Friday, 30 January 2015

Movie nights: Persepolis and Captain America

We saw Persepolis at the local cinema on Thursday night, in the original French. Based on Marjane Satrapi's comic books of the same name, it tells the story of her growing up in Iran, and to some extent in Austria, at the time of the Iranian Revolution and immediately afterward. It was sad, very sad, but in a good way, by which I mean it was a good film, with a beautifully told story. Well worth seeing. Also, it was really nice to hear a movie in French, especially as it was unexpected. I'd assumed it was going to be dubbed, right up to the moment where the soundtrack started.

We watched Captain America this evening at home and unfortunately I feel unable to summarize the plot because I couldn't discern one. I feel a bit dirty for watching enjoying it really, even if what I mostly enjoyed was exchanging sarcastic comments with my fellow viewers. Strangely enough, Captain America also had unexpected French in it, in the form of some French pirates. Now, seriously Hollywood, how did you invent some French pirates who aren't also Greenpeace activists? And if you later want to tell us they were really Algerian pirates, why did you have them talking with upper middle class Parisian accents? Also, retractable metal wings that fold up into a backpack? More cool than clever, don't you think? Although the other guy has a shield he uses as a frisbee... okay, enough said.

Next up: Into the Woods

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

When a character changes personality half-way through a story

Often enough in a story, the personality of a character develops in a gradual process. Or they may undergo very sudden emotional or lifestyle transitions which leave their basic personality unchanged. But what about characters who undergo a sudden and radical change in personality?

I was trying to solve this problem for one of my characters when I happened to read Terry Pratchett's YA novel, A Hat Full of Sky. In it, eleven-year-old Tiffany Aching is taken over by a hiver and well... she changes. She (that is the hiver) keeps all of Tiffany's memories and her goals. It 'thinks' it is Tiffany, while the real Tiffany becomes a tiny shred of personality buried deep inside it. So, I made a list of all the things Pratchett does to convey this:
  • Before the hiver takes Tiffany over there is plenty of foreshadowing, so we know what has happened, we just don't know how it will manifest itself.
  • Right from the start, we learn that Tiffany feels different - better actually. Later on, we see that all her negative thoughts, while they aren't entirely new, have become more extreme. She is more self-confident but also harsher towards other people.
  • She starts making little behavioral choices we had seen the real Tiffany reject not long before - nothing very important at first, but her new choices are generally more shallow.
  • Soon, the false Tiffany shows a willingness to engage in rude, arrogant and even violent behavior she would never have contemplated before. As with her thoughts and feelings, these are entirely foreign to her. Instead, they are the most extreme manifestation of the little ambitions and resentments she had previously repressed. The hiver Tiffany no longer has any moral boundaries at all.
  • While the humans around Tiffany don't notice the change at first, the spiritually sensitive goats and poltergeist know and don't want to be around her even before her behavior changes.
  • Her reflection sometimes shows her the hivers past identities, including prehistoric animals. At times, the memories associated with these identities threaten to take her over.
  • The real Tiffany finds a way to fight back and manifests herself.
  • Eventually, the narrator gives an explicit explanation of what is happening to hiver-Tiffany and real-Tiffany.
We only see hiver-Tiffany in action for two chapters out of fifteen and it's a rather intense experience. I wondered how long it's possible to keep up this kind of wholesale personality change before the reader's relationship with the 'real' character becomes compromised or replaced with a new relationship. Interestingly enough, my alternate personality character, Anat, is also present for about an eighth of a book and I was glad when the old one returned, even though the new one was, in some respects, a better person.

In other respects the way I manage Anat's change is quite different. She doesn't experience a possession, rather she undergoes a kind of controlled amnesia. She foregoes her memories, substituting a memorized record of her life, much as we might learn the life of another person from a very detailed biography or diary.
  • As with Tiffany and the hiver we see this process getting set up, but as with Tiffany, we don't know how it will manifest itself. 
  • Because Anat is the narrator, I had more opportunity to show change by altering the narrative voice. The old Anat constantly reveals the depth of her memories in the way she sees the world, through metaphor, allusion and story. I tried to show the relative shallowness of new-Anat's experiences by paring the imagery down to a minimum.
  • The new Anat has excellent recall of her past, but she's less biased and quickly understands things about her companions while remaining less affected by them than she would have been. Considering the old Anat is quite morally ambivalent at times, the new one has a greater tendency to think in moral terms rather than through her own feelings and reactions.
  • The new Anat experiences time quite differently from the old Anat. She moves through it faster for one thing, and with none of the tendencies to digress into memory, fantasy, or expectations of the future which the old Anat had.
  • Changes in Anat's magical abilities reflect these changes in her personality in ways that move the story along. The old Anat could see into the spirit world but paid little attention to everyday people. The new Anat has no visions, but does have an interesting ability to 'hear' people's stories, whether they were planning on telling them or not. This reflects her less biased, self-centered nature as well as the loss of depth.
  • Since it's important that Anat's change is never discovered by her companions, there had to be a lack of obvious changes in her behavior towards them.
Described like that, my alternate character feels a lot more subtle than Pratchett's but in both cases, the change is a logical consequence of what has happened to change her. Many differences stem from the fact that my character is the narrator and Pratchett's is not, but they also come from the fact that my character is very much living a double-life and needs to retain it, whereas Tiffany's identity and abilities are fully integrated into her social world. Oh, and the real Tiffany is distinctly 'good' whereas hiver-Tiffany is very bad indeed. With my character, these tendencies are less extreme, but they're also reversed.

I'll certainly be interested to hear what my beta readers think of the old-Anat, new-Anat change.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

One of those weeks...

The editing was all going so well, err... right up until Wednesday, when a stranger turned up at my front door at 8:45 am to tell me my husband had just slipped on something in the station at the end of the road. Cue descriptions of gore, ambulances, x-rays, plaster casts and a day and a half in the local hospitals.

A day and a half! For those who are not clients of the NHS, but of some other, more heavily billable option, please note that this doesn't amount to a complaint. The NHS systems are structured to dispense just the right amount of free medical care to those who need it most, when they need it most. If all you have is a broken wrist and blood all over your face, you can wait till they've taken care of the dying! So it goes... and the plus side is that we were in there long enough to make sure there was not going to be any serious concussion, which I must say was looking a bit frightening earlier in the day.

Okay, add to all that a surprise test - by which I mean that I knew I was taking an test but had no clue what subjects it was going to cover or what form it would take - and it's been quite a week. Now I'm left with choices for the weekend:
  • Do the two full days of work I missed - quite important, because I have a 4-day week coming up next and a deadline.
  • Clean the house, do the laundry and make something with the food currently rotting in the fridge.
  • Take my daughter to buy shoes that fit her, see that she does her homework and generally spend time with her. 
  • Make marmalade, or suffer the consequences and be forced to eat shop-bought marmalade for the whole of 2015.
  • Read books and write blog posts and emails to people I owe emails too.
  • Go out and do something fun in London and let the chips fall where they may!
Ugh! I'm so stressed out by the whole lot of it, I just slept for 11 hours. Also, my birthday has been postponed by a week to make room for just about everything which must come first. Oh, and I passed the test, but as a result I may need to significantly re-arrange my immediate future! Where are those frowny-face icons when you need them.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

A creation story

Our neighbors ought to hate us because we now have three didgeridoos, one for every member of the family. 'Why,' I can hear them thinking, 'did they not stay on their French mountain if they wanted to do that?' I can hear them thinking it because the walls here are quite thin, you see. There's a photo of the big didgeridoo, the medium didgeridoo and the little baby didgeridoo at the end of the post, but first something even more beautiful.

Space Christmas Story is a creation tale with clay figures and musical accompaniment including Druyd on didgeridoo. Druyd is Dubravko Lapaine, currently the big didgeridoo players tutor (and/or guru) from somewhere on the other side of Europe via Skype.

Druyd has a lot of other very impressive pieces on YouTube but this one is extra-pretty to look at. And here are the instruments with which we hope to achieve something similar, one day, eventually.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Not so inspiring.

Counter-protests against Charlie-Hebdo's latest depiction of Muhammad got underway in Muslim countries, marred by considerable violence against people who have nothing to do with the matter at hand and a determination to attack symbols rather than make arguments.

In Niger, attacks were made against churches - perhaps the protesters feel that Christianity is a suitable stand in for secular western Europe? It's a pity they didn't stick to burning the French flag which I consider a perfectly acceptable form of self-expression. Anyway people died and were injured, property was damaged, etc, etc. In Pakistan, Islamic extremism demonstrated its ability failure to bring people together: all-male protesters interfered with a far more inclusive anti-terrorism demonstration.

But this has to be the ultimate irony, even though it obviously doesn't offend me personally. In Algeria, some protesters marched through the streets with Je Suis Muhammad as their slogan, and in doing so transformed themselves into walking, talking clones of the very imagery they say they are protesting again. I don't know how their activities are not blasphemic, according to their own standards, but whatever!

And anyway, why so much violence? And could the representational tropes at the heart of the Abrahamic religions have anything at all to do with it? I think I have the beginnings of an answer to that question so I might have to get on to it soon.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Pope Francis is utterly delusional

The old geezer who's been trying to pass himself off as the nicey-nicey leader of the Catholic Church has revealed himself to be no better than a bar room brawlster. Apparently sweet old Francis thinks it's perfectly normal and natural to throw a punch at someone who insults your mother or your faith. I take it he's forgotten he's supposed to be preaching the turning of the other cheek.

He's also dismally ignorant of the restraint shown towards him in overlooking his own offenses. Look at the man! He goes around promoting a book full of offensive, barbaric nonsense and a bunch of useless magic rituals. Completely unnecessarily, he adds to the mix some rules practically calculated to promote poverty and misery throughout the world. He heads an organization most notorious for protecting criminals within its ranks. And now, he thinks we should settle our differences with violence?

I'm not a zero tolerance kind of person. Far, far from it. But the one thing which makes me angry is people who refuse tolerance to others, apparently blissfully unaware of how much is being extended to them. I'm also not into violence, but it looks like the Pope needs to be told that he's a disgrace to himself, to his Church, and to humanity in general.

Specious editing tip for novelists

I plowed my way through the whole 2nd quarter of The American Dream this week - all 30,000 words of it! Now, I feel like I should be doing anything but staring at a computer screen which is cool, 'cos I'm done. I'm spending the afternoon taking my daughter to the dentist and repairing the washing machine. Don't you just love Fridays!

Anyway, the week has left me with an editing tip, based on the fact that I hit a roll yesterday. This turned out to be because that section of the middle was once the beginning. And you know how it is: everyone works harder on the beginning, everyone returns to it when they need to get back into things. It automatically ends up more polished than the middle and the end. So, if you want to have an easy time editing, here's what you do. During the drafting process, give EVERY section of your novel a turn at being the beginning! No, seriously...

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Boites a Musique - Music Boxes

I spent yesterday evening helping my daughter make a music box out of Lego and an old credit card - it sort of works - and it got me inspired to look for some real music box music.

It's weird that music boxes are such a little mentioned phase of European music, yet still so ubiquitous. Their manufacture was mostly centered on Switzerland in the 19th century. I spent 16 years not far from the Swiss border so maybe I was in the area of influence, but anyway, it seemed like the thing in France to try to put your kids to sleep with CDs of pseudo music box lullabies.

I always found them sinister, filled with too many associations with the past. There's the personal past of childhood with its innocence that is and isn't really, and which only looks carefree to adults who find its fears and heartaches inconsequential. And then, it also feels to me like a line straight into European history. Sounds good? Well, there's this particular image that always comes to me when I hear a music box, of myself sitting in the sun in a cafe in the peaceful main square of a French town, looking up at an ancient building. In it, one of France's most prominent novelists lived out his upper-middle-class childhood to the sound of music boxes perhaps, and to the sight of corpses swinging on the public gibbet outside his window, while war, pestilence and famine roamed the land at all too regular intervals. So yes, there's a sort of nostalgia there, but also the ache of uncomfortable memories and the sense that the relative freedom and affluence of the present is a fragile thing.

 It's an impression which isn't unique to me and which really comes through in the use of the music box in film. I can relate to this lullaby from Pan's Labyrinth and the Davy Jones theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. But I also found a couple of musician composers I'd like to get to know better.

Colleen made a whole CD of music box compositions called, obviously enough, Colleen et les Boites a Musique. I'll Read You a Story plays on the idea of a child's bedtime, and I like the official video with a real ballerina in place of the dolls which traditionally danced on top of the boxes. This piece is definitely embracing the darkness.

As far as I know, Rhian Sheehan only made one music box composition, La Boite a Musique but I want to explore his work more anyway. This piece has a rather Far Eastern feel to it and I wonder if he was influenced by the use of music boxes in Japanese anime.

I've heard music boxes in a few other places. My favorite band, Katzenjammer, have used them, and I gather Bjork has too.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Charlie-Hebdo's Taubira cartoon

This edition of Anti-Racist Art Reviewed looks at one of Charlie Hebdo's little productions. Who else?

Trigger warning: many people find the image under discussion offensive. In fact, just to soften the blow, I'm going to give you a translation of the image into words first.


Anne-Sophie Leclere, member of the racist Front National has said that she would rather see black Justice Minister Christine Taubira in a tree swinging from the branches rather than in government! And that's after she caricatured Taubira on her Facebook page by comparing her photograph to that of a monkey. Looks like the Front National's 'Deep Blue Assembly' really is a 'Deeply Racist Assembly' after all. Color us surprised.
Below the fold, you can find the image that says the exact same thing as the text above.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Recorder music like you wouldn't believe it existed

I love this, The Jogger, by the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet.

I quite like their more conventionally classical stuff as well. Funny thing is, I've turned YouTube upside down looking for other recorder music that I like, but nothing.

Sunday, 11 January 2015


It's like a scene from Les Miserables. This is from the huge rally in Paris in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders. Some photographer took an image so amazing that I would pay good money for a copy to put on my wall. And the stupid Guardian have put in a slide show on their front page in such a way that I can't find out that photographer's name or even link to it properly. Hopefully, I may be able to correct that later.

UPDATE: having watched around a bit more, this has to be not only one of the largest political demonstrations of modern times, but one of the few in which the government and its leaders have joined in!

On the art of insulting people

My daughter and I are nearing the end of our epic reading of The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris. I was quite surprised and impressed by how closely the plot stuck to the Nordic mythologies. We have got to the flyting, the battle of ritualized abuse between Loki and his fellow gods in Asgard, in which he says things like:
You need to get some beauty sleep. You're getting wrinkles. And don't drink so much beer tonight. You know it makes you fart in bed.(1)
The Scandinavians attributed the invention of this tradition of hurling insults at people to Loki, then engaged in it with gusto. I've often wondered how much of our own traditions of slagging people off come from the same source. My daughter found Loki's performance impressive as it was reported in Joanne Harris's novel, but I grew up on a steady diet of Red Dwarf, filled with such carefully crafted abuse as:
Mister Arnold" isn't his name. His name's "Rimmer." Or "Smeghead." Or "Dinosaur Breath" or "Molecule Mind." And on a really special occasion when you want to be really mega-polite to him, Kryten, we're talking MEGA-polite, in those exceptional circumstances, you can call him "Arse-hole.(2)
And at the local pantomime the other night, the baddy addressed us, the audience, as 'squirrel sick' among other things (3). It is true that we had systematically addressed her as 'booooooooo!' since the moment she first walked on stage. All in all, I thought Joanne Harris's Loki was a bit restrained.

Incidentally, in the light of current affairs, it's interesting that the Arabic traditions are quite as heavily laden in satire as the Western ones. Apart from prose, there is a long tradition of satirical poetry called hija, along with poetic traditions of bragging (fahkr) and insulting (naqa'id). Much to my disappointment I couldn't find many translations, but let it be recorded for posterity that:
Abu Sa'd, old bag,
who whores with his sister and his wife,
If you saw him bending over,
you would think he is the arch of a bridge;
Or if you saw the prick in his arse,
you would say: 'a leg in the stocks.' (4)
I don't suppose anyone is going to claim this stuff isn't coarse and puerile but it's a laugh innit. Even the Americans are in on the act. I'm in the mood to dedicate this next one to jihadists everywhere:
You're a mean one Mr. Grinch Jihadi
You really are a heel.
You're as cuddly as a cactus,
And as charming as an eel,
Mr. Grinch Jihadi!
You're a bad banana,
With a greasy black peel!
You're a monster, Mr. Grinch Jihadi!
Your heart's an empty hole.
Your brain is full of spiders.
You've got garlic in your soul,
Mr. Grinch Jihadi!
I wouldn't touch you
With a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole! (5)
SO THERE! And think yourself lucky I don't have Photoshop or they'd be a suitably balaclavaed and AK-toting Grinch up there as well! (blows raspberry).

Actually, I've never done any writing in this vein myself and I don't suppose it's easy*. It has to fit plausibly with the characters and the story, then you have to pick the level of outrage you want to achieve and the targets you want to reach. Should you want to veer on the side of political correctness, you really have to make your insults up from scratch which requires poetic talent and immense creativity.

* Then again, my main character is supposed to have her foot in her mouth just about every time she opens it, in sharp contrast with the way she actually thinks as revealed in the narration, or speaks when she's telling stories. It's been fun to create that aspect of her but quite technical. I actually highlighted all her parts of the dialogue throughout the whole novel and tweaked till I got the effect I wanted.

UPDATE: The very day after I posted this, the Guardian printed an in-depth article on satire in the Muslim world, put together by multiple authors. An excellent piece and a good starting point for more research.


1. The Gospel of Loki, Joanne Harris, Orion Books, 2014, p226
2. Red Dwarf Series II: Kryten, Grant Naylor, 1988
3. Beauty and the Beast, Pantomime at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, 2014-2015
4. The Bad and the Ugly: Attitudes Towards Invective Poetry (Hija) in Classical Arabic Literature, G.J.H. van Gelder, Brill Archive, 1988, p.39
5. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Chuck Jones, 1966, (animation adapted from the book by Dr Seuss)

Friday, 9 January 2015

What Western Muslims have a right to expect from their fellow citizens

Following yet another act of terrorism by Muslim extremists, a lot has been said about what we can expect from moderate Muslims in the way of condemnation and prevention. So much has been said about it that I think there is very little left to say. If you would like to read an example condemnation, here is one, from the Muslim Council of Britain. The quoted passages in this post are from the same statement. The first section condemns the attack on Charlie-Hebdo as strongly as a few paragraphs can be expected to manage. The last two paragraphs dwell on quite reasonable and realistic concerns over the consequences the attack might have for Western Muslims.  It is indeed a good time to consider what we owe the Muslim citizens in our societies:
Nothing justifies the taking of life. Those who have killed in the name of our religion today claim to be avenging the insults made against Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace. But nothing is more immoral, offensive and insulting against our beloved Prophet than such a callous act of murder.
  1. I'm glad religion says the above, because the law does too, that's what counts with me. Our Muslim fellow citizens should be able to expect that we will do everything in our power to uphold the law. The laws which protect our right to criticize Islam without reprisal also protect the right of Muslims to worship and go about their daily lives, as visibly Muslim as they please, without fear of harassment or violence, to themselves or their property. They have a right to expect our utter condemnation of any breaches of these laws and our every effort to prevent or prosecute criminals. Equally, they have a right to expect that the media, the police and society in general will take crime against Muslims as seriously as crime by Muslims (which is currently far from the case).
  2. It is practically certain that however much condemning and preventing we do we will fail to stop all criminal action against Muslims, just as they will fail to stop all criminal action by Muslims. We should unilaterally recognize these limitations to our power and refrain from holding the fact against each other as individuals or organisations wherever it's obvious that all reasonable efforts have been made. Our Muslim fellow citizens have the right to expect that we will criticize those who refuse to accept such limitations (particularly while being easygoing about their own).
    In the coming weeks Muslims will face the test of having to justify themselves and their place in Western society.
  3. I'm an atheist, blasphemies which are taboo to Muslims are virtually meaningless to me. I also adhere to the values of participatory secular democracy. Consequently, there is one all too frequent form of speech which arouses me to just as much revulsion and condemnation as Muslims tend to show in the face of rude cartoons of Muhammad. I'm referring to the act of calling someone's citizenship into question over a matter of difference or disagreement. It's unconscionable, and the kindest thing I can think is that those who do it understand nothing about the social values they're purporting to promote. Our Muslim fellow citizens have the right to expect that we'll affirm their citizenship, their membership in our society and their participation wherever we see it contested.
  4. It is also a fact that the possibility, indeed the probability, of multiculturalism is indissociably linked with the freedoms we enjoy in a Western secular democracy. If we want to keep those freedoms, we owe it to ourselves as well as to our Muslim fellow citizens to uphold the values of multiculturalism on principle and establish any limitations we think are necessary through the channels of debate and democratic change. It is very obviously true that some Muslims as well as some non-Muslims are quite active in attempting to limit other people's cultural and personal freedoms. When their behavior is not flat out illegal, it should be criticized, when it is illegal it should be prevented and prosecuted.
    In addition, while Muslims must engage with fellow citizens in a spirit of dialogue and friendship, we must all come together to seek unity and defy the terrorists whose only aim is to divide us. The best defence against closed minds is for a truly open society, welcoming of all.
  5. It would be pointless to claim that there are no areas of social or ideological conflict between Muslim and non-Muslim Westerners, but Muslims have the right to expect that we will try to settle those conflicts through forums of public debate, and not insist on doing so through personal interactions in everyday life. We all have the right to expect that social, political and religious debates in everyday life take place with the consent of the people who participate in them and are carried out with civility. We can all re-affirm the values of respect and tolerance of each other as people by displaying those values in practice.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

What to do in case of terrorist attack

It's a national day of mourning for France in the wake of the Charlie-Hebdo terrorist attack which killed twelve people, including several of France's most prominent cartoonists. Even though I'm elsewhere, I'm marking it by not doing any proper work. Ahem. I guess they declared a day of national mourning partly because they knew nobody was going to be doing any damn work anyway. Except the police of course, so I'm sparing a thought for them.

So, sometimes we become the targets of terrorism, not in the sense that we're present during an attack, but in the sense that the intended terror seems likely to spread to us. I've actually lived in zones of high terrorist alert for quite a few years of my adult life. I can't remember living in London when there hasn't been a possibility of attacks. Then there was that 9/11 business which affected our US family and friends very badly. One of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life was let my very young baby get on a plane to New York with her father (and without me) just a few months after that. I knew it was more of a psychological hardship than an actual risk and I had no intention of giving terror a hold, so I stuck to points 1 & 2 of the list below. These days, I feel relatively experienced in the ways of terrorism and I've grown my strategy by another 3 points.
  1.  Hold to your current path. It's easy to start thinking in terms of letting terrorist attacks alter our behaviour which is what they want. I find I'm so expecting other people to alter their behaviour that I'm wondering if I might find it easier to get a train ticket through Paris in the coming weeks. Perhaps even a cheaper hotel room? And while I'm there, will I pick up a copy of the next Charlie, even though their work isn't really my thing? Or perhaps I shouldn't go at all... No. All that is what terrorists want, but the changes in the point below are what they want most of all.
  2. Choose your associates carefully. At times like this our positions become fluid and there's a risk of the high ground slipping away from under our feet. This is a time when I only want to associate with people who will hold me to the highest ground possible. To completely misquote the guys at Charlie, I'd rather be dead than a scumbag.
  3. Get outdoors. The real world is almost always a safer and better place than the world in the media. I'm off to the mall to see if my younger Muslim neighbours have succeeded in the task of finding lipsticks to match their hijabs today. And to have a coffee. Even though I don't think much of lipstick or hijabs for myself, though I do think rather too much of coffee.
  4. Think. Write. But not in the heat of the moment. I want to be able to live with my words weeks and years down the road. Maybe that seems less important to some people, but I've set myself the task of writing about Islam, amongst other cultures, in fiction. Justly and with empathy. I have Muslim characters to think of. Not so many in the current book, but they're in the pipeline already. Which makes point 2 all the more important for me.
  5. Laugh. Clearly that's what this particular brand of terrorist hates most of all, and it's a pleasure to annoy them. Here is one of my favorites.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

On religion and its attempts to inspire respect

On my usual walking route into town there is a woman who hangs out in a bus stop waiting to inform passersby in a chanting monotone that Jesus loves them. I suppose it's harmless enough but every time, I kick myself for not taking her aside and gently explaining that she's hardly a good advertisement for Jesus. Apparently, his influence causes her to behave in socially inappropriate and incoherent ways.

This is not harmless. In Paris, Charlie Hebdo has been the victim of (another) horrifically successful terrorist attack, since twelve people are dead. Both this and the earlier firebombing are almost certainly linked to their willingness to poke a little fun at the prophet Muhammad. It's an activity I've never participated in myself, since I consider Muhammad a figure of minor historical interest and am perfectly happy to let him sink into quiet oblivion. However, it is obvious that both Charlie Hebdo and certain terrorists felt differently. And there is nothing Charlie Hebdo could possibly have said or drawn which would have the power to disgrace Muhammad, Allah and Islam the way these terrorists just have.

All in all, it's a sad day to be French but a good day to be an atheist.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Can I read other books while writing?

There was this discussion on Goodreads today about whether people find it possible to read other books while writing. I pounced on it, thinking it was a fascinating topic and that I might even have so much to say about it, I would write a whole blog post.

Later, after some reflection, I decided that whatever reading is to writing, it's not different from having other tasks and responsibilities, spending time with friends and family, or going on holiday. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it's disruptive, and you can't usually tell which in advance. I like the total immersion of my little writing retreats, during which I don't read, exercise, talk to other humans, eat or sleep, but I've discovered I can keep that up for about 9-10 days before I crack.

The two things I've found I should consistently avoid reading before I get my writing done for the day are: 1) the news; 2) blog posts. Unfortunately, if I misguidedly allow myself to glance at either of these two forms of literature, the day just flies by and there I am at the end of it, still Putting the Internet to Rights. Have you ever noticed that however much you Put the Internet to Rights, it never gets any better? 'Nuff said.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

More totally wild fusion music: Rufus Harley, jazz bagpiper

In October, I posted some music videos featuring amazing didgeridoo-western classical fusion music. I am in love with those pieces, at least I thought I was, until the very sweet man who shares a very small house with me took it as inspiration to take up the didge. In the intervening months, we have progressed through various musical interludes together: Song of the Flatulent Whale came first, followed by Ode to an Irritated Camel, then Elephant in Must March. I must admit that he is getting better, much better, due to a significant investment in hours of practice and moderately costly didge improvements.

I mention this because I'm terribly worried about what is to come next. Just before the new year, a blog I read a bit, We Hunted the Mammoth, introduced me to Rufus Harley, jazz bagpiper from Philadelphia. Intrigued, I eventually found time to listen, along with my aforementioned dh. WHY DID I DO THAT???  Now, dh is absolutely entranced and fascinated. What will become of us? Will he start scouring the local pawn shops for a bagpipe as Harley did? When the cops are summoned by the neighbours, will they buy his story when he says 'Do I look like a Scot?' as they did Harley's? Can I stand it if they do?

To be honest, I'm still making up my mind about jazz bagpiping but it's certainly a concept and Rufus Harley seems like he was a really cool guy. Here's one of his pieces I'm very sure I do like.

Reading resolutions for 2015

Last year I let Goodreads lull me into setting myself the challenge of reading 100 books in a year. Looks like my eyes were bigger than my brain! I scraped in at a miserable 72 books. Admittedly, I had a really draining end to the year where I just couldn't fit cope with any added drama, even fictional, but more importantly, I learned something about myself: reading books I don't like puts me off reading. This year, I'm going to do things differently.

Resolution 1: be more choosy in my reading. Always read the previews first, and toss aside any books I don't actually like.
Resolution 2: set the reading challenge for a more sensible 52 books.

I've been lucky in my first choice of the year. I'm reading Jonas Jonasson's The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden and loving it so far.