Cryptic Blog Post Titles

Coming up with titles for blog posts is the hardest part of the writing process, I find. I use bits of song lyric, hazily-remembered quotations from books and poems, and, if all else fails, simple descriptions of the contents of the post. If you can come up with a short description, that last approach is the best one – at least people know what they’re getting then. But it’s not easy.

Looking at my dashboard just now, I find a draft post titled ‘Amongst the Wreckage’. I saved the title but left the body of the post tantalisingly blank. And now, a couple of weeks later, I have no idea what the intended subject was.

Was I planning a rant about the terrible clutter in my lounge? A description of the state of the street when it’s windy on rubbish day? An existential lament about mid-life? A moaning and groaning about the loss of most of my library which has left me with only the rump of my book collection? A complaint about the chaos Petra leaves in her wake when she’s been painting or drawing or designing? Something else entirely?

I do not know. Let that be a lesson to me to come up with more informative titles.

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On Sharing and Rain

Miss Petra’s an affectionate lass. She’s keen for cuddles and kisses, and if you’re not careful, licking. She likes you to taste the particularly good bits of her food. And she gets right in your face for conversation and hanging out. This is all very very lovely. I delight in her enthusiasm and her snuggliness.

There’s a downside though. If she gets a cold, we get it too. And colds from children are particularly virulent for some reason. She’s kindly shared her latest one with me and I’m thoroughly miserable. It’s been nothing more than a mild inconvenience for Petra. She’s had a couple of days off school but she’s stayed pretty perky. I, on the other hand, feel as if I’ve been run over by a whole rush hour of buses.

So that’s my self-pity for the day.

On the plus side, we’ve sneaked in a mild sunny day in the teeth of forecasts predicting rain and wind and general unpleasantness. I did several loads of washing. And Petra and I made haste to walk the dog. The weather’s so chancy here that you have to seize upon any niceness that turns up. It’s a bit like Vancouver that way. When I first moved to Vancouver I was amused by the way the locals poured into the streets if the rain even looked like easing up. After living there for a few months, I realised what a sound strategy that was. And after I’d been there for several years, I was as unthinkingly expert at taking advantage of any stray gleam of sun as the locals I’d laughed at before. Those skills have stood me in good stead now that I’m a Wellingtonian.

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A Monday Night Quotation…

I stumbled across this in my travels this evening.

We can’t hate ourselves into a version of ourselves we can love.

Lori Deschene (she writes for the tinybuddha.com website)

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A Bit of Language Geekery: Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence

A friend recently pointed me in the direction of Mark Forsyth’s work, and I’m very glad he did. Forsyth is a language wonk and has written about obsolete words (The Horologican) and the often bizarre connections between words (The Etymologican). His latest book (The Elements of Eloquence) is about rhetorical devices. I swallowed it up in one, enjoyable afternoon.

Forsyth’s gift is to wear his erudition and effort very lightly indeed. He condenses hundreds of years of scholarship and literature into a couple of hundred pages of easy-to-read text. He takes examples from Shakespeare and the King James Bible and Austen and Dickens and various poets, but also from Pulp Fiction, Lady Gaga, and the Beatles. The reader is educated and amused at the same time, and that is a very very difficult trick to carry off.

I particularly enjoyed the way he uses the devices he discusses in his own descriptions of them. So, in the chapter about hypotaxis (syntactically complex sentence construction with lots of subordinate clauses and phrases), he produces the following fabulous paragraph:

Absolutely anything sounds civilised and well-thought-out, providing that it’s expressed in the most syntactically complicated, hyper-hypotactic manner. And so from 1650 to 1850 everybody sounded civilised and wise. Even pornography had an air of considered calm to it, now lost forever to the discerning pervert. Fanny Hill (1748) is generally thought the greatest mucky novel in English literature. It’s content is, of course, much like the content of any dirty story, human nature being what it is, and the human body having only so many viable entrances and exits; but when such coarsely eternal eternal activities are laced into a mad grammarian’s fantasy, the result is superb. (The Elements of Eloquence, p. 56)

I just love that last clause – “mad grammarian’s fantasy,” is wonderful.

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That was the day that was…

I have had a day. One of those days that starts innocently enough but goes pear-shaped as it progresses.

I drove over to Petra’s school early because I’d been out and about and figured I’d just sit and read my book there for half an hour rather than rush home and back. It’s been very foggy, rainy, and windy here today (a nice Wellington welcome for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George who arrived at lunch time) so I had my headlights on. And I forgot to turn them off. Which meant that when Petra and I loaded ourselves into the car, it wouldn’t even think about starting.

Petra was inclined to panic so I went into mummy management mode and phoned Travis, who phoned the AA. $189 and 40 minutes later, a nice chatty man turned up in his yellow car to rescue me. I haven’t had to call for flat battery help for many years and things are very different now. No jumper leads, no waiting and waiting while the battery charges, just a moment or two with a wee electronic gadget and I was off. I still had to drive round for 30 minutes before stopping the engine. But on the whole, it’s a much less fiddly process than it used to be.

While we waited, Petra and I got to wave to all the mums and children we know and I told a story about playing in the snow. Petra lasted fairly well, but she was starving and sad by the time we made it home.

I shovelled food into her to keep her happy while I cooked dinner. But that didn’t go entirely to plan either. Half way through, I discovered that I didn’t have any tinned tomatoes. Cue a hurried trip to the supermarket.

I’m in need of something yummy to eat or drink and a few minutes of sitting around doing nothing in particular to recover…

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Build it and they will come

We were out this afternoon for several hours at a birthday party. When we left, Pip was safely in the back yard behind the fence. When we arrived home though, Pip met us on the footpath round the front of the house. We’re not quite sure how he got out, or how long he’d been roaming. But he’s knackered now, so he was obviously off having adventures for a fair portion of the afternoon.

Thankfully, he doesn’t seem to go far.

Travis is going to add an extra bit of trellis to the piece of fence we think is the most likely point of escape. And, we’ll have to start trusting him to stay inside on his own because it seems that no matter how good our fences are, he can find a way though or over or around.

I’ll work my way round the lounge and strip it of anything tempting, and then start leaving him on his own for short periods. He’ll probably be fine. And it’s far better that he eats a toy or some such than gets himself in trouble roaming around outside on his own.

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I Feel You Shiver With Antici…pation…

I am waiting, not very patiently, for a whole lot of books to be released this year.

Children’s and YA fiction.

The Whispering Skull by Johnathon Stroud (The second in a series about an England that has been overrun by ghosts. Only children can see and hear them, so only children are able to combat them. There are some genuinely creepy moments in the first book and I liked the interplay between the main characters. The world-building is great and I’m keen to see what Stroud does with all the hints and clues he dropped in the first book.)

We Were Liars by E Lockhart (I don’t even know what this one is about, but I really like Lockhart’s work and she hasn’t published anything for a few years, so I’m looking forward to finding out what she’s done next. She writes funny, smart, and thoughtful novels about what it’s like to be a girl in the world.)

Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan. (The final novel in her trilogy about a girl who finds out that her imaginary friend is a real boy, and that her town has been controlled by amoral magician-types for generations. Rees Brennan writes smart, funny dialogue, and her characters are very appealing. She likes to pour on the relationship angst as well. Who knows what horrors she’ll inflict on everyone in the final book.)

The as-yet-untitled third book in The Raven Boys sequence by Maggie Stiefvator. (I’m really hanging out for this one. Stiefvator writes beautifully – lyrical, elegant, thoughtful prose that gets in amongst you and sticks. She mentions in a blog post that she wants her words to come inside your head and rearrange the furniture, and she succeeded in my case at least. The second book, Dream Thieves, took hold of me and didn’t let go for ages after I’d finished it. That said, I’m not sure how I’d even characterise the books. Modern fantasy. A grail quest. Girl meets boys. Girl begins to grow up. Boys chafe at and enjoy each others’ company. Social classes clash. There are cars and drugs and a hitman and the girl’s wonderful family of witches and psychics. And it all adds up to something unique and wonderful.)

Fantasy

Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch. (The last book finished with a real punch to the gut of a surprise. I’m nervously awaiting the fallout. I’m also wondering what Aaronovitch is planning to do with the main narrative arc. Will he wind it up in this book? Or will there be more?)

Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear. (I’m looking forward to being immersed in Bear’s world again. She’s good, so good that all you have to do is sit back and let her take you along. You don’t have to worry about infelicitous world-building or plot u-turns or character weirdness or the kind of earnest didacticism that mars some writer’s attempts to do something more than traditional sword and sorcery epics. Bear just does her thing and trusts the reader to keep up.)

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone. (I didn’t know I wanted this one until a couple of days ago. But now I want it very much indeed.)

Mystery

Good, Bad, and the Emus by Donna Andrews. (The latest in a series of comic mysteries featuring Meg, her huge, eccentric family, animals, animals, and more animals, and her husband and children. These novels are totally fluffy. But I like the way Andrews foregrounds Meg’s activity. Although her husband and children are important, they’re not the focus of the stories. Meg blacksmiths, sleuths, organises, and socialises, as well as wifes and mothers.)

Designated Daughters by Margaret Maron. (I’ve been reading the Deborah Knott series for years. It’s past its best, but I’m still reading. These are southern cosies. Another big family. Another working woman. Lots of food and gatherings and family dynamics with the mysteries increasingly relegated to the background.)

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