October 2008

Necklaces all up for sale now

by Suw on October 30, 2008

All the necklaces that I made over the summer are now all up and for sale via PayPal. Yay!

There are 37 available right now, and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to sell all of them before Christmas. I have a few beads left, so if you see something you like and want a bespoke piece let me know. I think I’ve figured out how to make something without aggravating my wrists, but if you order bespoke it might take a while for me to get it together, so bear with me!

So what are you waiting for? Go do your Chrimbo shopping!

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Mr Neil on piracy, obscurity and slash

by Suw on October 29, 2008

Last Friday, Mr Neil, Patron of the Open Rights Group, gave a talk to 200 fans and ORG supporters entitled Piracy vs. Obscurity (a reference to Tim O’Reilly’s quote, “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy”). You’re probably wondering why it has taken me so long to report back – after all, we all know I’m a bit of a fan. Well, the delay is partly because I was waiting for the audio recording of the evening find its way online, and partly just because I’m really just a bit crap. The audio’s finally up, and if this little widget works the way it’s supposed to you’ll be able to listen to Neil right here. Or, if you prefer, you can download an MP3.

The sound is a little faint, and you can’t hear the questions in the Q&A, but you can hear Neil, which is the most important bit. For someone who’d stepped off a plane at noon that day, spent the afternoon doing interviews, the early evening in a graveyard waiting for the light to fail enough so that the photographer’s assistant could run about in the background whilst he stood very still, and had entirely failed to find five minutes to plan what he was going to say, Neil’s talk went beyond merely coherent (a feat in itself with the kind of jetlag you get coming from there to here) and was actually very insightful, intelligent and, above all, funny. Neil’s sense of timing is impeccable – somewhere in a parallel universe he’s known not as a novelist or comic book writer, but the UK’s finest stand-up comedian.

I would particularly encourage any of my not-yet-published author friends to listen, particularly to the question, which you can’t hear but have to infer, about whether or not it’s damaging to put unpublished works online. I agree completely with Neil that you really need to get your stuff out there, that getting read is the most important thing and that the chances of you either having your stuff nicked or putting off a publisher is vanishingly small.

One question I wanted to ask, but didn’t, was whether Neil might one day release something under a Creative Commons license that would allow derivative works. He already has a very generous attitude towards students wanting to make films of his short stories, which is that if they pay a peppercorn fee (he mentioned the sum of one of your American dollars), then they can adapt a story. I think that’s an admirable stance to take.

But I have to admit that I would walk over fields of broken glass to be allowed to record and share an audio book version of something – anything – by Neil. I am currently reading Stardust to Kevin, who has seen the film but not read the book. Indeed, Kev’s never really read anything by Neil – I don’t think he’d even heard of Neil til the first time I started gushing about him – so it’s nice to be able to read Stardust whilst he’s away. We are, of course, having to both time- and space-shift it, so I am recording it in sections of about 10 pages at a time, and then shoving it up on a private wiki that only we can access. It is huge amounts of fun to read aloud, and I really wish I could read something of Neil’s that I could legitimately share with more people than just my husband.

(As a digression, some books are fabulous to read aloud, and some really aren’t. Stardust flows beautifully off the tongue and I hardly ever stumble. I introduced Kev to Terry Pratchett too, and that’s a joy to read out loud. But Neal Stephenson’s Cobweb, on the other hand, is not only the worst thing he’s ever written, it’s also nigh on the worst thing I’ve ever read: long and overly complex sentences turn into interminable paragraphs which leave one wanting to set the damn thing afire rather than continue forcing all those words through your poor, beleaguered brain.)

Finally, if you want to hear more of Mr Neil, then I highly recommend that you watch the readings of his latest novel, The Graveyard Book. Not only is it a wonderful book, it’s also beautifully read and a joy to listen to.

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Richard Dawkins is a bit of a divisive figure, in my opinion. As an atheist, I sometimes get frustrated with the rabid way he attacks religion. But he’s now losing all credibility as he becomes a parody of himself. This, from The Telegraph:

The prominent atheist [Dawkins] is stepping down from his post at Oxford University to write a book aimed at youngsters in which he will warn them against believing in “anti-scientific” fairytales.

Prof Hawkins said: “The book I write next year will be a children’s book on how to think about the world, science thinking contrasted with mythical thinking.

“I haven’t read Harry Potter, I have read Pullman who is the other leading children’s author that one might mention and I love his books. I don’t know what to think about magic and fairy tales.”

Prof Dawkins said he wanted to look at the effects of “bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards”.

“I think it is anti-scientific – whether that has a pernicious effect, I don’t know,” he told More4 News.

“I think looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious affect on rationality, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s something for research.”

I find it really quite hard to understand where Dawkins is coming from. Children are very good at sifting truth from fiction – they often seem to see more truth than us adults do – and I have yet to come across an adult who still believes in Santa, gingerbread houses or Baba Yaga. I can’t see that there is a problem to be solved, other than one created in Dawkin’s head.

Now, I’m all for a book that teaches kids about science and scientific thinking, and which helps parents understand how to explain things in terms that children will understand. (I still remember my Dad answering my question “Why is the sky blue?” with a detailed and scientifically correct explanation that went right over my head. It was some time before I got that question answered satisfactorily.) And if that’s all this book is, then it will be a valuable addition to my bookshelf.

But the idea that fairytales affect children’s ability to be rational seems absurd. Does an appreciation of fiction affect our ability to examine the world scientifically? Do scientists eschew the novel? I don’t think so. Children hold various beliefs at various times in their childhood, and the details vary from child to child. Some kids learn quite young that the Tooth Fairy isn’t real, others use impeccable logic to prove that it is their best friends’ father. In my case, whilst other children were out with their ponies or watching TV, I was reading Heinlein, Asimov, EE Doc Smith, and watching the Space Shuttle take off. I very distinctly remember the moment that I realised that there wasn’t, in fact, a Moon Base.

Treating children as miniature adults is a mistake. Children are little learning machines, as far as I can work out, and they absorb information in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are little scientists: “Oh, look, if I let go of this ball, it always falls to the floor. Note how it never falls upwards! Gosh, later in life I’ll learn that this is called Gravity.” But they don’t just learn through experience and experimentation. They also learn through listening to stories.

Fairytales are about morality, ethics, and the consequences of our actions. How else can you illustrate to a child that if she disobeys and strays from the path, she may be eaten by a big bad wolf? Or that if you lie to get attention, one day you’ll be in real need of help and no one will come. Or that the world is sometimes inscrutable, not at all amenable to explanation, and possibly even terrifying? You could her find out the hard way, or you could tell her stories.

Science has no morals. It’s only the way we use it that is moral or not. And it’s not that great for teaching us about the consequences of our actions. “If you put this little chunk of metal into that tub of water it will explode” doesn’t quite teach the same lesson as “If you do bad things you will be punished.”

But fairytales also teach us to use our imagination, a skill sorely under-appreciated. It’s not just useful for making up more stories, but also in day-to-day life, for picturing how things might be if we take certain actions. Imaginations are very helpful, and they need food to grow: Fairytales. I cannot imagine how dull life would be without fairytales. Several of my friends would be out of a job, for starters, and I would be one ambition poorer.

There are many things that Dawkins could do to make the world a better place, and to help communicate scientific principles to both children and adults alike. Having a pop at fairytales is not one of them.

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Writing is rewriting

by Suw on October 28, 2008

Sage and useful advice from young Mr Holland-Keen here, about the art of the rewrite.

I especially like the bit where he takes his clothes off, and then the bit where he shows off his knees. Do try to keep calm, ladies.

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Wrist progress

by Suw on October 27, 2008

Things are, at last, improving!

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Valuable advice for writers

by Suw on October 27, 2008

Whether you are taking part in NaNoWriMo or not, Mr Neil has some valuable words of advice. I blog this not just because there may be people out there who need it, but because in a few weeks time, I’m going to need it myself. I’m not doing NaNoWriMo, but I am writing again. Which means I am going to hit a crappy patch and am going to need someone’s sage advice to carry me through it.

And, by the way, I’m up to 14 hand written pages in my FOWA journal, which may not sound like much, but it’s enough to feel really very good.

FOWA journal

I’m writing long-hand with my lovely LSE Parker fountain pen and very bad handwriting. I can’t begin to explain how happy this makes me. And it’s not the fleeting happiness of a lolcat, but a deep, abiding, existential happiness that comes from allowing oneself to be who one truly is.

Anyway, enough of that. I have a scene with a kitten to write.

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More thoughts on daydreaming

by Suw on October 25, 2008

I had a conversation on Twitter this morning that segued nicely from my video last night about daydreaming. I hope those that took part won’t mind me replicating some of their Tweets here:

dominiccampbell: Trying to remember what life was like before being online 24/7. I think it was nice.

Suw: @dominiccampbell it was nice. was talking to @sniffles last night about how all-consuming connectedness might be stiffling my writing

dominiccampbell: @suw so true. my reading of truly interesting thoughtful pieces and ability to write much in-depth and meaningful has definitely declined.

Suw: @dominiccampbell i’m wondering about how to recreate daydreaming time. perhaps turning the net off completely for a while each day?

dominiccampbell: @suw its why I swim so much. its the only place where my head gets the chance to meander. now just need waterproof pen and paper…

anniemole: @suw You don’t travel on the Tube a lot. I get some of my best thinking done on it, whenever I get a seat. Armpits aren’t too inspiring 😉

rachelclarke: @suw i do that. Close computer, tv/music on low for white noise, close eyes and think

Suw: @dominiccampbell i go to the gym, but tend to find myself watching TV there instead. :/ @anniemole bizarre that i would miss the tube, eh?

stephtara: @Suw I like going out for short walks without my mobile phone, and just stare at what’s around me — or lie down for a while and meditate

Suw: @rachelclarke that’s a good idea. @stephtara walks here not that nice. need to do my AT lying down exercises tho’, so should do that daily

bru: @Suw sounds like a plan. hard to commit to it though #daydreaming

Suw: @bru like “daily writing” plans, very hard to commit to. but i am supposed to lie down in a specific way for my back, so i can do it then.

vanderwal: @Suw I often step away from the compuer & turn on stereo & sit before it to unfocus

Sometimes I feel a bit like my life is the tail that wags the dog, and despite a number of attempts to take charge of wagging my own tail, life still seems to be something that happens at me. Partly this is project proliferation. There are so many exciting and interesting ideas out there in the world, and I just can’t resist saying yes to them. And, of course, there’s the whole “focusing on getting some work in” thing, which does rather tend to preoccupy.

But my conversation with Mr Neil last night, and the exchange above in Twitter, made me think about is how to find daydreaming time in my life. I’m not about to start suddenly commuting, but I remember recently talking to someone (I forget who) who also works from home and starts the work day with a walk around the block and ends it with same.

That’s a valuable ritual that demarcates work time from leisure time. It would also provide an opportunity for my mind to zone out a bit. The drawback is that where I live isn’t particularly lovely to walk through and we’re coming in to winter and I really can’t imagine myself having the desire to go out in the cold rain if I don’t absolutely have to.

A more likely possibility is to do the one exercise that my Alexander Technique teacher gave me, which is to lie down on the floor, knees crooked, head resting on a book (pillow verboten, apparently), for 20 minutes. It’s not supposed to be a mediation, it’s about allowing my body to release tension. Sounds to me like a good opportunity for me to daydream a bit, if I can mange to keep my mind focused on fiction, rather than planning emails, solving work problems or worrying about the economy.

Hopefully this will then brew up a bit of passion and fire. The big problem I have with writing schedules is that they are rather putting the cart before the horse. If I have a story in my head then it will force me to write, and I will find the time because the story won’t let me get away with not expressing it. Sitting down at a prescribed time to write without a story already in mind just emphasises the lack, and results in self-doubt.

I had a great time walking up Offa’s Dyke, because the stories sprang to mind very easily. I feel frustrated that I haven’t had the time since then to really work on them. That’s something I need to change, and I’m going to focus on that over the next few weeks. I have a couple of short stories that I want to write, and I am going to get at least one done and up on this site before the end of November.

I was thinking about NaNoWriMo, but if I’m honest, I don’t have the wherewithall right now to commit to writing a couple of thousand words a day, and it would be pretty awful to try and fail. Instead, I’m going to commit to working on one short story over the next four weeks, currently entitled The Revenge of the Books of Hay.

(And yes, I will look after my wrists whilst I write! I’m not sure dictation will work – I just find that I think through my fingers much better. I’ll just have to cut out something else instead.)

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The importance of daydreaming

by Suw on October 24, 2008

I had a chat to Mr Neil tonight about daydreaming, and it reminded me how very important it is to have interstitial time where I can just let my thoughts freewheel.

(Still not entirely comfortable with video instead of text as my medium, but I guess I’ll get used to it. Update on the wrists is that I am still having problems, although in recent days things have improved. I am due to get steroid injections in two weeks, but I’m really hoping that we’ll be able to avoid that if we can. Still, maybe this CTS isn’t a bad thing to have happened after all.)

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Mae’r Guardian yn edrych am “Temporary Welsh Speaking Online Content Editor – To £21k – London“.

Mae’n edrych yn ddiddorol, yn enwedig y bit ‘ma (fy emphasis fi):

The Role
In this exciting brand new project, as the Online Content Editor you will be uploading new and updated content, checking quality and accuracy, ensuring the company’s style guide is adhered to and keeping to tight deadlines. Whilst maintaining a thorough understanding of the style guide you will be participating in regular forums, relating to style and error feedback from the team. As the Online Content Editor you will be liaising with the production manager, producing weekly and monthly reports. The key aspect to this role is using consistent Welsh language at all times. The web project will all be in Welsh.

Rhaid imi gadw llygad ar hon. Rhowch gwybod i mi os dach chi’n gwybod be’ sy’n digwydd!

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Are you a seeker?

by Suw on October 14, 2008

There are clues, if you can find them. And there are things to be found, if you can puzzle through the clues. And there are three Nokia phones to be won if you do well.

Are you a seeker?

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Money as debt

October 13, 2008

This is a fascinating video, one very pertinent to the current economic situation. It’s the sort of video that makes you wonder why you never asked the question “Where does all the money come from?” The answer is not what you think. (Via Euan.)

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Rhwybeth pwysig

October 12, 2008

Mae gen i rywbeth pwysig i ddweud, ond bydda i’n dweud y peth unwaith yn unig: negatif dim pwynt un tri dim tri dau tri. Pob lwc efo’ch ymchwil!

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Wrist update

October 8, 2008

First night with splints, and first Alexander Technique session. (I recorded this last night, but Viddler didn’t encode it in time for me to post it here.)

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Bad news and good news

October 6, 2008

The bad news is that I have carpal tunnel syndrome. The good news is that we’ve caught it early and the prognosis for a full recovery is good!

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