Friday, 17 June 2011

Let no bird mark your brow

Internet? We Need To Talk About Books.
It's weird this, at once like and unlike Mole coming back to his dusty old house in The Wind In The Willows. Because, *swipes at cobwebs*, I think I'd quite like to live here again. I'm not really a water rat, after all. And so, an Essay of Feelings, in which Almost Everything is Illuminated

Today, I finally got my copy of The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan.¹ It would probably be an understatement to say I was a little excited, all but skipping home through the rain, creating a reading nest and burrowing straight in, but, to coin a phrase, I was Never, Ever Prepared.

About halfway in, events lead to me putting the book down and running around the house until I calmed down enough to read on... only to find out that the next chapter was worse. And that there was no way I could leave the book again until I'd finished reading it.

At one point, near the end, I started sobbing my eyes out.

I finished the book. I spent a little while staring into space before I got up, threw on a coat and some slip-on shoes, and went out into the rain. I left my keys under the mat because my coat has holes in both pockets, because I needed space to think away from the weight of any responsibility, because I wanted to be free. And I walked through Cardiff.

I headed for Roath Park first because I wanted the roses. I wanted to lose my shoes and dance among the flowerbeds, but the gates were shut. I thought about climbing the fence and having the place to myself, but somehow the image of explaining myself at the police-station was less than appealing. Instead I turned and retraced my footsteps and somewhere along the way I realised why I was Marianne Dashwooding all over my city. Water is, as Heather Hogan will tell you, a form of baptism. Willingly submerging yourself is throwing yourself in, taking it all upon yourself and being made new. The book broke me a little and remade me a lot, and afterwards I felt a whole lot more like myself and knew myself several worlds better. There's all this fuss about careers in my head at the moment, the daily grind of café life's worn me down, but nothing seems to be sticking. And I know it's early days – I'm young, I haven't tried or thought of everything – but I can't help thinking that the reason nothing is becoming apparent is that I always knew what I was going to do. From 15 upwards, I was going to write books and everything else faded into irrelevance...

{I took off my shoes and walked through the rain, watching the pavements carefully. I have a friend who is always barefoot and, while I love the protection of my docs, I understand her feet completely. Being free feels beautiful. It's easier when the streets are wet; you can see more and catch the smashings of glass before you make a misstep, but it still feels fragile. In light of Surrender, of course, this takes on a different edge, but by then I was mostly drunk on being alive and drenched though, with only a vague wariness for my footfalls. When I made it to Bute Park, the Taff was swollen. I clenched my toes on the slick wooden bridge, feeling it rock gently in the wind, then stepped towards the playing fields. I left my shoes to one side... and danced.}

...Earlier today I asked the world to tell me something new. Sarah Rees Brennan told me a lot of things that were new, and somewhere in the middle of it she showed me myself, because that's what the best stories are, in the end. As a teenager I hoarded my favourite line from The Handmaid's Tale, and it's perhaps even truer now than it was then, because I have grown out of it and into it again; 'we lived in the gaps between the stories'.²

This is not a review of The Demon's Surrender. I will come to that in time (in fact, I really want to do a joint review of it and Beth Webb's Wave Hunter), I promise, but meanwhile this is a reaction post, a way of using a story that I love to talk about myself. I have always known myself best through stories.


(Films would like us to believe that people go out into the rain and then return to find themselves with their lovers. I came back in to my keyboard. I think all internet aptitude tests have become irrelevant)

¹ If you don't know what I'm babbling about, you should probably stop reading my witterings and go and find book one of the trilogy, The Demon's Lexicon, right now. YA literature done viciously, vividly well.

²Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Life is a popularity contest

My life has, recently, been full of discoveries. Like how to force a front door open and how long I can dance in heels for.* Or that Emmy the Great has a blog. And not just any blog either, no - a blog where she talks about music and Graham Coxon and Diane Cluck. Its a very cool thing to have discovered, and one I would have imagined indie kids the world over to be in a state of some excitement about. But here’s the thing: if they are, they're being incredibly discreet. For someone as popular as Emmy is, her blog has remarkably few comments.

There could, of course, be several reasons for this. To begin with, her blog is only updated sporadically, so people never know when to check back. And her blogging style sets her up as a critic of her own “scene”, which possibly confuses people as well. But even so, I would have expected a few droves of fans. And, in light of the supreme lack of interest in my mix CD, I’m thinking a lot about what it means to be popular.

To begin with, being popular on the internet is clearly different from being popular in “real life”*. Kristin Chenoweth is probably not about to pop up and start singing, though it would be fun if she did. There are two distinctive zones, and many bloggers only fall into one of them. If they didn’t, Emmy the Great would have been forced to give up writing bittersweet songs years ago, though the number of teenagers posting about their loneliness would have decreased significantly.* Of course, there are some people who manage to keep feet in both camps, but these are often people who blog professionally or semi-professionally, or whose blogs are somehow linked to their careers. One of the key reasons for this is probably timing. If you don’t have much going on in “real life” then you have more time to build up a friendship base on the internet (and vice versa) while if your real life includes establishing yourself on the internet then you’ll probably be able to use your “spare time” for socialising.

On the other hand, being popular online requires some of the same skills as being popular in person – you have to make time for people, you need to be able to make appointments, and in the long run a bitching session is unlikely to endear your potential friends. It’s also helpful to have a general area in which to socialise – you’re far more likely to be able to keep up a conversation if you know what you’re both talking about. One of the reasons I keep coming back to livejournal* is the group facility, while another is the comment features. You can continue a conversation for days on end, without losing track of what you’ve said. And, if you want to, you make these conversations private. So you make time to talk to people, properly and at length, and if you desperately need to vent you can do so behind closed doors. Another useful feature is people knowing roughly when you’re going to update, or at least that you will do so fairly regularly. This is less of an issue on livejournal, where you’re probably more likely top check your friend’s page than individual links, but in the world of external bloggers it becomes far more important. People aren’t going to keep clicking on a link to see if you’ve updated if they don’t think you’re likely too. They’ll go and visit someone else’s blog instead. Or feed the fish, hang the washing out, water the plants... and subsequently forget all about you. If you run into someone in the street you might have a bit of a chat, but its more important to remember that they’re there. And the same applies on the internet.

Having written this, of course, its clear why no one’s really entered my competition. The fact I’m updating at all is probably taking you by surprise, while my new semi-regularity must be even more confusing for you than it is for me. But, to be honest, I feel like I’ve been neglecting you all shockingly. If you’re going to take the time to read my wittering, I should respond properly. Think of this as a pre-new-years-resolution. An old year’s resolution? New me resolution? Or something else. And, if you’re bored, go and read about Graham Coxon on Emmy’s blog as well. Or join me in watching the Gabriel video obsessively.

I’m off to make mince pies and celebrate Christmas now, but I’ll talk to you soon, I promise. And I’ll extend the competition if you want, so that you’ve all got more time. It shouldn’t require too much effort – just think of your favourite song with which to start a mix-tape.

Happy Almost Christmas


*a. Use a screwdriver as a wedge, and never let everyone leave the house at once.
b. 2 hours, 45 minutes
*I spend far too much time with philosophers.
*There can never be too much self-mockery.
* Livejournal is the Hotel California of the internet. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Songs for a Stranger

(from a T-shirt found at cafe press.)

Last night I made a mix CD for a boy that I never have never met. Someone who may not exist, and who may have very different ideas on what constitutes music than me. It seemed romantic at the time. The twee whimsy* has lingered a little, but I cant help thinking that the notes swirl with desperation, as well as pretty dreams.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t actually my idea. I was bewailing the lack of suitable crush material to Northern, and tried to explain how much of an adrenalin rush making a CD for someone who you like but are never sure will like you back can be. The closest I got was that it was like the moment before being kissed, extended, with its own soundtrack devised by you. And with the sort of boys I usually date, the trick is to find the right songs that they have, somehow, never heard.

Ironically, of course, when the next boy comes along I’ll probably find that he wont like the music after all. Mix tapes belong to their time, too, and this wont. It will be a snapshot from another time, months ago, when everything thought, felt and sounded subtly different.

So, instead, I’m going to send the CD to one of you. Think of it as an early Christmas present. Just tell me what your mix-tape to no-one would begin, and my favourite answer (& therefore probably the person most likely to enjoy the collection) wins. You have until night falls on the T-house Christmas (9pm on Wednesday 10th)

Deal? I hope so.



*I dress in capes and go to scrabble nights. I don’t see being twee as a problem

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Oh Shame, where is thy blush?

Someone over at /Fangs, Fur, Fey started a discussion on self-promotion with a link to a discussion on Good Reads. Now, Good Reads isn’t a site I normally visit (mostly because my bank balance is already looking a little like a deflated balloon), but the conversation was getting very interesting and tense in a way that only internet conversations really seem to. It was looking into authors self-promoting, when was too much and what people particularly hated. Some resented long signatures, others authors reviewing themselves with 5*, while other people either hated both, none, or were generally indifferent. But, about halfway down, someone asked “Whatever happened to humility?”

Later on, when texting a friend of mine, I was struck by the realisation that I am incapable of claiming to be good at anything. In actual fact I am probably [Lucinda takes a deep breath and crosses her fingers] quite good at a lot of things. I’m highest in our year at uni for English and creative writing, I can start choir three weeks before a concert and support the soprano line, I made most of the costumes for Wyrd Sisters last year, I have a good sense of style and I’m organising a Shakespeare festival. And, if my friends reports are anything to go by, I can also act. But saying I’m any good at them is impossible, and I’m often struck by the knowledge (especially at moments like this) that I might not be as good at them as I imagine.
Part of this, of course, is insecurity. I know I have some issues there, but that’s such old news that its barely worth commenting on. But what about the rest? When did blowing one’s own trumpet become the norm, making modesty a hindrance? If, indeed, it has. The English faculty in Cardiff is a particularly good example of this – one lady in incredibly intelligent, but so modest she makes you feel as though you’re on her level, even when she’s several intellectual steps up. But when I was discussing this with one of the lady’s PHD. students, a few weeks back, it sounded almost as though the girl believed this was a waste. To her, modesty was simultaneously lovely and an insecurity that should be overcome.
So what do you think? Is modesty another form of insecurity, or is it good manners? Is humility outdated, replaced by the needs to assert yourself in the fast-paced, easily distracted modern world? Is self-promotion embarrassing for all involved? Is there a happy medium? Or could you not care less?

p.s. On a completely unrelated note, Dawn Metcalf and I spent some time discussing dressing up in my last post. And I thought one of the best things ever would be a day where you dress up as one of your characters and spend it writing from their perspectives. Is anyone up for that? It would have to be a day most people were free, which now probably means after Christmas, but I think it would be great fun. What do you reckon? (Pictures, of course, would be essential.)

(This is a strange Puck/Princess Mononoke combination, but you get the gist)

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Scarlet Sunday

So, my mother, over at goodinparts, is doing NaBloPoMo. She’s finding it difficult, but so far she seems to be succeeding. I, of course, am doing nothing of the sort. I’m not even doing my own beloved NaNoWriMo, because November is a really busy month, especially this year, but realising how much she’s been posting makes me realise just how little I update. Which is odd, since you’d think I’d revel in the opportunity for extra online procrastination. And I thought I’d break my bad habit by telling you about dressing up, and my spontaneous dressing-up day, which I’ve affectionately nicknamed Scarlet Sunday.

I love dressing up. Regardless of the occasion – if I have the chance to enclose myself in some costume or other then I’m usually quite a happy bunny. Indeed, I tend to assume most outfits have a mini costume in them... I certainly switch behaviour patterns with clothing choices. (And, having typed that, wondering if this makes me weird.) At the moment I’m most excited about scheming for my friend’s party – still almost a month away – where a large L is the central theme. Should I be obvious? Or abstract? A Lovecat? Lethargy? Little Miss Sunshine? Librarian? The choices are eternal, and huge amounts of fun. And the only option currently crossed out is Little Red Riding Hood, since she are quite prominent today.

Scarlet Sunday accidentally began at seven am. I’m not entirely sure why this was, but it may have had something to do with how much I was enjoying dreaming about publishing the Book of Doom. My subconscious is a hard taskmaster, and presumably suggested rising early to do a bit more editing. Bitch. Anyway, having woken up early my brain was feeling somewhat flaky. I took full advantage of this and went on a procrastination spree. And have a new favourite site: Gala Darling It is possible that she might be the single coolest person in the world, but after about an hour of revelling in her style I was quite ready to slip back into full Lucinda mode. Which, today, involved playing fairytales. My redder-than-red 70’s dress, NHS cloak and the prettiest heels I own. Sadly the big bad wolf didn’t come for me, but we all lived happily ever after anyway. At least until it rained, and I got soaked.

Pretty much the best part of my room only being half-in-place is the photos that can be taken with a full length mirror on the floor.

Unfortunately, it also makes reall full-length shots impossible - Sorry. I think I looked less triangular...

So, do you think I need a haircut yet?...

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

This is just to say...

Do you ever feel like William Carlos Williams might just have written a note? Like he didnt expect it to be fully analysed? No, me neither. He was testing everything, and that’s all well and good. However, this is just a note. And I haven’t been in your fridge. Yet...
I feel like I don’t really post here often enough. By which, of course, I mean that I actually don’t post here often enough. In my defence, however, I am chronically busy. I’m trying to sort out what I’m doing next year (English literature or creative writing? Who knows where the throw will land?), working on the dissertation from heaven (or perhaps Wales), editing the Book of Doom, rehearsing for Merchant of Venice and, um, planning a Shakespeare festival. Well, I’m nothing if not ambitious.
So this is all fantastic, but it leaves me very little time for updating. Which, in its turn, makes me feel exceptionally guilty. In response to this, I’m going to send you all away, to look at our sparkly writing website. . I might even manage to get a bio up there one day soon...

*grabs her stuff and scurries off to rehearsal*

Friday, 3 October 2008

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh

Slowly, as if creaking on papered wings, the year stretches into life. The first draft of the Book of Doom is done, the blanks are filled in for my course this year (one dissertation, two creative writing portfolios, two Shakespeare modules, one double Arthurian module, and some modernism and Irish revivalism), the plays are opening their mouths in a morning yawn as auditions draw to a close, everyone is back in Cardiff and the T house is...

...well, to be honest, the T-house is in a state of some disrepair. I think it will survive the year, but I wouldn’t want to bet money on it. We have mould downstairs, a shower that attacks us, doors that don’t shut, or don’t open, a cooker that wont ignite and a toilet out in our front garden.
Yes. Really.

We also have a small lake. Now, I’m not adverse to water-features, but in the ideal property these are outside. Or, if not, they’re heated. The pool in our kitchen is neither of these things. It just spreads out, with building determination, from behind the washing machine. The plumber came, and said we need a new washing machine. The washing machine man came and said we needed a plumber. And the plumber? He didn’t come. Flanders and Swan were lucky.

But being back in Cardiff has other allures. Like my very good friend Ais having joined me at university. Like the fact that another of my friends is staging the Merchant of Venice. Like hatching ridiculously elaborate plans for various enactments. And the start of my Sunday book.

Yes, a Sunday Book.

I stole the idea from the rather fantastic Maggie Stiefvater whose début Lament has just been released (It features homicidal faeries. You cannot go wrong). Anyway, I concluded that the Book of Doom just needs rewriting. But its not impossible, if I get into a routine and do a bit each day, I can play on Sunday. I can forget everything else, kickback, and have fun. It all started when afore-mentioned MoV director & I went to see the RSC’s version.

Sledgehog, [dreamily walking up to the gallery in the courtyard theatre]: The theatre is magic. Magic.
Director: ...I thought Shylock was far too reasonable. He sounded like a lecturer, not like someone desperately seeking a pound of flesh...
Sledgehog: its magic. It's Alive. It's in the plays...
Director: ...
Sledgehog [sounding very happy]: ...magic...
Director [looking at her threateningly]: You know, I'm sure I could extract a pound of flesh easily enough. All you need is ice...

They didn't believe me about the magic, so I woke up at 6am the next morning and wrote a synopsis. My Sunday book is going to be fun...

Tasting the Past

Through the mossy stumps of history
Time's pilgrims pass, searching for truth,
delving through dust for eternal springs, cracked
lips on dry husks,

As sunlight spears the stumbling stones, we
pass as shadows in their midst, unreal,
building histories from
dulled dry bones,

for the inescapable clatter of rain,
crashing time over broken stones
like a river exploding over a dam,
a confusion of years,

into steely serenity, glossing sins
as the river cleanses the crumbling stones.
The storm beats a metronome of time;
a window, empty, shows only sky.