Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Autopsy of a Writer’s (well my) Note-Pad

Recently I discovered that you can now buy re-usable notepads/sketchpads, that you use then ‘zap’ in the microwave and it comes out blank – cleansed- like NEW! Now this seems rather clever, but don’t think personally this would work for me. Why? well…

Firstly – I like to know that the marks I’ve made are permanent, there’s something not only self-affirming about it, but just the notion of it being permanent means it has more impact on one’s memory.

Secondly – and more to the importantly – I DON’T have a microwave. This is due to an unfortunate incident of a microwave fire costing twenty five thousand pounds worth of damage, so I suspect my family and insurance company would object to me purchasing one purely of notepad cleaning! And yes if you were wondering, I did cause the fire, please be warned wheat bags should not be put on for twenty minutes!

New note-pads grab ready!

Although I lament in not being able to participate in a evolution that could have positive effects for the environment I am actually pretty pleased to stay with the good old fashioned paper notepad. That being said, I’m somewhat envious of many of my writer friend’s relationships with their notepads, as often on my Twitter and Facebook feeds a post pops up about a writer-friend who is out on a search for the ‘perfect notepad’ for their next project. Inevitably this is followed up by a photograph of a stunning perfect pad, many linking to the theme of the author’s next project.

This is what I’m envious of: having a special notepad that is specifically and unique tor one project. I’m jealous of the ritual and the record of the creation of a project from conception to finished novel or picture books etc. DON’T GET ME WRONG, I have as much of stationary fetish as the next writer, I’m just not monogamous to my notepads.

Usually, I need a notepad in hurry as the one I’ve been working in is full, so I pick one of the pile of beautiful ones I have on the shelf (gifted to me by friends and family) and I stuff this is my bag, and carry it everywhere until it too is full. This is nowhere near as romantic as picking one for the start of a project, and also it means that I use it for everything. I mean EVERYTHING, from working on my current WIP, to excitedly scrawling new concepts, to the more mundane to-do-lists, and shopping lists.

So, as my last notepad has just had its last blank page filled with ink, I thought I’d do an autopsy.

YES an AUTOPSY. I shall dissect it and investigate what it gorged itself to death on, so here we go, let the autopsy commence.

Autopsy of Notepad- Campervan

Believe D.O.Bu - (Date of Beginning (of) use) - June 2016
D.O.Eu (Date of End (of) Use) – February 2017

On first glance, the notepad seems healthy and undamaged, but upon opening it is immediately obviously that it has been heavily used. The first page is covered in barley readable miss-spelt scrawl of something called an 'epilogue' to what it the apparent owners WIP#1 a YA Urban-fantasy sci-fi novel. 

Strangely after only a few pages we find the apparent end of the same WIP#1, which makes one wonder what happened to rest of the novel?

Next we have notes from the zoo, literally, scrawls from a trip to London Zoo for the owners other current project (lets call it) WIP#2 a MG post apocalyptic story, set in yes you guessed it a zoo!

A random photograph of the owner and owners sister at the Moon-dial circa 1990 is found between the pages along with a random pair of 3D glasses - strange!

The user of this now de-funked notepad apparently switches and changes projects at will, as the next section is back to WIP#1, with character notes, and large quantity of post-its.

Flicking over the page is more development work for the owners WIP#1 along with her 10 Year old Manga Panda, in the medium of felt-tip on paper-towel.

Delving deeper into the pages we find more indecipherable scrawls along with one child's ticket to the Purbeck Steam Railway, stamps, air-mail stickers and a pearl of wisdom from Candy Gourlay (which clearly the writer is ignoring in preference for being distracted writing a completely bonkers blog post!) 

The notepad is stuffed fill with  doodles, along side lists of blog ideas, breaking up form the monotony of the badly spelt writing.

Oh, some colour, more WIP#1 work in an array of biros.

Another photograph (clearly from the 1980's) found between the pages which show the owners pet dog Lucy along with pet pidgon Dusty, besides the longhand version of a blog post about dodo's. 

Lastly one of many to-do-lists and shopping lists of which the owners has tormented the notepad with, this time, no contented with just writing the mundane notes on the pages of the pad, there also an additional printed out to-do-list too, obliviously the owner is still not needed Candy's advise and instead likes to distract them self with making multiple to-do-lists!

To conclude, it is obvious that the cause of death of this notepad, has been over consumption of the ramblings and thoughts of a erratic and slightly deranged individual. 

Friday, 3 February 2017

A small gesture of support for J K Rowling

Whilst in the throngs of arranging my kid’s first Harry Potter Book Night Party, I became aware of the social media storm that has embroiled J K Rowling’s twitter feed. @jk_rowling

Prep for Harry Potter Book Night

I am quite frankly appalled by the aggressive reaction to Rowling’s recent tweets. Surely the author who brought us Harry Potter’s Wizarding World which shone a light on prejudice is perfectly placed to comment about the current state of the world? If not because she (like the rest of us) live on the planet so has a vested interest but also, as her books have had studies proving that reading them makes the reader more empathetic, [press here to still the full article] it seems a logical extension for Rowling to shine a light on global trend which is the stark opposite; spreading ignorance which leads to hate which turns to a very slippery and un-harmonious slope.

The reaction to Rowling’s observations have been swift, numerous and brutal [press here to read more]. The tweets are aggressive, even threatening and promising to burn her books and DVD’s. I’m shocked and saddened that people would react in such a scathing and aggressive manner; why not be tolerant and understanding about other people opinions – oh what’s that called again? – Oh empathy!

A Cornish Pixie caught in The Half Blood Prince

So I’ve decided to show my support for Rowling in a small way - by reading her books.

You see, I have never read a JK ROWLING BOOK. *Cue shocked faces and glares of disdain* Now, don’t judge, let me explain why.
  1. I was too old to be swept up in the phenomena when the first books were published.
  2. The first books were published during my decade long break from recreational reading (secondary school through to graduation from uni).
  3. I LOVED the first film, and so knowing that when I see a film after reading the book I’m always disappointed and wanting to enjoy all the films (see my previous blog post about films books), I vowed not to read them until I’d watched all the movies. Of course I had to wait a good few years for that.
  4. When I first tried to read the books – I couldn’t. whether it was due to small print and me going through a bad spout of dyslexia or that I broke my decade of not reading by reading YA novels (all first person), and I found the change to middle grade jilting, I don’t know. But please don’t get me wrong I LOVE the stories, and my kids (12 & 10) have read the books, I however just couldn’t get off the first page.

So when my husband was at work and the kids were asleep, I sat down, at 9 o clock, with my hot water bottle, a glass of wine and The Philosophers Stone and began to read. And what can I say, other than when my husband (who bearing striking resemblance to certain wizard) eventually got home at 11, I’d read half the books, (without even getting up to refill my glass) and considering that due to my dyslexia making me a very slow reader, it’s a testament to how much I’m loving it. I’m a convert you might say.

And so, to support J K Rowling, and her right to speak or tweet her mind and observations, I pledge to read all her books.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

An Ode to the Dodo

So, I set out writing this post on the process of expanding a novella up to a full length novel, to talk about the perils of getting the plot sound and the pleasure of fleshing out the characters and devolving their back stories and story arcs. All very interesting stuff but…


In my defence: distraction is somewhat of an occupational hazard to any creative individual.

The distraction was in the form of a news article about the auction of a complete (well 95% complete) reconstructed Dodo skeleton. The skeleton is not made up from one specimen as no actual complete specimen from one individual bird survives; even the famous Oxford Dodo has little left due to a botched taxidermy attempt. Instead, much like the Jonny Cash song ‘One Piece at a Time’ about a car that’s made up from bits of lots of other cars, the Dodo has been constructed from bones from many specimens obtained over the last thirty years, and assembled to a true likeness of the extinct creature.

Why would this distract me, you may well ask?

Well it just so happened that I had just finished reading the book, ‘A Dodo in Oxford; The unreliable account of a student and his pet Dodo.’ It is a fascinating book which was published in 2010 by Oxgarth Press and penned by Philip Atkins and Michael Johnson, who write that they found an old tired book in a second-hand bookshop in Oxford dating from the 1600’s, which claims to be a diary of a student about his pet Dodo. The diary if genuine gives a rare insight into the habits and behaviours of the instinct bird, which may actually have been the last dodo to ever have lived.

The book reproduces every page of the diary along with notes about the authors’ endeavours to investigate and prove that the diary to be genuine, along with facts about the people and places mentioned; the printing process and further information to aid the understanding of seventeenth century Oxford life. All in all it is fascinating and fabulous read, whether it is real or a centuries old student hoax.

The thing that appealed to me most about the diary within A Dodo in Oxford was the descriptions and observations of the Dodo’s character, mannerisms and behaviour. To me it seems far too accurate to be pure imagination, or the butt of a joke.

How, you may ask, would I know what a Dodo may have behaved? And in fact, why, you may ask would I be interested?

Well to answer the first question, I was brought up surrounded by birds; finches, fowls of all varieties, parrots and pigeons. My father was obsessed by birds and kept many aviaries and during the 90’s bread and hand-reared parrots. So I’ve been weaned on the knowledge of keeping and training of birds and am well versed in bird husbandry, including pigeons. As we know dodos were just very large flightless, and docile (open to discussion) pigeons. 

Me and an array of birds and animals that belonged to the family

The pigeons my family kept were not plump, and flightless but were the majestic Tumbling variety, who suddenly fall from the sky mid-slight as if dead, only to pull up yards before crashing fatally into the ground. The sight itself is awe inspiring and bird, who come in a variety of speckled whites and browns or whites and black are actually rather pretty – for a pigeon anyway. There was one pigeon in particular that me and my sister had a close bond with, Dusty, who for reasons long since forgotten, we incubated and hand-reared. Dusty lived in the house either sleeping on one of the parrot cages or in the dog basket nestled up with our two Jack Russell’s Lucky and Lucy. 

Dusty and Lucy

Dusty was NOT an intelligent bird like a parrot (who IQ’s are equivalent to a three year old human child) but he made up for it in character and clumsy wit, compounded by the fact he did not know he was a pigeon. In many ways he seems similar to the Dodo in the diary of A Dodo in Oxford, who adored the company of people, and the landlords fowl and normal domesticated pigeons.

Also having had the experience of teaching parrots of many different types, from African Greys to the endangered Lesser Vasa, and Macaws to Cockatoos, tricks and of course the odd annoying rhyme or inappropriate word, I find the Student’s observations and the results from tests he conducted on the Dodo to be strangely similar to the behaviour of parrots. So, coming back to the question: in short, I believe my background and bird keeping experiences qualifies me enough to make an assessment of the believability of the dodo behaviour in the book. 

Dusty being hand-reared

Second Question; why would I care? Well party as described above, but mostly as I’m fascinated by now extinct animals and the way they have becomes steeped in mythology, fuelled by the lack of knowledge or study of living specimens. And I’m always interested to see how these type of creatures are handled when written about in fiction. 

When thinking about Dodo’s in fiction one’s mind my curiously fixate on the Dodo from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but personally my favourite fictional dodo is Pickwick from Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels. Pickwick is the pet of Literary Detective Thursday who cloned the bird herself from a home cloning kit. Pickwick is fantastic, and shares many of the characteristics with the Dodo from A Dodo in Oxford, like being able to grasp simple task of standing on one leg (or tapping in sequence in A dodo in Oxford). 

So to answer question two, I’m interested in how a long extinct creature still inspires writer today whether in novels, or on screen (think Aardman Animations Pirates!)

All in all, I think dodo’s are great, they are comical in appearance and have a kind of naive charm. They are one of my favourite birds to doodle, and one day hopefully I’ll get to include one in a story. But for now I’ll end with this; that I hope we see many more dodos in stories in the future, and that they live on in fiction to inspire young minds and hopefully get the next generation thinking about humanities attitudes and responsibility to endangered creatures.