Monday, 23 April 2018

The Book Cover Challenge

Last week, a facebook friend nominated me for a challenge he'd been doing.

Basically, you posted a picture of a book you loved, every day for seven days, with no explanation and no review - just the picture of the cover. Oh, and nominate someone else to do it as well. (Which I didn't - I'd rather you made that choice for yourself...)

I said that at the end of the week, I'd post on here with my chosen books, and tell you a bit about why I loved them so much, so here goes.

Day 1: Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

This was the first ever Discworld novel I read, and like Lady Sybil, I think I fell a little in love with Sam Vimes, the alcoholic guard who was doing his best to be a good copper. I also fell in love with the whole Discworld scenario and Terry's writing style - so much so that I think I possess every Discworld novel he's ever written, and there is a whole shelf in my house dedicated to his writing. The only piece of fan-fic I've ever written was based on Discworld - The Watchbox Project.

Day 2: Katherine by Anya Seton

I was 16 and in the school library when I saw this book for the first time. I only picked it up because it had my name, spelt my way, on the cover; although Katherine was a popular name when I was born, it was usually spelt with a K and an A or Y, or a C with an E. Not a K and an E. I loved the historical richness of the novel, even though the story focused more on character than pushing the historical facts. And I could also imagine myself as the heroine, because we did share a name, after all.

Day 3: Peepo by Janet and Allen Ahlberg

I can still recite this almost off by heart, we read it so many times to the Squidgelings at bedtime. I loved the illustrations, the music in the poetry, the repetitiveness... We even had two copies of it - hardback when they were very little, and paperback when they were older. 'Here's a little baby, 1,2,3, sit sin his cot. What does he see...?'

Day 4: The Message by Eugene Peterson.

It was only relatively recently that I understood the difference between a translation and an interpretation when it came to bibles. The Message is an interpretation, but it speaks to me more clearly than some of the translations I've read. As my faith is an important part of my life, how can I not love the scripture I use to help guide my life as a Christian?

Day 5: Goth Girl by Chris Riddell.

If I'm honest, I've never read this story. I bought the book simply because it was an object of great beauty. The illustrations are wonderful, there are silver foiled skulls along the spine and the edges of the pages are coloured metallic purple. Best of all, it's signed by Chris Riddell himself, from when I went to see him speak at one of his 'Ask the Laureate' events. And there's a teeny tiny book within the book, too...

Day 6: Lookalikes by Joan Steiner

This book (and another in the same series) kept my children quiet on so many car journeys! Every picture is made up of everyday objects, and you can spend ages on just one picture, trying to spot all the components.

Day 7: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J K Rowling

If I'm honest, I wasn't too fussed about the HP series when it first came out. It all passed me by, so that I didn't begin reading until I think the third book was published. By then, Harry Potter was really causing a stir and I thought I ought to see what all the fuss was about. I loved reading all the books for myself - but enjoyed them even more when I read them, aloud, to the Squidgelings. We tended to read them on car journeys, and there were several times when, having reached our destination, we were not allowed to get out of the car until we'd finished the chapter.

So there you go. Why I picked the books I did, although there were so many others I could've chosen... Maybe I'll have another go at the challenge soon, squeeze in a few more favourites?

Monday, 16 April 2018

Dairy of a Rookie Silversmith - Part 5.

You might remember that, in the last week of my ten week course, I wanted to make a bangle. 

I had soldered a ring of 2mm wire in week 9, and twisted it into an infinity symbol at home. (Basically, grab both sides of the ring and twist in opposite directions until you have a figure of eight.) In week 10, that final week, I evened the shape up and soldered the crossing point together. Although in hindsight, I'd have been better NOT putting the original solder point from the ring at the point where I was going to solder again...I managed to un-solder the original join. I also soldered two cut rings onto either end of the infinity symbol.

Then it was a case of forming the base bangle (3mm wire) on an oval bangle mandrel (try saying that one fast!) and turning the ends over to provide a loop and a hook; one end of the symbol would be fixed into the loop, the other would catch on the hook, providing a 'hinge'.

As you can imagine, I was working to a deadline, so I didn't stop to take any photos, even though I had my camera with me.

Just this afternoon, I popped down to the gallery to finish it - filed a little off the 'hook' end to make the bangle easier to fasten - tensioned (by hitting gently all over the bangle) and polished.

Here's what I ended up with;

Here's what it looks like on;

And here's the 'hinge' clasp;

I'm pleased with it, although as per the other items I've made, I still think there are things I haven't got quite right. For example, I don't seem to be able to do the polishing very well. Perhaps I'm too impatient, but all my finished items seem to have a slightly matt finish. Which is fine, but I'd like to crack the knack of how to make silver really, REALLY shiny! I think the bangle could do with a really high shine.

I'm also not sure that the bangle is tensioned properly. Each time I thought I'd done it and put it on to check, the bangle would deform as I took it off - to the extent that I had to reshape on the oval bangle mandrel several times. That can't be right.

Oh, and remember the ring that wasn't yet polished? Here I am, wearing it after I polished it, to try it out (Not going to be wearing it all the time until our Silver Wedding next month) 

You might have noticed that I'm wearing the pinky ring on my left hand now, although it was made for my right little finger. Reason being, I found that it was making my finger swell at night, so I'm assuming it's a tad too tight. Either way, it sits fine on the left hand, and doesn't interfere with the sapphire ring I've made.Maybe one day, I'll make another for the right hand and size it up a bit!

I've loved being able to make my own jewellery. Even if none of it is 100% perfect, it's all mine and unique, as well as two of the pieces being symbolic for me and Mr Squidge.

Would I do a silversmithing course or workshop again? In a heartbeat, though I think I would have to pick a really simple project to make the most of the lesson/workshop time, and make sure I really took my time over each stage to get that smooth, high shine finish that looks so beautiful on silver. 

Thursday, 12 April 2018

I'm NOT a poet...

We're lucky enough to have some poets in NIBS, our writing group. I'm always in awe of people who can write poetry - especially the stuff that doesn't rhyme!

Personally, I have a strange relationship with poetry. I can do it if I rhyme, but the non-rhyming stuff just ends up like prose to me, and I've always struggled to see what makes poetry, poetry.

We decided to challenge ourselves last night, and write poetry. Due to circumstances beyond their control, our two poets couldn't attend, so I spent a couple of hours on the computer, looking up poetry activities for the session.

Bear in mind that my own previous experience of poetry consists of;

1. A £50 prize winning limerick:
    A young lady who felt fashion keenly
    tried on a new-fangled bikini. 
    With two bits of string, 
    some cloth and a ring, 
    the thing would've baffled Houdini!

2. Putting new words to hymn music for Christmas carols
    (to the tune of 'All things bright and beautiful')
    Once upon a starry night
    Two thousand years ago
    Shone a star especially bright
    To show the way to go...

3. Silly rhymes for the children when they were much, much younger.

So I'm not exactly qualified to teach anyone, but I was prepared to muddle through and have a go.

Who knew there were so many forms of poem? One site listed 86 - 86! - different forms, so I spent a while rooting through them to find fairly simple ones we could have a go at.

I also discovered is that poetry emphasizes language's musical quality, uses condensed language (some forms are so concise, every word has to count) and often portrays intense feelings, which, interestingly, is a dead giveaway about robot-written poetry, because robots can't put emotion into poems. There are also lots of techniques used in poetry - rhyming words, alliteration, repetitiveness, metaphors, imagery, rhythm...

I put together an outline for the evening, based on some fab poetry prompts and a few forms.

First, are songs actually poems if you take the music out? We tried it, using 'Twinkle, twinkle little star' as our base. For most, it seemed to work well - and nobody was forced to sing their poem to prove it fitted the music. Here's what I wrote, and I bet you can't read it without singing it in your head!

Flippin' heck! It's ten to eight!
Get up quick, we'll all be late.
Alarm not set - whose fault was that?
Never mind, we'll blame the cat.
Eight o'clock - get up, I say!

Why Mum, when it's Saturday?

Having warmed up, we tried a tricube form after that. These poems have three stanzas, each consisting of three lines, with each line consisting of three syllables. Sounds easy, but it's harder than it looks. Every word had to count - there were some very good end results, even after some misunderstandings about what the form consisted of (down to my poor explanation, I'm afraid.) We took the weather as our theme, and most of the group took the horrible damp fog that had fallen and thickened, the closer you got to our meeting place...

I didn't. I had a go at 'Storm' and 'Snow'. Not sure which I prefer...

Storm.                                                    Snow

Dark clouds build                                  First one flake
and fill up                                              which melts fast
the wide sky                                           on the grass.

after days                                               Then more fall
of hot sun                                               and settle
and clear blue                                       on the ground 

lightning flash                                         until all
thunder loud                                          is soft white
world washed clean.                             and blurred edges.

The final exercise was to write something freeform. Now, I'm still not sure whether free form poetry should rhyme or not. I found myself slipping into rhyme almost straight away, so I might have to take some time to rewrite it, challenging myself to step away from rhyme. The poem could either start with an instruction, or had to include the same or similar phrase, repeated at least three times throughout the poem.

I finished mine this morning:

Will World War 3 start today?

An orange-faced man sits in a white house
With intolerance, ignorance, greed.
A tweeter impressive
Stirring the hate.
Will World War 3 start today?

'We're going to hell in a handcart!'
That's what they used to say,
and the wheels the politicians are turning
are sending us well on the way.
Will World War 3 start today?

Once it was only the soldiers who fought
And others would stay home and pray.
But modern day battles are not so distinct
and the bombs kill more,
day after day.
Will World War 3 start today?

Now chemicals ravage the lungs and the nerves among children just wanting to play.
Politicians deny;
"It's untrue!" they lie
while in basements the bodies remain.
Will World War 3 start today?

Reprisals are sought,
and red buttons are primed for more death to be sent on its way
"It's justified!"
Mortified, we watch the news
and helpless, we all look away.
Will World War 3 start today...?

Where is compassion? 
Where is the peace that survivors and onlookers crave?
Where is humanity?
Oh, I forgot.
It's right there. 
Look - deep in the graves.
World War 3 is in Syria today.

I think we saw glimpses of what we might achieve through poetry, but we're going to need some more practise before most of us are truly comfortable with it. I can certainly see why I'm a novellist, not a poet!

For now, I'll keep a lookout for the poems of Brian Bilston which pop up on my facebook feed every now and again, and try to learn from those who wrote poetry far, far better than me...

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

It's Sequel Time!

Actually, I'm not sure if that's strictly true - is it a sequel if you're writing book two in a planned series of five?

I had a quick look round the web for clarification, and it appears that actually, I am writing a series, not a sequel. I found some pretty useful information, like this - how to write a great series - from NY Book Editors. And this - mistakes to avoid - from Now Novel.

I suppose I wrote the first book of the series - working title The Mage of Merjan - so it could be read as a stand alone title, because I had no idea when I began to write it whether I or it was ever going to be published. (Fun fact: by comparison, StarMark started of as a series of three books but came together as one complete story.)

But in my head, the original story of this particular series was always much bigger than one book. There were five regions on the island where the story's set, and I wanted my main character to visit each of them in turn. Each visit to a new region would present a fresh adventure for the main character while continuing to expose them to a formidable enemy.

Incidentally, I was told by an agent in a 1-2-1 once that there was no point in writing this series as five books. I should just have three, because he said so. I smiled sweetly, bit my tongue (Harry Potter has seven, books, so what's wrong with longer series?) and carried on anyway.

When I read the articles on series writing, I was relieved to see that my approach - to plan the whole series pretty much up front - was actually a Good Thing to do, especially for fantasy. It means there's one BIG story arc which overlays however many books, but underneath are multiple smaller story arcs, with each book finishing off at least one. This is different to the kind of series where each book presents a complete and separate incident for the same central character - something like Agatha Christie's Poirot, for example.

So where am I up to with book number two of five? The outline is planned - I know what's going to happen and to who, and where the story finishes ready to move on into book three - and I've begun to type it up.

Already, one difficulty is deciding how much book one story to repeat in book two, so that readers new to the series are informed, but those who've read book one won't be going over too much old ground. It's a fine balance, and will probably have to be tested at the beta reading stage by those who have read The Mage of Merjan and by some who haven't.

I've also noticed a new addition to the Doubt Demon family since I've begun the typing up. It's only a little fella, but he keeps whispering 'what's the point of writing the second book if you don't know whether the first will ever be published?'
? ?  ? ? ? ?  

I can't give him the answer, so I'll ignore him as much as I can at the moment. And in the meantime, I'll carry on writing the continuation of Tilda's story in the hope that someone, somewhere, will like the concept enough to publish the entire series.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Going Deep...

Point of View. It's the view that you , as the writer, choose to tell your reader the story from. (If you've got this far and have no idea what I'm on about, check out this post on The Itch of Writing for the basics about point of view).

When I wrote Granny Rainbow, one of my first readers said they reminded her of Enid Blyton. (Which I like to think was a compliment). And bearing in mind how many Enid Blyton stories I read as a child, then it makes sense that I would stick to what I knew.

'Deep' POV is something rather modern by comparison. This article 'What is Deep Point of View?'  describes how the reader is immersed in the character - seeing only what the character sees, knows only what they know, feels only what they feel...

Now, I thought that this was pretty much the same as 'showing' rather than 'telling' in a story. Which, I am pleased to note, I do a lot of already. For me, finding the deep point of view is a staged process. I often find myself drafting a 'told' story until there is sufficient shape to it that I can see the whole course of the novel. Then - and only then - do I jump into my MC's head and 'go deep' into their POV, rewriting the story as my character would be experiencing it.

It makes me wonder whether there is a crossover with psychic distance, too - or if, in fact, the deep POV which the author of the original article refers to IS, in fact, psychic distance and not POV at all... Have a look at this second blog of Emma Darwin's, see what you think. I reckon deep POV is about level 4 or 5 on the psychic distance scale?

When you're writing like that though, it's a fine balance between immersing your reader deep in your character's experience, and not overwhelming them with a character so alien to themselves, they can't relate to the (possible) brain-dump you're inflicting on them on behalf of your character. It can take a while for that deep character to 'click' with the reader - and some readers may be so alienated by the way the story is presented, they don't read on. I know - I've stopped reading certain books myself because I couldn't get to grips with how deeply I was expected to be in the characters' world view. Trainspotting was one...

Some of my favourite recent reads written with - I think - this deep POV or close psychic distance, are Home by Amanda Berriman, The Night Rainbow by Claire King, Red Sister by Mark Lawrence, and Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracey Chevalier.

Oh - and if you want to try one of mine which has a deeper POV, opt for Kingstone.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Diary of a Rookie Silversmith - Definitely Part 4

Well, if you've kept up with my rookie silversmithing so far, you'll have covered Parts 1, 2, 3, and almost-4, and are probably wondering how I'm getting on, because I was this close *holds finger and thumb a hairs breadth apart* to getting my pendant finished.


All I had left to do was the setting of the cubic zirconia - but boy, is stone setting HARD. D'you remember this picture?

Well, that empty little circle - the bezel - is where the stone was going to sit. What I did not realise is that the outer walls had to be thinned to a 'knife edge' thickness before I could put the stone in. I was terrified of taking too much off and ending up with a portion of no wall at all, so it took me ages to get it right.

When I did, the faceted crystal sat inside, and it was then a simple case (!) of pushing the thinned walls inwards with a bezel pusher until the stone was secure, then push over the top a little bit. It takes an awful lot of strength to do this well - and I'd not helped myself (of course) by doing all of this on a domed base, because it didn't sit flat on the workbench. Lex came to my rescue to help secure the stone, (with a rather worrying moment when the domed base deformed under the pressure - eek! But she managed to reshape it again - phew.) Then I just had to finish off.

I didn't manage to stop the stone rattling, though, because it wasn't a tight enough fit... Lex said it was secure - no risk of it dropping out - so I decided to leave it as it was.

Next - burnishing. This uses a lovely smooth tool that you run round the outside edge of the bezel to smooth away any slight imperfections. From this close up, you can see my setting's not entirely smooth, but I am happy with it.

And  - ta-da! - here is the absolutely finished pendant...

There's a couple of things I would perhaps have done differently - I think I should have made the central tree trunk smoother, so there was more of a contrast between it and the textured background. Or maybe given it a satin finish... And I would have left such an ambitious project until I was a bit more familiar with all the techniques I've been learning, instead of jumping straight in with something so technically difficult!

But it is finished, I love it, and I need to find a length of thong now to hang it on.

As to my other project... remember my ring?

It was a proper circle when I soldered it (look back at part 1 if you want to see how uncircular my first pinkie ring attempt was!) and last week I added the tube setting for the sapphire cabachon. 

It sounded simple enough - cut a short length of 3.8mm tube, and solder to the ring. have to cut a longer length of tube than you think, because you of course you saw the tube in a (hopefully) straight line, which won't sit well on the curve of the ring. So there's a bit of filing involved, with a rounded file of a similar diameter to the finished ring, until the tube sits without any gaps on your ring. THEN you can solder. Which I did, successfully. (Hooray - finally getting the hang of it!)

Needs pickling - hence the matt and brown-black areas

The next step is to file the tube down until it's a depth that comes about two thirds of the way up the cabachon. I had to be careful to work from a side view here, to avoid taking off too much.

After that, I had to open out the tube by 0.2mm so the cabachon sat comfortably inside, before carefully filing the outside of the tube back to that same knife edge I'd done before. (I realised while doing this that one of the issues I had setting the pendant stone was that I hadn't reduced the thickness of the entire bezel wall - just the top part - because I misguidedly thought that as it was just the top I was pushing in towards the stone, that was the only bit which needed thinning. This time, I did the depth of the bezel, and it made the setting SO much easier.)

Anyhow, to cut a long story short - the cabachon was set, and then I started to sand and file around the shoulders of the stone to remove a few solder marks and make everything smooth and lovely. I didn't get it completely finished; I have some sanding homework to do this week so I can polish next...

See those saw marks? Need to sand them out.

And that big blob of internal solder will have to be sorted, too

Couldn't resist trying the ring on though! You can see that it needs polishing still, and I'm wearing it here on my right hand, but ultimately will wear it on my left from May onwards, because that's when Mr Squidge and I celebrate our silver wedding anniversary... 

And for the last week of my course? I have an idea for a very simple bangle bracelet which mainly involves forming and soldering, so I might just get the ring polished and a bangle made...

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Novel finished, so time to quilt!

Writing news first...

I've finished Rurik-Reeka-Tilda. Hooray! It's taken me almost ten years to really get to grips with this story and make it something I'm really proud of. I sent it out to a few beta readers for a teccy review, and the feedback is about 98% positive. There are always going to be a few niggles and glitches to put right, or consideration to be given to plot points, but on the whole, I'm pretty chuffed with it.

Two out of the three readers returned their comments very quickly - they'd read the novel within 24 hours, so I came up with a new word to describe this...


That is, a measure of how much your reader keeps turning the page - and I'm pleased to say that the Mage of Merjan (yes, the story now has a title) seems to score highly in that regard. (At which point Squidge breathes a huge sigh of relief).

Pageturneyness is second only to Unputdownableness in the authors eyes...

But, having finished the writing, I've given myself a break before I embark on continuing to write the second book in the series. So I went on a one-day Mini-quilting course at Quorn Country Crafts.

Here's what a mini-quilt looks like;

This is a sample of what's achievable, made with one inch squares.
Not for the beginner in this technique! Love the corners on this mini-quilt. 

We were going to make some blocks from one and a half inch squares, ending up with maybe a couple of the designs from this selection;

The block to the left above the blue based block is the one I did...

First task - choose our colours. I'd seen the sample blocks, and decided to try to make some placemats for our new kitchen, which, if you remember, is grey units, black worktops and yellow on certain walls. I had quite a few bits and pieces from both my own and Squidgeling J's projects, so here's what I took with me.

We started by cutting freezer paper into one-and-a-half inch squares (this stuff is like magic - sticks to your fabric when you iron it on and enables really precise cutting). Then, we cut one-and-a-half inch strips of four fabrics and a background colour, which all had to be cut into one-and-a-half inch squares.

3 x four colours, 16 x background

Have to say, I'm not known for being a tidy worker...

For the triangles - or half squares - we used a different tactic. Four-and-a-half inch strips of each of the four colours were sewn to one long strip of background... Opened out and with the seams pressed, we then applied the freezer paper at an angle across the seam so we got perfect triangles of each colour.

Prepping the half square strips to save on waste

Loads more cutting followed, until you had the half-triangle squares, then you could peel off the paper.

Then the fun part. In the next pic, you can just about see the grid we worked on. We cut enough iron-on interfacing to cover 6 x 6 squares. Then, we very - VERY - carefully positioned our patterns of squares over the grid, taking care not to cover the black lines. A bit like when you get a box on a form for your signature, and it says 'Do not go outside of the box'...

These were then carried - oh, so carefully - to the ironing board and ironed into place, with paper above and below to prevent any of the glue transferring onto the iron.

First block of squares stuck to the interfacing

Now, the fun part - actually stitching! You sew a quarter inch seam on the back for every row of squares, cut through the interfacing, iron open, turn 90 degrees and repeat.

Front of block after the first set of seams

Uncut seams on the back

Amazingly, the block shrinks by one and a half inches both ways - and you end up with this;

Finished block!

You'll notice the edge squares look slightly rectangular - that's because they still have a quarter inch seam allowance for the border to be added. I was really impressed though - my triangles were all pretty much perfect!

It took me a while to get to grips with the basic technique, but after that, I was on a roll, and prepped and stuck down three further blocks. I stuck to the same basic pattern, but varied the fabrics in each one while sticking to a mix of grey, black and yellow.

 Today, I've finished them off;

Four blocks, ready to be bordered, backed and bound

It's a great technique, providing you are careful with your ironing and don't melt the interfacing. And get your positions right on the grid. And get all your squares cut up front if you are doing multiple blocks.

The results the other ladies got were fabulous too - some amazing mixes of colours, and using a source book, lots of different pattern possibilities too. I wish I'd had time to take pictures of some of the others... It works best with plain colours or small prints without large areas of space between the printing, and you can blend or contrast the colours to give different emphasis to the block pattern. Huge thanks to Jill for sharing the technique with us and for giving me yet another project to complete...

I'm wondering whether, when I get a chance (!) I can do this kind of thing with lots of different coloured fabrics. A whole block of shades of blue, for example, or reds, or turquoise, perhaps in patterns, perhaps not, and then put those together into a big quilt...

Think I need to write another novel between now and then, though, or the Mage of Merjan will never be joined by the other four books!