Les Semaines

November 18, 2007

what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: old journal

 §

We Are Still in the Writing

Yeah, back to work. Back to the second novel. No rest for the wicked. I have to say, that it feels good to be back actively rather than only back-brain working on it.

The Canada Council poetry manuscript definitely has a solid start. I wrote a bunch of poems at the start of my grant time, but recently have been concentrating on research as there are a lot of things I want to look at. I am really lucky to have a mother who knows where to find a lot of West Coast stuff--she's doing research for me amidst doing her own. She emails me with story tracks and tells me what she's found. Our friend John who lives a few blocks from her is coming down to visit over U.S. Thanksgiving, and has agreed to carry down some paper from her for me. I've also been reading all kinds of bits and pieces of Scottish folklore. I have over a shelf full of books about it, so I have a lot of reading to do in a short time, which is a problem for someone who would rather read fiction. I indulged myself and used some of the grant money to buy a set of Childe's English and Scottish Popular Ballads, which I figure will be great for both this project and for the novels, since they're ballad-based. There a new and wonderful edition out, but only three out of five volumes are completed, so I got those three and used copies of the last two volumes. Before that I made do with an all-in-one volume edition.

I feel like I would love to wrap up my Scottish travelogue poetry manuscript, The Walk She Takes, but since there's a deadline for the Canada Council manuscript, it is taking precedence. I know I'm close to finishing this one, but I do have a few more poems to write for it, and I'm just not focused on them right now, even to figure out which poems I want to write.

Jim also has a manuscript going out in the world, and is deep into the start of a new one.

Karen's preparing her synopsis. Barry's back into his novel. It's all good for the monthly writing retreat gang.

Karen and I write together once in person and a couple of times separately with phone calls at either end of the sessions each week, then once a month the four of us get together for day-long writing retreats. At the retreats we writer for forty-five minutes, take a fifteen-minute break, then repeat, taking a break for lunch. Then we have dinner together and watch a movie, which we take turns choosing because we all have such different tastes. We decided that was way more efficient than the hour-long sessions we would have standing in the video rental store together trying to come to some kind of agreement. So far we've all enjoyed (sometimes more than others, of course) seeing the movies the others have picked.

Twice before in the fall we've gone for longer retreats down at Rockaway Beach in Oregon, but that didn't work out this fall. The weekend's session was in lieu of that, and the timing was perfect for me to really get my head back into this novel. Hooray!

last week's thinking and doing § next week's thinking and doing

Listening

Busy week, but did have time to create Ectophiles' Guide entries for recent favourites Jesca Hoop and nearly finish one for Bats for Lashes. I loved both of their debut albums.

last week's listening § next week's listening

Reading

Jane Yolen & Robert J. Harris' young adult novel, The Rogues is the fourth of their quartet of Scottish historical novels. This is another intense story, this about a teenager from a family that for centuries has lived on a croft in the glen. Then a new laird inherits the property they live on, and joins what history calls The Clearances--tossing all their tenant farmers off their lands in order to run sheep on the land, which was much more profitable. The Clearances were often violent--people evicted without warning, with no recourse and only very rarely with any compensation. Here the boy returns to his burned and ruined home to try to find his family's only valuable in order to give them a better chance on life but it is stolen from him and he barely survives. To try to get it back he joins in with a man known as the Rogue, an ex-soldier who now survives by hiding whiskey stills in the hills and selling his wares to the crofters. A fascinating piece of history and an interesting hero. Jane Yolen's books are always a treat.

Janet Lee Carey's young adult medieval fantasy Dragon's Keep is about a princess whose family has been in exile for generations. She is the prophesied one, the one who will end the long war--something that for her mother is the most important thing in the world. However, the princess was born with a dragon's claw instead of a ring finger--so she's not perfect enough to marry the King of England, which the queen believes is her daughter's fate, so for the princess's entire life they conceal her hands. It becomes the custom that only a husband will see his wife's hands. When after years of predation a knight manages to kill a female dragon, her partner dragon comes to mourn and rescue her eggs--and takes the princess as well. This is a twisty story, and follows the princess's growing maturity and awareness of the world around her. Very nicely constructed and a good read.

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Writing

Back to working on novel #2. I've been re-reading the story so far, taking novel, synopsizing. We spent most of the day Saturday and Sunday afternoon in a writing retreat. For more info, see above.

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Retrospective: old journal

June 16, 1994
Orkney: Kirkwall, Mainland Tour

Jim's Journal

Used by permission; Neile doesn't seem to have kept a journal this week.

Got up 7:00. Breakfast at 8:00 of potato cakes, scrambled eggs, O.J., toast and teas. Caught 9:00 bus to Kirkwall. Got there around 10:00. Shopped. Neile and her mother got sweaters. I got a Celtic pinkie ring. Made reservations for Go-Orkney tour bus after lunch [1]. Saw St. Magnus Church, built in the 11th century. Wonderful old tombstones from 15th and 16th century along inside wall of church. Most had inscriptions translated. This church was also burial for John Roe, explorer.

On the way into Kirkwall past Maeshowe, which we'll visit when we get car on Monday. Landscape around is rolling flat farmland with stone fences (centuries old) separating huge tracts of land. Cows and sheep mixed together. Low cement house among the stone cottages. Off in distance could see Hay with highest point in Orkneys. Narrow roads. Stopped (bus) lots of times to pick up women and kids on way to Kirkwall.

Had lunch of potato and cheese, with tomato, and scone and tea at the Coffee Shop. After lunch toured Tankerness House Museum. Had good info on Neolithic, Pictish, Viking history of islands. Had display of Viking graveyard discovered in the late 80s that went here rather than to Edinburgh.

Caught Go Orkney bus at 2:30. First stop farmhouse where we stopped and toured house, barns, saw how they lived for centuries. Heat in mean hearth by peat. Smoky. Beds in boxes (closets) against winter chills. Threshing areas for gain cattle/sheep barns and house stalls all low-roofed buildings. Some had slate roofs, others thatched.

Next stop Brough of Birsay, which we couldn't get to because of high tides--walkway from parking lot under sea water. On the way David Lee told us that Vikings (ie. Danes) gave up Orkneys and Shetlands as part of marriage contract to settle disputes between Scotland and Denmark back in the 14th century. Chided Jens about this!

Walked around tidal pools and rocks. Neile gathering sea shells. With binoculars could see otters playing off shore.

Third and final stop was Broch of Gurness, a 12th Century fortification used by Iron Age Orkney people who during climate change needed proctection from farmers displaced off land. When climate changed farmers in higher lands found their soil turning to peat. Tired to raid/steal land from farms closer to tea. Some clever souls built brochs where farmers could shelter during raids and made farmers pay "protection" tithes for use of safe havens. Also next to site were shamrock houses, built by Picts a couple of centuries later. Original broch had beehive shape with inner and outer walls of stone grass-thatched roof. Wall also around houses for people who sheltered in broch during raids--all that's left are stone walls and well. Place rediscovered by a painter in the 1930s who accidently poked his chair into the soil and saw the first stone. Place now fully excavated. Walked around site for a half-hour. Clear blue sky. Beautiful turquoise waters. Lazy wind. Warm day.

Go Orkney bus dropped us off at Finstown near church. Caught Peace's bus back to Stromness at 5:45. Had dinner in room at B&B, odds and sods with Neile, Jens, John, Shelagh. Decided to do all-day tour to Rousay. In bed by 9:30.

Notes:
1. I know, a tour bus. But I'd taken Go-Orkney tours the first time I was in Orkney in 1992, and they were done by the amazingly knowledgeable David Lee and were both fascinating and fun. So I recommended them. I don't know if they're still as good, as I believe David Lee sold the company. There has to be at least one good bus tour group, right?

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