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  • better late than never

    By Damaris 19 February 2016

    Gosh, it's been a while since I was last here in Blogs.

    I have been keeping my Book Not-A-Blog up to date over the last twelve months so I've not been completely idle – if you're interested in what I've read and my thoughts on that reading go and have a look at books. I suppose it would have been an idea to have kept those book reports here from the beginning, and then I'd be able to boast a ginormous Blog Trail.

    Actually, apropos of that, what I might do here in Blogs from now on is report on some of my non-fiction books, as I've been building up a tidy library of them over the last few years (OK, an untidy library...). I've always been interested in history, so had a shelf-ful or two anyway, but writing over the last few years has led me to buy even more tomes by way of research.

    In the meantime, and as we're already motoring through 2016, two highlights from 2015.

    First – and despite a summer-long cessation in writing while umpteen other things occupied my attention – 2015 brought me within spitting distance of the end of my current WiP. It also brought a Big Publisher Open Submission Event, which allowed for uncompleted novels to be submitted, so I tossed caution aside and sent the first chapters off. Fingers all crossed.

    Second, a great holiday in Brittany. Not just a holiday, in fact, a research trip, since it involved wandering in, over and around sundry dolmens and picking up a few odd Breton words and legends, all of which feature not-very-heavily-disguised in my WiP. (Admittedly, it also involved eating quite a lot of salted caramel galettes, which... um... don't.)

    So top that, 2016!

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  • naming of plants

    By Damaris 20 May 2015

    Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday

    We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning

    We shall have what to do after firing. But today,

    Today we have naming of parts. Japonica

    Glistens like coral in all the neighbouring gardens,

    And today we have naming of parts.

    No japonica – Japanese quince – in my garden, nor those of my neighbours, despite Henry Reed's poem. No daily cleaning yesterday, either. Naming, though, that was in evidence, albeit naming of various plants, not parts, and the relevance of plant names has been in my mind for some weeks now.

    Yesterday's occasion was my brother's birthday, and we presented him with a rose bush of the variety called Tess of the D'Urbervilles. I'm not sure why Hardy's heroine was chosen as a rose name, but it is an English rose, a deep rich blood red, well-perfumed but prickly, and a climber. Rings a bell perhaps. And though we didn't stop at Stonehenge overnight, we did pass not so very far from it.

    Last month it was my birthday, and plants were again in evidence. Among them a dicentra, which has arching sprays of pinky-red heart-shaped flowers. Very apposite it was, too, though I doubt my sister realised when she chose it, since it's a plant I'd always called love-lies-a-bleeding, though I seem to be alone in that, as it's more commonly known as bleeding heart.

    Both names were accurate, since my birthday was also the day we had to put one of our beloved cats to sleep. We buried him in the garden, and planted spring flowers above him, including the type of viola known as heartsease, though no ease was to be gained just then. More plants will cover his resting place, not least myosotis. In German it's called vergissmeinnicht, in French ne m'oubliez pas. Forget-me-not. And we won't.

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  • looking back, looking forward

    By Damaris 7 January 2015

    I can't pretend to be sorry to have seen the back of 2014.

    The year started with the hospitalisation of my mother-in-law following an accident, and just one week later that of my father with respiratory problems, then saw her rapid descent into dementia and his death.

    It ended with news of more illness, dementia and death – of an old workmate of mine and of a relation of my partner's.

    En route it took in family ill-health, stress, strain and depression, not to mention the mental and physical effort and upset in having to clear my mother-in-law's house in which she'd lived for over half a century – my partner's childhood home – in order to sell it to pay her care home fees.

    Bad news and bad luck were constant themes throughout, as were just general disagreeableness and inconvenience. To misquote Orville from Disney's The Rescuers, not one of my better years, bud.

    And what for 2015?

    I'd really like a 100% accurate, fully-intelligible, money-back guaranteed crystal ball at this point. Or even some yarrow stalks or a pile of chicken entrails.

    In the absence of reliable divination, I'm left with hope.

    Hope for no more funerals or hospitals, certainly. Hope for good news, and good luck. For things going right, and perhaps even for wishes coming true.

    A happy, healthy and prosperous year to all.

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  • writing and non-reading

    By Damaris 24 November 2014

    Irony abounds in life.

    No sooner do I publicly congratulate myself on how many books I've read this year – with all the consequent book non-blog posts I've written – than my reading drops off a cliff.

    Since the beginning of September, I've finished two books I'd already started, have started and thrown down two more (big names at that), have started and left lying in limbo another five, and have managed to read, start to finish, precisely five books, three of which were definitely on the short side, and one was non-fiction.

    Real life continues to play a part in this non-reading, but lack of spare time is by far the bigger problem. But, for once, this is a problem I'm actually happy to have. For no sooner do I lament that I'm not writing, than I'm writing more and faster than I've ever done in my life, and with a brand new fantasy story.

    "Faster" is relative, of course. Compared to people who knock out thousands of words a day, I'm nowhere. For me, though, the figures are astonishing, and I am duly astonished.

    Ten weeks after I first put pen to paper/finger to keyboard, I've written 60,000 words, of which well over 55,000 are honed and polished, not simply part of a rough, incoherent first draft. To put it in perspective, I wrote more in the first nine weeks of this fantasy than in the first nine months of the Italian-renaissance-based book I started back in 2011.

    And I'm loving it. Plus the feedback I'm getting is good.

    Of course, irony being what it is, now I've shared this, I expect the writing will fall off a cliff. Still, at least that will give me time to read again...

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  • reading and non-writing

    By Damaris 31 August 2014

    Real life and a lack of anything noteworthy to say have kept me away from blogging over the summer. Real life continues to interfere and to create problems all round, regrettably, and the lack of noteworthiness hasn't greatly improved, either, I have to confess, but I thought I'd pop in and witter for a while.

    Even though I've not been blogging here, I have been keeping my book non-blog up to date further down the site, detailing the books I'm reading and what I think about them. I had a bit of a play around to look at the figures involved (I'm peculiar like that), and I see that this year I've written some 38 book-posts, amounting to something over 8,800 words, a good bit more than I'd expected.

    Some more counting followed, to look back at the 2011-12 and 2013 stats. For each year/year and a bit, I wrote 46 posts, giving10,600 and 9,700 words respectively. So with four months of 2014 left, I'm well positioned to exceed those figures, both in numbers of posts and word count.

    I keep telling myself I need to expand on these short non-blogs, though, and do some proper reviews. Unfortunately, "proper" to my mind means taking a good deal of time, usually involving a second read of the book to ensure I don't make any stupid mistakes, as well as a good deal of thought. But having just devoured Carol Berg's Dust and Light (highly recommended) that must-review feeling has grown stronger.

    One thing I haven't been doing much this year, but which has allowed me the time to read, is write, for which real life is taking all the blame. I have, though, continued to participate in the monthly and quarterly Writing Challenges at SFFChronicles (now in a new home) which I've mentioned elsewhere. The Berg is actually the result of this, since it's the prize I chose for winning a recent Challenge.

    Writing therefore leads to reading. If only the reverse were true...

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  • au contraire

    By Damaris 5 April 2014

    Mary, Mary, quite contrary...

    Perhaps I should have been called Mary, since I've always had something of a contrary spirit. Not as bad as those people who, if told not to do something will go out of their way to do it and then revel in the discomfort and difficulty it creates for everyone, but the more something is hyped as a must-see/must-read/bestseller/everyone-is-talking-about-it, the more I shy away. Perhaps in part it's a reaction of disdain against popular taste (if everyone likes it, it must be pandering to the lowest common denominator, and ergo must be deficient if not actually crap) but either way, I shan't be watching Strictly Come Dancing any time soon.

    This contrary instinct also reveals itself in discussions. If other people are in agreement about a social or political issue I become uncomfortable and want to put the opposite view, even if I actually agree with the consensus, and it's usually only a dislike of arguments that stops me. Partly it's training, since a lawyer has to see and argue both sides of a case, partly it's a sense of justice and a defence of the underdog, but mostly it's because I dislike the unthinking unanimity that all too easily becomes mob rule.

    I'm delighted, then, to learn that such an attitude of contrariness is important in both commerce and entertainment. Last month the BBC commentator Peter Day wrote about integrative thinking and the need for dissension in the management process to produce the right decisions ("Lets think about ideas"). Then this week I read about research which showed that the best films of a number studied (ie the most successful, which might not perhaps be the same thing as "best", of course...) were those where the cast and crew were neither too new to each other, and therefore likely to be clashing too much, nor too familiar and therefore likely to be too complacent. Film-making required a certain level of agreement and disagreement for the creative work to shine.

    So that's me. Contrary Mary-Damaris. The grit in the oyster creating the pearl.

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  • life and death

    By Damaris 8 March 2014

    After the relentless storms and floods of the past few months, this last week has seen some belated and very welcome good weather, and with it, finally, the arrival of spring.

    This last week has also seen the death of my father.

    Birth, growth, renewal, even resurrection, those are the familiar tropes for this time of year; birds nesting, lambs being born, flowers and new life burgeoning everywhere.

    In my garden, a female blackbird has been busy collecting nesting material, and two woodpeckers have been chasing each other around the trunk of the willow. The snowdrops and early crocuses are over, the daphne and daffodils are in bloom, some celandine is peeking out from the waterlogged field ditch, cowlips and primrose and forsythia are showing, and the tulips and bluebells are pushing glossy leaves up through the periwinkle and dog violets. Around the village the blackthorn is in blossom, catkins hang like yellow-green lamb's-tails, and some lucky gardens have bursts of bright colour with cherry blossom and camellia.

    We don't think of spring and death. It's autumn, grey, misty, meancholy, that we associate with dying, and winter, cold and stark, bare earth, and naked black branches outlined against snow, when we contemplate the end. But Dad died on a day when the sky was as blue as his now-clouded eyes once were, when bird-song rippled and soared, and a lone bumblebee blundered against mint leaves outside my window.

    And yet his death is also a release. For him, an end to his dementia, to the bewilderment and confusion which has imprisoned him for so many years, and to the increasing frailities and infirmities which he suffered. For us, too, a release from watching him die by slow degrees, from the erosion of all he once was.

    Spring is also an end, the end of winter. And for us, perhaps, a new beginning.

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