Tuesday, April 29, 2008

warm drafts

Well, 'tis done, but don't tell my editor. i've finished the first draft of Witch Baby and Me Mk2. at this stage, I have no idea whatsoever if it's a pile of dung or a nifty little book. I'm too close to it to tell. That's why I need a few weeks of editorial grace to achieve the requisite distance from it, in order to be able to come back to it with a reasonably savage red pen and do some of my editor's slash and burning myself.

Such a good feeling, though. That little pile of pages, all of them covered in raw story. Also heard that there are contracts out there in the ether for more picture books - blank contracts, ye gods, so that makes me feel pretty good. although i seem to have some kind of Scottish streak, not a Calvinist streak because I don't think I'm that kind of a gal, but mean? thrifty? Ahhh, there's the word, thrifty - right, a thrifty streak which makes me feel distinctly uneasy at being paid before I do any work. I'd rather have the texts written before I sign the contracts.However, that hasn't really been the case too often of late - with the exception of The Trouble With Dragons, everything else has been the subject of a multibook contract waaaay in advance of being fully written.

Which is all fine and dandy if the book under contract behaves itself and the writing isn't too hideously difficult, but if it all starts going pear-shaped, then the multibook deal begins to feel like a millstone. and hey, if the writer takes absolutely years to honour her side of the deal, the advance begins to look niggardly because inflation has snuck up on it and rendered it worthless.

I mean, when I signed the contracts for 4 Witch babies, diesel was only 93p a litre. Only! bloody hell, we're fast approaching the time when it would be cheaper to tip single-estate, virgin, hand-pressed, unfiltered organic olive oil into our tanks. Some more unleaded on your raddichio, pet?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

isn't every day Earth day?

Happy Earth Day.
I believe that every little thing we can do counts, so today
I didn't use a car
I signed a petition to stop a dam being built in Patagonia
I didn't eat meat
and I tried, but failed to drag the words of a new picture book about climate change out of my subconscious. They're in there, but can I access them? Pffffffff.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

the cruellest month

No fooling. It's freezing outside, despite the springlike appearance of the tender pink blossom on the cherry tree.I can see snow on the Lammermuirs in the same frame as this pink effusiveness, and the air blows straight from Vladivostok. Tonight, I finally dared do a little light fiddle playing after two months off due to incipient r.s.i in left arm. Wrapping my fingers round my fiddle's neck causes my hand to start up a dull shriek as it goes into a cramp, but I'm so keen to keep on playing that I'm going to force it a bit this week and see what happens.

Such fun. I seem to have new confidence, because I'm attempting loads of jigs and reels that I didn't dare try before. The poppy reel has weirdish timing and looks like a dense page of black-noted difficulty, but it's a rollicking good tune, and I'm determined to become fluent in it. Da full rigged ship is one of Fiddler's Bid's tunes, and having already heard it on Da farder ben da welcomer really helped my interpretation of its lilting rhythm. There's a bellying swell to the tune that could, with the slightest stretch of the imagination, be seen as a musical interpretation of the wind filling a ship's sails.

And now, dammit, I have a new earworm to drive me completely bananas while I run.You know those tunes that stick in your head and replay endlessly, especially when you're engaged in some meaningless task with repetitive movements? Running fits the bill as one of those repetitive things - it's nothing if not coma-inducingly boring, but I don't mean that in a bad way - just that I seem to veg out while I'm pounding the paths and byways of East Lothian doing my half hour stint.

I ran through a deep puddle last time I was out, and mud oozed into my trainers which are now grey instead of white-ish. As were my socks and my feet underneath. On the way back from this run, as I was slowing and cooling down, I spotted some wrecked old fenceposts lying in the hedgerow. Having burned our way through our winter's supply of dry firewood, I'm now always on the lookout for wood to burn in the woodburning stove until the sun finally starts to warm our world up a bit. So I hauled all the dirty old fenceposts back to my car which was parked in the middle of a very modern and squeaky clean housing estate at the start of the railway walk where I'd been running. I loathe housing estates like this one - utterly prissy and up itself and liberally dotted with little f.o.a.d signs pointing out that these premises are protected by sentinel/ armedguardian/ urukhai/ kraken security as if every single person wandering its streets who isn't lucky enough to be a resident, must, therefore be criminally-minded. With my post-running bright red face, sweaty hair and clothes covered in either mud or leafmould, I realised that I didn't exactly look like a vanilla citizen, and when I ran into our old postman from many moons past, I could see that he wondered what the heck I was doing, dressed like a tramp and lugging an armload of old fenceposts along the street.

The wood thing is becoming a bit of an obsession. We heat our house and all our domestic hot water with the woodburner, so no wood equals no heat and no baths. Normally, there's enough wood in four woodsheds to carry our house through the winter. But this year, winter has stretched from October through to April, and we've run out. We've scoured beaches, raked through woods for dead trees, and every time we see any wood lying unclaimed, we stop and claim it. The girls are utterly mortified by our scavenger behaviour, which is entirely understandable when everybody else's parents look as if they've just stepped out of the hairdresser's, and theirs looks like they have not only been dragged through a hedge backwards, but stopped halfway and tried to drag the hedge home with them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

hams of steel

How do they do that? Run for twenty six miles non-stop? God - it's so impressive I just want to lie down and weep. In these parts, I'm still limping my way through re-learning how to run my piddly little 5ks four times weekly, and even with such a small distance, I find the going is incredibly tough. At the moment I've got to the stage in my training where I run for thirteen minutes, walk fast for two and then repeat, but even that has me feeling like a dung-beetle pushing my vast ball of crap uphill. All too solid the flesh, and none of it exactly feeling like it was built for speed. All of it creaking and groaning and whining -do we have to? aren't we there yet? And the cold and wet weather turning my preferred track through woods and fields at back of our house into a black and sticky mudslide, which means until it dries up, I have to go road-running which feels hideously public, not to mention fume-laden. I'm not a lycra-clad godess, alas, just a middle-aged woman who'd really rather prefer if nobody had to be forced to witness her heaving and gasping round her five ks's like a geriatric grampus. Whatever a grampus might be...Also, tarmac is very unforgiving to the aging underfoot compared to the path I've been enjoying through trees and mud which has been my usual training ground. I use the word 'training' loosely, although I'm going to have to set myself some real training goals before I die of boredom. Actually, I also use the word 'enjoying' loosely ; enjoyment tends to hit me all at once when I'm standing in the shower at the end of a run, although there are moments when there's a serendipitous alignment between the music on my i-pod and the cadence of my running - mind you, the sun has to be in the sign of the Nike and the moon in Diana, and there has to be an 'r' in the month, but when all these conditions are met - yeah, it's enjoyable.

But those brave marathon runners, all 35,000 of them; there's something about the London marathon that brings me almost to tears. This year they ran in rain, hail and very occasional spells of wintry sunshine. To my relief, I saw that some of the runners do actually slow to a walk, but most of them keep pounding the tarmac, step by hard-won step. So to all of them, the walkers, the runners, the fast and the slow and the quietly determined in between - respect. I am in awe of your achievements. It was, as always, a joy to watch.

Today, thanks to Michael encouraging me to take some time out for myself, I managed to add on a week to my Shetland trip. YIPPEEEE! This means that I'll have a week to walk the beaches, paint and recharge my batteries and get out there with camera, sketchbook and eyes wide open. Also I'll be able to revisit some of the places I saw last year, and see them in a different and hopefully even more clement season. Uyeasound, Muckle Flugga, Quendale, Ronas Hill...and maybe if I'm feeling suitably brave ( or insanely optimistic), I'll even get into the sea and swim. Woo hoo - bracing, what?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

men in woolly skirts

It's a first for me.

Yesterday, I took my youngest son to be fitted for a kilt. We spent months dithering over what to buy our boys for their 21st birthdays - both turning 21 this March within three weeks of each other, so the family coffers have taken a wee bit of a battering. Step-son wanted some obscure bit of music making electronic kit, so that was duly ordered off the net and arrived and was wrapped and handed over, but frankly, both his dad and I are none the wiser. We're not entirely sure what the heck it was that we bought. Suffice to say, step-son was delighted with it. Whatever it is...

Youngest son was another matter. Not big on possessions, and dark green to boot, trying to get him to work up any enthusiasm for anything in the 21st birthday gift line was well-nigh impossible. However, inspiration struck one day last month when one of youngest daughter's friend's parents was round dropping or picking up her child and in conversation I mentioned how hard we were finding the choosing of a good gift to mark a beloved son's birthday. She said 'why not a kilt?'

Perfect. Why not indeed? It wasn't despoiling the planet, it's made by an individual artisan, it's part of a historical tradition, it's a fantastically practical garment and it ought to last my son for most of his adult life. Better than a watch, an mp3 player or any bit of modern and breakable, soon-outdated kit - a kilt may not be the most exciting thing ever to receive as your 21st birthday present, but I have the suspicion that it will grow on him. When we went to the kiltmaker's, she had a kilt-in-progress on her worktable, so we could see what a beautiful thing a handmade kilt is. All hand-stitched, robustly made, and as youngest son's girlfriend and I both agreed, the boy has the perfect thighs to carry it off . Must be all that football...oaks come to mind. He also did not want a big fuss made for a birthday party, so in the end we just had all of us round a table and invited his girlfriend too. I made my first sachertorte for his cake, but again, he didn't want candles and fuss, so we didn't do any of that stuff. It was a sensationally good cake, though. Phwoarrrrr. And the boy ate the last slab today and practically had to go and lie down in a darkened room to recover. Dense, rich and chocolatey, I could only manage slivers at a time, but my son's calorie consumption rate is prodigious to say the least.

He's gone now. Back to Aberdeen till the summer, with exams looming and football matches in the offing. Not to mention what Michael irreverently refers to as his 'tin man'. This is a triathalon involving a lot of swimming, running and cycling. Tin? Sounds like kryptonite to me, but what do I know? I'm a zillion miles off being able to do a triathalon. This weekend is the london marathon, and just thinking about it makes me feel inadequate. I'm still slowly working my way back to being able to run four times a week in easy, incremental stages. Actually, not easy at all. Wheezy and hot-making despite the rather arctic temperatures when I set out.

But the running is great. This time last year I was growing more and more injured while running, but I kept on going, convinced that it was just a passing phase.Now, a year on, I'm a lot more cautious. There's been a lot of rain recently, so the wee track in the woods is a quagmire. Tomorrow I'm going to try the old railway walk and see what that's like for running. Only problem is that I'll have to cycle to the start of it, and it's been months since I took my bike out. Urrrgh.

The only problem with the running programme is that once I've done my run and showered and am finally at my desk, trying to write 1000 words or whatever I'm aiming for each day, all I want to do is put my head down and snooze.It's not that I'm knackered - heck no, not me, see me, see bouncy - it's just that post-running I'm so relaxed my spine has all the tensile strength of a strand of overcooked linguine. But my inner personal trainer will not let me off for so much as a single training session, so tomorrow, out I go come rain, hail, shine or probably all three if the past week's weather is indicative.

Despite this, I can't sleep at night. I wake around 4 a.m. and lie there scratchy of eyeball and somewhat hacked off at being awake. If only I could toss off a small literary masterpiece while I lie there sleepless, but instead, I put the time to good use and have myself a little pre-dawn Fret and Nail-Gnaw. Then, twenty minutes before I'm supposed to be awake, I fall deeply, dribblily, deeply-dreamily asleep. Actually, asleepdoesn't even come close. Let's try coma instead. That's what I fall into.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

After three - horns IN

Nearly died of shock in garage forecourt today after filling up gas-guzzling behemoth. Jeez. When did it suddenly get to costing nearly seventy quid just to fill my tank? Last time I did that it cost a mere ( sic ) fifty. Crikey. Will walk more. Will have to cut down on going to the dreaded gym in the morning - that's about the furthest I go regularly - a round trip of about eighteen miles. I guess I'll have to learn to love running closer to home, up the track through the woods.

Little by little and bit by bit, all the things I used to take for granted ( meat, diesel, going to the gym, trips to the shops for one forgotten item like a pint of milk or a newspaper etc etc ) are being slowly excised from my life. This is no bad thing, but it does take some getting used to. Feckless consumer wretch that I am, one of the things I find it hardest to give up is my Boden habit. These days the catalogue falls through the door and I have to sling it in the recycle bin before I am seduced by the glorious clothes within.

Yeah - the belts are tightening and the horns? Drawn in so hard my cheeks are sucked in. I keep doing sums on the back of my bank statement trying to work out how much longer we can make my teeny royalty cheques stretch. I hate living like this, but I feel bizarrely at home being skint since most of my adult life has been spent doing sums on the back of envelopes. It's a drag, but it's familiar.

Been beavering away on the story for Witch Baby II. My beautiful, wildly extravagant baby blue notebook with airmail paper leaves is filling up nicely with page after page of inky storytelling. There's something so deeply satisfying about carving out a tale in one of these beautiful journal/notebooks ( I'm damned if I'm going to name the makers) that even if my day has been a complete pig, I can be soothed by casting a glance over what I've managed to write. Even if it's drivel, it looks like the writings of a Real Writer as opposed to whatever terrible name I'm calling myself depending on what sort of a day I've had.

Snow fell this morning, and we had my eldest daughter's Young Man over for the day. He brought a beautiful loaf of bread that he'd baked himself, still with the warm breath of the oven on it. What a lovely gift. Raisin and fennel bread. The boy is such a star. And only thirteen years old. After dinner, I drove him home ( very slowly - with diesel at seventy quid a tank if I could've pedalled him home in a rickshaw, I would have, but he lives uphill in the Lammermuirs, on the very same farm I used to live on in another lifetime)

It was decidedly weird, driving on a road I used to know backwards, being the first car to leave tyre tracks in the snow, like I used to twelve years ago, when I used to drive back from the airport after a long day in London. driving back through ( then) snowdrifts, back to a silent and cold house where my ( then) husband was fast asleep, caring little whether I made it back home safely through the blizzards or not. That sounds rather pathetic and self-pitying; it's not meant to be, just a statement of fact. One of the facts that made it all the easier to leave when I finally did.

These days, if I was late home, driving through a blizzard, Michael would be out there in the cold with a torch, shovelling snow and phoning to check when my plane touched down and therefore when he could reasonably expect me to make it through the drifts. Mind you, in these carbon-aware days, I would have taken the train. So yes. The lack of money may be a familiar drudge, but there's a whole world of difference between being hard up and unhappily married, and being hard up but part of a loving, supportive partnership. I daily give thanks...