Friday, June 29, 2007

Small Animal

At Home

And then the RAIN started.
I'm actually rather happy though, I started scribbling into my new journal and now I'm listening to an account of Shackleton's polar crossing attempt, and I'm copying everything that looks like a song or a poem from my old sketch-books and boxes of scraps to see if there's an illustrated collection or a musical or something hiding in there.
If there is, the theme will either be
a) annoying men
b) food
it seems.


Humph, I was planning to have a touristy London day today, make friends with the city, take my camera, see some museums, see if I can buy a good bag (I need a new one to carry work stuff around) and generally stroll around, and the weather is fine, but they just found a car-bomb at Haymarket and people are encouraged out of the city center.
Guess I'll go to the local park instead.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Homes for Thoughts

The pinboard is filling up with new ideas. Yesterday we decided that the thing to do when writing a story together is to work from the top down, work out a really solid structure, set the characters, and only fill it in last thing (still allowing playing around with ideas independently). That seemed to work, the whole story started to come to life in a way that it hadn't done before, and now there's a list of chapters.

Besides that, I am thinking more and more story ideas these days... I just went out to treat myself to a fancy little hand-bound journal which feels just like the perfect thing to be filled up with pretty little idea, sentences, characters, things that might fit into the world I am trying to build without having to lead anywhere.
I have another sketchbook on the go which is a plain A5 Seawhite, but that's sometimes a little too plain. It's perfect for taking to meetings and scrawling around in, and generally working out practical things. It's my problem-solving book. Then there's my notebook, which always ends up being the most interesting because it's where I take down bits of information that seem useful in some way or another, like quotes, numbers, names, shopping lists, books someone tells me to read. There isn't a single "serious" drawing in there. It's just traces of passing thoughts. Phone doodles and waiting room thoughts.
Then there's the Story Notebook, that's a very recent thing - a big fat narrow-lined notebook where I write down anything that seems like part of a story. That one's fun for me to look through when bored - it's like flicking through TV channels and every one has something on that's sort of familiar.
Anyway, that's one thing I have learned works for me: never to deny myself a new piece of stationery when it feels useful, and never to feel like I have to fill a sketchbook or notebook up if it's gone dead. I normally just cut the blank pages out of the back (if it's not a fancy binding) and use them for scrap.
Anyway, with the acquisition of this latest little pretty journal I have reached that rare and happy point when it feels like there's a full set of books ready to be used for whatever I might want to think and do right now.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Monday, June 25, 2007

New Start

Today I am starting the next official project... none of that piddling about for practise. It's ambitious all right, so I decided to clear off the Big Pinboard, which has carried notes for another story for... ooof, months and months. LAYERS of notes. And bits of red thread connecting them. I photographed the lot, printed them off and stuffed them into the heavy folder that's collected notes for that particular story (high adventure featuring rats, see above) for the last five years or so, and now I'm all set for the new book.

Slightly frightening, but... joyous. Yes.

While scouring the computer for things to print out I also came across a story I started in 2000 which is actually sort of not bad. I'd forgotten about it, and I have no idea how it goes on from where I stopped writing 7 years ago... but I printed it out and covered it in corrective squiggles anyway.



I say it's the week-end. I worked all of the real week-end. So today I get to ponder and fuss.
I noticed at someone's house yesterday that they had loads of real paper photographs all over the place, which I liked - I really got bored with the digital photo albums people carry around their necks or on their ipods or laptops. Always too many pictures to click through and such a headache. When I was small we had a drawer full of photographs, and stacks of albums. In the drawer you could dig through them without loading times, and in the albums you had to make some sort of a decision what to include. People NOTICE if they've taken the same picture 20 times over as soon as they try and stick it into an album. Not so with digital pictures, mostly. My iPhoto folder is so dull (even after regular editing) that I never feel like looking at it, or backing any of it up.


Looots of pictures of birds.

So I asked the paper-photograph-collection-owners if they had them printed at the shop, and they said no, they used an internet service.
So now I have a new obsession of the day. Why did I never think of that before?? This is so brilliant... Getting real photographs in the post!!! WHEE!!!

Friday, June 22, 2007


Hah! I finished writing the ghost story. 51 pages all printed out, which is a bit much, but I'll hack loads out in the first edit. But first I'll put it away for a month so I can forget about it and when I'll read it again it'll be nice and new. Else I'll end up editing it into a crisp. I already want to change all the characters around completely.

I also just found out that the title is the same as a Beatles' song that I never heard of. Never miiind.

And now I'll go back to bed and read because I'm totally worn out from scootering and swimming and writing.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Lyle's Lion

Yesterday I looked at the tin of Lyle's Golden Syrup that Alexis had bought for breakfast porridge sweetening, and I noticed that the lion on it is dead. I thought: When did that happen? - I'm SURE that lion was well last time I'd seen it. Sort of standing on a hill with his chest out proudly and mane blowing in the wind. Not limp and covered in flies, in any case.
"Maybe it's an anniversary tin," he said.
We considered this for a while.
"Hang on, it says something... Out of the Strong came forth Sweetness. - Ooooh it's from the BIBLE! Someone dreams that or something, and it's not flies, it's bees, they build a hive in a dead lion, and it means... that out of strength comes sweetness... yes! - That must have been on the tins all along!"
"Yes that lion was always dead!"
We considered this for a while.
I sort of remembered noticing the dead lion before. Standing in a supermarket in England seven years ago or so, and trying to work out what foods to buy because everything looked weird and alien, I'd just arrived from Germany some time ago and was determined to not import German food like a wuss, and I looked at that tin and wondered what it was good for, and I noticed the dead lion and suddenly felt very small and lonely and frightened. So back then I bought it and kept it in the cupboard until I next moved house, and I forgot about the lion again, and just left it behind for someone who would know what to do with golden syrup, because I didn't.
"Why would ANYONE think that's good to print on syrup?"
"I think it's good."
"Yah, you would."

I went to bed thinking about that, and this morning I went to Lyle's website and checked their FAQ section. And indeed, some way down they have a little section explaining the biblical reference (Judges 14:14), and ending: However, no-one knows why Abram chose the wording 'Out of the strong came forth sweetness'. Was he referring to the tin holding the syrup - or the company producing it?

They don't really know either.

I also, by the way, found out what the bit about "partially inverted syrup" is about. Underneath the lion.
In case you ever wondered about how sugar could be inverted:
The word invert comes from the way that sugar syrups rotate plane polarized light. A sucrose or glucose solution rotates light to the right, a fructose syrup rotates it strongly to the left. An equimolar solution of fructose and glucose inverts the rotation of light by rotating it to the left more than the sucrose syrup did to the right.
So that means if your sugar syrup rotates the light to the left it's a whole lot sweeter... I think.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More Scooting

I just scootered back from a lunchtime meeting in Vauxhall. That was my first proper trip! And I only got laughed at twice. Good going.

Monday, June 18, 2007


After some Frowning at Paper I decided that the thing to do today is to go for a walk and think about stories.
Here's a mural I saw:
I like their expressions... It's a big mural, this is just a small part, for some reason these guys look a bit fed up with being stuck on a wall all day...
And a pretty Swan:

I walked to Bermondsey, went to the big sports shop there, bought a scooter and scootered back (well, part that, part bus). Hooray! No more boring walks to work...

I already wobblingly scootered past a whole load of kids on scooters. Am grateful they ignored me...


I am pretty sure that there's only one day's worth of writing left in the ghost story. I got everybody lined up waiting for the big monster to appear, and what am I doing? Drinking coffee and starting to think about all the things that I will need to edit earlier on in the story. Getting totally distracted watching my birds (Helga is insisting on being fed by Henry - Thingummy is shouting at Helga - why??)
I think I might de-camp to a different place to try and write this last scene. But first - some more picture book work needs doing.
Irritating. I really thought I'd be writing THE END by now.

Successful big dinner yesterday though. We cooked a big Thai style meal. Turned out coconut was jinxed that day though. First I noticed the sachet of coconut agar that was meant for topping the flower pudding had unexpected dark bits in it, which at closer examination weren't spice because they had antennae. And lots of legs. And wings. So I didn't use it. Then I opened a tin of coconut milk, poured half over the pudding, noticed that it had fermented in the tin, carefully washed the pudding in the sink (ever done that? Weird) and bought a new tin. Which tasted impossibly of soap. Went out AGAIN and bought a third one, and a packet of instant coconut milk, and a bar of creamed coconut which was ok, so: Green Curry and Flower Pudding after all.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Blankets and Cages

A-Ha! I finished another artwork. Cosy, no? I'm into the artwork-replacing-stage. That should be it now, for this book. Except the cover. Hmmm.

AND here's the new lovely cage, with hiding spaces for small birdies and lots of horizontal hopping space - and a whole table freed for me! They seem to love it so far, I hope they'll stay peaceful in there...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Bags of Bones

Yesterday I didn't get any writing done. There were roadworks in front of my window, I missed my early morning writing slot, it was too noisy and smelly to keep the window open, the day was muggy, I was cross all day. But mainly I had no idea how to write the last bit. Something didn't sit right. I went to buy a new birdcage (it's very pretty) and thought through all sorts of scenarios to end the story with, and then I gave up and tried to do my painting, which didn't work either, and in the end I just read a book. "Bag of Bones", Stephen King. This morning I still didn't quite know how to write, and decided to break my rules and finish reading the book. I had a feeling that reading someone else's end to a ghost story might help me write mine. - That turned out to be true... the book seems to be (among other things) about writer's block. There's a quote, early on, saying that compared to any living person even the best-written fictional character is but a bag of bones. And in the course of the book one gets the idea that it isn't quite that simple, that anyone can feel like a bag of bones sometimes, and that sometimes bags of bones matter a great deal. And towards the end, the author in the book has a moment regretting all the horrible things he has made happen to his characters just because it was convenient to the plot. - That's when I realised: that is what is amiss. I really do care about these people I've written. I put them through the mill, and now I find myself imagining convenient endings in which they'll be broken and crushed and come to a sticky end just because it would be neat, and I thought that's the main thing - even though it feels wrong. Everybody loves a grim ending. You got to be ready to be mean, right? In fact, it's satisfying, isn't it, bringing things you made up to a definite end. But you also got to keep a tab on what you're actually saying about the world. Sometimes good things do happen. In life, and in good stories, too. Like when Pinoccio gets strung up on a tree because the author got fed up with him, and then finds he's not quite dead after all because the readers complained that it's not on to kill the boy off like that - he's GOT to become a real boy, what sort of a rubbish story would it be otherwise???
I mentally shook myself like a wet dog and blinked and thought: woof, I better get working on this properly. These little imaginary guys really need my help! Let's see if there is a way for them to get out of this mess.
Then I got writing, and I think I'm back on track. I think there's hope after all.

Anyway. I think I get to have a big brunch of some sort before painting.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

School Visit

Fooh. Am just back from my school visit. Quite a muddle but great fun. I didn't quite expect 60 children, and I didn't see it coming that I'd go with a swollen knee and wearing Alexis' dungarees - I did't have any better trousers this morning, due to work-stint laundry delay all in the wash. So there I was, limping around in oversized dungarees, answering questions and handing out colour pencils on demand, and generally being a chaos engine causing extreme paper scattering. I'm not sure I did that well on the question-time bit, but the art part was fun. We made paper fish by collaging photocopied drawings. I didn't do a great demonstration to the first big group so it got a bit fiddly and in places, but later on we got the hang of it a bit better and some brilliant fish emerged.

I wish I hadn't said that I want to switch to writing novels because you can do that in bed. It's my bent tailbone talking... I swear the only reason that I am getting so much writing done is that I set the bed up so I can write there. Looks bad, but there's been more than one great writer writing from bed... in fact I never really notice it any more, except when I am in company and everyone else sits down.
My favourite part was when I asked the whole class in the end where my fancy white and blue pencil went which I'd lent out. A girl put her hand up and said "They're in your pocket" and indeed, they were. She'd found them on the floor and put them back into my pencil case when I wasn't looking. I'd put the case back in my pocket and went around with the missing pencils for ages wondering where they'd turn up.
So - all good. Next time I'll wear my own trousers, though, I felt a bit like a mad comedy auntie.

Last of the Yellow Cats (and the red and the blue ones too I say)

I'm just scanning the last few cats (mm, wasn't all finished after all, was it) and sending them off. I had a stupid day yesterday, too hot and muggy for me, and when I'd almost finished painting for the day I went to check on the budgies, slipped on the stairs, banged my knee and bent my ankle, not very bad but enough to make me decide that it was enough for the day and that I didn't really need to finish painting that cover yet.

I've saved today's writing onto my little memory stick marked NOVELS and it's really almost all done now, except that I realised today how much I'd changed the tone of the narrator's voice over time. I'll finish it and put it away for some weeks and then I'm sure it'll be easy to edit one way or the other (at the moment I'm not sure if he should talk more like he does in the beginning or more like towards the end).
Now I'm getting ready for my school visit - I got all the things-to-show in my big red handbag and I think I can walk there despite my bruised knee...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007



I practically fell out of bed this morning thinking OH NO I HAVE TO DO A SCHOOL VISIT TODAY AND I HAVEN'T PACKED but then I remembered that's tomorrow. Tomorrow morning I'll do that again then. Today I just grumbled, had some coffee and an allergy pill (what for? Something. Probably some grass out there) settled back and wrote some more. And I came to the end of one part of the book, and realised that I had to change narrators. I didn't see that coming... but I found I had a spare narrator saved up earlier in the story, and after some patching and re-writing they were ready to take over. Then I realised that this meant that the book needed a little first chapter before the first chapter, and I wrote that, too. Alexis came to say good morning at some point and I just made hissy noises at him because it was all Delicate Operations. Now it's all tidy again, and ready for tomorrow morning. I might finish the whole thing this week!

But first I got to go and cook porridge and wait for the all-clear on some new roughs for the Very Last Spread of the Picture Book I Sort Of Finished But Not Quite But Really Really Almost and paint a cosy blue blanket while I'm waiting.

Slept not so well because I cleaned my face with Cold Cream, experimentally, because every old person with lovely skin seems to have been using it all their life. But it smelled so much of Lavender or something that I kept waking up thinking someone else was in the room. Nice smooth skin now though!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Saturday again

Hmm, it's a good day, a bit uneventful though, maybe I'll go a-walking about a bit.
I had a couple of recovery days from the picturebook work stint, where I just did some writing and tried to design a T-Shirt for just to find someone else had submitted a hamster wheel the same day.

Never mind.

Today I got over a bump in the story I'm writing in the morning-hours, and somehow connected it to an older one I wrote years ago, and realised that it actually fits with a whole load of other story ideas I've got racked up. Now I'm wondering if I could make it into a series of little supernatural novels all set around the same core. I'm also wondering if I want to propose them under a pseudonym so I don't have to fuss over whether they fit in with the picture books. I'm a bit concerned that people might get put off the one by the other. My picture books seem to come out manic and happy and like I've made them listening to Jazz music while drinking copious amounts of Coca-Cola, which is mostly true, while the novels read like I wrote them between waking up at dawn and quietly going back to sleep for another hour some time later, just to wake up a different person who grabs a cup of coffee and puts on the Jazz and gets painting dancing hamsters. Maybe they should have different names, for the readers' ease of comprehension.

Then I spent the rest of the morning reading the paper and actually starting to feel sorry for Paris Hilton. I wish they'd stop faffing her about and just stick her in prison - since reckless driving is a serious crime - with some really good support at hand - since she's losing it. - Somehow I always get distracted by celebrity breakdowns.

I went for a walk on Thursday to see new things, and came past a house that I notice every time when I go past on the bus to work - it's one in a long row of houses that all look the same, but it's different because someone covered the outside in animals. Animal statues and plaques, bolted to the walls and standing in the little front garden. I'd noticed briefly last time that now the garden is also covered in bunches of flowers, and when I walked past I saw that the iron fence of the front yard was smashed in completely, and there was a framed newspaper article fixed to a lamp-post detailing the story: a lady got crushed by a car in that yard, she was trying to scoop up her dog when she saw it coming. (She didn't manage to save the dog.) She was a few days away from her golden wedding anniversary and died leaving lots of family behind. - It's almost impossible to go for a walk in London without coming past a memorial site, but this one really got me, just because I'd actually sometimes wondered who lived in that funny house plastered with animals on that grey street.
Makes me feel a lot less sorry for Paris Hilton. And sort of glad that I don't hold a driving license. Cars worry me sometimes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Long Day

All finished!!! All cats and speech bubbles and fish and balls of wool and feathers and sofas and cutter guides and flaps and bowls of milk in book positioned!
Well, all for now. Hang on, and not the bowls of milk yet. Someone else is positioning the milk I think.
I'm just copying everything I did since Friday onto the external drive, ready to deliver tomorrow. It's taking about 20 minutes to copy. Huh. And that's not even the original art.
You know, this isn't a nice thing to day but with this book I am rather glad that picture books don't get very bad reviews most of the time, because if anyone slags this one off I might find out where they live and sow cress on their cuddly toys. I don't think I've ever worked this much on anything... ooooof!
:) Proud though!

Donkey Trouble

Monday, June 4, 2007

Sunday, June 3, 2007

To Do...

I'm working my way through the novelty book... once this is all done, I'll just need to do the cover - and add pink paw pads to all the cats digitally. Forgot to paint them on before they went off to be scanned. Joy.
The big SOD THAT in the top right corner refers to the idea that positioning the simpler spreads on the computer might save time. I did one that way yesterday and it made me murderous. They'll all be cut-and-sellotape now, and scanned right at the end.
I do like working on this book, but I don't think I'll ever enjoy the phase where everything gets shifted around by degrees and half-inches and every time anything moves I need to re-consider the speech bubbles. Why are speech bubbles so annoying??? It should be easy. A big balloon with a tail elegantly pointing at someone's mouth.
Yah, but it's a balloon that has to fit the right words and float up into just the right space without looking forced or tugged around or even - noooooo! - detached.

At least the cats are enjoying themselves.

I'm having an ace time, really. Today I was up and running errands so early (see list: "Get paper positional from Dan") that everyone in the street was still saying "Good Morning" (in London!) and I was one of the earliest customers at the Fish-mongers, by house of said Dan. And all that after writing a chapter of novel already. Madness.

The Curve

Good Morning!

The novel has entered the difficult stage, where I have to stop adding new ideas and start winding up instead. Odd thought, no? I used to think that the thing to do was to make it bigger and bigger until about three quarters through, and then somehow make it all come back together again. I had in my mind the curve that my school-teachers always drew on the blackboard when talking about the basic structure of stories: starting at the bottom, rising really slowly, coming to a peak just before the end and then dropping sharply.
I thought that curve was measuring excitement. Or STUFF. Or something. I am actually still not sure WHAT it was measuring. But that curve was the number one tool in understanding fiction, and so I kept it in mind, just the shape really. Complete with the little cross at the top labelled CLIMAX, which I figured meant that everyone in the story got to be in the same place at the same time at last to make something big happen.

I am beginning to doubt that I understood that one properly back then... Now I think I got it. It's not about adding more stuff all the time, but about working your way towards the end basically right from the start. The curve could just as well have been dropping steadily. The thing isn't that it goes up and up, but that it is going somewhere at all, somewhere interesting, and straight there.

Now I've written the set-up, I know I've sort-of aimed for a good spot, and now it's time to light the fuse and pick up speed and see if I land where I meant to.
I normally flag at this point. Suddenly I have to remember all the bits that happened before, and use them - and no new stuff - to get me to the end. Oof. Challenge. I normally write down all the characters and list what to do with them. And then the whole rest of the story tends to read like ticking off a list. No good.
This time I'll not let myself make notes, but just tell the story, and if I forget to tie something up probably it wasn't that important anyway and I might as well scratch it out on the first edit.
Let's see if that works... I'd like it to!

Friday, June 1, 2007


Well, I did go to IKEA. I came back bearing a big blue bag of food-stuffs, lingonberry-cordial, breadmix, wee little chocolate horses, and a new alarm clock... I almost bought this before. I didn't. Now I did.
It's called SLABANG. It's got a rubber casing, so you can bash it. It's got REALLY BIG DIGITS. It's got a microphone, so you can leave yourself messages to wake yourself up with. Such a step up from sticking post-its to my face before bed.

It's always roasting hot when I go to IKEA. Maybe because when the sky is blue and the sun is hot I think: hmmm it won't rain. Rain is bad when you just been to IKEA because of the big blue bags, they fill right up and your storage solutions get soggy, and you dislocate your arm because you'd bought exactly what you could carry and didn't allow for the weight of rainwater.
So my head got completely roasted, and I thought of another ghost story.
If I keep this writing speed up maybe I can write a small series of scary stories, while I'm in the groove...

Croydon Weather?

Ah. I am happy. It's still morning and I wrote a nice bit of novel. I'd started to worry about it a bit, it was going a frightening way and seemed relentless, so I decided it was time to give the hero a break and make something nice and peaceful happen. It made me remember some happy childhood times... and I found one of the smaller motifs of the story, I think - the order of things that run their course without you, like planets you're not watching and trains you're not taking and plants that grow somewhere else. And how sometimes you can suddenly feel and understand that they are going on, and you can let go and be happy.

Alexis just poked his head around the door and pointed out that it's just the perfect weather for me to go to Croydon today and swing by IKEA and pick up some Skandinavian food treats and on the way back pass by Forbidden Planet and buy that action figure of Johan the Ectoplasm Guy which might just be reduced down because no one else would want it.
He is sort of right. I do have a whole novelty book to re-position by Wednesday though. Hmmmmm. I think I might take my half-day off work today, work through Saturday... Croydon, who wouldn't want to take a trip to Croydon after all...