Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Publish or perish

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
This week, I plan to be completely insufferable, bragging about my accomplishments in various fields. So, consider yourself warned.

Would you believe it, it is still summer here – though what was threatening to become the driest July ever (or something) was cancelled in the nick of time, on the 30th, with thunder, rain, hail and sunshine all at once.

So, the popular saying about the weather on someone’s birthday reflecting that person’s behaviour, good or bad, during the previous year, came into effect, as Victor turned 15 that day. We agreed, though, that the bad part of it was caused by the leader of the right-wing Danish People’s Party ...
And it was still warm enough that we could sit outdoors at the restaurant in the evening, with my parents, my sister & brother-in-law, and the niblings running around.
The next day offered more rain (let’s not blame J. K. Rowling for that!) – and then Friday turned out to be the hottest day of the summer, with temperatures over 30° C in several places, and followed by what is termed a ‘tropical night’, during which the temperature does not drop below 20°. And true enough, it was 21° at 7.30 Saturday morning.

All in all, I have been practising my hot weather running – in theory, I should probably get my, um, self out of bed much earlier to run, but ... not really happening. So the Saturday morning run was tough: 22°, luckily with a stiff breeze, but still, I went in search of the shade.
I am beginning to look forward to the crisp September air – though when it comes, autumn and rain and darkness won’t be far off, so I’ll probably be grumbling about that. So it goes.

Last week, I told you about the July Short Story contest in the Fiction Writers’ Guild on LinkedIn – well, the votes have been counted, and my story came in 3rd out of the thirty stories!
That was surprising, and gratifying, and somewhat worrying; I have to ignore all that when writing next month’s story and not expect anything.
 Anyway, here it is, so you can judge for yourself:

All In A Day’s Work

I wake up soaked in sweat. The light filtering in speaks of morning, though the alarm clock by my bed insists that it is only 4:18. Nothing unusual in that: this is summer, the white nights when the sun sets for only a few hours and it never gets really dark. I struggle out of the damp, clinging sheet and push the window further open, hoping for a cool dawn breeze. But no, the air is as still and arid as it has been for several weeks now, and even the birds, normally so annoyingly bright and cheerful at this hour, seem mugged.
I decide to get in my morning run before the temperature rises any higher, so I get into the smallest possible running gear that is still decent, drink as much water as I can stomach, and set out.
I run every day; in my line of work, running is not a fashionable leisure activity, but a survival skill. I would rather not begin to count the number of times I have been saved by my ability to run away from someone or something nasty that wanted to do unspeakable things to me – and I am not being Victorian here, I really do mean unspeakable.

Quite a few other runners are out and about this early, working around the altered weather conditions.
We are all trying to adapt, Vikings getting used to a tropical life – well, not tropical, exactly, the last few winters have been exceptionally cold, with frost and masses of snow lasting well into April. Then a sudden, short spring sets in, and summer right on its heels. The meteorologists have had to come up with a new definition of ‘heat wave’; the old one consisting of three days in a row over 28° C has become a joke, when we have temperatures well into the thirties for weeks on end, months even. And droughts to rival the Australian outback.

And today is The Day, Friday the 13th of July, when everything has to be resolved or the world go to hell in a handbasket.
It is going to be a long day.

When I return, a black cat is sitting on the garden fence glaring at me. ‘Hello, Shadow,’ I say. No reply. He is understandably put out by my blatant selfishness in not feeding him before going out. I point out that he wasn’t around, but he refuses to speak to me until I have given him a whole tin of tuna.
Yes, I know, I’m a cliché: a witch with a talking black cat. So sue me.

After a cool shower and a big mug of coffee, I set about gathering the appropriate spells and ingredients for today’s work. Shadow, with the sense of occasion so peculiar to cats, paws at my knitting, but gives it up when I ignore him. I cannot be bothered about losing a woollen sock right now. The circle at the bottom of my garden needs to be fortified, so that’s where I’ll begin.
A circle of smallish granite menhirs sits unobtrusively inside a copse of oak trees, planted in concentric circles. Oaks are the strongest and most powerful of trees, drawing ancient powers from the soil and storing them in their massive boles. It is no coincidence that the Druids of Gaul and Britannia revered the oak above all other trees.
And I am going to need those powers to bind and hold the force that is causing this havoc to our climate. For I know now what it is: a Khaos being, an incorporeal will using its temporary liberty only to disrupt and destroy – not from any active malevolence or ill will towards mankind, mind you, just for the kicks.
Wearing nothing but a loose-flowing silk robe – even that feels like a fur coat today – I trace the inner circumference of the menhirs with salt, leaving a small opening. Next, I trace the outer circumference in the same manner, weaving binding spells into the lines. I place a silver bowl in the centre of the multiple circles and with my silver athame cut open my left palm. I let my blood drip into the bowl and then wrap a cloth around my hand: no drop must be allowed to fall on the ground inside or outside of the circle. I step out carefully, closing first the inner and then the outer salt circles with locking spells.
Only blood will summon the Khaos creature; salt and stone and oak will hold it.
I hope.

When I begin the summoning chant, smoke rises from the bowl of blood; wispy at first, but gradually, it grows into a thick, spiralling column, reeking darkly of gore and rot. The Khaos being resists the summoning, fights against the binding. My muscles ache, my joints feel like they are on fire. Still, I chant. The spell must not be broken before the binding is complete.
After what feels like days, the howling of the smoke subsides, and the column itself dwindles down to a puddle inside the bowl. I feel the grip on me relax, and I have to work not to sink into a puddle myself.
I tremble and then realise that it is the ground beneath me: the granite menhirs are shaken, begin to sway and then topple inwards, crumbling. All around me, the massive oaks are swaying and groaning. I manage to pick myself up and run, away from the circle, before the innermost ring of oaks creaking and cracking fall on top of the stone debris.
When the rumbling stops, a dust cloud hovers over a jumbled pile of stone and wood, slowly settling in the still, dry midday air.

Exhausted, I have another cool shower and a nap.

I wake up covered in goosebumps. A cool afternoon breeze carries the scent of rain into my room.

© 2013 Dorthe Møller Christensen

The Knitting
First, the patterns – I managed to finish Victor’s jumper in time for his birthday, and even got the pattern up on Ravelry.
Too hot for wool, but he performed nicely :o)
And just to continue the self-promotion: the pattern for the Elanor cardigan is finally done and published; I threw in the little hat pattern for free. Not surprisingly, the free pattern had 64 downloads after less than a day, while the paid-for cardigan had several ‘faves’ (little pink hearts), but no sales as yet.

The obvious part here is, of course, that the free stuff is downloaded more than the paid-for, not that I take the popularity of my stuff for granted.
Oh, and I don't think I've mentioned the provenance of the name: Elanor the Fair is the first-born daughter of Master Samwise Gamgee.

As far as knitting goes, I am working happily on the lace shawl I mentioned last week, while checking the written pattern and its translation for typos and correcting errors found by my sister.
It’s odd, the difference between improvising something and working from a pattern, even your own pattern: while I was making it up, it flowed organically, and I had to remember writing notes once in a while before I forgot what I had been doing. Now, I read a line in the pattern, follow that, and have to think about what is going on. Weird. But it is a pleasant knit, if I may say so myself, and soon done.

My other project right now is something for Laura, who will be 4 years old in two weeks exactly. More on this later, as always.

So, I still have a wish to decrease my number of wips; so far, I finished one thing and cast on another. And I will be casting on more things in the foreseeable future, as I will need some new nice jumpers and/or cardigans for work – that’s my excuse, anyway.

The Books
On the Forgotten Classics podcast, I am listening to The Mouse in the Mountain by Norbert Davis; this is my first encounter with the crime-fighting duo Doan & Carstairs – or whatever their agenda may actually be. The story takes place in Mexico in the 1940’s, during a sight-seeing trip to a picturesque village in the mountains; murders ensue, and it remains to be seen how the fat detective and his huge Great Dane will come out of it all.
If you like Agatha Christie mysteries and dogs, this may be something for you; Carstairs is no Scooby-Doo, though he does have a distinct personality.

Over on CraftLit, Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is running, and I managed to get the first five episodes in at one go – I was catching up on podcasts generally after Canterbury Tales and Bleak House. The story is set in New York in the 1870’s, dealing with the rigid social structure in the upper class and the narrow circles consisting of the ‘right’ families, in which it is difficult to manoeuvre and nearly impossible to be accepted.
Wharton of course satirises over the shallow, but stern dictates of the fashion – much like Dickens does in Bleak House – and at the same time keeps a watchful and caring eye on the victims of these constraints.

By the laws of synchronicity, I have been reading about the upper spheres of another society where name, family, and fortune were all-important: ancient Rome.
One of the arguably oldest families, the Iulii, traced their ancestry back to Iulus, the son of Aeneas and Lavinia, Aeneas being himself the son of the goddess Venus. Quite a pedigree.
And the most famous of all Iulii was, of course, Gaius Iulius Caesar, who in 44 BCE was murdered for – maybe – wanting to be king. He did draw a worrying large number of offices and thus a large amount of power into his one person, political, administrative, military, and religious power; the senate and the people bestowed honours on him that befitted a god, and even though he – in a possibly staged display – refused the crown, he did wield all of the might of a monarch. So they killed him, to save the res publica, and what they got was chaos, civil war, and an emperor. So it goes.
Anyway, I have been reading Caesar by Peter Ørsted. Caesar is, of course, always hugely interesting, whether you like him or not; he must have been a fascinating person, charming and scary at the same time.
But this book, not so much. No doubt a lot of research has gone into it: we get the history, the wars and politics, the system, and lots of quotes from ancient historians and philosophers, including Cicero and Caesar himself.
I found the tone too familiar; biography writing is always personal, of course, since the biographer needs must find the subject interesting, whether in a positive or a negative way. In this case, though, the writer is too present; mostly so in the prologue that takes place in a small town in Spain to which the writer has travelled in Caesar’s footsteps. Scattered throughout the narrative are a lot of personal reflections, too many I thinks – if you want to do that much conjecture, write a novel. Really. And it seems somehow at least one round of editing was forgotten.
So: great man, not so great book.

Nevertheless, I felt inspired to re-read Colleen McCullough’s series Masters of Rome, beginning with The First Man in Rome – who is not Caesar, but his uncle Gaius Marius. (Note the absence of a third name, a cognomen: Marius was a nobody, a homo novus, and one of the very, very few of the kind to achieve the highest post in the Roman magistracy and become consul. So, not really a nobody, only in the sense of not belonging to one of the ancient families.)
I have recommended this series before; here, we do have the novel writer’s approach and freedom to imagine thoughts, feelings, and motivations. I ought to mention that McCullough is pro-Caesar: the nasty rumours about his sexual proclivities – which were probably true – and his attitude to world domination are all explained in a positive light.

I finished also The Gallows Curse by Karen Maitland; the narrator is a female mandrake, which already gives you an inkling of what to expect. The story, set in mediaeval England – Norwich in 1210 – is a whodunit, a spy thriller, and a love story, with elements of the grotesque and the supernatural. Great fun.

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger is a graphic novel, or rather novella, based on a short story about a young woman who by chance encounters a bookmobile in the night streets of Chicago. I gave it to my sister for her birthday, having found it on her amazon wishlist and knowing how she loved Her Fearful Symmetry and The Time Traveler’s Wife; and she kindly let me read it, too.
The young woman in the story, Alexandra, finds that the books in this particular bookmobile are all the books she has ever read, including her own diary; and after being shooed out at dawn (it is a night bookmobile, after all), she searches for the bookmobile again to return and preferably stay there, among the shelves of books, the familiar smell of paper and dust – and a bit of wet dog.
I won’t spoil the story by telling you anymore, but I will recommend it.

Embarking on this book, as with every other book, I went to goodreads to place it on my virtual book shelf, among all the other books that I have read; for that is the function of these virtual libraries, isn’t it, to let us imagine walking between rows of shelves of books, smelling the paper and the dust, and the whiff of wet dog. Now, all we need is a plug-in to this particular corner of the Matrix, and all would be well.
Or not.

Well, that’s it for this week – I do hope you are enjoying your summer (or winter, if you are of the southerly persuasion). I will be back next week, and until then: keep happy, keep healthy, keep crafting!

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