About Me

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I am an aspiring writer living and working in Hull. I working on a novel, as well as writing short stories to keep my writing skills fresh. I decided to start a writing blog to connect with other writers. So please, take a look around and leave some comments - I'd love to read some of your writing blogs too. Nari X

Thursday, 30 December 2010

A very Quick Update

I hope everybody had a lovely Christmas. This year was my first hosted Christmas - and I have to say, all in all, it went quite well.  

Our starter was a baked Camenbert with flower-shaped brocolli stalk, carrot sticks and olive ciabatta (from Madisons) to dip. Then I made squash and sage pies for me and Mum (the veggies), Dad brought a chicken dish for the carnivores (he and Heather), and I did roast parsnips, roast new potatoes, carrots and peas, I think. Oh and Yorkshire puds. It worked well, considering how shocking our oven is. Still being in a student house, what more is to be expected? I forgot the stuffing, which, in all fairness, would not have fitted in the oven or on our plates. Rob and I had some with the leftovers on the 27th, and it was very good. From Madisons, of course. I love Madisons. It's on Newland Avenue, in case you fancy popping in. 

Oh and Dad loved his present, by the way. He was very impressed that I'd gone all the way to Doncaster and queued for an hour. Success!

I've been catching up on people's blogs, though I'll admit, I got distracted quite quickly by Hunter's most recent post. New music, I'm there. This is his new band, North Korea. It sounds good so far. I'm keeping my ears pricked up, though. I don't want to get into comparisons, because that's not really fair. I still don't know if Hunter is writing for them yet, though they'd be complete fools if he isn't. 

I realise I haven't posted here for a while - Rob and his laptop were in Chester, and I still have't fixed the internet on my own. Also, I've been a busy bumble bee. Firstly, of course, there was Christmas, but I've also been frantically trying to finish my manuscript. I believe it is now the 30th, so I have one more day remaining until Rob is expecting a draft. He's going to be strict. And here I am, blogging. So I'm afraid I'll be brief.

My Manuscript seems to be coming together. The gaps are slowly closing up. I have to say what has helped is doing chapter summaries, by suggestion of Tom, so thank you very much. This exercise has enabled me to see where the gaps are, or the continuity errors in terms of term time or weather. At one point, I had Ryan sitting at his open window in t-shirt and shorts at the latter end of November... now I know they're in the South, but really. Though it could open up a few character traits...

I'm worried, though, that so far I have just been re-writing scenes. There are still scenes which need to be written and I am rapidly running out of time. So I shall bid you Adieu. 

Monday, 20 December 2010

Hull, I think it's time you and I should break up...

So, in the time it took me to write that last blog, some little bastard managed to steal my phone from right under my nose. I'm beginning to dislike Hull more and more. And it's scary that I could be that unobservant. I mean the phone was on my lap for crying out loud. It must have fallen off, but...well. It's just scary. It was damn lucky I'd backed up CQ on my external hard drive the previous evening, otherwise the most recent version would have been on my phone. So, if you see anything by the name of 'Cosmic Questions' being printed anywhere under some other person's name, that's the culprit. (As if that's what they're really after...)

So, watch your backs, kids. People are mean. 

On the plus side, I have a job. It's a Receptionist placement for 13 weeks starting in January. They let me know within about four hours of the interview. Finally my stint as an unemployed Hull resident has ended. Hurrah!

Quick word count update: 50,200 ish, so I've hit my minimum. 

*Editor's Note: I just realised I called up this post into edit mode again purely to delete one single exclamation mark. My intolerance is higher than I first thought...*

The 'C' words...

Welcome to all the newcomers. Thank you so much for coming on over to say hello, and thanks for your comments. It's wonderful to see a little community of sorts developing, and I hope you can all help each other out too.

Constructive Criticism. Oh, what a phrase. For so much of my life it has been a malevolent entity, wishing only to devour my precious words and taunt me from a place of condescending spite. 

I used to get so frustrated with other people's negativity about my work, and became very protective of it. I'd like to think I have grown since then. I'm still reluctant to show my work to anyone until I've had a chance to edit it, as many of my friends and family will tell you. But anyway, I quickly learnt that feedback that genuinely is intended helpfully, usually comes back to me at some point and turns out to be right.

Why do I mention this? Earlier this year, when I was still a student, I had one class which was essentially workshops for the work we produced for our prose portfolio. I was working on CQ then, of course, and overall I found the classes to be extremely helpful, not least because of the wonderful Kath Mckay. There was a guy who I was in a lot of classes with, and we were two of the few who ever actually turned up to workshops, meaning that a lot of my feedback was from him, which was good because it was consitent, and I knew he had a sense of how it had developed.
I remember once particular piece of Constructive Criticism he gave me, which demoted him to one of my least favourite people for a short time. The silly thing is, most of what he said were complements. There was just one tiny little thing that bothered me. This is what he said:
'You've got a great eye for detail and your characterisation of characters that aren't named Ryan is spot on ;)'

Essentially, he told me my main character was the least convincing of the entire thing. This upset me because he is obviously the character who has been with me for the longest, and I thought I had a pretty good idea of what he was about.

Well, I'm starting to think that maybe he was right. As I'm adjusting certain things people are saying, it's all to do with how they are characterised, as in, 'this person wouldn't say that'. I now have what I would say is a good grasp on the way that Toby relates to people, and the way he speaks and moves. The same can be said for Lauren, Joe, Andy, Josh, even. And yet, when I come to editing Ryan's speech, all I seem to be doing is editing in terms of where I want the story to go. I rarely find myself saying 'he just wouldn't say it like that, it would be more like this.'

I'm worried that I've spent so much time looking through his eyes at the others, that I don't really know him.

I wonder if anyone has any advice on how to get to know a character better? I remember Kath's excercise of working out what is in their bag, and in Writers Forum a few months ago, there was an excercise that centred around knowing a character's diet.

While we're on the topic, does anybody else miss Penny Deacon? She used to do a monthly workshop article in WF. She helped me greatly with my fight scene, and is a lovely lady. Due to other commitments, she had to stop writing for WF every month, which is understandable, but a great shame.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Shining

Yesterday, I stood in front of a mirror wearing the actual dress that I will get married in. It was a very bizarre moment. I am in love with the dress, I'm so glad I chose it. I would post a picture, but I'm keeping it a secret from Rob until I'm walking down that aisle. Oh but it's amazing. We've been looking for Bridesmaid's dresses too, and have seen some gorgeous ones.

I finally finished The Shining after three library renewals and a surprisingly low number of sleepless nights (I'm a grown up now, apparently). I thought I would share my thoughts and first impression of Author Stephen King, as this is the first time I have read any of his work. I'd avoided him firstly because I used to be a wimp with this stuff, and secondly because I had a preconceived idea in my head that anyone who churns out as many books as that in such a short time can't put any real care into them. I saw him as trash fiction in the horror genre. I was wrong.

I get the impression he has put a lot of thought into these characters and their backgrounds and motivations. One thing my sister and I discussed was that he seems to have whole chapters of pure back story and character reflection, which is a risky business. As writers, perhaps we forget that not everybody is as interested, at least not yet, about the characters we write. I know I'm guilty of it. However, Stephen King does this well, without breaking the tension or the flow of the story. It is because of these moments of reflection that the reader begins to hope that everything works out alright (apparently this is not a real word. Who knew.) for the characters. Needless to say, it doesn't. 
I would say that I'm a fairly good judge for this, as I am in incredibly impatient reader. I will only be impressed by or even get through a long chapter or paragraph that has no dialogue or not much actually happening if I am already hooked and care about the characters. In this case, I was. 

The characters are well developed, the relationships between them are very well depicted, and Danny, in my mind the central character, is portrayed particularly well. He has managed to capture the voice and mindset of a five year-old by who has seen too much very well.

There is a moment at the end, which (gruesome as various things are in this scene,) was perhaps my favourite part in the book; where Danny has that moment of understanding. His parents are not invincible. They cannot save him from this. He has to think carefully and has a moment of complete maturity where, with his life hanging in the balance, he appeals to his father's love, his father who is still in there somewhere. In this moment, he is the one being rational, and showing an intense amount of love where it is not obvious or at all easy. 

Overall, a very compelling read, a great ending, certainly not disappointing - it fitted well for the amount of build up given. The point is I ended up really caring what happened to these characters. I want that.

In my own writing news, all I can say is, though it is not in the Oxford English Dictionary, 'AAAARRGH'. You got the condensed version. I'm ploughing on with the final chapters, but meanwhile have shown some previous scenes to Rob and realised there are so many gaps of things I have written in my head, but not on the page. We'll get there. But I can;t believe it's taking so long.

I've just been reminded we are going out for dinner tonight, which I had forgotten and so had a Madison's lunch. Madisons make the best sandwiches in town. Subway, move over. Seriously. They pack the filling in til it's absolutely stuffed. Delicious. Bring out the Rennies, I think...

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Decreased Productivity = More Vampirism...

Dad's Christmas present sorted!

I'm really quite excited about Dad's Christmas present, and I can freely blog about it, I think, because he is not much of an internet user. I was in Doncaster a few weeks back getting to know the place before I had to go to my practical test for the YMCA receptionist job (which, by the way, fell on its arse because the stupid snow delayed my train and I was late. 'Don't call us, we'll call you.' Those were almost their exact words. Needless to say, they didn't.) and as I walked past WH Smith, I noticed a poster about a book signing by The Hairy Bikers. For anyone who doesn't know, they are celebrity chefs, and my Dad is a massive fan. So I was very excited. Bought their new book '12 Days of Christmas' and noted down the date so I could go back and get it signed. 

I popped back on the 7th, last Tuesday, and queued for an hour (yes, there were that many people. I was quite near the front.) before they arrived.

They are lovely chaps, and were having a proper giggle with people, but I was a bit out of place, I felt. I'll admit, I didn't really know what to say other than 'My Dad is a big fan'. I'm pretty bad with this kind of stuff, but anyway, I got the book signed, said thank you and was on my way. I keep wanting to tell Dad about it but I can't, of course. 

So, an update on my writing productivity... well it's lagging. Every time I sit down to write I end up scrolling through aimlessly, randomly editing bits and pieces, thinking about how much needs to change before I can call it a first draft and despairing at how much time that is going to take. I was either naive or overly optimistic to imagine I could possibly get it finished by the end of November. But I can't push it back again, it's already taken four years to write and I feel like I'm wading through treacle. 

And whenever I get to this sort of stage, silly things happen. I have mentioned before that my characters have a tendency to become vampires when my attention is waning. Well, it's happened again. I've been getting worked up over my ending, trying to get it done, but not. It has turned into a very abrupt realisation that the fact that Andy and Ryan have been fighting over who gets to eat Lauren is void because Lauren is also a vampire. So they give up and go home.

It's all very amusing, but I'm cursing myself, because I realise how much effort and how many words it took to write that, which could have been put towards actual writing. In all honestly I think I'm itching to edit. 

I went to Hull Central Library today to do some research. I know. Wrong order. But I realised my research into things like insomnia, phobias, various injuries aquired is very limited. I'm trying to base everything on vaguely recalled experiences. And maybe that's why my story is seeming quite thin. 

Part of the problem with my lack of focus is perhaps to do with the state of my desk (right). Yes, that is my credit card bill pinned to Ryan Hunter's thigh... hope it didn't hurt. I've cleared it up a bit, though now my bed is covered... I need to sort my life out.

On the plus side, I'm now on The Goodwin Centre's Local Work Guarantee Scheme, which means I can apply for placements and work trials with a much bigger chance of acceptance, and hopefully a job at the end of a 13 week placement. 

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Final Chapter Settings (How the weather can change everything...)

Rob and I last winter at High Wood, Horsham

As I said before, my ending is coming together. I was inspired when I looked around at the snow and realised that this is the exact time of year I should be writing about, given the timescale of my story and when it begins (mid October, I think). This is good, as it means my research is fresh and I have the weather right here.

I've been flicking through photos from last winter, when we had a snow fall just like this one. I've included pictures from last year because I was down South during the snow fall, and therefore most of the pictures are from High Wood cornfield, down the road from my parents' house. This place is gorgeous. Every season it tells a story. Every season it has a different charm to it, always breathtaking. 

This place is my inspiration for for my final chapter settings (I say final loosely). I had always wanted to involve it in some way in this story, but had always pictured it to be in the Summer, when the corn is waist-high and golden. As it turned out, the timescale of the story did not allow for this, so instead I wrote the scene to be cold. It was a bit plain. I didn't finish the scene before I realised this. Then the snow came. Having seen High Wood in the deep snow, I realised that this would be perfect. I have another image flashing across my mind, but can't say it because it would be a spoiler.
High Wood under snow, 2009

Just from the initial edit (I can't help but edit as I go along...), changing the weather from cold to actual snow, so many little details have changed. Like what boots Lauren pulls on, where...a certain person chooses to stand, how loud someone's footsteps would be, even what clothes the characters are wearing. 

I would like to set up a standalone page to post character profiles, short synopsis and other details about this story, but I can't work out how to get one. Can anyone help?

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Beginning And The End... A story with a mind of its own...

So I started writing this a few days ago. I've been so busy writing that I didn't get time to finish it off. The snow is now receding...slowly. The roads are pure ice, though. It's really quite cool. Might invest in some skis...

There is now no escape from Hull. We are trapped. Encased in snow. And I'm reading The Shining... I find it difficult to take my eye off the bath when I'm in the bathroom these days...

I've been working on my beginning this afternoon, with Rob's help. Beginnings are important, obviously. As a reader, I like to do what I call the 'first page test', which doesn't take a genius to work out what it is. Essentially, I'm the kind of person who will quite happily sit cross legged on the floor of Waterstones or WH Smith and work through a shelf reading the first pages. That is, of course, if I like the look of the blurb. 

You can tell a lot from a first page. And what often makes me cringe is 'My name is.... I'm this tall' etc, or the equivalent from third person. Or big, boring, long-winded descriptions of a setting. Sometimes, this works. But the thing that makes it work is the hook. If there is a good reader hook, something that makes the reader want to read on, then that stuff doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. 

Take The Lovely Bones for instance. It opens like this:
'My name was Salmon, like the fish. First name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.' 
It works because there's a hook. Why was she murdered? Who did it? You want to read on. 
I've often been told that it's a good idea to start with dialogue, which I find does work because it's snappy and gets you straight into the action. 

The point is, you need to have enough information there to get the reader interested, without bombarding them with introductions and background information. This is what I'm trying to do. My original beginning was a dream prologue, which I worry could be too cliched, especially as it is followed with the classic 'getting up in the morning' routine. I'm having my doubts about it. I wrote that beginning in my first year of University, which is a long time ago now. Scarily so. 

Recently, I decided that we should come into the story a wee bit earlier, so we see the break up between Anna and Ryan. That way I'm not constantly needing to give backstory. I think it was in a Writers' Forum article ( I will check and update), that it's all well and good to have lots of flashbacks, history and back story, but if there is nothing, or barely anything going on in the present in the story, then it can get a bit tedious. If there is so much back story that is more interesting than the actual story, you might as well cut the boring stuff and set it earlier.

I remember as I read Obsessed by Ted Dekker, I was on the edge of my seat reading about the women in the concentration camp, drawn in by their wonderfully depicted characters, strengths and struggles. But I'll admit, I got a bit frustrated with the present-day storyline. Not that it was dull, but that it was a bit samey and a wee bit unrealistic, I thought. 

At the same time, I'm also working on my 'ending', which is becoming bigger and bigger... further away from the end. I can't help noticing that this story has become something entirely different to what it started life as. I'm trying to convince myself that that's not a bad thing. I've cut a major character and given a leading role to someone who was originally wandering about in the background - this person is now the antagonist. Is that the right word? Villain, bad guy... psycho. The person who pits himself directly against the protagonist. 

So what I'm wondering is, does anyone else find this with their ideas - that they warp and morph into something that strays entirely from the intial idea?

Monday, 29 November 2010

Walks in The Snow

The first part of this post I wrote last night, but I never like to actually publish anything I write past about midnight until I've looked over it and edited it. The latter part I've added this afternoon.

"You know those days where you lie in bed at the end of them and just smile? I've had one of those days. The world is draped with fluffy white blankets, snowflakes spiralling their way down from a bright white sky, and clinging to each other as they fall softly to the ground. You can't help but stop and take it all in. I love what snow does to people.

Not always, and not everyone, but I love what I witnessed today; 
neighbourhood kids in the street having a snowball fight, and genuinely having fun, not destroying something. Joining in as we pass.
A giant snowball in the middle of the path, two guys look at each other and before long are rolling it along, making it bigger.
A snow penis blocking someone's doorway...  
A couple of guys playing ice hockey in the street. Never thought I'd see that in Hull.
Parents and their children lobbing snowballs at each other, laughing and enjoying each other's company.

The icing white eradicates the grey beneath, and for a second, you could forget you were in Hull and unemployed. Forget you were anywhere. It’s nice to see people relaxed, having fun. Getting on with each other. I guess you don't see it that much round here. It’s nice to know that in amongst all the troubles and complaints we are so quick to see with the city, there is some real innocence and purity in the place. 

And  in all of this, I think the setting if the final chapter of 'CQ' is coming together... I think November 30th is not going to happen seeing as it is in  two days time. Christmas at the latest. Watch this space. "

I'm going to try and write another 3000 words tonight, amending continuity flaws such as the season and the weather. The story starts in about October, midway through a term, and I don't think the time frame extends as far as midsummer like I seem to imply with some of my later scenes. So it is a winter story, completely opposing my original setting ideas. But I think Winter works, especially with the inspiration of snow all around me.

Before I go, I'd like to say a quick thank you to everyone who saw my letter in Writers' Forum and has come across to say hello. I really appreciate you taking the time, and I've looked through some very interesting blogs. I look forward to getting to know you all over the next few months.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Proud, Geeky Moment

My day has been made :) I made it into Peter Brett's blog. Oh Yes. 
This was a rather geeky project, which I spent a fair amount of time on and stayed up til 4 finishing off. Well, I doubt it's anything against half of the contenders, but it was fun, and it was worth a try. Check it out:

Anyway, I'm still in my PJs and I'm going to be late for church.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Role Models and Poetry

I've been writing more of a scene just after the fight scene (there's a fight scene) - Toby, Ryan and Lauren trying to derive meaning from Ryan's bloodstained shirt. I envisage a dialogue perhaps a bit later between Toby and Ryan that will give a bit of back story on Toby. In the past few months I have completely fallen in love with Toby, and he seems to be really fleshing out in my head. I hope it comes across on paper. 

And it's becoming clearer that in this story, Toby becomes a kind of mentor character for Ryan. I was speaking with Rob the other day, and he was putting me on the spot, asking delving questions as he does. It's a brilliant excercise, and as much as I snap at him for it, I love him for it. Because it makes me pull out the raw, unprotected and fleshy thoughts, ideals and themes that sew together what I write. He asked me what I thought the strongest theme was in my book. I stuttered, but as I spoke, I said something along the lines of, '...that age where you're working out who you are, not just in a cliched sense, but how you are defined...the way we relate to each other, the people we allow to have influence in our lives, the relationships that are good for us and the ones that aren't. The people we love anyway.' 

I've been thinking a lot about role models and whether we choose them or they choose us. You don't choose to be somebody's mentor, it just happens. At any given point, you could be influencing somebody's life. We very rarely know if we are a mentor to somebody, so don't you think we should think carefully about the way we relate to each other?
So these thoughts are what have been influencing my writing of these few scenes and the character developments within them. 

I've been writing some poetry too. It's good for me, I think. Words have started flowing from me like blood from the wounded, tears from the heartbroken. They'll stay hidden, of course. Because I am a person. I am not my suffering. For eyes to see them would be to forget that. 

And while I have had an incredibly tough year, I'd like to think I have still kept my sense of humour. So I will share a single one with you. 

Oh, Twinings, with your milk so fresh,
Your warmth seeps into tired flesh
My hands wrapped round the liquid pause
A porcelain shell
Of sweetened warmth
The sloshing tan gives way to white
An empty cup
It’s time to write.

Also worth mentioning is that I have added a link to the page for my short story 'Sugar Rush' on I have been reading through it again, and the reviews people have left, and I am itching to edit. Having left it a month or two, the initial hurt I always feel after constructive criticism has been replaced by motivation, as much of what was said I have seen is true. I'm very grateful for the help people have given me. I will be editing bits and pieces of it soon, though obviously, 'CQ' is my main priority. 

And now, role models and tea poetry aside, I have a train ticket to book. I'm going to Doncaster again tomorrow for a literacy and numeracy test at the YMCA, just in case they wish to employ me. Lets hope I can spell and add up. 

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Industry Game. (Kids, let's measure our words....)

Lyrics Booklet for LowCountry, EOTC

This piece of lyrical gold came through my door this morning, which made me smile. I know, I'm being out of date because this band stopped existing months ago. But I'll still be listening to the music they made, and I'll still be marvelling at the lyrical genius contained in this booklet. I thought they might have sold out, but was pleasantly surprised. 

I hesitated before writing here again. I wondered if I've posted too much. But then I thought, whatever, because this is a writing journal, and I'm speaking about writing. It just so happens that I have ridiculous amounts of time on my hands. 

Anyway. The point. My word count remains the same as yesterday, unfortunately. However, I wrote 2,300ish words the day before, which I thought was good. I've been working on the ending again, and it's coming together quite nicely. November 30th still looking possible.

But, I have a confession. That little niggling doubt is creeping in once again. Who on Earth would want to read this thing I'm referring to as a 'novel', when what I mean by that is the record of pretend lives of fictional people who live in my head? Or, more to the point, even if people want to read it (and a few do, apparently), I'm seriously doubting whether they'll a) get through the whole thing without getting bored or b) finish reading it and not think of a million other things that deserved their time above it. And I'm worried that it's all very silly. I never used to take myself seriously as a writer. Call it humility or whatever, but I just took for granted the fact that there was no real skill beneath the scenes I concocted on a bright white computer screen. 

However, since doing my course, I've kind of had to take my writing a little more seriously. And it's starting to scare the hell out of me, because I'm convinced that at the end of it all I'm going to end up looking like a pretentious git who can string some words together just like any literate graduate worth their salt. That's what I feel like right now. A pretentious git.

Because this all feels rather silly again. The thing I’m very aware of is that it’s easy to be optimistic before I’ve encountered The Industry, and while my only critic is my significant other who, to the point and ruthless as he is, loves me dearly and is invested in these characters because he’s invested in me. But I know, with absolutely no doubt in my mind, that if I am ever lucky enough to have an agent/publisher/editor read through my work, it’s going to be peeled back, stripped down, torn apart, rearranged, or even just laughed at.
And then what on Earth am I supposed to do with the knowledge that I’ve wasted four years of my life?

I suppose I've whined enough. I've been thinking about our use of words. And I speak for myself first and foremost; I think I have a habit of being over-enthusiastic in my use of adjectives. For example, using the word 'amazing', when I  really mean, 'quite good', or perhaps some string of words that is more in-depth but less glorifying. I say this, because I am very much of the belief that words are important. We should dish them out with care. 
If somebody says something I've done is 'amazing', and then in the same breath also comments that the price of milk has gone down, which is 'amazing', I'm unlikely to take their praise seriously. 

My Grandfather was someone who had high standards in life, and as an artist was honest, critical and analytical. Often he would look at my work and tell me it was 'Ok'. Sometimes I managed a 'Good', and on rare occasions he said my work was 'Very Good'. When Granfer told me my work was 'Very Good,' I felt a genuine sense of achievement, because he really meant it when he said it. He was not the sort to dish out compliments for the sake of it.
And I like that.  I would rather have got hundreds of 'Ok's with an explanation of why and how to improve, as he always did, than one 'amazing' that wasn't meant from the heart. 

And I don't mean we should never respect little things that may not be perfect. I'm all for appreciating little things in life that make us smile. But perhaps our standards for dishing out words like 'amazing' should be kept respectfully high, just so we can give to others that same sense of achievement that Granfer gave to me.  

Monday, 15 November 2010

Patrick Rothfuss - Heifer International

I've just taken the time to read through Patrick Rothfuss's most recent blog posts and thought I would share the sentiment of what he's doing because it looks ace.

Essentially, he's running a fundraiser with Heifer International, including a lottery to win all sorts of incredibly rare and signed books from loads of different Authors. It's very exciting. The charity works alongside families and communities living in poverty in Third World Countries, offering things like training and donations of livestock to dramatically improve living conditions. I think instead of trying to regurgitate information, I'll refer you onto Partick Rothfuss's blog and to the team fundraising page

This is a little aside from me. In his blog, Rothfuss comments that he's a big fan of Peter Brett's work, which I just found lovely. The two author's books are nestled next to each other on my bookshelf. Gotta love artists supporting each other. 

Anyway, that was all for today. I'm definitely one to support anything that works to lift poverty and this looks like a really good forum for it, as I'm sure there are plenty of charitable geeks out there like me :). Definitely a good way to be.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

I Remember...

Cenotaph: a monument or empty tomb honouring a person or persons whose remains are elsewhere.

I have just come back from a very powerful and moving service. 
It is remembrance Sunday, where we remember those who gave their lives fighting for peace all those years ago. Wesley (the preacher) spoke powerfully about loss and letting go. 
I thought that instead of voicing my own reflections, I would share a letter written to me by my late Grandfather last year. It includes an article he wrote on remembrance Sunday. I hope it can mean as much to you as it does to me. 

15 November 2009

Dear Elizabeth,

Your Mother suggested I should send you a copy of an article I have just sent  to my old school website. It may or may not be published there and I think the format of the site is far too complicated so things get missed.
The article was prompted by the recent memorial services, as I am probably one of the last people to have known those mentioned in it.
The site is the 'Royal High School Club in London' ( and there is a site map, which looks useful. If you should go to 'committee' from the home page, you will eventually find a picture of me with a glass in my hand.
I hope the term is going well, and please give my best wishes to Rob. Grandma also sends her love to both.

By James Henry Randell

I remember, in the two minute silence, I remember fresh-faced boys in my class. In my memory they are still young and not as when I look in the mirror, or occasionally see other boys from those years.

A generation before mine, the conversation of aunts and uncles was studded with trench slang and what the Sergeant said. I can remember ten years after the first Armistice sitting with my mother and an aunt in front of the wireless. We were listening to the ceremony from the cenotaph. I knew about it because I knew I had listened to it the year before, although that has gone beyond my present recall. There was the bang of a gun and everything went silent except for the rustle of the late autumn leaves until the next bang and then they sang ‘Oh God our help’. My mother, remembering in the silence, said, ‘Harold was such a nice boy...’.

It wasn’t just the servicemen who died from my class. There were two boys who shared the same name but were not related. One was heavily built, and fair haired, and had a particular way of standing – slightly to one side, easy going and with a curiosity about things. The other was a bit shorter and was more intense. His over-riding passion was ‘guiders’, the boxes on wheels that were steered with your feet, and could reach incredible speeds down a hill, with no brakes. He made models of them, streamlining the box, modifying the steering. He also had a curiosity about things and the way they went together. Fairly early in ‘our’ war, there had been air raids in Glasgow. The anti-aircraft guns round Edinburgh had joined in, firing at enemy bombers both ways. One shell arcing through the summer holiday air had landed somewhere in the Pentland Hills having failed to explode, until one of the boys called to the others in curiosity, when it did. I remember going to the funeral, myself barely in long trousers, seeing the white coffins carried to the graves.

Later into the war the men teachers started to disappear, being replaced by lady teachers. In an all male environment where a Miss C, the beak’s secretary, had been the only lady to about 600 males, this could be a revolutionary experience. Most of them had been teachers, whose husbands were away in the services. G in my class had that tall, gaunt, dark, highland look of a future seeing, seventh son of a seventh son, although he only had an older sister. His father was in the regular army and was serving in India and from whom G had no doubt learned to call ladies a respectful ‘ma’am’, thus solving what was for us the problem of saying ‘Miss’ to a known ‘Mrs’. This teacher of English set us an essay, which I think must have had a fairly broad subject. Going over them in class the next day, she said of G’s, ‘It’s not the way it is written, but i have never known so young a person with such an attitude to, and expectation of death.’ What she read had visibly disturbed her. On our last day in school after we had gone through the memorial door, and gathered in our old form room; G came up to me, more formal than the others and slightly unexpectedly shook my hand. ‘So long,’ we said, because we never said ‘Goodbye’ in those days. He went out of the room, crunched across the gravel to the main gate and strode down Regent Road to the Post Office. Some time later in North-west France, I think he must have been in the so-called birdcage – the Bocage, a country criss-crossed by hedges. Here by repute the German mortar teams could drop a bomb on your back collar stud and everyone went with their heads permanently down into their shoulders. Anyway, his essay prediction came true.

From time to time the societies or organisations of the school, the Literary and Debating Society, The Cadet Corps, the Scouts, would organise a dance in the gym of the prep schoolat Northfield Broadway. If you were on leave or could wangle a pass it was a good place to be as everyone tried to go and you could meet friendsand hear what was happening. I tended to get out of uniform as as quickly as possible and put on the lurid sports jacket and tie of what I though was a girl puller. On this evening, Ali, who was disabled and to his chagrin was not wanted in the forces, as I arrived told me that D was there and what’s more had brought a girlfriend with him. Not specially known for chasing after girls like some of us this was a surprise. And there he was, immaculate, smartly pressed, gleaming in his uniform, immensely pleased and proud of the young lady by his side. He introduced us. She was charming, delightful, his pride well placed. On D-day with his rifle weighing 9lbs, his ammunition pouches full of four fully loaded bren magazines, a tin hat weighing lord knows what, so called ammunition boots on his feet, a full water bottle, the small pack of his battle order webbing , with some food boxed in mess tins, what else he had hoped to ease the next couple of days, a cotton sling with pockets of clips full of .303 rounds, an entrenching tool and probably a carrier full of mortar bombs, he came off the landing craft. There is a bump you can feel, as the bottom of the craft hits the sand and the sailors lift the ramp and everyone moves forward. If it was a sand bank and not a real beach, there would have been deep water at the end of the ramp, well over a man’s head. Had it been the real beach there would have been invisible rocks or hazards below the water to trip a man and once down keep him down by the weight of what was fixed to him. D didn’t make it onto the beach.

There may have been others, as there were for older years.

In the two minutes silence, ‘They were such nice boys............’.