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Trope meme

The meme said:
Offer me a trope (freeform, or tvtropes terminology — your call), and i’ll rank it on a scale of no/rather not/dunno/i guess/ sure/yes/fuck yes/oh god you don’t even know, and possibly sprout a mini-rant along with it. in response, you’re getting the same number of tropes from me, which you can either take as a prompt to do the same thing, or ignore altogether.
So I read a friend’s answers with interest and asked them for my own set. If you really really want, I can give some to you in comments.

This is what they gave me:

    1.Mathematician’s Answer

Well, since I don’t enjoy mathematics, the brief answer is no. But I love the idea of the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything being 42, and I was intrigued by Flatland which uses geometry to explore social prejudice. I also enjoy the way John and Rodney in Stargate Atlantis are both mathematicians. So I suppose the longer answer is maybe? It will depend on the context and the style…

    2.Mixing genres

Yes, definitely. I enjoy a lot of different genres but the books (and films) that really appeal to me usually contain more than one genre. I especially like historical or fantasy stories with a crime mystery or romance. Somehow, dealing with more than one genre at once seems to help authors to build seriously three-dimensional characters and well-developed worlds. My own writing combines fantasy with romance and mystery and I write, initially, for myself.

    3.Species Lost and Found

If we’re talking about sci-fi, yes, I love aliens – it doesn’t matter how sentient they are. If we’re talking about our own planet I prefer the lost or found species to be in non-fiction accounts of exploration and discovery. But that’s something I like reading about so yes to that, too.

    4.Dying Declaration of Love

This has to be a definite no! I dislike major character death in most cases. Even Romeo and Juliet is not really my ‘thing’. So dying declarations just don’t cut it, unless they’re merely a clue for detectives to follow. I’m aware, in saying I dislike major character death, that for historical novels, which I enjoy, the characters are inevitably dead at the time of reading. But I like to leave them at the end of the novel thinking they will have a normal life. I am also aware of killing off murder victims in my own work, but they are never major characters!

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Posted by on June 24, 2018 in personal

 

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Would you rather…?

Seen on a friend’s blog and stolen because it fascinated me and I desperately need to post something. We’ve been really busy with family problems and social media has had to take a back seat for the last few weeks.

Anyway: would you rather…

1. Download music // buy a CD

Download.

I lost all my CDs in the Portuguese fire so I’m now creating playlists on Spotify to fill the most urgent of the gaps. I don’t think I’ll buy too many more CDs because I use either the radio or my laptop. But there are one or two favourites that don’t seem to be available on Spotify so I might buy those again.

2. Use MP3 player // Use CD Player

Use MP3 player.

My CD player went in the fire, too. There’s one in the car but I forget to take CDs out with me unless it’s a really long journey so I usually listen to the radio. I use the laptop in the house at the moment. I’m not sure about the future but may buy new devices.

3. Watch a movie at a theatre // Rent a video

Rent a video.

I lost all my DVDs too. I’m now a member of Amazon Prime so I can watch some things on that. I have bought one or two DVDs and borrowed some as well. I’m not wild about the cinema – the sound is almost always too loud, and recently we went to a showing where the heating failed and I froze. I quite like big screens for special effects but films with those are few and far between for me. We had a DVD projector and screen and those went, too.

4. Amusement park for the day // Picnic in a park for a day

Picnic.

I am willing to go to an Amusement park for other people but I hate the rides myself – and really always have done, even as a child. Places like Alton Towers are OK because there are the gardens to enjoy, though the entry price puts me off! I enjoy picnics though a whole day sounds excessive… We usually picnic to break a journey and I quite enjoy planning the contents of the picnic basket!

5. Read a magazine // Dollage with a magazine

Read a magazine.

Actually, I have no idea what Dollage is and Google was singularly unhelpful. I don’t read many magazines – mostly New Scientist, Private Eye, and National Geographic – and not every issue of those but I do enjoy them. I will flick through something in a waiting room – usually go for the glossy ones about house furnishings. I used to subscribe to a couple of writing magazines but found they got a bit repetitive.

So – that’s May dealt with… Hopefully June will see a return to normality around here. The photograph for this post was a sort of cheat – I took it a couple of years ago (at this date) but the pool was in an indoor ‘water park’.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2018 in personal

 

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I have issues with advertising…

I have no objection to companies like Google advertising to me. If that’s their model for providing a free email service and all the rest of it, fine. I don’t need to click on the adverts. Ever so occasionally, I do, and have even been known to buy something. Similarly, I don’t mind seeing ads on friends’ posts and hope they don’t mind seeing them on mine. My LiveJournal is a permanent account which is ad-free. My Dreamwidth account is ad-free anyway. My WordPress account is free and may have advertising. I really don’t care. Facebook doesn’t bother me, either; I just scroll on by. I don’t mind having to wait till the end of an ad to access YouTube content.

However, I do have some serious issues with online advertising. My main problems occur on sites where I have paid for my content, like my daily online copy of The Guardian. I accept that to provide me with good journalism, sites like The Guardian need more than my annual subscription. In printed newspapers I am used to seeing adverts and as with social media I can choose whether or not to read or take any notice.

But…

I have some slight visual problems. I have a ‘frozen’ eye that gives me two somewhat irritating issues. My pupil doesn’t contract, and I find it impossible to re-focus quickly, so I am badly affected by both bright lights and flickering and rapid scrolling. As a result, some adverts are a nightmare and actually prevent me from reading the page I am visiting. The use of these ads strikes me as discriminatory. I object quite strongly. The ones I object to most are the ones that are at the side of an article, and cannot therefore be ignored. They have changing images – scrolling or flickering. They are almost painful, and I feel intense resentment towards the advertisers. . I have written to The Guardian stating my feelings. I did not get a reply.

The very worst online ads, for me, are the ones that open a video, with sound, as I scroll down the page. This happens more often on American media sites where friends have linked me to articles of interest – it can be for goods that are not available in UK or it can be linked articles or new video. I use my laptop in our lounge, where other family members might be watching TV, listening to music, or simply talking. I might be alone, but then I will probably have music playing. Unexpected and unwanted sound is, for me, a total invasion of privacy and usually results in closing down the page altogether in a knee-jerk reaction. Even when I manage to see that there is a small discreet close button and I just get the ad/vid switched off, I still feel offended.

I also have a sense of annoyance at the ads that interrupt Spotify. I listen to radio programmes (especially in the car) which have the inevitable ads before the news, and I just sigh and ignore most of them (except when they include a sound like a car horn or other car sound, which is to my mind dangerous). Just occasionally they are interesting and I will Google the company when I get home. I accept that Spotify, like the radio programmes, needs advertising to fund the service. Not a problem. But sometimes the ads interrupt a track, or interrupt me while I am trying to save something. That annoys me big time and is quite counterproductive because whatever the ad is for, I can guarantee I will not follow it up.

Another set of adverts I hate are those on DVDs. Invariably, they are for films I have already seen or do not wish to see. They try to tell me something is ‘coming soon’ when actually, it came a few years ago. I would almost prefer cinema-type ads for luxury goods and services. At least I could just ignore those and not get so irritated.
Note that all the above applies whatever the ads are for. In fact, I’m usually so affronted I don’t even notice what they’re trying to sell me. Indeed, all these are likely to be a turn off. So why do they do it??

You’d think advertising would be designed to attract the reader…

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2018 in personal

 

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Female characters

There was a meme going round that asked for your favourite female characters in books and films and perhaps in your own work. I thought I’d expand that to talk about female characters in general.

I always loved the Shakespeare female characters who stepped out of the ‘normal’ roles for their time, either by their work (Portia as a lawyer) or by cross-dressing (Viola in Twelfth Night). I was less invested in the ones like Miranda in The Tempest who seemed to conform to all the stereotypes of daughter, girlfriend, etc. As a child, I wallowed in Tales from Shakespeare and was taken to the theatre well before I could really get to grips with the scripts of the plays. I think Viola, in particular, had quite a strong effect on me.

I was presented, at the same time, with the opportunity to read my way through all the Anne of Avonlea books by LM Montgomery, and loved Anne, with her fiery temper and ambitions. I never really put myself in her place; my best friend was a redhead and I think I envisaged Anne as her, with myself in some kind of supporting role. Again, a strong influence. The same people who lent me the Anne books introduced me to Little Women but that was never one of my favourites.

Later, at boarding school, the Brontë sisters were rather shoved down our throats, since Charlotte attended the same school. I disliked Jane Eyre, and thought the heroine allowed herself to be manipulated by events and by other people. I did not find a man who kept his mad wife in the attic a particularly romantic proposition, either. As for the characters in Wuthering Heights, I simply found them tiresome.

I really love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels and my favourite characters are Granny Weatherwax and the werewolf Angua. Both seem to epitomise independent women with sensible attitudes to almost everything. The Discworld novels are ‘comfort’ reading for me (along with other series that don’t have especially memorable female protagonists). I also love Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances and like best the ones where the heroine is compelled to use cross-dressing to survive. This harks back to my feelings for Viola, I suppose, and is odd, because I have never felt even vaguely inclined to masquerade as the opposite gender in my real life.

I have always enjoyed cop buddy TV series and particularly liked the female detectives in NYPD Blue and in Cagney and Lacey. Recently, I enjoyed Kono’s role in Hawaii 5.O. My favourite shows at the moment are Spiral (French cop show Engrenages) with the lead detective Laure, and The Bridge, with the Swedish detective Saga, who appeals to me on another level because of my interest in autism.

I adored The West Wing and liked CJ, Alison Janney’s role, best of all the characters. I was also fascinated by Donna.

My own female characters are a mixed bunch.

The heroine of my elf detective series, Genef, is quite dear to my heart. She sprang to life when I wanted a story that combined some of my favourite themes and tropes: fantasy, crime, strong female lead, mm romance, and dragons (which are a sub-genre of fantasy, yes). Genef’s mother and sister play little part in the stories but the twins Jinna and Janna, with their own secret language, and Loriela, a young girl, confined to a wheelchair, who is Genef’s brother’s pupil, are all prominent in some sections, as is Princess Briana, a friend to Genef and a licensed pirate.

My fae saga, Living Fae, has two males as the major characters but Harlequin’s sister Moth was actually the trigger for the whole series. She came into being in answer to a child’s letters to the fairies at the bottom of the garden, letters I was asked to answer. Moth generated an entire series about her family (as well as giving her name to my friends-locked social media) and whilst she is not one of the main ‘players’ I feel a great deal of affection for her. Her sisters, Columbine and Peasblossom, have larger roles and are both, I hope, interesting characters. The same goes for their mother, Flame; although I dislike her intensely, I love writing her.

There. That’s over twenty female characters introduced as having affected me in one way or another. Obviously there are others, in the books and shows mentioned above and in my own writing. None of my own are, I hope, any kind of Mary Sue. I have never wanted to be a detective. (If anything, I identify with Fel, Genef’s teacher brother.) Nor are any of them without flaws. Even Genef doesn’t find a solution to everything and has to rely on her brother, her mentor and her dragon in most cases.

I do enjoy reading, viewing and writing strong female characters, and it is interesting to look back at those that have perhaps influenced me over the course of my life.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2018 in personal, writing

 

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Autism Awareness Week: a personal reflection

Autism is something I am aware of on a daily basis so I thought I would share our experiences.

On Sunday, my grandson was 10 years old. He was diagnosed as autistic when he was 5 after exhibiting ‘challenging behaviour’ in mainstream school. Later, at 8, he was also diagnosed with ADHD and is now on medication to control the extreme anxiety he feels as a result of that. The medication dampens down his behaviour to some extent and he is more than happy to take it. Fortunately, he is not showing any signs of the physical side effects that can lead to stopping the medication.

We are also fairly sure he ‘ticks all the boxes’ for PDA (pathological demand avoidance) which is a subset of autism. Our local child psychiatric unit is one of those that does not believe in extra labels and will not apply PDA as a label within their diagnosis. I understand their reluctance, and indeed everyone’s reluctance to label children at all, but an ‘official’ diagnosis of PDA would be helpful for schools in providing some direction for their management of the child. Because our grandson is extremely clever, all the management techniques have been those normally used for what used to be called Asperger’s syndrome (also a subset that the clinic do not use). PDA plus ADHD is not a combination that responds well to this approach.

A year ago the school and local authority managed to get J into a special school. This is a school run by a private trust, taking children from a number of local authorities. It is not specifically a school for autistic children but rather for children with challenging behaviour. There are a few absolute criteria a potential pupil must meet. They must be deemed capable of following a normal curriculum, and they must not be an ‘escape’ risk as the school has no desire to resemble a prison. They should not be adamant about refusing to attend school. The classes are tiny, the teachers and support staff are highly trained and motivated, and so far, things are going well.

The school effectively treats the PDA in its normal approach to dealing with challenging behaviour. The rules and sanctions (and rewards) are consistent and fair, and the children respond well. There tends to be some disruption whenever a new child joins the class, but things settle down once their needs are being met. We are thrilled with the progress, both academic and social, that J is making.

The school is 5 – 16 so we are hoping to avoid what could be a nightmare of transition to high school at 11. We also know that the school readies the pupils for a normal GCSE range of subjects, although the options are slightly limited purely because of staffing constraints. This is not the case in any of the special schools that the local authority provide (they claim to prepare students for exams but these tend not to be in ‘academic’ subjects) so they fund J’s attendance at the private institution. We just have to hope the funding remains in place until he is 16.

We know we are lucky. We have a child who is academic and who is finally beginning to shine as he should in the classroom. He reads at an adult level and helps the support staff with their spelling… His handwriting, after years of struggle in a mainstream school, is now (one year on) exquisite, though he still prefers typing. His comprehension is excellent though his autism means that while he will immediately understand who, what, when, where and how, the extra question of why something happened will often mean very little to him. Maths is still his favourite subject and he has expressed a desire to be a maths teacher, though I don’t think he would ever have the patience, or be able to deal with children who were struggling with the subject. However, we have high hopes that he will find a career in maths or IT. He also loves art but his main artistic interest is in creating cartoons for online use. He is learning French, enjoying music, and excelling at science.

An ideal 10-year-old to be proud of? Yes, of course, but he is still only at the level of perhaps a 5-year-old in his social interactions and can be difficult to manage in social situations. However, he has friends, both at school and outside it, and seems to be making progress, at last, in this sphere too. If he had to attend a mainstream high school I think he (and we) would sink under the stress. As he will, by then, be at perhaps a 6-year-old’s level of social interaction, you can no doubt imagine how a large high school would impact on him – and how he might impact on them.

We know a number of children who have faced school exclusion as a result of behaviour that in retrospect was probably due to being on the autistic spectrum. Autistic children (and adults) react badly to change, to extreme noise and movement, to any kind of sarcasm or attempt to explain anything with figures of speech. They tend to respond to questions very literally: ‘would you like to open the window, J?’ is likely to get the answer ‘no’ with absolutely no intent to be unpleasant or impertinent.

I think probably autism awareness week is a good time to reflect on the changes we, as a family, have experienced during the year. It also, as I said, coincides with J’s birthday. If we look back at the last twelve months, J is much happier, sleeping better, more self-aware, and increasing his self-esteem on an almost daily basis. He is consciously trying to modify his behaviour and reactions to fit in with the expectations of both adults and children. As a result, although he is not always successful, the entire family is under less strain and we have high hopes for the future.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2018 in personal

 

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Portugal: the October fires and an update on my life.

I thought it was probably time I updated readers here and on Facebook about the October fires in Portugal and our personal disaster.
Anyone who follows me on Dreamwidth or LiveJournal need not read the LiveJournal material – skip to the text below the link.
Rather than writing everything all over again I’m giving a link to my posts on LiveJournal. I left those unlocked so that people who don’t use social media could visit them. I locked the similar ones on DW because that’s where I chat with most of my close online friends and I didn’t want them to feel suddenly in the ‘public’ eye. There are three long posts, all uploaded on the same date.

https://moth2fic.livejournal.com/2017/11/17/

Since then, we’ve had the full insurance pay-out plus some compensation for the fruit trees, though that’s on hold until they see which (if any) have survived, in the spring. We are still bringing things home, or at least my husband is. There’s a limit to how much weight he can get in the van on each trip. He is taking stuff out for people there and acting as a one way courier is helping to pay for the travel, which, of course, insurance doesn’t cover!
I don’t go with him because he stays in an apartment which belongs to a friend who is in America. The apartment has bottled gas and running water but no light, and no adequate heating. Certainly no hot water unless he boils a kettle. However, for him, it’s a cheap and convenient option.

It’s been five months now, and I have been in a state of shock, and was unable, at first, to write. All thoughts led back to the disaster, which skewed everything and made normal writing impossible. It also impacted on my social interactions with people both online and offline. I was unable to stop talking about it and felt I should retreat rather than impose my emotions on others. Recently, things have improved and I have been able to start writing again. I have fewer nightmares and my sleep patterns are settling. Someone pointed out that because everything is still in a state of flux I have no real closure, so the disaster has remained and remains very current for me.

Our UK house is in chaos with boxes everywhere – our own, and deliveries for my husband’s next trip. We had, of course, replaced our furniture and now have to decide what to keep, what to move around, and what to dispose of. The boxes, as well as containing books and china, tend to have a liberal sprinkling of rat dirt, wasps nests and ash. Not pleasant! And most of the time I’m on my own. Not easy!

Needless to say, it’s more difficult than that for many of our friends in Portugal (a mixture of Portuguese, English, Dutch and Belgian). Internet and phone contact is still erratic and I can only guarantee contacting my husband on the days he goes into town to see the council or the estate agent. Some of our friends are rebuilding. Some are looking elsewhere. Some are trying to keep their businesses going while the area gets back on its feet. So I’m living through all that vicariously as well as through our own problems.

There are ‘trivial’ problems, too. We have had to employ someone to remove trees that are still standing from our land, though we are not allowed to remove olives. The electricity was, of course, cut off, and we are not being charged, but the electricity board refuses to believe that there are still live wires which are in fact making part of the ruin live. We need electricity, to filter the pool which was undamaged but filled with ash. We are thinking of solar panels. The banks – in Portugal and UK – are making a fuss about moving our insurance money from one country to another and we have to prove we are not money laundering. With no phone service everything needs a trip into town. The road to town and the longer road to the border were badly damaged and repaired too quickly so are now miles and miles of potholes.

I have just read a novel set in Portugal (and have reviewed it here, separately from my monthly reviews) that made me feel a lot of emotion connected with the countryside there. But as well as triggering some distress it made me acknowledge that it is still a lovely country and its people are worthy of admiration, not least for the way they have coped with the tragedy of last October.

The photograph at the head of this is the view from what was our house. Now, we have a view and a ruin for sale.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2018 in personal, travel

 

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Films in my head

I was recently doing one of those memes for my personal (friends-locked) blog – one of those lists of questions that attempts to explore aspects of your life that you weren’t keeping secret but had never thought to share with anyone.

In the course of it, I mentioned that my fictional characters arrive in my head and talk to me.

It would appear, from the reactions of my friends list (a lot of whom are writers) that there are two kinds of people. One sort give a relieved sigh and say something like ‘yes, me too’ or ‘thank goodness it’s not just me’ and the other sort are fascinated but bewildered.

I thought I’d go into more detail here to see what other have to say.
Whenever I write, my characters spring fully formed into my head, just as if they were people I’d met and talked to. But like those people, it takes time to get to know them and I have to question them to get details. I also ‘overhear’ them talking to each other and sometimes they are quite critical of the way their story is progressing. I usually let them take over. Obviously there are limits. If I’m writing a detective story I have to start with some idea of what the crime was, how it was committed and how the investigation proceeded. I don’t always know who the villain was.

The voices and images in my head are quite clear. I know, if I think about it, that they have to be aspects of my subconscious, but at the moment of hearing and seeing them, they seem quite real, like actual friends. I am never tempted to blur fiction and reality and know perfectly well that they are ‘just’ characters, but they are often loud, and very assertive. They tell me all kinds of things that don’t necessarily pertain to the current story, and often have strong political opinions. I remember reading advice from Diana Wynne Jones that a writer should interrogate their characters to find out all kinds of things about them, such as their favourite socks, to build up a mental picture that would make the character in the story more three dimensional. Well, there are all kinds of things I can and do ask them, but as for the socks, I just need to look.

I can see them in motion, too, and when they tell me how a specific scene plays out, I can watch it like a film rolling in my mind’s eye. I also retain detailed images of all kinds of places I have visited and can play with these mentally to provide settings for my stories.

I was very surprised as I grew up to learn that not everyone has that kind of visual imagination and that some people, including very imaginative creators in all spheres, think largely in words, not pictures.

I think I would get quite distressed if my internal films disappeared. This is, incidentally, also the way I think about everything, from a planned shopping trip or meal to a conversation I need to have with e.g. family or friends or, at one time, lesson plans for teaching.

All this results in something I have mentioned previously. My stories are planned in my head, and the ‘notes’ are in my head ready to be referred to so any writing is a kind of copy-typing though of course I edit too. For example, I won’t let my characters use too much repetition, or tell each other things they should already know. I also encourage my betas to tell me when things that are obvious to my characters (and to me) need clarification for my readers.
When I have finished a book, the characters take a back seat, but they don’t disappear (apart, of course, for the ones like the murder victims). They allow the characters for the next work I am embarking on to take centre stage. Usually. There are one or two who feel they should comment on everything I do which is interesting but can be distracting.

Getting to know my characters is part of the pleasure of writing. It can feel as though I have a lot of friends. Well, I do have a lot of friends, but most of them have their own schedules and can’t always be contacted at times of my choosing. My fictional friends can.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2018 in personal, writing

 

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