November Links Post

Things my friends have done

  • I can now say with absolute sincerity that I have had a song composed about me (by my dear friend Hana), and I will just have to sit on the fact that she wrote it because I pouted at her after she wrote a song about our mutual friend Fiona (and that mostly because Fiona rhymes with boner. We are an intellectually robust cabal). This is worth listening to just to hear Hana break down in giggles mid-verse.
  • Written a rather beautiful poem.

Things strangers have done

  • Pertinent to the month which has just passed by us, the Guardian have published a guide on how to write a book in 30 days.
  • Set Skillex’s most well-known track into a piano piece, in which it sounds as well-composed and wonderful as ever, but perhaps less grating for those who, like one of the commenters, have strong negative feelings about dubstep.
  • The Foreign Institute Service has developed a series of language courses and put them online for free.
  • This deviantartist has created a tutorial on how to draw backgrounds using Google Sketchup.
  • More appropriate links to the month just passed, and for anyone who still wants to be a writer: your lack of confidence is neither interesting nor unique.
  • Memrise, who appear to specialise in mnemonics, have some courses on learning Irish.
  • On the subject of Gaelic, there is a handy pronunciation guide here.
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Personal Post: The Origins of Chemical Names

Having manifestly failed to get out of my bed at a reasonable hour today (we shall not dwell on how badly I failed) I have clawed back a little respectability in assaulting Camden with more good cheer than I think any of the traders who encountered it were really prepared for (I went, dear reader, because I needed to buy more balls. Barbell balls for piercings because, like the elegant and graceful adult I somehow failed to turn into on reaching my 30th, I have swallowed – swallowed, mark you – every single last top ball for my back tongue barbell. I am surprised I don’t clang when I walk). While I was there I stumbled upon a variety of wondrous things, as one tends to in Camden, and overlaid in my mind the way the place used to look, as beyond the bridge especially the place has been rather transformed both by fire and by developers, since I first encountered that magical land in the year 2000. The first was a sterling reminder that Cold Steel in Camden are by far and away the most professional, perfectionist, and friendly piercers I have ever encountered (and I have encountered quite a few, I have a face which does not entirely fail to remind one of a colander).

The second was a book which caught my eye while I was gibbering and stomping through the downstairs stalls in the Stables Market (a hive of mystery, dust, and enormous and frighteningly anatomically correct bronze statues of horses, and one day I am going to inflict my photographic tour of London’s Horse Arse Statuary on you all and then you’ll be sorry). The book in question was, as you may have guessed, the title of this post: the origins of chemical names.

The other thing that happened today was that a courier rang my doorbell, failed to answer me when I asked on the buzzer who was ringing, failed to answer me when I leaned out of the window and shouted down to him to ask what he wanted, but somehow still managed to get me to sign for my new passport.

identification from my passport
The new passports are quite snazzy, there’s a picture of me in there which is made up out of my surname and date of birth.

I am very fond of my name, narcissistically so. It has garnered unbidden praise from strangers on Facebook (friends-of-friends, relatives of friends, one of whom said I sounded like a superhero), and strangers in real life. The reason I am happy with the attention it receives is because I chose it. I worked out the details of the damn thing myself, I lived with variations of it for twelve years and when I finally got to thirty without dying or being murdered for being a deeply annoying person, I changed it legally.

The actual business of legally changing your name in the UK is remarkably straightforward. No lawyers, no petitioning judges, no hoopla and hoohah. The problem is that once you have asserted your statutory right to be known legally by a different name than the ugly unsuited crap-pile your parents lumped on you in a fit of desperation when they discovered they’d made a baby neither of them actually wanted … you then have to notify a long list of people. Happily – and I will say it has been fuss-free so far – the deed poll people include a list of all the agencies who legally need to be notified, how to notify them, and whether they require a legal copy of the deed poll or will be satisfied with photocopies. This has made my life infinitely easier.

The question one is generally asked when one changes one’s name as thoroughly and completely as I have (the fellow at Nationwide looked at the deed poll and actual said: “Blimey, you’ve really changed it!” as if I might have just been in need of correcting 30 years of erroneous spelling) is why, first and foremost, and why this name secondly.

In the culture I live in we look on names, unfairly I think, as a lifelong sentence. Unless you’re changing your marital status or your legally recognised gender (to match your actual gender), or possibly taking on a new name for religious reasons as a friend did when she converted to Judaism, you’re expected to plod along bearing whatever malicious, accidental, trauma-linked, clumsy, silly, show-off, pedestrian, or just wrong name you’ve been gifted at birth. You can acquire nicknames, if you’re that sort of person (I have hundreds, mostly from one friend, all of which are infantile and related to poo or bums because one of the selection criteria for my close friends is “do you have the sense of humour of a twelve-year-old boy?”); but no matter how much of a Jonty or a Clockwork Brian or Nifter or whatever your friends may call you – however comfortable you are with Ophelia or Caz – you are supposed to hang the albatross of David Boggs or Susan Knifeington-Baley around your neck until you are ignominiously buried under it and known to history, if history wants you, by that lump on your personality.

There is a problem in that even if you suit your name as a child you may grow out of it as an adult. People give names to children without considering if they’ll always be the same bundle of fluffy squawling joy they were when they were blessed with the name Timmy. The inverse occurs, of course: people give their children names that belong to the family which they’re expected to grow into, like shoes or raincoats, failing to understand that children grow in unexpected ways and may vastly overshoot Mary in order to be Mirabelle; or indeed that while Ethel may indeed grow up to be able to handle a name with that kind of history she may also be so fucking sick of the taunting about it from her childhood that she’d rather eat a bucket of glass shards than let anyone call her it as an adult.

A name-choosing ceremony would be, all told, a nice rite of passage, a transition from the childhood name given by parents to the adulthood name chosen with a view to the kind of person you’d like to become. Then again, it’s hard enough deciding which A-Levels to take, and the English especially are leery of anything that smacks too much of ritual.

So the answer to the oft-asked why, for me at least: I have never liked the name my mother gave me. I have the story of the acquisition of it to hand: I was three days old, neither of my reluctant parents had managed to settle on a name, my father suggested “Emily”, my mother said “Shit no that’s horrific” and pulled a name out of her ass and my father was already planning to leave her at the time and that’s how I got that name. I didn’t have a middle name because gosh look at the hassle of one name… and my surname was, aesthetically, ugly. It is my father’s surname, and he’s done as he pleases with it. It is linked, variously, with a prestigious jeweller (may or may not be a relation), a cult sci fi writer (my great-uncle), and a serial child molester in Wiltshire (if he’s a relation I imagine my paternal family disowned him quite quickly).  It does not roll off the tongue. It sticks in the palate.

Furthermore, it’s not my name, it’s my father’s name, and while we are on civil speaking terms now we’ve been in a relationship of absences and cyclic hostility for the whole of my life, too similar to excuse each other and just different enough to be incapable of empathy.

In combination those two ugly, unthinking names have been used in connection with all the worst parts of my life. It’s the name they called at the hospital when I was finally wheeled out of a corridor with a damaged liver when I attempted suicide at 17; it’s the name that was shouted in the company of flying furniture as the head teacher of my primary school tried for the whatevereth time that week to frighten me into being a better, less autistic child; it’s a name that was sneered in accompaniment to nicknames like “nigger lips” at secondary school; and it’s the name my mother invariably sighed before “I’ve had enough of you” and being bodily ejected from either the house or the (slowly) moving car. It’s not a name I want and it’s not a name I associate with anything good: it’s the name of an unwanted child. I spent a lot of my youth either trying to convince people to call me “Cathrin” or experimenting with ways to spell the damn thing so that it didn’t look like a blunt dagger in the stomach on the page.

And the strange thing is, I have several friends who share that first name I once had, and on them it is a lovely thing. It fits them like a glove. They have the faces for it, the hair for it, the smiles for it, the exuberance and charm for it.

The second question: why this?

This is a more interesting answer less riven with self-pity and boring chunks of my average but less-than-satisfying upbringing. The whole glorious construction of Delilah Des Anges (less the “Algia”, which is pure indulgence and if you are at all interested is pronounced with a soft “g” and a short “A” and really that should be À in terms of pronunciation but I am not about to start pissing about with diacritics in my own name) is a back-formation. Or rather, two back-formations.

I have been known to a greater or lesser extent as “Del” by anyone I socialised with since about 18. Initially this had nothing to do with Delilah and everything to do with a comic book character a friend thought I resembled; there are friends old enough to remember addressing me as Delirium. Lovely though this name is, I am not in the business of taking after anyone if I can help it, and one cannot precisely convince anyone that one is a serious member of the human race when one takes off introducing oneself as the embodiment of madness, even if one is at the time doing a bloody good job of living up to it (please refer back to aforementioned suicide attempt etc). “Del” however is a thoroughly pleasant syllable and one which was given its own back-formation by two separate circles of friends at roughly the same time. I am still known by a lot of those friends as Derek. Our Derek, Young Derek, Derekles, Dereker, and so on.

I have no memory of when Delilah about as a back-formation of Del: I think someone asked me what my name was short for and suggested it and it stuck, sort of like love at first introduction. I am greatly pleased with it, and I will happily field any number of Tom Jones-related jokes as my biblical namesake was pretty rocking. The apparently inevitable Plain White Ts references however can go choke on a bucket of poo since the song is terribly insipid.

Des Anges is a name I picked up from a friend’s pseudonym and kept when I lost the friend. The angel tattoos on my back which now form a cross (the X axis representing the balance of the emotions and the Y axis the progression of age and decay, which is also a back-formation that I worked out one boiling June afternoon with my much-missed flatmate and egregious American Kyle) were already four in number when I made off with the name in 2003/4. It was the name that flowed from the tattoos, and not the other way around (although it is usually more convenient to tell people I got the tattoos because of my name).

And now I am a superhero with my very musical name. There’s not a single phoneme in it I dislike. I can introduce myself to people and be happy both with their reaction and with the words coming out of my mouth. It is my own choice, my own creation, and much like the tattoos it came after it is the act of dusting off something unwanted and shabby and turning it into something which is no doubt fractured, but far more grand. It is a burlesque of the self; I have upcycled me.

Feels good. Feels very good.

NaNo Log Final Day

Quick, throw a parade! I finished the first draft of another novel! It took me exactly three weeks! My friends stopped being excited by things like this years ago!

As I really don’t have anything further to add, have a video of someone’s top 5 dubstep bass drops. It’s actually rather good, if you like dubstep (which obviously I do or I wouldn’t be posting it).

NaNo Log Day 20

The correlation between the library Wifi not working and me getting my writing done quickly and with fewer stops and starts continues to be hilarious, pathetic, and infuriating. Writing scenes of high emotional impact continues to be my favourite part of writing novels, and what was meant to be a short scene at the beginning of the chapter ended up being the entire chapter so the book has just expanded by one chapter. But I am still finishing that bloody thing tomorrow, so help me god.

Most of the journey home was spent pondering why, when almost everyone I know who writes now writes Young Adult Fantasy, I am not attempting this genre. I think it’s mostly because I cannot fathom teenagers at all, and because I cannot write from personal experience of adolescence because mine was pathologically abnormal and in most ways not very relatable. On the other hand, should anyone need someone to pen an opus about being an autistic closet homosexual raised by an increasingly out-of-touch orthorexic New Age feminist and locked up in a school for children who aren’t wealthy enough for an Approved School, have social workers and therefore cannot be just ignored, have not broken a law badly enough for a Young Offender’s Institute, and aren’t quite suicidal enough for a Secure Unit… then I humbly submit that I might be able to have a fair go at it.

Then again I would probably write my protagonist with such contempt that it would be impossible to feel any sympathy for her.

Fingers crossed that I manage to put the first draft to bed either today or tomorrow, and can then move on to finishing my sci-fi short story, and to spending an entire day doing nothing but watch Black Books.

NaNo Log Day 19

After taking yesterday off to, among other things, stand outside of St Paul’s Cathedral lecturing one of my dearest friends about the nature of faith, stomp around Barbican and ramble on about morally dark grey characters, and listen to anecdotes from the front line of trying to teach literature to teenagers in Essex, I wasn’t entirely enthused about knuckling down again. This is why days off are a bad idea.

However, possibly because I’ve been planning this particular chapter since before the whole plot came together and have been looking forwards to it since the start of the book, all 5000 words of it just popped out, more or less, in a big happy lump of dramatic fiction. Not bad work considering two of my wisdom teeth were trying to detonate my cheek and also my eyeball and the whole business of leaving the house made me feel like my skin was made of rancid butter.

This last bout of productivity brings me to within two chapters of the end of the book. I’m pretty pleased with this and while I have my doubts about the quality I am sincerely hoping that I will manage to avoid the “end of draft ennui” that sets in every year, where I expect to get a climactic sense of achievement and forget that “a sense of achievement” is a completely foreign concept to me.

However, if I manage to complete this draft – and barring major upheavals I believe I shall – then I will have written two full novels in this calendar year, and edited two. I’m no Barbara Cartland, but that seems quite respectable. Next year I shall try for three!

NaNo Log Day 16

Only two things:

  1. Listen, self, if you are going to go to the damn library to write maybe you should try a) taking a jumper so you’re not too cold to concentrate and b) eating something so you’re not too hungry to concentrate and c) if you don’t do those things don’t pussy out after 1,800 words, sit there and lump it until you’ve finished, maybe it will speed you up a bit.
  2. WHY THE FUCK DID IT TAKE ME NINE HOURS TO WRITE FOUR THOUSAND WORDS. I blame the internet.

Today will be the day of self-recrimination and hopefully remembering to eat a pasty before I disappear into the literary hermitage.

NaNo Log Day 15

At the half-way point of the calendar month:

  • I have five more day outlines/distributions of plot points to write.
  • I have 78,900 words written, and am averaging between 2000 and 5000 words per chapter, so can reasonably expect about 90,000 to 100,000 words for the finished article, possibly?
  • I am well and truly mired in the stage of novel-writing where I start dragging my heels, complaining, and deciding that I hate writing, hate the project, never want to see another book again for the rest of my life, etc, etc.

I don’t know that I’ve ever finished NaNoWriMo so early in the month before. I do have other writing projects that are deadline dependent and need my attention, though, so I shall try to employ the same head-down-keep-going mad rush of November on them while NaNoWriMo is still ongoing.

(Also it took me forever to write my allotted amount today because of the library wireless being in fine fettle, and my self-control being at its usual non-existent level).

NaNo Log Day Please Let’s Not Get Into This

After a couple of days grinding away at the plot outline and making alterations to chapter outlines as I went along and getting disproportionately angry with people at the library for their choices in dealing with their colds (sitting in the corner of the mezzanine at a recently-vacated desk muttering blow your fucking nose don’t sniff like a very cross version of my own mother), I thought I’d take today off. I thought, having managed to keep up with my own constantly-shifting goalposts and being in the third act and having many days of November left ahead of me, I would pop off to a museum with a friend of mine and we’d have a gay old time and I would if necessary scribble a few words when I got home.

What actually happened was that the whole of London ganged up to be as irritating as humanly possible and several people on the Tube tried to stink-eye me into not writing in my notebook and failed, and then my phone – glorious tower of impracticality that it is – decided that not having enough credit to send a text message meant that it wasn’t going to receive any so I ended up standing in the wrong place to meet my friend for about twenty minutes. Then I ran – well, waddled – off to find her, couldn’t, realised I was going to have to top up my phone credit if I ever wanted to explain where I’d got to, spent far too long looking for a cash point, bawled at a chugger not to even start with me, and once I’d finally credited my phone I took a depth breath and started leaving angry voicemails for the friend I was supposed to be meeting instead of, I don’t know, just leaving one and then waiting for her.

Net result: friend decided that if I was going to shout at her on the phone she didn’t want to hang out with me (reasonable), I went back home and wrote about 50% of what I normally write in a day, and felt like a prize dickhead once I’d finally calmed down enough to stop muttering “cunt” under my breath at everyone who looked in my direction.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS: DON’T TAKE DAYS OFF UNTIL YOU’VE FINISHED THE BOOK BECAUSE IT WON’T BLOODY WORK.

Personal Post: I came into my inheritance today.

I “came into my inheritance” today. Or, in practical terms, I received a cheque for about 2 weeks wages, and a small box full of jewellery-related things my grandmother thought I would be able to use from my grandfather’s effects.

There is very little tangible left of his 85 or so years on earth and I don’t know how I feel about that yet.

These photos are of what I’m informed is New Zealand greenstone. My grandparents do not/did not seem like very well-travelled people because they’ve always carried a patina of uncomplaining Presbyterian small-townness around with them, very much self-contained with small lunchboxes and good manners and always reading the road signs, but my grandfather seems to have been all over the sodding world, from Japan to Chile to Norway to India (where he grew up, possibly: it is hard to get facts about his early life because he never talked about it) to New Zealand, to god knows where. Always with plants in mind.

He died at the end of June, while I was somewhere between London, Seoul, and Sydney. I think if nothing else that proves I’m following in his footsteps.

A two-tier box containing a brooch and a copper bracelet on the top (copper bracelets seem to be the only kind my family will wear). The contents of the lower section are arranged in the box the whole lot came in.

This is a button with a safety pin through it. A Royal Engineers uniform button. As these are my grandfather’s effects I’m confused: my grandmother’s father was in the Royal Engineers in WW1 (and was a PoW, possibly in Breslau? Information from my family= blood from a stone). Then again, I know my grandfather served in WW2 (poooooossibly in India?), and I have no idea if he was an engineer or a regular or a medic or ANYTHING BECAUSE NO ONE WILL TELL ME ANYTHING.

A black leather-ish jewellery case with a tray. I am slightly … unsettled, I think is the right word, by some of the things in here as I think they belonged to his sister. My grandfather was one of ten children and by the time my grandmother met him (in their late teens/early twenties, I think? Pretty sure my grandmother was married by twenty), he was an only child. That is kind of a lot of death to be up close to. So regardless of our travels, we’ve led very different lives, because mine was relatively death-free until last year brought an avalanche of corpses with it (and this year has continued in the same vein).

And now I’m wondering what, if anything, of me people will want to keep when I’m gone, or if by that time there will be anything left to keep or anyone left to keep it.

NaNo Log Day 10

At present I seem to be alternating one good day with one bad one in terms of output, and today was both a disappointment and less of a disappointment than the last time this happened: I covered all of the plot points I felt it necessary to cover, and I didn’t get into word-count-chasing padding which would have annoyed me and just have to be removed later anyway.

In terms of plot I’ve hit another crucial moment in the story, and thanks to the nature of this story what I need to write tomorrow is also very clear: I’m hoping that will make it easier to write, rather than shorter to write, but as I’m just on the verge of breaking the end of Act Two now I’m beginning to get the “god make this end” feeling. Which is not a perfect way to feel one third into the month, but I am quite sure I can make it a little longer before this degenerates into the usual end-section slog where I bitch and whine and complain and spend most of the time at the computer glaring at the screen sobbing “why won’t you just end?“. Prior to NaNoWriMo – which I have been doing for six or seven years – the “why won’t you just end” stage didn’t ever show up because I usually gave up somewhere in the first act, or was so deranged about a story (the first “novel” I wrote when I was 16) that I didn’t care how long it went on for: now I have a better proportion of finished to unfinished projects (although the latter still vastly outnumbers the former) and a burning sense of resentment for the English language around day 20.

It may be worth noting that the sudden drop in productivity coincided with the library wireless connecting to my netbook… because I have no self-control.