about this blog

This blog documents my staying at home and writing (and the subsequent whatevers to that writing). It also serves as an online journal for friends and family. It is more-or-less guaranteed to be sans intérêt to most anyone else.



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Sending news to Mum and the world since last week

2004 Reading List

Being a list of books read during the current year.
Moving Pictures
Soul Music
Faust Eric
Small Gods
Carpe Jugulum
Men At Arms
Feet of Clay
Lords and Ladies
Reaper Man
Witches Abroad
Guards! Guards!
Interesting Times
Equal Rites
The Last Continent
Wyrd Sisters
The Eighth Colour
The Light Fantastic
Dark Side of The Sun
Only You Can Save Mankind
Johnny and The Dead
The Discworld Companion (with S.Briggs)
- Terry Pratchett
A Child Across The Sky
The Wooden Sea
The Land of Laughs
From the Teeth of Angels
A Marriage of Sticks
- Jonathan Carroll
Northern Lights
The Subtle Knife
The Amber Spyglass
I was a Rat!
Count Karlstein
The Ruby in the Smoke
The Shadow in the North
The Tiger in the Well
- Philip Pullman
Charmed Life
The Lives of Christopher Chant
Witch Week
Howl’s Moving Castle
The Magicians of Caprona
- Diana Wynne Jones
What a Carve Up!
The Rotter’s Club
A Touch of Love
The Dwarves of Death
The House of Sleep
- Jonathan Coe
The Empty Sleeve
The Sound of Coaches
Blewcoat Boy
- Leon Garfield
The River Styx Runs Upstream [Le styx coule à l’envers - Nouvelles]
- Dan Simmons
The Black Book
Set In Darkness
The Hanging Garden
Hide And Seek
Black And Blue
Bleeding Hearts (Jack Harvey)
Witch Hunt (Jack Harvey)
- Ian Rankin
The Wish List
Artemis Fowl [2]
- Eoin Colfer
Smoke and Mirrors, Neil Gaiman
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K.Rowling
The Shining, Stephen King
Eastern Standard Tribe, Cory Doctorov
Free for All, Peter Wayner
Desolation Point, Dan Brown
Darwinia, Robert Charles Wilson

2003’s reads can be found here.
those small things

Slept in fits and starts and woke up this morning with my right hip aching. It is the job situation doing that. Couldn’t get back to sleep and so continued revising Juliet. 17000 words done, so that means that I’m a quarter of the way through. I also copied down my latest notes for Pirates from the notebook and into MacJournal. This made me think that I haven’t made notes for Died for quite a while. I’m just wishing that Juliet will hurry and get finished so that I can make a better job of the next.
Apart from that I am reading Jonathan Carroll’s The Wooden Sea that for some inexplicable reason is translated into French as ‘L’Aube du Huitème Jour’ (The dawn of the 8th day). And the dog on the cover is the wrong one, and the feather is the wrong colour. There are some things that I will never understand (like the hideous size, positionning and font use for the folios in this book). Apart from that the story seems fine so far.

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clearness of vision

I suppose that the feel of the sharpness of the knife across the throat does wonders for the clarity of vision.

What I mean is that my sacking having been confirmed in that I have received the official letter inviting me to attend the meeting—May 5th—explaining why I will be sacked, the processus has started. Firing someone here in France is a quite long process—it will take them nearly 3 months to do so. And it is also full of dangers in that, if they don’t respect a mess of legislation and jurisprudence then the company can be taken to task. The penalties can range from reintegration of the fired person (very rare), to compensation—depending on the number and gravity of errors. Judging from MB’s track record and the mistakes they have already made, we shall have fun. I should not laugh yet however, as I imagine that there must be many a slip between gallows and here.

. . . . .

However since notification I have been working with marvellous concentration. Bill is completely revised and awaiting some readers’ reactions. Then I shall bundle it off to a couple of French editors. Can’t do any harm. Juliet which although it has been revised I don’t know how many times is being cleaned from start to finish. Any scene that doesn’t work, doesn’t flow is rewritten on the spot. No more changing the colour to blue as saying to myself, Yes, well I must come back to this at some point. When I’m sure that Juliet is clear then I must write the synopsis and the covering letter and send it off. Then I can get down to work on Pirates. The planning is nearly finished (well anything from half to three-quarters finished depending on what really happens when they split up…) but it is in sufficient state to let me work on it. I am also counting that I have learnt enough from revising Juliet to make that process a lot easier for Pirates.

Once Pirates is underway I can—by way of relaxation—work on planning Died. And develop the notes for the other ideas that I have jotted down in my notebook. Or pehaps I should revise the short stories that are sitting on my hard drive doing nothing. To see.

So, as I mentioned in the beginning, having the knife to one’s throat does bring a marvellous determination to get on with things.

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the hills are alive

We all got together last night and watched the video of the Sound of Music that Emiline lent me yesterday. I can truthfully say that, while I have not seen this film for about 38 years, I remembered near most all of it. (This was probably helped by, when very young and influencable, having worn out an LP of the film—the one with Julie Andrews throwing guitar and carpet bag to opposite sides of the disk while trampling the eidelweiss in some austrian mountain meadow—and wearing Barbie pink? he asks in astonishment having just searched for album covers on the net… I would have sworn that it was doudy blue/grey. Just goes to show).

Kim seemed to love the film.

It was a lot longer that I rememebered. This was compounded by the fact that the editing was very slow in comparaison to more contempoarary fare. There were also some curious editing jumps in the beginning scenes (I don’t think that these were repairs in the film as there was no corresponding jump in the soundtrack and that overall the film quality was good.)
The other thing that was really, really strange was when suddenly—cue romantic closeup—and everything went fuzzy.
Yes, they don’t make films like that anymore.

. . . . .
Seeing the Von Trapp family parading around their gardens flinging arms and legs around in gay abandon, Ludivine turned to me. “I see where you get it from now…”

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the confusion

Read the interview with Neal Stephenson at Salon yesterday. He has started to calm down, and be less arrogant (as witnessed by comments also on his site here ).

He had fun things to say:

Some people in the science fiction world are ever alert to anyone who’s showing signs of that. I don’t begrudge them that. I understand where they’re coming from. So I always make it clear that I consider myself a science fiction writer. Even the “Baroque Cycle” fits under the broader vision of what science fiction is about.

SALON: And what’s that?

Fiction that’s not considered good unless it has interesting ideas in it. You can write a minimalist short story that’s set in a trailer park or a Connecticut suburb that might be considered a literary masterpiece or well-regarded by literary types, but science fiction people wouldn’t find it very interesting unless it had somewhere in it a cool idea that would make them say, “That’s interesting. I never thought of that before.” If it’s got that, then science fiction people will embrace it and bring it into the big-tent view of science fiction. That’s really the role that science fiction has come to play in literature right now. In arty lit, it’s become uncool to try to come to grips with ideas per se.

. . . . .

This ties in with other material that I have read recently that ‘genre’ fiction is the last place left where people who care about character and plot (and other ‘out-dated’ 19th century conventions) still find a place to right.

Found it! I knew I had read another article talking about the ‘essence’ (for want of a better word) of short stories. Here it is.

I find this interesting as well, because I quite often hear people say, or press writers lament, that people no longer read poetry. This is, of course, untrue. Looking around me I see lots of people reading poetry. There are probably more people reading poetry today that any time since poems—in the form of songs and balads—were the principal means of disseminating ideas. However people read their poems differently, and, to a large extent, the literary short story has taken the place of the poem for that epiphany moment. But that doesn’t stop people reading poetry.

. . . . .

Stephenson also talks about his way of writing, and I can only agree with him on that. There is some sort of school that confuses writing with sculpture. And the need to pare down your work. I think that idea of just writing what is good, and not moving on to the next sentance until you’re proud of the one you have right now under your pen, is much more efficient method. And at least, in this way, when you’ve finished, you have something that is readable from start to finish. Not something that must disappear into an iteration of revising/rewriting. Small argh.

While on this front, Kim asked me to read her ‘Bill’ (this was the book that I printed out and gave out as the New Year’s book this year. It doesn’t have a section here as I took a very old English version of this story and wrote it in French. One day, I’ll get round to (re)doing an English version). Anyway, while reading it to her—after a near five-month pause—I was horrified to find that it was so bad. Either that or I have learnt a little meantimes. Anyway, as I read it to her she sees me scribbling in the borders, slashing at text, and making notes. I just hope that she doesn’t go home and start doing that to her own books…

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of Pratchett and Pullman

Terry Pratchett is the master of the backhanded throwaway phrase. Try this for a typical example: “She thought about getting bigger rooms, with a little garden, and about bringing her goats over. The smell might be a problem, but the goats would get used to it.” (Free translation from the French – La Huitième Fille, p158). Delightfully cackhanded, no?

Yes, I am reading this in French, and I must say that it is written delightfully. I am even tempted to say, you don’t know Pratchett until you have read him in the original French.* I have not read this book in English so I am not qualified to say that it is a good translation. However, I suspect that it is.

Bad translations, and I have read a lot, come to me in English. I read them in French, but it is the English that I hear. For some reason the translator just hasn’t managed to haul the work—kicking and screaming, I don’t doubt—into the new language. Good translations make the book appear to have been written in that language. I suspect that Patrick Couton is a very good translator.

I didn’t get this impression at all with Neil Gaiman’s Stardust translated by Frédérique Le Boucher, I’m sorry. Perhaps someday, someone else will get to translate it…

. . . . .

Having just finished The Amber Spyglass ‘Le Miroir d’Ambre’ in French (which confirms my doubts about the titles in French, Pullman very clearly describes the making of a spyglass… small sigh) I wonder about the translation of Jean Esch. It appears to flow beautifully, I get none of the hiccups and hesitations that I get with books that haven’t quite made it into French. However, and it is the titles that do this to me… I wonder how close these books are to the English, and how much the translator has ‘made them his’, to a certain extent. I will have to re-read all of these in English to see.

Anyway, the third tome was the most unsatisfying of the three. Yes it was wonderous. Yes it was an surprising finish, and there were some very beautiful and thought-provoking ideas. (And yes, it did seem a lot like C.S.Lewis using Paradise Lost as a subtext. In fact I think that Pullman is very close to Lewis in his vision/writing. They are probably diametrically opposed in their philosophy/beliefs—if anything Pullman’s work is a strongly anti-clerical piece, where Lewis is an apologist Christian using Christian imagery. But they both seem to work in a similar way, they both have this same creeping from a contemporary world to other symbolic worlds. The links are very strong and I may come back to do a blow-by-blow comparaison at some point.)

But the book is still dissatisfying. At the moment it reminds me of (gives off a similar feeling to) The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons but for the life of me, I can’t think why… I shall try and come back on this, too.

What dissatisfied me? An example would be the Gallivespians. They seem not to be real characters but to be plot devices of the type—Oh, I need some mechanism that will allow me to follow the children, show what they are doing in so-and-so, and get them out of a few sticky situations… hop, Gallivespians. I don’t buy it. The polar bears were wonderful (OK, I have a weak spot for polar bears) and they fitted in beautifully with idea and the existing myths, building on and then expanding in names, locations, custom, deeds. To me (and this may say more about me than the books) the Gallivespians never created any empathy and resonance.

The alethiometer also started to become a tired ‘plot-voucher generator’: “Oh, look now the ‘force’ is telling me that i must go here, and do that, and say this…” What started out wonderous and mysterious in Northern Lights lost its mystery and appeal.

. . . .

But what I say here doesn’t change the qualities of the books. They are written in a fluid, literary manner that is never cloying and is a delight to read. I would reccommend them to anyone, and encourage children to read them. In the same way, I encourage Kim to read, and enjoy, the Narnia books. This doesn’t mean that I share C.S.Lewis’ world vision/philosophy, just that these remain wonderful and necessary stories for adults and young people alike.

If I do point out areas that create problems for me in plot and character, it is because I am particularly attentive to all these things, doing my best to try to learn and understand. This is not literary criticism, this is just me, trying to take tin dolls to pieces (and hopefully put them back together correctly) in order to see how they are down.

What has struck me about the Pratchett books that I have read so far, is how well they work. The style is throwaway sixth-former. There was always one of these guys around, they were always highly-intelligent, hyperactive males, with a sense of humour that allowed them to slip through the different clans, tribes and conflicts that cut through the classes. They wrote presposterous stories to make their friends laugh. They satirised the school, and generally got published without too much hassle in the school magazine. This is a style that I recognise. And in the realm of Comic Fantasy that Pratchett practises, it could be considered that anything could go. As anything could happen, he could have the cupboards stuffed with preposterous plot devices, thin characterisation, deus ex machina cluttering the wings… yet he manages to make believable (wild, woolly and ridiculous, but still believable) characters, and the plots seem consistant growing out of his characters actions.

This is another, and much more difficult, lesson to be learned.

. . . . .

  • Famous Star Trek (mis)quote: ‘You don’t know Shakespeare until you’ve heard him in the original Klingon.’
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the best fun you can have on your own...

As I had been reading a lot of good things about Philip Pullman, especially articles like this—and, of course, because Kim was reading tome one of His Dark Materials I walked down to the local library and booked out the trilogy.

Quick note: I do think that the translations of the titles into French are flat. Not bad, just flat. Especially The Subtle Knife as ‘The Tower of Angels’, there is a wonderful mystery in the use of language in that english title—knives generally being anything but subtle—that is totally absent in the French. Again, I find ‘The Northern Kingdom’ instead of Northern Lights adequate, but no more than that. I will admit that I am probably biased on this one, having always found the words ‘Northern Lights’ beautifully evocative, have been fascinated by aurora borealis and here too for a long time. ‘The Amber Mirror’ in place of the The Amber Spyglass also troubles me. A reflecting telescope could be called a mirror—is this a synecdoc?—but a spyglass, I thought, was the tubular version, with lenses at each end, and therefore contains no mirror…

I have devoured the first two volumes and am about to embark on the third. We are Sunday late afternoon and I borrowed the books, yesterday. This probably says a lot more than anything that I could write about the quality of the books.

Even in French, they are beautifully written. Sparse at moments, then rich and dense at others. The style changes subtly to follow the different worlds. They are clearly written for children, but he knows that he is also an adult writing for adults. The children will be surprised when they read the books again, as grown ups, to find that they are not the same. The only complaint that I have is very minor as is in the plots. There is the vast ‘Dark Materials’ arc, stretching over the three. This is fine, well-developed and fun. Inside of that we do have a lot of plot bartering. I will propose this as a variant of the plot vouchers explained by one Nick Lowe in The Well-Tempered Plot Device Whereas in his analysis, the plot voucher is—collect the lot, cash them in. The plot barter implies that you have to barter your plot points for an adventure. I steal your Plot Device (in this case, for example, an Alethiometre), you in turn have to run an errand for me (Find me a Subtle Knife). It’s harmless. It’s fun even, and I enjoy very much Nick Lowe’s article as means of analysing plots.

OK, I do have one other complaint… When Lyra is on the ship with the gypsies going North, her daemon becomes a dolphin and plays in the sea, with other dolphins. A little later we learn that the greater the distance a person is separated from her daemon, the more painful is the experience. The tolerence for Lyra seems to be about 2 to 3 metres, with a slight increase when Pantalaimon is a bird. But even so, I don’t see how this sort of distance could be respected in the case of a dolphin… Yet, no mention of hurt, here, only shared wonder.

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gift horses at the Dentist

Yesterday MB popped her head into the sort of cubby-hole at the end of the offices where I and the other member of IT staff have been relegated, “Can I see you today?” she asked. Undoutably this was becasue of my well-known habit of coming in to work invisible.

“No problem,” I said, “When you want.”
Both of which are true—she does sign the paychecks after all…

Later that morning when I was wading through a delicate bit of code, her head reappeared around the corner—I think that the body was attached but can’t guarantee it—“Can I see you today?”

Of course, I had already answered the question and it wasn’t very likely that my reply had changed in the last three hours, so I didn’t say, “Oh! Sorry! I’ll just make myself visible,” I instead did say, “Err… now?”

A sort of mumble, or possibly a gargarism, came from the head perched on the corner. She may have actually said something but as I was concentrating on what I was attempting to do—i.e. not break the site in an untoward manner—I wasn’t paying much attention. “Look, I’ll come as soon as I’ve finished what I’m working on…” As this is a more-or-less complete rewrite of the current website, this should take me about a month.

I arrived in her office 10 minutes later.
“How is the site going?” My earlier reply had been an error, she obviously supposed that the web site rewrite was now finished. “Not that I know anything technical…” she continued. Saved by a technicality.

“Should be done in about two weeks,” I mumbled. “Then we can look at it internally.” This is a innovation for this place. Except for projects that I work on, nothing gets tested here. Things just get thrust upon people. Both staff and clients. Then things inevitably break. ANd not necessarily the code either. I prefer to do my inevitable breaking discretely and so I am known to test first, in private.

“Of course, I’m very happy with your work. The site works wonderfully, never breaks down like before, and I have received lots of complimentary remarks.” Yes, and I have received a substantial pay rise…

Sorry about that, Mummy did tell me that I shouldn’t fib. So I didn’t get a substantial pay rise. In fact, I think that this is the first time ever I have been called into her office for praise. Can I see both of her hands? No hatchet under the table? No anvil suspended from the ceiling… I shift uneasily on my chair.

“And…” I manage to say.
“And, of course, we haven’t got enough work to keep you fully occupied. I was talking with (Hubby) only yesterday and he says that we have a maximum of three months work a year. Less in fact once you finish the changes on the site.” Please note the taseful use of of course. (Hubby), as I may have already mentioned, hates me. Nothing personal. He regards me with the same cold distrust as he reserves for anyone who suggets that perhaps all the company’s IT solutions shouldn’t necessary be coded in MS Access. They say that to someone who is armed with only a hammer, all problems look like nails. In (Hubby)’s case, all IT issues look like MS Access. I’m sure that he also uses it for web surfing and that this is why he complains about my coding—THIS SITE DOES RENDER CORRECTLY IN ACCESS! I can near him mumbling from afar.

“And…” is in fact what I say.
“So, of course, you have a permanent contract.” Yes, and you and (Hubby) insisted that I took it when you hired me as a temp as:
Point number one – you realised that you wouldn’t have to pay me the 10% precarity bonus if you took me on
Point number two – you’d never find someone else who coded as well as I did and who did it so cheaply.

“Mumble, mumble, lack of work, mumble, mumble, results, mumble, mumble, reduce costs, mumble, mumble…” What she really wanted was me to roll over on my back, spread my little stubby legs in the air and invite her to scratch my tummy. Then she’d pull out a small plastic bone, throw it affectionately while I ran in circles, barking and panting good-naturedly before bringing back the toy. Then she’d throw it over a good, steep cliff counting that I’d follow it, still barking aimiably.

“Mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble…” She has at this point entered aimless-mumble mode. This means that she will just mumble on, occasionally repeating herself. It doesn’t mean that she has no argument. It doesn’t mean that she has run out of arguments. Both of these cases imply that she had an argument in the first case. She always does this, believing that when she waffles, not only does it make sense, but that you can only agree.

When I had asked her for the n-th time for the 15-eurocent-foreign-language bonus that I was supposed to receive every month, she did the same thing. I interrupted her and asked her what she was saying.
“I was quite clear,” she said.
“No you weren’t otherwise I wouldn’t have interrupted you and asked you what you were saying.”
“I said that I will not shirk my responsabilities and that I will do all that is necessary.”
“That is what you said last month and nothing has changed.”
“I know.”

Finally I got bored and sent her a registered letter telling her to pay up with back pay, within the week. She paid up immediately and garumphed, “I can’t understand why people have to send registered letters, why they can’t talk to each other…” (Please note the elegant use of people). Quite simply because other people only react to registered letters.

So she is working herself up for me to understand that I should be fired. Preferably, I should understand her dire predicament and give notice tomorrow. That way I can work off my notice by finishing the web site. That, in her point of view, is the elegant thing to do.

And, make myself available as she suggested to come back from time to time when they need me to do more work on the site. She didn’t say that I should pay for the privilege, but it was implied.

“Yes…” I interrupt, “If you’d excuse me MB, I have a site to code. I suggest that we continue talking about this in (10 years time?) a month?”
“Oh yes. Well, we’ve said enough for the moment, haven’t we?”

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april is a foolish month

I just saw this

(By the way, the French, who will scold you vigourously if you say, for example, gwitar, persist in saying Ze Gwardian. But there again they say K’nore for Knorr, so I imagine that they think the Brits say K’nite for the guy in a tin can perched on his destrier. End of interlude.)

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hard at work

I have been progressing like wild fire on Pirates. While this is undoudoutably A Good ThingTM I should have been working on Died, or at least, that was my intention. And Juliet is awaiting another revision.

While I don’t believe in inspiration—just hard work. I can’t really feel up to adandoning a good creative streak when the ideas flow on and on. Perhaps inspiration favours the prepared notebook?

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navigation update

I finally managed to get categories together, thanks to someone named madjo over at the Pivot forums .—Thank you, sir.—This means that rather than being one bleak and long list there are categories and subcategories.

I explain.

Everything gets published on the Journal page. It is posted in standard blog format, that is, most recent at the top and then goes down. Then there are three categories: WRITING, LIFE and ABOUT. The last is just for info about me, and about the navigation, like this post. Usually material that is posted in this last category is not considered ‘news’ and so will not appear on the front page unless, like this post, it is also crossposted in another category.

WRITING lists all my posts in that category. There are four sub-categories: Juliet, Died, Pirates and Stuff. All material posted in one of those categories also gets posted on the WRITING page. Please note that some material may just be posted in the WRITING category. Similarly LIFE has four sub-categories: Home, Work, Rant and System.

Any page can be accessed directly just by using its URL. This would be http://www.thepowerfactory.com/journal/ and then the category name, in lower case, followed by .php.

So, to go to Juliet you would need to type http://www.thepowerfactory.com/journal/juliet.php

Or to go to WRITING, you would need to type http://www.thepowerfactory.com/journal/writing.php

You can also use the RSS or the ATOM feeds (over on the far right). In that case, either you know how, or you don’t. And this isn’t the place to learn. Yet.

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like a house on fire

I have spent most of this weekend working on Pirates. I have developed (that is, I have written out as notes) around half of it and I am quite happy with it so far.

A mysterious new character has appeared, a couple of minor objects have taken on a degree of importance that I hadn’t even begun to suspect when I started. I have abandoned the five-different-narrators structure (interesting, but didn’t really bring anything that a single POV couldn’t handle), and everything is more simple. Have even integrated the first chapter into the single POV in a manner that suits me fine (even if it is corny). I now need to get some names together to get a handle on some of these people. It is also fun in that the original ‘central’ character is still here, but has slipped into a secondary position, one of the others—and I just added him because I needed help in one scene or two—has become central in his place.

I have also found an application—like an outliner—that allows me to write up passages, add stuff, move scenes around etc. Most important, it can be configured to back up as plain text. Really important that. I have no wish to put any of my work into a closed, proprietary format. (Can you imagine having a novel stuck inside a DRM protected version of MS Word? Or just as bad, in a version of MS Word to which your subscription has expired? I think that both of these are worse than having a disk crash and losing the work. In that case, you know that it is gone and lost and that you only have yourself to blame for not making a good backup. But having the file right there on your hard drive and not being able to read it without paying the Microsoft tax…)

Anyway, I am testdriving MacJournal and will say what I think about it even if my use is probably non-standard.

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who am I? ...and why are you reading this?

This is the weblog of one Jonathan Munn in which he, that is I, chronicles various matters being most particularly, but not exclusively, how he, that is I, is or am writing his (my) books. Or more likely not, as the case may be.

I think that I’ll cut that third person stuff.

My name is Jonathan Munn. I live in Montreuil, near Paris, in France. This is my weblog where I chronicle different things, but principally the books that I am attempting to write. I also cover such fascinating things as what the family get up to, and such forth.

If you wish to contact me then you can use the mail address: general dot dogsbody at thePowerFactory dot com

...and as to the last part: obviously you either have a glut of superfluous leisure, or you are seriously lost.

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Quick glossary of terms used in this blog

Juliet – this is a novel of about 50K words. It was first written in French and then completely rewritten in English. I am currently revising it. Both the writing and the revising were harder than I thought.

Died – this is a project. It has been sketched out. At the moment it doesn’t know if it is a novel or a short story. Neither do I.

Pirates – an adventure story. It keeps finding new chapters which worries me as it hasn’t been written yet.

At some point I may also write about Monsters or Bill. These will be explained as is and when.

. . . . .

It should also be noted that each entry has a category. Once I finally suss out how to get categories to work these should get separate pages. Until then these are:
Writing – my writings
System – chronicling my fights with this blogging system
Work – how I pay the rent
Home – when I’m not trying to pay the rent
Rant – whatever rubs me up the wrong way
Life – the universe and a collection of small, furry animals gathered together and grooving with a Pict in a cave… That sort of thing.
About – this page.

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There is a shop near the job that sells cheapo videos, DVDs and CDs. Judging from the subtitles I suspect that the DVDs are imported from Belgium (see also Miscellaneous Info, bottom of this page ). It was also here that I was walking past one day when I thought, Hey, Kim’s old enough to appreciate ‘The Princess Bride’ now, but where can I find it? turned and bumped into a video cassette of the film—which I promptly bought and we have subsequently both enjoyed it a lot since.

So, this Friday while nursing the sort of sinuses (sinii?) that only a good Parisian cold can give you, I looked over the stock while Ludivine went next door to pick up her photo prints. As she’d left them two days ago, her One-Hour Photo Developement was, at last, done. (Yep, it only takes an hour, but you have to wait 2 days until your hour comes up—this is a consequence of one of Newton’s laws of conservation of mass or energy and keeps the universe in order according to Steven Hawkings, or perhaps it was Robin Williams).

On the pile outside the shop I noticed Traffic by Steven Soderbergh.

I have a DVD-buying policy: if I find them at under 10 euros and I want to see them, I buy. This is not an impulse buy: it is a well-thought out rational act that will be explained later on this very paragraph. Knowing this, the shop next door prices them at 9,90. This may seem a lot, but if I watch it twice then it is roughly the same price as 2 rentals. A seat at a multiplex costs 9 euros (although our local cinema only costs 3,81; so we tend to see most films there. Probably the only film that I have seen elsewhere in the last year is Holes that I went to see with Kim and Charlotte at Les Halles). And of course, if I buy DVDs, I can exchange them with Nadja.

So last night, well-dosed up on aspirine (which if you think about it, is strangely appropriate), I watched Traffic instead of going with Ludivine to Magali’s birthday party. I also cleaned up notes for Pirates but that is another matter. I found it wonderfully filmed, performed and everything. If you get a chance to see it again, have another look; there’s not just the colour difference in the three stories, the camera style, rythmn of the cuts and overall flow is different also. You just don’t notice at first because of the colour. Michael Douglas was watchable for probably the first time ever and even his hair appeared appropriate here. I finally got to see Benicio Del Toro (one of Ludivine’s friends claimed that I ressembled this actor who I had never heard of… Now I’ve seen the film I can understand she said that. I don’t look like him though; I saw him as he really is in an interview on the disk afterwards, but if you imagine his character Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez as having been half-turned into a toad, then I suppose that you might have a good physical description of me. But without my natural charm of course. Thereagain, I probably don’t really have that much of that either. Oh well. I can’t sing, I ain’t pretty and my legs are thin. As Peter Green once remarked ).

What really struck me in the film was a scene between Francisco ‘Flowers’ Flores and General Arturo Salazar where the former is talking about his stereo, and how he burns his own CDs—just like those in the shops, I believe he says. This didn’t advance the action in the slightest. It did give a superb exposition of Flores’ character, and opened the way for Salazar’s subseuqent manipulations of this loser. But everything struck true, the words and the acting. (Of course, they were supposed to, this is one of the ways that one makes films, stoopid…) Watching this brought to me the sense behind Show, Don’t Tell that you read about everywhere when they talk about the Craft of Writing. I hope, one day, to be able to write little bijou scenes just as good, concise and efficient as that one is.

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pirates blurb

And this one:

Ramples (also known as Landlubbies) and the Welkin (Skyfolk) have coexisted for centuries. However, in recent times relations between the two have grown distended and difficult. While the Lubbies seem hell bent on messing everything up in their end of the world, or it appears this way to the Welkin, the Skyfolk haven’t exactly been wasting their time; ever since the savage assasination of their last King and the subsequent and mysterious disappearance of his twin sons and heirs the Kingdom has been in turmoil. Even between the Welkin, antagonism is growing as some remain faithful to their vision of the traditional way of life, while others set sail for new horizons (and are not against a little buccaneering on the way).

Unaware of these events, even as they take place just above his head, Detective Inspector McHarry is called on to investigate the disturbing disappearance of one, two and then three young children. The subsequent investigation and chase will lead him, accompanied by his unfortunate assistant, through the countryside around the industrial town of Mouldburton, and then off into the hills and crags of Wales where the last of the Welkin cling to their place in the clouds.

There he will pursue, and be pursued by, pirates as well as (at least up to now) what he had always considered as mythical beasts, before the lost children are brought back home. And, as you have probably guessed, the adventures are not without consequences to the pretenders to the Old Throne.

This is a story where Jonathan Swift, R.L.Stevenson along with J.M.Barrie are all called in to assist with the telling; where the action spans centuries and continents not only in their breadth but also in dizzying heights; where magic and piratry all come together and you may finally understand why your parents insisted that you finish eating your fish…

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juliet blurb

Just in case you were wondering, here is the blurb for Juliet:

Juliet finds the country farm where her parents have moved ‘just as interesting as old dishwater’ (her words, I hasten to add, not mine). But then a planned motorway, and the need to cut across a nearby wood for a service road, and the surprising way these projects affect a neighbouring rabbit warren, all conspire to make her life a little less ordinary.

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I finished my latest runthrough on Juliet last week. I think that I have all the plot mechanics ironed out now; things that were too vague are definately clearer. But I am still not satisfied with the manuscript. I tried reading parts out loud and immediately heard problems of rythmn and structure. Small argh. These are moments when I think that dictation software is a good idea. (I know it isn’t, this is just shifting the problem elsewhere.) So a new rewrite is due.

This week I set out to continue Died. And got hijacked. Two new chapters for Pirates appeared. Just like that. (Just the plot, not the writing… would it be so easy…). What really happened was I was thinking about different plot mechanics and twists and these prequel scenes appeared. Prequel in that they take place before what was previously Chapter One. This is annoying as I had decided on a particular structure. This is not annoying in that they are good and interesting and solve a lot of later problems. It just means that I must go back and cross out the structure idea.

(I might as well explain the structure idea: Pirates is in 5 parts—seems like a good structure, and fits the plot—each part was to be narrated by a different person from the book, in that it would be his/her POV in play there. Except the new prequel chapters can’t be narrated by the person who should do Part One. He cannot, cannot be there. Impossible. Shucks. It was a nice idea. Medium-sized argh.)

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I forgot to say that one of the major annoyances of Pivot is that the Textile system (when it works) part only treats the body of the post and not the titles… look at the ugly typography there…

Perhaps I should post a bug ? Although this is perhaps more in the Missing Functionality category, no?

(Look see, another problem… with Textile you can’t have a trailing punctuation ‘comma’, ‘question mark’ on a URL. Small argh.)

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a new run

I have had another look at the code of the Pivot system. While I’m not as happy with it as with something that I have programmed myself, I have finally understood [Duh!] that I should rebuild all the pages when I make changes. Naively I thought that they propagated themselves. Not true.

Also the Textile system is not that clever… It misses a lot of tags and is very unforgiving. I wonder if I can hack it out to replace it with something else…

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I have been making a conscious effort to clean up my handwriting (not that I think that it was this bad) just that sometimes even I found it hard to read the affected scrawl it had become. ‘f’ was the first letter I cleared up, followed by ‘k’ and ‘r’, I am working on ‘e’. Unlike the method outlined here which, incidentally, is what I am following, I’m sticking to lowercase numerals though. I generally prefer them like that.
. . . . .
Heard a very pleasant piece on Into the Mystic this afternoon and went jumping off to the live365 playlist to find what it was. A track called “Disturbed” by some people called Ilya from an album “Poise Is The Greater Architect”. Starts of sort of mellow-folky-post-Massive-Attacky and finishes up with the same soaring majesty of sigur rós doing “Starálfur”. And the same abrupt ending. Unless both of these are bad mp3 edits… hmmm.

I noticed that the Ilya track came from a music sampler from a magazine called CMJ (and other tracks here and on Radio Paradise are cited as coming from a magazine called Paste (I should note that I heard the wonderful and moving version of Marley’s “Redemption Song” by the late Joe Strummer on Paradise, as well as Coma Girl)). These magazines appear then to do a great job of letting you discover music that you’re likely to like. (, if anyone wants to offer me a subscription… )

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film criticism

About a film that I was invited to see..

The best thing to do about it [the film] is to ignore it. With a bit of luck it will go away and everyone will forget about it. It will become discouraged and despondent and will eventually get the hint and drag its ugly carcass outside to the kennel. There it will die a lonely and prolonged death and will be well forgotten until years later when Dad finds it while hacking back at the undergrowth that once formed the croquet patch and discretely digs a hole to shove it down deep before anyone notices anything amiss. At the same time he will get rid of all the collected (false and yellowing) milk teeth that the children have been setting out for years to trap the tooth fairy who wasn’t having any of it and so left the job to Dad—which, as you may have gathered, happens with all the dirty work anyway. He also slips in that rat from the attic that he eventually caught as he is lucky enough to have the pit to hand. It is that sort of film.

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weekends with Kim

Friday night I picked up Kim while Ludivine picked up her father’s car. Then she put it down again. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that. Untrue. Well, the putting down is.).

We went to the cinema as a surprise for Kim—and also to tire her out. The film was 8:30-10 ish and like that I was pretty sure that she’d go to sleep and then stay asleep in the car when we left very early the next morning rather than saying Are we there yet? every two kilometres as loveable kids are wont to do (and in her case—I hope it’s not Dad driving…—Why I ask myself? I drive slowly and calmly and never understand why all the other drivers want to klaxon at me, and flash their lights and overtake me all over the place. It is they who are driving too fast, not me… sounds of righteous indignation ).. We saw Majo no takkyubin, known in France as “Kiki, la petite sorcière” and in the States as “Kiki’s Delivery Service”. Even though it originally came out in 1989, it has only just been released here. It was, as we expected, a wonderful Hayao Miyazaki film and—secret bonus—we saw a teaser for “Hauru no ugoku shiro” better known as Howl’s Moving Castle.

The film delighted us all. I loved the throwawy end, the lack of conflict (this does not mean lack of drama). The evocative drawing, the painted decors. The attention to detail and atmosphere (insects, cats playing, clouds, water…). The obsession with flight and particularly with flying machines. I heard someone in the cinema (the mum in front with her daughter) saying that Kiki got her very ‘Dorothy’ red shoes at the end too, but didn’t personally notice that. I will probably have to rent out the DVD in order to check. It was that sort of film. A growing-up film and a delight to see with one’s children. Oh, and Jiji the cat had the cinema on its knees with laughter.

I was particularly interested in the film from a writing ‘mechanics’ point of view. We are often told that conflict fuels a story, but here we have a clear case of where it doesn’t—there wasn’t any! As I was scolded for a story (a long time ago) that didn’t present conflict, under that very pretense, and as I had wanted to explore other things in that story, I took this to heart, and fully intend to learn from this and try a conflict-less story again.

After that, we all drove off for a weekend with the parents. But that is another story and one that will not be told here. Suffice to say that the fact that I am here and blogging on Monday seems to imply some degree of survival.

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‘Sex, Typography and Rock’n’Roll’

During a past life as an Art Director, I saw Erik Spiekermann ‘perform’ a conference entitled “Sex, Typography and Rock’n’Roll”. I say perform as, and the video here will bear out, he doesn’t just stand up and talk.

In this document he bears an uncanny ressemblance to William Gibson at times. Although I don’t know if Mr. Gibson wears bow ties…

(In case you were wondering: Erik Spikermann started off his lecture by informing us, to roaring laughter, that the management had asked him to cut the Rock’n’Roll so as not to disturb the conferences taking place in adjacent rooms. And, as they were running late, he proposed glossing over the ‘Sex’ part but did managed to display a slide showing chickens. And a rooster I think, but I wouldn’t swear on this. I think it was for those who had come expecting ‘Chicks’. Then he treated us a very opinionated and provoking hour of Typography. And a great afternoon was had by all.)

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is it just me...

...or is there some strange urban poetry to my inbox today?

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Look Rich Now Get Rich Later Fake Rolex Watches

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the fish in NS4.x

This morning MB greets me.
“We must take down the fish.”
The fish is the gag that I had prepared for the website yesterday.
“It is Number One on my list of things to do today” I assure her.
This is false. Number One is switch on the computer as it takes hours to start. Then I make the coffee for everyone, and put the kettle to boil for that strange race of tea-drinkers with whom we co-exist. Then I launch iTunes for some music while I work, then Thunderbird to let it sort the spam while I connect in to the web site and transfer things through to the Intranet for the others when they start.
At last, with my coffee firmly in hand, then I will ‘kill’ the fish.

MB turns to leave:
“The fish doesn’t work in Netscape.”
I know what she means but I decide to play dumb.
“We tested it in IE and Netscape. I also verified in IE and Safari on Mac. It works everywhere.”
“But (Hubby) said it doesn’t work in Netscape.”
“It doesn’t work in Netscape 4, no. We agreed that it was no longer necessary to support a seven-year-old browser that was completely broken when it came out and that it should be quietly taken out into the back yard and put out of its agony and the body disposed of in a manner that is not contrary to any of the Paris zoning and Health regulations.”
But I don’t say that, I say:
“We agreed in the meeting the day before yesterday that we would no longer support Netscape.”
“Oh yes. Yes,” she says.

She will come back on Monday saying that the dummies of the new search pages that I am working on and which coded with HTML+CSS are taking up only about 1/3 of the previously table-laden code does not work in NS4.7.

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I forgot

A letter to the Editor in Salon commenting on this article— Abridged Too Far by Hilary Flower, got published.

Please note : you may have to clickthrough a day pass ad to read material on Salon. It is quite painless and generally worthwhile.

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I’ll be back

I have just realised that this is about the fourth time that I have posted without talking about the wonderful ballet that Ludivine took me off to see last Staurday. Each time I mean to, and get distracted.

I will post about it. I will.

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It would take two simple things to cure 90% of traffic problems in Paris: – no cars park where they shouldn’t – no cars engage on a crossing if they are not sure to be able to clear that crossing.

Regularly people will call for more resources to improve the traffic situation. Probably putting radars and cameras everywhere. Of course, both of the things that I mentioned at the start are part of the French highway code. The only thing that they need to be effective is to be applied. As ever, the French prefer to rant and rave and call for more laws which will not be applied any more either.

This is very French this refusal to use the means already to hand and to create a wonderful new inefficient solution. At the moment they have wonderful occasions to do this.

Saturday night Ludivine took me to the Ballet at the Opera Bastille—it was lovely but that isn’t the point here. When we arrived, 15 minutes early, which is a reasonable delay and we had the tickets so it wasn’t as if we needed to queue for anything, we saw an major queue pressing to enter. Why?

Security, I said. They’re searching everyone’s bags. And sure enough, twelve minutes later when we got through the doors they asked to search our bags. I didn’t have one. They have to ask because strictly speaking they can’t search them. So they ask nicely and if you refuse they will probably, just as nicely, refuse to let you in. In that way everyone’s fundamental civil rights are respected—French style. And why are they searching everyone’s bags? Security. Remember that there was a major terrorist attack in Spain three weeks ago.

Yes, of course, says everyone and opens his/her bag.

I am wearing a large bulky coat with lots of inside pockets. I could be carrying explosives, gases, or biological material inside these pockets and all this would probably take the same bulk and weight as the notebooks, wallets pens, pencils and tissues that are in fact in there. I could be wearing a waistcoat of explosives. No-one asks me to open my coat.

I’m not taking terrorist attacks lightly. I clearly remember when bombs were exploding in waste-paper baskets and in the Paris Metro and how I was terrified at the thought of my girls getting caught up in it when they went into Paris to go to the cinema, but if people did stop everyday life then the terrorists are winning because your ordinary everyday terror is showing through so you shut up, grit you teeth and continue ‘ordinary’ life.

However, searching bags in this manner does not deter and has not prevented one single attack. In fact, I suspect that inefficient measures like these are like anti-virus software on a computer in that they lull people into a sense of false security. They also mean—through this erosion of civil liberty—that the terrorists are winning. No bag search can stop someone from leaving a bomb in the metro, only constant and responsible vigilance by all citizens can. No bag search can stop someone from throwing a hand-grenade, from firing a machine gun randomly in the streets, from throwing a bomb, from leaving it in the street. These are how terrorist attacks have killed people in Paris in the past.

As a corollary to this matter, all the dustbins have been sealed in the streets of Paris and the Metro. This seems logical considering how they have been used in the past. Although it is very unlikely that any future terrorists will use the same modus operandi. Passons.

So we have piles of rubbish around the dustbins. These can just as easily hide a bomb. Either the street dustbins serve no useful purpose, in which case they can be removed. For good. Or they serve a purpose, and in that case a substitute refuse collection system is needed. And, if you want this system to be very efficient so that you can quickly spot any suspicious dumped parcels (think Israel). In fact you need to clear the trash away more often than when you had the dustbins in place. But we’re in France where the authorities only pay token lip service to ideas like security. They’re too busy doing things like criminalising poverty and youth (which are other stories altogether).

In the town where I live—due east of Paris and the name begins with a ‘M’—they have another wonderful lip service system in place. It’s called, sorting your household rubbish. In Paris when they brought in this system they suggested, in the glossy leaflets they left in your letterbox, that you have three dustbins, that is, one for each of the different types of rubbish you produce, not forgetting bottles and glass which are extras. Real estate in Paris is so expensive that people cut down on everything, and the flat where I lived then had a kitchen that was under 1.5 square meters in floor surface. Empty. Put in a fridge, a washing machine and one dustbin under the sink and you just have the room to crush yourself into the kitchen too. Plus the fact that it was on the sixth floor so the idea of carrying three different dustbins—and the bottles—down all those floors was a no-no. Everything went into one big sack and that was that.

In M, the kitchen is a decent size, but that is not the issue.

Just go shopping. I do. I don’t buy anything special, it tends to be the cheapest articles at Franprix. And never any brands as I don’t see why I should pay twice the price of the own brands for just a ‘name’. Then get the shopping home and look at all the packaging that is left over when you just put the articles in the fridge and in the cupboards and on the shelves. This isn’t even when you use the stuff. All these companies pay their duty to the recycling people to get their little seal of approval, but they just keep on producing more and more packaging. And glass, and plastics, and bags and blisters. And I am supposed to sort all of this? The real answer is to seriously tax packaging to incite smaller, lighter, more recyclable material. And thus take the pressure off the consumer to do the work that the industrials should be doing. Too easy. Although of course the French will eventually do this, but then they will not use the tax for eco-projects, instead just putting it in the kitty like for the green point now.

So why am I ranting about rubbish when I was talking about terrorism?

Because, on the street, about fifty metres from where I live, are two enormous containers. One is for bottles and the other is for paper. Next to these two is a sealed dustbin. Now a bomb inside that bottle container would be extremely nasty, spraying glass shards all over. But neither of these are sealed. And there is a pile of refuse where the dustbin isn’t.

Do I really need to point out how ridiculous all this is?

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this is not a lovesong

I tried to add comments. No go. I tried to look up something in the archive. No go. I tried to put some text in blockquotes. You guessed it. No go.

Look, I’m quite willing to admit that this must be me. That there are lots of people out there happily using Pivot However I’m not one of them. The only thing that is keeping me from getting down and coding is that I should be working on something else. But as that isn’t advancing…

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this is not denial

I finished the latest run through with Juliet and have probably 10% of the work in blue with comments to myself inside braces. This may not seem like much but that is at least 5000 words in limbo. More even in fact as there often second and third choices in there. I understand that this is because this is special for a number of reasons, it being the first real work that I have attempted (oh, all right, the second then…), and the fact that I want it to be good. And finished. I think that the only way to achieve this is to put Juliet aside for a while.


The sigh is because Died isn’t going better. Expanding my notes is so slow. Yesterday I probably managed 5 lines. 50 words???

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