Posts Tagged ‘Scotland’

The Key to Starveldt is here! My second novel is now a real, live thing that I can hold and flip through and poke! It’s due for release in October 2011, which is barely two months away, which is awesome – but which also means, alas, that my ability to launch said novel will be curtailed until sometime early in 2012, being as how plane trips from Scotland to Australia do not come cheap. But! That doesn’t mean I don’t have Special Things planned in lieu of a timely launch.

Oh yes, internets. Special Things, the nature of which shall be revealed between now and October. But until then: new book! Squee!

Street Hawker

Posted: February 10, 2011 in Fly-By-Night
Tags: , , , , , ,

Tomorrow, we head to Bristol. We’ll spend a week there, and then head to London for another week, before coming back to St Andrews. That means waking up at early o’clock tomorrow, which means I should already be in bed, but right now, I don’t care about any of that, because I’ve just met my first hawk.

It’s Thursday night. We went to the pub to see a friend who’ll be gone by the time we get back. We stayed, we talked, we drank a bit, and then we headed home. Walking through the city, inebriated undergraduates were everywhere, roaming in packs. And then I stopped, because there was something in the road, occupying a space usually inhabited by parked cars.

It was a hawk.

It was there, and it was strange, and it was beautiful. And then the man to whom it belonged – older, slender, Scottish – got out of his Jeep, smiled, and asked if I’d like a closer look. I thought he was offering to hold it up for me, give me an inspection that way. Instead, he handed me a thick leather falconer’s glove, which I put on my left hand. Then he bent down, undid the hawk’s jesses – red, with silver bells – and placed her on my outstretched arm.

Her name was Amy, he said. She is five years old, and a harrier hawk. And when he raised my other hand to touch her, she felt like satin.

The man has four birds right now, he said: two harriers, a kind whose name I didn’t catch, and a peregrine. He likes harriers because of their intelligence; they for live up to 25 or even 30 years, and are easy to train.

Like Amy the hawk.

He asked nothing for the privilege of holding the bird. Of all the people who stopped to look, I don’t know why he singled me out to hold her – maybe it was because I had a camera, or because I was visibly less drunk than the raucous students shrieking at the sight of the bird in the road. But in a night overcome with noise, both man and hawk were a pool of quiet, as though they’d stepped out of a different world. I don’t know why he was there, though our friend said afterwards that man and bird are known local quantities. When I handed Amy back, my arm wobbled slightly, and she reacted by stretching her wings, flapping briefly, yellow feet digging into the leather glove. I didn’t feel a thing. And then the falconer smiled, and I smiled back, and we walked away, leaving him surrounded by a staring crowd.

I love Scotland.

Or, more specifically, St Andrews!

We have now been living here for nine days, in which time the following things have occurred:

  • Frolicking through the snow;
  • Jetlag recovery as aided by copious amounts of Top Gear;
  • The purchase of twelve novels from various bookshops;
  • Friendly drinks at several pubs;
  • Eating pheasant;
  • My catching a week-long cold;
  • Toby wearing plastic bags over his socks because his shoes leaked;
  • Befriending an astrophysicist;
  • Several successful dinner experiments;
  • Completely forgetting how the coin-operated washer/dryer system works, twice;
  • Yelling at the stove because the dials turn the wrong way, so that I keep setting them on low instead of high;
  • My old laptop catching a virus and dying in the arse;
  • The purchase of a shiny new laptop, on which I am now writing this blog post;
  • The inexplicable loss of my favourite smooshy purple knitted hat;
  • The discovery of a cafe that serves hot chocolate with marshmallows, whipped cream AND Β a chocolate flake;
  • One aborted trip to the movies, being as how it was too cold and we were knackered;
  • One sighting of a genuine Scottish gentleman wearing a genuine Scottish kilt;
  • The discovery that there is, lurking about somewhere, a town cat called Hamish; and
  • The acquisition of a very strange bird-puppet, which I have named Archie the Arche Mascot.

So, as you can see, it’s been a pretty packed program – even so, I apologise for the lengthy radio silence. Doubtless I’ll have more to say (and the strength/will to say it more coherently) at some later date, but in the mean time, here is a photo of Archie, who was given to me by a nice lady at one of the town’s ten charity shops.

Cheerful little fellow, isn’t he?

Prior to getting rid of my desktop computer this afternoon, I had to transfer a bunch of old files to my laptop. Mostly they were random photos, ancient word documents I wasn’t sure I’d archived anywhere else – and a folder of video diary entries I made throughout my second year as a college student, way back in 2005.

As memory serves, I first started making them as the end result of a thought process that went something like this:

1. What does my head really look like from the side? Whenever I see photos of me from that angle, I always look like a giant nose with a face attached. It’s sort of unflattering. I hope I don’t look like that all the time.

2. Can I see my sidelong profile in the mirror, ever?

*several failed attempts later*

3. No. Because my eyes are on the FRONT of my head. Because I am a PREDATORY MAMMAL, not a PARROT, despite my APPARENTLY GIANT NOSE. Also, I am an IDIOT.

4. But wait! I have a shiny new digital camera! I can take PHOTOS of my sidelong profile by holding the camera at arm’s length from the side of my head while looking in a different direction! Problem solved!

*several failed attempts later*

5. I AM STILL AN IDIOT.

*bing!*

6. Hey, I know! Why don’t I put the camera on top of my bookshelf and make a video of me moving around?

7. And if I’m going to go to all that effort, why don’t I talk about my life, too?

And thus, the video diary idea was born.

There are 33 entries, all taken between the 24th of April and the 28th of October 2005 – I saved each file according to time and date. The digital camera I used wasn’t particularly good, and I could only talk for about six minutes before the recording cut out, but despite all this, the results are fascinating. To me, anyway. I never posted them anywhere; they were only ever for my own enjoyment. It was a novel thing, being able to watch myself on film. My parents never owned a video camera when I was growing up, and until that point, I’d only ever seen stills of myself; or, if I were very lucky, a three-second cameo in some other family’s tape of a school event. When I rewatched each entry after making it, I remember being more interested in how I looked than what I was actually saying: not just on the level of a nineteen-year-old girl attempting to gauge her attractiveness, but how I moved, the way my eyes flicked sideways or down, how my mouth twisted or my hands moved. Even my voice, which always sounds deeper to me on tape than it ever does while speaking, was a source of interest. Trying to learn all the tricks of my own face – all the things that my friends and family must have known by heart, which in some ways defined me as much as my words or actions, but which were foreign to me – was both strange and compelling.

Now, almost six years later, my reactions to the entries have changed. I look at the girl I was then, and think:

I was so beautiful! What on Earth possessed me to think otherwise? Why did I constantly disparage myself?

I was so young! I look at teenagers now and there’s this freshness to them I sort of assumed was generational, but in those videos, I have it, too! Why do none of us realise it at the time?

I was so earnest! And awkward! But that self-conscious humour and weird, dreamy introspection, it’s all the seed of who I am now – I was still learning to be me. I just didn’t know it yet.

Did I really care about all those things that are so unimportant now, but which were so important then? How much of what’s important to me now will be just as unimportant in another five years? Or is it all important, always?

Did I have any inkling how significant that year would end up being? If I look hard enough, can I see it there? Could I ever have guessed?

This last is the thing that sticks with me most, which moved me to write this post. Because 2005 was, in many respects, the year that turned me into who I am now. I recorded the final entry the night I acquired my then-kitten, Quill, who crawls across my shoulders as I talk. I say that I’ve made the decision to defer my studies for 2006 in favour of finishing my novel, what I now refer to as the Great Unpublished Epic. Several times in earlier entries, I talk about Toby, the man who is now my husband, but who was then a friend and ex-roomate of my college boyfriend, Sean. I only watched a few entries tonight, but what struck me from that random selection was the number of times I mentioned doing something without Sean – usually karate lessons, which he’d started me on, but often seemed to ditch, at least by this subjective record – compared to the number of times I talked about doing things with Toby, like playing music or hanging out. A month later, beyond the scope of the video entries, Sean and I had parted ways.Β  By Christmas, Toby and I were living together. The next year, we saved our money and moved to Melbourne, where I finished my novel and, eventually, started the story that grew into Solace & Grief. The year after that, we were married.

I made a few more entries much later on, using the camera function on my laptopeleven in 2007, four in 2008 – but they weren’t the same. Lacking regularity or purpose, made in response to boredom and without the camera’s ability to cut me off if I waffled, they devolved into indulgent ramblings about whatever it was I thought interesting and profound at the time – topics which, in retrospect, usually weren’t. Given another few years, there’s every chance I’ll find them as interesting as the original 33, but right now, they’re just that little bit too recent for proper retrospect: the only lesson I can take from them now is that I’m not always as fascinating as I might think.

As I type this, I’m lying on a borrowed bed. The computer clock has just ticked on past 12AM: technically, it’s Wednesday already, which means that tomorrow night – Thursday night – we’ll board the plane for Scotland. Not a new life, because that implies escape, or erasure somehow, as though I were trying to forget Melbourne and what living here has meant to us. But a new start? Definitely. And with everything that entails – with the ghost of my teenage self still flickering in my vision – I think that, like 2005 before it, 2011 will be a year worth documenting, too. It just so happens that I received another new digital camera for Christmas: a belated replacement for the earlier model, which died some time ago. The new video function cuts out after eight minutes, not six. But then, I’m older now. Perhaps I’ll have that little bit more to say.

Something old. Something new. Something borrowed.

Something true.

This time last year, Toby and I were still in England. On New Year’s Day, we walked through the snow in Leatherhead, Surrey and talked about what we wanted most for 2010. Among the usual small hopes were two important ones: a successful debut for Solace & Grief, and a chance to come back to the UK. It’s taken a lot of hard work, but we’ve achieved both those things. The Key to Starveldt is due for release this year, and in just five days, we’re moving to Scotland for a minimum of eighteen months. It is thrilling, terrifying, wonderful. We worked hard for this, and the reward of actually getting it is monumental. And now we’ve crossed the threshold of another new year, and we get to do it all over again: more work, more plans, more effort and hope and sheer hard yakka, because both of us have the kind of dreams that are easy neither to achieve nor dismiss.

I want to be a professional writer. Toby wants to be a professional academic. In bald terms, we already are these things, but there are no laurels to rest on for being able to claim that much, and even if there were, I doubt we’d be content to do so. Stories are the blood in me, just as my husband breathes philosophy. We understand and love that about one another, the degree to which who we are cannot be readily separated from our aspirations. This year, we have a real chance to make something of ourselves in the ways that matter most to each of us. We have come this far, but the aim is to go much further. And I think – I hope – we can do it.

Beyond all that, I still want the same small things for 2011 that I want every year: to eat healthily and exercise regularly, to pay off our debts and live within our means, to try new things while reconnecting with old passions. It might seem repetetive and futile make the same resolutions each year – or at least, it would do, if any of them were finite achievements. The point of such things isn’t to find some magic, perfect level of successful compliance and declare yourself done, but to constantly look for improvement. This past year, my domestic skills have started to be worthy of the name, not because I suddenly woke up one morning with a desire to be tidy, but because I spent months telling myself that I needed to be. Because in a lot of ways, the biggest change of 2010 – and the one I’m most keen to uphold in 2011 – was the realisation that I could set goals for myself and reach them, even if they were difficult.

Maybe I’ve just grown up. But I hope not. I like having room for development.

Happy 2011, everyone!

News!

Posted: November 6, 2010 in Life/Stuff
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So, I have this whole half-written blog about the internet scuffling over steampunk this week that I want to post, but right now, I just don’t have the energy to finish it, because in less than two months, Toby and I will be moving from Melbourne, Australia to St Andrew’s, Scotland, where he has accepted a job. So, huzzah! But also exhaustion. Because two months is not a particularly long amount of time, and there are a hojillion billion things which must be done before then. The most significant of these involves teh visas, acquisition of which is guaranteed to break the human spirit faster than a crash course in waterboarding. Also, selling our unwanted possessions on eBay, figuring out what to do with our cats (who will eventually be coming with us, once the 6 months it takes to get them pet passports are up), buying airline tickets, looking at accommodation, getting those things we do want to keep freighted over, attending my sister-in-law’s engagement party, travelling to Sydney for an early Christmas and my mother’s 60th birthday, dealing with the next round of edits for The Key to Starveldt, finishing up my job and ending our lease, to say nothing of the fact that, prior to learning Toby had got the job, I signed up for NaNoWriMo.

So, a bit busy, then.

Having only found out about the job a week ago, it’s taken until now for the full reality of it to sink in. We’ve been running around organising things, telling people and trying to figure out what to do next, with the result that only today did it actually hit us that we are moving to Scotland. This resulted, not unappreciably, in a form of localised collapse, viz: multiple naps, a trip to Max Brenner’s for chocolate frappes, the renting of the new Sherlock Holmes movie (because action films starring Robert Downey Jnr are soothing unto my soul and, yea, also pleasant to look upon), and a world-first decision not to attend a friend’s karaoke party on the grounds of exhaustion.

By way of properly comprehending the import of this last, know that I will happily walk over poisonous snakes and swallow hot glass if it means I get to sing Kiss By A Rose in front of other people, many of them strangers. Because I love me some karaoke.

So, yes. Busy! But just for tonight, we will revel in a glorious state of pretend un-busyness. With Nicoise salad.