Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Z is for Zonk

wiki commons
Lucy watched the rows of terraced houses flash past, then a trading estate, then the back of a supermarket with a lorry reversing up to the warehouse door. Within a few minutes the roads and buildings gave way to open fields dotted with livestock. It was warm inside after the chilly wait and, in spite of the boisterous chatter of a group of young men at the other end, she was unable to resist the rhythmical rocking of the carriage. 
She was jolted awake to find herself alone and she peered out at the dark. A guard came down the aisle with a rubbish bag and announced the name of the station. It was not familiar. Feeling sheepish she mumbled her thanks and gathered her bag then climbed down onto the deserted platform. A tall man in a hat was standing under the single lamppost by the exit, he seemed to be waiting.
"What a relief," he said. "I thought I'd missed you. Come on, the car is right outside."

(Final word for my flash fiction A to Z supplied surreptitiously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Martian (not an a to z post)

I read 'The Martian' by Andy Weir at the weekend as part of the read-a-thon. It is verging on an instruction manual on how to survive an extreme experience. It is a little like an outer space version of 'Cast away'. Mark Watney is abandoned on Mars when his team think he has died and they have to make an emergency launch, and his story is recorded in a series of log entries that are interspersed with the story of what is going on back on earth, and also what is happening to the crew who are headed home. 

I have to assume all the science and maths is well researched and real, what would be the point otherwise, but it did get a little dull and I skim read some of the descriptions of how the equipment worked and when he was calculating his oxygen, food and water needs to survive until the next mission arrived. I know nothing about surviving in space but sometimes the whole thing seemed a little far fetched; I would have imagined a punctured space suit was pretty much unavoidably fatal, and I was concerned that their 'Hab' (habitat, I assume) appeared to be little more than a very fancy pressurised tent. He was very clever, though I assume that to get to be an astronaut you would have to be, and yet at the same time very stupid. I am not sure anyone would become so blasé about the life threatening situation he was in. He nearly kills himself several times doing very risky things. If your life depended on the equipment around you then you would be a damn sight more careful with it than he seems to be. It is a very plot driven book and the story lurches from one crisis to the next with our hero coming up with some very imaginative solutions to his problems. I found myself engaged not because he was such a strong character but because you would just have to root for anyone in such a situation. He lacked a certain emotional depth because the whole story is about how he deals with the practical problems, at no point does he really lose hope or have any kind of existential crisis. I was left feeling that he was not particularly changed by the experience, so maybe a bit of a 'bloke book' then. Having said that I did enjoy the book and have a couple of choice quotes that amused me:

"I unravelled Martinez's bed and took the string outside, then taped it to the trailer hull along the path I planned to cut. Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped." (p.220)

"There's an international treaty saying no country can lay claim to anything that's not on Earth. And by another treaty, if you're not in any country's territory, maritime law applies.
So Mars is "international waters"
NASA is an American nonmilitary organisation, and it owns the Hab. So while I'm in the Hab, American law applies. As soon as I step outside, I'm in international waters. Then when I get in the rover, I'm back to American law.
Here's the cool part: I will eventually go to Schiaparelli and commandeer the Ares 4 lander. Nobody explicitly gave me permission to do this, and they can't until I'm aboard Ares 4 and operating the comm system. After I board Ares 4, before talking to NASA, I will take control of a craft in international waters without permission.
That makes me a pirate!
A space pirate!" (p.260)

"Once I'd shut everything down, the interior of the Hab was eerily silent. I'd spent 449 sols listening to its heaters, vents, and fans. But now it was dead quiet. It was a creepy kind of quiet that's hard to describe. I've been away from the noises of the Hab before, but always in a rover or an EVA suit, both of which have noisy machinery of their own.
But now there was nothing. I never realised how utterly silent Mars is. It's a desert world with practically no atmosphere to convey sound. I could hear my own heartbeat.
Anyway, enough waxing philosophical." (p.284)

Conclusion: I think the film will be excellent.

Y is for Yes

"Would you like to provide a Y word for my A to Z?"
He looks across, giving the question due consideration.

(Word and inspiration for my flash fiction A to Z supplied today by Dunk.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Monday, 28 April 2014

X is for Xystos

George offered her his arm, which she accepted, and they strolled down the length of the walk in the dappled shade of the lime trees. It was deemed acceptable so long as they stayed within sight of Mrs Armitage who taking tea, and dozing they were well aware, in the rose garden. Privacy was hard to come by, and though observed, they could at least converse unheard. Estelle hardly dared to hope that what she had discerned of his intentions was about to be confirmed. The polite exchanges petered out by the time they emerged by the lake and he turned to her. She raised her eyes to meet his. He opened his mouth to speak but was cut short as a little terrier came charging down towards them, barking wildly and closely followed by Estelle's younger brother. The dog bowled past them and then they saw Agnes, the nanny, waddling down the path and shrieking at Bertie to stay away from the water. George smiled ruefully at her and they walked back towards the house.

(Word for my flash fiction A to Z today searched out by me because Xylophone was just not inspiring. Scene inspired by a conversation about Jane Austen during the read-a-thon.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Sunday, 27 April 2014

W is for Weather

Rain runs in rivulets down the stone, inveigling its way into the crevices, taking up residence in the blocked gutters and feeding the moss that grows in the cracks between. Sun dries the window sills and bakes the paint to grey-white splinters that flake leaving the wood to swell and warp. Wind lifts the slates making holes for the snow to gather in drifts along the rafters. Rot and decay invade the space inside, mould takes hold in the plaster that crumbles from the walls and fallen leaves cluster in the doorways. Nature reclaims.

(Apologies for lateness, we've been reading.)
(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Read-a-thon - the home strait

It is now 10am and huge thanks to everyone who joined in with the Book Balancing challenge, we will contact the winner asap. 

I have finished 'The Innocents' by Francesca Segal  - 357 pages
Monkey is on 349 of 'Cell' and has read all 289 pages of 'Silver Linings Playbook' by Matthew Quick.

I am moving on to 'Broken Verses' by Kamila Shamsie.
In the meantime we have done more challenges.
The Book Jenga Challenge is on at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm, and here is our stack:

 And then incorporating two challenges into one activity here is Monkey participating in the 3-2-1 Action Challenge over at Vonnie's Reading Corner, where you are asked to act out a scene from the book you are reading. Here Monkey is being a plane crash that occurs right back at the beginning of 'Cell' by Stephen King.

We might pop back later if the last few challenges sound fun.
12.30pm The Books Around the World challenge is going on at Esther's Ever After til 1pm. My list is taken from my book review page:
A Pale View of the hills by Kazuo Ishiguro - Asia 
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngosi Adichie - Africa 
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy - Europe 
A Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier - Antarctica 
Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut - South America

The Magnificent Book Balancing Mini Challenge

Welcome Read-a-thon Participants.
It's been a long night. Now it's time to get on your feet and act a little crazy. But whatever you do don't put your book down. You might need the assistance of a friend or, failing that, you'll have to master the timer thingy on your camera, you know you always meant to learn how to do it and now's your chance. 

Take your book, or even more than one if you're feeling daring, and balance it carefully on some part of your anatomy. Quick take a photo before it falls.

Post your picture somewhere, on your blog or your Facebook page or wherever. Sign up with the Linky and please leave a comment below, and all the other participants can come and see your contortions. 

Monkey insists that the prize has to go to the most inventive pose, so we will give careful consideration to every picture, and then very probably draw someone at random. 

 The prize will be this beautiful batik cotton tote bag, hand made by yours truly, and just perfect for popping out to the library or your local bookshop. 
(I am happy to post anywhere in the world so don't be shy about entering.) 
This challenge will run until 10am British Summer Time (three hours).
Challenge closed now, thanks everyone for joining in. The prize was won by Ashley.

Coffee and cake at dawn

Hi there. We've had a little walk around the block and admired the stars. We've had a sleep. Now I have coffee. I hardly ever have coffee, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And you know what, it's rather nice. Now I am joining in with another challenge. This is the hour 16 'Page 35 Sentence 3' challenge at The Biblophibian. The instructions say take the allocated sentence from your book and add something to it to make a mini story or poem. My current book did not have three sentences on page 35, so from the arm of the sofa I plucked 'Middlemarch' by George Eliot. The sentence is so pompous it necessitated something short and sweet in response.

"But I have discerned in you an elevation of thought and a capability of devotedness, which I had hitherto not conceived to be compatible either with the early bloom of youth or with those graces of sex that may be said at once to win and to confer distinction when combined, as they notably are in you, with the mental qualities above indicated ... however I'm afraid you're sacked."

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Duct tape is magic and should be worshipped

I finished 'The Martian' - 369 pages
Monkey is up to 309 of 'Cell' plus up to page 42 of Mansfield Park (but the posh people were too irritating so she went back to the scary one).

Joining in now with a few mini challenges 
The 'Shelfie Selfie' challenge is happening over with Kate at The Book Monsters
And the First Editions Challenge is happening at The Bluestocking Society with Jessica
Strangely neither of us has dozed off yet, and I am not even very tired. I am now starting 'The Innocents' by Francesca Segal, hopefully a little less stressful (plot wise that is) than The Martian. Catch you all later. Don't forget to pop back for our mini challenge at 7am.

The Read-a-thon cometh

Hello fellow readers, how goes the reading? We are quarter of the way through already, where has the time gone. Here is our read-a-thon cake ... it's supposed to look like a table with books and tea and cookies. We are currently waiting for dinner to arrive.
Monkey has been reading 'Cell' by Stephen King and having reached page 232 she has decided to take a break and try something else for a bit ... Mansfield Park perhaps?
I am reading 'The Martian' by Andy Weir, and have reached page 216. It is all very exciting so far, though there is a touch too much complex maths going on, explaining how to 'make' water and calculating how many calories he will need until the next mission arrives to rescue him. Things go from bad to worse but he is pretty resourceful.  I am going to stick with this until the bitter end, though I am guessing there is going to be some major heroics some time soon (I think the film will be excellent.)

Friday, 25 April 2014

V is for Vapid

Agnes sits in her chair, a crocheted blanket over her lap. The chair is thoughtfully angled so she has a good view of the television. It's nice for her to get out of her room they say, to have the company of others in the day room. The sound is rather loud and the programmes flick past, each as bright and glossy as the last. The carer leaves the remote control on the table beside her, though it is on her left side, and that hand no longer moves very far. Mr Llewelyn dozes in the chair next to her, grunting occasionally but not waking until the tea trolley comes round at four. His daughter pops in on her way home from work. She turns the tv down and chats to him about his granddaughter's school sports day triumph. Agnes eyes the remote, it is nearer now, she can just about reach it. Her hand is clumsy and nearly knocks it from the table but she wills the tremors to be calm. Eventually her finger finds the red button and the screen goes black.

(Word for my flash fiction A to Z supplied today by Tish.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Monkey's Beekeeper Quilt for Fibre Arts Friday (not an A to Z post)

We are coming up to the two year anniversary of starting this project and are on the home run for our Beekeeper Quilt; the total currently stands at 335. We decided to lay them out to encourage ourselves (and to lie on it because it is just so fabulously squishy). We do have until September to finish when she will be going to London to be a Monkey.
They vary in size quite considerably, being knit in so many different yarns and with occasionally random size needles. Some are stuffed fat, some have hardly any filling:
and some are peculiar shapes ....
all of which will be included no matter what.

We made some minor adaptations to the pattern: we added extra rows sometimes if the hexipuff seemed a little 'squat' and then started doing the increases and decreases one stitch in from the edge, it gave a nice neat edging. Then Monkey decided to try increasing down the centre instead of at the edges, and this is what happened:
 This one, amongst so many, is one of my favourites; it is done in a lovely delicate soft angora blend, it is quite a fine DK so it is one strand of pink and one strand of purple knitted together, giving this wonderful mottled effect:
Pop over to Wisdom Begins in Wonder for Fibre Arts Friday, share your fibre projects and check out some others.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Perfume (not an A to Z post)

'Perfume' by Patrick Süskind has been a slightly surreal read. It is one of the books for my TBR Pile Challenge. I read 'The Pigeon' back in October 2010 and was enthralled by it, but I confess this one much less so. It has a similarly socially isolated central character, if anything Grenouille (meaning frog is french, which amused me) is even more of an outcast than Jonathan Noel. 

If you've come across the film of the book I think it follows the story quite well but would be hard put to capture the real essence of the book. The story is not really about murder, the deaths are almost incidental, it is a story about obsession. What it brought to mind most was Joanne Harris, many of who's books are about the delights of the senses. This book is about smells, and large tracts of the story detail the smells that Grenouille encounters in his travels, but there is no sense of delight or relishing of his amazing olfactory abilities and experiences. He takes very little pleasure in anything in life, and seems to accept it that way. Grenouille himself is without an odour, something he seems to blame for his outsider status; people do not acknowledge his existence as a human being, because they are virtually unaware of his presence. The story charts his struggle to create a scent for himself, he wants to smell perfect. For some reason the author kills off every single one of the characters he comes into contact with, maybe it is to emphasise their irrelevance? People come in and out of Grenouille's life, help him or hinder him, use him and exploit him, all the while he is gaining the knowledge he needs to create his desire. The writer is almost as obsessive as Grenouille himself. So the pleasure of the book is in the reading, not so much the story as the indulgence of the senses. What I liked was the celebration of smell and the way it is probably the most undervalued of the human senses, how we don't even notice so many of the smells we encounter, the way smells influence our emotions and our responses to people, things and places. If anything Grenouille is slightly scornful of the way that people cover themselves with artificial smells, because what he aspires to is to smell human. I like that about him, even if there is nothing else to like. 
Long quote now, that I feel captures him, and the book:

"There was a little pile of cat-shit behind the threshold of the door leading out to the courtyard, still quite fresh. He took half a teaspoon of it and placed it together with several drops of vinegar and finely ground salt in a mixing bottle. Under the worktable he found a thumbnail-sized piece of cheese, apparently from one of Runel's lunches. It was already quite old, had begun to decompose, and gave off a biting, pungent odour. From the lid of a sardine tub that stood by the back door of the shop, he scratched off a rancid fishy something-or-other, mixed it with rotten egg and castoreum, ammonia, nutmeg, horn shavings and singed pork rind, finely ground. To this he added a relatively large amount of civet, mixed these ghastly ingredients with alcohol, let it digest and filtered it into a second bottle. The bilge smelled revolting. Its stink was putrid, like a sewer, and if you fanned its vapour just once to mix it with fresh air, it was as if you were standing in Paris on a hot summer day, at the corner of the rue aux Fers and the rue de la Lingerie, where the odours from Les Halles, the Cimetière des Innocents and the overcrowded tenements converged.
On top of this disgusting base, which smelled more like a cadaver than a human being, Grenouille spread a layer of fresh oily scents: peppermint, lavender, turpentine, lime, eucalyptus, which he then simultaneously disguised and tamed with the pleasant bouquet of fine floral oils - geranium, rose, orange blossom and jasmine. After a second dilution with alcohol and a splash of vinegar there was nothing left of the disgusting base odour on which the mixture was built. The latent stench lay lost and unnoticeable under the fresh ingredients; the nauseous part, pampered by the scent of flowers, had become almost interesting; and, strangely enough, there was not putrefaction left in the smell, not the least. On the contrary, the perfume seemed to exhale the robust, vivacious scent of life." (p.155-6)

U is for Unleashed

King Mygor looked down from the ramparts, across the field, to the gathered army of the Lachnar. It was an awe inspiring sight. Mygor was not a man to experience terror, but if he had been his guts would have burned in anticipation what would come to pass. They had been there three weeks and the land around was scorched and desolate. Villages in their path had been wiped clear and Mygor knew the fate that awaited those who had taken refuge if his plan failed. 
He descended the tower and entered the great hall. A dozen children were playing with a huge dragon, some hanging from its tail and screaming in delight at being tossed around, others sitting on its back and cheering excitedly. At the sight of him Oltoth came lumbering over and lowered his smoky snout into Mygor's hand and nuzzled while the king scratched his throat bringing forth a tiny spew of flame, more purr than roar. This docile creature would never be their saviour he knew, it would be science not magic that would prevail; the Lachnar would never even know what killed them.
"Everything is ready, Your Majesty," said a cloaked man, approaching and handing him a delicate flask. 
Mygor turned it over in his hand and smiled.
Down in the camp below two men on watch saw the vessel fly out from the castle, they observed its trajectory across and down. One turned and called out a warning. It landed beside a fire, shattering, and the men around jumped up. 
"What manner of weapon is this?" said one of them, picking up a piece of the glass and showing it to the others, laughing scornfully. The smile was wiped from his lips as thick foam bubbled from his throat. He fell to his knees, clutching at the tunic of his friend but he was dead before his face hit the earth. Panic spread before the plague, but not fast enough to save any of them. By morning the battle was over.

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

T is for Truancy

Wiki commons
"I'm not going, someone will see us, what if we get caught?" Dylan peered through the mesh and across the wide open space.
"Then stay here and keep watch," Saffron replied scornfully. "I want to see what the real world is like."
She scrambled through the hole in the fence and skirted the field, trying to keep out of sight. Her heart pounded as she approached the buildings but no one seemed to be about, in fact an eerie hush hung over the whole place. She peered into one of the windows. The people inside sat at small tables in rows, heads bent over, while someone at the front of the room walked back and forth, and occasionally wrote something on a large board. She watched in curious fascination. What were they doing, and why? No one spoke, or moved. One of the boys glanced up from his writing and saw her, she smiled and waved. Without warning the person at the front crossed the room in a few strides and threw open the window.
"What are you doing out there?" he demanded. "Why are you not in class? Where's your uniform?"
She stumbled backwards dumbfounded, then turned and fled.

(Truancy for hippy home educators:-)

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Countdown to the Read-a-thon (not an A to Z post)

Saturday 26th of April will bring us to the biannual Dewey's Read-a-Thon, starting on this blog some time after 1pm (or whenever I manage to get home from work) and continuing until 1pm on Sunday 27th. There is still time to sign up and join in, or just join in without signing up, I don't think it matters, it's the reading that's important. Monkey and I have this nice pile of books to choose from, or any other random books that come our way in the intervening days (though I am nearly up to my borrow limit at the library). I am really looking forward to 'The Martian' by Andy Weir that I read about just the other day and ordered specially. 'The Hobbit' Monkey and I have been reading on and off for a couple of years and hope to get through a couple more pages, and the Caitlin Moran 'How to be a woman' I bought for Tish for Christmas and is there for a bit of light relief. 

This year we will be hosting a 'mini challenge' at the unearthly hour of 7am (or some time in the middle of the night if you are visiting from across the pond), so please do drop by and participate (there will be an announcement on the official site) - no spoilers yet, you will have to wait and see, but there will be a prize! 
The only thing left to do is bake the cake ... it's not a proper read-a-thon without cake.

S is for Shallow

She slipped off her sandals and carried them across the last stretch of damp sand down to the edge of the water. The tide appeared to be neither coming nor going; sunlight sparkled on the surface and the tiniest of wavelets lapped over her toes, chilling them deliciously. The clear water at her feet faded gradually to a deep turquoise that merged with the sky at some almost imperceptible point on the horizon. Tendrils of seaweed washed gently to and fro in the current. She stepped out until the water covered her feet, the salt prickling her skin. There was no need to go any deeper, even ankle deep it was still the ocean.

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Monday, 21 April 2014

R is for Rambunctious

"I can see the sea," Annie squealed. "Lets go faster."
Danny ran behind, down the last slope towards the promenade and then along the sea front. Annie's long hair flew back wildly, pulled loose from her scarf and tossed to and fro in the buffeting wind. A dozen seagulls swooped and called overhead, diving from their perches on the lampposts and circling round to alight on the railing. 
"Whoopee," she called back to him, waving her hands high in the air, her skirt flapping and ballooning around her knees. 
They reached the concrete ramp that led down on to the beach and raced to the bottom. And there they stopped, the wheels jammed firmly in the damp sand. 
Annie's cheeks were flushed and her eyes shone. 
"Sorry, Grandma, I can't push you any closer," said Danny.
"That's ok lovey, we'll just watch the waves from here."

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Q is for Quintuplets

"Yes, five."
"Are you sure?"
The technician turned the monitor so she could see the screen and showed her the tangle of limbs and bodies.
She lay back and closed her eyes for a moment. With a deep sigh she straightened her clothes and climbed down from the bed. Gathering her coat she nodded her thanks and made her way back down the corridor to the waiting room.
"Time to go kids. Tommy, Danny, will you get off that wheelchair, it's not a toy. Gemma, Barney, Suzie, will you put the little ones back in the pushchair. Has the baby been asleep all this time, well that's a miracle? Adam, darling, you have to leave the truck behind for other children to play with. Yes, Penny, your picture is lovely but you'll have to finish it in the car. No Samuel I haven't got a drink. What do you mean Jamie went to look for the cafe? I told you all the wait here. Henry, give your brother back his teddy this instant. Chloe will you get your nose out of that magazine and be a bit more helpful. I'm sorry Ben, I know I promised but I really need to get home. We need to give daddy the good news."

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied today by Tish.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Friday, 18 April 2014

P is for Philander (this is an A to Z post)

He offered to walk back with her from the beach. The party was still in full swing behind them but once they rounded the corner of the path and were surrounded by trees, the lights and music and chatter faded. She felt awkward, alone with this man she had only just met. He had flirted with her all evening and surrounded by others it had felt innocent and harmless, but now it made her self-conscious. She kept up a lively stream of talk about her plans for the rest of the holiday, all the while feeling aware of his gaze. She stopped at her cabin and smiled politely, starting to say goodnight. His fingertips reached up and stroked her arm very lightly and he took a step towards her. Suddenly a small creature dropped from the tree beside them landing on his shoulder, and scuttled away into the undergrowth. He shrieked and jumped away.
"What the hell was that?"
"Just a possum," she laughed, going inside and closing the door.

(Alternative meaning of Philander)
(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Two sides to every story (also not an A to Z post)

Julie took me out for lunch and bought me a couple of books at the Oxfam bookshop for my birthday and 'Sweetness' by Torgny Lindgren was one of them.  I took it to work yesterday as I was doing an afternoon shift just dealing with returned packets, supervising the collections and locking up, so there was a bit of 'down' time. It is a brief 138 pages so I woke up this morning and finished it. It was an interesting contrast to 'The Luminaries' with its vast cast and complex interactions; 'Sweetness' has just Hadar and Olof, brothers, and an unnamed woman visitor. Hadar is dying of cancer, Olof is dying from heart disease, and each is determined to outlive the other. Their animosity seems to be rooted deep in their childhood and it has been the thing that sustained them through the years of their lives. 

When she finds herself briefly trapped by a snowfall the woman becomes a go between, caring for both brothers and gradually learning their story. On the first morning when she sees the smoke from Olof's cottage Hadar announces:

" 'My brother. Olof. If it weren't for him, I'd have been dead long ago.'
She glanced round at him quickly. What did he look like when he actually uttered a few words that on the face of it were full of warmth.
'I'm not going to make the bastard happy by dying before him,' he went on. 'That's what keeps me alive, and I'll never let him get the upper hand.'
There was quite a lot of smoke pouring out of the chimney down there, black smoke rising defiantly against the blinding snow." (p.15)

and this sets the tone for the entire book. They are the proverbial chalk and cheese; Hadar wasting away with his cancer and Olof grown grossly huge after a lifetime of consuming only sugar. They both look out of their windows at the other's cottage and wait for the smoke to cease. 

The whole book is beautifully written, spare and full of very black humour. The woman does not try to draw them out, she remains to a certain extend quite removed, her mind often occupied with thoughts about her own writing and her frequently repeated intention to leave soon. It is almost her indifference that makes them more forthcoming. They have lived inside their hatred for so long they both just assume she will take their part, but equally do not seem to resent her attentions to the other. It is a case of mutual hostility become the closest of interdependence. She does not appear to become fond of them, it is more a curious fascination that keeps her there. And I found myself more curious about her because we learn nothing much about her. 
There is not much in the way of lyrical descriptions of the environment or the snow or the coming spring, just the routines of survival, lighting the fire, eating, sleeping. In fact in places it is ... there must be a word for the opposite of lyrical, but I'm not sure what. I will avoid the description of pus extraction and give you this instead:

"But, when the day came, he would sit in the sauna that he had build with the wood dismantled from Olof's house and sweat out all the uncleanness and all the odours - that was the only natural and fitting way for a man, a man was made to sweat and as long as a man was doing heavy work and sweating he never needed to wash. If the sweat of his own life had been collected in a hollow in the ground, it would have made a sizeable lake - no, not a lake, a marsh, a muddy tarn, a bottomless quagmire. Because men's sweat, he would have her know, was not thin and watery; no - it was like gruel or limewash, it was strong and rich in ingredients; it did not run freely and easily but had to be squeezed out through the pores like mushy peas through a strainer." (p.48)

They settle into a routine together, occasionally she tries to instigate some kind of contact between them but they resist her. At other times she tells each of them what she knows they want to hear and allows them to play out their own version of events. The reader realises after a while that she won't leave before the end:

"She saw the snowplough drive past, but showed no sign of agitation. Having fetched the newspaper from the box at the roadside she sat down at the table to read it. When Hadar saw what she was doing, he said, 'No, we shouldn't read the paper, we should steer clear of disasters and distress. We should live as quiet a life as lichen. We can use the paper to light the stove.'" (p.54)

Monkey socks for Fibre Arts Friday (not an A to Z post)

After finishing the Monkey jumper a few weeks ago I used some of the remaining yarn to knit Monkey a pair of socks to match. They were done to the Violet Green Waving Not Drowning pattern, not that I had a copy but it is one of Julie's favourites (and she's having a sock knitting year) so she simply told me the four row pattern repeat, it's so simple but looks very effective. I thought I had made them long enough to come over the top of her DM's but never mind. And here she is wearing them *on the wrong feet* :-) I recently discovered a pattern for a bow tie online and so she has been doing some sewing (don't ask me to explain, she just wanted a bow tie ok) and now has quite an extensive collection; this one goes quite nicely with the jumper I thought.
Joining in again with Fibre Arts Friday, pop over and admire some other creations.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

O is for Orchid

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Dan stood admiring the roses, long stemmed and deep blood red. Too romantic he felt, and he didn't want to give her the wrong impression this early in the relationship. Lilies maybe; but some people are allergic and isn't the pollen really staining, not worth the risk. Chrysanthemums are what you buy your grannie when she's in hospital, and those coloured carnations are just so artificial. He contemplated the boxed orchids, delicate and exquisite. Expensive too, he thought, it could give just the right impression. He pulled out his wallet and the florist smiled expectantly.
"I'll have two bunches of daffodils thanks."

(Word for today's flash fiction A to Z supplied by my sister Claire when we were on the phone last night.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

N is for Nonchalant

Leaning awkwardly sideways he looked in the rear view mirror, fidgeted with his tie and ran his fingers over the already immaculate haircut. He walked across the car park gripping the newly purchased briefcase a touch too tight and trying very hard to breathe slowly and evenly. A curt woman at the reception desk greeted him and directed him to the lift.The journey to the sixth floor seemed interminable and the mirrored walls served only to make him feel observed and self conscious rather than alleviating the claustrophobia. On arrival a second, slightly older, but equally officious receptionist told him to take a seat. He perched on the edge of a pristine and very expensive leather armchair opposite the person who he assumed was his competition for the position. Surreptitiously he wiped the sweat from his palms and observed her. The woman was reading a magazine and smiling to herself, amused by the contents of the article. A cup of coffee was perched somewhat precariously on the arm of the chair and she paused in her reading to take a sip. The door opened behind him and they both looked up.
"Ms Ridley, won't you come in," said the man.
She folded the magazine and replaced it in her bag. She unfolded herself from the chair and glanced down at him as she walked past. There was pity in her eyes.

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

M is for Monopoly

"No," she said, grasping her staff more firmly and jutting out her chin, a fierce look in her eyes. 
He looked up at her, plaintive and contrite.
"But, your majesty, without it I will surely die."
His body slumped over and his head lolled almost comically to one side.
"But you are a mere peasant," she replied haughtily, "what does it matter to me?"
"I'm begging you, if not for me, at least spare the life of my baby," and he held out a tightly wrapped bundle. "Be merciful."
She stalked across and stood over him, seeming to consider his plight. The sound of music drifted across the grass and her head turned instinctively to it.
She smiled and crouched down to where he lay, planting a kiss delicately on his forehead.
"There, you are cured. Can we go for ice-cream now?"

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

The Luminaries (not an A to Z post)

'The Luminaries' by Eleanor Catton. Wow and more wow. And so not what I expected. I only just read 'The Rehearsal' about six months ago and it is a very avant garde novel. When I read that her second, 'The Luminaries', had first been shortlisted and then won the Booker I added myself to the queue of people waiting to borrow it from the library. I had not read anything about the story so I had no preconceptions about it. It has everything really; it has history, it has intrigue, it has murder and disappearances, it has stolen gold and it has young love. And what a wonderful cast of characters, and all of them important to the plot, not just there to fill the background. And moral ambiguity, not that you can't tell the goodies from the baddies, just that everyone is really human, with both strengths and weaknesses. The only thing I didn't really get were the lunar and astrological references, I was not sure quite what relevance they had, to the story or anything.
Hokitika 1870
Set in the (presumably) (but apparently notfictional town of Hokitika in New Zealand during the latter half of the nineteenth century we are introduced to a group of twelve men who are meeting to discuss the death of one local man and the disappearance of another. A new arrival in the form of Walter Moody happens upon their gathering and by a circuitous route ends up being told the entire story. This takes up the first 300 pages or so. I confess I was a bit daunted by the size of the book and dawdled through this first part, then realising that it had to go back to the library I have read the last 500 pages in just a few days (and please excuse the rushed review as it is now overdue). I think this was a good thing because it is the kind of book that benefits from full immersion; it is full of atmosphere and historical detail. It wasn't until I wrote out this first quote that I realised how apposite it is, because it involves a simile that conjures up an image that we might not be familiar with, but which the characters in the book would know very well:

"The report from the small gun was hollow, even unremarkable - like the cracking of a topsail far above a deck. It seemed an echo of itself, as if the real shot had fired somewhere much further away." (p.160)

The second quote similarly creates an image (one that I very much sympathise with because I feel the same) but that is again something not familiar in everyday modern life:

" 'I've been busy,' said Balfour, eyeing the candle a second time - for ever since he was a boy he had not been able to sit before a candle without wanting to touch it, to sweep his index finger through the flame until it blackened, to mould the soft edges where the wax was warm, to dip his fingertip into the pool of molten he sat and then withdraw it, swiftly, so that the tallow formed a yellow cap over the pad of his finger which blanched and constricted as it cooled." (p.196)

What is really wonderful about the book though is the complexity of the plot. It is simply a darn good story, well written and well put together. It twists and turns and, like the men in the 'fellowship', we get dribs and drabs of information, some by deliberate and often furtive enquiries, but some come across by accident in the course of life in a small and intimate community. Everybody knows each other and each other's business. The social and political attitudes of the time are very vividly represented. The feeling of being far from home is a theme for many characters and much of the language refers to going back when a suitable fortune has been made. The influence of the gold is everywhere, in the forefront of everyone's interactions. In Anna, Lydia and Margaret we have three women who are victims of the harsh life that exists in this outpost of the empire, all of whom have reacted in different ways to the restrictions of their gender. I was concerned that the 'whore' thing might be a bit clichéd, but Anna is a very real character and all the men's opinions and reactions to her are cogent with their respective personalities. It just occurred to me that it was interesting to so enjoy a book that was much more focussed on male characters because so many books that I read are by and about women.

Final quote comes from Moody, and I kind of liked it because it sums up the process of reading the book. Having followed through several months the book then cycles around on itself to the backstory of the main players, though one vital event was left unexplained, but I don't begrudge it.

" 'All that is impertinent is not only immaterial; it is, in many cases, deliberately misleading. Gentlemen,' (though this collective address sat oddly, considering the mixed company in the room) 'I contend that there are no whole truths, there are only pertinent truths - and pertinence, you must agree, it always a matter of perspective. I do not believe that any one of you had perjured himself in any way tonight, but your perspectives are very many, and you will forgive me if I do not take your tale for something whole." (p.282)

Monday, 14 April 2014

L is for Luggage

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The Luggage had been waiting for quite some time. It felt like at least a year, but it might have been closer to a fortnight. It had been left behind quite by accident; the porter had been called away to an elderly lady having a funny turn and by the time he returned the train had already departed. Not wanting to give away its real purpose it had sat in a quiet corner of the lost property office biding its time. All that had changed yesterday however when a small ladies trunk with shiny brass fittings had arrived. Little by little the Luggage had moved surreptitiously closer, enchanted by the scent of cedar and beeswax polish. It opened its lid just a crack and let it snap closed, hoping to impress with the echo of its hidden depths and a hint of sapient pearwood. But she studiously ignored its advances, seemingly unaware of their close proximity. The following morning a woman in a fox fur and bright red boots had had her carried out to a Hansom. The Luggage stared disconsolately after the departing vehicle. A single drop of sap oozed slowly from its left hinge and trickled to the floor where it pooled and burned a small hole in the linoleum.

(Have never done Fan Fiction before, but when Monkey said Luggage the first thought was one of our favourite characters from Terry Pratchett's Discworld.)
(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Sunday, 13 April 2014

K is for Kinetic

Elspeth replaced the last figurine in its spot and stood back satisfied. Everything was ready. The cushions were plumped, the table polished and the shortbread baked. She took off her overall, hung it on the back of the kitchen door and made her way carefully up the stairs. She put on her favourite mauve blouse and the brooch that Bill had given her for their silver wedding anniversary and checking her reflection in the mirror she tucked a stray curl back into place. She felt a flutter of anxiety; her son James was bringing his daughters over and the visit just had to go well, it had been such a long time. She had never quite understood what she might have done to offend his wife, but offence had surely been taken and that had been that. Back in the kitchen she realised she had left the milk jug out on the side since breakfast time. She sniffed the jug and it had a hint of sour about it. There was barely time but she had to buy fresh. She slipped on her shoes and hurried down to the corner shop. As she came back round the corner she could see them gathered on the pavement outside the house. She raised her hand and called out a greeting. The two children turned and waved at her and called out 'Nanna'. Clutching the bottle of milk she hurried across to them, arms open wide. She did not even hear the van that hit her.

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Late again, sorry, will try harder this week.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Friday, 11 April 2014

J is for Jingle

The sound floated across the garden for just a few seconds, but enough to catch her attention. She turned her head in the vague direction and sniffed the air. Then it came again, clearer this time, so she got up and trotted across the grass, following the noise. The dappled sunlight under the willow tree set the perfect scene: a group of tiny figures were dancing in and out around a ring of tiny toadstools, dresses made from apple blossom and their bare feet encircled with tiny silver bells that jingled as they stepped. For a moment she sat, curious. Then one of the creatures became aware they were being watched and turned and stared at her.
"But I'm a cat," she meowed, "we don't believe in fairies."
As the meaning dawned on them it was too late, and they vanished in a burst of sparkling dust.

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

I is for Ignition

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After Kate fastened her seatbelt she rubbed her sleeve vigorously on the steamed up window and looked back at the front door. Her mum stood with her arms wrapped around herself, watching and keeping up the encouraging smile that had been there since first light. There hadn't been as much to pack as she had thought; clothes, books and dvd's all in random bags and boxes, and an assortment of second hand kitchen equipment jumbled in with bags of pasta and tins of beans. It had drizzled continuously so each box was carried out at a swift dash and dumped unceremoniously in the back of the car. 
"Call me later, just to let me know how you're settling in," her mum said, giving her a brusque hug. She stepped back then reached out briefly to tuck in a strand of hair that had escaped her pony tail. 
Sitting behind the wheel Kate gave a little wave, then started the engine.

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Sorry for the lateness, just had a tiring day at work yesterday.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

H is for Horror

"Just look, did you see this?"
"That's outrageous."
"It's barbaric."
"How can this be happening in the twenty first century?"
"It shouldn't be allowed."
"It's torture."
"I just can't imagine..."
"There should be laws against it."
"Why doesn't their government protect them?"
"Why do they put up with it?"
"You'd think people would protest."
"Somebody should do something."
"I guess it's part of their culture."
"It's been going on for hundreds of years."
"It's not for us to tell them how to live."
"Thank goodness it's not like that over here."
"I'm going for a coffee, do you want to come?"

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey... though not quite so fictional today.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

G is for Grovel

The ground smelt acrid and the fine grit prickled his face, but when he tried to raise his body a weight on his back kept him down. He didn't remember falling out of the car, but, he reasoned, he must have done. He must be trapped under the wreckage. He could see light behind; Danny must have seen the crash and stopped. It would be ok, he would get someone to help. He twitched his fingers and toes tentatively, there was no pain, he couldn't be badly hurt. But as he watched the light seemed to fade to a low red glow and then there was utter darkness. The weight on his back lifted but he sensed something beside him. The red glow returned and a large misshapen foot landed by his nose and a voice suddenly close to his ear growled,
"Stay there."
A massive hideous creature was standing above him, glaring down from smouldering black eyes. The air was rent by a torturous scream and the thing bellowed, belching fire and ash from its throat. He realised it was laughing, and he no longer dared to rise.

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Monday, 7 April 2014

F is for Frosted

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The commute was nearly an hour and despite his determination to leave on time it was almost seven before he swiped his pass card at the exit gate and pulled out onto the dual carriageway. Traffic was at least quieter by this time and he settled back comfortably in his seat and flicked the switch on the radio. Pete whistled softly along with the song and realised it was the one they had once danced to at the school disco. The warm smile faded abruptly from his lips as his brain made swift and unbidden calculations and a terrible sinking feeling crept over him. He had forgotten. And he knew that she would not. Flowers, he thought, but dismissed it immediately. She would see right through a cheap bunch of supermarket flowers and know it was a belated token. He would just have to go home and face the consequences. It was a long and dreadful hour, and it was almost a relief when he turned into the drive and the car headlights swept across the front of the house. His footsteps crunched across the gravel and he took a calming breath as he put his key in the lock. For a moment he thought it was stuck; he pushed firmly, but the door remained stubbornly closed. 

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)


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