Saturday, 30 April 2016

U is for Update

U is for Update, and today I set out to update my email signatures. This is a process that's always fraught with stress for me, because I can never remember from one time to the next how to do it, but it's necessitated today - because U, and also because for six months it's been telling people to preorder a book that's been already published.

First up is to decide what I want to put in it. I decide to focus on my fantasy stories. I manage to make a fair sig with my cover images using the Kboards signature tool, which is the one thing that justifies my continued membership in that community of bullies. This is the new sig I make:

Tabitha Ormiston-Smith | Find me at Amazon

What I love about this Kboards tool is that each cover image has an embedded link to the book's Amazon page. It's awesome, and I totally admire whoever developed it. 

For once, I manage to apply the sig to my webmail as well. That's it for me and the letter U - I've done my bit, and it's Saturday, and I have lots of other things to do. 

My next post will be brought to you by the letter V.

Friday, 29 April 2016

T is for Thunderbirds

It's not good for anyone to watch only highbrow entertainment; it can make one a prig, which is why today's activity, binge-watching Thunderbirds, is actually medicinal. Can you tell I've kissed the Blarney Stone? Twice?

It's not all television though. After one episode, there is the Thursday housework to attend to, as it didn't get done yesterday. I can see an endless series of substitutions stretching ahead, like a con-trail from Emily's glorious weekend of shows. 

With the house looking a bit better, I return to the set. I'm so enjoying these lazy days of television. I always take a few days to vegetate after finishing a project; they take the place of regular weekends which tend not to be a thing when I'm in the throes of writing something new. I sometimes think so-called 'writer's block' that people are always whining about is actually long-term fatigue caused by attempting to work seven days a week. It's one of the writer's traps, that absence of external mechanisms to cue one to take time off. The other major trap is of course the absence of external mechanisms to cue one to get back to work.

I watch a couple more episodes, and then something really pisses me off. A close-up is shown of Lady Penelope pouring tea into a cup that already has milk in it! The Thunderbirds team are usually so complete and detailed that this really sticks out like dogs' balls and annoys me intensely. I take a nap to get over my rage, and catch up the rest of the housework. Despite this interlude, I watch seven episodes today, a television binge probably unparalleled in my life.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

S is for Sunday

S is for Sunday, and that's what I'll be doing today. Yes, I know it's Thursday. But there is certain housework that I do every Sunday, and last weekend, what with having five dog shows in a three day weekend, it didn't get done. Neither did Saturday's list, for that matter.

I start late, because I was up for most of the night putting together the church newsletter, but it's still morning by a few minutes. The Sunday list is concerned with the kitchen and the front porch. I start at 11:49, and in no time flat the kitchen is done. I still have to hang out the washing when it finishes and sweep the porch, but that won't take long.

I now have an excuse for more Wagner, because S is also for Siegfried. And there's time! And I deserve a treat after finishing Operation Camilla. 

I do, however, break at the end of Act I to finish the Sunday list. For Act II I am joined by Louis, who is apparently made bold by the absence of Brunnhilde. He plasters himself to my chest so that I can hardly breathe, but it is a nice, warm kind of suffocation.

This is Louis.
The evening is taken up with dance lessons - Salsa, Swing and Samba all slotting nicely into the day's theme. To round it off I cook salmon for dinner.

Tomorrow will be brought to you by the letter T.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

R is for Ring

For today's alphabetical episode, I will be watching the Ring Cycle on dvds, starting with Die Valkure since I already watched Das Rheingold the week before last. They are long operas, so I don't anticipate being able to watch more than one, as work still has to be done and Emily must have her walk.

I start my day with Operation Camilla. The pressure is in theory off with this, as I met my Camp NaNo goal days ago, but I am still hopeful of getting the first draft finished by the end of April, so I press on. I'm writing the ending now, which is always more difficult for me. I suck at endings, really. By the time I get to the end of anything I tend to be sick of it and want to wrap it up quickly. I've often been called out on this by my friend Pedro, with some justification, so I am making a tremendous effort with Operation Camilla not to rush the conclusion. By 10:54 I have 1100 words, and feel I've earned my television.

The opera is magnificent. What else can be said? Nothing meaningful. I spend four hours of bliss. Emily seems to enjoy it too, and Louis also watches it with me until the Valkyrie appear; their hunting cry appears to frighten him and he rushes off to his private place in the garden. Ferret doesn't bother to get out of bed, so he is a philistine and the entire performance would have been wasted on him.

After I've taken Emily out and got ready for my evening classes, I still have an hour and a half before I need to leave. There is no hope of watching Siegfried today, as it is another four hours, so I decide to try for a bit more work. The force is with me, and I can write THE END to the first draft of Operation Camilla. I'd call that a successful day.

Tomorrow will be brought to you by the letter S.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016


Queer. Poofter. Kike. Raghead. Boong. Wetback. This kind of word is legion - I could probably run through the entire alphabet with them with not much trouble. I won't, though. I think I've said enough already to make it clear that I am talking about the language of bigotry. It's ugly, it's hateful, and it's very, very dangerous. 

Tathagata Buddha said, 'with our thoughts, we make the world', and this is to a great extent true. Not as a spiritual metaphor, but as a concrete fact. 

Let's start with the fact that all these words are nouns. There's a reason for this. They are nouns because their function is always to label. With words like these, we label a person, and by doing so, we enable a certain kind of thinking about that person. And once we have enabled that kind of thinking, we are free to bring about Holocausts and Manus Islands. Because we're not talking about people. We're talking about kikes and ragheads.

The way this works is as follows: when we apply a noun to a being, we change the image of that being in our minds. It is the image of the being, not the being himself, that is an operand to the equations of our thinking. When we apply a noun, we are essentially assigning a certain value to x. The fact that it may be a false value makes no difference - it is a value, and by existing it can enable conclusions to be drawn which could not otherwise have been drawn. Surely, during Kristallnacht, no one said to himself, 'let's go and smash up the shops of all the tradesmen.' No, indeed. A more sinister noun had to be used to enable this kind of behaviour.

It is for this reason that labels are so very dangerous. They're powerful. More powerful than just about anything else in language. One of my textbooks when I was studying law recommended that one should never refer to one's client in a criminal matter as 'the accused'. You call him by his name. This takes the jury's focus off the crime and directs it towards the reality of your client as a human being. It's sound advice, and illustrates the quite subtle effects that labelling can bring about. Subtle, but very great, if it can make the difference between prison and freedom for your client.

There is a lesser level of labelling that tends to be seen as inoffensive by many people. Aussie. Pom. Yank. Girl (when used of an adult female). Boy (when used of an adult male). These labels are often used in a lighthearted way, sometimes even used by people of themselves, and any objection to them tends to be greeted with cries of 'lighten up', or similar advice couched in more vulgar terms. However, these too enable bigotry. It is for this reason that any statement of the form 'he is a/you are a x' is generally impolite. It is for this reason that there is a growing movement towards referring to, for example, people with a condition on the Autism spectrum as 'people with Autism' rather than 'Autistic people'. It's more polite, and less harmful.

Yet a third, almost invisible, level of labelling involves the use of terms in themselves innocuous as terms of insult. To do this, one merely uses the word, for example Catholic, Jew, Muslim, as if it were a term of opprobrium. We often see this technique coupled with the joining of two different terms as if they were inextricably linked. A good example of this in today's world is 'Muslim terrorist'. We see this all the time now, sometimes even from our government.

This kind of bigotry is often supported by the dragging in of racial, religious and other terms out of context. For example, 'black male' when referring to the perpetrator of a crime. A subtle message can be sent in this way, and it is very difficult to nail down the racist bias that's being overlaid on top of what purports to be a mere reporting of fact. You can see it, you can almost smell it, but just try proving it. Bias of this kind can be introduced all over the place, even, at times, without conscious volition, or at least, without conscious volition that you will ever get anyone to admit to. But he was black, they will say. "I'm just reporting the facts." 

We can't stop other people from doing this kind of thing. But what we can all do is learn to weed it out of our own speech and thinking. I have found a simple rule works well in all situations. If a label is not directly useful, if it doesn't convey extra meaning to what you are saying, if the meaning of your statement will not be vitiated by its omission, then don't use it. At all.

Just say no.

Monday, 25 April 2016

P is for Publication - EXCITING NEW RELEASE!

NEW RELEASE Ciara Ballintyne’s Epic Fantasy ‘In the Company of the Dead’

Only a fool crosses a god, but Ellaeva and Lyram will do anything to get what they want.

InTheCompanyOfTheDead_300dpi_1842x2763 FINAL

Title: In the Company of the Dead
Author: Ciara Ballintyne
Series: The Sundered Oath #1
Genre: Epic Fantasy/Fantasy Romance

Chosen as a five-year-old orphan to be the Left Hand of Death, Ellaeva has nothing to call her own—nothing except a desire to avenge her murdered parents. Her duties leave her no time to pursue the man responsible, until both her work and revenge lead to the same place—the lonely castle where Lyram Aharris is serving out his exile for striking his prince.

Lyram is third in line for the throne, and when the castle is unexpectedly besieged, he fears his prince means to remove him from contention for the crown permanently. Ellaeva’s arrival brings hope, until she reveals she has not come for the siege, but instead she hunts the castle for a hidden necromancer dedicated to the dark god of decay.

Within their stone prison, Ellaeva and Lyram must fight to save themselves from political machinations and clashing gods. But as the siege lengthens, the greatest threat comes from an unexpected quarter.

Amazon | Kobo | iBooks | Other

Chapter 1

Only a fool would split hairs with a god, least of all the goddess of death, but Ellaeva would count herself such a fool and consider it worth it—if she could get away with it.
She leaned across the knife-scarred timber of the tavern table.
“Are you sure?” she asked, her tone even and barely loud enough to be audible over the noise of the flute and the zither. Her work on behalf of the goddess Ahura, adjudicating the small war here in Dayhl, could only be abandoned in favour of a greater threat. If she was going to chase off after the man who killed her parents, she needed to be sure her arguments stacked up. The pursuit of personal justice wouldn’t be enough.
Is it justice or revenge?
No time to worry about that now. She tugged her black hood farther down over her infamous face, even though deep shadows blanketed the common room corner. She’d chosen a table far from the tallow candles mounted in their stag-horn chandeliers. There was no point taking chances; the black hair and porcelain skin of a Tembran would be remarked here among the platinum-haired Dayhlish. Besides, someone might recognise her.
“In Ahlleyn, sure as the spring comes after winter, Holiness.” The narrow-faced man across from her grinned, baring teeth more brown than yellow. The acrid smoke from the candles didn’t cover his pungent breath.
She half-stood, making an urgent, negating gesture as she glanced around, but the hubbub of chatter from the patrons and the music covered his slip. No one even glanced their way. On the far side of the room, away from the two blazing hearths, tables were pushed aside for dancing. She dropped back into her seat, her black robes fluttering around her booted feet.
Ahlleyn lay on the other side of the continent, months of travel by horse. If her informant was right and a Rahmyrrim priest had been dispatched there, he would likely be gone long before she arrived—unless she begged a favour, but she’d not do that for a lark of her own. However, if it meant catching the man who killed her parents, well then maybe she could come up with an argument that would hold water for a god. Old grief and anger, stale from a decade or more, stirred in her gut, and her fingers curled around the edge of the table.
Releasing her grip, she reached to the inner pocket in her robes where rested the smudged charcoal drawing of a man. Hard work and luck had helped her obtain that picture of the man she believed killed her parents—a man she knew to be a priest of Rahmyr. If she decided to act against her standing orders, then she needed to be sure it was the man she was after, and that he was involved in some act heinous enough to attract her goddess’s attention.
“Did you get the name of this priest? Or his description?” An unknown number of priests served Rahmyr, but she knew six by sight—six still alive anyway.
The thin man shook his head. “Nobody mentioned. I got the impression he’s already there, or on his way leastways.”
She scowled. No way to be sure then that this was the man she wanted. Begging favours of Ahura for her personal satisfaction was a risky business, especially if she neglected her duties, and perhaps it would all be for nothing.
With one hand, she flattened the map that curled on the table between them. The patrons behind them exploded with laughter at something unheard. Ignoring the noise, she stabbed her finger at an unmarked portion of the map in the foothills of the Ahlleyn mountains. If he didn’t know who, maybe he knew the what. “There, you say? What possible interest could Rahmyr have there? There’s nothing of interest at all.”
She lowered her voice even further as she uttered the name of the goddess of decay, and glanced around again. That name spoken too loudly would bring unwanted attention. But nearly all the tavern patrons were busy whirling on the impromptu dance floor or lined up to watch the dancers, their backs to her.
The nameless man leaned forward, treating her to another stomach-clenching blast of foul breath, and touched a spot perhaps half an inch away from her finger. A tiny, unlabelled picture marked something there.
“Here, Holiness.”
She squinted at the picture, letting his lapse slide. The image represented a holy place. There was an old shrine to Ahura somewhere in the Ahlleyn Borders, wasn’t there? And a castle built over it. “Caisteal Aingeal an Bhais.”
“That sounds like the name,” he agreed. “Never could get my mouth around them Ahlleyn words. Pink castle, I heard.”
She grunted. That was the one. “There’s still nothing there.”
Nothing of interest to Rahmyr anyway. The shrine wasn’t particularly important, and the castle held no political significance.
“What’s there,” the man said, “is Lyram Aharris.”
The premonition went through her like a blast of icy wind, stiffening her in her chair as the hand of the goddess brushed against her mind. A light caress, but from a giant, and so it sent her mind reeling. She clutched the table for support. Lyram Aharris’s reputation preceded him the length of the continent: eight years ago, at the age of twenty-seven, he’d brought an end to the centuries-long conflict between Ahlleyn and Velena through a series of brilliant military manoeuvres. He’d survived the Siege of Invergahr against near-impossible odds, brought the crown prince safely clear of the conflict, and fought the Velenese to a standstill using their own guerrilla warfare tactics against them. As a novice, she’d covered the tactics thoroughly as part of her studies. The man was a military genius. That he was third in line for the throne of Ahlleyn was the least there was to know about him—at least it was, until his king dismissed him from court. The rumours on everyone’s lips said he murdered his wife, even if no one could prove it.
What did Rahmyr want with him?

Ciara Ballintyne grew up on a steady diet of adult epic fantasy from the age of nine, leaving her with a rather confused outlook on life – she believes the good guys should always win, but knows they often don’t. She is an oxymoron; an idealistic cynic.

She began her first attempts at the craft of writing in 1992, culminating in the publication of her debut work, Confronting the Demon, in 2013. Her first book to be published with Evolved Publishing is In the Company of the Dead. She holds degrees in law and accounting, and is a practising financial services lawyer. In her spare time, she speculates about taking over the world – how hard can it really be?

If she could be anything, she’d choose a dragon, but if she is honest she shares more in common with Dr. Gregory House of House M.D. – both the good and the bad. She is a browncoat, a saltgunner, a Whedonite, a Sherlockian, a Ringer and a Whovian... OK, most major geek fandoms. Her alignment is chaotic good. She is an INTJ.

Ciara lives in Sydney, Australia, with her husband, her two daughters, and a growing menagerie of animals that unfortunately includes no dragons.

Friday, 22 April 2016

O is for Operation

Today is going to look very much like a copy of yesterday, I'm afraid. Operation Camilla is, of course, the main task, as it has been throughout April, but here I don't need to scratch about for an alphabetical justification.

The second task is On The Way, which is the name of the newsletter I mentioned in yesterday's post. I hope to get most of it done today, because the next three days will be a blur of dog shows, but I know this is a vain hope. It is a slow-starting day; it's already 11:30 and I have done nothing except produce another 400 words of Operation Camilla.

I carry on nibbling away and by quarter past one I've got 900 words. Time to get started on the newsletter. This is the quarterly production of East Kew Uniting Church, where Emily and I attend.

Emily is a keen churchgoer. Here, you can see her lighting the first of the Advent candles.

I set up the new copy and send messages to a couple more people whose submissions are still outstanding. This always gets on my nerves every quarter. People in our congregation just don't seem to understand the concept of a deadline. It really annoys me, when I give up my work time for it, that I am having to chase up these grown men and women. I promise myself that next time I will just cut off on the deadline date, just as I promise myself every quarter, but know I won't be able to do it. Church things are different, and sacrificing efficiency for the sake of people's feelings is really a thing.

One thing I do try to stick to is that I don't start putting the newsletter together until ALL the submissions are in, so that I know exactly what I've got and how long everything is. This saves a lot of frustrating shuffling. So, despite the fact I have five dog shows over the next three days and won't be able to work on this again before Monday, I resign myself to putting it off yet again.

Another session brings me to 1100 words and I break for lunch and a little tidying of the house. I'm back at my desk by 2:15, but I'm getting tired now, as much from the thought of the five dog shows I've entered in the next three days as from actual work, and I only get another hundred. Still, 1200 is an okay wordcount for the day, and the day isn't over yet. A walk in the park seems indicated; the fresh air and watching Emily run might get the juices flowing again.

On the way to the park we encounter a gardener who has left a broom athwart the pavement. Emily and I jump over it together, so according to the Neo-Pagans, I believe we are now married. I wonder if this means I am a bigamist. A couple of hours running about and throwing the ball does us both good, and when I return there is a message from my last outstanding contributor saying she cannot provide her stuff until Monday. I grit my teeth and curse, but am secretly relieved.

At a quarter to five, with 1600 words, I call it a day. I could get more, but with the heavy weekend I have coming up, I need some down time.

My next post will be brought to you by the letter P, but given my brutal schedule over the next few days, that may not be tomorrow.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

N is for Novella

Today's task is of course to continue with Operation Camilla, my crime novella. I have already won Camp NaNo, so the pressure is off, but I am still hopeful of completing a first draft by the end of this month. I start well and early, finishing another chapter and getting 800 words.

N is also for NaNo!
N is also for Newsletter, so my second task of the day is to get started on the quarterly church newsletter I edit. First of all is to construct a list of everything I have and everything I still need to get in from contributors. Two articles are still outstanding so I send messages to the culprits and take Emily out for her park walk. When I return, one has replied promising to start it right away. The other is in Wales, so is probably still sleeping.

A fresh cup of coffee and back to the book. This time I get up to 1100 words. Then it's break time, and some television. I can't find anything that's letter-of-the-day related, so today I opt for Thunderbirds. While I am watching it contact is established with my friend in Wales, so I can reasonably expect I'll have the last piece of my editorial puzzle tomorrow.

My third and final attack on the book brings me to 1500 words, a satisfactory count for the day, and I leave it there.

Tomorrow will be brought to you by the letter O.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

M is for Merry

Today is M day and I plan to watch The Merry Widow, if I can figure out how to work our old VHS player. I approach it in trepidation to spy out the land early in the morning, but I find I had worried about nothing; my husband, on hearing my plans for today, has set it all up and all I have to do is push in the tape.

The title role in this production is sung by our own Joan Sutherland, so I feel very patriotic and before I settle down to enjoy her performance I look her up on Wiki. I am astonished to find she was (when young) a dead ringer for my husband's dance teacher. Perhaps they are related. It really is quite spooky.

Dame Joan
It's a very entertaining morning watching this, despite constant interruptions from the telephone, doorbell etc.

Tomorrow will be brought to you by the letter N.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

L is for Library

L is for library, and as soon as I've put in a decent stint on Operation Camilla I go to the local library's website to check the status of Dance of Chaos. I noticed on 1 April that they had three copies of Dance of Chaos on order, and that someone had already reserved it, so I keep checking back to see if it has come in yet. Today, however, is not my day; it is still on order. There is no way to see when they ordered it, so I don't know how long this has been the case, but since they have ordered the paperback, I'm ever hopeful. The paperbacks arrive from Createspace much more quickly than the hardcovers come from Lulu.

With 1000 words already down for the day, I resume work. It's going well; in fact everything seems to be going super-well for me at the moment, so I'm keen to take advantage of my biorhythms or whatever is causing my path to run so smoothly at present. 

The I'iwi bird of Hawaii

1200 words seems a good place to take a break, and I turn to my second alphabet-themed activity for the day. This will be Life on Earth, with which I started the challenge. The program, The Margins Of The Land, is not so good as others I have seen, being mostly concerned with utterly repulsive creatures feeding on other utterly repulsive creatures, but as always, I am swept up in Attenborough's flaming enthusiasm, and after only another 100 words I am back for another dose. This episode, 'Worlds Apart', promises a variety of bird life, and also Komodo Dragons, and it doesn't disappoint.

It's the following episode, though, that really has me transfixed: The Open Ocean. The strange country at the bottom of the sea bed, the weird and beautiful plankton, and the sharks, so beautiful and silent. But most beautiful of all, the Leafy Sea Dragon, pictured here.

The final program in the series, New Worlds, ends on a chilling and minatory note that leaves me depressed, despite the entertaining, productive and educational day I've just spent.

Tomorrow will be brought to you by the letter M.

Monday, 18 April 2016

K is for Kitchen

Looks like today is another housework day. K is for Kitchen, specifically cleaning the kitchen, which in theory I do every Sunday, but this week I didn't. I could have done it in the evening, but instead I watched that lame film. Tant pis.

As every day, I start by doing my minimum daily wordcount for Camp NaNo. The day stretches ahead, for a wonder without any bites taken out of it, so this is easy and stress-free.

The first break activity is the daily cleaning, which includes the kitchen counters. Although the toaster is put away in a cupboard, toast crumbs have still appeared on the counter. I marvel at this. It is as if evil fairies had come in the night.

After another brief stint I tackle the Sunday list, which chiefly consists of cleaning the kitchen.

It's a short and boring entry today, I'm well aware. But some allowance needs to be made for the exhausting weekend I've just had. I award myself the afternoon off.

Tomorrow will be brought to you by the letter L.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

J is for Jackson

Above is Emily winning Best of Breed at the Bulla Amenities Maple Show. I am so very proud of my girl.

Because she won her breed, we had to stay for Group Specials, and consequently I am too tired when I get home to do anything except collapse into bed with Emily and the cats. However, on waking I do manage to force out a measly couple of hundred words, just to meet the day's Camp NaNo goal.

Today is J, and I've chosen to watch a movie that's been kicking about the place for ages - Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. In theory, this should energise me to go on writing, but I know already before I start that that just isn't going to happen. I'll be lucky to stay awake for the film, particularly if it's as terrible as the title and blurb suggest. But I want to get it out of the way today, because then I can tick off the letter J and tomorrow I can do something more productive, like clean the kitchen or something.

The movie is as I expected. A group of idealistic teenagers go on a quest and save the world. It's cute and lame, but I quite enjoy it because hey, teenagers being heroes. What is it about teenagers anyway? Why do we still want to watch movies about them when we're much older? I'm 58 and I still do. Personally, I think it's because none of us ever succeeds in being - I won't even say stunning, but even remotely as cool as we'd like to be when we actually are teenagers, so we eternally relive those years vicariously through Buffy et alia. On our behalf they punch out the bullies who made our own lives a burden. It's awesome.

It takes me longer than it should to watch the film because I keep pausing it to watch the videos of Emily in the ring again. So sue me - I'm so proud of my beautiful girl.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

I is for International Rescue

Most of today was taken up with the Bulla Amenities Oak Show, so I don't start work till around four p.m. My expectations for the working day are low, particularly as it's Saturday anyway, but with Camp Nano, it all goes so much better if you don't skip days. I manage a couple of hundred words, just to keep from falling backwards.

Here is Emily at the show. Isn't she divine?
In order to keep in the alphabet work challenge theme, today's breakout activity is watching television. Thunderbirds, to be precise. The saga of International Rescue.

A Thunderbird
I suppose it's a bit sad of me, but really this show is an absolute classic, and what the technology lacks of today's standards is more than made up for by the ingenuity of the puppets and their operators. It's first class of its kind, and although some of the lines are a little cheesy, one has to remember it was a show for children. Back in the 60s, they didn't dumb things down for children as much as they do today, so these are one hour episodes with really exciting plots, all revolving around people being in danger of horrible death, whether by natural accidents or by the machinations of evil masterminds. 

Why is this television show, which has nothing to do with anything, on my To Do list, you may ask. Well, that's because I've had the DVDs for years and never got around to watching them. So it's more of the bucket part of the list than the work part of it.

After an episode of Thunderbirds, I do much better and the work starts moving again. Watching television really seems to energise the creative part of my brain. This whole alphabet thing has been worthwhile just for this discovery. I finish the day with 750 words done, and I'm satisfied with that. 

Tomorrow will be brought to you by the letter J, unless the dog show goes on too long.

Friday, 15 April 2016

H is for Housework

Today is one of those annoying days when all kinds of stuff is added into my schedule. I have to take Emily for a bath, I have to call at the library, I have to do shopping. It's twelve thirty before this is all taken care of and I can actually settle down at my desk, and it's almost two by the time I've got my daily wordcount for Camp NaNo, but I make it my first priority, because the weekend is going to be taken up with dog shows and it's quite possible I may get nothing else done at all.

Today is Housework, so once again I'll be interweaving periods of that with periods of writing. I have two lists of tasks to be done; one is the daily things that I, in theory at least, do every day, and the other is of things I try to do every Saturday. Although it's only Friday, I'm not sanguine about getting it done tomorrow. It's the first show we've been to for six months, and I know I will be exhausted after it, so that even if it finishes early, by the time we get home I will probably just collapse into bed.

The daily list comes first. It's not arduous; just the kitchen counters and the lavs and basins. I've already done the main bathroom so it's just the back lav, and then I spray room spray all over the house, because of the dogs. It only takes me ten minutes to whiz through this. Once again I marvel at how, even though no one has made toast for days, there are crumbs beneath the toaster. It is one of the dark mysteries of life.

A second session brings me up to a respectable 1200 words, and then it is time to tackle the Saturday job - a more thorough cleaning of the bathroom. It doesn't take long, and it's still not three when I return for the third session of writing. I've done all the housework I needed to do, except for making tonight's meatloaf, and in theory I could now knock off, but the more I get done today the less bad I'll feel if (when) I don't manage to write anything over the weekend. At 1400 words, though, I do call a halt.

Tomorrow will be brought to you by the letter I, unless it has to be put off until Monday.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

G is for grammar - Getting rid of Joe - stumbles in first person singular pronouns, and how to fix them.

"Everyone was talking in the pub tonight," said my long-ago boyfriend. 

"Really?" I said. "What about?"

"About you and I."

We've all experienced moments like this, when someone close to us comes out with something so frightful that for a moment we find ourselves wondering what we ever saw in them. I used to have a friend who used 'lay' intransitively. Every time she said it, I would feel myself physically cringing. 

And yet this confusion of  the first person singular pronouns is one of the most common mistakes people make in English speech. I'm not sure it isn't the most common of all. I think it has its roots in early childhood, in second-rate primary schools where second-rate teachers berate children for saying things like 'me and Joe went down the shops'. Cowed but not really understanding, they learn that 'I' is safer than me, and a lifetime habit of cringeworthy statements is born. You see echoes of this kind of thing in today's overuse of 'purchase' and 'utilise' instead of 'buy' and 'use'. To the semi-educated, a longer word is always better than a shorter.

Be that as it may, whatever the cause, using 'I' when it should be 'me' is the easiest mistake of all to overcome. You do not even need to understand the concept of declensions. All you need to do is get rid of Joe.

The thing about Joe is - this is a mistake that only ever occurs in a prase of the form 'Joe and I'. No one says 'Give I the puppy'. Well, perhaps some foreign person just beginning to learn English might, but that isn't what we're talking about. Similarly, you hear things like 'me and Joe went to the pub', but you will never hear 'me went to the pub'. It just doesn't happen. People nearly always get their pronouns right when it's as simple as that.

So, in order to know whether you're using the correct one, all you need to do is get rid of Joe. If you are going to say, for example, 'everyone was talking about Joe and I', try it without Joe. 'Everyone was talking about I'. At once it is obvious. Similarly, you might say 'Me and Joe went to the pub', but you'd never say 'Me went to the pub.' 

So that's it. All you ever need to do is get rid of Joe.   

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

F is for Fiona

The grass is always greener on the other side, it's said, and no doubt that's why I'm always starting something new and leaving things unfinished. Today, I think about Fiona. Fiona MacDougall, that is, protagonist of my two published novels, Dance of Chaos and Gift of Continence. 

The Fiona MacDougall series is to be a three-book series. I started writing the third book late in 2014, and it remains unfinished. There is not that much remaining; just the final chapters, really. I estimate the book is around 80% complete. And yet, those final chapters remain unfinished. It irritates me every time I think about it. 

Part of it is, I suspect, because deep down, I'm rather sick of Fiona. I've written two books about her and moved on to other things. But the series remains unfinished, and I want closure for it. Fiona needs to be laid to rest. Not in the grave, of course, but settled.

Today, what with it being F day in my challenge, I am greatly tempted to leave Operation Camilla and pick it up. I resist the temptation, though. I committed myself to write Operation Camilla this month, and I signed up for Camp NaNo on that basis, and I am by Trollope going to finish it. Once I have a draft completed, it will be set aside to rot down, and I can then continue with Where The Heart Is, the final book of Fiona MacDougall.

On this basis, I justify working on Operation Camilla as an 'F' activity.

As I have to go into the city for a meeting and lunch, I don't get much done today. 800 words and a bit of housework. The only goal I've really met is the daily wordcount for Camp NaNo.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

E is for Evil

E is for Evil. E is also for Excerpt. Therefore today I'm going to post an excerpt from Operation Camilla, showing the most evil character I've ever written. I will be very disappointed if any reader rates this guy lower than 9 on the How Much I Hate This Character scale.


Donald Blackman kicked the dog hard enough to knock it across the footpath into the gutter. An anguished yelp rang out, and he looked quickly about to see if anyone had observed him, but the early morning street was quiet and empty. He picked up the slightly mangled newspaper and brandished it at the dog, which whimpered and limped away on three legs.
Blackman strode across his front lawn, looking neither right nor left. A squish beneath his foot caused him to look down, and he roared with rage, scrubbing his foot on the artificial grass and smearing the fresh dog poo more thoroughly over his suede desert boots. Seven o’clock and he could already feel the day slipping out of his grasp, sinking into the vast, amorphous expanse of wasted days that had become his life. He let himself into his semi-detached office and tossed the day’s mail and the soggy paper onto his secretary’s desk. 

In the sanctum of his inner office, he threw himself into his chair and glowered out the window. The day stretched ahead, void of client meetings, void of court appearances, void, if he were honest with himself, of work. The only files he had that were current were a couple of conveyancing matters. He had had to refer most of his regular clients to other practitioners following his trouble, when his practising certificate had been suspended for three months. None of them had come back when he’d reopened his doors. Not a single one. He was relying on his mates at Acme Real Estate for a trickle of conveyancing referrals, but they didn’t even generate enough income to cover his secretary’s wages. 

A few nice, juicy divorces, that was what he needed. High net worth individuals meant rich pickings for the family lawyer. High net worth individuals with children, he mused. Those were the best; the arguments about custody and access could drag on for years, with many court appearances. The nastier it got, the more he raked in. 

He heaved his bulk out of the chair, stumped back out to the front office and picked up his newspaper, his mind still half on dreams of golden wealth furnished by human misery. If only, he thought, there were some way to make people get divorced. 

That prat John Mills was on the front page again, accepting some award. Smug bastard. Businessman of the year. Look at him with his bloody trophy wife and his five blond children. I’d like to have you in my office fighting for your life, you smarmy git. You wouldn’t look so bloody pleased with yourself then. 

He frowned suddenly, bending over the paper to look more closely at the photograph. That wasn’t the woman he’d seen Mills with at the Commercial Club last week. She was blonde and uptight-looking. That woman last week had been a slutty-looking brunette with tits the size of watermelons and a skirt that looked like it had been sprayed on. Heh, heh. So Mills was playing away, was he? Dirty bastard. He chuckled appreciatively. 

There was nothing much of interest in the paper. Blackman skimmed through it, sneering at the picture of the happy children who’d found their lost dog and the one of the stupid hippy festival. The hippies were no good. They lived on their commune, didn’t own enough to bother making wills, and there were never any family law matters; they didn’t bloody get married in the first place, and they never seemed to argue over their children even if they did split up. You might get the odd criminal matter over possessing some marijuana, but that wasn’t worth anything; they were always on Legal Aid, so you could only charge the scheduled fee. Someone like that Mills, that was what you wanted. An enormous asset pool with that thriving department store, probably a self-managed superannuation fund, big expensive house, probably a holiday house too. And plenty at stake, with the five kids. Yes, if only Mills were getting a divorce. If that uptight bitch ever found out about the other woman…. He drifted into a pleasant reverie where a now-humble Mills was shivering in the client chair, begging for his help. Allegations of child abuse would make it go on even longer. Sometimes, if you were lucky… of course, a discreet rumour might spark those allegations. As long as it wasn’t traceable….

He looked up with a frown as he heard the outer door. “That you, Shelley?” he called.

“Yes, Mr Blackman.”

Blackman glanced at his watch. It was eight fifteen. “Get in here,” he roared. “Now!”

His secretary crept into the office. 

“What bloody time do you call this? Hey? Hey?”

“I’m sorry, Mr-”

“Your hours are eight to five. That means you are here at eight every morning. Not swanning in halfway through the morning. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?”

“Yes, Mr Blackman, I’m sor-”

“So what the hell d’you think you’re doing turning up at eight fifteen?”

“I’m really sorry, I-”

“Do you think that because you’re only seventeen you’re not expected to do a full job? Is that it? Think you can just loaf around and come in when it suits you?”

“No, Mr Black-”

“It’s not acceptable, Shelley. I pay you to be here and I expect you to be here, on time, every day. Your work’s shit, I left the Mulgrave file on your desk, the whole thing has to be retyped. If you paid a bit more attention to your work perhaps you’d be able to do a simple task without having to redo it five times. What kind of impression do you think it makes when you spell the client’s name wrong, hey? You stupid little bitch. Do you want to make me look like a fucking amateur? And you need to smarten yourself up, for Christ’s sake, you look as if you’ve been dragged through a fucking hedge.”

She was crying now, he saw with satisfaction, doing her best to hide it but he could see the telltale shine in her eyes and hear the muffled sniffs. Good; serve her right. 

“Get me a coffee,” he snapped. “At least that’s something you can do properly.”

Isn't he vile? 
Now for the rest of the day I'll be proceeding as normal. Breakout activity will again be television, but as today is E, it's back to Sir David for some more Life on EARTH. I'm meeting a friend for coffee in town this morning, though, so with travelling time added I don't know how much I can expect to get done.

I start the day by getting the house straight so it's 9:15 before I sit down to work. I'm feeling stressed because I know I have to leave later this morning to go out, but I manage to get my NaNo wordcount within half an hour, leaving me just enough time to get Emily brushed before our outing.

When I get home it's after twelve. Work isn't running as smoothly as it had been, and I ascribe this to the deficiency of the middle part of my outline. Although I still have only 600 words, I decide to take my first break. 

The show I've chosen for today is Life On Earth. I watch an episode about the desert. As usual Attenborough distinguishes himself for courage, casually picking up a large, poisonous lizard in his bare hands and delivering some of his lecture as he hikes through desert at 94 degrees Centigrade.

One thing I have noticed as the month goes on is that my incentive towards productivity is lessening as the daily amount I require to reach my Camp NaNo goal decreases. This is rather a sobering thought, highlightiing as it does the laziness against which every writer must struggle. I struggle on, and finish the day with 1100 words.

Tomorrow will be brought to you by the letter F.

Monday, 11 April 2016

D is for Drafting

This one is easy - as I have been doing, I'll be continuing work on my crime novella, Operation Camilla. My breakout activity will be television, and as today is D, what else would I watch but Doctor Who.

I am up early as usual, and am about to start work at seven a.m. when the telephone rings. It is a swamp-dwelling barbarian who informs us that they will come and fix our heating. Sadly, with winter coming on we are at the mercy of these cretins and must allow them to behave as they will. This means that my working morning is shot to shit, because as soon as the tradesman arrives, our dog Memphis starts barking at him, and I know he will not let up until the guy leaves. Even if he settles down briefly, I can't concentrate because I'm tensed waiting for the next outburst. Therefore, this morning I will be doing housework insted of working on my book.

This is Memphis, our Security Chief.

By ten o'clock we've got rid of the swamp-dwelling barbarians to everyone's relief, and I can finally start work.

I have now reached the middle section of the book, where the main action will take place, and almost as soon as I sit down and start work I realise with alarm how weak my outline is in this area. It is like that well-known cartoon of two engineers standing in front of a whiteboard covered with complex diagrams, with a big box in the middle that says 'then a miracle happens'. I always seem to make this mistake with my outlines, and it's very wearing to find that once again I've done exactly the same thing. Still, that is what discovery writing is for, isn't it, so I forge ahead without the faintest clue of where I am going.

By a bit after eleven, I've got the wordcount I need for NaNo. My husband has invited me out for coffee, though, so I do that instead of firing up the television.

After lunch I take a few minutes to check the local library, who has had Dance of Chaos on order. I am delighted to see that someone already has it on reserve! I have a fan!

Two more sessions and two episodes of Doctor Who take me to 1545 with 1300 words. I have two dance classes back to back this evening, so it's time for a nap.

I end with 1500 words for the day. Not as good as the other television days, but the loss of the early morning hours was very destructive.

Tomorrow will be brought to you by the letter E.