There is more. Oh god is there ever more.
March 10, 2014 • 12:23 pm 0
February 17, 2014 • 12:21 pm 2
Kintsugi (金継ぎ) or Kintsukuroi (金繕い) – the latter is probably more appropriate in this case but the former is more common - is the rather brilliant practice of repairing broken crockery with a glue containing gold, a practice for which like most things these days, one can purchase a kit. This is, as many people have pointed out, pretty cool. The idea behind it is that as well as preserving a useful item, you are also adding both literal value (the gold in the original resin was actual powdered gold) and metaphorical value (as the pattern of breaks and fixes are unique, making a mass-produced item into a one-of-a-kind artwork).
As I tend to shy away from smashing my crockery on purpose and don’t really have beautiful bowls like the above anyway (my cupboards have been filled by a cunning combination of novelty-themed items given as presents and random rubbish salvaged from the Sally Ally shop at £1 for Several), it did occur to me that there is another way to bring this into my life: clothes.
I have a moth problem, because I live in a moth-friendly climate and like to wear natural fibres for some mad reason; while recent measures such as “washing absolutely everything in lavender oil every time I do laundry” have apparently driven away the vile pestilence of mothkind for the time being, previous moth incursions and general wear-and-tear have left their mark.
A Uniqlo hoodie, owned now by The Resident Australian, suffered the ravages of existing on a person, and has been previously patched up with gold Anchor embroidery silks:
Recent moth-like holes have begun appearing and have been summarily dealt with:
This may seem like a lot of effort to save a hoodie, particularly an unassuming green one like this, and in truth it probably does smack as much of stubbornness as thrift or inventive, artistic problem-solving. Of course, there are also rather more expensive items that need saving:
My beloved and not-yet-worn-enough-to-justify-this Bolongaro Trevor jumper came down with a case of MASSIVE HOLES from being in the laundry basket where the EVIL MOTHS have taken to spawning, and, determined to wear it again without damaging the structural integrity of my knitwear or rocking the Joe Dick look, I took to the many holes with embroidery thread and the understanding that making my jumper look like it has been repeatedly wounded in battle will only improve it:
As scar tissue makes the body of a person more interesting and storied, so turning my jumper into a fabric recreation of the 27 wounds of Coriolanus should in theory make it a more noble, fascinating, and more of a WARRIOR GARMENT.
… Or I can at least claim no one else has one the same.
February 12, 2014 • 12:19 pm 0
I have been busy like the proverbial black and yellow flying, buzzing, non-wasp insect of late, and one particular project has been eating up a lot of my free time and braincells. It has involved a lot of embroidery, a lot of wrestling with difficult fabric, a lot of tedious decision-making, cobbling together of several different patterns, and the prerequisite heavy swearing.
COMFORTABLE JERSEY TROUSERS WITH POCKETS.
Sorry, wrong photo. I did make those as well. Really, it was:
A COMFORTABLE JERSEY TOP WITH LACE OVERLAYS ON THE SLEEVES.
Which took less than two hours from start to finish including pattern cutting, despite being a new pattern, so clearly it wasn’t actually that.
Oh yeah, it was this one.
And this was the embroidery that took me such a hellishly long time:
Oh and that white thread glows in the dark. Naturally I can already see ALL THE THINGS that are wrong with it, but for the time being I am going to luxuriate in owning a jacket that no one else owns, unless possibly they are in the RSC or something.
February 10, 2014 • 12:59 pm 0
Well, I’ve been absent, but not idle. In the one arena I’ve been enjoying this thing called “paid employment”, where people give me money in exchange for me coming and doing untaxing things for a few hours a day and taking the occasional break to write. In the other, I’ve been using those occasional breaks to generate some tests for a book I’m hoping to write (pending a large amount of frightening research, and me turning the plot from a series of vague handwaves and “key scenes” into “outlines for each day of writing”).
Test writing has always proven useful in the past, as a way of taking the characters for a spin in the world without being committed to the plot yet; it frees up the brain from the panicky sense that this absolutely must go somewhere and that all dialogue must further the plot or characterisation, leaving it free to explore character voices, imagery and idiom in the world, and the starting or finishing relationships between characters.
Writing about one to two thousand words a day for a week (it must be nearer two a day because after five days I have ten thousand words in disconnected set pieces), I’ve acquired a few locations in my head, settled some descriptions, picked up some additional cast members, and gained a better understanding of the character who is probably going to be my PoV for the book.
At first glance, through the lens of a camera, Buddy Peace was nerve-wrackingly attractive: he had a strong brow, a strong chin, huge brown eyes, black hair plastered into place with industrial quantities of hair cream, and the ability to turn a very affecting look of wounded innocence on at will. Deprived of the spotlight, he was a slender man in his middle twenties with slightly bandy legs and a little less height than leading men were expected to pull, extending his adolescence with the usual powders and grease to conceal some deepening eye circles and an apparently trenchant inability to shave thoroughly.
All the same, he was magnetic when he chose to be, and his teeth, though discoloured by heavy smoking, shone out like tiny stars in an arresting smile.
Joe said, “Miss Byrne told me you have free cigarettes.” He disliked asking for things on a profound level, preferring to make a statement and wait for his interlocutor to make the necessary connection. He thought that perhaps he had not always been so oblique, but the neediness of addiction shamed him into circumspection just now.
Buddy Peace cast a dark look at his supposed sweetheart. “Does she think I’m a fucking vending machine?” he asked without bitterness. He pointed a carton of Lucky Strike – the favoured brand of the GIs, Joe noticed without much interest – and jiggled it. “Take as many as you like.”
Joe took one.
Buddy brandished a box of matches, and made a show of lighting Joe’s smoke for him: badly. He shook the match out and shoved it back into the box, and said with a heavy sigh, “I gotta keep the matchsticks or Set get up in fucking arms. ‘Continuity’. Assholes. Who looks at the floor in movies unless someone’s lying on it?”
There’s many a slip between the test writing and the finished, edited, proof-read novel, but at this stage it’s usually possible to see some of the final form visible in areas like characterisation or scenery, and it definitely feels like a worthwhile point in the process. Happily, it’s also a stage that most people seem to gravitate to instinctively, which is probably why it doesn’t turn up much in “How to Write A Book” books (including mine).
January 27, 2014 • 2:20 pm 5
Contentious title? Contentious title. And “steal” is possibly the wrong verb, but so is “plagiarise” in this context.
What I’m talking about is often referred to as “retelling” or “modernising” or in post-modern circles occasionally mislabelled as a “pastiche”. It’s part of a very, very long literary tradition, and is for some reason now frowned on despite the basic acceptance of the idea that there are only very few actual plots in existence, into which almost every story effectively categorises itself.
Now there’s this writer, a historical fellow, greatly revered by a lot of Anglophones as one of the pinnacles of literature. Like most writers he’s not actually as much of an innovative lone wolf genius as we like to make out, but half of what sells a writer is the legend of what a tremendous trail-blazer they were and people get a bit uncomfortable if confronted with the idea that what most writers do is nick stuff. The writer in question is dear old Bill Shakespeare, who has written a lot of what might be called archetypes for future stories: the divided lovers, the deposed king (every third story in the Western canon of literature turns out to be Hamlet if you squint hard enough), the rebel prince taking his place as leader, the general who changes sides, the scheming wife who drives a murder plot, and the oft-overlooked but personal favourite of mine “that which ends in cannibalism and ladies with no hands”. I’m not saying everything he came up with has continued to be a roaring success. But his plots have been used and reused and told and retold, and he himself drew heavily both on history and mythology for his work.
I pick on Shakespeare not for shock value but because plays are a lot easier to dissect for plot elements than prose. They’re tidily divided up into Acts and Scenes, they’re designed to have a pretty clear structure for an audience of drunk people standing on straw to understand, and if you use Shakespeare instead of Stoppard you don’t have to worry about being bogged down with endless descriptions of setting and action beyond “A forest outside of so-and-so” and “Exit, pursued by a bear”.
Take a play, by anyone, but probably The Bard. He wrote a lot of them, so you’re pretty much set for finding something that will serve your purposes. You will in all probability have already seen a film which is based on it: if you’ve seen Ten Things I Hate About You you’ve seen Taming of the Shrew, if you’ve seen She’s The Man (I don’t know why you would have done but you might) you’ve seen Twelfth Night, and so on. There are also an oodleplex of faithful and less-faithful straight adaptations, modernisations, and the like to work from: Baz Luhrman might do if you don’t like Kenneth Branagh, the BBC did a collection of “re-imaginings” of Midsummer Night’s Dream (execrable), Macbeth (passable), Much Ado About Nothing (admirable), and The Taming of the Shrew (delectable), and if you’re feeling the need for classic cinema there’s always the 1952 Julius Caesar in which Marlon Brando’s intense frown plays Mark Antony and the rest of him follows underneath like a confused and muscular basket beneath a balloon made of eyebrows.
My point is, take one of these bad boys, and have a look at the plot. What happens in each act? You don’t even need to figure that out for yourself because there are approximately ten billion summaries of every single play on the internet. You should be able to find a summary without any problems at all: what happens in each act? How does one thing lead to another? Who has which information when – how much earlier do the audience have the information than the characters themselves? Which decisions cause the characters the most grief?
Now you pretty much have the skeleton of a story. You can choose to lop off the pieces that you don’t like, or adapt them: Ten Things I Hate About You took “Bianca cannot marry until her sister has been married because girls are married off in the order of their birth” and turned it into “Bianca’s father makes a fatuous bargain designed to prevent his younger daughter from pregnancy and she takes it literally”; it’s quite possible to remove all kinds of apparently-essential points from the plot and have it still function as an idea. You can remove characters, scenes, concepts, historical eras, and run the same plot on radically different rails.
In fanfic, there is a great sub-section devoted to alternate universes, where the characters are re-imagined in a different setting and lead different lives, while still retaining the core personality traits and appearance which is believed to define them. There is race-bending, a brilliant reaction to the unnecessarily white predominance in characters in Western Media, where iconic characters are redrawn and rewritten as people with the same skills and rough storyline, but a different racial background, and all that their different experience of society would have changed. These acts of imagining when developing character are the kind of balancing acts that you need to take when working on your ability to plot.
Give yourself a new cast and a new setting, take a very familiar plot, and work out how it would run, given these people, and this world, instead of what was provided at the time. Myths and legends are great for this, but often the plot is vague or too short and lacking in subshoots to be a useful guide which is again why I tend to use Shakespeare as an example: there is no actual need to stick specifically to him, if there is another playwright you prefer who can be used in the same way.
One thing which is extremely helpful in running this exercise is seeing how long each scene and act takes to get through, which means watching an adaptation can be vital: it helps you to judge whether that section should have been longer or shorter, how important it was to the overall story, and whether or not it should be included, altered, or followed faithfully.
How does this improve your own plotting?
By giving you an idea of how a deeply successful storyteller has ordered events and where they place moments of crisis along the line of the narrative, you familiarise yourself with the ebb and flow of tensions inside a story, the push and shove of causality, and how to turn the inevitable into the dramatic. It’s also a great exercise in editing: given a critical look at the failings in the playwright, it’s possible to fill in his gaps, and assure yourself that a story with weaknesses (for example, important deaths taking place off-stage due to the constraints of Elizabethan theatre, perhaps) can be made stronger not only by throwing out the unnecessary or changing the faces of the actors but also by giving more meat and heft to pre-existing sections.
And please don’t feel that it’s an unproductive exercise: if you look, you’ll find plenty of published novels which are essentially reworkings of Shakespearean stories, Greek myths, and folk tales – there are, after all, only a few plots – and a good writer can stretch those few plots an awfully long way.
January 20, 2014 • 11:55 am 2
Emphasis very heavily on the “sketch” this time: occasionally I like to take a photo or screencap and blow it up until the image is no longer distinguishable, and then just trace areas of major colour change, and then shrink it back down to see if it is a coherent picture. This time a screenshot from Eastern Promises (2007, dir. David Cronenberg, starring Naomi Watts, Viggo Mortensen, and Vincent Cassel).
Then on to drawing from a statue, this time Emmanuel Frémiet’s Pan and Bear Cubs, which people have very obligingly photographed from a variety of angles (I can’t go and look at it myself as it’s in the Musée d’Orsay and my travelcard only goes to zone 3):
I did actually try one from the front as well but it turns out I am a lot better at drawing dainty goat legs than I am at drawing a) bears and b) human faces, which has troubling implications. Pan ended up looking somewhat cross-eyed and a little piqued and the bear looked as if it had just crash-landed from Jupiter, so I shall not be posting that one!
January 14, 2014 • 11:50 am 0
It’s probably best if we don’t go into why or how I did this.
January 13, 2014 • 1:22 pm 1
As you might expect from someone who has an entire book case full of books about London, and has written so far two novels (one available, the other wobbling around agencies like a lost lamb) and one poetry collection (also available) about the city, I have a lot of time for the various attractions of the lands within the M25 (and usually very little time for anything that happens outside of it, my apologies to Cambridge, Oxford, Brighton, and Edinburgh, which I quite like, and absolutely no apologies to the post-apocalyptic hell-hole of Plymouth, where I grew up).
Tragically impoverished by my own decision to be an occasional data jockey and full-time fiction-pusher rather than, oh, a stock-broker or a corporate lawyer or even a nanny (I hear £32k plus living expenses is not unheard-of for baby-wranglers), I can’t always haul myself to the wonders of my city and let the glorious jewel of the South East rain down its entertainments on me, making reading Londonist.com a nightmare of temptation.
But I do leave my lair occasionally, and I like to share, so: Eat, Drink, and Better Yourself with me.
Just three recommendations, one from each category, but hopefully I’ll be able to come back and make more posts on this theme.
Have you just hurtled into Kings Cross with a moderately empty wallet and are you absolutely starving and do you definitely not want to walk ten million miles and do you like tapas? If you can fulfil the criteria “I like tapas”, you will like Camino. If you cannot for definite fulfil that criteria, Camino is probably a good place to find out if you like tapas.
I have been to the Kings Cross branch twice, and both times spent my time sheltering from the rain (welcome to England, this is our speciality) and enjoying pleasant morsels of serious flavours under a sodding big glass dome, getting friendly service, and not coming away wishing that I had some sort of private banking collective backing me for lunch.
There are however bead curtains across the toilet doors which are possibly designed to trap you in there forever.
Have you been indulging in the weird mixture of architectural styles in the vicinity of Barbican? Do you now desperately need to sit down and have a drink and wait for your brain to process 20th Century visions of the vanished future butting up against medieval churches? Do you like gin? Most important: do you like gin?
You do like gin. Fantastic! I fucking love gin, and the Gin Joint in the Barbican Centre likes to provide gin. It has a range of exciting cocktails, most of which I hadn’t tried before, a huge array of gins, a slightly frightening price list that’s not too unusual for Central London, and unfortunately quite frosty service. If you, however, do not show up with about 20 people and a face full of piercings, the staff may be a little more forthcoming.
As an added bonus, it’s about thirty seconds away from a panoply of plays and exhibitions in the rest of the Barbican Centre, so if you feel yourself overcome with the sudden need to enjoy the arts, they’re right there.
How dare you, you’re thinking. I am already a completely flawless member of the human race. You may well be an excellent specimen of Homo sapiens, but do you know anything about the history of Haringey? Do you know about the inventors, the war heroes, the artists? What about the vast organ and Prisoner of War camp at Alexandra Palace? The construction of the New River (which is neither new, nor strictly speaking a river)? Do you know about the history of Roman occupation?
If you already do then still visit Bruce Castle Museum, because it’s free, in a very sweet little building, and jammed with tiny rooms full of sudden surprises and fragments of the borough’s past that might take you very much by surprise. Worth it entirely for the hellish racket of the Jazz Bagpipe Organ alone.
Bruce Castle Museum is also right next to Tottenham Cemetery, which contains a broad slew of different mortuary styles from different eras, and a rather nice lake.