Autopsy of a Failure: How Not To Write

Every year since 2006 I’ve participated in and completed NaNoWriMo. Using the month of concerted, frenzied activity to push myself into focusing and finishing, I’ve always used the challenge to get a solid first draft done for later editing.

This year, I didn’t, for the first time.

I started, but I didn’t finish.

(Alright, in 2006 and 2009 I didn’t finish my draft but did hit the word count; in 2006 I came back to the story and finished it, and the result is The Other Daughter, whereas in 2009 my attempted sequel to Pass The Parcel, tentatively titled Musical Chairs, stalled at 80,000 words and only the bare beginnings of a plot, and I gave it up as a bad job–but that doesn’t sound as dramatic).

In fact, I wasn’t even two weeks into the challenge when I threw up my hands and declared that I was, in the words of a familiar meme, straight up not having a good time, bro.

That, incidentally, was the deciding factor. Not time constraints (for the first time in several years I was trying to balance concerted full-time work with writing, as I couldn’t take any time off this year), but loss of enthusiasm. I can–and indeed have, when writing the first and second halves of Pass the Parcel–work around a full-time job to get a draft written in the time allotted to me. It’s tricky, but when the will is there, the way can be found. The challenge becomes a joy.

In this case, I was getting absolutely no joy out of the experience. I couldn’t get words out. Every single sentence was a walking nightmare: the motto of NaNoWriMo is usually given as just Get The Words Out, which is very liberating for a lot of people–not to have to struggle with concepts of quality, to uncork and unclench and just assure themselves that they’re capable of writing that much, that consistently,. on one project.

The problem is that if I see what’s coming out of me and know that it is complete sludge, no amount of “giving myself permission to suck” will erase the fact that future me is going to have to edit that. “Fix it in post” applies to factual research, names I can’t remember, individual words I can’t find at the moment I need to find them in–bits that can be blocked out in the original draft as I zoom past them in the joy of pursuing the plot and hanging out with the characters.

When, however, the language feels like lead pellets and the characters are pretty much lifeless and flat in my palms, there’s not likely to be a remedy short of throwing the whole book away.

I’m trying to work out how it came to this point. The portion of the year spent on world-building and exploration was fun and interesting. I just appear to have forgotten how to convey information about a world in a narrative. The portion of the year spent on writing things about characters was interesting; but I completely missed any attempt at writing with them.

Part of the reason I had dead characters with dead voices is that I never trialled them, and part of the reason that I didn’t trial them was lack of authorial acoustics. I’ve never subscribed to the Ivory Tower model; of bookwriting, and like to take lots of people along with me even for the first draft ride, to get plentiful feedback as I’m writing, to help me see where I might be missing things, or which characters aren’t developing in the way that I want them to. Even before the first draft, being able to talk out plot holes, advertise and expand characters to an audience, and wrestle with what themes are actually contained in my story at the planning stage with someone who is genuinely interested is a great help!

It’s also a great confidence-booster, and the sad fact is that since last year where–through no one’s fault so much as through bad timing and communication mishaps–I couldn’t find anyone to step into either the first draft readership or planning stages for my draft, I began to feel discontent with writing, and convinced nothing I was doing was any good.

The year that followed saw me writing even less, and planning less, and losing confidence hand-over-fist in what I was producing. Which is bizarre, because I was also being paid to write content for an app and a blog. The authorial ego is a very fragile thing!

How to undo this?

Well, there is a question! So far, having had a good response to the publication of Architects of the Flesh, and working on a private commission for a friend’s Christmas present, in which I’m genuinely freed from all judgment but hers (including my own!) has given me a little confidence back.

So has being straight-up hassled by a different friend about a project I’ve been putting off writing, and talking over that same project with a different friend and getting exactly the intelligent, critical questions I needed to work out one of the things I’d been getting wrong with it.

So I’m cautiously optimistic that next year will bring me a slightly better and more committed run at it.

For some people, “just let yourself be bad at it, but finish it” is what’s liberating. For me, haunted by the spectre of god knows how many “you give up too easily” complaints in my youth and therefore punishing myself into finishing things neither I nor anyone else enjoys me doing, it’s accepting that I’m allowed to quit when something’s not fun any more. Writing should be fun, at least most of the time, even if there are the odd off days when you’re not inspired and have to go sweat instead, or feel like a complete imposter and you’re sure that nothing that comes out can be at all good–if those days are all the time, it might just be that the project is not right.

IT’S HERE! Architects of the Flesh is available for sale!

Do you like your socialism angry, your body horror Lamarckian, your alternate histories brutal and convoluted and your protagonists greyer than a London sky?

You’d better, because that’s what’s on offer, just in time for Christmas if you hurry!

(Unless you’re buying an ebook version, which case you can pretty much just buy it on Christmas day and hide in a corner devouring the misery, vengeance, and weirdness without listening to your family!)

If you don’t do Christmas, this book also serves brilliant as a Generic Winter Experience.

There is basically no reason not to buy, on Kindle (all regions, link goes to UK), iBooks, Nook, Barnes & Noble online, or in print and ebook at Lulu.com. You can also request it at many major bookshops!

the book cover for Architect of the Flesh shows the title, author attribution, and an image of a sketched medusa head on one piece of paper being menaced by a diagram of a surgeon's knife on another piece of paper: the background is Charles Booth's London Poverty Map

COMING SOON: ARCHITECTS OF THE FLESH

Coming soon from House of D Publications! A chunky and compelling novel full of strife, fantastical features, surgery, and really horrible phone calls! The birth and probably death of the genre Lamarckian Horror, by the author who brought you Saxonpunk.

the book cover for Architect of the Flesh shows the title, author attribution, and an image of a sketched medusa head on one piece of paper being menaced by a diagram of a surgeon's knife on another piece of paper: the background is Charles Booth's London Poverty Map

What?

That’s right! Before the close of the year, available in print and approximately a million (small exaggeration) e-reader formats including Kindle .mobi, .epub, .pdf etc, and available on iBooks, Kobi, Amazon, etc: ARCHITECTS OF THE FLESH is London as you’ve never seen it and hopefully will never see it, in a world where Lamarckian inheritance works, and just about every other science lags behind xenotransplant surgery.

Wait, back up. Lamarckian?

You may remember Darwin. At least, I hope you do. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection turned out to be right: the idea that organisms develop physical (and indeed behavioural) traits over time as those individuals who display them fare better in whichever environment they’re in than those who don’t, and so have more babies.

Well, in the heady days of the 19th century, when everyone was still trying to figure out what the absolute hell was going on with a world they’d previously assumed was static and unchanging after the Oh Shit discovery of fossils, he was far from the only thinker trying to work out how we’d got from dinosaurs to chickens and whether those things had happened at the same time.

Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, chevalier de Lamarck (or just Lamarck)’s idea of how environment enacted biological change was that changes to individual organisms during the course of their lifetime were then demonstrated in their offspring: so if you cut the tail off a mouse, it would have tail-less offspring. If a giraffe stretched and stretched for leaves, it would have offspring with younger necks.

Now… that does seem pretty easy to test via empirical if somewhat cruel methods. Mice are not hard to get hold of and were pretty abundant in the 19th century too. And it certainly hasn’t withstood such a simple test as obviously your surgically mutilated mouse does not beget mice without tails (mice with human ears and mice with green fur are the result of genetic tampering, and are outside the scope of this novel).

Yes but: “xenotransplant”?

In the 1790s, eminent surgeon and co-author of Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus, William Hunter grafted human teeth onto a rooster’s head and said rooster grew a coxcomb of tooth enamel. You can see the results at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London (or you can in 2021, when the museum re-opens).

See that? More of that.

So much more of that. Animal husbandry meets 18th century attitudes where theology of predestination props up chattel slavery. Human rights? Never heard of her. Animal rights? Don’t make me laugh. Technology without overriding morality? Wealth without conscience? People with fashion transplants? You got it.

Grab yourself a copy and see how bad things can get–but also just how hard it is to prevent people from trying to make things better.

[William Blake exhibition review]

A little while back now, I dragged my entire household and a visiting friend to the Tate Britain to see the William Blake exhibition: the first thing I’ve paid to see there since their Queer British Art retrospective was timed, in 2017, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexual acts in private (1967). The exhibition space , in the basement level, is large, logically laid-out, and seemingly endless. The one thing you can say about exhibitions in that Tate Britain space is, regardless of whether you enjoy the content, you certainly get your money’s worth by volume.

image of the front of the Tate Britain gallery: it is a large neo-classical building in limestone with a portico bearing several columns
Photograph by Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK

It’s far from the first Blake retrospective the Tate Britain have held–indeed I think I remember going to another one some years ago and getting lost in the upper levels–but one can hardly blame them for using the collection as a money-spinner. Thanks to Blake’s irrefutable links with London (born in Soho, lived in Soho, worked in Soho, died in … Charing Cross) and his posthumous popularity with would-be mystics and nerds of all stripes, it was always going to be a successful venture.

So we’ll ignore for the time being the fact that Blake exemplifies the savage adage that for British art to be successful it also has to be ugly (Blake, Bacon, Turner, Emin… somewhat falls apart with Gainsborough, Constable, Stubbs & Wright of Derby although those aren’t exactly spectacular).

Image of a famous Blake painting in which a male figure with streaming white hair leans out of a circle of gold to plunge spread compasses into the earth below

It can be challenging to fill an exhibition space of considerable size with work by one artist and not drive everyone bananas with monotony, particularly when said artist got a handle on their personal style early on, and I think the Tate Britain made a decent and logical stab at presenting both a standard chronological narrative beginning with an overview, and of providing context.

Particular mention should be made of the effort to situate his work among his peers and inspirations, including Fuseli and James Barry  (Uncle of James Miranda Barry, in fact), which somewhat gave the lie to the later claims of staggering uniqueness made by his fanboys–which we’ll come to later.

Worthy of note also: contextualising the work with a modest recreation of his townhouse exhibit of his works (accompanied bizarrely by a reading of his text by The Actor Kevin Eldon) was a gesture in the direction of breaking up the threat of monotony and a satisfying if far from total immersion in experiencing Blake the way his contemporaries might.

It’s also good to be introduced to new information, and while I’d been aware of Blake’s background in illustration and engraving I hadn’t been aware that he’d invented his own form of relief engraving, which was given due fanfare–although as Blake had in typically secretive fashion failed to reveal his process we were not treated to any diagrams or recreations which might have further contextualised or enlivened the fact.

It is of course important to take a clear-eyed view of the wider global context of even such insular figures as Soho-locked Blake–the world is after all connected–and so I was pleased that the curators had chosen to include Blake’s commissioned illustrations of a fairly unrelentingly colonialist tract, asking if his decision to select a brutal, uncompromising image of a slave being tormented for some minor transgression such as ‘wanting to be treated like a person’ was a criticism of the text he was working on and the events contained within–or titillation in the vein of tabloids.

There was little further space given to the question. Blake was opposed philosophically to slavery, and the time was rife with debate and dispute in his native London, but no mention was given to any broader abolition movements he might have encountered–in fact, the display of the image raises similar questions about the exhibition. Is this necessary? Is this titillation?

Another area that didn’t get as much focus as I would have liked was the revelation, given at the beginning of a section on his printing methods and lurid colourful images from what Long Suffering Boyfriend described as “Blake’s Biblical RPG”, the Book of Urizen: that the vivid colours of the Book had been painstakingly hand-painted not by Blake but by his wife, the oft-overlooked Catherine Blake.

And apparently this was all that needed to be said. Even though it casts a very different–if common–light on the “genius” of Blake, in the same way that the “unprecedented” style of Blake very clearly derived from Fuseli and Barry; it is so common that the Lone Male Genius in history is supported to the point of exhaustion by his wife, who edits or colours or types or translates his “genius”, who makes his “genius” the thing it is recognised, who deals with every other aspect of his life so that his “genius” can flourish–and receives absolutely no recognition from history for it.

The exhibition wasn’t completely devoid of contextualisations; aside from his artistic influences, we got a glimpse of how he began:

Early in the exhibition, before Blake’s professional influences, came descriptions of his time as an art student and his brief travels into places that weren’t London. From this we discovered that while he enjoyed working from the reference point of classical statues, he detested working from life models, complaining that they had no life in them, that he found them “dead”, with a kind of contrarian logic that caused the Resident Australian (herself a regular artist) to laughingly compare Blake’s attitude to that of Deviantart teenagers countering every criticism of their tendency to draw only from Anime with “it’s just my style! It’s meant to look like that! It’s my style!”

This was then brought out at every point that Blake’s idiosyncratic anatomy got the better of us. It’s hard to treat an artist with the mystic reverence occasionally preferred by their fans once a thought like that is lodged in your head–and I can always count on the Resident Australian to puncture any bubbles of pomposity and self-importance developing around historical figures, or contemporary ones.

In addition to the creation of Blake’s myth of genius (it’s worth noting at this juncture that the idea of lone genius generally feels like bullshit; i am not singling Blake out any more than any other “visionary genius of art”) balancing on the diligence of his wife’s colouring skills, at a later point in the exhibition we begin to come across the fanboys–that is the younger artists and patrons who both buy into Blake’s self-image and support and disseminate it.

The Resident Australian also had some scathing words for Blake’s petulance at his most ardent supporters not supporting him in the correct way / demeaning him with requests that he share space in publication or exhibition with other artists… “genius” or not, William certainly wasn’t cursed with poor self-esteem. To admirers this doubtless seems like clear-eyed rejection of needles social niceties. To people like the Resident, whose job brings her into contact with some highly precious and self-important people, it just sounds like someone sniffing their own farts. I’m inclined to agree.

Self-mythologising is something I’ve looked at in more detail some time previously but it’s worth drawing parallels now between the subject of that piece and this: while Blake was occupied with the ideal of the classical artist reborn and dispensing high and symbolic art to learned men, Lawrence also filled his own head with an archetype for himself to live up to: the messiah or Moses figure. Arguably even more self-aggrandising, if rooted in ideas of “service” as much as salvation, the desperation to believe in his own myth allowed him to participate in constructing an image for a specific end, that of support-raising.

The cause he meant to advance with his mythmaking never succeeded because he’d failed to separate the image from the reality and accept that he was never going to be able to outmanoeuvre the demands of kings and politicians for the sake of his saviour fantasy.

Likewise, although Blake has received armies of famous and often equally mystic fanboys after his death (Alan Moore, for example), his reality and his myth never got to meet within his lifetime. We can look at Blake’s lurid later works and see them as the visionary imaginings of a mystic seer as Moore does, but without the veneer or myth it’s equally easy to scoff at weirdly-rendered serpents (drawn from medieval art much like his grand gestural figures), at his “self-insert bible fanart”. The mythology is as much the art as the art itself is–Blake’s self-image, his distorted conviction, the lore of Blake in the game sense is crucial to appreciating the art, moreso even than worldly or cultural context. This is art for nerds.

In light of that pop cultural connection, this Gary Gygax of fine art, it’s even more glaringly obvious that the world’s most edible painting (c.f. Thomas Harris),  The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun. As perhaps the best known Blake painting, thanks in part to Harris, it would have been a major draw… and the entire reason I went was to see if I could best some friends who hadn’t succeeded in Francis Dollarhyde impersonation!

I’m not sure how I’d address some of the issues with the exhibition because they’re the same issues every exhibition based in static, faded images faces; I would have liked to have seen more context, perhaps–more about Catherine Blake, more about the broader artistic and social world in which Blake operated, in some form other than mere plain text placards. I know such interventions are expensive, but in an ideal world, at least, some video demonstration of acid engraving and perhaps some staggered picture heights to render them more accessible to a variety of Blake fans would not be out of reach!

That said, the variety of methods of display and attention to making the exhibition navigable and ensuring as much foot-flow as possible can’t be criticised, and ultimately this is the equivalent of a Stones reunion tour: new material isn’t necessarily welcome to the majority of visitors.

 

What am I up to?

I’m still proofing a book! I’m reading several books at once, because that’s how some of us focus, and I’m working on a commission…

an unfinished vector picture of a black bird backlit by the sun. the bird's mouth is open.
 [I hate posting progress images but I love validation. A quandary]
I took a break from the slow progress of this very detailed image to make a swift design:

a vector image of the highlights on the upturned face of a young black woman, with the text 'we are our own light'.

Which can be bought as a t-shirt and many other things.

And of course, the exciting sci-fi comic I am working on with my collaborator and vendor of cat pictures, Emma… the enigmatically-titled: fuck fate, let’s dance.

a comics page. a space ship looms in the background. in aystemtric panels with a red hue, a centaur hurriedly performs various tasks, eventually kicking down a door in a burst of light

How to make elderflower cordial from scratch, from memory

We will take it as read that you’ve already created the universe (CARL SAGAN JOKE LINK, insert your own reference here!).

First, find your elderflowers. I appreciate that not everyone spent their childhood up to their armpits in thorny, stinging bits of nature trying to extract calories from it, so a brief guide will commence. Skip this part if you already know what elderflowers look like.

Elder bushes (often small trees; Sambucus nigra) like to grow at the edges of clearings. In practical terms this means they like river banks, streams, parks, railway sidings, and verges. Which is great, because you can basically live in a city and still find them.

They’re small slender trees with woody, brittle bark that send out long thin green stems of leaves and flower heads, and they’re usually between six and 12 feet tall, which for some reason I don’t know in metric (like, 2-4 metres?), and they look like this:

Or this:

The branches bend very easily which is good because you’re going to spend ages hooking them with sticks to pull them down enough that the rest of the tree moves that you can get some of the better flowerheads. Also wading through brambles.

To make sure, their bark looks like this:

Their leaves vary quite a lot but they’re generally in the range of this:

And the flowers look like this:

The underside of the flowers will a) branch out on each bunch from the main stem and b) often be covered in blackfly. Try to avoid those.

There’s another kind of bush which has similar-looking flowers, but it normally grows in people’s hedges/gardens, has glossier leaves, the flowers have a vague pinkish undertone instead of yellow, and the stems don’t branch out but go straight up. Avoid them, they aren’t edible and also they smell gross. Elderflower pollen has a pretty distinctive smell.

It also pretty distinctively gets in your clothes so wear something you don’t mind scrubbing later.

Now you’ve located your elder. Go get a couple of plastic bags, some scissors (don’t make my mistake and rip your thumbnail in half breaking stems all morning), and long trousers because nettles like the same places elder bushes do. Good luck with that.

Pick an absolute shittonne of elder flowers. No, more than that. More than that. You want 1-2 bags full. and preferably fairly bug-free.

Take them home and give them a rinse, try to remove any bugs, spiders etc.

Next: remove the flowers from the stalk into a big bowl. This will take forever, annoy you, and get pollen over your hands. A friend recommended using a fork and pulling down from the stem to pop the flowers off.

Elderflowers, small and white, being held over a bowl containing more of the same

Anyway, don’t be too perfectionist about it, just get the big bits and any more bugs that happen to be in there (you think you got them all earlier? You emphatically Did Not).

Take a roughly equal weightish (not volume, that would be too many) of caster sugar and mix it through the flowers with your hands for a bit. They’re already covered in pollen, it’s not going to get any better.

Put the sugar and the flowers in a fucking massive saucepan full of water and boil that for about 1-2 hours while stirring every so often, adding more water as necessary.

A saucepan full of brown and white and yellow star-shaped flowers floating in water

Take it off the heat. Go get your big bowl again.

Get a clean tea towel (or “length of muslin” or “cheesecloth” or “fancy cloth bag”) and dump everything through that into the bowl.

Now you get to spend as long as you can stand dangling your oozing, bulging bundle over the bowl, alternating between slapping it with a spoon to make it drain faster and just milking it like a cow tit for the same effect. Do this, because you will get a lot of cordial out that way.

Let it cool if you haven’t already.

Decant into a bottle and refrigerate. With any luck you’ve put enough sugar in it that it won’t go off in a hurry, but you can also slop it into an ice cube tray and voila! Tasty ice cubes. Or do as I did and add agar and boil it again to make Very Very Sweet Oh Dear God Too Sweet jelly.

bottled cordial

Bon… thingy.

The recipe, very literally, of my dreams

Other people get portentous dreams prophesying war: I get dreams insisting this is a Scandinavian folk dish colloquially called a “Shitstorm”. It is no such thing, but what it is is a handy rice-cooker meal which marries principles of a Levantine Makloubeh with a Spanish Tortilla.

Not A Shitstorm

  • about 1/2 measure of rice
  • 3 eggs
  • 100g ish of new potatoes, sliced into flat slabs
  • one chonk of frozen spinach
  • two little chonks of frozen chopped kale
  • vegetable boullion
  • cooking spray
  • garlic powder, roughly 1 mustard spoon thereof
  1. spray the inside of your rice cooker bowl
  2. layer the bottom with the potato slices
  3. cover with rice, add the frozen vegetable chonks
  4. fill to the appropriate level with vegetable boullion (remember you will need to account for the potatoes). add garlic powder.
  5. let the rice cooker do its thing. while it’s doing that, beat the eggs.
  6. pour the eggs into the cooked tower of rice and veg. Give it a bit of a poke so it actually filters through.
  7. Another round of the rice cooker.

You should have a kind of… ricetila with green bits that tastes of garlic. I’ve no idea if the Definitely Not Shitstorm Of My Dreams will catch on but it’s very easy to make and I’m always in favour of recipes like that.

[Recipe] Dirty Posset

Experiments with English recipes as per my dumb weird mission to revitalise the national palate continue.

After noodling with Roman British recipes I’ve leapt a long way forward in time to investigate the Age of Sail, which has raised a nagging question about a childhood favourite book.

In The Silver Chair by CS Lewis, when the Queen of Harfang offers “possets and comfits and caraways” to a knackered, cold, hungry and fed up Jill Pole, what kind of posset does she refer to? Comfits and Caraways are pretty straightforward (if not exactly pleasant in my opinion). A cold set lemon posset doesn’t seem to cut it…

So we begin with a recipe for Posset, an old favourite for sickly and miserable types which, as far as I can work out, before it was cream curdled with lemon juice as it is now, was more like milk curdled with Basically Any Alcohol But Probably Wine and then spiced. By the 16th century it had reached its current cold confection status, but during the age of sail cream and indeed fresh lemons were not always available to sick bay invalids, and improvisation was necessary. While “boil milk, add either wine or ale “and no salt”, let it cool, gather the curds and discard the whey, and season with ginger, sugar, and possibly “sweet wine” and candied anise.” sounds like the start of a compelling meal, if I wanted sweet cottage cheese I probably wouldn’t go to the trouble of making it, and I very definitely do not discard whey, that stuff is expensive for Body Building Types.

The version I liked best, Sack Posset, also involved oatmeal for additional strengthening properties, and comes out of experimentations by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas in their seminal and incredibly useful Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, which along with John Edwards’ Apicus translation and modernisation, and endless different translations and approximations of The Forme of Cury, is proving exceptionally useful in the quest.

Full disclosure, the Grossman and Grossman version contains both dry sherry and ale as per the original they worked from whereas I cannot abide either and have no intention of buying them. I also wanted something that would work as a restorative for me personally, a man best described as a night shift gremlin with a loose relationship with sleep schedules: coffee.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 tsbp oatmeal
  • 1.5 tsbp sugar
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • about 35-50ml of whatever sweet & spicy liqueurs/flavoured vodka you have around. i used Christmas cake vodka* but frangelico, vanilla vodka, amaretto, caramel vodka etc would work just as well. if you’d put it in your coffee you can put it in this.
  • 1 spoonful of instant coffee power or two firm squirts of coffee concentrate, or an espresso
  • 1 cup of whole milk or, if your hangover is really bad, 1/2 a cup of whole milk & 1/2 a cup of single cream (and add another espresso)

Method

  1. Combine ingredients thoroughly in a milk pan and simmer while stirring continuously, until the mixture has thickened to thickshake consistency
  2. Chug or eat with a spoon from your mug
  3. Will cure: hangover, heartbreak, horrible weather, and possibly death

* Technically it’s Mince Pie Vodka Liqueur and it’s made to a Hairy Bikers’ Recipe. I rate it highly. I think Clary would also work a treat under these circumstances, but as that takes at least a month to mature and the vodka only takes three days, I know which side I come down on.

 

 

A break for your daily language lesson

I realised recently that my use of Duolingo is largely ritualistic. Catalyst for this was French getting a whole bunch of bullshit added: not proper lessons, just individual words and stuff being added to Basic so that all my progress got wiped out of level 1 and I have to do all the additional stuff. Now, each time I finish those skills I get a Lingot, so if I were *grinding* (as Yon Gamers Say), I’d be pleased I had an easy way to build up Lingots. If I were merely interested in progress, I’d be using my massive Lingot stash for streak freezes and buying bonus skill rounds. If I were truly dedicated to actually learning I’d be consuming Turkish especially outside of the app, but I’m basically not stretching myself at all. It’s just a morning ritual: 5-10 minutes of swearing at the phone as it analyses my ability to bullshit in two different languages: a mild warm-up for the brain like my lazy work-outs are a mild warm-up for the body.

I am, largely non-consensually, learning more French though. My current job requires (unlike my old one) that I read press coverage from various client-selected non-UK countries. They don’t expect me to be multilingual (they’d need to pay a lot more for that); one platform autotranslates (sometimes badly) from the German, Italian (very badly: translate cannot handle this AT ALL), Chinese, French, Spanish, Portugese and theoretically Polish (although none’s come up yet) business press. The other offers a click through translation applet: which at shit o’clock in the morning, when I’m trying to process a million billion articles, is just a waste of several seconds and CPU on an already beleaguered laptop.

So I’ve been kind of learning enough context and minimal vocab to know whether this or that article is relevant. I’ve also, in the privacy of my own head, taken to referring to the SNCF, the French national train service which causes the people of France such consternation despite being so much bloody cheaper than the privatised UK “services” I could weep (seriously, France, it’s very easy here to spend 2/3 of your day’s wages getting to and from work), as “Sncoof” or “Sncoeuf”. If I’m feeling really petty, it’s “Le Sncoeuf.” Why petty? Because in that blasted unnecessarily gendered language, the rail service is feminine. It’s La SNCF. Referred to as “she” when the translate function has finished muddying the waters.

That’s right: I’m expressing my displeasure with mountains of bickering about French trains by deliberately misgendering the national rail service. Take THAT, French journalists!