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Wednesday 29 May 2013

Bizarre, Mad and Spectacular

It's been a busy few days, but today it's back to work on the latest story for the third QT anthology. This current story is the longest yet of the new collection, but has been one of the quickest to write, another anomaly of the creative process. But even while the stories are coming together, the search for inspiration continues.
Today there are several stories that caught my attention, the first being the science blogger who claims to have spotted a lizard in a photograph taken on Mars by Nasa's Curiosity rover. I'd be delighted to be proven wrong, but come on! It's a rock that sort of looks a little like a lizard if you squint your eyes, in much the way a cloud can resemble a hamburger or an Aston Martin DB7. Still, it's got the UFO, conspiracy theorists excited, and there's plenty of material for a writer there!
Another that captivated my imagination and horror in fairly equal measure is that of the surveyor planning to live on a rock in the sea for 60 days. The rock in the photograph doesn't look much bigger than the science blogger's 'lizard', with the added interest of being surrounded by tumultuous seas. I find it hard to see the attraction but, strangely, it's stirred a few ideas in the 'weird' section of my brain. (I try not to go there too often because it gives me nightmares.)
The final story I want to share actually hasn't inspired me creatively, but it's the oddly satisfying tale of the lady who, after 20 years of hard work and devotion, has managed to train a wisteria along a 252 foot long wall. Her reward is a spectacular display of blooms that turned an old brick wall into a blaze of purple. It's all the more pleasing because she hadn't a clue what she was doing, she just wanted the vine to cover the wall. Job done, I'd say.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Wood You Have the Time on You?

Last week I posted the link to Rob Heard's beautiful bough houses. Now I can bring you the perfect accessory to compliment his sculptures: Valerii Danevych's wooden watches.
No, I haven't gone mad, he really does make working watches out of wood. Each part is carefully carved out of different woods and assembled into watches that are accurate to within five minutes in a day. They're gorgeous, but I'd be far too afraid to wear one. To start with, I'd probably spill my coffee on it, or break it when I crashed into a door frame or wall (as I'm wont to do), but furthermore, I'd get nothing done because I'd spend the whole day admiring it.
The Mail's link has some good photographs, but for a better view of his work, take a look at Valerii's own site.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Welcome Home

Ah, the romance of a honeymoon, the sun-kissed beaches, the cocktails, strolls along the shore as the sun sets, the return home to find your brother has painted your house pink and yellow.
That's precisely what Steve and Hayley O'Rourke found when they got home from their honeymoon. Steve's brother, Russell, had painted their house bright pink with yellow spots in revenge for Steve bricking up his drive when he got married some years before. They demonstrate an impressive commitment to pranking. Most people settle for confetti and silly string.
Apparently the newly-wed couple's neighbours are generally pretty pleased with the new paint job, saying it brightens the street. However, the new Mrs O'Rourke has indicated it will be restored to normal as soon as they have time. I suppose that'll be the most obvious sign that the honeymoon is really over.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

A Road Safety Rant

I apologise now, this one isn't funny. But as the wife of a man who cycles to work, and who hears of the abuse he is subjected to on an almost daily basis, this is an issue close to my heart.
Back in the days when we had a motorhome, we loaded up our bikes and set off on a tour of the Netherlands for one of the best holidays of our lives. Firstly the Dutch are lovely people and made us feel very welcome. Secondly, cycling over there is a joy. In many places the cyclist has their own separate road. Where they don't, they are treated with enormous respect and care by other road users. It was a revelation.
In utter contrast is the story that broke today of a young woman who tweeted rather gleefully that she had knocked a cyclist off his bike and that he had no right to be on the road because he doesn't pay road tax. It's an attitude that is depressingly common in the UK.
Of course she's obviously wrong, in more ways than one. To begin with, nobody pays road tax. There is no such thing. What she refers to is actually Vehicle Excise Duty, which is levied against a vehicle for the amount of pollution it creates. A cycle creates no pollution, therefore no VED is levied against it, while a car or truck pollutes quite heavily, therefore they are charged accordingly. That money isn't used for road maintenance. Instead, anybody who pays council tax, whether or not they own a car, truck, cycle or carthorse, is paying for the upkeep of our roads. And everyone is entitled to use the road.
Furthermore, and far more troublingly, she and the rest of the "#Bloodycyclist" brigade seem to forget that cyclists are flesh and blood, human beings, people, husbands, wives, sons and daughters. Would that foolish young woman be so proud of herself if she had seriously injured the cyclist, or worse?
Rant over, normal service resumes in the next post.

Monday 20 May 2013

New Story

There's a new story on the QT website today. It's only a short one, inspired in part by a recent news story concerning the M6 toll road. 'The Road' is the story of the difficulty of selling a road to an already overtaxed motorist.
Hope you enjoy it.

Friday 17 May 2013

Bear Watch

According to the Telegraph there's another 'cool' job on offer to the right candidate at the moment. This one is that of 'polar bear spotter', working on the Svalbard archipelago. Accompanying research scientists as they go about prodding sticks in the snow and inspecting ice, the successful applicant will be required to keep watch for charging polar bears. The Telegraph suggests a knack for concentration will be key.
Well, that rules me out then. I can get distracted by a shadow, or piece of fluff, or a pretty pencil shaving, or .... aaaaagh! Bear! (In place of pencil shavings, which are unlikely to be found on Svalbard, it's probably safe to assume my attention could be fatefully drawn by an interesting snowflake. My concentration is absolutely appal .... ooh, blue fluff ... ling.)

Wednesday 15 May 2013

A Different Kind of Tree House

Help! I need some 'Drink Me' potion, urgently. I need to shrink. No, no, this isn't about the bikini I optimistically purchased for our holiday! I need to be far smaller than that. I suspect getting down to about three inches would suffice, then I could truly explore the sculptures featured in the article on the Mail's site today.
I refer to the 'Bough Houses' created by Rob Heard. Working from boughs of wood, Rob adds turret houses, intricate stairways and beautiful bridges. They are whimsical, ornate, stunning, and I want one! In fact, I'd like him to teach me how to make one. And I definitely want to write stories about the tiny people who live in them.
It's the secret Lilliputian in me. I need to go and have a lie down now with my notepad and pencil. I feel an irresistible urge to write a fairy tale.

Monday 13 May 2013

Barmy Block Busters

You may have to forgive me any little errors in this post. Intrigued by the news that Dan Brown beats writer's block by hanging upside down, I am endeavouring to write this whilst standing on my head. The problem is, my keyboard keeps slipping and crashing into my nose. I'm not finding that especially conducive to the creative process.
According to an article on the Guardian's website, many famous authors have peculiar methods for keeping the ideas flowing. Apparently Victor Hugo wrote in the nude.         Erm, no. I don't think so. I can only just about tolerate showering in the nude, working in the buff is the sort of thing that only happens in my dreams - very bad dreams. Besides, my screen is of the glossy ultra-reflective variety and the image bouncing back at me sans clothes would probably only inspire me to go on a drastic diet and sign up for military style fitness training. Though there may be a story in that, I suppose.
I like the idea of sealing up the ethernet port (aka Jonathan Franzen). After all, I'm supposed to be starting a new story for the third anthology, but I've allowed myself to get distracted reading about how other writers avoid getting distracted. And it turns out, standing on my head gives me a headache, not to mention the damage it's doing to my nose.

Friday 10 May 2013

Book to Movie Dilemma

I read some news this morning that has left me befuddled. The brilliant book, 'Ender's Game' by Orson Scott Card, has been made into a movie. On the face of it, I should be excited. I loved the book which, despite the extreme violence, actually had surprising depth.
The plot is that Earth has been at war with an alien race for seventy years and, in a desperate attempt to gain the upper hand, a radical new approach is adopted, where the world's most talented children are whisked away to a military training school where they learn warcraft in a zero gravity 'game'. I shan't say any more, for fear of spoiling it for anyone who hasn't read it, but the resulting story is every bit as emotionally challenging as it is violent. It was a fabulous book, and the news of the movie has tempted me to rummage through our crowded bookshelves for our well thumbed copy.
But for all that, I have reservations. I worry the movie will weigh in too heavily with the violence, the awesome battles, the gungho manly type stuff, ignoring the psychological and ethical questions raised by Orson Scott Card's original work. The trailer is impressive, as is the cast list, and I'm so very keen to watch it, but many a good book has been ruined by a crudely interpreted movie. I really hope it won't be the case with this one.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

A Race to be Reckoned With

Allow me to set the scene: the sun is shining, not a cloud in the sky. A large crowd gathers, the bunting is out, a large inflatable starting gate has been erected, and runners form up, some in fancy dress, others kitted out in the technical gear favoured by the serious runner. They await the starting gun ... and they're off! Pounding the street, taking the tight turns of the local park with ease, the cheering of the crowd, the slap, slap of trainers striking tarmac and ... they finish! Seven seconds later! Eh?
This was the 55 yard dash around what is officially Britain's smallest park, Prince's Park, Burntwood, Staffordshire. 400 runners took part and, if the photographs on the Mail's site are anything to go by, the whole community turned out to cheer them on. The combined effort raised £750 for local charities.
I think, with the right training, nutritional guidance, and sustained encouragement, I might be able to complete that course. Perhaps I'll put my name down for next year.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Real Life Trumps Fiction

There are times when a news story breaks that is just so extraordinary it makes any attempt at writing fiction seem puny, unimaginative and futile. The story of the three women, missing for ten years, rescued by a stunned neighbour is one such tale.
The women had been kidnapped aged 14, 16 and 19, and kept in the 'dungeon' of a house in their home town for the last ten years. They were rescued when one of the women managed to alert a neighbour by screaming for help. He kicked down the door and freed the woman and her daughter, who then sprinted across the road to call the police, telling them she'd been missing for ten years but 'I'm free. I'm here now'. I can't hear that without the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.
Where do you begin unravelling a story like this? With the men who kidnapped them and held them captive for so long? With the women who must have believed they would never see the light of day again? Or with the neighbour who came to their rescue? Fiction becomes irrelevant, the truth is more fantastic than anything I could invent.

Sunday 5 May 2013

Long Live the Internet

A few weeks ago I received a text from that certain special someone telling me it was a lovely day where she was and that she was standing in front of a webcam not far from her term-time home. My immediate reaction was to completely forget how to type as I fumbled about trying to get to the website. I must have clicked on half a dozen wrong links in my excitement before I finally forced myself to calm down and behave like a computer literate adult. And there she was, our beautiful daughter, waving to me down the internet. I know she could do the same with Skype, but this was special, a sort of sneaky wormhole through the 160 miles that separate us when she's at uni.
With this memory still fresh in my mind, the story of the U.S. Air Force man based in Afghanistan, who happened by chance to see his family on a Scottish webcam, really struck a chord. He had known his family would be visiting the site and was looking it up on the internet when suddenly, there they were, walking into shot of the webcam. The fact that he then called her on her mobile phone and told her she looked beautiful today is just the jolly sentimental icing on the cake.
You know, these computer wizards might speak a peculiar language and be in the possession of weird and mysterious skills, but when they get things right, they really get them right. Long live the internet, mobile phones, and webcams (and yes, computer wizards too of course!).

Friday 3 May 2013

Shark in the Grass

Trawling through the news sites this morning one image jumped out at me. It's pretty odd, so it seems appropriate to mention it here. The image was that of a knitted shark. Hm, see! Odd. Even odder is that the knitted shark is actually a suit crocheted for ... a tortoise.
A lady in Canada, keeper of seven tortoises, knits tortoise suits in all manner of designs and colours. It struck me as a really bizarre thing to do to the poor creatures, until I realised that the bright colours make it much easier to spot a foraging tortoise in long grass.
I don't have a tortoise and I don't have grass, so I won't be placing an order, but good luck to Katie Bradley and her posse of shark fin tortoises.

Thursday 2 May 2013

Right to Vote

Today across England it's polling day for the local elections. Only one candidate even bothered to canvas our area, but that's English democracy for you: if you don't live in a large conurbation, would-be politicians are content to overlook you. It can be hard to conjure the motivation to walk to the polling station to vote, but I have a firm resolve this time.
I've just finished reading 'My Own Story: Emmeline Pankhurst', and it was a revelation. I thought I knew the story of the suffragettes, I thought history lessons in school had covered their struggle fairly comprehensively. How little I knew. And how can I, a woman who has just read of the struggles those amazing women went through in order to secure our political freedom, not make the effort to use it? It was a fascinating and, at times, infuriating read, not because it was in any way badly written, but because of the flagrant abuses perpetrated by the political classes of that time.
So, I'll be off to vote this evening. And I'll put my cross beside the one candidate who could be bothered to ask for it.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

No News

There are no unique and amusing news stories out there today. Well, there probably are, but I haven't been able to find them. But the sun is out, the sky is blue and it's May Day! I've seen people walking around quite contentedly in shirtsleeves and shorts and everyone seems to be smiling - apart from the chap in the Mondeo who nearly ran me over at a crossing this morning (luckily I was quick enough on my feet to avoid becoming an unsightly splodge in the road).
So, Happy May Day, hope the sun's shining wherever you are, and if you drive a Mondeo and decided not to stop for a mop-haired woman on a crossing today, you're forgiven, just this once.