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Kintsugi: the cloth variation.

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).

It has a great deal of potential.

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:

hoodie sleeve

Recent moth-like holes have begun appearing and have been summarily dealt with:

hoodie pocket

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:

Bolongaro Trevor and I have a horrible relationship where I throw them money and they make me clothes which are typically slightly too small for me to justify giving them money.

Bolongaro Trevor and I have a horrible relationship where I throw them money and they make me clothes which are typically slightly too small for me to justify giving them money.

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:

Scar tissue

A combination of red and gold thread together.

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.

'Look, sir, my wounds!  I got them in my country's service, when  Some certain of your brethren roar'd and ran  From the noise of our own drums.'

‘Look, sir, my wounds!
I got them in my country’s service, when
Some certain of your brethren roar’d and ran
From the noise of our own drums.’

… Or I can at least claim no one else has one the same.

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Gone, but not forgotten: test writing.

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).

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How To Steal Your Way To Being A Better Writer

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”.

The exercise

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.

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For Some Reason the London Tourism Board Still Don’t Pay Me: Places To Eat, Drink, and Better Yourself in London

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.

EAT

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.

DRINK

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.

BETTER YOURSELF

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.

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Links Post December

Things I have done

Things strangers have done

  • Mapped London’s independent bookshops, to help anyone who wants to support independent businesses and get their books from sources that actually pay their taxes.
  • Provided a handy guide to embroidery needles, which helped me somewhat when I managed to snap one of mine in half while trying to straighten it after my ham hands bent it.
  • Sold very posh perfumes in imp sizes (2 ml bottles) for the impoverished and curious.
  • Collected together the very best and most innovative tattoos from around the world. Lots of material for inspiration here, although as the curator of the blog says, don’t copy anything directly – original work always looks better.
  • Posted about her exploits as an artist-in-residence at McMurdo, which involve a lot of penguins.
  • Put up a short guide to the colourful and weird slang of 1920s America. This should hopefully prove useful if I ever get onto my prohibition-era noir pulp thing with alien pregnancies that I have small plans to write.

That’s about it from me for this year. See you in 2014!

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Ways Into World-Building

At a recent event, one of the questions raised by other participants at the writers’ surgery was that of world-building, reminding me again that for some reason not everyone spends the majority of their waking life engaged in ironing out logical creases in a world of their own devising (or several worlds), and that like all unfamiliar tasks, at first jumping into doing this can seem quite daunting to those that don’t do it.

There are any number of ways to winkle open the shell of a new world in order to make sense of it:

If you’re the kind of writer who finds it easiest to come up with a character rather than the other elements of the story, all you need to do is work out what has made them the person that they are. Find the parts of them that have been broken or abraded and then deduce how: was she abducted by pirates? Great! This world has piracy. How common is it? Where was she living when she was abducted? How did they react? Where is the piracy concentrated around? What is the official response from the monarchy or government? Is there a governing body where your character comes from? How does it work?

As you can see, a lot of world-building – indeed, a lot of writing in general – comes from seeking answers for questions that arise as a logical consequence of previous ones. Finding the right question to start them off is the key, and fortunately there are a lot of “right questions” to choose from. Sometimes telling a friend – or a stranger on a train – about the germ of your story is a good way to get those questions rolling in, and can help a lot in finding unanswered nagging problems you may have overlooked in your close examination of the world.

Maybe you’re a plot-driven writer. The obstacles that come up, and the antagonism your characters are up against, will also tell you about the world that they’re involved in. Stuck on the wrong side of a mountain range? This is when you find out what level of technology your world has. Hero has to battle a five-headed dragon? There are dragons in this world! How common are they? Do people know they exist? What methods have people developed for dealing with dragons? How intelligent are the dragons? Are five-headed dragons usual or unusual? What folklore is there about them and how accurate is it? Perhaps your hero’s found herself thrown into a dungeon: where’s the dungeon, what’s the legal and judicial system of that place like, what are the loopholes in it, and how has that helped to shape the way the people in that place behave?

Even if you’re the kind of writer who finds that you get your seeds in the form of snatches of dialogue, there’s a way in. The way people talk tells us a lot about their culture. For example, in English, the language still shows the marks of over 1,400 years of Christianity. Even now, non-religious people exclaim ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘for Pete’s sake’ (after St Peter), or ‘bloody hell’. This example isn’t to imply that you have to concentrate exclusively on religion, either: it’s true of every idiom that what’s important or reviled in a culture seeps in, what’s admired becomes transmuted to imply admiration in other quarters. “Three sheets to the wind” as a euphemism for drunkenness comes from a sailing nation, and has less resonance if you’re landlocked and desert-based. Beautiful women are said to ‘walk with an elephant’s gait‘ in some parts of our world, drawing on the known delicacy and elegance of the elephant’s tread, and the way that this very valuable animal can pass through a forest without snapping a single twig if she chooses. Imagine that the same compliment were paid to someone whose only knowledge of an elephant is that it is very heavy: not quite the same effect! Turns of phrase can provide an immediate in, as can questions about where and why the conversation is taking place, who is holding it, and what will happen if they are found out.

A detailed and convincing fictional world will always be aided by a detailed and broad-running understanding of our world. Reading dribs and drabs of history – preferably from sources who like to join the dots to show how the loss of one crucial city led to the ‘discovery’ of a new continent, or how the defeat of an armada led to the confidence to form an empire, which had other drastic effects further on down the line – is a great way to start. Remembering that every culture within every given world has a different view of how history happened is another; not just creation myths, but the outcomes of battles (and which battles they remember), which interactions are deemed important, and the costs of them. Remembering that even in our one world there are countless ways that people have come together to solve the problems of existing in their environment and against the pressures put upon them by natural disasters and hostile neighbours; using these differences as a springboard, but never copying them. If you must draw on a cultural history for world-building it’s always advisable to look back into the history of your own culture: there will be surprises in there, dead ends you can pursue to other logical conclusions (what if Britain had successfully remained a republic in the 17th century?). There are always fascinating elements strewn throughout the history of the world, but never pull a George Lucas: don’t assume that because the fascinating headgear of Mongolian monarchs is alien to you, that someone else reading won’t immediately recognise it.

World-building is the place where the glorious free-form flights of your unbridled imagination meet with the bridle of logic and consequence and come together to form, I guess, a chariot of convincing story and setting. Enjoy that strained metaphor: it probably came from a culture that’s had a long historical reliance on horses.

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The Present Narrator: a preference out of time?

In writing The Circle this November I tried out a thing which I have been interested in for a while and which I suspect may be verboten in some people’s books: having a narrator who has a character of their own, and isn’t part of the story (and thus an omniscient-third for the narration).

In first-person stories the narrator is usually expected to be the protagonist and usually the hero, and sometimes (such as Maria McCann’s sublime As Meat Loves Salt, and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita) the author will play with this expectation of heroism and the narrator-protagonist is revealed to be the monster of the piece all along; this is often done through the use of an unreliable narrator, one of my favourite kinds. These stories allow the author to force the reader to use their head a little more instead of being carried along on the tide of the narrative: one is supposed to stop and apply a formula of “wait but he/she said this earlier” or “remember not to trust this person”; there is even comedy, in some cases, in the dissonance between the narrator’s perception of the event and the evidence of the event as seen without the distorting filter of their reality. I have two first-person stories (Tame, The Breaking of M) as Melissa Snowndon and one (Protect Me From What I Want) in which the dissonance between the narrator’s statements about themselves and their evident behaviour are supposed to be the source of humour and occasional tragedy. The gap between what a narrator is prepared to reveal about themselves and what they have actually revealed in relating their own behaviour can make for compelling reading as the riddle of a personality is solved.

In close-third the voice and beliefs of the character should seep through more subtly: this type of narration seems to cause a lot of confusion among readers, with angry reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads suggesting that the story represents the belief of the author rather than the belief of the viewpoint character (not always the same thing: I have just after all spent a month writing from the perspective of several white Edwardian men of reasonable means and their social norms are not my social norms); then again there are those who are determined that Nabokov must share every expression opinion with Humbert Humbert, so I’m not sure it’s so much a flaw in the narration form as it is a flaw in the intelligence of the reader. I’ve used multiple-viewpoint close-third for Pass the Parcel, in which it is directly possible to see from one section to the next the difference between how someone sees themselves and how others see them; and single-viewpoint close-third for The Other Daughter, which to my mind created a claustrophobic and traumatic narrative in which it was often impossible to see what was coming until it was almost upon the reader. This is a limitation which needn’t be a limitation: seeding the narrative with oncoming tragedy/events that the reader will spot even while the viewpoint character does not is a common enough trick.

The present narrator – that is, a third-person omniscient narrator whose character and voice is such that they become a distinctive part of the story, holding opinions or leading the gaze of the reader rather than merely dumping the events on them as if this occurred naturally – is in my memory associated with children’s fiction (specifically the works of Roald Dahl and C S Lewis, upon whose work I unfortunately cut my teeth, along with a slew of books by Tolkien, Dick King Smith, Colin Dann, Willard Price, and Hugh Lofting, rendering me infinitely “problematic” in the idiom of the current age), and with comedy (Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which breaks a lot of fiction-writing “rules” and is the better for it).  By “present” I mean “here” rather than “in this moment” (that would be the present tense).

Throughout my education and the proliferation of articles about fiction, and conversations with friends,  I’ve been exposed to the idea that a present narrator is a quaint anomaly, a relic of another time, shoved in the corner along with Improving Fiction and Gothic Horror as curiosities of the past. I am rather fond of the Present Narrator. I am rather fond of first person narration also; it holds up well for War of the Worlds, and the Present Narrator handing over to the first person in The Time Machine lends the story a certain air of credibility. It’s not just H G Wells – as mentioned above there are authors whose stock-in-trade involves the presence of the narrator, pointing at things, judging the characters, making jokes at their expense, or simply telling the reader that X character is a big liar. In terms of readerly difficulty, then, perhaps it is – or is seen as – the entry-level. It separates the beliefs of the narrator from the beliefs of the characters; it tells the reader when the character is wrong or being mendacious or will be proven wrong later. No alarms, no surprises: except it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Present Narrator, like the first-person narrator, the third-person-close-narration, comes with its own set of expectations. We expect the Present Narrator to have the whole story. We expect them, the conduit to the fictional world, to tell us the “truth”, while pointing out the lies of the characters; we expect them to be on our side, if not that of the characters; we expect them to perhaps mislead us a little, but not a lot.

Knowledge of expectations from a certain format in writing is an invitation to overturn them.

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How To Not Die Of Winter (Part 1 of however many).

Winter is inching closer and in anticipation of the cold I have a cold.

Not to worry, as I also have combination of ideas which will if not make me feel better then at least distract me from being an entity constructed entirely out of sore throat, earache, rogue mucus, and barking coughs:

The first part is from an idea I saw circulating on that pernicious time sink, Tumblr.com, and it is ideas like this and photographs of pretty crystals which have prevented me from flouncing away from that appalling lavatory of the internet in favour of slightly less time-wasting wastes of time.

ingredients part one

These are the principal ingredients of that first, cribbed part:

  • Fresh, peeled chunks of ginger
  • A sliced lemon
  • However many types of honey you like (I actually also used a tin of honey someone sent me from Norway as well, which was conveniently much runnier).

    like so

    like so

Put lemon slices and ginger bits in a jar. Fill up the remaining space with honey. Give it a shake.

The honey should engulf the lemon and ginger. The reason for this is that honey is a preservative; “sweet burial” used to refer to preserving a corpse in honey, and honey – edible honey – a few thousand years old has been found in pots in various places. It does not go off. If your honey has gone lumpy and has a weird slightly gritty texture, it has just crystalised or separated due to cold and will return to its previous character if you bung it in the microwave or heat it up in some other way. Naturally this is an excellent way to preserve the other ingredients, but it isn’t the only purpose of the honey: it’s also a natural topical antibiotic (as you will know if you read that link up there). This is pretty useful for horrible sore throats, and it has the bonus of tasting a lot nicer than most throat medicine. Lemon contains a mild quantity of vitamin C, which you almost certainly don’t get enough of, and ginger’s just generally good for you.

If you’re at work or don’t like booze you just stick with this part: plonk a tablespoon full in a mug of boiling water (make sure there’s some lemon and ginger bits in there too) and you have a lovely hot drink. Everyone knows this.

However, I don’t really believe in drinking things that don’t have alcohol in them if I can possibly avoid it, in part because we all know water is evil and teeming with microbes and only the sainted touch of spirits can cure that, and in part because being slightly fuzzy all the time is the only way to cope with the terrible echoing knowledge that we are alone in the universe and everyone apart from you (yes, you, just you) is an idiot and probably dangerous.

Part two is for drinking when you are not at work:

pictured empty with good reason

pictured empty with good reason

The alcohol mix goes in with the tea. My measurements are inexact, but it’s roughly equal parts Fireball (cinnamon whisky), ginger wine (do not use the non-alcoholic sort, that undermines the purpose), and Aberlour whisky (or other scotch) at about half the amount of the other two because it is more expensive and less sweet. I put between 25 and 50ml in with the tea and achieve blessed respite from the dreaded darkness of the dead days of the year.

I suggest keeping it pre-mixed in a bottle for days when you can’t be bothered to do anything much more complex than cry about the fact that it is -4C and there is freezing fog outside:

booze mix, in a water bottle of water that i bought from tesco specifically because i liked the bottle.

booze mix, in a water bottle of water that i bought from tesco specifically because i liked the bottle.

Future posts about the hideous death of summer and light may include advice on how to stuff yourself with carbs, where to buy full-spectrum lightbulbs, and why it is legal to kill anyone who says they’re looking forwards to the nights drawing in.

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August Links Post

Things other people have done

  • Designed, and funded, a 3D-printer that runs on recycled rubbish as its “ink”. Part of me, which still remembers dot matrix daisy-wheel printers as the norm and is still secretly excited by laser printers even though I’ve owned one for 10 years (the same one, which is getting a bit doddery now), steadfastly refuses to believe that 3-D printing is a real thing. This is in spite of owning a piece of jewellery and a random thingamy both 3-D printed from metals. It’s strange to find yourself living in the future.
  • Started printing tiny 3-D versions of people from photographs for no apparent reason.
  • Written a witty and accessible article myth-busting on some common misconceptions about the Vikings.
  • In Texas, some glorious people have converted a disused/abandoned Walmart into the world’s largest public library. Well done.
  • Created a pen out of a pen nib out of a beer can, and made a tutorial about it.
  • Set up a fantastic thing called Forage London, which encourages us urban parasites to look at wild plants and actually use them! Something I’ve done since I was a kid but which is apparently in need of a resurgence.
  • Brilliantly transformed some chaps with long hair into Guys With Fancy Lady Hair, thus scaling back my recent objections to man-tails and reviving my adolescent interest in fellas with long locks.
  • Written a beautiful article about the genius of The Young Ones, one of my favourite sitcoms in TV history.
  • Unearthed a forgotten sporting hero from Britain’s past, Cuthbert Ottaway, who as well as revelling in an absurd name which gives Benedict Cumberbatch a run for his money, also served as the first England football captain and “once shared a 150-run partnership with WG Grace in the highest level of cricket.” He was also a Barrister, and died at 28, presumably leaving most modern gentlemen feeling that they’d achieved nothing in their lives.
  • Made a synaesthetic map of the Tube.

Things People I Know Have Done

  • Made a redbubble account after I nagged them a lot to. Ossifier is the photographer responsible for the cover of Saint Grimbald’s Men, and has a lot of other very beautiful pictures to her credit. Worth checking out for postcards and prints.

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July Links Post

Things Other People Have Done

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