Monday, October 31, 2011

The Islay Writing Circle - A Day of Words

It's an interesting dilemma you face when you're leading a writing workshop - do you do the exercises (I've been told not to call them challenges!) yourself, at the same time as everybody else, or do you keep yourself available, drifting gently about, ready to leap in if anyone gets stuck? I've tended to be a bit of a drifter in the past, but the Islay Writing Circle is a group I know, and after the initial "You want us to do WHAT?!" I knew they would get well stuck in.

I was not disappointed! It was an excellent day of words. I had asked them to try to take a step sideways from the usual ways they wrote - try a different gender, a different form, a different way of looking - and they stepped with a vengeance. The quality of the writing on the spot was high, and I have hopes that the exercises will feed into the writing that will come after.

Great stuff, Islay Writing Circle, and thank you Mavis for organising and hosting the day, and Live Literature Scotland for their financial support!

Cheers, Joan.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Port an Eas 2

You've seen the photos - you know there was motion everywhere. Well, not so much with the lichen, but otherwise in Port an Eas that day, things were on the move - great sails of clouds, the ocean all swells and troughs and pushing up onto the shingle, drag and push, drag and push, and the kelp moving under it at a different rhythm, lifing heavy heads out of the waves and disappearing again, wearied by the effort - behind, the tall waterfall that pulsed and was caught by the wind - and always at the edge of sight, the scattered dashes of shore pipits in amongst the rocks.

But this was different.

This was a sudden sleek black arc in the water, as brief as any other motion in the bay, but so much more definite. So entirely itself and nothing else. An arc ... a pause and then a little further along, it surfaced again and I caught a glimpse of back and tail ... another pause and there it was - the otter's head, whiskers stiff and busy, eyes intent on other things than gob-smacked humans on the shore. And then it was gone. That was it. Three heart-beat length sightings of otter in ocean.

This wasn't what I was on Islay for - and tomorrow I'll tell you about that - but, well, as the bard said, Phew! Cor Blimey! Wow!

Cheers, Joan.

P.S. Don't worry - I'm not planning on blogging 17 times a second as a regular sort of thing - it's just that this trip seems to be dividing itself this way, and who am I are to argue with my material?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Port an Eas, Islay

Port an Eas - Port of the Waterfall - enough beauty to fill up the wrung-out sponge of the soul all by itself AND THEN I SAW ...

Come back tomorrow and I'll tell you!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bare Bones Blog

Photo: Freeman Patterson

Quote: "The camera always looks both ways."

Cheers, Joan.

(Apologies for the sparseness. I'm in the grip of one of those lost weekends, courtesy of migraine, where you long for the light at the end of the tunnel to be, in fact, an oncoming train. Reason tells me it can't last forever.)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Date with Destino

It's always fascinating how DIFFERENT the covers for a book can be in different countries! Here's the Spanish translation of Questors - I haven't got a copy yet but as soon as I do I'll be inflicting extracts on passers-by in my best Spanish accent (which is quite a threat, really).

I'm posting over on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure today - come dance with me there!

Cheers, Joan.

Friday, October 07, 2011

As Promised, Manners for Women

The 1890s was a time of exciting and often confusing change, particularly for young women.

"The happy girls of the century-end have not such good reason for wishing to be boys as their mothers, and, more still, their grandmothers, had in their young days."

For one thing, the modern girl has escaped "The tyrannous needle [that]swallowed up their youth ... fancy-work plays no part whatever in her cheery, breezy, young existence. Very often she ignores even the needle of ordinary life, and her thimble knows her so little that it will not come when it is called. It has been left in waste places."

And, for another, "thank goodness, the piano is going out of fashion for girls in the best circles ... to the great easement of humanity."

But that doesn't mean it was all plain sailing, just a walk in the park - a lark - a laugh ...

In fact, Mrs Humphry sets aside 7 pages for this very subject: Chapter 4 - Learning to Laugh, since these breezy modern girls just don't know how to do it nicely. At the theatre, for example

"For every one whose laughter is melodious, there will be found a dozen who merely grin and half-a-dozen whose sole relief is in physical contortion. Some of the latter bend forward, folding themselves almost double, then spring back again, and repeat this jerky and ridiculous movement afresh at every joke. Others throw their heads back in a way that disagreeably suggests dislocation. ... Cachinnations in every key resound on all sides ... Cackling suggestive of the farmyard, and snorts not unreminiscent of pig-styes, produce variety. As to the grins, very few of them can be, in the remotest sense of the word, described as pleasing ... the exhibition of whole meadows of pale pink gum is inconsonant with one's ideas of beauty."

(And if all that doesn't make you so self-conscious you might never laugh again, then nothing will.)

So many things to avoid, from unfortunate centre-pieces ("I never like to see slippers as flower vases on the dinner-table.") to inappropriate weeping ("Crying is no longer fashionable. It has followed fainting into the moonlight land of half-forgotten things.") to bicycling on the wrong side of the road ("... thousands of bicyclists belong to a class which is ignorant of the charms of horse exercise, and they may be unaware that the rule of the road is exactly the opposite to that which guides pedestrians on the footpath.")

And yet there is so much to be glad of too, and, at the end of the day, "Can anything in the world be nicer than a really nice girl?"

Well, no, it can't. Now where's my thimble ...

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Manners for Men

In the third Slightly Jones Mystery - The Case of the Cambridge Mummy (due out March 2012) poor Matthew Bone gets taken in hand by Miss Sally Forth to be taught manners. So I needed to learn some first. I went looking for Victorian etiquette books and found ...

... Mrs Humphry.

I love Mrs Humphry. When I first got my hands on Manners for Men I kept sitting down to read it, and then leaping up to find some boy to read it to!

"Listen to this!" I kept yelping.

"At the breakfast table unkempt hair, untended finger-nails, and a far from immaculate collar are occasionally to be seen ... the ill-bred young man may be traced from room to room by the litter of newspapers and magazines he leaves behind him ... In this young man's own room there is chaos. The maids have endless trouble in clearing up after him ... His handkerchiefs, his socks, and collars are lying about in every corner of the room. He is too indolent even to put his boots outside the door at night that they may be cleaned in the morning. To save himself trouble he bangs all the doors instead of gently latching them."

Tell me about it, Madge.

But she is sincere in her desire to help these young hooligans and sympathises with their awkwardness and fears. Take dinner parties, for example:

"To converse with a perfect stranger is always one of the initial social accomplishments to be learned, and it is not at all an easy thing at first. It needs practice. Ninety men out of every hundred offer a remark upon the weather; but unless there had been something very extraordinary going on in the meterological line, it is better to avoice this subject if possible ..."

But what then?

"I have known a good beginning made with some such remark as, "Do you know everybody here?" This leads perhaps to the acquisition of some information as to the other guests ... The floral decorations often lead up to conversation. The colours of the flowers remind one of pictures, and the lady on one's right may be asked if she has been to any exhibitions that may be open. If so, what pictures she liked best. Does she paint? Has she read the novel of the hour? What does she think of it? Does she bike? At this rate our novice gets on swimmingly, and may safely be left to himself."

She is also happy to answer more specific questions on how to proceed:

"A young man once asked me if it would be etiquette to offer an unknown lady an umbrella in the street, supposed she stood in need of one. I replied, 'No lady would accept the offer from a stranger, and the other sort of person might never return the umbrella.'"

Sometimes it is enough to gently point out an area of weakness:

"It requires some expertness and practice for a man with a moustache to take soup in a perfectly inoffensive manner. The accomplishment is worth some trouble."

Mrs Humphry may have the knowledge, but she makes clear that there is more to becoming a gentleman than just reading the book:

"If manners are not practised at home, but are allowed to lie by until occasion calls upon their wearer to assume them, they are sure to be a bad fit when donned."

You can't argue with that.

And rest assured that Mrs Humphry did not leave the ladies to wander without assistance in the minefield of late Victorian etiquette. Next week, Manners for Women! See you then.