Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, December 8, 2013

December Fun

Hello everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
I feel like I have nothing to write about this week: all my knitting is Christmas knitting and thus secret; I haven’t done anything exciting or thought any profound thoughts; and I am reading a bunch of books all in a jumble, trying to catch up with my Goodreads challenge.

I had the last classes of the semester this week, and the exams are done and sent. So I have no more work until I get the exams back on the 20th or thereabouts. Apart, of course, from figuring out what to read next semester ...

We had a storm on Thursday, raising water levels along the West coast and in the internal straits. Living as far inland as you can get around here, we only had the winds, no flooding.
Thomas got home early, though, when his school was closed.

Victor was going out in the evening to a school board Christmas dinner meeting at a restaurant downtown; I didn’t like the thought of him walking to the bus stop and waiting there with tree branches being tossed about, so I drove him. As we approached the restaurant, an ambulance was pulling away. It turned out that one of the ornaments hanging between buildings in the pedestrian street area had been blown down and hit someone on the head. Good thing Victor wasn’t out walking there!

So, I went back home, made dinner and then read (and knitted) until Victor sent me a text just after 10 o’clock: ‘Want to go driving in the snow?’
Snow? Yep, the storm was now a snowstorm. Careful driving ... when I got to the restaurant again, the wind had dropped temporarily, and the street ornaments were innocently lighting up the pristine snow. Victor was outside tossing snowballs. It was a winter wonderland idyll.

Anyway, it stopped snowing, and the wind picked up again, gradually subsiding during Friday. The remains of the snowfall were washed away by the rain today. Not so pretty winter weather.

The Knitting
As mentioned, it’s all Christmas knitting, and rather frantic at that. I had decided, sometime around December last year, to NOT knit for Christmas – or not for everybody, at least, maybe a few items. Then I got the teaching gig and scaled down my plans even more; and entering NaNoWriMo, I practically dropped all but four gift knits.
Well, I emerged from under the NaNoWriMo rock, December arrived, and the Christmas knitting plans blossomed ... Ideas keep cropping up, completely ignoring the rapidly dwindling number of days until the big evening. So, I am busily knitting secret stuff.

No, wait, I did knit something for public viewing: a bunch of hand-dyed Hexipuffs for the Great Ormond Street Hospital blanket. Quite pretty, if I may say so myself.

The Books
Most of this year, I have been ahead of schedule on the Goodreads challenge, preparing for November. Still, I managed to fall behind; as of now by two books. So, I am doing what I do when Christmas knitting: I am reading a whole bunch of books at once. Because more books at once means you’ll finish them faster, right? Just like having five active wips lying around means you’ll knit faster.
So, here’s the list:

I am dusting off my Greek, which has been sitting neglected in a corner for about a decade, by reading through a grammar and a book for beginners. These are called BASIS and PROLOGOS (yes, in capital letters); I’m reading them in conjunction and surprising myself at how easy Greek is.

The last so far of the Gaunt’s Ghosts novels by Dan Abnett is Salvation’s Reach, living up to, if not surpassing, the standard of the series as a whole.

On the audio side, I’m listening to Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton. I know what you’re thinking: why choose an 18-hour book when you need to catch up? It gets better, though: the 18 hours is only the first half of the book. It’s an 1100-page book on paper. Facepalm.
Luckily, it’s a good book. Beginning in Newcastle in the winter of 2143 CE, it opens with a regular cop crime story, a murder whodunit. The call about the body dumped in the River Tyne comes in, of course, twenty minutes before the end of Sid Hurst’s and his partner’s shift. And so it goes, the story being told with a high level of everyday detail about life in the 22nd century. Not surprisingly, knowing Hamilton’s work, the murder has trans-stellar connections, and thus an expedition is mounted to the planet St. Libra near Sirius, travelling through the gateway just outside Newcastle. I can’t say much more without spoiling anything for those who may want to read it, so I won’t.

Great North Road is on my phone for on-the-move listening; on my laptop for lace-knitting listening I started Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson, her memoir of mainly her adoptive mother, referred to as Mrs Winterson, who was Pentecostal and manic-depressive. The title, apparently, is quoted from Mrs Winterson’s reaction to Jeanette wanting to be with a girlfriend.
I’m not sure how well I like this book; Jeanette’s upbringing was surely horrific, no doubt about that, and you have to feel for a child who was oppressed, not allowed books, threatened with Hell, and beaten on a regular basis.
But the narrative is rather heavy on theory of religion and comparative phenomenology; it does seem unnecessary to bring in the structuralistic jargon at every turn to explain or reflect on religious practices and her own reactions to her childhood.

There are more books on my Goodreads ‘currently-reading’ list: The Age of Innocence is currently on Craftlit, and Mrs. Appleyard’s Year on Forgotten Classics, so the pace of those two is chiefly outside my influence; I just listen to an episode or two when I get around to it.

So, that’s it for this time – have a great week, have fun, don’t get blown away or buried in snow, and most important of all: when confronted with the glitzy Christmas catalogues urging you to spend, buy, shop, and purchase –


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Still Here!

Hello everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
Yes, I’m still here, though I have been away from this space for a while. I apologise.

Undertaking a challenge like NaNoWriMo, of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, teaches you a lot. I learned – well, that I could do it, and that it was both more and less difficult than I would have imagined. I also learned that other activities, particularly writing, are pushed aside for the time being; I couldn’t face spending writing time on something that didn’t add to my word count.

Writing a 1,000 or 600 word microstory will take me at least a whole day: I have to come up with the world, the characters, the plot; and the language needs to be polished in order to get as much information as possible into a limited number of words.
So, on that background, writing 1,667 words on average EVERY DAY seemed a tall order. But then, writing a novel is completely different. I know, I was surprised, too. Who would have thought it?
For one thing, the word count is not limited – on the contrary, the task is to put many words down; and the NaNoWriMo fora (I will not write forums) have, of course, a thread for exchanging dirty tricks to swell your word count. I only read it last night AFTER validating my text, I promise.
Writing 1,667 words in a context you know already, describing the background, developing characters through action and/or dialogue, giving a bit of back story or moving the plot forward is very much easier than creating a whole new world. And you can ‘laugh in the face of linearity’, as one of the pep talks put it: write a later scene, an earlier scene, put in some dialogue, describe a place where your characters will be next month or next year.

On the other hand, it has to be done every day. Before November, I had for a few months written one and then two microstories for ‘my’ LinkedIn writing groups, and really felt that my writing time was quite taken up with those. How, then, could I write all those words in a month? But that feeling of my time being filled with writing only came about because I could ignore the story for days, not writing, but maybe thinking about it, and then return to it when the deadline loomed. In November, the two microstories were back stories to the projected novel and so belong to the same universe, and they were written rather quickly compared to earlier months.

I have, of course, been thinking about this particular story for months, if not years. It is a sci-fi adaptation of the Argonautika, the ancient Greek legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece aboard the ship Argo. I have worked with the Argonautika for many years: my MA thesis, written back in 1998, described the types of heroism found in Apollonius Rhodius’ Hellenistic version of the legend, and it has stayed with me, in the background, ever since. The sci-fi idea emerged only last year, though.

So, the central story line is there, but of course the ship is a space ship, the islands and lands visited by the crew are planets, gods and magic are replaced by advanced technology. The crew does not consist entirely of young men; some of them are women. Obviously.
I have changed the first names of the characters, keeping the initials: Jason becomes Jack, his cousin Akastos becomes Aiken, Atalante is allowed on board in my version and is called Alasen. The ‘bad guy’, king Pelias who grabbed the power from Jason’s father and sends Jason off on this suicide mission, was renamed sir Percival after the bad guy in Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White.

The frenzy is over, I made it. So what now?
Well, this coming week is all about work: I have the last few Latin lessons of the semester, and the exams need to be sent in by Friday. The exam date is the 19th December, and the administration of course wants them well before that. And I need to proofread the Greek exams.
And I have accepted the invitation to write a couple of microstories for upcoming anthologies, among those a pirate story. Not space pirates for this one, though.

NaNoWriMo have, apparently, editing months in January and February; I may take up that offer and get something resembling an actual novel out of the mass of words I have. In that context, I also need to decide where to cut – not cut out parts or chapters, but where to divide one book from the next. This mini epos, a 180-page paperback in the English translation, is swelling to the length of several novels when written as a novel. So, I’m all ready for next November!

The Knitting
As might be expected, I haven’t done a lot of knitting this month: all those evening hours usually spent watching TV, or quiet hours in the mornings with an audio book, have been spent writing, writing, writing.

So, my Midnight cardigan has received scant attention; not because I’m bored with it – far from – but, well, see above. I am looking forward to finishing it, because then I shall wear Midnight (get it? Discworld? No? Go read.).

If you want to try out the hexipuff thing but not necessarily make a whole blanket, you can join the Hand-dyed Beekeeper's Quilt Challenge and donate a couple or a handful towards a blanket for the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London.
I am using half-skeins from previous plant dyeing experiments; they are too small even for socks for my little feet, but a hexipuff uses no more than 3 grams of fingering weight yarn. So, they are great for using up leftovers. And there are two added bonuses: the ends are pulled inside the hexipuff, and the hexipuffs, apparently, aren’t sewn together at the end, but tied. All this pretty much removes the reasons why I normally cringe at the thought of making a scrap blanket: sewing and weaving in ends.
As you have probably gathered, I am seriously considering this whole hexipuff craze. There are, of course, groups on Ravelry for knitting 365 hexipuffs in a year, a puff a day, and I am a sucker for silly challenges. First, though, I am trying the concept out for a week or ten days for the hospital blanket; if I can’t make it through those, or get fed up, I won’t take on a whole year of it. We’ll see.

The Christmas knitting is underway; more on that after the big evening.

Today, of course, is the 1st December, the day for beginning the whole advent calendar thing.
I literally did nothing about it until yesterday evening, when I had sent my text to the NaNoWriMo word counting robot, had my text validated and been declared a ‘winner’ – a.k.a. made it through the 50,000 words. Only then did I go out to buy the requisite candles, and Victor pulled out the Christmas boxes to find ornaments.

The Books
I haven’t been reading much, either, this month – so little, in fact, that I am falling behind on my Goodreads challenge. Never mind, though, there are four weeks left in which to catch up.
So, I am still reading Blood Pact by Dan Abnett, one of his Gaunt’s Ghosts novels, that I started reading in Nottingham (gasp) three weeks ago.

Audio books are a bit easier to get through – not that I mind reading, obviously, I’ve just been spending my time writing instead (did I mention that already?).
I found The Constant Gardener by John le Carré on CDs at the library, so that has been playing in the car. It’s a classic le Carré post-Cold War story, in which the secretive bad guys aren’t the Soviets, but the giant pharmaceutical companies using poor Africans as guinea pigs for their drugs and giving not a fig when they are maimed or die from the side effects.
The title character, a British diplomat investigating the murder of his wife, has ample cause to reflect on the appropriate behaviour of real spies while travelling the world in search of information and at the same time trying to avoid being killed himself.

After the thriller, I turned to evolutionary biology, in this case The Story of the Human Body by Daniel Lieberman, a thorough – and sometimes repetitive – account of the changes in the human body over millions of years effected by the environment, in both natural and cultural evolution.
It is somewhat scary to be reminded of how unhealthy the agriculturally based diet is compared to a hunter-gatherer diet, and how harmful a sedentary lifestyle is. Not that Lieberman is a proponent of the trendy paleo diet: there is too little evidence and too much variation in the lifestyles of actual hunter-gatherers across the globe to ascertain exactly what one ‘should’ or should not eat. The overall picture is clear, though: a farmer’s diet, rich in sugars and starches and poor in fibre, minerals and vitamins – in other words, a cereal-based diet – is bad for your teeth, digestion, weight, metabolism, &c.
I haven’t yet gotten to the chapter about how bad chairs are for you, but I’m sure it’ll be fun ...

That’s about it for this time; I will end on a musical note, with Victor (in the ponytail) and his friend and co-conspirator at the closing concert of a talent weekend at the Aalborg International Guitar Festival last week. They performed the same duo, ‘Rondo in G’ by Ferdinand Carulli, at a local café in Viborg only this Friday. My pictures from that are crap, though, as I forgot my camera and had to use the one in my phone.

Have a lovely week – I will be back next Sunday!