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!"