Tuesday, January 29, 2008

do not adjust your set

and please fasten your seatbelts...we are currently experiencing some e-turbulence. Why the heck I'm incapable of uploading trimmed and perfect photos to exactly the spot on my blog where I want them to go, as opposed to where some insane logic-gate deep inside the Blogger interface has decreed they will go, I'll never know, but for what it's worth - I'm so sorry you have to endure my technical ineptitude. Yes, I know there are two versions of the same picture. And yes, I know it relates to something at the end of this post. God. I'm having a bad electrical goods day, okay? Pass the axe, Eugene. My brand-new and wondrous studio subwoofer's gone on the fritz, as have the household amp and cd player and all of this is making me think that last week's rolling power outages have killed a lot of our electrical equipment, despite things being plugged in via surge protectors. Is this part of a new future in which we slowly and agonizingly wean ourselves off all things electric? And if so, why couldn't it have been boring stuff like the vacuum cleaner and the iron rather than the sodding hi-fi? Urrrrgh. Or might it be that Mercury is in retrograde and that's what's wrong? Peace and love and pass the healing crystals, man.

Tomorrow, the vatman cometh, and due to the hi-fi pox or Mercury-induced vapour fits I won't be able to send deep sub-woofy vibrations up through the soles of his feet as he pores over my vat records. Muttering blackly to himself as he inputs stuff into his calculator and frowns. Meaningfully. What a fun job that must be. NOT.
And what a humourless bunch Customs and Excise are. What fun we shall both have tomorrow when he nit-picks through the last three years of numbers I have diligently crunched on the government's behalf and I sit nearby, on standby in case he wants to interrogate me as to why I thought that three bags of Smarties, a Chris Stout CD and a cajun chicken wrap were vat-able expenses. I have to be there while he disembowels my business. I imagine I'll not be concentrating properly on my wee black and white illustrations for Witch Baby. Not with The Suit Of Menace muttering in a corner of my studio. 
God. Why me, lord? Why two 'random'  investigations within three years? I don't know a single other author who's had to go through this and those fellow writers with whom I've raised the thorny question now appear to regard me as a contagious vatplague carrier. 
Popular, I ain't. 
Anyway. by way of light relief, here's last week's work - an illustration of one of Amnesty International's  Declaration of Human Rights. It's a children's book to be published in December to raise funds for Amnesty by selling the book and also by a charity auction of all the artwork from the book. My page was the declaration about being able to think what you like, say what you think and share those thoughts with other people. Which is a great idea if you can get away with it, but in my experience, is tantamount to career suicide in certain circles. My lips are sealed. Mmmmhmmm, wild horses, mffle pflffle.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fiddle lurrrrve

The fiddling is progressing nicely, I think. The neighbourhood cats have grown bored with singing in sympathy and my family have managed to get their synchronized winces almost under control. I did have a fairly cringe-making play with a good friend who can play fiddle beautifully ( despite not having picked one up for seven years ) when I tried to play alongside her, I sounded utterly godawful. She was too kind to wince, or fall on my throat with a Stanley blade to ensure my future silence but merely played on, in a deeply capable fashion. With twiddly bits and vibrato, and the odd lighthearted -  hmm, we'll just try that again, shall we? -when the correct thing to say was Debi, put that bloody fiddle back in its case and for the good of mankind, take up macrame instead.

I sounded horribly out of tune, wince-makingly dire, in fact. I could barely cope with the realization of how crappily I was playing, but it was the first time for, er, thirty three years ( aaaaarrrrrghhhh) that I've played with another real, live person rather than a recording. But hey, nothing that a concentrated period of playing scale after scale won't cure. Like thirty three more years of practice and I might be getting somewhere. When my good and kind fiddle-playing friend left, I spent the next two hours playing and playing and playing, to try and salvage some possibility that I might be able to make a sound that was, in even a small way, tuneful. 

I did have one of those rare moments of utter stringed bliss this morning, playing along with a Peatbog Faeries track, for some reason it suddenly took off and achieved altitude with what felt like little effort on my part. I flew. The notes came by themselves and for a brief five minutes, I was exalted.

Tomorrow, I'm heading off early to the shores of Loch Lomond to take part in a Babies & Music day. Whatever that may be...I'm not planning on playing music, haven't actually been invited to do so, but I will be reading some of my books to very small people which should be a riot. I will put my fiddle in the back of the car, though. Just in case. There was mention of a mini-ceilidh for tots, and that has distinct possibilities. And it's Burn's Day, and that always makes people slightly more open to all things heederum hoderum.

The pins are back in gainful employment as well - I'm knitting a hat with earflaps for our youngest daughter - one that won't get her teased in the playground, but which will keep her warm through this rather arctic spell of weather we're enjoying. This is the second time I've knitted it - first time round it was waaaaaaay too big, and rather than hand it over promising that she'd grow into it ( that is, if she grew up to weigh ninety stone), I decided to rip it all back ( small choking sobs) and start again. Should be done by the end of the weekend. It's lovely yarn- a dark grey chunky marled wool, with details picked out in one of those weird synthetic fluffy yarns which were all the rage for scarf-knitting a few years back. The syntho-fluff is in bright, hot colours - pinks and golds and bronzes, which look very fine against the grey marl. And I think I've managed to use syntho-fluff in sufficiently small quantities to showcase its rather weird beauty which is lost when it's used to the exclusion of any other yarn.

Right. Must go and have a wardrobe crisis. What to wear for a January day with babies in a vast draughty youth hostel on the shores of Loch Lomond?*

Later - Idiotically, moron here wore a woolly sweater which more than lived up to its name. Somehow I managed to forget that I heat up bigtime when reading to and talking with vast hordes of children. And  I'm not exaggerating. I had over seventy babies plus their parents.YIKES!!!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

sealed and delivered

The dragons are now officially on their way. Sarah loved them. Val
loved them. Emma loved them. I left them behind in Sarah's office at
Bloomsbury and we went out for an unbelievably early lunch. I was the
only one drinking, but I offer by way of excuse the fact that I was
still feeling distinctly travel-sick from the journey down. God knows
why, but early morning trains make me want to throw up. I have to do
labour breathing for the first two hours or else it's a short trip to
the big china telephone and a reacquaintance with whatever I had for
dinner the night before. Joy. So my lunchtime g&t was medicinal,
right? It settles the stomach in a far more pleasant fashion that
Andrews Liver Salts or, urgh, shudder, that hideous Italian digestif
called something like Rabarbero (?)

Anyway. My beautiful book is safe in the hands of its publisher. Yo -
Dragons! I wandered off to the National Portrait Gallery and spent a
few hours with the Tudors marvelling at the pomp and opulence of all
those kingly and queenly ruling classes. Then I walked to the tube
and endured a short and brutal hurtle through the damp and dirty
underbelly of the Capital. God - I so loathe the Underground, but
can't afford taxis and don't know London well enough to walk. I feel
I should be having a wild celebration, treating myself to at least
dinner on the train with a spot of champagne to send my dragons on
their way, but, d'you know what? That would be Old Dragon behaviour.
In my new improved incarnation as a globally responsible citizen
( you, Boy, yes you, stop snorting at the back , I know I'm not
perfect and I've got some huge carbon-guzzling wrinkles to iron out,
but I'm working on them, right?) I ate my vegetarian supper and then
got on with putting together a slideshow based round the making of
the whole book. I've got a talk to do at the National Library of
Scotland and they suggested that I might put together a PowerPoint
presentation to illustrate my talk. Now this kind of facility with
technology is something I've successfully managed to avoid for...oh,
all my life but I thought that I'd better make some kind of attempt
to pretend that I am a joined up 21st C citizen rather than a woad-
slathering Luddite with Neanderthal tendencies...

Sadly, I couldn't find a pattern or a recipe for PowerPoint, so have
had to cobble together something on i-photo which took the better
part of six hours, but hey, that's what train journeys are for,
right? Fingers crossed that cross-platform functionality is part of
the whole i-photo schtick. If not, well heck. Right now, all I want
is home, bath and bed. It's been an insanely long day and it's not
over yet. And the on-train wi-fi isn't allowing me to send messages,
only receive them, so this post and the previous one will have the
wrong time and date on them. But who cares, huh? A post is a post no
matter when it's datestamped.

Delivering the dragons

This post comes from an early morning ( oh, my lord, how early was this?) train whizzing down the length of Britain. The dragon artwork is all done and currently tucked into a portfolio on a rack over my head and I'm sitting here hoping that it will be loved to bits by Sarah at Bloomsbury, and also that it will contribute in some small way to the general effort to raise awareness that we need to Change Our Wicked Ways. No, that's not true. I hope it will make a big impact, because i'm enough of an ancient hippy to believe that you can save the planet.

If I had a banjo, I'd go ker-twannnga, ker-twonnng oh youuuuu gotta ch-ch-ch-change youuuuur wicked ways, but to the immense relief of my fellow-commuters, I don't and I won't. It's going to be bloody awful coming back home without the artwork. This is crazy, I know, but in a way it's like seeing a child off to make its own way in the world - you're chuffed to bits that you've raised him so well that he can pursue an independent life, you're deeply proud of the fine, upstanding person he has become but the holehis going will make in your  life is a big one. And you know that he won't phone home for months. And with books, they don't phone home either. In fact, you hand them in and nothing happens for months and months. This one won't be published till next Sep/Oct....and my studio will be empty of beautiful dragon artwork and, in truth, a total shit-heap because I've been so frantically busy finishing the Dragons, that I've been even more of a slob than normal.

And, boy, is that saying something.

The last time I handed in a book to Bloomsbury was way back,  nine or ten years ago with 'No Matter What'. I blush to recall what I said to their sales team as the cooed over the artwork. Nope, I won't tell you, but bizzarrely, arrogant monster that I was, subsequent events proved me right. Sort of. This time, I have far less confidence - not in the book, but in the world into which my book is going. I'm not even sure if picture books have the weight they used to. I walk into bookstores and see piles of arch, tongue-in-cheek, clever books that don't appear to have any emotional 'heart' at all. I'm not very good at those. These days, I have a tendency to write books I can barely read out loud without choking up.

Maybe it's my age and stage. Certainly I feel like I'm going through a transition phase in my own life - the mirror tells me that I may feel all of twenty inside, but outside, I'm becoming invisible and middle-aged. This is inevitable, but with this discovery comes a chill wind blowing back from the future, a wind that reminds me that nothing should be taken for granted, never a day should pass without showing those I love how much I love them, and that every day has to be seized, savoured and lived in an awake state. I'm kind of hoping that at some point I'll reach a plateau of acceptance of my own mortality and find an ability to live in accord with the slipping, changing nature of human ageing. 

I wouldn't have it any other way - I will not be beating a path to Aubrey de Grey and his dodgy neo-con chums who are ploughing millions into research for how to live way beyond our allotted span. I don't want to live longer than those I love, I just want it all to slow down a bit - the pace seems to accelerate, the children sprout and move away just as I'm getting to know the adults within the babies we raised. 

And let's be honest here - where the fuck did all that crepe round my neck come from? Jeez. It'll be liver spots and rheumy eyes soon. Anyone sees me surreptitiously wiping the sides of my mouth with a tissue has permission to shoot me. So far, no-one has actually thrown up at the sight of me in gym kit, but I'm guessing it won't be long before that happens. One of my sweet little children said to me the other day that from behind I looked like a girl. I'm such a paranoiac that I can't take that as a compliment - I'm too busy hearing the implied - but when you turned round - crikey, it was like night of the living dead meets the return of the mummy. Har de harrr. And then another of my children ( aka the vipers in my breast, and  I'm not talking ze vindow viper either, schweethoit) heard me remark upon how I was the same age as Nigella Lawson, and he said - wow, I thought she was waaaay younger than you, Mum. 

Yeah, thanks. Your dinner's in the dog.

Friday, January 11, 2008

baby, it's cold outside

So, I've been awol, huh?
It's been a while, honey, but hey, don't go all huffy on me. Sure, I still love you.I'm here now, I've done gone and showed up, so that must count for something.
Where the hell do I think I've been? I've been busy with...er...life? Work? Stopped work on Midwinter's day just in time to come down with The Mother of all Rhinoviruses.  Wow - I mean we're talking one complete box of balsam tissues per diem. Heavvvvvy. Damp, too. Loud on the sneezing front, and the endless snurking made people edge away from me as they tried to politely pretend they hadn't noticed that I was dissolving in front of them. Horrible, horrible, thoughts filled my head in what little space wasn't already filled up with phlegm. At certain times of the day, I had to stop myself from tearing my nose off and hurling it into a corner of the room( there - that'll teach you to run like that). We threw a Midwinter's Night dinner party and as soon as the last guest tripped happily out of our front door, the Plague descended.  Happy Christmas - couldn't taste, couldn't sleep, could barely see through streaming rheumy eyes. Oh, what fun. NOT.
So. You don't want to hear my pathetic excuses? You're going all frosty on me? You're doing that ice-maiden thing and clipping the ends off your sentences. I can hardly hear you - what's that you're squeezing out through your gritted teeth?Your mouth goes all pinched and mean, hon. Try and be a little more understanding.  No knitting? Well, er, no. I did try and finish the dolly from helly, but honestly, hand sewing every ferking strand of her hair onto her dear little bald head was more than I could take. Look, I tried. And the individual dragon bags for all family members - well, I did finish those. Those were good. Even if everyone thought I'd bought the bags and then stuck the picture on to them. Jeez. All that effort. 
But it's all over now.Eldest daughter has been and come back from California to visit her seriously ill paternal grandmother. She left, in tears, on Boxing Day. I dropped her off and wept all my way home. I missed her like a hole in my life all the way through the holidays, and that can't have been any fun for the rest of my family. I may have said this before, but it's hell, living with the aftermath of a Dee Eye Vee Oh Arse. However, that was then, this is now, and now, I'm so happy she's back home safe. 
It's a brand New Year. We've had snow, we've had gales, we've had waaaaaay more Christmas cake than could ever be considered good for us, and we're now into the January Repentence, big-time. No money, no waistline, no sunshine....
And just before I stopped for Christmas, I had a phone call from those nice folks at Customs & Excise to announce their intention of conducting a VAT inspection at my studio. To which, the only reply has to be a resounding fuuuuuuuckittty fuck fuck. Our longstanding acccountant has just retired, and we have to acquaint a new, untried accountant with the weirdness that is GlioriCorp a.k.a Artists-Without-A- Clue-About -How -To -Fill -In -A Tax -Return. So, up there at the sharp end with the number crunchers from Hades, is, ulp, me. Oh, ghoddddddddd.
Meanwhile, artwork for 'The Trouble with Dragons' is finished. It looks as good as anything I've ever done. No, that's not right. It's the best thing I've ever done. It is the sum of everything I've ever wanted to say about our place here on planet Earth. The artwork makes me cry, and that's never happened before.