Five things in my WIP

Fiona Glass didn’t tag me but said anyone could join in with the five things in your current WIP meme.

The Seekers (working title) is a stand-alone fantasy based on some characters I developed in an rpg some years ago. I started it during Nanowrimo but always knew it was a long term project. I got about 30k words done in November but have been busy with Christmas ever since. Yesterday I got back to my characters who were getting fretful and feeling ignored. I only managed 500 words but it was a start! I mentioned my current writing in my poem about plot bunnies but thought I’d make it clear what I’m working on at the moment.

Five things in the story?

*A found family on a quest to escape their current lives

*Disinherited royal fairy twins – one gay and one asexual

*A goblin pedlar (on his coming of age travelling year) who is seeking his heart’s desire

*A large talking bird who helps fight bandits

*A fairy princess who needs new shoes for the primce’s ball in the desert

The icon was made for me about fifteen years ago by kethlenda, a friend on Live Journal.

What I watched in December

I’ve decided to split my reviews so that I can manage a few more in depth reports on each section without getting overwhelmed. So this year there’ll be a number of monthly review posts instead of one main one, and an occasional longer critique. I’ll start by looking back at film and TV I watched in December 2020.

As usual in December, I watched quite a lot! Very little of it was typical holiday viewing. A lot of it was extremely good.

First the excellent:

Nordic Murders 1 and 2*****This, for Brits, should still be available to stream. It was shown on More4 and I understand there are to be more episodes. Each is film length and follows a different murder inquiry but the family dynamics between the main characters steal the show. It is set on Usedom, a German island in the Baltic, near the Polish border, and some of the action takes place in Poland, involving the Polish police. I was really hooked by the overarcing plot and an extra pleasure came from knowing the area.

Tamara Drewe ***** A group of writers at a retreat deep in the Dorset countryside are gradually drawn into the events in a village that end in death and chaos. The acting is brilliant and the twists and turns of the plot are never predictable. As you’ll gather from the five stars,, I loved it.

The Wrong Trousers***** A re-watch. Surely everybody has to love Wallace and Gromit? I find the ‘claymation’ much more immediately satisfying than most ‘funny’ cartoons. I could watch the whole series all day, admiring the technical way the models are manipulated (Gromit’s expressions are wonderful) and enjoying the understated Brit humour.

The Goes Wrong Show: The Nativity***** Probably still available on BBC iPlayer. I don’t always laugh at this series which I think tries too hard and therefore often fails, but The Nativity was wonderful and I never stopped giggling. I think it was so funny because I know all about school and church nativity plays. (One of my favourite Christmas films is Flint Street Nativity.)

Britain’s Most Historical Towns: Manchester (Alice Roberts)***** The historian explored the history of Manchester and of course we watched – we live in Greater Manchester after all. Alice Roberts is always worth listening to, and gives us a broad sweep of history while at the same time concentrating on a wealth of details that bring a place to life. Shown on Channel 4 and probably still available.

Freddie Mercury: a Christmas Story***** I’ve seen a number of biopics etc. about Freddie and Queen. This was a particularly good one.

Billy Elliot***** Another rewatch. I love this film. For anyone who doesn’t know it’s the story of a young boy in the north east of England who decides, almost accidentally, to learn ballet, much to the initial horror of his family. He eventually becomes a principle ballet dancer and the film follows his progress.

Knives Out ***** Daniel Craig stars in this quirky detective story set in America. Although I like Craig and his acting is good, the only flaw I would point to in this film is his accent. I suppose it’s meant to be Southern American but let’s face it, he’s Brit, and it doesn’t quite come off. Through various perspectives and a number of flashbacks which may or may not be recounted by unreliable narrators, Craig, as a private detective, gets to the bottom of a case the police are unable to solve. Worth watching.

I also thoroughly enjoyed a couple of concerts on YouTube – the Hallé Christmas Concert ****** and the Virtual Carol Concert – Online Carol Concert – LordsTaverners.org. ****** These were both delightful, but we also started watching a carol concert filmed in Peak Cavern in our local Peak District and gave up. It was filmed before the pandemic and seemed somehow unreal. Also, the music was excellent (a brass band from our area) but the soloists were too loud and not to our taste. I’m not sure why I wanted a more ‘distanced’ performance but I did. It was the only thing I abandoned in my December viewing.

The good.

The Shape of Water**** A deaf cleaner working in a research facility realises that an alien is being abused by the people investigating him. Gradually, with help from some of the scientists, she gains the alien’s trust, then his love. It’s an interesting idea and has an unlikely but romantic ending. The acting is excellent and the direction is tight, making sure the story is gripping.

Return of the Black Death: Secret History**** Another More4 production that looked at the history of the Black Death in the middle ages, the mid-seventeenth century ‘plague’ in London, and the implications for our current situation. Fascinating. I knew most of the historical information but it is always good to see links made and explored, and to set the present day in context.

Princess Alice: The Royals’ Greatest Secret**** This was on Channel 5 and was a biography of Alice, mother of the Duke of Edinburgh and therefore mother-in-law to the queen. She was a very interesting person in her own right and it was good to get more information about her as well as throwing light on Prince Philip’s childhood, young adulthood and marriage.

The World’s End**** This was a re-watch and in fact it might be the third time I’ve seen it. It’s a film by the team that brought us Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, etc. and it has moments of hilarity followed by moments of terror but I have always thought the ending was contrived and less than stellar. The acting is, of course, as you’d expect, superb.

The Clown **** This Christmas offering for children is based on the book and drawings, by Quentin Blake. As you’d expect, the drawings are excellent and the story is quite nice but somehow doesn’t reach the heights of The Snowman or The Gruffalo. A toy clown is thrown out in the trash and escapes. He then decides to rescue his fellow toys who are all waiting to be collected by the bin men.

The watchable if there’s nothing else on

The Valhalla Murders*** This was billed as the new Scandi-noir and was set in Iceland. It wasn’t well filmed, and there were too many incidents where the investigating team put themselves in harm’s way by e.g. entering dangerous premises alone at night. The investigators themselves clearly had severe family problems but these were never properly explained or resolved, just used to add to the atmosphere. The scenery was interesting, though somewhat black and white (Iceland in winter) and the acting was better than the script or the direction.

Happy Feet*** I love penguins but I’m not sure a full length animation film is quite to my taste. I almost fell asleep. The film naturally lacks colour, being about a black and white bird in a mostly white landscape, and there is a focus on the way penguins do in fact live, so the whole thing never really decided whether it was story about a lovable penguin, an animated attempt to ‘sell’ the idea of conservation, or a documentary in black and white. I was tired, but even so… I really felt I’d wasted a couple of hours.

Achievements and resolutions

Many of my friends are posting some kind of summary of the writing they did during the last year and their plans for this.

In 2020 I published the final volumes in two fantasy series, and posted three auction fanfics and a Secret Santa one. I wrote a shorter story for a free Solstice treat, and started a novel in November, reaching a half way point before holiday celebrations took over my life. The poem is a snapshot of the chaos in my head during the year.

As I hope the poem explains, I reached a number of goals in 2020 and am now working on a novel about a found (fae) family on a quest. One of my resolutions is to write more – well, not exactly more but more regularly with some kind of discipline. Another is to post more often and keep you better informed.

My other resolution is not to acquire any more books, even free ones, till my to-be-read piles (one print, one digital) reach saner and less dangerous proportions.

Plot Bunnies of 2020

There were plot bunnies running round inside my head,

multiplying like, well, like rabbits, well fed,

careless of the environmental damage they might do.

Normally

my plot bunnies are orderly;

they take their turn, one by one by one,

or sometimes two by two,

waiting to see

which will be most beneficial,

taking my needs and plans

into account;

deferring, in other words,

to me.

***

One would sniff the air,

sensing its time was near,

swell and grow,

towering over the rest

who’d cower,

recognising their erstwhile friend

as bunny of the hour

who in the end

ruled the warren while I nurtured him,

turning him into a tale, groomed and finished;

ready to bound into the world, out of my head.

***

Time came and went.

I worked contentedly,

Polishing, editing, formatting, and then

casually throwing a carrot or two

into the warren.

A fae pair,

minor characters at best,

informed me that their story needed air

but, being a winter solstice tale could wait a year.

Even so,

I outlined everything,

wrote their first scene,

let their emotions sing,

even enjoyed watching the plot take shape,

knowing there was no haste.

***

Cop buddies, seeking a serial killer in the Caribbean,

showed promise,

likely to be full grown for Valentine’s Day

but had so much to say

their short sweet story threatened to become

a whole novella and was put aside

until sufficient time could be allotted

to do justice to their complex plot while they

did justice in their own inimitable way.

***

In February I offered fanfic, heedlessly.

The auctions were for such worthy charity

and there were bidders winning promises,

handing out brand new bunnies like largesse.

I had no cages, no carrots, and no

time but oh,

with eyes were so pleading and with coats so soft,

I could not let them go.

***

Aliens have their own intense appeal,

especially those

who find romance

with humans

or provide

reasons for those humans to boldly go

into the starry universe outside.

And so

I frantically sought

lettuce, cucumber and early grass

and watched those bunnies grow.

***

I built them cages in my mind,

hoping against hope

they’d keep themselves apart

in discrete clusters till I made a start.

They’d have to compete for water and nourishment

with princes, who, arranged marriage consummated,

assured me they could continue to hunt

unicorns until I had time to seek

their truth – but they had waited

long enough, did not deserve

to stand back for brash newcomers,

and would serve

to add structure to my time.

***

Quietly in the backmost cage a fae family

waited, thinking their time would, sooner or later, come.

But when the aliens moved in,

tails bobbing, paws scrabbling, I think those older bunnies

knew their orderly queued existence had been overrun.

And so, revolution in the rabbit house;

bucks and does alike, with supporting kits

broke from their cages, demanded more supplies,

invaded my dreams and grew before my eyes

***

They were running around my thoughts,

breeding, interbreeding, making more noise

than rabbits ought to make.

Sooner or later – probably sooner – I

would have to take a stand,

order them back in place,

ration the carrots and greens,

but just for a day or two,

for I was intrigued and watched

as they mixed, matched, bred

and now I had plot bunnies galore

running rings around my head.

***

A year passed. The princes are with my editor,

their first draft finished.

All auction fics were written, posted, gifted.

The minor fae,

a Solstice free novella, waited

for their polished chance to shine.

The fae family are well on their way

through an adventure that

involves a goblin, an elf, a talking bird

and a supercilious deaf cat.

The police pair slumber for now on their tropical sands

and

my head is quieter but I have to say,

I miss the now familiar racket and might just look

for new plot bunnies

who’d like to come out and play.

Sounds of winter: day 31

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=to1xT93IlUI

Auld lang syne is the traditional song for New Year’s Eve. It’s played here by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards to the accompaniment of views of the Scottish scenery taken from across Scotland. Unless you are already in Scotland this will be as close as you get until the pandemic is over.

If you need the words, the poem by Robert Burns can be found here:

https://poets.org/poem/auld-lang-syne

The picture is a doorway to a (locally made) chocolate shop in the Portuguese Christmas village. By the time it was dusk it was hard to get well lit photographs because of the LED lighting, but I still thought the decorations were beautiful. (See link on Day 28.) I loved this one, and thought it appropriate for the doorway into the new year. Let’s hope it’s a doorway to a better world for all of us.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my month of winter music.

Happy New Year Everybody! That’s for midnight tonight wherever you are!

Sounds of winter: day 30

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVKLo9YepUg

Salva nos sung by the Mediaeval Baebes. (Pray for us, star of the sea and queen of the heavens.) I love the Mediaeval Baebes and they’re one group I have actually paid a lot to see live. I couldn’t decide which of their Christmas songs to choose (from their album Salva Nos) so I thought you could have two, today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXkBk8nK5AM 

Verbum Caro Factum Est (the word is made flesh) is also sung by them.

The photograph is of the main buildings of Manchester University which I attended; the building where I sat my exams and received my degree. This winter phtograph perfectly encapsulates the time I spent there – university terms are squeezed into the winter months, whereas summer, once exams are over, is for home and travel. I am still in touch with one or two of the people who were students with me. In those days we had smog as well as snow – it was before the Clean Air Acts. So my memories of the place from that time are much like this picture. I don’t live far away from it and of course nowadays I am used to its cleaned-up glory in much clearer weather. But today I imagine it looks just like this!

Sounds of winter: day 29

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0CLyDPY_U0

Walking in the air. Christmas probably wouldn’t be the same without The Snowman! The song is sung here by Peter Auty, from the original soundtrack, rather than by Aled Jones (though I do like Aled).  I hadn’t realised until recently that child and snowman ‘walk in the air’ above Brighton, where Briggs lived when he wrote the story. Howard Blake is the composer.

The picture is a photograph of a Christmas card I received a few years ago and loved. It was one of those cards that merely gave the publisher and not the artist or photographer so I have no idea whose work it is. It’s appropriate today because we woke up to a heavy fall of snow. I had these posts prepared in advance but swapped today’s and tomorrow’s around because of the snow! Our trees look exactly like the picture.

Sounds of winter: day 28

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmZg7tvGN9o

A spaceman came travelling by Chris de Burgh puts an interesting science fiction slant on the Christmas story. I chose this video because the combination of northern lights, religious pictures and space photographs seem to complement the song beautifully. I will never forget the impact of a sci fi story I read in which a wonderful civilisation was wiped out by the meteor that was, in our world, the Christmas star. It was in an anthology I have lost, and I can’t find it. If anyone knows it, please give me a link!

The star on the tree is from the Portuguese Christmas village. All their lighting is LEDs, including street lights, decorations, etc. This made photographing after dark somewhat difficult. The tree decorations, not really visible in this picture, are all natural objects: nuts, cones, woven rushes, etc. If you want to know more, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/cabecaaldeianatal

Sounds of winter: day 27

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KSxg9Ij5r8

Gaudete. I’ve heard a number of versions of this old song in Latin. The King’s Singers give it suitable gravitas. A translation of the first line, which is the most important, is Rejoice, for the Christ is born of the Virgin Mary.

The angel depicted in lights was in central Manchester one year. There were a few in different colours around Albert Square in front of the town hall, where the Christmas market is usually held. I haven’t been into the city centre this year but I know the Christmas market is drastically reduced in scale and the town hall is under refurbishment, so I can’t imagine it’s very festive in the square.

Sounds of winter: day 26

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diVcAexipPU Heather Dale

Hunting the wren is sung by Heather Dale. Apparently this was a traditional ‘sport’ on the day after Christmas in parts of northern England, Wales and Ireland. Nowadays the ‘hunters’ are more akin to carol singers, going from house to house collecting money (for charity?) and perhaps mince pies or drinks. I believe they attach a bunch of feathers or something similar to a pole which they carry. I assume the custom is based on the old tradition of hunting actual birds. St Stephen’s Day or Boxing Day as the English call it is often marked by hunts of various kinds and nowadays drag hunting should be the norm in UK. The wren was regarded as ‘off limits’ the rest of the year.

The photograph is another from Windsor Great Park in winter.