Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Jayne goes on a Travel Adventure

Things I Should Be Doing Right Now

Drifting around the house in elegant pre-holiday clothes
Relaxing in a candle-lit bath to prepare for holiday in a Decent Fashion
Admiring my neatly packed suitcase, hand-luggage and snowboard bag
Preparing for an early refreshing night of peaceful sleep

Things I Am Actually Doing Right Now

Bailing cats from suitcases
Scurrying up the stairs with armfuls of clothes that don't fit in suitcase
Checking snowboard bag for determined tabby
Weighing suitcase; surprisingly pleased
Scurrying down the stairs to sneak more clothes in suitcase
Having a book conundrum
Vague thoughts about whereabouts of passport
Stuffing suitcase with everything I can see in my room
Weighing suitcase; look of horror

Things I Will Be Doing After Inadequate Sleep

Rushing around house in a mad panic wearing one sock

Be good, folks! Looking forward to catching up on your blogs when I'm back. J x

Monday, 21 February 2011

The House of Dennis Severs

‘You are going to take a journey...’

Glass-fronted office buildings may squat bulkily upon Bishopsgate, but the warren of streets reflected in those anonymous eyes can sometimes reveal an older time, for those with the ability to see and imagine.

The art of Dennis Severs, showcased in his amazing time-capsule house in Folgate Street, Spitalfields, plays upon this ability, offering visitors the chance to step back through the centuries.

This is the house of the ten spells – ten rooms given over to sensory illusion lit by flickering candle. The game is that we have interrupted a family of Huguenot weavers and as we step in the room we find they have just stepped out. It is then down to our imagination to see more, should we choose. This feeling is predominant as you walk around the rooms – it is and feels like a private house, and we are but shadows in their time.

Walking around, I couldn’t help but notice how dark it was, even with candles and weak daylight filtering through the dusty windows. It was also cold – very cold. It gave me such a strange feeling about how it must have been to live in that time – how I would have lived in that time. If you didn’t have money for coal or wood, and you couldn’t spare many candles for light, then you would have lived a miserable shivery existence. Even living in opulence would have been a challenge.

I liked the two rooms used for relaxation. Pretty pastel colours ruled in the ladies ‘withdrawing’ room (so that is where the term ‘drawing room’ came from!) and the men had a wooden chamber next door (pictured above) where they could roll around spilling wine, which seemed to be their chief occupation, if you go by Hogarth. I presume the women rolling around spilling wine would have been harlots down the public house. Seems odd to think that women were either ladies or harlots. There doesn’t seem much middle ground.

I came away from the house inspired and buzzing about ideas for stories, ideas for decoration, ideas for ideas. Even better, I went to see the house with the lovely Pamela, the blogger behind From The House of Edward – so had someone equally enthused to talk to for the rest of the afternoon! If you don’t know Pamela’s blog do go and check it out – she is a beautifully evocative writer that often marries her magical words to inspiring pictures – her blog is simply one you sink into, like cashmere, and think ah, I’m home!

The pictures on this post are taken from the Dennis Severs' House website - do go to see it if you have the chance!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Questions and Answers

Last Thursday I went to Andrea Eames’ inaugural book-reading event for her debut novel The Cry of the Go-Away Bird. It was lovely to say hello to Andrea in person and admire her red polka-dot dress; it was also interesting to watch how a book-reading unfolds. I thought Andrea was fantastic – she read from just the right parts of her book to make people want to know more, and proved herself wonderfully able to answer all sorts of questions thoughtfully and confidently, demonstrating the same wit and humour already showcased on her blog. A large amount of the audience queued up to buy a copy of the book afterwards, so I would rate that as a good job well done!

However, the breadth of questions asked did make me start thinking. People seem to expect that you, the published author, will be an authority on whatever theme your book touches. Those folk are there to hear your opinion, and not all questions asked will be cosy ones about writing – some may touch on other, more personal, subjects. So that started me wondering what themes are touched upon in my novel, as when that glorious day of a Q and A arrives (sings in manner of Gospel choir: O Glorious Day!), will I be ready?

The themes of my novel are fairly dark – death and redemption tied in with the spiritual and supernatural. It’s a time-slip novel, so veers between the Second World War and the modern-day. What sort of questions would that little lot throw up? I actually dread to think! Still, it’s not like I don’t have time to practice, I guess... (looks up hopefully in case a lovely agent is reading; scans stats for anything coming from an IP address titled Lovely Agent Is Reading Your Blog; sinks back into despair).

Going back to the book reading, and I was delighted to realise that another lovely blogger I follow, Vikki from Back to the Castle, was also in the audience! We chatted all the way back into London and went for a glass of wine in the Royal Festival Hall, which was a great way to end a fabulous evening. Not only that, but someone sketched us! I was very tempted to tap the artist on the shoulder and see how she had portrayed me - whether she’d gone for ‘girl looking intelligent chatting about art, film, and literature’ or ‘girl glugging wine like there’s no tomorrow’.

Perhaps some things in life are best left to mystery.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Yoga and Cake

There are moments in life when you ask yourself questions. I had such a moment today when I was doing my best hot damp slug impression in Bikram Yoga. The question was ‘Why am I here?’ and it wasn’t one of those philosophical soul-searching moments, more of a ‘What’s really so wrong with slobbing about, anyhow?’ type things.

I doubt any of the super-bendy contortionists at the front of the room were thinking similar thoughts. I suspect they were At One with themselves (and the mirror.) This is probably where I am going wrong. I’m just not Zen enough - although it’s hard to be Zen and At One when sweating bare feet waft a perilous inch from your nose. Even harder when the person in front kicks their leg up and you can see what only their ever-loving partner should. Shorts that fit, now there's an invention. It’s not like you can close your eyes either, as you have to keep them open ‘so your energy stays in the room’. I don’t know where my energy goes, but I suspect it gambols down the front in amazement at the stretchy ones; it certainly doesn’t stay with me.

That said; I did come out of class feeling full of good intentions, and decided to go home via a different train route in order to finish the day with a three-mile walk. Sounds good, huh? Angelic, almost? I thought so too, and let me tell you it was just sheer coincidence that this route also includes my favourite tea-shop which sells cupcakes. I know! What are the chances, eh? You can’t let opportunities like this slide, so pretty soon I was safely ensconced inside, notebook open, pen at the ready, ready to rock the Mad Person Writing in Public look.

I’d just got to the part where you catch yourself mouthing part of the dialogue (never a good look when sat by yourself) when this poem came out of nowhere, plonked itself down and said ‘Are you writing me or what?’ So instead of working further on the short story, I spent the remainder of time happily scribbling a rhyme. Sometimes that’s just the way writing goes.

And in case you are wondering what the big surge of exercise is all about – take a look at this:

There may be a holiday on the horizon. *grins*

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Weekend Wandering

The light returns on Candlemas.

The candle in my jamjar lantern pays its homage to the flares lit on the hillside. We gather in groups - adults drinking mulled wine as children run round and around. The lights split the darkness as we nod to the growing new year.

No weekend wander is complete without treasure. There is bought treasure, the stuff found on stalls and hidden on dusty shelves...

And there is found treasure, the finest treasure of them all. A horseshoe! I couldn't stop smiling. I felt like someone was giving me a sign to say that all will be okay.

Friday, 4 February 2011

In Need of a Life Plan

I often find it hard to sleep. Going to sleep is not a problem; staying asleep is the thing I find tricky. Thoughts amplify at night; they swirl and gather in corners. But those dark early hours, while the world slumbers and urban foxes bark beyond the window, are the best times to think of plans. In fact, the Grand Author Plan. (Oh yes, I haz one.)

I haven’t been writing much recently and it’s been worrying me. So far, since October, I have written three short stories (more about one, later), fiddled a bit with the novel, and thought up some ideas for more. That’s it... and it’s not enough, not nearly enough. My energy levels dissipate when I commute a long way and work full-time; this time last year I could do it – work during the day and write in the evenings – but now I come home and am fit for nothing. I try to stir myself to be creative but it is like stirring a pot of treacle, and the tired part of me wants to be left alone.

So what are my solutions here? As the dark night does throw me a bone, sometimes.

It seems they focus around my job – take that away, and the creative energy levels rise (as the money falls). But take it away and bang goes my chance of buying a property – mortgage providers love freelancers. In fact, take it away and can I afford to rent my own place, even? It depends what I swap the day job with – another full-time job closer to home? But would that a) pay as well, or b) be viable – the industry I work in is still shaky from the recession. And is swapping like for like worth the effort of change? It might buy me some commute time, but would I be just sticking a plaster over a still sore cut?

Or there is the freelancer route – which sounds attractive but is equally hard work - more so, when bills loom and you have to make it all happen. My experiences of working as a freelancer is like playing the Spectrum game ‘Pitfall’ (anyone remember that?) – desperately swinging from rope to rope, always looking for the next one to grab in order to save you from falling into the pit. I never felt I could relax – even when engaged on a contract I’d be thinking of the next, and the next, and what happens after that one, and this one.

I guess what it comes down to is that I’m scared of just going for it. Eep – I’ve admitted it. I’ve taken risks in the past with my writing – twice I have jettisoned everything in order to follow my dream, and twice I’ve crash-landed, to be honest. The first time I lost sight of my goal and settled for a job with the illusion of writing; the second time was beyond my control – personal circumstances and the recession meant I pretty much lost everything. I guess it is natural then to feel scared about going for it a third time (third time lucky?). If I was in my mid-twenties I probably wouldn’t be feeling this way, but add ten years and suddenly things like security look a lot more attractive.

I actually don’t know what the answer is. But maybe none of us do. It could be that I find somewhere to move to that is closer to the current day job, and this cuts out some commuter stress. As don’t get me wrong, I like the current job – it is probably one of the nicest full-time jobs that I have had. But time flies when you are busy doing something else. I think this is what scares me most of all.