Friday, July 27, 2007
On the ongoing sweater for the youngest daughter epic, I also may have saved that too. I'm about to do a deeply scary thing and unravel ( be still, my beating heart) both orang-utang sleeves from the cast off edge backwards. this is to avoid hemming them both with a large and bulky seam and inadvertently giving my elfin youngest knitted shoulders like a Teamster on steroids. But then, I can sew the sleeves on and Have Done With It. God. Enough already. It does make me wonder if I'll ever be able to watch my youngest daughter wear the sweater without breaking out in hives. Me, not her.
My Dragons got the go-ahead this morning from Bloomsbury UK, US, and Germany, so whenever I'm back in the studio for a longish period, I'll be able to begin on the artwork. How good is that? From first draft to start date in six weeks? Perfect. The book will be beautiful, especially since it hasn't been distorted out of all recognition and turned into an ongoing compromise arrived at by an editorial commitee.
Talking of which, I've just sent off the final edit and rewrite of my beloved but much revised Witch Baby text. Despite the rigours and multiple changes that the text has undergone, I continue to love it to bits. I've been rewriting it since last summer, and at various points along its life, I've wanted to
cry me a river, followed by a loch, followed by an ocean
beat my head against a brick wall
give up being a writer and get a proper job stacking shelves
have a heart-to-heart with my editors in which an axe is notably present
hurl myself under a train
Never have I ever had such a struggle to produce a book. Looking back to the Darker Days, I'm amazed I kept going. There have been a few occasions when I wanted to repay the advance and give up entertaining any ambitions regarding being a writer. Tough? Rawhaaaaaade, baby. Put me in such a bad mood, too. Every edit seemed like another impossible summit for which I was ill-equipped and rapidly running out of oxygen. But hey. That was then, and this is now, but I swear if the next book is even a tenth as hard, I'll have to call it quits. Too damaging to my tenuous grip of the creative process. It's like being constantly reminded of how far you have to fall when you're attempting a high-wire act.
I am feeling good today, and not just because of the close-to-completion feelings engendered by the above, but also because today was the first day for six weeks that I felt able to haul myself along to the gym. Six weeks is an awful long time and an awful lot of lost fitness. Some of my usual routine was entirely beyond me in my new role as Debi the Milquetoast (as opposed to Debi of the Steel Buns). Didn't have to do a whole lot to elevate my heartrate up to its max either. And still, no running. Today, I just walked very fast on an increasingly raked footplate. Today's cruising altitude was a pathetic 10% incline, but it felt brilliant to be actually doing something again.
My vague plans for running and hill-walking this summer are on hold, though. Tomorrow we trek up to Wester Ross for one week of what had been supposed to be mountain-heaven. Some weeks ago, we'd talked about climbing the Ben Dheraig range, but one little trek in hill-walking boots along a beach in Aberdeen last weekend put paid to that. Sadly, I'm not out of the woods yet, and may not be for some time to come. The idea of getting halfway up something big and pointy and then having my foot pack in and then having to call out mountain rescue...heck no. Good sense prevails. I'll walk in to the foot of Ben Dheraig and then sit at the base and make small, keening sounds.
OOOOOh, I would've
If I could've
But my foot
's gone kaput.
That was the Dirge of The Thwarted Hillwalker, brought to you today by our sponsors; Mr Gordon and his fine green bottles.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Back to the sweater for youngest daughter saga. Finally added the eight tassels round the hem, then tacked on an extra band of tightly knitted twoply, knitted on a train from Edinburgh to London and then back again the same day. This inch wide band finishes the bottom edge of the sweater and hides where the tassels are sewn on. Still with me? All was looking totally gorgeous in a kind of blobby homespun way, and I was feeling hugely victorious with the end in sight.
You can tell that it's going to go pear-shaped, can't you? Deep breaths. Relax those shoulders. Here we go.
Then I tried to sew the sides and sleeves in place. Since the sweater is going to have to take a fair bit of abuse and also because my sewing together with mattress stitch technique is, to say the least, amateurish, and because I was keen to get to the end, I thought I'd sling it under the foot of my gorgeous sewing machine and whizz, wheeee, we'd have the thing finally finished for the weekend. Finished for the weekend. Unless you've knitted an ongoing mondo project, you can have no idea of the heady rush experienced by a knitter at the thought that liberation is only a weekend away...
Oh, heady thought. Oh, deluded knitter. Oh, complete disaster. Couldn't even dance and shriek and use foulest of foul language, because the entire household was fast asleep and would have risen up as one and stuffed the mangled sweater down my neck in order to silence me. Poor things, it can't have been easy having to come to terms with the fact that they're taking second place in their mother's affections behind a sweater.
Back to the sweater for the youngest daughter saga. Will unpick the hideous tangle and teach myself how to mattress-stitch like a pro. Perhaps I'll have it finished before I go to Shetland. I could take photos of it with me, if only to provoke massed hilarity when I show my feeble efforts to the Experts Up Helly A. Or whatever they call themselves. Stitch and Bister? ( So many landmarks on Shetland end in 'Bister'. I think it means 'farm', but what do I know?) Actually, if I take my feeble knits up there, I'll probably be thrown off a headland and into the sea for crimes against knitting. Nothing would be left floating on the water except for a very smart pair of orthotic insoles, but we won't talk about those today.
As for the shawl in kidsilk haze. I'm on the decreasing last third of the project now, and praying that all will become clear when I block it. At the moment it looks like nothing much, in fact it looks pretty hideous, but I can say that, because I'm its mummy. Despite my rank amateurishness, I still wish I'd tried to knit my shawl in something slightly more challenging than the shell and fan pattern. Perhaps I'll be able to find someone up in Shetland who will help me find a pattern, and then act as interpreter for the more arcane of the instructions. Being self-taught means that I have no idea what's going on when the pattern goes off-piste. I need a guide, but I have no friends with knitting expertise, or if I do, they haven't come out and 'fessed up. However, complete strangers come up to me on trains and in restaurants and pluck my pins out of my hands saying, do you mind, but I just couldn't sit and watch you do that any more. This reflects the degree of awkwardy-fumblethumbish non-dexterity I am obviously bringing to my knitting. The only person who has admired my knitting on trains was the ex health minister, Patricia Hewitt who saw me working away on a long train journey from London to Leeds. As she disembarked ( to be devoured entire by thousands of pissed-off nurses) , she said wistfully, I wish I had time to knit like you...
The moral being - be careful what you wish for.
As for the fiddle part of Fiddle and Pins...well. I hang my head in shame. Fiddle is in its case over on the West coast and has not been taken out to play since February. Must do better. Must campaign for a thirty-six hour day. Must, gasp, phew, cut myself some slack.
Monday, July 16, 2007
Thursday, July 12, 2007
so strenuous? Spent the whole day inside working my socks off on the
Witch Baby rewrite version 10.3.7 ( or something close - I've lost
count) and as is the case with writing as opposed to illustrating, I
had to work in complete silence. After wanting to off our innocent
next-door neighbour for strimming his hedges one summer when I was
trying to write something or other and couldn't concentrate with the
eeeeee nyeeeee noises coming through the hedge, I cracked and went
out and got hold of a pair of noise-reduction headphones. They're
great, I can't hear the phone, the children, neighbours, nuclear
attacks etc but I feel like a dork wearing them even if they do beat
the heck out of facing a manslaughter charge for wantonly
slaughtering one's neighbours. They hiss, though. The headphones, not the neighbours. I sit writing and look like an alien with my blinking
red light and big black puffs on either side of my head. They help me
concentrate, but for some reason, working in silence makes it really
feel like Work.
So, yeah, picked my way through the twin-headed edit ( on this Witch
Baby book I have not only one editor, but two. Oh lucky, lucky me) up
to chapter six and realised a whole day had gone. This is just to
match the whole year that has already passed on this book, but hey -
who's counting? Five o'clock and cabin fever setting in nicely. I
offered to go get the milk. Put my weird shoe things in place and
headed off down to the village for the low-fat juice of the cow. Down
being the operative word. Bought milk, avoided being squished on the
road, and wibbled back. Took the little back road. About halfway up
it realised that I couldn't squeeze enough breath into my lungs to
fuel the muscles to push the pedals any more. Stopped. Realised that
the midges of Argyll were just waiting for this opportunity to
descend in their ravening millions. Got back on. Pedalled till lungs
gave out. Stopped. Ditto midges. Got back on. Pedalled till etcetera.
Following this rather embarassingly wussy non-athletic rhythm all the
way back. Gave up completely on the drive up to the house and got off
and pushed. How the hell do the Tour de France cyclists do what they
do? Whatever they're on, I want some.
Apparently I was the same colour as the panful of redcurrant jelly I
Not an entirely wasted day, then.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
I'd hate that.
She'd hate that.
I have to let my sketches find their own way, let Sarah enjoy the images on her own, without me hovering over her shoulder, emitting a palpable cloud of worry. After all, I can't stand over every person who buys the finished book, can I? Thank heavens for gin is all, she said darkly.
On the shawl front, I snuck into the wool bit of Lewis's and averted my eyes from all temptations other than one new ball of kidsilk haze required to complete the thing.
Actually, that's a complete lie. I bought another knitting book, which is every bit as bad as buying yet more yarn to feed the moths. I have amassed a large collection of knitting books, most of which are the equivalent of craft-porn. I sit and salivate over the pictures, but in my heart of hearts, I just know I'll never have the courage to do anything that requires me to cast on 367 stitches.
The sweater for the smallest girl is another project still on the pins. Well not on the pins, but requiring sewn together complete with a complicated border and what can only be described as 'tufts'. This is an ongoing saga, started almost eight months ago, and has been something of a labour of love. It began when smallest daughter could no longer squeeze into her favourite, commercially-knitted sweater. When we finally had to admit defeat and consign the thing to the pile of clothes that I can't bring myself to throw out or recycle yet, smallest daughter asked if I would knit her a copy.
At that stage, the correect thing to do was say 'No, but let's find an easy pattern that can be knitted by a three-celled amoeba with non-opposable thumbs,'
Alas, I did not do the correct thing. When have I ever done the correct thing? Please, don't answer that. To cut a long story short, I went out and tried to buy enough dk yarn to make a passable copy of the favourite thing. Let's just pause here and do some simple maths. The original, outgrown thing was bought secondhand in 1996 at an NCT sale for all of 30p. When I went out to buy yarn to duplicate it, I spent over 50 pounds. Sure, we're eleven years on from the original purchase, but even house prices in London haven't escalated in such insane proportions. That's a hundred and sixty six times more expensive than the original. That kind of mark-up is not only eye-watering, but has committed me to making a work of art out of the sweater, and smallest daughter will be unwittingly burdened with a weight of expectation regarding how well she treats said sweater which is, to say the least, a bit unrealistic. In short, the first time she snags it on a thorn, I'll have to kill myself.
No pressure there, then.
Anyway, with a bit of determination, I might be able to bring the creation of this blobby knit to a close before smallest girl becomes medium-sized girl and is unable to fit into her Mama's lovingly crafted thing. There are bits of it I love, and bits I am deeply ashamed of. It's like a diary of the past year, I can remember where I was when I knitted certain panels. As luck would have it, I'll probably finish it in time for our horribly delayed summer to finally arrive, and it will stay hot till November, by which time, smallest daughter will have put on a growth spurt and acquired Attitude.
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Whatever. Suffice to say, the shawl needs another ball of super gossamer kidsilk haze to be woven into its length before I can cast off and wear it. Correction. before I can cast off, soak it in some delicately scented floral water and pin it out on a flat surface in order to turn a pile of tangleweed into the lace pattern that I take on trust is hidden in the weft. Knitting a lace shawl requires a leap of faith. When finished it will only weigh 75 grammes, will pass through a wedding ring and is the exact colour of the sea off the West coast of Scotland on a sunny day.
At least, I think it's the exact colour. I am working from memory here. This year's colours are grey, grey and grise.
It's such a cold day that I resort to deep domesticity to stay warm. After breakfast I lurk in the kitchen's warmth, ostensibly to make a tiny quantity of strawberry jam which, due to eagle-eyed testing for a set is still the exact colour of a maidenly blush, instead of that awful denatured reddy-brown of boiled-to-death dammit-it-WILL-set industrial conserve. One pot is labelled 'strawberry' and the other 'fraise' which sounds as if more care has been expended on it. I wonder which will taste better? One is for right now to cheer our bedraggled rained-on souls. With scones. Or slathered in between the layers of a Victoria sponge. The other is for the dead of winter when strawberries are a memory - this year, a memory of a wet and rather disappointing summer. Upstairs, my workroom is chilly and the view of the Kyle is grey. Still it rains. I try to work, then decide that more culinary effort is required. Back down to the kitchen where I raise a batch of bagels followed by a baton of potato and rosemary bread. There's something deeply soothing about being able to achieve that pillowy, billowy levitation of flour and yeast while rain lashes the windows.
Back to the work. Second last spread of dragon roughs -there's a lot of decorative twiggery in curlicues around the edges of the main picture, and there's a lot of dreamy pleasure to be had from sitting in an upstairs room, letting my thoughts spiral and twirl like the foliage I'm drawing. The music helps, too. Today, as it has been for the last few weeks of drafting out the book, I'm listening to David Sylvian's rather melancholy and introspective 'Dead Bees on a Cake' followed by 'Secrets From the Beehive'. Given that the dragon book is about climate change,my musical choice seems spookily appropriate since the disappearance of several species of bees is being seen as harbinger of future extinctions.
Must fill the last two spreads with live bees. Just in case there's anything in that sympathetic magic malarkey. If magic won't save us, then I suspect nothing will. As it rains and rains and rains I can't help but imagine a wet world like my dragons end up in.
Then the seas start to rise
And the deserts expand
Till everything's covered
In water or sand.
And yet my treacherous soul craves a foreign sun...even as I mutter darkly as sun-bound holiday planes trail overhead.
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
So satisfying to tweak them off with the useful tweezers on my Swiss army knife. I have seen tourists reduced to blubbering heaps on discovering that they have been bitten by one measly tick. We have guests that turn pale when we recount the ticks removed per annum. Obviously tourists and guests are imagining they're about to fall down frothing at the mouth with incipient Lyme's disease as opposed to itch and scratch for no more than, say, ten days. In these latitudes, we do a slick, quick, chick, tick check every bathtime or morning after we've exposed our succulent flesh to ticks by enjoying a walk through bracken and grasses. Our response to discovering that we're a seething mass of squirming pests and infestations is determinedly casual. It's a bit like the kind of blitz mentality that had people sauntering to their nissen huts with half-drunk cups of tea in hand, rather than dropping everything and fleeing for their lives. We have to keep the whole damn-I've-got-ticks-sucking-my-blood thing low-key and non-hysterical in order not to have the little girls having stereo hissy-fits. When they're older they'll probably be furious with us for exposing them to things that crawl and suck, but right now, the smallest little girl was heard to say - look, mummy, a dear wee spider's running across my legs.
That was no spider.
* A toly is what my children refer to as a 'poo'. I think 'toly' is the more elegant form.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
The sun came and went all day, but when it was out it was enough to make us pretend that it was really summer rather than this wet soggy facsimile we're all enjoying this year. However, there's something so ludicrously optimistic about hurling one's naked self into Scottish lochs that never fails to make me truly aware that I must be On Holiday now.This is the third swim of 07. The first being on New Year's Day.
Had to mention that.
Right. I'm gone. Dial-up is too expensive to allow for impeccable prose and careful composition. There shalt be no staring out of windows for inspiration during these E-pisodes. A quick, pithy scrawl and out. At least, that's the plan.
Monday, July 2, 2007
No-one comes out well in this. We're all sleepwalking. What is going to wake us up to our lives?
Imagine. We're in the queue. We're marvelling at the acid-rain eroded pearls on the golden gates and wondering if a lifetime's nihilism and atheism are going to exclude our entry through and into the Kingdom we never really believed in. Swapping moment-of-death stories with our fellow humans in the queue, we ask - what were you doing when it all went black and the world ended?
I'd be so pissed off if my last moments had been spent in a mall being a mindless consumer.Or standing in a check-in queue, or waiting at a ten-deep bar in some crowded club. Actually, given my age, the last option is somewhat unlikely. I want to go out as I came in. Naked. Innocent of harm. Close to someone I love more than anything. And if it could be in a green place - a wild place, a mountain, a sea, a forest...Close to the earth that sustained us all. Our beautiful home planet.
Back to the queue. Imagine. Some people are going to be soooo smug. The ones, you know them, the ones with wee metal fishes next to the maker's marque on thier rear bumpers. The Alpha course devotees. They've paid their dues. They've done the time and are now in line for Membership Rewards bigtime. The rest of us are stuffed. We're headed for the Big Toaster.
On this happy note, I'm off to slather on the factor 90. Maybe I'll slither off the end of the pitchfork.