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Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Happy Halloween

If you click on this http://www.theoworlds.com/halloween/, you can carve a pumpkin online. It plays music, so be warned if you're looking at this at work, though.

People should carve pumpkins. That lovely golden glow . . . I came home via New York, and the Halloween decorations were amazing. People had fantastic displays, just piled up on their doorsteps. I've got a pumpkin. I'm going to carve it tomorrow. Last year we had a bat, and before that a spider, so I'm thinking we should do a face this year . . .

It's five thirty-five in the morning and I've had about half an hour of sleep. Thinking of pumpkins makes me slightly happier about this. I think I'm going to go hollow it out and get some use out of my jetlagged insomnia.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


I'm home! I'm home!

Oh man, it's nice to be home. Lying awake with chronic jetlag from four in the morning is so much more comforting in your own bed...

Oh, jetlag. Jetlag. You ever heard the phrase 'she didn't know if it was arse or breakfast time'? I think it's breakfast time, but I'm really not sure. Am struggling to formulate thoughts to entertain you, my dear friends, but the phrase 'leave me alone to die' keeps coming back into my head. Though I like it when you post, of course.

When did they standardise time zones? Does anyone know? I heard that time was standardised in England after trains came in, because if your watch was set to the local church clock in Cornwall and you tried to catch a train in London, you'd miss it - especially as there's a bit of time zone variation between the east and west of the country. But I'm not sure. I'm under the pathetic impression that if I work this out, my jetlag will go away. Do you think that's right?

Leave me alone to die.

Monday, October 23, 2006


In praise of Australian copywriting

... because I used to be a copywriter and I know how difficult it is. And the copywriting on Australian public signs is nothing short of brilliant.

What makes it distinctive to a person used to the circumlocution and indirect language of English signs - which are aiming to be polite - is that there's an energetic directness of phrasing combined with a kind of 'don't blame me, mate, it was your mistake' shrug. Signs threaten you from all directions, usually with fines - but they don't tell you you're liable to a fine, they tell you that you'll get fined. Rather than giving you the neutral information that you might want to think about, they say flat out that if you do something stupid, then it's your own lookout. Really, the icon for 'public service announcement' in Sydney ought to be a down-to-earth little stickman pointing and laughing. Two particularly good examples:

1. On ferries, trains and other places worried about terrorism:

If you see something, say something.

It goes on to say report suspicious packages or persons, but in terms of being both general and common-sensical, it's terrific.

2. My absolute favourite, posted on the walkway above the crocodile enclosure in the Sydney aquarium (best place in the world, go there, go go go), and pretty self explanatory:

Do not enter.
If the fall does not kill you, the crocodile will.


Anyone else have favourite signs or slogans?

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Still in Sydney

Things I've noticed here:

1. Platypus are the best animal in the world. They're squashy little underwater tumblebugs that scurry from weed to weed with a bustling energy that's absolutely adorable. What's the plural? It can't be 'platypi', because that's only for words with a latinate 'us' ending, and 'pus' is Greek, meaning foot, as in 'octopus'. I think. I read somewhere that the plural of 'octopus' is 'octopodes', though, so I've decided that it should be 'platypodes'. Do tell me if I'm wrong. But don't expect me to stop saying platypodes. I like the word.

2. Platypodes!

3. They have flying foxes in the park. Right overhead in the trees. This also rocks.

4. Commuting on the ferry is much more fun than on the boring underground trains.

5. There's something very relaxing about Sydney. There are wide pavements and pleasant trees, and all the buildings are kind of cheerful in aspect. It's a real mixture of styles, but they sit together quite comfortably.

6. Thai food. Oh yes, Thai food. The day we landed, I had my first proper meal in a week. It was a whole plate of vegetables in ginger, and I've never been more grateful for anything in my life. Actually, the standard of food in general is terrific here. We've had one bad thing in a fortnight, a sandwich that was slightly off, and when we complained they gave us our money back.

7. Platypodes. Sorry, but I'm completely obsessed. They swim!

Joel (see last post) tells me he's about to enter Novel Writing Month. I'm most impressed; the idea pretty much terrifies me. I'm still plodding along with Novel Number II. Which doesn't even have a title. I have a vaguely novel-like idea for a third book floating around, but it's got some bits that need to be filled in before it's properly novel-shaped. I know what shapes they should be, but I don't know what they'd involve. Mental darkness and mists. Structural phantonyms. Does anyone else get that - the sense that you know what kind of thing needs to happen to make a plot work, but you might have to spend weeks beating your head on the floor before you can shake loose an actual concrete example of it?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


I'm in Sydney! Just arrived from Tokyo...

Things to know about Japan:

1. When they say 8 o'clock, they mean 8 o'clock. Precisely. In England, 8 o'clock means 'I'll start looking for you around eight, and give it about ten minutes before I wonder where you've got to.' In Japan, it means 'I'll start looking for you at about seven fifty-five, and if you aren't there by 8 o'clock and five seconds, I'll assume you're not coming.' Seriously: we were two minutes late for a tour pick-up, and the guide left without us.

2. The impressive up side of that: Japan trains run on time to the minute. Turns out it's possible after all; British Rail have been lying to me for years.

3. If you don't smoke, book a non-smoking room. There are a lot of cigarettes around.

4. If you're vegetarian, resign yourself. Oddly, for the home of tofu and Zen Buddhism, veggie food is all but impossible to get. I was expecting to be told 'Yes, but you eat fish, don't you?' and having to politely explain, but the day the tour guide greeted the 'I'm vegetarian' speech with, 'Okay, but you can eat this steak, yes?' I gave up and made the best of local mini-marts. Pot Noodles were a feature of the tour.

5. Techno-toilets really do exist. In lots of hotels. And they're terrifying. Call me old-fashioned, but I'd rather anything of that kind should be respectfully impersonal, like a Victorian butler; I get embarrassed around toilets that look capable of forming an opinion about me. And heated seats really just feel like seats some other blighter has just vacated.

6. Public toilets, on the other hand, are often squat. They're much faster than Western style ones, primarily, I think, because no one is going to linger in them; I mean, if you're crouching, it’s hardly the time to get a magazine out. Hence, the queuing time is about the same as would be in the men's; sexual equality has been achieved there. However, having witnessed some men's public toilets previously and come out muttering about the state of them, I am going to have to make a retraction. Men are not dirtier than women. We just have it easier than they do. Give women a squat toilet rather than a sit one, and they're just as bad as men.

7. If you're in Tokyo, go to Nikko. It's amazing.

8. If you've seen Princess Mononoke, it helps to see Japan. Different national landscapes have different characters, and there's something about the Japanese mountains that makes it seem just right that the gods in them would be stark, beautiful and unforgiving. The mountains are breathtaking, intimidating, inhumanly beautiful.

9. Japanese modern architecture, on the other hand, is pretty unattractive. Almost all of Tokyo and Kyoto look like the bad part of town.

10. If you're in Hakone or anywhere else that offers hot baths, do not pass up the opportunity. Never mind that you have to go in naked, just get your clothes of, shower down and hop in. They are fantastic.

11. Lost in Translation missed something vital. Yes, it's bewildering to be somewhere where you can't speak the language, but if you're alienated by that, it's your own fault. And though people in Japan do insist on speaking Japanese amongst themselves, they're incredibly nice to you if you appeal to them. All the people in railway stations, for example, exercised quick wits and sharp detective skills when we tried to get answers about trains out of them with a series of doodles, gestures and whimpers, and they worked out some pretty complicated things. Really, the concept of vegetarianism aside, the people we met all made a huge effort to understand what we were saying.

12. The bow is one of the most sensible inventions in history. It gets around just about every social situation you can think of. 'I don't understand what you're saying but I mean well' was a common use I had for it, but seriously, you can use it for anything.

13. If you're ever in a hotel and see a vending machine that sells hot meals . . . well, you might try it out of curiosity, but have a stand-by meal to actually eat. Our hotel had machines by the lifts that advertised these boxes where there was a packet of rice, a packet of stew and a packet of gel with a rip-cord that you could pull to heat them up. My boyfriend decided to try one, and accordingly assembled the pieces and pulled the cord. It hissed. It ground. It brooded. Its taste was described by him thus: 'Can you imagine that H.R. Giger did a sculpture and made it entirely out of four-day-old meat? Well, this is like chewing on its buttock.' I gave him a Pot Noodle.

14. Despite that, Japan is actually not that wacky. The dinner and toilets were the exception; some the gadgetry can be, possibly, a little optimistic, but the citizens seemed sensible. In the self-detonating meal episode, for instance, none of the reception staff knew how to work the device until they'd all puzzled over the instructions and conferred with each other in English, Japanese and cheery mime indicating assembly, cord-pulling and explosions, so really the peculiar ones were us for trying to eat the darn thing in the first place.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Early inner life

Hello all,

Right, I'm off on holiday. I'm going to Japan, Sydney and New York, and I'm going to be gone for a month. It'll be a month where I shall seek out computers to keep posting, but there may be some times when I'm trapped on a tour bus or marooned in the outback, lamenting my inability to communicate with you . . .

So, in the meantime, do talk amongst yourselves. To which end, I have a question for everyone, and I'd love to hear from as many people as possible:

In childhood, what was your inner landscape like?

Talking to people, it seems that some, at least, had very specific locations for their fantasy lives -not necessarily as elaborate as Angria or Gondal, but a general trend towards place types.

When I was a child, my inner landscape was an English woodland, though I wouldn't have put such a precise name to it back then. I wasn't one of those girls who imagined being a princess or a pop star: I wanted to be a fox, an otter, a deer. If I reach back in my mind, I find that place still there: brown oak leaves covering the ground, with dark earth peeping through; towering trees with ivy on them; shallow green streams with clicking pebbles and cool, swift currents; bars of gold sunlight slanting through the canopy. Of course, it wasn't the only daydream I had, but something about it captures the texture of my childhood fantasies, and looking back, I remember it in the same way I remember my old bedroom, my primary school classroom: as an environment that has a definite place in my memories.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, says that, probably due to his fondness for Saturday morning cartoons, his inner landscape was a ruined city, an urban wasteland with monsters hiding in the rubble. Not, I should add, a nightmare city, just a fairly stark one with a lot of interesting creatures and grotesques. Another friend tells me that her landscapes, while varied, tended to revolve around the notion of a hidden door, a secret entrance or exit that would take you from one world to another. Both of them are creative people, and you can see clear signs of their initial dreamworlds in their work nowadays. The same thing happened with me, I think: proofreading my first novel, I was surprised to note how obsessed with trees I was. The story kept returning to parks, and descriptions recurred of bark, of grass underfoot, of leaves, of specific breeds of tree.

So what's yours? Did your dreamworlds vary, or was there a particular kind of place you kept coming back to? And what was it like?


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