Well, just under six months into their government, and the Conservatives have managed to offend just about every middle class parent in the country.

Everyone knew cuts in public spending were coming, and everyone knew it was going to be harsh and that there would be losers in the process. But I think most people hoped that the cuts, when they came, would be ‘tough but fair’, as had been promised.

That the government announced they were planning to cut child benefit to high earners didn’t come as much of a surprise to most people … after all, there’s little logic in paying a blanket benefit to the entire population – and it’s entirely correct that benefits are not an automatic right, but a safety net provided by the state to ensure against extreme poverty or hardship. It’s also true that cutting child benefit for high earners was a pretty soft target – it wasn’t ever likely to generate a huge political furore, and those effected were likely to be in the bracket where the benefit didn’t mean much and wouldn’t be missed, or would be in that sector given to a fair amount of discontented grumbling about the state of things, but without much political clout or a history of radical protest against government policy.

So, if the planned cut had actually been FAIR, it would all have been perfectly fine.

Where this cut is grossly unfair is the way the assessment is made.

If one of the parents (or carers) earns over £44k p.a.

Just one.

That means, theoretically, that a couple could BOTH be working, and BOTH earning a salary of, say, £43k per annum, giving a joint household income of £86k per annum (before tax), but because they are BOTH under the limit, they will STILL GET CHILD BENEFIT. Even though, arguably, they have vastly less need of that benefit than a family with one parent (or carer) earning, say, £45k per annum.

None of the arguments put forward by the Conservatives have convinced me that this is in any way fair. The Working Family/Child Tax Credit system is administered (in their own inimitable way) by the Inland Revenue, so it would be perfectly possible to administer the child benefit in the same way, and assess the income by HOUSEHOLD rather than by individual, and VASTLY more fair than the proposed change.

As it stands, the proposal looks disciminatory against those parents (mostly women) who have chosen either to set aside a career or for whom childcare costs outweight the income earned from working, and become stay-at-home mothers/parents – because those single-income households are more likely to lose out on the benefit, and to suffer more from that loss.

And coming from a political party that purports to uphold family values, it’s downright disgusting and hypocritical to boot … and it’s a move that’s likely to alienate them from some of their core support.

At the time of the poll tax, it was said that people could accept taxes, provided that they were seen as fair – and the poll tax was so unpopular precisely because it was so unfair. I think that the same could be said of the cuts we are currently facing. Provided they are seen to be fair, they will be accepted.

So, in those lights, ending final-salary pension schemes for public sector workers won’t cause much public heartbreak (unions aside) – after all, just about everyone in the private sector lost final-salary schemes in the last decade. Likewise, setting a ceiling for maximum benefit payments will be seen as a fair call by most people. It would have been encouraging to see a more of a move towards greater efficiency and savings in public sector spending – and by that I don’t mean cutting school or hospital funding – more towards bringing some private sector discipline towards spending money. For example … those employed by the foreign office and posted abroad receive an apartment in the country in which they are posted for which they do not need to pay AND have the costs of their residence in the UK covered as part of their standard expenses. That is not something you see in the private sector – you might get one or the other, but certainly not both. Mind you, how you incentivise efficiency and cost-savings in a sector that is neither accountable nor profit-motivated is a question that has tormented better minds than mine for a very long time now – the introduction of a fake market last time the Conservatives were in power was a signal failure … but I digress.

The cuts, when they come, need to be seen as fair.

The clear signal, off the back of this completely UNFAIR cut, is that this government is looking for as many soft targets as it possibly can, rather than looking to bring change on any sort of fundamental level to the massive bureacracy that has a stranglehold on this country.

And it will be the people in the middle who are hurt the most by it, and have been most betrayed by a party that they thought shared the same values as they did.

Advertisements

Now that Bella-blossom has started pre-school, I have mornings free … and my runs have got longer so that now I’m up to 10km at a time. And the longer I run, the more my mind runs off on tangents, thinking less about the process of running and more about ‘other things’ … I’m enjoying having the thinking time – it really blows out the cobwebs, especially on a cold clear day.

And as I was going along the other day, it struck me that running is like life, in a lot of ways.

1) The only way to get where you’re going is to keep moving forward.

2) Don’t worry about how far you’ve still got to go, just focus on reaching the next landmark. And when you get there, focus on the next, and then the next, and you’ll be surprised how far you get.

3) Climbing is hard, but it’s usually worth it when you get to the top.

4) If you’re working too hard and getting stressed, reduce the amount of effort you’re putting in until it gets easier.

5) Control your descent when you go downhill … if you let yourself go flat out, you won’t have the energy for the next climb.

6) Keep your shoulders relaxed and free of tension, and your chest open … it makes breathing easier, and if your breathing is easy, then keeping the pace is easy.

So there you have it.

Possibly not the key to the universe, but it’ll do me, for now.


Bang!

23Sep10

The world’s most unlikely firing squad ….

as posed by Rumpus ….

I love catching the odd image of a game in progress 🙂


Falling back

20Sep10

It’s *that* time of the year again.

 

The summer holidays are over, and summer is drawing to a close … and the days are getting shorter and darker. Correspondingly, I feel like I’m contracting my world around me, withdrawing and hoarding my resources against the long darkness ahead.

It’s been difficult picking up again with the start of the new term … I find my energy levels are low, and the effort to maintain the daily routine and manage the schedules of the house and family are taking almost everything I’ve got, leaving me little capacity for anything else.

I’ve retreated from writing almost completely … I simply can’t, at the moment, find the mental agility to tackle that particular world, my creativity focussed and channelled into the peacefulness of working with textiles and expressing myself in colour and texture rather than the written word.

Surprisingly, I don’t feel stressed by it … more accepting that as the year winds down, I move more slowly and I need this period of retreat and regathering to adjust to the demands of a new season. I need to strip everything back to basics, to reduce and concentrate my energy on the core of what is important and necessary, before I start to layer things back up again.

I know that after the equinox, when the season settles, when the new routines and schedules of the term are bedded in, that I’ll come back to writing, and that I’ll love it as much as I always did … but I’d rather wait a while, and let it come back to me, rather than push myself and end up with a null December because I’ve spent everything I have pushing myself beyond my capacities.

In the meantime, I’m just letting life flow on, going with it, and enjoying the things that I am doing, and letting the silence speak to me as it will.


The summer holidays have come to an end, so we spent most of today (regretfully) preparing for school tomorrow – tidying bedrooms, packing up PE kits and school bags, putting the finishing touches to homework.

The fact that it was grey and rainy for most of the day seemed somehow appropriate, but it was comforting to be snuggled inside together, and we had good fun talking about everything we’ve done over the holidays … some golden memories to treasure up for the future.

The markedly cooler weather, the darker evenings, and now the end of the holidays tied up with our memories to make today feel like a farewell to summer, looking forward to the new season. This was especially noticeable on our gathering walk this afternoon – one of my favourite activities with the children. We go slowly along one of our regular walks, and as we go we each take it in turns to ‘find’ something we hadn’t seen or noticed before along that walk. Sometimes, it’s a literal finding, and I come home with a huge handful of natural treasures (as today), and other times it’s more lateral – like the graded rings around the dried-up pond showing its gradual decrease, or the black-spotted brown butterfly Honey saw, or all the birdcalls we hear. We found very few flowers in bloom today, but lots of fading leaves, seedheads and pods, and interesting twigs – and the first holly berries. There were lots of blackberries, too, but none of those made it home 🙂

I love autumn colours and textures – the subtleties of the fading greens, browns and russets set against the vivid, jewel-like berries.

The texture of the inside of this piece of bark, the contrast of the warm red-brown wood with the pale grey-green lichen fronds, whilst the two structures mirror each other particularly struck me … it triggered all sorts of ideas, not least of which was the trace of an idea of using the contours of the two as a quilting pattern …. but that’s for another day.

Ah well … time to plunge on. I suppose the next time I catch my breath, we’ll be staring down the barrel of Christmas.


What I mostly like doing on holiday is reading … on the plane, on the beach, during siesta, on the apartment balcony in the evening ….  T’o-m reckons that if reading were an olympic discipline, I’d be gold medal standard. I don’t know about that, but I do know that I made a fair dent in the TBR pile and got through almost all the books I took with me … it’s a group that can only be called ‘eclectic’, I think.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian – Marina Lewycka

In which a pneumatic asylum seeker with ‘superior breasts’ preys upon an aged Ukrainian widower, determined to use him to pursue a dream of Western wealth. His daughters unite to try and stop her, but their efforts rekindle memories of a grim European past.  I found it thought-provoking in terms of the aspects of Ukrainian history it brings to light and its light touch on the sticky immigration debacle, and also in terms of the reversal of the usual gender roles – with the greedy and powerful Valentina exploiting the lusts of a much weaker old man for her own ends, and in the process overturning the the image and memory of a mother as a caring, nurturing force. There’s more than a touch of the fairytale about it, with the wicked stepmother vanquished (eventually) by the virtuous daughters of the ailing king, but to reduce it to those terms is to short-sell the story as a whole. I didn’t find this laugh-out-loud hilarious – the humour is darker and more subtle than that, but this is a good read nonetheless.

The Trick is to Keep Breathing – Janice Galloway

Poignant, often painful, this is a powerful but sensitive internal portrait of a mind disintegrating, a struggle for order and meaning when everything has been swept away. The intensity of the first person narration took me right to the brink alongside the ‘heroine’, seducing me into her world of futility and incoherence, whilst at the same time maintaining an external outrage at the exploitation and incompetence of those surrounding her. Taut, intelligent and articulate, it’s a vivid portrait of a woman hanging on by her fingernails, and is made bearable by the merest glimmer of hope and change offered at the end.

Whit – Iain Banks

Iain Banks is one of my favourite authors (with the ‘M’ or without), so I was looking forward to this one. Although he always has a darker edge, his contemporary fiction tends to be lighter and more sardonically witty than his s-f alter ego. This is no exception, and I’d say it’s one of his best – giving us a glimpse of ourselves from the outside, from the perspective of a woman/girl raised to believe herself specially chosen by God by a sect that views the material accoutrements of modern life as corrupting. Her journey from unquestioning acolyte to politically astute leader, via treachery, falsehood and exposure to the modern world, is fascinating, gripping and often hilariously funny. The humour, though, has a sharp edge, giving us a mirror that shows modern society, with all its technological distractions, to be ultimately empty and meaningless, images of ourselves distorted as if in a fairground hall of mirrors. Just brilliant.

The Eye of the Storm – Peter Ratcliffe

This is t’o-m’s genre of choice, and generally not my cup of tea. As a rule, there’s only so much macho bullsh** I can stomach and I’m not a huge fan of the ‘death or glory’ mindset. However, I needed to research special forces for a novel I’m planning, and t’o-m recommended this one. I was pleasantly surprised. I liked the tone of the book – the attitude that “this is our job, it’s what we do” runs through the whole, and makes it comprehensible to me that it is regarded as both necessary and practical to maintain such a force, and goes a long way to correcting the distortions and exaggerations of other books about special forces. Politics drives what the special forces do, but their training and mindset comes across clearly in this book that offers a real insight into the degree of planning and preparation for the successful accomplishment of those political tasks. Predictably, it centres on the Gulf War, but offers an alternative to the blood-and-guts hyperbole of Bravo 2 zero and its ilk (it’s worth noting that the author is comprehensive in his condemnation of these) that makes much more sense, in pragmatic terms. In a nutshell, it gave me what I needed AND engaged me because I felt that the voice was both authentic and totally lacking in self-aggrandisement (though this last tempered by an awareness that the man *did*, after all, feel the need to write about it 😉 ).

The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman

From one extreme to another … after all that male-dominated action, I needed an antidote, so a little early feminist writing seemed the perfect answer. I have read this before,  and the stories keep me coming back to them … it strikes me that despite some superficial external changes, very little has changed in terms of the balance of power in/nature of relationships between men and women from the early twentieth century until now, and these stories are therefore as relevant now as they were then. By keeping the focus on the domestic level, magnifying the minute detail to macro scale, these stories offer some powerful insights into how women are both constrained by and exploit their (often inferior) status in context of their relationship to the men surrounding them. Subtle, without the stridency of later feminist fiction, these stories are thought provoking and throw into stark relief the social, economic and personal relationships of men and women, and show both how they could improve.

Cup of Gold – John Steinbeck

Again, Steinbeck is one of my favourite authors, so I approached this, his first novel, with some apprehension. It seemed so far removed from his ‘normal’ subject – the social history of twentieth century America – that I wasn’t sure whether it would meet my expectations and feared disappointment. I needn’t have worried. Although this overtly swashbuckling story is a long way removed from his American novels, this is still a social history of America, though earlier than the others, and still holds true to what ‘matters’ about Steinbeck – his absolute immersion in character and how individuals – whether small or large in historical terms – both shape and reflect their own identities and the world around them through their actions and thoughts. It is the story of a life, and the power of dreams, disillusionment and loss are are as present, as forceful and as relevant as in any of his later novels. It is not on the scale of East of Eden or Grapes of Wrath, but the elements that makes those novels so important and resonant exist here, staking out a claim that he mines to rich conclusion both here and later. If you came to this  first, it would mark out the territory he later explores. Reading this afterwards, it highlights what it is about Steinbeck that makes him such a magnificent writer and storyteller.

The Turn of the Screw – Henry James

Thomas Hardy said of James’ highly stylised writing that it is a “ponderously warm manner of saying nothing in infinite sentences”. I’m afraid I have to agree. I know he’s one of the most influential writers of the turn of the century, and perhaps my failure to admire this novel is more a reflection on my intellectual capacity than his writing, but reading this novel was like wading through treacle. The language is as dense and formal as Dickens in extended purple and precise mode, and distanced me so far from the action and tension that I found myself completely incapable of caring what happened. Imagine, then, my disappointment, when I finally got to the end of this dreary, melodramatic thing and nothing was resolved. 120-odd pages of imagination, dread, supposition and allusion, and at the end of it no satisfactory answers. I could, I suppose, have conjectured any manner of answers from the clues laid down in the text, but to be honest ( and maybe this makes me a lazy reader?), I’d much rather that the writer had done the work for me and given me some answers. As it is, I can conjecture some conclusions from the coy postulations of the narrator, reading between the lines of late-Victorian prudery to shocking revelation, and ponder the deliberate ambiguity of the ending for some inner coherence … but you know what? I don’t want to. I want him to give me the explanation for the events he’s unfolded, and I want to know the precise junction of evil and intent between the children and Quint/Jessell, and how it impacted on the anonymous narrator of the opening. Awaiting that explanation was the only thing that kept me wading on through the narrator’s rather tedious sighings and somewhat hysterical clinging-to-virtue, and to be cheated of it made me feel I’d wasted my time. Pointless, ponderous (to the nth degree) and totally unsatisfying twaddle. So shoot for a heathen if I’m failing to appreciate the subtleties. If this is a classic, I’m with Mark Twain.

Against a Dark Background – Iain M Banks

After James, I needed something to wash the taste out. Back to familiar territory … but again with a certain amount of apprehension. Banks’ SF has become rather like Graham Greene in my mind – powerful writing and compelling story-telling, but always so stark and disturbing, leaving one broken-hearted, haunted, and mired in futility at the logical but bleak conclusion. This is not a ‘Culture’ novel, but it touches on the same themes and tensions that define those stories – the struggle of the individual against the massive impersonal forces of society and culture and human nature to define  a distinct self and maintain that integrity of self in the face of those pressures. I go into these novels expecting that there will *not* be a ‘happily-ever-after’ for the main character, and although I dread the eventual conclusion that the main character must sacrifice everything of meaning to them to gain ‘victory’, that same dread is what attracts me and keeps me reading. This story is no exception. Sharrow is damaged from the start, but that damage informs her every action and thought, leading us through the fallout to the ultimate betrayal – which, maybe because I’m used to the way Banks works, or maybe because of the trail of hints and clues he lays down through the story – wasn’t as much of a shock as some betrayals have been. He blends past and present so that each informs the other, and the savage and destructive conclusion leaves us as shell-shocked and desolate as Sharrow herself. Wonderfully disorientating.

The Marsh Arabs – Wilfred Thesiger

Time to bring myself back down to earth with a little shot of non-fiction. Thesiger is my travel writer of choice, not least because I grew up in the middle east, and his experiences echo the vestiges of a  culture I remember and mourn (even its foreshortened manifestation) as much as he does in anticipation of its passing. This book is best taken as a part of sequence of his travels in the middle east, and my reaction to it is highly coloured by my own memories, documenting as it does his travels amongst the Marsh Arabs of the Euphrates/Tigrus delta in the 1950’s. He makes no sentimental concessions to the harshness of the life endured by these peoples, but he illustrates the beauty of the inner coherence and connection of these people to their environment and heritage in a way that throws a stark and unforgiving reflection on British/western influence in the region. As in other parts of the middle east, the impact of western norms and economic imperatives were starting to cause incalculable damage in *his* time, and this book throws into stark relief the consequences of recent events in the region, showing them as natural progressions in a region where life, though primitive and harsh, had at least an internal logic and cohesion that has now been completely torn away, leaving little better than a vaccuum in its place.

Crash – J G Ballard

Ballard is explicit in his introduction to this novel about the ambiguity present in the modern world, the marriage between reason and nightmare, sex and technology, the gratification of personal needs and an overarching sinister scientific imperative, and the role of the novelist in this blurring of fact, fiction, past, present and future. With this, the reputation of both the book (and the film) in mind, and previous excursions into Ballard territory, I wasn’t sure if I actually *wanted* to read this book. But, nonetheless, it was there and I didn’t want to *not* read it. I suppose it’s kind of appropriate that I was ambiguous in my approach to the book. Yes, it’s pornographic from the outset, graphically so, but to a degree that is so clinical and devoid of emotion that it is almost completely de-sexualised – it becomes, as Ballard proposes, no more than a junction between biology and technology, a crazed symbiosis that is both fascinating and revolting, compellingly so. At almost every turn of the page, I was convinced I didn’t need to read this, but at the same time I was compelled to keep reading. It’s alien, but not to the extent that it’s unimaginable, and that is its horrifying power – it’s not beyond my capabilities to see myself reduced in meaning to these collisions between tissue and technology, as much as I didn’t want to see. Ballard’s visions – putting the self under the miscroscope to such an excruciating and highly magnified, narrow, detail – are neither comfortable nor comforting, but when all other boundaries have become blurred and meaning is distorted or eliminated by the enveloping contradictions with which our needs are surrounded, perhaps the only truth is the one we invent for ourselves.

Close Quarter Battle (CQB) – Mike Curtis

 

My poor brain needed a rest, so I shifted down several gears to overcome a natural reluctance to read *anything* the Daily Mail called ‘outstanding’ to read this – in the name of research, and again at t’o-m’s recommendation. Again, it surprised me. As with the Ratcliffe book, I liked the ‘this is what we are, this is what we do’ approach, and, perhaps because I’d read the Ratcliffe book previously, it struck me as more political than I’d expected. One of the things that struck me was, in essence, how few options there are available to the working class in this country – down the pit (or other blue-collar apprenticeship), into crime, or into the army. These days, the pit is long gone, but there’s little else available as alternative beyond crime or the army – it looks like a massive indictment for betrayal of an entire strata of society, though this (obviously) isn’t explored in this book … although at the end of it, with the writer coming out of the army, there seems few options at the other end either – service in the elite armed forces leaves these men pitifully equipped to thrive in anything approaching ‘normal’ life. Meanderings aside, expanding this account beyond the Gulf War to include the Falklands and Bosnia gave the book an extra dimension, and allowed for a powerful illustration of the very human dimension of the personal impacts of the political decisions that take nations to war, and how the actions and reactions of the individuals in those circumstances, honed by training, go above and beyond what one would think possible without losing humanity and compassion.


Until I spent some time this evening reviewing my photo library, and in particular the pictures I took on this afternoon’s walk up on Bisley Common, I hadn’t realised how much I get caught up on the micro, detailed level rather than on the more macro views of the scenery …

What I particularly noticed about my ‘favourite’ images is the textural quality of them … and it occurs to me that there’s a link between these photos and my work in textiles that I’ve been exploring, almost unconsciously – a preoccupation with natural forms and patterns. It struck me, for the first time, today, that I could do more to explore that link – to develop and use the textural qualities of these pictures and re-interpret them using stitch and fabric, than I have been doing so far.

The bold severity of the iris swords, and the definite divisions between dark and light and the almost-regular pattern created by their uniform shape and structure contrasts with the softer chaos of the densely packed fronds of the bracken piling up around the paths on the common.

A natural avenue pillared by old oaks are solid partitions amongst the green foliage and the tufts of seeding grass around their feet.

But a closer look at the bark reveals a depth of texture and colour that raises some intriguing possibilities.

Not least of which is working with natural materials themselves … after I photographed this crumbling bark, I collected it up and brought it home. I’d like to experiment with attaching it to fabric and reworking the surface with stitch and perhaps some beading. It occurs to me that the eucalyptus in my garden is moulting at the moment … I wonder how that bark would work in  a textile-based piece?

When it comes to weaving, it’s always a good idea to look to the experts for inspiration … and who better than this lady? I had to seriously conquer some fears to take this picture, but I think it was worth it.

The web is ephemeral, but strong … and the contrast between it and these sandbags left in one of the many drainage ditches surrounding the common struck me.

I’m not sure where this exploration will take me, yet … but I’m looking forward to the adventure.


I’m working through the edits of the Anneth story, and it was turning into a bit of a slog … I’ve been through it so many times that the story had gone a bit stale on me and I didn’t know where I was going with it. The river had run dry, and for a long time I thought I was on a hiding to nothing. Even working through Holly Lisle’s ‘How to Revise Your Novel’ course wasn’t lighting my fire, and though it was sparking a lot of new ideas and perspectives on the story that I’d either forgotten or not considered before, I was pretty much using the story as an exercise before using the tools I was learning on a ‘real’ story that I was still interested in.

But then I had one of those moments.

It was, apparently, completely unconnected … I was thinking about a textile project, and the use of vision as a way of expressing a personal and creative way of imagining, expressing, and revealing and how that links into the realms of fantasy and dream. (And that’s a whole other story …) And whilst I was meandering my way through those thoughts, it occured to me that revision actually meant re-vision – to revisit or look again at an idea or image OR STORY, and analyse, examine, refine and re-interpret the original idea underlying that piece of work.

And so I came again to Anneth, thinking in those terms … and I saw that a river still runs through.

I just needed to look at it in a different way. To get back to my original intentions, to re-examine them, and figure out whether that was *still* the story I wanted to write. Broadly, it is – but from a slightly different perspective. I want to cut it down … to focus it more tightly on what matters, to bring certain elements and themes more to the front of the story.

One of the things that I had of huge priority in my initial notes was that I wanted to explore the idea of the anti-feminine … to overturn the image of the feminine as soft and nurturing, and to look at it in terms of a darker force, more formidable, implacable and almost pitiless in its determinations and desires (though not in an evil or negative way – just ‘other’) … and this got lost somewhere along the way. I need to bring that back in. The same goes for the idea of a faith-based society, where faith is a personal, intimate relationship with the deity, rather than one filtered through dogma and religious hierarchy – and again, this got lost along the way. Instead, I’m seeing a huge amount of contradictions, and a lot of vacillation between one extreme and another that is neither relevant nor resolved.

It’s hardly a surprise that I was feeling that this story was doomed.

A big part of this was my involvement with the world – I created it, and I wanted to explore it with my characters … and so they end up travelling vast distances and visiting all sorts of different and exciting locations. And it’s only when I come to analysing all these different settings, and feeling so utterly daunted by their complexity and sheer number, that I start thinking in terms of ‘what if?’ – what if I centre everything on one setting, more or less? How does that impact the story? Effectively, it concentrates the conflicts, because there are less distractions. It forces me to focus on the critical story elements and how that unfolds when there aren’t massive scenery shifts to set them against … and brings me back closer to the story I want to be telling, and the elements and themes I want to bring closer to the surface. It eliminates distractions. It subdues the background ‘noise’. Yes, it means I have to lose or dramatically change some of my favourite scenes to make them work as a whole, but taking the pros and cons together it’s looking like a win.

And brings me to a critical balancing point.

One of point of view.

I wrote the story in first person. I wanted it to read like a personal narration of the events, and for the reader to be involved in the central character’s battle for vindication in the face of almost universal suspicion and doubt … but too much time in that same headspace with the central questions unresolved – and unresolvable until the final series of confrontations – made the story rather circular in nature because the lack of resolution limited the character’s ability to evolve and progress to a large extent. Again – what if?

What if I shift out of first person, and use third? What if I expand into some of the other characters? If I maintain a level of ambiguity between the central character’s sustained protestations of innocence against the evidence accumulating against her, does it add a level of suspense to the story that wasn’t there before? It’s a BIG change of emphasis, but it’s one that I can see working … being more fun – because as it stands, we know she’s innocent because we *see* that she’s not guilty. If we don’t see everything, then without undermining her by making her an unreliable narrator in first, then there’s always that element of chance that she just might not be all she *appears* to be. It’s an interesting change to make – a big but subtle shift in emphasis and focus. And a huge amount of work, which the lazy-arse in me (that eagerly promoted cutting down the settings) is already grumbling about.

It’s not a change I’m committed to, yet. But it presents some interesting possibilities, not least in promoting some of the less prominent characters who play a *much* bigger role in the second book in the series and making their story arcs more relevant than they are currently.

What matters most, to me, though, is that by substituting ‘editing’ for ‘re-vision’ in my approach to this piece of work, that I’ve re-ignited my interest in the story, tapped back into the source. And that’s given me back my enthusiasm for this story … and that *has* to be a good thing … after all, if I can’t care for it, who else will?


June Review

04Jul10

This month’s writing has been massively disrupted by the World Cup, something I failed to factor into my planning Still, it only happens once every 4 years, and has been thrilling to watch (even if painful in parts ).

The big changes for this month have been removing two items off my writing list – the short story subs target and the novel review target. I’m not actively working towards either of these, and I finally realised that it’s because neither of these actively fit with my overall goal this year of reworking existing novel MS to get them up to publishable standard. It’s best that they go, rather than continue to nag at me with their lack of progress.

I’m adding Flylady onto the ‘personal’ stuff, because it’s given me such a great structure for organising my housework so it stays under control without overtaking my life … *my* version of Flylady, that is, rather than the ‘official’ version. It feels so good to be taking back control of that area of my life, and having a reasonably clean, tidy and well-organised household has lifted a *lot* of stress off my back.

On the down side, this month has been difficult on a personal level – going through the demanding DISCO process for Rumpus’ autism AND getting hit by some terrible shock news about my m-i-l, who has been hospitalised with late-stage breast cancer has made this month heavy weather. I’m hanging onto all the positive things that have happened, and finding it easier to do so, because my life is *working* in so many other areas.

Writing
3 ) Use HTRYN to revise ANNETH and prepare for submission by the end of AUGUST – this is underway, and (as with HTTS) I’m on a massively steep but hugely exciting learning curve. The great thing about the course is that I’ve rediscovered my enthusiasm for the novel, and I feel as though I’ve winkled out the big problems that were stopping this from being the story I wanted to tell. On the down side, halfway through the time I’ve allocated for the project, I’m *way* less than half-way through. Still, I’d rather do a *great* job at a slower pace than rush it through and face the prospect of another round of rejections and a further rework because I skimped just to meet a (self-imposed) deadline.
4 ) Edit SERPENT OF COLCHIS and submit to TNC for crit by the end of June – deferred, but I’ll put it through for crit as-is, and incorporate the feedback into a single big revision, hopefully starting in December – I got 2 *great* crits on this, one from someone familiar with the source material, and one from someone who was not – so both sides of the spectrum covered, and I’ve picked up some hugely valuable pointers on what does and does not work. When I come to fix it, this information will help keep me on the straight and narrow
7 ) Complete and post 1 crit per quarter for TNC – just about scraped in for this quarter
8 ) Complete and post 3 crits per month for Silver Griffin/Manic Medley – done – it’s suddenly got busy in both circles, and I’m playing catchup

9 ) Submit 1 (new) short story to a paying market every month – I’ve deleted this – not just because I haven’t been making any progress on it, but also because it doesn’t “fit” this year, in terms of my overall goal of pulling existing novel MS up to scratch. I’ll revisit it next year, with the idea in the back of my mind that I’ll block out May/June for SAD & related edits/submissions. We’ll see.
10 ) Post to my blog at least once every week – done

11) Read at least 12 books and post a review to my blog for each book read – I’m simply not getting the space to read & write up reviews, so I’m eliminating this, again, because of lack of fit with the overall goal for the year

Textile Arts
a ) Maintain and develop relationships with the galleries, and identify/approach/gain 2 new market openings – nothing on new markets, but current galleries are happy with the pieces I have with them, and I’m selling (which is nice)
c ) Do two craft fairs – one summer and one Christmas – I have in mind that I want to do another craft fair in September, and then the school christmas fair in December, so I’ve been building up stock for this alongside the regular work re-supplying the craft galleries and the commission pieces. Sadly, it means the bigger art pieces are rather falling by the wayside … I’m planning of shifting my focus back to this once we hit the summer holidays
d ) Update website, keep it and the blog up-to-date – website updated in June … blog posting is happening on a regular basis

Personal
i ) Keep working on reducing my BMI – sensible eating plus 4 exercise sessions per week to hit a BMI of 22 by the end of the year – I am so on track with this that I have ordered a bikini for this year’s beach holiday. That’ll be the first time in 10 years. It’s all good, and the side effect is that I *feel* great.
iii ) Grow as much of our own fruit and veg as humanly possible – that makes for a pretty busy planting season March – May life continues to be busy in the garden … and the hard work is paying off – it looks great, and we are enjoying *lots* of fresh fruit and salad just now

iv) Continue working through the list of ‘finishing off’ jobs for the house – this is winter work, when the garden isn’t so demanding on my time
v ) Flylady – I’m still working on making these routines a part of my life … focussing on getting the daily/weekly routine stuff done is making a huge difference, and the plus side is that I’m starting to make progress in the ‘zone’ work as well.

It’s been a funny old month … all the “extras” and textile work have been eating into my writing time, but despite this I feel pretty laid back. Or rather, I’ve been alternating between feeling pretty laid back, and panicking because I have a horrible feeling that I can’t combine successfully both the textile work AND writing professionally. But at this stage in my apprenticeship in the latter, it’s not a call I can really make.


It’s a lovely time of year in the garden …. all the borders are blooming, and the first of the crops are starting to come through.

I’m especially pleased now that some of the borders I’ve planted are maturing now, and parts of the garden are starting to resemble the picture I have in my head. I love this little strip under the pergola, with the vivid sweet williams underneath the rampant raspberry canes … there’s still a long way to go to achieve what I really want in the garden, but I’m concentrating on getting right the areas already under cultivation before I start expanding the beds any further – ultimately, I’d like there to be really very little lawn, but with the children needing the space for running around, I definitely have to wait on that for a while yet. I’m thrilled that the strip of meadow that I planted last year down the side of the house has started to come into its own this year – I was expecting it to take much longer to come on, but it’s already bursting with achillea, purple loosestrife and michealmas daisies, with the clovers and native geraniums and grasses holding it all together – I’m already excited about what next year will bring me!

We finished the last of the root veg about a month ago, but my brassicas (despite the best efforts of the wretched Cabbage Whites last year) have been splendid – we’ve had an almost constant supply of cabbage, brocoli and cauliflower … and now my spring cabbages (Spring Hero) are heading up nicely. I noticed the first signs of cabbage white attack today and picked the brassicas clean of the beastly caterpillars … I’m going to order some neem oil and give that a try this year, seeing as my companion planting was such a dismal failure last year. I’ve already decided that I’m going to net the brassicas when we go on holiday this summer, since that was when the worst of the damage happened last year.

My salads had a bit of a shaky start with the late frosts in May, but they’re coming good now, and we’ve had regular supplies of lettuce and spring onions for the past few weeks, and taste is just phenomenally good – even the children will eat leaves from the garden. And we had our first home-grown peas this week, too – so sweet that it makes the space they take up worth it. Bella in particular is tremendously enthusiastic about gardening, ‘helping’ me with planting and watering at every turn (even though the watering can is almost as big as she is 😉 ), and gets enormously excited about seeing the seeds growing. She’s particularly fascintated by the beans – I think because they’re so fast, so she can easily see how much they’ve grown on an almost daily basis, racing away up their canes. I’ve been much more rigourous with the slug pellets this year, and I’ve lost much less to slug and snail attack … although I wonder if all the hot and dry weather plays as much of a part as that. Still, it’s a delight to see intact hostas down in the shady part of the garden whatever the reason.

The only disappointment has been the onion sets I planted in last autumn – they really haven’t performed very well, and I’ll be lucky to get anything useful out of them at all – though this year I’m trying interplanting the onions with carrots and other root crops in an attempt to confound the dratted carrot-root fly that destroyed most of my carrots last year. Hopefully, the onion sets that went in this spring will do better … though it’ll be a challenge if this hot and dry weather carries on all summer.

I feel like such a killjoy to be wishing for a good downpour … but the watering regime is pretty gruelling at the moment. I keep looking longingly at irrigation systems in the garden catalogue ….

But my biggest success story this year – so far – has been the soft fruit. For the last two weeks we’ve been harvesting – and gorging – on what feels like an endless supply of strawberries. Every other day, Bella and I are collecting a big bowlful – well, I’m collecting them, and she’s mostly just eating them. There’s something about a freshly picked strawberry, warm from the sun 🙂 I think I might need to make some jam soon because there are more than we can quite keep up with … but for now we’re just revelling in having them on tap. Even better, the raspberries are fruiting like maniacs, and we had the first of them today, along with blackcurrants and redcurrants. I’m astonished how well they’ve done, because I only planted the canes and bushes last year …. and I’m already thinking that next year I might plant more redcurrant and blackcurrant … I just love the way they hang on the bushes like little jewels (and they taste *great*, too).