June Links Post

(I may have taken a couple of months off from collecting interesting links due to having an extended holiday from everything).

Things Other People Have Done

  • The Oxford Dictionaries Blog have made a fine post detailing the evolving language of Tumblr. Lexocography is an interesting science and one which seems a lot like trying to move water with a sieve, from where I’m sitting, so it’s even more fascinating to see how one of the world’s most comprehensive dictionaries takes on the perpetually-changing dialects of the internet. (That said, a lot of the language defined isn’t unique to Tumblr).
  • Fickle Sense rendered up unto the internet a helpful tutorial on how to make circle skirts – full, 3/4, 1/2, and 1/4. Very useful for anyone wanting to make this most basic part of a wardrobe, excellent for sewing beginners.
  • Some very clever designers have made gold pendants out of city maps. Beautiful and an obvious way of expressing your civic pride.
  • These wonderful people have a business producing replicas of bones from a huge variety of vertebrate lifeforms, including extinct animals, and damaged human remains for pathological study. If I didn’t currently have a carrier bag full of actual bones dragged out of Thames waiting for me to clean them (it’s best not to ask), I would definitely be interested in flinging some cash in their direction.
  • Tumblr user chaperoned has created a handy guide to Reactive vs Proactive characters, why you should aim to write proactive characters, and how to do it, with a number of pertinent quotes. Said Tumblr user has also been a lot more polite about it than I usually am when dispensing writing “advice”.
  • Some mad genius has made animated shorts out of Superf*ckers, a fabulous/horrendous comic by James Kochalka. Which is wonderful, although possibly a little misleading if you are expecting the cute figures to behave like anything other than complete arsewipes.

A Pigeon That Doesn’t Home

I’ve been splitting my time recently between sewing projects and a sort of combined brain/body stimulation of research and brisk perambulations which has happened largely by accident.

On the sewing front I’ve turned an old duvet cover into a somewhat 70s-looking shirt and paired it with some mocha-coloured brushed cotton breeches, turned an old bedsheet into a zip-up shirt, made a pair of striped loose-fit leggings (which the observant will note are made from leftover fabric from that dress I made), used leftover lining fabric and bits of old curtain to make a red maxi dress and a bustle belt to hold it in with, lined and transformed a skirt that no longer fits into an overskirt, and in the process figured out how to use the buttonholing function on my sewing machine which I hadn’t previously been aware existed, and also grudgingly accepted that it’s easier to make things if you don’t skip large portions of the pattern instructions and actually iron things in between and also don’t lose important pieces and forget that you’ve lost them.

Sewing in this respect does provide a useful metaphor for how I live my life: I’m not wholly sure what I’m doing, I don’t understand the instructions, I don’t understand how the machine (my brain, I guess) works, everyone else seems to have more resources, I am making bits of it up as I go along, there is a lot of trial and error, most of it feels like wrestling with a very large and very angry cat (complete with bloodshed), but as long as I can produce something that looks like it was intentional most people don’t care how much I’m winging the process. I don’t even think the metaphor needed to be stretched that much, which is frankly disturbing.

The brain/body stimulation comes from a near-perfect balance of time and distance: I spend roughly half an hour/one cup of tea (which is a good measurement of time) underlining things in and making the odd note on the first of many books on stage magic, Edwardian history and suchlike, which I am going to have to read in order to make this next book of mine worth reading (I’ve yet to find anything pertaining specifically to King’s College Cambridge in the 1899-1903-ish period – particularly rules, practices, and syllabuses – so if anyone has any suggestions I’d welcome them). Then I walk from King’s Cross to either Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, or Oxford Circus, depending, under the pretext of looking at/for things. It’s not a preposterously huge distance – a couple of miles at most – and the ever-changing landscape and challenge of finding the most direct or tourist-free route is entertaining. Walking also gives the brain time to digest everything it’s just read, and hopefully incorporate it into a revised/tightened plot.

The specific idea with walking to Trafalgar Square is of course that I could go into the Peyton & Byrne at the National Gallery and do another half hour of tea and research, but so far that’s failed to happen in the face of me not having enough change left for tea – which is fifty pence more expensive at the National Gallery branch than it is at the British Library branch. TUT, PEYTON & BYRNE, THIS WILL NOT STAND.

Slowly mastering the North-to-South routes for walking is very entertaining, but I think next I shall try the East-to-West. Is there a Peyton and Byrne in Paddington and if there is, how much is the tea? Important questions need resolving.

a compendium of poems about [greek myths]

Getting people to read poetry or even buy poetry books is an endless experiment in formats. The larger collections are too much of a risk for most people to take on unknown poets, so I’m having a go at making tiny collections around specific themes as a kind of taster introduction to the things I’ve written.

I’ve retired the first, a compendium of poems about [science], and as of today you can buy a compendium of poems about [greek myths] if it takes your fancy.

Click on image to buy

Subject matter includes Ganymede, the beautiful boy Zeus abducted in the form of an eagle; Persephone, Demeter’s daughter who spends half of every year in the land of the Dead with her husband Hades; Icarus, the possibly-arrogant young man who flew too close to the sun on the wings constructed by his father Daedalus; Cassandra, cursed with prophecies no one believed; and Ameinias, the unfortunate spurned would-be lover of Narcissus (cover art) who cursed him with knowing what it felt like to fall in love with him and be rejected.

The cover art is taken from this digital painting, from a series of works about mythological boys I did for a friend of mine.

Upcycled Regency Gown

Today I’ve taken a break from writing/editing to deal with some of the extraneous fabric lying around my house by making it into this:

Full-length shot closely cropped because my flat is a shithole again.
Full-length shot closely cropped because my flat is a shithole again.

This is constructed out of a £1 net curtain with lace edging that was found in a Salvation Army shop in Walthamstow (opposite the William Morris Gallery), the bottom part of a second-hand dress bequeathed to me, some leftover red satin from another project, a little satin-y lacing also left over from something else, and a variety of satin roses which I cut off a wedding dress I got from a charity shop. Said wedding dress’s sleeves provided the cuffs for some fancy bloomers and the buttons have gone off to various shirts, while the dress itself was given to a friend it would actually fit.

Close up of roses

Close up of skirt

Using the roses to hide the gathers was clearly a work of genius, as was backing the lace with red satin to give the dress some colour:


What was not a work of genius, and I will give you this advice for free, was not figuring out precisely how I was going to do all this before I started. On this occasion the “wing and a prayer” approach resulted in a nice dress with very firm stitching and a good fit (I did at least remember to measure myself), but it could easily have ended in disaster at several points and there are some hidden fixes for problems I created for myself.

And, as is always the case when sewing in my tiny flat, with my elbow against the wall and my sewing machine vibrating itself off the table and unthreading itself every two minutes, there was a lot of very inventive swearing. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think it’s possible to make clothes without swearing.

Editing Adventures Deux: Missing Bits Again

Today I got up a little earlier than yesterday’s excursion to the British Library, and actually managed to get a seat in the interior cafe instead of being relegated to the quiet little box outside. There I listened to Allegri, Mussorsky, Tavener, Beethoven, Holst, Alleyne-Johnson, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, skipped over Debussey and Mahler with an angry mutter about them being on my playlist in the first place, and also the Red Army Choir singing the Soviet National Anthem because why the hell not, and in so doing managed to squeeze out the last of the missing chapters for Brown Bread Boys.

Technically this means I have completed the second draft. This would be a roaring victory, except it means I now have to go through and do line edits: i.e. read through the bally thing again and find all the places I don’t like my phrasing and rewrite them so that they sound less torturous and more naturalistic. Or sound less naturalistic and more torturous, depending on the desired effect. But the important thing is I don’t have to do that today because I just wrote a chapter and that means I have done my bit for Friday.

No part of the process of writing a book strikes me as so irresistibly fun that I can understand my past self’s determination that this was the profession she wanted (fifteen year old me wanted to be a writer, have a tall blond boyfriend, and not live in Devon: measured by the scale of my fifteen-year-old ambitions I am a successful member of society. It’s a pity that neither thirty-year-old me nor said society agree); research is a nuisance, plotting has its moments of triumph but usually devolves into swearing because the four-dimensional jigsaw puzzle you are attempting to assemble in absence of any instructions is not working, writing is a slog wherein your entire vocabulary deserts you and even dust motes become fascinating distractions, rewrites are torture, line edits are boring, proof-reading is the nadir of human existence, and type-setting, self-promotion, and so on – the things that house-published authors don’t have to care about – are tedious, tedious, and embarrassing.

If it actually paidthough, it would be better than even being a rabbit-stroker for a living.

Brown Bread Boys is a contemporary retelling-ish of Julius Caesar set in criminal London, with blood magic, plot deviation, and some of my better female protagonists, and it is not as bad as my perpetual complaining makes it sound. I promise.

Editing Round One: Missing Bits.

Having recently done the unthinkably stupid and thrown a manuscript at a literary agency, I’ve decided to build on my “idiot things to do with publishing” track record. Today I got started on the active bit of editing the most recent manuscript I’ve finished, which is the “actually writing the bits I and my readers have decided were missing from the story”.

Prior to today I did the “rereading the manuscript to check it was bearable” part, the “making someone else read it and tell me what was wrong with it” part, and the time-wasting “organise all my editing notes chapter by chapter and then write endless notes about them to myself”, but was tied up with the excitement of visiting, among other things, every free art gallery in London, about ten billionty museums, Edinburgh, and more zoos than anyone can reasonably be expected to visit. Also Kew, and the Cutty Sark.

Now, all holidayed-out and desperate to do some work, I found the missing scene from the final chapter sprang messily out of my head while swilling Peyton & Byrne hot chocolate in the small cafe outside the British Library. Tomorrow I have a date with sitting in a similar cafe and trying to hammer out one of two missing full chapters, because I am on a roll. It’s a misshapen roll and one which no one in their right mind would go near, but apparently deliberately forgetting all about the need to edit a manuscript for long enough makes it start more or less editing itself.

Stay tuned for more exciting news from the desk of “okay I can’t remember what any of the character voices were like”, in the office of “I have to go through this whole book and sort out my mangled sentences yet”, in the department of “is that a massive plot hole OH GOD NO”, in the building of “how many edits does it take to make this shit readable”.

Because when this whole process is finished you will be able to buy and read this magnificent and in no way poorly-conceived novel, and I will be able to move on to the research and noodling phase of one of my future books. ISN’T THAT EXCITING?

Photos from the Cutty Sark & A Trip Up the Thames

Holidaying in my own city continues to provide me with excellent entertainment but it does mean I forget all my anecdotes by the time I get home.



i took this photo of the officer’s kitchen on the cutty sark in a mild rage because IT IS BIGGER THAN THE KITCHEN IN MY FLAT

Worth note: it was been a very beautiful day, the Cutty Sark has become much more education-and-activity oriented since I visited when I was 8, and CityCruise have an unofficial but quite funny commentary on the sights you can see on the way up form Greenwich to Westminster.

an “Old Fashioned” at the BFI Bar

Also I had one of these recently. I got it because I demanded that I be given a cocktail that the bartender thought I should have, and this was what he thought. Previously the same bartender has invented a black cherry daiquiri for me due to a lack of strawberries. The BFI Riverfront Bar is one of my favourite places to cocktail for a reason!