Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hindi Pizza

Yay, I've finished the first draft of a short story. To be honest, I don't think it's very good, but I've got something I can improve later. More importantly, it's the first new story I've finished for a while. I've done plenty of non-fiction and submitting, but very little fiction writing.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Support Roberto Saviano!

Roberto Saviano wrote a book about the Camorra - the Neopoltan Mafia. So they say they're going to kill him by Christmas.

That was a bit dumb of them really, because it's the main reason I bought the book, and I suspect it's the main reason it's a best seller. It hasn't arrived yet, but I see it's getting very mixed reviews on Amazon. I get the impression from the reviews that it's great material badly written, or perhaps badly translated. I'm looking forward to finding out for myself.

The Italian newspaper, La Republicca, has a petition to urge the Italian government to make "every effort to protect Saviano and to defeat the Camorra".

This isn't just about law and order; it's also about free speech. As Ian McEwan says, it's not that different from "extremist religious groups which try to close down discussions with threats of violence."

There's a Facebook group to support Saviano, and the petition is at

Wired jaw.

For some time now, my son's been having dental treatment to straighten his teeth and correct a severe under-bite. First he had a thingamy to wear at night to pull his jaw forwards. Then he had to wear it during the day, too, which caused rows. Once he grew up enough to wear it properly, his jaw gradually slid into place. Then he had traditional braces to straightent he teeth themselves. We're nearing the end of the treatment, thank goodness, but the latest instalment is basically glorified rubber bands between top and bottom jaw to pull his jaw forward the last little bit.

The catch is that he can only eat through a straw. As soon as he tries anything else - even a small spoonful of shepherds pie - the rubber bands break. I have a small supply of replacements, but it takes me about half an hour to get them on, and it thoroughly uncomfortable for both of us. We've only been doing this since Wednesday evening, but it feels like forever. I'm thoroughly bored with cooking soup, never mind eating it. So I hate to think how my son feels.

Two more days to go.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Advantages of Writing: #1

One of the advantages of being a writer is that they can't put you in solitary confinement. Wherever they put me, my whole cast of characters comes too.

When you talk to God, it's called praying.
When God talks to you, it's called paranoid schizophrenia.
When a headful of imaginary people talk to you, it's called being a fiction writer.

So I'm a writer because the voices tell me so. Which is a bit worrying, now I come to think of it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

El Hierro again

I spent the weekend visiting a friend on El Hierro. We went for a holiday this summer ( see The End of the World) and shortly afterwards, my friend took a job there. So I abandoned my family on Friday lunchtime and got on the plane.

The landscape around Isora looks a lot like the Yorkshire Dales - lots of dry stone walls and short grass. And then you notice that the bushes leaning over the wall aren't hawthorn, they're prickly pear.

landscape near isora=

My friend took me for a wonderful drive on Saturday. We went round the west of the island, past the road to the end of the world, and we found a beautiful little hermitage. When I was there with my family in September, I must have missed it by less than half a kilometre.

Hermitage del Virgen de los Reyes

On La Palma we have a fiesta every five years, where they bring the statue of the Virgin Mary from Las Nieves down to Santa Cruz. In El Hierro they have a similar fiesta where they take the statue of the Virgin all over the island. And this is the statue.

Statue of the Virgen de los Reyes

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Cat's Meow

Part of the secret of absorbing fiction is to make it vivid. After all, you're more likely to remember that you're just watching a TV programme if you see it on a black and white portable instead of a wide-screen colour TV. As writers, we don't have colours and screens to work with, we only have words. And words or phrases the reader has seen a million times before get like scratched and faded cine-film -- all the zing has gone. The first person to call jealousy, "the green-eyed monster" was a genius -- William Shakespeare. He must have got a really clear image into the minds of his 17th century listeners. But now it's about as fresh as fish kept out of the fridge for a week.

The first step towards vivid descriptions is close observation. If you don't look at it for yourself you'll reach for clichés. As George Orwell put it, some writing is stuff full of clichés, "tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house." What a lovely bit of fresh writing!

It's OK to fill your first draft with clichéd descriptions, just as long as you fix it on the rewrite. That's the stage at which I wind up jiggling rum bottles on their bases to get a description of the noise. (I settled for thwunker-wunker.)

What's all this got to do with cats? Everyone knows they go "meow", right?

Not if you're listening.

A cat's hello is more like, "Mmrrrrrrtt! on a rising note, usually while they run towards you with their tail straight up. And then they stand on their hind legs to head-butt you as high as they can reach.

When they want you to produce their dinner or open a door, they go, "Me! Me! Me! Me! Me" until you do it. When they stand with one hind paw on your foot, they're really begging.

If you accidentally stand on their tail, they say, "MurrrrOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWW!" at top volume. And when you lift your clumsy foot, they're off so fast it's a wonder there's no sonic boom.

Tom cats arguing over a queen or territory sound like something between a police siren and a scream.

In fact the one clichéd noise which is at all accurate is the purr, but there are no pauses: "RrrrrrrRrrrrrrRrrrrrrRrrrrr." Of course, they usually do this while they're on your lap. If they're really happy, they scratch and knead your thighs into mincemeat and drool all over you. This is what small kittens do to their mother as they suckled, so it's a great complement really.

I've lived with cats for about eighteen years, and I don't think I've ever heard one say "meow."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More on the Gastric Flu

I'm over the worst of the stomach upset, but I still have flat batteries and occasional shivers and dizziness. I'll be giving yoga a miss tonight, although I'll probably do a little on my own, at home.

Specifically, I'll be doing the pose called Shavasana or Savasana, which means "The Corpse".

Photo: wikipedia

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I plan to write a lot more fiction, and to blog about the art of writing fiction, and what happens?

Gastric flu.

I did at least get some research done into the history of knickers for a short story. Queen Victoria wore open-crotch drawers, with a 50-inch (127 cm) waistline. She was only 5ft (1.52 m) tall.

Normal service will be resumed shortly. Coming soon: How to make your fiction the cat's meow.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Barack the Builder

I keep saying I need to spend more time playing with Photoshop. Well, I just did. It's not perfect, but it was fun and I learned a lot.

As to the politics, I think he's inherited a mind-boggling mess, but then he's already done six impossible things before breakfast. For a start, if you'd asked me six months ago, I'd have said the USA was overdue for a black president, but it would be about 25 years before they got one. And he's saved us from the half-baked Alaskan. So like everyone else, I'm waiting to see just how much he can fix.

And I'm still humming "Little Seeds of Hope."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Last Night's Big Loser

In my opinion, last night's biggest loser wasn't McCain or Sarah Palin. It was Osama bin Laden. His whole strategy is to persuade moderate Muslims that the USA is out to get them, and their only chance of safety is with al Qaeda. For the last eight years, that's been easy. George Bush spent most of his time driving them straight into bin Laden's arms. John McCain's an OK guy, but as soon as he became too ill to work, Sarah Palin would have carried on right where Bush left off.

But now bin Laden's going to lose his best recruiting agent. Instead, he'll have to deal with President Barack Hussein Obama, who'll talk to moderate Muslims like they're human. He might even help poor Pakistanis get an education for their kids at a school that doesn't try to turn them into suicide bombers.

Bin Laden must be fuming.

I'm deeply cynical about any career politician. But I like the way Obama keeps talking about "everybody" like Nelson Mandela, in clear contrast to Margaret Thatcher who kept talking about "one of us". So here I am, humming "Little Seeds of Hope" by Norma Wilow.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Plan B, Plan C, and Plan G

After my friend missed the ferry, we had a furry of looking up transport firms on the web. There's a ferry from Tenerife on Tuesday. Plan B: she could leave here on Monday, spend the night on Tenerife, and get the ferry Tuesday night. Plan C: or get up hideously early on Tuesday and get through in one, 20-hour day. Or... All these ferries are much more expensive than the direct one.

In the end she got the plane back, plan D. Which, of course, meant that she had to leave her car behind, and hire one on El Hierro to get to work.

So off she went, planning to come back for the car next weekend. Pricey, but no help for it.

I had another idea. Helen was planning to go to El Hierro to visit anyway, so if she goes this weekend, it'll save one return airfare. Helen liked the idea, too. Plan E.

Meanwhile, my friend set off, and I had a visit from two old friends whom I hadn't seen for years.

And then my friend phoned from El Hierro airport. You need your driving license to hire a car, right? And hers was in her own car, parked outside my house. The hire car firm would take a fax, and would I mind?

I didn't mind at all, but the places in Santa Cruz where you can send faxes all opened at 5pm, and the hire car firm closed at 5pm. And no, they couldn't accept an email of a scan.

I looked for inspiration in a cup of tea. Thank you Tetleys. The Galileo telescope offices are just ten minutes drive away, and obviously they have a fax machine. As it turned out, they're nice people, too.

Then Helen got worried about finding the house on rural El Hierro. Plan F: she'll meet our mutual friend at the airport when she returns the hire car.

But that means the passenger seat has to be kept free.

Plan G: I was going to fly our for a weekend anyway, wasn't I? So if I go this weekend and take the guitar, there'll be room for two.

So that's seven plans so far. Watch this space.

Too much fun, not enough sleep

My friend came over from El Hierro for the weekend. So I got my long translation job done last week, tidied up the guest room, and did some cooking in advance.

She arrived Saturday lunchtime, and the fun started. We got home at about 1:30 am and carried on drinking. It must have been around that time that I said, "You think you're weird? One of my best friends is an imaginary hamster."

In the end we went to bed some time after two.

On Sunday we had a lazy morning, and then our friends from Franceses came to join the party for lunch. We stuffed, very pleasantly.

And then my friend missed the ferry home. There's only one direct ferry per week.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Day of the Dead

Today is All Saint's Day, and in Spain people remember their dead, and decorate the graves. (There's a photo on my blog about La Palma)

When I first came here, I found it strange. Now I think it's a better idea than trying to pretend that death doesn't even exist, as some people do. We each have a finite amount of time to achieve our dreams, and it's hard enough to get started working towards them without pretending we're immortal.

Today is also the old Celtic New Year, Samhain. It's as good an excuse as any for a new year's resolution. So I respectfully suggest that you start taking baby steps towards whatever you want.

Me, I'm going to do a lot more writing.