Thursday, 26 November 2009

What is the Point of Data Protection?

This article caught my eye today. There are calls to make a rough census from 1939 public. I am amazed at the comments from people that say this information should be made public. No doubt these are the same people who get annoyed when they recieve telemarketing calls or junk mail. Or their personal data being used for other purposes, outwith their control.

When I worked for the NHS archive, you used to get a lot of people coming through the 'back door' to trace relatives. This usually applied to individuals who were adopted or who had lost contact with their birth parents. In the eyes of the NHS record keeping authorities, the ownership of someone's birth record does not lie with the child but with the mother. So if these enquiries came in then we had to ask the enquirier to follow a certain procedure. They either had to provide written permission from their mother to release the information or evidence of her death. You'd rarely hear from these people again.

This is why I believe the 75 year rule is fine and dandy for these kind of records. In Scotland, the census is locked tight for 100 years for the potential problems they could throw up. Like the situation described above. How would an elderly woman feel if someone turned up at their door one day and said they were her child given up for adoption? Hence the existence of agencies such as Barnardos who handle such enquiries. It is not always a person's right, or appropriate, for them to have such information at their fingertips.

Yes records have been kept so people can use them for informational purposes. But we also have to respect the data subjects recorded in these documents. That is why I believe the early release of these records should not be considered. Although the introduction of an application basis with evidence that individuals are deceased could be the way forward.

This surge of legislation does not automatically mean people have the right to access information that does not relate directly to them as data subjects.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Sunday Salon and NaNoWriMo (not in that order though)

So it's the end of the second week of NaNo. I didn't post at the end of the first week but let's ignore that little fact.

In two weeks I have poured out over 25, 000 words (just over the target for the end of Week 2). I started with the names of two main characters, the idea that Soviets (I intend to keep that term) and zombies would be involved as well. Fast forward two weeks and I don't like one of the original main characters and the boyfriend she seems to be have picked up. My narrative has completed left these people behind and moved onto two new characters I am enjoying spending time with. It does annoy me that they are men but there's not much I can do about that at the moment. Perhaps I'll do an Alien casting decision in the editing process.

I feel tired and broken but know I have to put out another 25, 000 words by November 30th. Why? Just to prove I can. And to finish something. Although I beginning to think my 'talents' do lie more in the short story arena. I'm not sure I have enough words in me to attempt the great novel everyone is supposed to be capable of.

Please note, this is not a post looking for sympathy. It just sums up how I feel at the moment.

On another topic I have finished reading On Writing by Stephen King. It's half-memoir and half-writing guide. He has some great guidelines that I'm starting to adopt. One is to write with your Ideal Reader in your head. Him Indoors has been extremely helpful and I'm not sure if he realises he is being groomed into my Idea Reader. Already there has been a slight bickering moment over a title for one of my finished short stories. Nothing too serious though.

King discusses the importance of the writer's toolbox. On the top level you have important stuff such as spelling and grammar (yeah, I know, I have a lot to learn). Then the levels further down are the tools you use to chip out the fossil of an idea. Cheesy sounding but does make a lot of sense. As a writer, when you sit down to write that first draft, you're effectively using a sledgehammer to shake out those ideas. Then the editing process is using the top layer combined with more delicate tools to weed out the gold from the shit. More importantly King has a section at the back of the book which takes you through a step-by-step example of editing. I suck at editing and found it extremely helpful.

The Sunday

I suppose this doubles as a Sunday Salon post as well. At the moment I am currently cruising my way through Stephen King's The Stand. For a tome of a book, he certainly holds your attention. All I will say is that the story can be summarised as deadly flu wipes out most of population, the survivors that are left start coming together, crazy dreams and the horrors of trying to rebuild society. There's already been one crucifixition but not one of a JC. Unless JC took heroin. Oh dear, I really am rambling now.

Need to choose a new commute read now that I've finished On Writing. As I type I'm surrounding by books and I can the ones in my room calling to me. A tough decision and not one to be taken lightly.

Tomorrow I return to the horrors of university and I need some escapism on the commute. The best method I have of making this decision is giving the piles of books a swift kick and seeing what falls out. The first one that catches my eye goes in the rucksack for tomorrow.

Well it sure beats Inny Minny Mo.

Friday, 30 October 2009

And now time for a round up

Today I handed in my first essay of my post-grad career. It's OK, nothing outstanding and will (hopefully) do well enough to pass me and no more. My energy levels feel zapped and nothing seems to lift them.

Last night I went to the Glasgow's NaNoWriMo kick off party night. Due to my own stupidity I thought it started at 6pm and was wondering around looking for potential writers. Turns out, it started at 7.30pm, the time I had arranged to meet Him Indoors for a romantic meal at China Buffet King. After meeting some other NaNos I politely made my excuses and left.

My writing class this week was *ahem* interesting. I took offence to someone using rape imagery in their assignment and no-one agreed with me, in public anyway. Of course someone has the right artistic freedom but they don't need to be so smug about it. Interestingly, my poem received different interpretations from the age groups in the class. It's a poem aimed at Remembrance Day and about letters being censored from the front line. Older members of the class got that. Some of the younger members thought it was someone reading letter revealing someone was having an affair. Was very puzzled by that but appreciated the criticism. So I have re-written parts of the poem which I will also post here. At some point. If only you could scan a notepad into the computer and it would automatically convert it into Word.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Yes I am Insane

Yes, in the year I am doing my MSc, ya know something kind of important, I have decided to try and write a 50, 000 word novel in one month. In the same month that I have a cataloguing placement with a possible 2 hour commute each way, 2 essays to hand in and a creative writing class to do battle with as well.

I have a vague plotline in my head involving Soviets, zombies, oven gloves, hockey sticks and other useful tangents to explore. And now I need to go and get some sleep so I can edit my 1st essay due in on Friday. And possible find out a way to steal some strong drugs that will allow me to work 24 hour days during November.

Friday, 25 September 2009

The Beauty Is In The Tea

On Thursday I went to see White Tea, a fantastic and very intimate show at the Tron Theatre. Reviews for this production had included the advice that members of the audience could sit on the stage, wear paper kimonos and drink white tea. On its own this sounded extremely cool to me and I tried to see it at the Edinburgh Fringe. Obviously, due to the small audience numbers needed, it was always sold out. My heart leapt when I found out it was coming to Glasgow. Tickets were booked and I fully expected my cup of white tea.

I had a vague understanding of the plot. Something about grief, loss, mother-daughter relationships and general human emotional pain. My cup of tea, if you don't mind the pun. I certainly got my physical cup of tea when I arrived at the theatre space. We sat on hard benches (which did become uncomfortable after a while) and the hostesses passed out pristine china cups of white tea to us. Both were dressed in kimonos made of thick white paper. The audience had their own kimonos to wear with a small tag asking us to kindly re-fold them after the performance. Bizarrely it made me think of the showers at Auschwitz - "Remember your peg number."

As I looked around the set, it appeared it be almost entirely constructed out of paper. The walls acted as a projection screen, with news screen footage of the nuclear bombings in Japan in 1945. My eyebrow was slightly raised at this. However it all made sense later. And it probably added to my thoughts of concentration camps.

I really want to avoid too much time on the plot for fear of ruining it for other audiences. Naomi is living in Paris, almost the other side of the world from her mother and is happy with that situation. Until she receives a phone call saying her mother has suffered a stroke. As Naomi debates whether or not to go, Tomoto, her mother's nurse, arrives on her doorstep and brings her to Kyoto via a plane and Tokyo. On the way, secrets coming out, the usual occurrence when a family member is on their deathbed.

Parts of the performance were inter cut with sound bites with a Japanese woman, later to be revealed to be Yoko Ono. Again all dealing with concepts of grief, her mother having an accident in Japan and Yoko being in America, too far away to help. What her and John were talking about before he was shot outside their apartment building.

Grief, unfortunately, has been a large part of my life for the past year. I found some comfort in the Japanese representation of this emotion. I wasn't entirely sure if it was Shinto or Buddhist philosophy they were presenting to us, the audience. One attraction I do have towards Shinto is the idea of honouring ancestors, an important reflection of Japanese culture. Honour and ritual, from burying the dead to the act of making and drinking tea.

I will go to Kyoto one day and there I think I will feel at home.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

The Truth is I Know Nothing

Last week was the dawn of my MSc course (I still cannot believe I am doing a course that is considered a Master of Science. My Chemistry teacher from 10 years ago would be pissing herself laughing). And it's bloody hard. Already I can think of at least 4 presentations I need to prepare or 'leading the discussion'. Why does the discussion have to be on ISAD(G) and not the contents of last night's Hollyoaks? Joking aside and to repeat my above point: it's bloody hard.

Apparently postgraduate teaching relies on discussion from the students (which must be a bit cheeky for those students who have forked out almost £4, 000 for fees alone) and this has been the basis of this week's classes. Despite working for a year in an archive, I am coming to the conclusion I know nothing. Well, nothing about the theory of archives. Point me at a pile of boxes and tell me to go box list, I will go box list. Ask me to tell you about the theoretical approach to this? Nah, can't do that mate.

Yes, we need to be taught theory. Understanding the theory allows us, as records managers, archivists and so on, to make the weighty decision of deciding which records are to be preserved for the "historians of tomorrow". And it is a tough decision to make. Some decisions are easy such as chucking out bank statements, junk mail (that actually comes through a physical and not a digital letterbox) and other rubbish. It is a common occurrence for someone to be clearing out their house, decide to donate to an archive and dumping a lot of rubbish into the boxes. Though I did make a nice sweep of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles badges which were going in the bin.

But, cynically, I can't help wondering about the practicalities of the job. In the first archive I volunteered in, the archives team was very small and the Archivist had a lot of other tasks lumped onto their daily 'to do list'. Worrying about theory can come to second when faced with the physical job. One fellow student worked for a corporate archive, whose first and foremost role is to serve the company, and remembers the entire office dropping everything one day to retrieve records for the CEO who wanted them like yesterday.

This is the job I want to do. Despite lacking tidy skills in my domestic life, there is a sense of achievement following the cataloguing process from start to finish. There is a cataloguing placement in a couple of weeks time and I'm looking forward to it. One option may involve getting the hell out of Dodge Glasgow for a bit and that's an attractive solution.

Enough naval gazing. Despite not having classes until Monday, there's still a hellva lot to do.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Sunday Salon: Lack of reading

The Sunday

This week I started my long awaited Masters. Granted, this has been an induction week and the 'real' work will start tomorrow. But it was still rather tiring and we had to prepare a presentation in a matter of days. The topic could be on anything we liked and I chose Bookcrossing. Despite nerves it seemed to go down well and everyone likes free books, don't they? However, the commute and change in hours has meant I have been quite content with sitting on the bus and listening to the contents of my iPod. One day I forgot to put a book in my bag and didn't realise until I got home, the cover picture staring at me, accusingly.

On Friday there was a course meal and I had a rather interesting conversation with an American girl. Obviously a lot of people had guessed I was interested in books due to my presentation. She found it rather interesting that I was "so well read" (ha! I have friends (who know who they are) that would wet themselves laughing at that description of my reading habits) compared to her friends back home. Many of them did not view reading as a leisure activity but as a means to an end. Read this book, write a paper on it, pass the class, end of.

I will admit studying English in my last year of high school did kill reading a bit for me. The over analytical approach to literature seems to forget the key concept of enjoy what you read. Or, at the very least, have some personal reaction to the text even if it's "I hate this book and I hope it burns".

Today I am reading. Unfortunately it's not for my pleasure but hopefully I will learn something from it. And, failing that, I still have the second Steig Larsson book winking at me from the coffee table. Oh yes.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Sunday Salon: Shameful how it has been

The Sunday

One of my new year resolutions was to try and update my blog each week to contribute to the Sunday Salon which a fellow blogger introduced me to. The idea is simple (like all good ideas). Each Sunday imagine you're bustling about a busy reading room and sharing ideas about what you have read that week.

My last post was in January (!) so instead I shall be content with updating about the two recent reads that have made an impact on me, The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larson.

The 19th Wife was a misleading book. From the blurb on the back, it looks like a book dealing with a murder in a contemporary Mormon sect that still follows the laws of polygamy. Actually it's a comprehensive book dealing with 'manuscripts' from the 19th century, centering on Ann Eliza Young who was the 19th wife (well, not exactly, there appears to be a lot of debate on that topic) of Brigham Young, who lead the Mormon movement after the death of its founder, Joseph Smith.

Esbershoff flits between manuscripts, letters and archived documents (no doubt with their basis in truth but something he's allowed his imagination to run riot with) as well as the modern day story involving Jordan. The book opens with Jordan, an outcast member of this sect, reading on the Internet his mother has been arrested for the murder of his father. Jordan was outcast from the sect a number of years before for holding hands with one of his many sisters, although it is later revealed in the book that Jordan is gay. Another no-no for this sect. At first, I thought this book would fail my 50 page rule. The sections with Jordan seemed clumsy, that anyone could have written then. Without the story to unravel, there was nothing to keep me here.

Then Esbershoff moved onto the manuscript belonging to Ann Eliza and from there I couldn't put the book down. He paints a very vivid picture of individuals involved with the initial stages of the Mormon faith, the fragmentation of the faith (and before everyone flames me, yes I do know that the section that believes in multiple marriages is in the minority. Alas, that story sells more newspapers) and very believable female characters. I tend to find female characters written by a male writer don't always ring true but Esbershoff hit the nail on the head. Also, the added introduction 'written' by
Harriet Beecher Stowe was a nice touch as well.

This book was a real page turner and I was almost disappointed when we returned to the present to Jordan's story. The manuscripts chapters provided an interesting contrast between the hopes of the founders of the faith to what people have warped it into. Certainly a book with food for thought and will certainly spark a lively discussion.

And now I have poured my coffee, turned the washing machine onto to spin and Him Indoors has been roused from his slumbers, I shall turn to my next book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson.

I picked this book up out of mere curiosity and the hype surrounding it. Larsson died not long after he completed his third manuscript in this series (called Millenium) so it has that edge of sadness over a living author (especially one that died so recently). According to his bio, he was a leading authority on right-wing politics and this shines through in this book.

The story opens with Mikael Blomkvist, a Swedish journalist who has been charged with libel against a Swedish industrialist suspected of foul play. He is offered a chance to get away from it all, by Henrik Vanger, another Swedish industrialist. Mikael's 'cover' job is to write a biographical history of the Vanger family, with all its skeletons, including many colourful right-wing family members who were part of the Nazi movement in Sweden. In reality, he has been asked to investigate the disappearance/possible murder of Harriet Vanger in the 1970s. What follows is a roller coaster ride as Mikael battles to solve the mystery as well as attempting to save his floundering magazine, Millenium, which is suffering badly after the libel case.

I really don't want to reveal too much more of the story apart from two elements. One, the twist had my jaw drop open in disbelief, I simply sped through the final pages and was not disappointed. Two, Lizbeth Salander is a fascinating and troubled female character. Some of the scenes portraying some of the sexual abuse she suffers is horrifying but a small part of the militant feminist inside me cheered when she got her revenge.

A small warning: some parts of this book are extremely graphic and did turn my normally strong stomach. But Larsson is not merely using them for 'shock value', these incidents gel well within this story.

That's my lot for the week. My current read is continuing the Frost In May series (which I only discovered earlier this year) and whatever my course throws at me (starting tomorrow - weeeee!).

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Lessons in Writing 101

Don't save two Word files with the same name and roughly the same content. Because you'll update one file with a great and amazing piece of writing.

And then save over the updated file with the un-updated file.

*slams head on desk*

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

It's all about the style, dahling.

Due to that gap between full-time employment and being a full-time student, I have been spending a lot of time on the internets. I know, you never would have guessed! And one activity that has been taking up a lot of my time is Twitter.

When I first got the Internet (ah, my lovely AOL dial up account!) almost ten years ago, I did spend a fair amount on-line chatting or IMing people. As anyone who has used AOL as an ISP will tell you, it is geared towards this idea of 'social networking', in fact a good bit before I think a formal social networking site came along. MySpace doesn't count. But I did enjoy chit-chatting with other people, replacing my earlier fascination in life with pen-pals whom I wrote actual letters to. Very bizarre. I wonder if anyone under the age of 25 has pen-pals.

Yesterday I was adding people on Twitter that I found interesting. Predominantly fellow writers. I work on the principle that the more I am surrounded by a certain person or object, the more its 'usefulness' will rub off on me. That is how a fellow writer asked me a certain question: "what do you write? literature or the lighter stuff like crime, women's fiction, etc?"

I have to admit this question stumped me. I find the idea of 'literature' to be a rather loaded term. My friend defines it as the following:

1. writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.
2. the entire body of writings of a specific language, period, people, etc.: the literature of England.
3. the writings dealing with a particular subject: the literature of ornithology.
4. the profession of a writer or author.
5. literary work or production.
6. any kind of printed material, as circulars, leaflets, or handbills: literature describing company products.
7. Archaic. polite learning; literary culture; appreciation of letters and books.

Now I find all of these definitions interesting. Perhaps the strongest case I can find for the definition of 'literature' is no. 7. To me this perhaps sums up the best case for literature. Or simply put the appreciation of books and letters. Should a reader feel guilty because they would choose Dan Brown over the latest AS Byatt? Should Bridget Jones's Diary be shunned from the halls of literature despite the response and the love its readers had for the protagonist? No, because they love the letters and words that make up their chosen writer's world.

I would like to point out I am not belittling the person who asked that question about. I am somewhat influenced by a current fireworks display going on in the world of Scottish literature sparked by this incident. In turn, this has lead to a number of Scottish crime writers coming out in defence of their genre. I'll admit this straight up, I am too thick to write a crime story. Or the gentler term is that I lack the lateral thinking to write a decent whodunit. The crime genre is something I dip in and out of as a reader but as a writer I shy away from it. Partly because everyone would guess immediately who had done it within two pages.

Going back to the posed question, I answered that my writing is 'dark'. And it is. For my Creative Writing class, my final submission for the class was a short story encompassing some of my more violent rants on the subject of mankind. My writing group has set a rather pleasant writing piece entitled What The Bee Saw. My first draft of that piece is turning into a World War II Spitfire style shoot out. Though I did try to start it off nice and cutesy *sighs*

My task for this week has been trying to get my handwritten notes and ideas onto the computer because I find it easier to continue with the plot, character, whatever spews forth from my pen. And, to be quite frank, I was really shocked at some of the things I had written. Now I know why my high school English teachers would gingerly hand me back creative writing pieces with the advice to make my stories less gruesome.

I can brood on things, God knows I can. I can naval gaze with the best of them. But even sometimes I step back from myself and think "Oh dear, I am very surprised you're not out there drowning hamsters." For someone who had a fairly normal and, let's face it, boring upbringing there is a lot of venom in the pen.

Is there a genre out there called 'dark'? Or will I have to edit my writing to suit the horror/fantasy/insert other genre here market? Maybe I'll be relegated to that safe category within bookshops that is called Literature.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Second Test Post

Because clearly I am an idiot and can't seem to obtain the settings I want on my Twitter *throws tantrum like a spoilt child*

Test post

This is a test post to see if my Twitter feed is working correctly.

So here's a photo of my kakariki, Dante to keep you amused.

Warning: This May Surprise You

One character quality a lot of people assume I have. Can you guess what it is? It is not terribly exciting or interesting or fascinating. A lot of people assume I am an extremely organised individual.

True, in some areas I am. Anyone who has ever travelled with me knows how scary I am about being on time. Surely it's correct to be at the train station/bus stop/airport at least an hour before departure, right? If I don't have the relevant tickets or documents on my person, I get very panicky and insist the other person shows me them at all times. Until they get sick of my constant asking and eventually hand the bloody things over to me.

But that, my friends, is where it stops. I am a truly awful and forgetful person when it comes to things. There have been times friends have rang me and asked "Where are you?" and I have forgotten we were meant to meet. I have tried putting this information on my mobile, my iPod, even a traditional paper diary. But nothing seems to work.

Another crime I am guilty of is procrastination. The Internet is partly to blame for this. After all, where would my urge to suddenly look up Unity Mitford or find out what capers look like go? Possibly channelled into something more productive, like posting that important letter or writing that essay. As a result I can spend an hour going from Wikipedia article to Wikipedia article and truly wonder where the time went. The refresh button is my friend on the evils of Facebook, Gmail and other such wonders.

Also, and this is down to being lazy, I am a really untidy person. This is partly due to wanting to hang onto most of my crap such as theatre tickets, leaflets for theme parks and other useless information. Plus my slightly scary obsession of having lots of books about the place. Despite wanting to be an archivist (which, let's face it, part of the job involves being quite a tidy person) I am not very good at tidying things away at home (and sometimes at work...). Sometimes I blame the smallness of the flat I live in. True, it's small but Him Indoors manages to restrain his scatter tendencies and keep them in his own room.

I should also face up to this fact that this blog post is providing some escapism away from tidying up the living room and kitchen. Gawd bless you internet!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Why I Hate This Advert

I originally came on here to rant about the latest advert trotting the rounds for Oxford Notepads. On YouTube I was trying to find a clip of the advert to prove my point. Now, I found a rather interesting and longer cut of the advert aimed at (I assume) the French market.

Now the British section of the advert skips the sections showing the young woman escaping a war torn town and sailing (for some unexplained reason). It merely jumps from her sitting on the bench to the nightclub scene and cuts off roughly 0.25 into the video and jumps straight to the end. The feeling left from that edit of the advert is "Woman: know your place! Go to university, not to further and improve your brain, but to find a mate to procreate with. After all, your destiny is to have children." This message enraged me, along with the fact that notebook is ferking expensive.

Now, the full advert I have linked above is interesting. Instead of ending 0.25 it shows the protagonist rejecting this option to have a 'wild torrid affair' with the rather attractive brunette. Her story doesn't end there. Later, you see her on board a subway train, quite independent and escaping something that looks like the shit demon from Dogma. The message from this edit of the advert conveys "Women: feel free to make your own choices and use your imagination (but only if you buy Oxford Notepads)".

It is repugnant that the full advert is not shown over here. Would young Scottish and British women react differently to this French edition? Do they not have enough imagination to cope with such ideas?

Women: make your choice.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Edinburgh Adventures

I was writing an update about my weekend in Edinburgh and thought it might be of some interest to people here.

On Saturday evening we had Alexander McCall Smith at the Book Festival. For years his events have always sold out extra quickly and I only achieved gaining tickets this year by sitting in work and hitting refresh constantly on the screen. Anyhoo, I got them and it was a rather interesting talk. He seems such an ordinary man and then casually drops into the conversation "I was visiting a baboon colony in Botswana" and so on. I wonder if his books are getting intentionally nastier. His new series, Corduroy Mansions sounds rather spiteful and a million worlds away from the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. He did spend some time on 44 Scotland Street which is such a lovely series. Bertie, the poor put upon 6 year old, is obviously a favourite. However, in the Q&A session, I was slightly displeased at someone's attempts to have their girlfriend feature in a future 44 Scotland Street episode as the "mad cat lady who lives across from the Cumberland Bar".

A quick note about the hostel we were staying in. I had never stayed in a hostel before and wasn't sure what to expect. Caledonian Backpackers came slightly recommended by a fellow Bookcrosser, partly for it's proximity to the Book Festival venue and (as I later found out) to the Royal Mile. Unfortunately the sound proofing was awful. We were staying in a large dorm (of 20 beds) and the guests were rather courteous. But staying somewhere near Princess Street with no double glazing was a disaster. I think I only got 4 hours sleep the first night. Luckily, I got moved after the first night into a Female only dorm towards the back of the hostel which was a bit quieter.

On a sidenote, I'd consider staying in a hostel again. And both my companion and I agreed that if we were travelling alone a hostel is a good place to check in and interact with other people.

Anyway, on Sunday morning, we went to see Anthony Sher who, as well as being a fantastic actor from what I've been told, has written a great many books. He's a fascinating man, what with being South African, gay and a secular Jew. Although the interviewer did bring his cocaine addiction out from the left field. Companion went all fanboy over Mr Sher, bless him, and got his books signed by him after the talk. If I didn't already have lots of books in the flat I would consider picking one up.

After the talk it was a wander up to the Royal Mile and the Fringe Box Office for me to purchase tickets. After looking through the program I had decided to spend my vouchers on seeing Adam Hills, Princess Cabaret and Hitler Alone. In the queue we were accosted by Iszi Lawrence who was doing a free comedy show in an hour at a nearby venue.

All in all I was rather chuffed with my Fringe highlights. Adam Hills is hilarious and had a BSL interpretor who really interacted with the show. I know now the BSL sign for clitoris and a sign unique to Australian sign language (for "Fuck you! Fuck the lot of youse!" Am very surprised this is not in Scottish sign language). His show was a wonderful mix of comedy and tragedy. His message about inflating people was truly poignant and the launch of balloons after his act brought a small tear to my eye.

Princess Cabaret was rather interesting. It was a mix of songs and sketches centring on the Disney princesses. I never thought of Jasmine from Aladdin being a Middle East Peace negotiator or Sleeping Beauty waking up to the horror of STDs and 'darkies' wandering the streets. Favourite moment: the song about an enraged Tinkerbell finding Peter Pan in bed with Wendy and trashing his cave. Really enjoyed it.

What a contrast with my final 'paid' show which was Hitler Alone. It was in a small, claustrophobic venue, probably sat around 20 people. It was held at a language institute and was the only performance I was offered a cup of tea or coffee for. Paul Webster, playing the 'villain' himself was very, very good and had done his research. On the flyer for the show, he explained he was born in 1939 and had childhood memories of playing in bombed out buildings. And of a Jewish refugee teacher savagely beating a fellow schoolpupil for drawing a swastika on a jotter. The danger of these performances is that they can make you feel 'sorry' for this broken and defeated man (the play was set in the final hour in the Bunker in which it was reported Hitler disappeared to a room, ranting and raving). The sorrow of which he spoke about his mother and loss of friends was heart breaking. However, all empathy was wiped away when Webster completed his performance by falling to the floor, ranting, raving and spitting about the evil of Jews .

Finally, Iszi Lawrence was a bit of a mixed bag. Not bad for a free performance (her story about causing her flatmate's cat to vomit upon the sight of her naked body was predictable but still hilarious) but it did flag a bit towards the end. She may need to spruce up her routine to last an hour, normally the time for a headliner at the Stand. Plus my enjoyment wasn't helped by having had two pints and desperately needing a wee.

Oh and my last event at the Book Festival. Melvin Burgess was my idol when I was a teenager. He was giving a discussion panel with Anne Fine and Rachel Ward on the topic of 'Compelling Novels, Vulnerable Children'. Considering his books deal with drug addiction, underage sex and extreme violence, I'm not surprised. The discussion was interesting but it was full of bloody social workers simpering about how they interacted with children.

Anyhoo, there was a signing after the discussion group and I raced to buy his new novel to get it signed. The following conversation ensured (warning: major fan girl moments):

Melvin: Hi there, what's your name?
Laura (me): Laura.
Melvin: (begins writing on the front page of the book)
Laura: You know, the only book my mum has ever tried to prevent me reading was The Baby and Fly Pie.
M: (amused) I've never heard that said before! A lot of people do complain about the ending because it's so negative.
Laura: It was the bit when he realises his sister's a prostitute. So I had a massive tantrum until she gave me it back.
M: Well it wasn't promoting it as a career choice! You had a tantrum, eh?
Laura: Yes, I was 12 years old and a rather spoilt only child. I think she was more concerned about me because I wanted to be a writer.
M: Have you got anywhere with that?
L: Hmmm it's been on hold but I'm getting back on track again.
M: Keep writing.
L: (cue gush of crap) I don't expect you to remember this but I sent you one of my short stories years ago and you sent me back a letter saying 'Keep Writing'. And I've always keep that in my head.
M: (looks up, a bit puzzled).
L: Thank you again. I really appreciated it. (grabs book and runs away).

And you know what he had written in my inscription? "Hope your mum doesn't stop you reading this!"

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Wot I Thunk About Writing

This blog has been rather quiet. I have an extremely bad habit of picking up new things with enthusiasm and then dropping them when other things happen. Mind you, real life has been hitting me with the shitty stick of late with Him Indoors not being very well, two deaths in the family within a week and all round stresses of everyday life.

Excuses, aren't they fab?

So my five week writing class trundled to an end. In the final week I had written a short story that I was rather chuffed with and received extremely positive feedback for. That has been sent off to a writing journal for the editors to consider publishing. Fingers crossed, tis has been a while before I've felt confident enough to send anything away to be published, hell written anything good enough to be sent away.

And, dammit, writing has been rather good fun. Last weekend I spent some time alone, staying in Edinburgh and taking in parts of the Festival. This seems to worry some people, my father especially for some reason, but I rather enjoy spending time on my own. I like being able to have four pieces of toast with chocolate spread for breakfast, I like deciding where to go for dinner, I like being able to sit in a park bench in the sun and write for hours without having to answer anyone or field worried "Where are you?" texts. Asides from the crapness of the hostel I was staying in (which would have been better if they invested in some double glazing) this trip is something I'd consider doing again.

The concept of writing retreats is something I had always poo pooed. "Oh yes, Fanny and Artemis were telling me how they were meditating on the post-modern themes within poetry written on birthday cards. Must go, we have a class at 2.43pm helping us to discover what surrealism is." And these retreats are not cheap, oh no. A quick glance through ones listed in the back of various writing magazines show people are charged a pretty penny for the privilege of sleeping in a tiny room and to shit in a bowl.

Now now, madam, you're being harsh. Surely this isn't always the case? Anyway, a writing trip spent somewhere on my own is something to consider. As long as I don't develop a life damaging condition like George Orwell did.

Back to the point in question and stop rambling. A couple of Mondays ago I attended the launch of Cargo Publishing, a new publishing house based in Glasgow. I remember being asked a couple of years ago if I wanted to perform some of my work at one of their artist nights, when they started years ago. I said no, too afraid I hadn't written anything substantial in years. The teenager that had spent hours living with made up characters had retreated. (On an aside, please do read Cancer Party the first venture from Cargo. More info can be found here. Any book black listed by the Scottish Catholic Alliance sounds like a damn good read to me).

Back to the rant from someone the wrong side of 20 (soon to be 25 *panics*). There has been a little spark of confidence put back into my imagination. Him Indoors has been partly responsible for that. Look at other people's work. Learn from it. And say in a loud clear voice:

"I can do better than that."

Here's hoping the next quarter of my creative life is more productive than previous years.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Scraping the bottom of the celeb barrel..

I think some people may appreciate this link in Holy Moly this week:

Alain de Botton yet again attacks bloggers who review his work

Check out the venom at the bottom of the post (thank you HM for highlighting that particular section).

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Writing Creatively?

I know there are some people who read this that would kick my arse up and down the street for admitting the following.

Last night I went to a Creative Writing class. I know, I know, can you really teach someone Creative Writing? I had always answered no but last night my mind was changed somewhat. This class, I hope, will give me a good boot up the backside and get me writing again. Previously, I had always looked upon writing as a past-time, something I hoped would turn into a career.

I didn't realise you could treat it as a 'proper' job. The tutor handed out some quotes to 'inspire' us and I'm afraid to admit that the following struck a cord with me:

"I write when I'm inspired, and I see to it I'm inspired at nine o'clock every morning."
Peter De Vries

The course runs for five weeks. Let's see how I get on.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Change with Age?

This morning I have been catching up with some Bookcrossing admin. Since I joined Bookcrossing in 2004 I've found more and more books I've wanted to read. In those five years I have slowly, and unwilling, come to realise that the chances of me reading these books before I die is very slim. Unless I have some 'orrible accident involving my legs and am in a plaster cast for some time. But yes, it's time for a book purge. I work near a lot of charity shops that have books on sale for ridiculous prices. Sometimes I can pick up a whole bag for under a fiver. Then there's Borders who stock the Penguin and Wordsworth classic editions that sell for less than £2. And that's where the connection with this post lies.

I have always been a reader. Technically before I could properly read. My parents probably spent a lot of money on audiobooks and I worked out how to use the cassette player (huh, how retro!) at the tender age of 3. The Mothership has revealed she was quite upset the day I told her I didn't need her to read to me anymore. I had the tapes and I could follow along with the books provided with them. My favourite was Gobbolino, the Witch's Cat and there was a story about a family of ogores who had a pet dragon. These stories were rather dark in theme. For example, the son in the ogore family had to go on a dangerous quest to save his village. Gobbolino was persecuted by other cats in quite a cruel manner.

Other books came and went. For a while I was obsessed with the Narnia Chronicles. They were wonderful stories with adventures and swords and talking animals. I guess the subliminal Christian messages were missed by me. There were many days my mother would find me trying to get to Narnia via one of the wardrobes in our house. Sitting on my bookshelves were Roald Dahl's finest, Enid Blyton's Secret Seven, Famous Five and The Naughiest Girl in School. Earlier this year part of the myth surrounding Enid Blyton was shattered in my work. Somewhere in the depths of the archives, there was an anger letter sent by Blyton to another writer whom she felt had greatly offended her. Could this have been the same woman who wrote the characters of Elizabeth, Julian, George, Anne and even Timmy the Dog? Yes, it was. The bossiness of these characters and their hot headiedness showed through in this letter. A recurring theme of this year has been the quiet deaths of aspects of my childhood. This was the time that Enid Blyton's light firmly went out for me. This figure from rainy afternoons spent reading in my room had departed.

The biggest change in my reading habits has been a swing towards the classics in my later years. When I was a teen, I favoured Melvin Burgess and George Orwell, pretending I was rebelling. I read The Catcher in the Rye but didn't quite understand what it was about. I tried to read Lolita and found it boring and slightly replusive. Phillip Larkin told me that your mum and dad fuck you up. For a time, I believed him.

At high school, a teacher introduced me to the wonders of Sophocles and Euripides. Works that are older than our society but still speak generations later. I'll never forget the performance of Antigone that opened with a video screen showing past dictators and ending with a shot of Tony Blair (context: this was not long after Britain supported the illegal occupation of Iraq). Words and stories written so very long ago still were, and are, relevant today.

And now? My distaste for the classics has faded away. Ann Bronte is currently telling me some concept of feminism was alive and well in the early nineteenth century. And who knows, this might be the year that War and Peace makes it onto my reading list.

Friday, 29 May 2009

New Experiences

Last week, Him Indoors convinced me to do something I had never done before.

No, not that you dirty muppets.

Go camping!

Now I've never been camping. The Mothership likes her home comforts shall we say. This woman's holiday is not completed until she has completed cleaned the apartment we're staying in and has bought in a month's supply of Mr Sheen (when we're only going on holiday for a week). Funnily enough, camping was not on the agenda. There are some childhood holidays in caravans that I remember but they were done through gritted teeth. Canvas was not a holiday option.

One major reason I dislike the idea of festivals is the camping and potential shared toilet facilities. I like my own toilet. I like having toilet paper available. I like washing my hands in my scented soap and drying them on a nice fluffy towel. Recently I was horrifed to learn that T in the Park does not have showers. Is this true? Can anyone confirm this either way?

However, Him Indoors loves camping and has been away with quite a few friends. I comprised and said we would go camping on a proper campsite with proper toilets. No shitting in the woods for me. He said yes. We would go camping for two days, stay with relatives for another two and spend the rest of the week in Aberdeen. The relatives stay in a village that boasts one primary school, one church, one Spar and two coffee shops all on the same street. So I was going through the stages of gradual urbanisation last week. I've lived in the city all my life. The closest I get to the countryside is getting the train to East Kilbride.

So, yes, we went camping. It rained. We even got hailstones. One night we couldn't set up the stove to make a cup of tea. It was freezing at night. Our sleeping mats were just a little bit thicker than paper. The second night, a group pitched up next to us and didn't go to bed until 1am. It rained.

But, in a way, I enjoyed the experience. The night the sun stayed out and we cooked our instant noodles. The walk we went up the cliff and discovered an abandoned church and graveyard. Watching the tide come in. Tis was nice.

Now we're toying with hiring a VW Campervan for our next venture. The freedom of camping appealed to me. I met one woman on the campsite, part of a retired couple, who were touring the National Trust of Scotland sites. Weirdly it turned out she had grown up around the corner from where I live in Glasgow. It truly shows how small a world we live in (or you can never go far without meeting someone who lives in sunny Glasgow). I envied her freedom a bit. You could spend one day travelling to another area of the country. And the drive up to the campsite on the east coast was wonderful. Both Him Indoors and I remarked that we forget what a beautiful country we live in. And how easily we forget this living in the city.

Another aspect of this holiday made me realise how bored I'm getting of Glasgow. It is highly likely that I'll have to move out of Glasgow once I qualify as an archivist next year. Initially I was relcutant to do so. I've always lived in Glasgow, my family are here, my friends and most of my social calendar. The thought of moving away did not appeal.

But this holiday made me realise there is a big world out there. In my 24 years I have not travelled very far. Most of my work colleagues have lived in various areas due to university or college commitments. Some of them call Glasgow home for the moment, some hope to return elsewhere when they finish their training.

But yes, I would like to try living in another city in the next couple of years. And who knows, by that time I might be able to drive that VW Campervan as well.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Swine/Pig/Talking out the hole of yer arse Flu

I, for one, have been getting peed off with the latest disease outbreak. The news is whipping everyone into a frenzy over something that wouldn't have turned heads if it was merely another bout of run-of-the-mill-flu. And this is coming from someone who lives with a reasonably radius of where the first cases were confirmed in the UK.

The situation was made even more ridiculous by the BBC News (shame on them for adding to this fire). In passing I caught a section of the six o'clock news in which they were interviewing a potential pig flu sufferer. Via a fucking mobile phone and filming him leaning out his window. That's not going to fuel panic is it?

Not belittling people who have died but 149152 people have died in Mexico. Out of an estimated population of 103 million. Plus only 20 of these 152 deaths have been confirmed swine flu cases. In 2007, 2.1 million people died from AIDs. Currently, 33.2million people are living with the condition. Remember the mass panic about AIDs?

Clicky here to see what I mean.

Of course, I could post next week saying I was all wrong and I'm watching Survivors for tips.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Welcome to the real world. It sucks!

Holy beejesus, where did the last two months ago? One reason behind my silence was Him Indoors has not been in terribly good health and was admitted to hospital. It almost got to the stage we were considering having his post forwarded to the ward he was on. I went through a reading slump and knew that did not bode well. Some people stop eating when they're stressed out or each too much. Me? I stop reading. This problem has been resolved but it depressed me when I realised I had been reading the same book for two months.

Other news, my journey towards becoming an archivist reached another level (not as exciting as it sounds). I was awarded a place on the course, on the spot. My interview was on my birthday so that was a nice present. Then I went to have lunch with the Mothership and drank a lot of wine. Father turned up with a birthday cake and pretended to be a jakey looking for spare change when I buzzed him into the flat. And now I'm edging towards my quarter life crisis faster than I would like.

There might be some writing in the pipeline. Proper writing with characters and shitz. Got some ideas whizzing about the old grey matter. The thing is, some stuff I produced was pretty good (if I say so myself). And now I'm scared I've lost that talent. Shall keep you posted.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Sunday Salon: A Break

The Sunday

Don't worry, the break refers to my pile of work due in next week. On Thursday it was landed upon us trainees we were having mock interviews on Monday. A list of potential questions were emailed to us to prepare answers for. Thursday was a very busy day at work and Friday is...well....Friday so I only sat down to look at them properly yesterday. I've Googled Freedom of Information and Data Protection Acts and I feel my brain slowing oozing out my head.

So, onto the books!

The first fail of 2009: Twilight by Stephanie Meyers.

I know I am not the target audience for this book. In fact, I don't like to admit how many difference in age there is between me and the target audience. The style of writing reminds me very much of Point Horrors which I enjoyed reading ages 10-14. Trouble is, I'm not that age anymore. The drama of high school is something I find so amusing. It's bad enough without having vegetarian vampires floating around the corridors. And people have to remember: you can make it out alive.

4) The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenerger

My book group has been pushed back to this Thursday so I don't have many comments to blog from that. I may wait to see what others thought before I blog. But, for record keeping purposes, I will still add it to my books read this week. A future attraction, coming soon.

5) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and other short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald (in progress)

I remember reading The Great Gatsby when I was a teenager and not being very impressed. But then again, who is impressed when they're a teenager? The point of referring to this work is that it may have influenced my reading of this short story.

So far I have only read The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in this collection. It was a strange little tale with more than a hint of satire. The story is that Benjamin is born an old man. Literally an old man. As he ages chronologically, his body and mind regress. At the age of 18 he looks 50 and is run out of town for trying to register for university. The story does speak of expectations (Benjamin's father insists his son should dye his hair to look younger) and clearly delivers the message of the importance of physical appearance. Which ties in with part of the ideology of the 1920s.

It's an interesting tale and the writing style feels very too the point. This contrasted with my previous read, The Time Traveler's Wife which reveals in the beauty of the written language. The imagery at the end of the story does add a tint of sadness but creates a wonderful picture in the reader's mind. I won't spoil the ending but I highly doubt anyone who reads the story will be surprised by the ending.

Twilight and the shock of going back to work after the festive period has taken up more time than I would like this week. I am aiming to get more reading done next week so fingers crossed that happens.

This morning I did pick up Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. It looks a worthy tome and I'm hoping it provides a building block to meatier reads such as Les Miserables and War and Peace. So far I'm on page 10 and have been slightly shocked with the scattered racist terms such as "darkie". Though the same thing happened when I read Uncle Tom's Cabin so I shouldn't be too surprised.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Sunday Salon: We're going to party like it's 2009....oh

The Sunday

Isn't insomnia both a blessing and a curse? The curse is that I have been walking around like a zombie for most of today. The blessing is that I managed to keep one of my new year resolutions which is to update the Sunday Salon as much as a can. So far, in 2009 I have read two books. However, they are a slight cheat because both were started in 2008. Last week in fact. So let's see if I can make sense of notes I scribbled down at 5am this morning.

1) Tis by Frank McCourt

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I read Angela's Ashes when I was ill with a heavy cold a few weeks ago. This lead me to re-read Tis which follows Frank as he travels to America and tries to pursue his dreams of becoming a teacher, despite his own lack of education. In some ways I feel this book embodies part of the American Dream. Frank comes to America, works where he can and attends college at nights and at the weekends so he can become a teacher. Immigrant makes good. As he admits in some pages, he views his Protestant wife from New England as a ticket into this world of good teeth, hot water and education.

McCourt is very self-aware about almost everything: his bad teeth, Irish accent, bad eyes and guilt over things he has no control over. He makes so many attempts to get away from being Irish but this is like Gordon Brown trying to get away from being Scottish. It's impossible. He seems unsure of himself and his ability to teach. At one stage it appears he has gained enough confidence to be a teacher, confident in his abilities. Then his students discover his own lack of a high school education and this facade crumbles down. Instead of demonstrating to the kids how much education matters, he falters.

I have got Teacher Man, McCourt's book about his teaching experiences, lying around somewhere in the Mountain Range. His teaching stories are hilarious, if a tad repetitive but perhaps this is what he's trying to achieve, and do show that, regardless of the social status of the catchment area, you are always going to get kids who hate reading Shakespeare.

2) Beyond the Narrow Gate by Leslie Change

Again, this is a bit of a cheat because I started this book in 2008 and only finished it this morning. And it is another cheat because I have written about it on this blog. But let's see if the 4am thoughts bring anything new to this book.

Chang is conducting a mircostudy into the lives of four Chinese women who emigrated to America in the 1950s. The connection between these four women is that they all attended a high school in Taiwan. Other relationships become clear such as some individuals who sit uncomfortable between East and West. Chang cites a term attached to this generation of Chinese immigrants - the bamboo generation. They appear strong and supple but are hollow inside. This is certainly true of these four women. None of them seem content inside. Chang's mother, one of the four women, rarely seems satisfied and is always pushing herself to perform better at work. And frequently puts her work before her family. Leslie herself refuses to learn any form of the Chinese language. In the final chapter she admits she can never order her favourite meals in a Chinese restaurant because her parents have always done so for her.

All in all, not a bad read but it did take me a while to get into it. Sometimes I'd want to put the book down after four pages but I pushed with it. This morning I was surprised when I hit the last page in what seemed like no time at all.

And what's next? Well, my book group is discussing one of my favourite books of all time The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenerger. At 5.30am I had finished Beyond the Narrow Gate and had started on The Time Traveler's Wife. Now I'm at least a good quarter of the way through the book.

Other books on my bedside table include:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and other stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

So, here's to a good year of reading. My goals (reading wise) this year include:
*Keeping a list of books I've read
*Try to read more books than I did in 2008 (aprox. number read last year is around 60)
*Write my thoughts in my paper journal or, at the very least, make notes

These goals might be added to as time goes on!

American Man with an Opinion

I always seem to attract people who like to talk. Maybe I have one of those faces. Once I spent three hours chatting with an Israeli tourist in a Pret A Manger in Glasgow about, well, nothing in particular.

On Friday I was meeting a friend at the bus station. It being the first 'business as normal day' post-New Year the place was mobbed and full of people either returning to Glasgow after the festive period or getting the hell out of this crazy city. I managed to find an empty bench and a few seconds later an elderly gent sat next to me. Elderly, I'd say he was in his early sixties. We got chit chatting and he asked me what I was doing at the bus station. I explained I was waiting for a friend and we were going to the cinema to see The Reader. For those that don't know, part of the plot is concerned with war crimes in World War II.

The gent nodded and said "You know, people talk about war crimes as if they never happen anymore. But what is going on in Gaza at the me that's a war crime. And on both sides may I add. Hamas ain't innocent but the Israelis are just as bad."

War crimes are the de jour phrase at the moment. This morning I read in the paper that a Rwandian singer called Simon Bikindi was sentenced to 15 years in prison for using his music to incite violence during that fateful time in 1994. Not a politician, not a member of the military. A mere singer. Could the actions of Robert Mugabe be classed as war crimes? He seems locked in conflict with his own people, officials from neighbour states, the United Nations and just about anyone else who disagrees with the suffering and pain he is inflicting on his country.

I am not even going to pretend I know enough about the Middle East situation to comment. All I shall say is that it is ordinary people that are getting hurt, being killed. And surely that makes it a war crime and, if it doesn't sound too pompous, a crime against humanity.