopeful you’ll see sometime in the next few weeks.


Return of the mystery patchwork (finally remembered to look in the fabric box in daylight, allowing me to cut out the last six patches and the wadding.


Darned some different bits of my black jeans. And one of Tony’s T-shirts.


The Sheffield Grand Prix. One of my friends got tickets to be there in person. I’m very jealous.

I would say, Twitter imploding, but actually I’ve only been following it at a distance. I haven’t really enjoyed being on Twitter since 2016 or so: this may be a prompt to step away. My favourite time on the internet was really round about 2009 or 2010 when LiveJournal was still thriving and Dreamwidth was just taking off so there could be two versions of the exact same post with two equally interesting conversations happening in the comments, and when blogs were still where it was and nobody had yet invented the algorithm. You can probably tell.


I made a really good macaroni cheese on Friday. Using actual macaroni helps: it has that lovely squidgy schlick-schlick texture, which you just don’t get with penne. (I usually use penne, but I picked up a packet of macaroni from the side of the path a few weeks ago – I would be disowned if it ever came out that I left good food lying on the ground – and have been working my way through that.)

At the moment I have a turkey carbonnade in the slow cooker. I can’t see that this is any different from an idiosyncratic bolognese sauce, but never mind that. We’ll see how it tastes in a couple of hours. I have made polenta to go with it.


Our corner shop has become a Co-op and stopped selling plain Bounty bars. Disgraceful. It does, however, sell rather good orange chocolate.


A flock of gulls flying overhead in a shallow V-formation.

In the garden

My Japanese anemone is attempting to bloom!


Lie-ins. Naps. Sleep in general, basically.


Tickets to Avignon (on y danse, on y danse). The idea is that we get a bit of winter sunshine when I really need it, and in the meantime it’s something to look forward to.

And Molke had a sale so I’ve ordered some more bras.

Line of the week

We’ll be taking the TGV to Avignon, but I enjoyed Slow Travel: Europe by Train in the January 2008 issue of Hidden Europe.

We really mourn the passing of Eurostar’s old route into London where the train crept through Brixton on an ancient viaduct, screeched round tight curves past Battersea’s back gardens and trundled through a metroland full of bourgeois comforts: shiny Ebbsfleet will surely never be a match for Penge East, Sydenham Hill or sedate Shortlands.

Sunday snippet

From the end of Starcrossers:

We went beyond the farmland. We went all through the delta down to the sea, and then turned towards the moonrise until we caught sight of the high mountains. Then we returned to the city, Crew and Containment alike talking of where we might go next, and all of us were welcomed into the homes of our new acquaintances, where those who’d stayed at home were eager to hear what we’d seen.

This coming week

Another day off. Two days of tech support. Thursday, an appointment in Ely and a night at the opera in London (the appointment was scheduled two days ago and has stymied my beautiful plans, but I can still do both). And that’s as far ahead as I care to think for the moment.

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

An uninvited journey: active and inactive protagonists

A child's plastic sled cable-locked to a bike rack on a snow-free pavement

Lurking on Twitter (when I said I wouldn’t be) I came across this thread about inactive protagonists, and this other thread pointing out that it was an extremely Western-centric take. I think that both threads make good points, but the first one offers an extremely limited solution to a genuine problem. (When you have a hammer, etc, etc…) I rather like the way that they’ve both linked to each other, so the conversation rolls round and round forever. And this post isn’t really meant to be an answer to either of them, but more an excursion on my own train of thought.

There are many, many books that aren’t particularly engaging, and that could really do with a good editor, but shoehorning them all into the hero’s journey format isn’t necessarily going to help. In fact, I think a flat novel can be made more engaging by deepening the characterisation as much as by sharpening the plot.

And then in the replies to the second thread, someone linked this list of alternative structures, and that ate some more of my day. There are plenty to choose from, even if one is writing an action hero. I’ve been reading a lot of James Bond novels lately, and it’s really striking how adventurous Ian Fleming is in terms of structure. OK, The Spy Who Loved Me is a complete dog’s breakfast in terms of pacing, and you might argue that From Russia With Love starts a bit slow and ends a bit abruptly, but he isn’t afraid to experiment.

Back to inactive protagonists. In at least two of my novels so far I’ve spent most of the book getting my protagonist out of their own head in order for them to appreciate the world around them and make decisions based on what’s really going on rather than what they think is going on. Is that ‘active’? The author of the second thread talks about ‘radical acceptance’, which I think is an important theme in all my books: being who you are, not who you or anyone else thinks you should be. All of my protagonists could be described, to a greater or lesser extent, as inactive. The closet, depression, disillusionment, prejudice and petty politics provide quite enough of a challenge to be going on with. Sometimes they need to become active. Sometimes they need to make their peace with inaction.

And yes, sometimes during the writing process those books felt sloooooowwww. Sometimes I’ve dealt with that by growling at the entity they call the Inner Critic: what do you want, a car chase? Other times I’ve chopped out scenes, characters, chapters. I’ve added bits elsewhere. I’ve rewritten an entire book to come from a different character’s point of view. I’ve taken literal scissors to a manuscript. And the book has been better for it. An inactive protagonist might very well be a valid choice for the story that needs to be told, but that choice doesn’t exempt anyone from editing. (In fairness, I don’t think I saw anyone suggest that it did!)

I’m fascinated by the way that the individual interacts with the system, but writing about that, for me at least, has meant that those individuals have a limited amount of control. As the author, I can pull a certain number of strings, but I can’t reform student Evangelical Christianity/professional cycling/the Church of England/academia through the actions of one character. I can have them make small changes to improve matters locally. (I’ve pulled an ‘And then everybody on the bus clapped!’ precisely once. If I were writing that book now I’m not sure I’d put it in.) Or I can let them step away on their own terms.

Now I’m trying to write a Ruritanian thriller (well, not at the moment, but you know what I mean) and, while I have a good idea of how the thriller beats ought to fall, I’ve been uncomfortably aware that it’s inevitably a bit… condescending? (And I’ve felt like that since before I read Inventing Ruritania.) I want to keep writing it, because it’s fun, and because I love the genre for all its faults. What keeps tripping me up is that the ‘plucky British youngster single-handedly saves the nation of Ruritania’ narrative does not feel truthful. Even throwing in a second plucky British youngster and her Ruritanian partner hasn’t helped a lot. It may be that I’ve worked for a trade union/been a member of the Church of England/followed sports for too long, but I’m very aware of just how many people it keeps to keep even a moderate-sized organisation going, let alone a nation state. Same with stopping it. Very, very rarely does it hinge on the efforts of just one person.

And that, I think, has given me a way in, a way to save this. I’ve ended up with a structure that’s something like a zoetrope: the thriller narrative is broken up by snapshots of the ordinary people going about their ordinary business. Spin the cylinder fast enough, and you get a moving picture. The horse gallops. The country keeps on running.

Well, it might work. I’ll keep you posted. When I get back into it.

Incidentally, the consequence of lurking on Twitter (when I said I wouldn’t be) was coming across a thread in which someone was asking for recommendations for Christian fiction, and in which nobody had mentioned me. So I sulked, obviously. But then somebody recced me on another thread, so it all worked out. The moral of the story? It doesn’t really make much difference to the rest of the world whether I’m on Twitter or not, but it’s probably better for my state of mind if I’m not.