Sunday, September 28, 2008

Darkness Falls, Part One

Safe home after the rigours of amusing six hundred children in tents, I have allowed myself a few hours to sift through the Sunday papers and came across this delight in the Observer.

On being asked how he will spend the hours of darkness forecast for Britain in the forthcoming winter of powercuts, financial doom and rising unemployment, Donald Macleod, principal of the Free Church School in Edinburgh replied,
'Now that we've run out of coal, gas, oil and old newspapers, we should have a nationwide network of wind turbines and nuclear power. Sadly, we don't, because they either spoiled someone's view or offend someone's principles. So the short answer is that I'll wring necks.'

Visions of our rapidly emptying oil tank being scaled by a commando force of rampant ministers, all hopped up to the gills with righteous god-given indignation. Great, huh? That's all we need. Ranks of dog-collared thugs patrolling our streets, some of them drunk on communion wine, others simply fuelled on belief that their Way is the Only One. Oh, fun times ahead, people.

The line drawing of Daisy and her Inner Demon is one of the 143 black and white illustrations I finished last week for the inside of Witch Baby and me at School ( publishing in January 09). I took approximately half an hour off to celebrate this completion with a cup of coffee, and then began my next project - a picture book called Stormy Weather. Strangely prescient, what? One wonders what, if anything will be left of Western capitalism when it is published in October 2009. It is a lovely book - I'm really looking forward to immersing myself in the doing of it. All the pencil roughs are done, so the months between now and the hand-in date in January will be spent painting watercolour artwork for every double page spread. That is, when I'm not out in tents, or at book festivals or, like next week, on tour with The Trouble With Dragons.

The tour is a week of events up and down the length of Britain, travelling by train, armed with a powerpoint thing on a usb data stick, some pens and missionary zeal ( though not of the same order as Donald Macleod's) I'm hoping to add my voice to the rising clamour regarding the urgent need for us to do something to reduce our carbon output. I'm fighting a rearguard action by attempting to engage as many children as I possibly can in the course of a week, in the hope that they will go back home and pester their loving parents into taking action.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world appears to have taken their eye off the ball entirely - obsessing about money, mortgages and the identity of the next new and sparkly leader to replace the older models who have failed us. Deckchairs? Titanic, anyone?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hotel du Cac

I'm in downtown Newton Stewart in a somewhat unprepossessing Nameless Hotel* ( big sign outside beside the dumpster in the litter-strewn car-park telling all and sundry that the Nameless is under new management - doesn't that just make your heart sink?) and as I checked in, I noticed a sheet of laminated A4 stuck to the reception desk ( probably with the effluvia of guests gone by) bearing the fateful words

Binky and Charlene invite you and your colleagues to celebrate our Grand Opening Night. Dress informal. Party starts at 9.00 p.m.

That, my dears, is tomorrow night. Tomorrow brings two events each with 250 children, followed by the firework opening of the Wigtown Book Festival, followed by what I fervently hoped was dinner and an early night before getting up on Saturday morning to do another event in a tent and then driving 189 miles back home.

Instead...Oh. My. God. The part of me that is forever teenage wishes I'd bought my fiddle and had the cojones to drink several large shots and then join in with the Nameless Opening Party, and another part of me ( the crusty old fart) envisages a night of stomping downstairs in my PJs to demand a little bit of consideration for those of us blah de blah de blah zzzz.

Problem is - I forgot my PJs. Just how steely are my cojones, anyhoo? Have I got what it takes to stomp downstairs in the altogether and demand a little hush? Somehow, I suspect I wouldn't have to be too strident. The Shock and Awe caused by my naked arrival in the public bar would ensure that silence fell with an all-too audible thud. Eughhhhhhhh. Doesn't bear thinking about. Ladies of my age are invisible, mostly, and if rash enough to bare anything, are the subject of public ridicule.

So. Earplugs it will have to be. But the Nameless is too raw to be called a hotel. My room was recently painted - yesterday? This afternoon? The fumes are evil. I have no table to work at, no wardrobe, no drawers, no chair - just a bed with a stack of puffy pilloids which will ensure that I sleep for approximately ten minutes before waking in the Human Pretzel Position. I am shortly going to venture downstairs to brave the dining room, driven more by a desperate need for G&T rather than any appetite, since the paint fumes appear to have put paid to that. Have I unwittingly stumbled upon the secret of effortless weight loss? I'm trying to find the positive in this situation, but heck, it's a bit of an upward struggle.

Back later with an update from your own correspondent in Newton Stewart.
*I wouldn't dare name it while I'm staying in it. I choose life.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

bring on the revolution

Of course, I don't really mean that, given that my recurring dystopian nightmare is of a revolution of baseball bat-wielding visigoths coming to raid our broad bean patch. Or whatever current horror my wakeful subconscious cares to throw at me in the wee small hours. Mind you, the content of each evening's ten o'clock news has been nightmare enough - this was definitely a week for giving thanks for being poor enough to possess no spare capital whatsoever, especially since we bank with what used to be called ( until Wednesday) the Bank of Scotland.

Not that they were, of late, all that great. Actually, having banked with them since I was a student ( back in the mists of time when the Romans ruled Caledonia and we were about to invent the wheel) of late, I have noticed a certain aggression coupled with a kind of dumb-assed laissez faire bordering on insolence in my dealing with the bank. Or mayhap, I am simply getting old. No. I am getting old, no mayhaps about it, but still...

The thought that out there are some persons unknown who have actually made bucketloads of profit out of a concerted whispering campaign to drive down the bank's share price is pretty shocking, but unsurprising. It has to be said that there have been a heck of a lot of Porsche Cayenne 4WD's belching around the countryside of late, and they can't all be owned by footballers, can they?

Edinburgh is full of fund managers. Or perhaps mis-managers might be a better name. The few that I've had the misfortune to meet have been so utterly morally bankrupt and cocky that one has to conclude that death is too kind an ill-wish to wish for them. Leeches, parasites, human flotsam, visit upon them every plague and pestilence, may their parts wither to match their shrivelled souls, may their children grow to curse the day they issued from such foulness, may black boils sprout from between their eyes so that by their countenances do we know them....

Or, at the very least. let them have erectile dysfunction bigtime.

There, that ought to do it. Phwoarrrrr. Bet they're quaking in their boots, eh?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

attention all shipping

The days are too full right now - every waking moment accounted for and spent either working, cooking or laying down the produce of the garden for consumption over the colder months. The freezer has bag upon bag of beans - broad and French, all blanched and tucked away for later. I've been oven-drying tomatoes to the point where my dreams are full of little red orbs, and now the apples have started falling off the trees and I'll have to start on them next. And then the pears will begin...and this weekend I ought to pick the blackcurrants and and and.

Work is pretty full-on too. I'm currently up to number 99 of a total of 143 of a set of b/w line illustrations for the second Witch Baby book. This entails getting up early and arriving, bleary-eyed at my drawing board at 7.30 a.m., whereupon, in between school runs and emails and phone calls, I've been cross-hatching away, I have no idea what I'm like when I'm drawing in such a concentrated fashion - a desperate illustrator, I think. A demented draftswoman. Whatever. It's a whole new way of working for me. In fact the entire, once-familiar landscape of publishing seems to have shape-shifted into an unrecognizable terra incognito.Due to publishing schedules, the book I'm working on has to be done at a break-neck speed, which forces me to think very, very hard, stare mightily at what I'm doing and stops me from my usual serendipitous methodology whereby I used to drift, and dream and plitter around in a box of paints, doing a convincing impersonation of a ditzy lady watercolourist.

Not any more. Off with the floaty chiffons and billowy silks and on with the tailored twill and tweed. If you follow my drift. In fact shortly, if this pace continues much longer, it'll be off with the twill and tweed and on with the leather and rubber. With studs. And chains. Let's not forget the chains, eh?

In the middle of all this time-constrained nonsense, something had to slip, and sadly, it was the gym. I am, officially, a slob. This state of affairs is, I have to say, a temporary blip in an otherwise spotless record of cardiovascular virtue, but right now, there are not enough hours in the day.There's the 143 b/w illustrations followed by a ten day book tour with my dragon book, and then , oh, puhleaze, then I will try and squeeze my 5k running and occasional visits to the gym back into my days. The think I was not prepared to let go was playing the fiddle. Even if I'm cross-eyed with tiredness, I try and fit in an hour a day. Some days, I even like how I sound.

Summer flew past. Then it rained, I think. I didn't get out as much as I would have liked. Didn't swim nearly as often in Loch Fyne. There were shoals of jellyfish making me very wary of the water. Besides, most of the time I was working my socks off. One weekend off all summer. One. The rest of them I was working one or both days. I think I can say, hand on heart that I've never worked as hard in my life as I have done this year. Part of this is simple timetabling - the books have to be done for tight deadlines. But, the other part of this punishing workload is a simple lack of money. Publishers advances are reflecting the somewhat depressed market, or at least that's what I'm being told as I'm paid what I used to earn back at the beginning of the Nineties. Urrrrghhhhh. And just to crank the stress-factor up a notch or two, my trusty Mac went down last week, and not in a Lewinsky fashion either. It died on me, a long, long way from home. Up on the Hebridean island of Lewis, in fact. It stayed dead all that long and hideous weekend during which I did my best to not think about all the 'stuff' I had stored on its silent hard drive. So, after trying to fix it myself, I called in help, and help duly took it away for intensive care and reported back that it was officially a deadmac.

So. Newmac had to be bought with the moolah earmarked for something trivial like eating or the mortgage or some such frippery, and then, oh joy, newmac had to be toilet-trained, socialized, educated and is only now standing on its own two feet for long enough to demand 'when's tea?' and 'have you washed my socks yet?'. Don't know about you, but I think I'm living in the epicentre of a Chinese curse. You know - the one about 'may you live in interesting times'. Hmm. Interesting times are here. I'm living them.