Sunday, December 31, 2006

Getting in the mood, sort of

I'm getting the chance to listen to some of my favourite music at present. Currently on is The Essential Philip Glass. I only like certain tracks on this one, but the tracks I favour I really, really like. Coming up is his Hymn to the Sun and Window of Appearances, both from the opera Akhnaten. These pieces are certifiably bonkers (particularly Window) and I suspect either you get totally caught up in them, or they leave you cold. I also like sane pieces, honest - one of my favourite composers is the cool, calm and collected Arvo Part. Er, yes, I know he's intense, but cripes is he beautifully controlled.

I may go onto listen to some music by Thomas Newman. Road to Perdition is very fine, though Oscar & Lucinda is my real favourite being as it was my official soundtrack to my 6th century book. Some samples of the music can be found at It's almost too difficult to listen to now, as it reminds me of the good time I had doing the first draft. Or perhaps I'll go onto the Gladiator soundtrack; the film was released bang in the middle of me writing my first draft, so that evokes good memories too. Subsequently, I've marched out into the arena at a couple of re-enactments to the sound as well, and got trampled over by a bunch of 1st century legionaries (thank you kindly, sir!)

Saturday, December 30, 2006

So what's it all about then?

I don't check out Miss Snark as often as I should, so it was good that Gabriele mentioned that Miss Snark was doing her Crapometer again. This is alway instructive, and Miss Snark is focusing on the hook this time round. Reading the entrants, time and again I saw authors fail to say what the novel was about. Now listing what happens is one thing, but I think Miss Snark is looking for the the journey of the character/s and the 'problem' to be solved. Indeed. And I think that's the difficulty with some of my tales.

My idea of what they are really about (as opposed to what happens) is hazy, at best. The silly thing is that I understand the concept from my reading, but I don't apply it elsewhere. Occasionally, I 'get it' and presumably some of the writing for my 5th century tale showed this when it won the writing competition, but I think it was on an instinctual level. A brief glimmer of unconscious competence, there perhaps. I'd really like to move from conscious incompetence to conscious competence one day, but for now the odd, rare, flash of being unconsiously competent will have to suffice. Here's a little more about the competence factor.

Good grief, my Christmas cactus may well be flowering by the early New Year. It has gert big pink buds on it. It's done better than last year, when it only thought about budding sometime in February. I have two of these plants btw, and the 'Mother' plant no longer flowers. However, it's in a much more sheltered position than it's 'Baby' so perhaps doesn't know when to flower.

The flowers are a delicate pink delight that only last for a few days, but they certainly brighten up my winter study :-)

Labels: ,

Polar Fiction and car trouble

I've got a couple of polar fiction books on my list to track down:

Mrs Chippy's Last Expedition by Caroline Alexander. This is about the cat on Shackleton's Endurance trip. It will come to a bad end, that's for sure. Oh, and Mrs Chippy was actually a tomcat ...

The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge. Centres on the men in Scott's final polar party. Should be interesting.

These two are both in the local library. It's just a case of finding them, as at least one of them is a paperback, and I never have much luck finding pbs on those whiz-round carousel thingies.

Another one, which I tentatively call 'polar fiction' is:

Explorers of the New Century by Magnus Mills. Review from the Times here. This is an alternative history type thing, and I've actually bought it. The New Century referred to is the early 1900s, when all those British polar explorers were mucking about in the Antarctic ...

Meanwhile, Shackleton is being repeated on More4 (digital), so I am recording that.

Meanwhile on our street, to change the subject completely, we have a relatively new car phenomonen. Along with (S)crap Cars (there's one parked outside ours at this very moment), we now have the School of Stupid Parking. This is where some idiot decides to park on the opposite side of the road, on the foot path, and with cars parked on this side of the road at the same time. Result: pedestrians start complaining, and traffic can't get past very easily. And you should see the palaver when the Binmen and their large vehicles come. I believe the SSP has been started by a new resident, who doesn't know that the council have in the past issued warnings about cutting hedges so that people can pass, never mind cars parking on the pavement ... I found a note, obviously put on the windscreen of the SSP member, but either blown away or discarded so that it ended up entangled in my gate, telling them not to park on the pavement. I think it was actually from the householder outside where SSP had parked. I love this street :-)

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I'm very generous

Don't know if I'm considered generous with the crimbo presents, but Batman got the bug that I had early last week, so I'm certainly generous on that front ;-( Lucky him. I think I can say it was my fault that I not only did the Christmas Dinner, but I washed up too. The washing-up bowl is normally his domain, but he was way too ill to be doing that. I let him dissolve in front of the tv, while I tended with coffee and paracetemol.

Fortunately, my lovely chap is much better today, and he's currently splashing about in the bath. I missed him over the three days he was too ill to be good company. Tomorrow, we'll muck about in town for a while - if we get up early enough to avoid the queue, it'll be Betty's first, followed by a mooch, then perhaps a latte at Borders before trailing home. The Small Museum is closed till the second week in January, though I will be involved in some voluntary work there during the first week. But at least there'll be no temptation to drop in there tomorrow.

No historical fiction for Christmas. Though Batman did get me Nansen's account of his extraordinary adventures trying (and failing) to get to the North Pole. So when I'm finished with Birdie Bowers, it's onto Nansen, who was a very different man. Still trying to read Attila by Napier, but can only stand it in very small doses ... I need to find a hf novel to read that doesn't annoy me; haven't seen Mary Gentle's new one yet. I'll keep a look out if we get into Borders tomorrow.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Back again

Starting to feel a bit brighter now, though not up to poking my sinusitis-prone snoz out of the door yet. The squirrels, after being slightly put-out by the square white baffles Batman put up, have got around the obstacles and are back on the birdfeeders. Darn it.We don't mind them, but they are taking food out of the birds' beaks.

Meanwhile I've been reading The Fifth Man by Charles Lagerbom, which is about Birdie Bowers, in Scott's Antarctic party. I kept shivering whilst I was reading it, not realising it was actually the on-set of a bug and not the effects of reading about the cold weather at the South Pole. Bowers, apart from being the smallest man, was also the youngest of the party. He was always optimistic, very hard working a real team-worker. He's my favourite of the party. Lagerbom's book, however, is not well edited and rather repetitive. I've just got hold of Seaver's 1938 biography of Bowers, so will have an interesting time comparing them. Seavers already scores over Lagerbom in illustrations. Seavers has some photos of The South Polar Times, complete with a cartoon of Birdie and penguins.

Talking of penguins, I've been watching Nigel Marven's Penguin Week on Channel Five. He's out in South Georgia, looking at three different types of the bird, plus other wildlife. In particular I like the king penguin chicks, especially when they get it into their heads to run around flapping their wings, seemingly for no reason. It may be to help build up their wing muscles for when they finally go into the water, but initially it just looks like they're having a very silly moment. Aw, sweet.

Marven hasn't mentioned if he's visited Shackleton's grave, which is on South Georgia.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

No news

The interview chap hasn't rung. Suspect that at this time of year references for most of the candidates haven't appeared yet. Frex I didn't even post my ref's addresses on till last Tuesday. Never mind the interview organisation sending off letters to request refs in the Christmas post. Or the person they've offered it to hasn't made their mind up.

Anyhow, I'm sneezing too much to be bothered. Yes, I have my (overdue) December bug :-) Will doubtless be rather quiet for at least a week, which takes us up to Christmas. Have a good 'un!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Big toe :-(

Last Thursday I managed to drop the iron on my right big toe. The good news is that the iron wasn't hot at the time. However, the toe rapidly became a lovely purple colour and wearing a shoe entailed the bruise being rubbed somewhat, i.e. it's made walking rather difficult. And yes, this injury is on the foot that had caused me so much trouble for the past couple of years. Funnily enough, in the last few months, it's been fine. I'm now suspecting it has delusions of some sort of grandeur in wanting to keep me from walking properly and being the centre of my world. Anyway, all this was just before the interview on Friday at noon, followed by doing a paid function in the evening at the small museum. Not to mention me having said I'd do the bar at the craft fair for said museum over the weekend.

I managed it all, but had to catch a lot of buses to get around due to the pain in my big toe. Today, I am relaxing, eating chocs and watching the recordings of tv progs that Batman made over the weekend for me. He managed to put the Christmas decs up as well, so he's a sweetie. Oh, and I'm waiting to hear the results of the interview. The chap said he'd call today and give 'feedback' Sounds ominous. Is it a good idea to make interview panels laugh? I fear I may find out soon .... ;-)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thank heavens ...

Well, finally, they've put Monty Panesar in to bowl for the Ashes. It comes to a pretty penny when someone like me (who really isn't interest in cricket) is shouting for Panesar to be allowed in. I can even tell you which county cricket team he's in (Northants). Batman reckons that part of Panesar's success is his competitive spirit - he's obviously determined to get batsmen out. I think it got the point where Australians thought they were safe from him, and now he's finally let loose, they're somewhat non-plussed.

I love it when Panesar jumps around when he bowls someone out :-) Five wickets taken already.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Despite my dodgy cv, I got an interview for the job I applied recently. It's on Friday, at noon, and includes a couple of tests, so that should be fun all round ;-) They're a very politically correct organisation, and I daresay I fill their quota of having to interview old crocks. I'd love to work for them, as they are a charity broadly involved with the environment.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Are you Jackson?

There's a rather good BBC4 series called Voyages of Discovery on at present. This is where I say 'hurrah' for the Freeview box, as BBC4 is only on digital. It's not to say that programmes don't appear on BBC1 or 2 later, but it's much later. Things like Voyages I don't think I can wait for. We've had Magellan, who trusted he wasn't going to fall off the end of the world. Last week it was the super James Cook. What a great sailor; he was still a lieutenant when sent off on his mission to find the 'southern continent.' As well as being a great navigator, he also worked out how he could avoid the scourge of scurvey so that his crew didn't start dying of it. And yesterday it was the turn of a polar explorer: Nansen.

Nansen was definitely a natural for polar exploration. Being born a Norwegian seems to have helped, as he had the instinct for surviving on the ice. Not only did he build a ship (The Fram) which he said would rise above the pack-ice rather than being squished by it, he was actually right. Making a dash for the North Pole was admittedly bonkers, but somehow he and his companion survived for months in the artic while lost. They were eventually found, by a Mr Jackson. This Jackson was an Englishman who Nansen had rejected from his team, as he wanted them to all be Norwegian. Nothing daunted Jackson launched his own expedition, and quite by chance came across Nansen in the vast wilderness of the artic. Nansen heard dogs barking and a voice shouting, went to investigate. Walked up to the man and recognised him. Almost unbelievable. Luck and good sense is absolutely required for polar expeditions ...

Talking of which, I did indeed get The Last Place on Earth for my birthday, and I'm off to watch episode two now. There are seven episodes, running at around 1 hour 15 minutes each, so it's a relatively leisurely pace. And of course, Nansen, has put in an appearance, which is pleasing. All the early 20th century south polar explorers consulted him, so he should appear. We're getting to see both Scott and Amundsen's story, so that aspect is great. However, it's based on Huntford's book, so I'm keeping my mind open to some possibly dubious stuff. Scott is possibly being shown as more incompetent than he really was, for example. I'm also interested to see how they introduce the Polar party. Will Birdie Bowers get a good look-in, or will he just be in the background, for example?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Back to short stories

I've just finished the Short Story Collection All the King's Horses which is the collection of winners from the Fish Historical Short Story Prize. I can understand why they were chosen (I'd put all of them as an A or the occasional B), but there are one or two I just don't like. Don't like the style. Don't like the approach. I think one of them is particularly 'tricksy' Oh, and it was in First too. Most of the stories were, or in 'tight Third.'

I don't think I would have chosen All the King's Horses by Jo Campbell (Agincourt) as the winner, as I think it's too spare. But it certainly has something about it, and finishes very neatly. I particularly liked Russian Tea by Emma Darwin (about Russian emigres in London), as it just flowed so easily, but perhaps is not substantive enough to come first. Vanishing Point by Hugo Kelly (set in a Soviet gulag) was grimly excellent, came 2nd, and I think that may have come first in my book.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Flight of the Sparrow by Fay Sampson

I had to write this on my blog, as I realised it was likely to be rather long for Carla's comments. These are very much my thoughts about the book, rather than a review.

I read this book after many years of hardly reading fiction at all. I just about kept up with the Arthurian fiction, and that was about it. But in 1999, I joined the Historical Novel Society, saw a review of Flight and thought it was worth reading. After all, it was one of the few reviewed that was set near my era of interest.

I've always liked first person. It doesn't matter to me that it is only one view. It's quite a challenge to the author, and they have to be particularly adept to make the story successful. For me, Sampson triumphs on all fronts. The reader is shown the inner workings of an Anglo-Saxon king. I find him entirely congruent - his outward behaviour is different from his inner voice. He is flawed and has weaknesses, yet to be king he must not show it. He must impress, be arrogant, find the right woman to marry, choose the religion that will make him win, and keep conquering territories. How many men give the outward impression they are tough, when underneath they are really insecure? Certainly Edwin of Deira is one of these.

Being an Anglo-Saxon king (or an aspriring king) was one of the most hazardous jobs of that era, and that came across very well. I felt that Sampson gave an insightful view of what it may have been like to be an Anglo-Saxon warrior of that period. I don't particularly like him; he's a man of his time, and all that implies. Yet I was sufficiently drawn in by the end to be afraid for him and his death in battle. It is alwalys a gamble to make a character unlikeable, but this author somehow makes it work. Sampson is very good at giving her characters an air of being different to us, of being part of their own time. I am not interested in matters religious, yet this made me interested to see how he handled it.

Flight taught me a huge amount about what I felt was important about an historical novel. When it comes down to it, the story tops the history. Therefore, whatever historical path the author has chosen (and all historical authors chose a path, all the more so with early eras) I will not pick at it unless it is grossly incorrect. Or when the story is also questionable - when the people don't behave congruently, characters are too black and white, or they speak in creaky, unrealistic tones, etc. I didn't even notice the change from past tense to present, I was just carried along.

Yes, I agree with Carla about the political aspects of the 7th century. I don't think concept of conquest of the British is so cut and dried as portrayed in Flight. Though I wonder if it's Edwin's unreliable first person narrative here? He's been brought up amongst the western British, who were likely to have more of a concept of encroaching 'Anglo-Saxon' Kingdoms. However, the same ideas are also given in Sampson's recent book, The Land of Angels; the Anglo-Saxons there also say they should be blonde, blue-eyed (ouch!), etc. This view is out-dated. It's more of a case of who are the Anglo-Saxons? Is it culture or ethnicity, or a mixture of both? Sampson is not writing a reference book. But she has written a book which might inspire someone to look closer at the era, and in the end, that is commendable.

For me, the 7th century was a bit late. My interests centre on the 5th-6th centuries, so I came to the story with no expectations, and no particular vision on how Edwin might be. But now I am very intrigued indeed. I was ready to be swept away, and it was the right book, read at the right time. I almost don't want to read it again now, in case I start picking at any perceived flaws :-)

As regards to my own period of interest, it is dominated by the King Arthur factor (sighs with total boredom at the thought). I think I have now finally past the 'pain barrier' where these are concerned. And boy was there a lot of pain, as authors seemed to cheerfully stomp on the historical side of things. There are so many fictional Arthurs, and I have read a fair few, so I now have a good sense of what I think is important; as a reader I want to be immersed in the quality of the writing. I want to absolutely trust the author to take me on a journey, and I don't want to see the inner workings of the author as that kills suspension of disbelief. If the author has created a congruent world (i.e it fully functions within the bounds created), they can have as many King Arthurs as they like, but the writing must be extremely competent. It must transcend any doubts I have about how they approached the history. Seventh century-set Flight did just that for me.

To me Sampson's Edwin is driven, vigorous, courageous and ruthless. He isn't superman or a flawless hero, and that's why it works. He is human. Not some faceless king, who does the right (or indeed the wrong) thing without thinking. He seemed to leap off the page, a living, breathing person in his own right. The Flight of the Sparrow is a very good book.

9am: Blogger currently won't let me upload a cover shot of the book. Will add it later

Labels: ,

Monday, December 04, 2006

Attila is driving me bonkers

Sorry, this isn't a review, but I have a few comments about Attila by William Napier (sorry, again). I am on the fourth chapter and it's driving me bananas. I'm not sure I can actually keep reading. Since it's set in the 5th century, I feel I should, but ...

Where to start? I think the main problem for me is that it's in the omniscient view. So, the reader gets to meet rather a lot of people, on a (currently) a very superficial level indeed. People behave like pawns in the story, rather than as their own character. Galla Placidia is a cardboard cut-out baddie, for example. And as for the old soldiers happening to be near Attila, and remembering the time when the Germanic hoardes came across the frozen river ... Oi, Napier, give it a rest!

And then there's the showing-off of historical knowledge - gert-long list of what's at a Roman banquet, for example. Methinks that Napier is a Classics graduate. If not, he's doing a good impression. At least he's having fun sending up Claudian, even if this reader is gritting her teeth and wishing he'd get on with the story.

Also, these Romans feel to me like they are virtually no different from the 1st & 2nd century Romans. Yes, there's mention of Christianity being the official religion, but if they were all dumped into early imperial Rome, I wouldn't really tell the difference. In that way, it feels like a Hollywood Rome, all decadence and lark's tongues. Flicking through the book, it looks like we might get to see the business end of the Late Roman Empire, hopefully in all its barbarous glory.

Oh, and then there's the heavy-handed relating that history to our own period, complete with the mention of economic-migrants. Some of us cottoned on a long time back about that one, thank you. It doesn't have to be done so obviously. Lay the clues, trust the reader to get there. Where this period is concerned, it's bordering on a no-brainer anyway.

In general: he doesn't evince in me a suspension of disbelief. I can see the machine working all too well. There's no accounting for my taste, I guess, as some people like his books.

But, anyway, I can console myself that Mary Gentle's new book, Ilario: the lion's eye is finally out, after some delays. A good friend pointed me to the review in The Times. Though Gentle can be uneven, the (long) flashes of sheer brilliance more than make up for it. It's back to her alternative Carthage again, where part of Ash: a secret history was set.

btw, I don't seem to have any editing buttons at present, otherwise I would add a few links and a pic. Hope blogger haven't updated the software, or something, as Firefox may not be handling it. Added 12.30: the buttons are back. Perhaps my computer was having a funny turn.

And other note: I am currently thinking about what to say about Flight of the Sparrow by Fay Sampson, but it won't be a review. It'll be more like the Attila comments above, though I'm likely to be rather more complimentary (ahem)

Labels: , ,

Friday, December 01, 2006

Applying again ...

I'm anticipating another attack of the miseries since I'm having to fill in a job application again. I like the look of the job, but once you get down to filling the form in, then the problems start. This one wants to know the reason for leaving previous jobs Strangely, only one of them should I be putting: couldn't stand working in such a disorganised place with such a lack of teamwork. And, yes, it was an archaeological job and I lasted four months. But what to say instead? They also want to know the pay. I'm having to guess some, as the jobs were so long ago. I'm trying not to look closely at the more recent ones, otherwise I shall cry - one because I liked working there and the pay was OK (I left due to the illness), and the other one is the crucifyingly low amount of pay from archaeological freelance work.

Anyway, just putting the finishing touches. It's taken me hours, and I probably won't even get an interview. Frankly, I'm not sure I'd interview me with such a dodgy CV. Looks like I'm a fly-by-night, and as for leaving the last permanent job due to illness ... However, it's not now the last job, as I am working (on a very casual basis) and volunteering at the Small Museum, so that looks better, and proves I've recovered from the illness. Anyhow, I shan't be wasting postage, as I can submit via email :-)