Sunday, November 30, 2008

Assessing November

I am finally getting to the end of this series of posts. I swear I won't use this stupid title in the year. What was I thinking when I started? Why assessing month x, as if I were writing a damn report? You all know by now that the most notable thing about November is that I finished my book and I sent it to the publisher for editing and that's all there is to say for a month that was, with the exception of the past few days, intense writing only. Now back to London...

Liberty is one of my favourite places, especially so at Christmas because the selection of decorations is always slightly different from the usual suspects found across the nation from John Lewis to Harrods. But this is not all. I've often walked its wooden boards dreaming of living there, not in the shop itself, but in the house that it looks it could have been in the distant past. Yet, despite its mock-Tudor look, both inside and outside, Liberty was always a shop. Its current premises were in fact built at the beginning of the 20th century and have as much to do with the Tudors as I have with a size 6. I bought some vintage-inspired glass ornaments and spent quite some times in haberdashery, where I fantasised about quilting now that I have finally figured out how to use my sewing machine.

There was more to London this weekend than just shopping or indeed eating (at Laduree of course, but also at the Patisserie Valerie, at Zia Teresa, at Fortnum's Parlour and others). There was also this:

But if you too have seen The Mousetrap, you will know that I cannot reveal who has done it after all...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas Windows

I have a very soft spot for two very specific types of mail that come through my letterbox: the Studio Catalogue and the Harrods Magazine. When I mention this to anyone willing to listen, this anyone is baffled, if not shocked, by this coupling, for Studio and Harrods could not be more different if they tried.

The former is the purveyor of all throw-away cheap and nasty tack, Christmassy or otherwise, including revolting boiled sweets of the basest sort and vulgar willie-and-tits-shaped chocolates, while the latter sells everything for everyone everywhere, provided this everyone has a job trading commodities such as oil (the black, not the olive, sort) or weapons and can therefore afford essentials such as £1m snooker tables or £ 18,000 Swarovski-encrusted table footballs.

Still, Harrods is one of my favourite places and the one that has the very best sale in town if not in the world. Having shopped at Saks, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Harvey, Selfridges and everywhere else all the way down to Lord and Taylor, John Lewis and Macy’s, and having read the past ten years of French, British, American and Italian Vogues, I really do know my market. This year, the Christmas windows pay homage to the latest Bond, James Bond outing in Quantum of Solace (nice title by the way, not that it means anything to me), with glamourous Bond girls languidly draped over desirable objects, wearing very gorgeous dresses, among typical Harrods super-lux settings.

Yet, for all of its refined bling (a bit of an oxymoron this one, but not quite if you know Harrods), my personal award of Best Christmas Windows in London goes, yet again, to Fortnum and Mason. Fortnum has a real knack for creating magical displays that tell a story. I recall their fabulous Alice in Wonderland windows for example, but this year they have surpassed their own greatness, with an icy take on the Snow Queen having children and adults alike stopping agog, ooohing and aahing with their mouths open. And I’ll tell you something else... I wasn’t the only one taking pics of these.

Friday, November 28, 2008

And So To London...

Finally, not a tacky shop in sight, at least not in Knightsbridge anyway.

Latest Loot

When I feel a little hard-done by for whatever reason, I buy books. And also when I do not feel hard-done by, I buy books anyway. Seeing that I am going to London this afternoon, I thought that an Amazon order was due and so here's this week's picks:

Now that my book is finished, I've already started thinking about what to write next, provided my first oeuvre doesn't tank with a bang. You may not know of Watchmen unless you are, at least in passing, into graphic novels, but the movie adaptation is finally coming next year and I have an inkling that I may be able to squeeze some book-worthy ideas out of both graphic novel and movie itself. You'll hear a lot more about this book in the coming months so brace yourself.

Ripailles is a fantastic book about classic French cuisine and one that, like many other books, I was inclined to judge by its very thick padded cover and thick mat pages. I know that French cuisine isn't exactly vegetarian-friendly but I can safely state that I do not care. I have plenty of books about cooking that are not vegetarian books and I am all the better for them. Widen your horizons, that's what I say.

Vampire Knight is the first in a series of Japanese manga picture novels, something that reminds me of the fantastic manga cartoons I used to watch as a child. And considering that the conclusion of my PhD is still sort of absent without leave, I am certain that this little volume and many similar others will come in handy. That's how I justify its price anyway.

The Second Sex needs no introduction, nor stilted paragraph. I need it for something else I'm writing and I think that it will go very well indeed with What Is A Woman? by Toril Moi, some other excellent text I am using for work.

Yet, for all of the shrieking excitement at the delivery of the parcel only yesterday, I am actually taking Christmas Stories to London with me. It has the most lovely robin on the cover, a silk red bookmark, looks intelligent, doesn't weight a ton and feels great in my hands. Not that I would dream of judging a book by these attributes mind you...

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Although I do not dislike it, I think that Horlicks is for wusses and honey and hot milk for Goldilocks. The Ultimate Nightcap is the one that follows, so fabulous and grown-up it could be mistaken for a cocktail. But then again, cocktails too are for wusses, aren't they? I am a neat kind of gal.

1 shot Tia Maria
1 shot Baileys Irish Cream (do not bother with imitations!)
150ml hot chocolate
half a tsp Golden Syrup

I am not going to discuss the hot chocolate topic this time, even though it is important to note that you really ought to do justice to the spirits by using the very best hot chocolate you can find, by which I do not mean some poxy powder but one made of chocolate itself. How to thicken it with cornflour is also for another time, but if you have access to Ciobar, you won't need the flour at all. What else can I say? Spirits at bottom of cup, hot chocolate with Golden Syrup (or partially inverted sugar, if you haven't got the Golden Syrup) on top and so to bed.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Music and Lyrics - Contains Spoilers

If you were under forty years of age in the eighties, it is extremely likely that at some point in the decade you found yourself reciting illuminating pieces of surrealist poetry such as wake me up before you go-go, don’t leave me hanging around like a jo-jo. I know that I did, even though I was not tall enough to reach the front door’s peep hole and could barely tell cats from dogs.

One of my cousins was particularly smitten with George Michael and to this day, every time I see him, she always comes to mind, her tiny, tiny frame quivering in anticipation, squeals et al, when he was about to appear on the tellie. I must admit to find it more than a little shocking that so many people did not figure out he was gay in those early days. When I watch old videos it just seems so damn evident that one has to wonder whether those ghastly popular poodle perms just went to people’s heads, short-circuiting, not just their hair shafts, but their eyesight too.

If you harbour a secret passion for the decade of the cheese please, if you love Wham and George and more, you absolutely must watch Music and Lyrics with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant. You know how you are usually hard-pressed to find anyone willing to admit to a fondness for romantic comedies? They are a bit like Titanic; the movie grossed over $600m worldwide and yet I cannot find anyone (bar myself), prepared to admit, while keeping a straight face, that s/he loved it and cried like a baby when Jack died. It seems to me like romantic comedies are the chick lit of cinematography, a sub-genre that so many people, female and male, enjoy but do so in secret.

Music and Lyrics is one of those movies that crept up on me, something that I remember being aware of in a vague kind of fashion, thanks to a handful of shots from People magazine capturing the actors while filming in New York. When I sat down in the cinema, I was not expecting one of the most hilarious opening sequences ever, this one:

Pop Goes My Heart, by eighties fictional band Pop, is a piece of excellent musical satire and, like all satire, only speaks to those who recognise what is being satirised. So if you’re aware of Spandau Ballet, of Duran Duran and of Wham among others, you will see references in the stilted dance moves as well as in the shooting technique, one which often saw members of these bands act improbable plots in an improbably cheesy manner. Yet, isn’t this Pop Goes My Heart really catchy? Of course it is, because that’s the catch of those catchy eighties tunes (cheesy pun intended, sorry): they are actually quite good, happy songs that once infiltrated into one’s brain are difficult to eradicate and can provide so-called brain itches, those instances whereby a tune keeps playing in a loop in one’s head, years down the line. I know that Pop Goes My Heart is one such song.

Alex is a has-been, lingering on the sidelines of the music business following Pop’s split in the nineties. He gets another shot at fame when Cora, the world’s greatest pop starlet, bigger than Britney and Christina put together, asks him to write a song for her upcoming album. Alex however cannot write lyrics, only melodies, and this is where Sophie enters the scene. She is a neurotic girl who has a talent with words but not enough self-confidence to see her efforts to the end. Watch them riding the waves of an extremely intense creative process which stretches over a mere handful of days and which lies the foundation for a successful partnership in music and life.

While on a plane earlier this year I had the opportunity to catch Music and Lyrics again. What is it with Hugh Grant and planes? Why are most of his movies so inherently watchable, so spectacularly entertaining especially while on a transatlantic flight, when one’s own destination seems light years away, not a mere 6,000 miles?

Years ago, on the way to San Francisco, I watched Bridget Jones’s Diary four times over, my not-so-stifled laughter resounding throughout the cabin above the snoring of so many others. I find that Hugh himself is a bit like romantic comedies; I suspect that very many people enjoy his work and rather love him, but are too cool to admit it. I am not and can freely say that I love Hugh Grant, and I have done so ever since, little more than a child, I first set eyes on him in Four Weddings. I know many, especially men, cannot bear his mumbling version of English idiot, but that is Hugh’s winning charm, as is the cad splashed right across the screen in Bridget Jones. He is fabulous in those two movies, miles ahead of Arsy Darcy, providing great comic relief laced up with irresistible charm.

A friend of mine from Norway once confessed that she moved to England in order to find herself a Hugh Grant-like adorable Englishman. Can you believe it? And she found one, even though Rich is not as tall, as thin, as irresistible or even as old as Hugh. I haven’t spoken to her in ages but I bet she loves Music and Lyrics. And in fact, I’ll tell you more; if you do not feel a wave of happy tears rising to your eyes as Alex kisses Sophie, their music and lyrics at last playing in the background, I am afraid it's one of those instances whereby you’re a cinematic idiot and I feel sorry for you.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Today I took a day off. This may sound preposterous to those of you that know I do not have a job as such, but all writers will tell you that they never quite feel like they are taking time off. This is because a writer doesn't just work with a pen or a computer but first and foremost away from both, in a perpetual state of trance where ideas, and their development, unfold. Yesterday's work was minute or indeed felt that way. Reading never is considered work, even if it is necessary in order to be able to write. When I checked the weather forecast at the end of the day, I had great hopes that I would wake up to a frosted garden and I was not disappointed. And so I took the day off in order to wander around Knutsford, which I had not done in a few weeks, to think about something other than writing and to spend some time with horsey.

Late autumn, and indeed winter, should always be as today was, cold and dry, with an unapologetically blue sky that somewhat reminded me of Chicago in the middle of January, minus the skyscrapers, the wind, the lake and the excitement of being in America of course! Still, it was great to be able to walk aimlessly and to browse the windows decked in Christmas paraphernalia, something that I love looking at. In fact, I myself should get down to it and start decorating the house.

Try as I may, writing is never too far off. I always carry something with me so that, when the time is right, I can snatch some time, even from idleness, and read something that one day may come in handy. Such was the case with some essays about Dracula and some stories off Christmas Stories. The library pit-stop saw Terry Brooks's Sometimes The Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life coming home with me and I am sure that you will get a lecture about it in due course.

As the sun was very low on the horizon, I went to see horsey who is currently growing his mane and feathers and spending his retirement in the company of his latest girlfriend. I took him for a walk around the fields and although it was a bit of a snort-fest at first, no doubt annoyed as he was that I turned up sans carottes this time, he still obliged and allowed me to point-and-shoot in order to freeze his latest look in time. Et voilà!

He was also glad to have a nose-to-nose with his best (male) friend Conor, who also checked my pockets in case I was hiding treats. He left in disgust as he noted nothing more than a mobile phone. Not that it stopped him having a nibble in the past mind you...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chickpea Soup

It seems like a long time since I last wrote about food. I must admit that it hasn't been at the forefront of my mind as of late; that spot has been usurped by various projects, some of them I already talked about, others I will. However, something I had in mind in the middle of summer was the most lovely chickpea soup there is, the one that my grandma used to make. For this you will need the very best chickpeas you can find, the sort that swell as they cook and become big and juicy, alas not something I have found. So I used run-of-the-mill supermarket chickpeas which I soaked overnight in plenty of water and bicarb but I can tell you, it just was not the same.

You'll need:

250g dried chickpeas
1 tbsp plain flour
1 glug of olive oil
3 white onions
fresh rosemary tied in a bunch (use white cotton thread for this, not blue garden string à la Bridget Jones!)

Soak the chickpeas overnight in plenty of tepid water and a tablespoon of bicarb of soda. Rinse well and place in a large saucepan. Now add olive oil and one tablespoon of flour. Stir well, turn the heat on, add plentiful cold water, sea salt, the onions and the rosemary and wait for the chickpeas to come to the boil.

They will foam, therefore remove this as it appears on the surface of the water. Failure to do so will result in some mighty mess on, and especially off, the pan. Fast boil for ten minutes, now lower the heat to medium and keep simmering for approximately 90 minutes. Serve with some Parmesan on top and also with an extra glug of oil if you like.

I know it seems like a lot of waiting hassle for a soup, but you'll only think this way until you make it!

Friday, November 21, 2008


This morning I wrote the last line to my book and I am going to share it right here with you, because it’s not my own last line at all, but a quote:

‘As we grow older it’s eternity that is our boon’.

I didn’t think this would ever happen, but I felt a frisson of excitement mixed with sadness, sadness especially. Writing this book has not been painful as some writers often say of their own endeavours and neither has the route to publication been fraught with danger or heart-ache. Heck, I didn’t know this stuff fit for publication back in September; it’s like it happened out of the blue, as I was pursuing agents over another endeavour (yes, adding insult to injury). Well now this work is done and I feel orphaned.

After this I will drag myself to the lounge, the room that, together with Starbee in Wilmslow, saw most of the recent work getting done, books and comics strewn all over, with evil little post-it tongues sticking out of every other page. Au revoir Leatherface, Jason, Michael, Freddy, Spider-man, Batman, Joker, Jorge, William, Adso, Lestat, Blade companions of many days spent squeezing my brains trying to conjure up something intelligent to write in order to celebrate these characters as righteous representative of popular culture, not at all inferior but in fact on a par with Mona Lisa, Stan Lee as relevant to our culture as Leonardo himself (Da Vinci, not Di Caprio).

Au revoir Dark Knight script, Spider-man The Icon, Marvel Vault, The Killing Joke, The Name of the Rose; au revoir mountain of splatter DVDs, hurrah! I am now going to celebrate with Bridget Jones and won’t think about any of this ever again. Or maybe not until The Dark Knight DVD comes out. It’s only two weeks to go, isn’t it? I can't wait already...

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I hate conclusions. Like, really, really hate them. More than introductions. And you know why? Because when you write an introduction you are actually fishing from the middle of your work and piecing it together. In fact, an introduction may even help you in conjuring up more ideas once you already have some on paper. Yet, get to the conclusion and you will start hating your book, yourself, your characters and even your family and friends. How hard can it be?

Oh but it's not just me, no, it's not. As I was lamenting conclusion-related issues to Mac in recent times, he told me that it took him one year to write the conclusion to his PhD. Did you see that? One year. Ye-eeear. For like... three bastard pages. I’ve agonised over the end of my book all day today, trying to write three little paragraphs that, somehow, manage to tie everything up (hateful, hateful, I like open endings) while not repeating something I said before. Is that possible? Maybe it is, at the moment it doesn’t bloody look that way.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


So much for creativity. I have spent something like six hours on one footnote. One. And do you know what’s really irritating? The footnote already existed. So why fix something that isn’t broken? I don’t know my friends, all I know is that I often create tragic issues when I really do not need to. I’ve been re-writing the same for hours, cutting and pasting, moving things around, re-writing, re-deleting. Then I checked my biorhythms and thanked my lucky stars for them. My intellectual one is nose-diving today which made me really happy. When my editor asks me ‘what’s this crap?’, I’ll be able to blame several people at once and now my biorhythms as well. I feel better already.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thank You For Reading (Or Not) - Part II

Months ago I wrote about Ugresic’s great book Thank You For Not Reading. Over the past week, I graced this screen with a few extracts from Snoopy’s Guide. One in particular, this one, has prompted a few people to drop me a line after they picked themselves up from the floor. But you know something? Ugresic has even better examples in her book and today I am going to share them with you.

" A successful book proposal must also answer the question of what type of readership the book is intended for. I can sort of understand the hook business, but I just can't imagine my readership in advance.
'Imagine that you are writing for Harrison Ford, maybe it'll go better,' suggests Ellen.
Ellen does not realise how right she is. For a book proposal is nothing other than a screenplay, an effective account of an imagined film.

The nineteenth century, France, a young woman married to a provincial doctor dreams of love. Torn between a tedious husband and one lover, then another, burdened with debts accumulating daily, the woman commits suicide. The book is intended for a wide female readership.

'Good,' says the editor. 'Just change the nineteenth century to the twentieth, and add another lover or two. Give the husband a bit of fun as well, let him turn out to be gay. And forget the suicide at the end! No one would believe that!'

The nineteenth century, Russia, a married woman belonging to high society falls in love, leaves her husband and son, lives as a social outcast with her adored lover, and when he leaves her to go to war, she throws herself under a train. The book is intended for a wide female readership.

'Great!' says the editor. 'Two sisters, one lives in Soviet Russia married to an KGB officer, she falls in love with a dissident. The other emigrates and marries a boring French doctor. In 1990, the sisters meet. Flashbacks, two different lives, two female destinies. The illusions and disillusions of East and West after the fall of communism. Title: Two Sisters. Start writing!'

My first success encouraged me. I even became obsessive. Recently I have done nothing but write book proposals. I took the trouble to write a book proposal for Remembrances of Things Past. It was turned down, Boring, too long, change the title...

Now I'm testing the market. Camouflaged Shakespeare works great. Ulysses got nowhere. Despite my having told it as a soap opera, The Man Without Qualities ended up int he trash. Memoirs of Hadrian too, and The Death of Virgil. All right, I agree, the great European writers were always a bit tedious. But even Hemingway didn't do any better, although I did manage to sell The Old Man and the Sea. I disguised it a bit. I stressed the ecological aspect of the whole thing. And I changed the old man into a good-looking young Cuban exile, gay. The proposal was immediately accepted.


I'm not complaining. Except I haven't written a line for ages. I mean, a literary line of my own. I'm completely absorbed in these book proposals. I'm becoming increasingly impudent. I camouflage less and less. I've just sent an editor the proposal for One Hundred Years of Solitude.
'Forget the contents!' said the editor. 'No one could possibly follow that story. But there's no reason not to use that great title.' "

Now dear reader I ask you this: what chances does the new novelist stand when even Flaubert (first proposal above, Madame Bovary) and Tolstoj (second above, Anna Karenina) get rejections? And of course I am not sharing this great essay in order to discourage you but... just to make you aware that you will find some ignorant editors in your way. Proceed at your own peril.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Life Of Its Own

To people who never write anything other than shopping lists, the idea that ‘writing has a life of its own’ is as alien as beefburgers are to me. Yet, anyone from John Donne to Stephen King would testify that characters, regardless of whether they inhabit prose or poetry, acquire a life of their own. This does not apply to prose or poetry only however; it does so to all types of writing, no exception. I am particularly versed in literary and film criticism and I can assure you that I may know where I am starting from (at times), and that I may know where I am going (less often so), but I swear I never know what happens in the middle before it actually happens and when it does, when the various tesserae of the mosaic start forming an intelligible picture, I do not know how they formed that picture to begin with. The process is similar to entering and exiting trance while I drive; I can tell you what I was doing before as I become aware of the after, but the transition from one to the other and back is a mystery that the human brain isn’t capable of processing.

When I started writing Slaughter Is The Best Medicine, a long, long time ago, I had a vague vision for it, but not even a title. I do not remember what I wrote first, but I do know it was not the introduction because I never start from the beginning, I start from the middle. I do not like to introduce anything, neither do I like to conclude anything, mostly because both of these are nothing other than the clouds amassing overhead and the same moving over and away after the storm. It is only the narrating of the storm that interests me. So I started somewhere in the middle. I seem to vaguely recall something about the Nightmare movies and something about the monster behind the mask, but I can’t be sure. Then The Texas Chainsaw Massacre got into the picture, as did a reason to be talking about these in the first place, what a call the legacy of imagination of the Romantic Age.

The book then lingered for a long time, incapable as I was to make a somewhat logical jump from horror to super-heroes, incapable to link the two worlds without sounding like a popular culture encyclopedia or The Marvel Vault. As is often the case, the link was right under my nose; I turned the horror table around and instead of looking at representations of horror, I looked at how we see horror where there isn’t any, affected as we are by real-life examples that leave us unable to comprehend it when it affects us first-hand, when eyes can see, but mind cannot process.

I wrote the introduction after I finished a section about Batman Bagins and then I lingered again, waiting for something more significant to come along and to become the turning point of the book, the actual raison d'être of the entire effort. I got that last summer, when The Dark Knight came out and I watched it three times over in quick succession, trying to imprint my mind with it, trying to see between, above and beyond the lines. Laughter had me enthralled for a while, but not by itself. As I hope to be able to be an advocate of popular culture, the person that is unafraid to defend it where defense is due, I roped in a literary classic with the aim to give kudos to the latest representation of chaos and madness as The Dark Knight would have it.

I don’t know how all of this came into being. I don’t even know how I thought of the last few sentences I wrote this morning, when I finally succeeded in dropping in a few relevant passages to the entire discourse. Now I have one last piece to sort out, an analysis of the Reapers from Blade II, something that I have tried to do for one year and then I put it off and then I talked about it and then I forgot about it and then I put it off some more for the past fourteen months to be precise. Not that I would really know what I did with these fourteen months you understand...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Snoopy's Guide To The Writing Life - Part III

On the subject of rejections, something Snoopy is very well acquainted with, Jack Canfield writes:

"Dr Seuss's first children's book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, was rejected by twenty-seven publishers.

Margaret Mitchell's classic Gone With The Wind was turned down by more than twenty-five publishers.

Jack London received six hundred rejection slips before he sold his first story."

And of course, as ever, I am leaving the best last:

"Eight years after his novel Steps won the National Book Award, Jerzy Kosinski permitted a writer to change his name and the title and send a manuscript of the novel to thirteen agents and fourteen publishers to test the plight of new writers. They all rejected it, including Random House, which had published it."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Snoopy's Guide To The Writing Life - Part I

The first book about writing I ever bought doesn’t look at all like your usual writing book. It is not a step-by-step manual about getting your novel down in one month (and, by the way, don’t waste your time with one of those, not even Stephen King manages it, what chances have you got?), neither is it one of those interesting anecdotal books that generate great ideas between the lines. No, my first writing book was Snoopy’s Guide to The Writing Life.

Snoopy’s Guide was published in 2002 and I find it’s really quite incredible that I waited until then to buy a book about writing. But you know something? I think it’s important to note that I already had a number of articles published by then (and I don’t mean in the my church’s gazette, but in publications as high-profile as Glamour magazine) and that, deep down, I always knew that getting down to writing is more important than reading about getting down to writing. And if you allow me to care about what you do with your time, let me suggest you do the same; do not read about writing, just do it.

I spent some time today laughing to tears as I re-read some of the well-known strips and some of the comments that the authors make. And for a few days I have decided to gift you with some of the pearls of hilarious wisdom of Snoopy’s Guide because, when it is a dark and stormy night, there is nothing like the good old beagle to keep one’s company.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


When I moved to this house six years ago, I was pleased to hear that the previous owner had just completed a massive re-wiring exercise. Not that I know very much about houses, electricity or anything even remotely related to both of these, but even in my infinite ignorance, I figured out that re-wiring was a big undertaking, no matter how small the house. As of late, I found myself thinking about re-wiring, even though it came to mind for a completely different reason.

I know that there are people who have worked for thirty years straight and for whom eight years is little more than a speck of paint on a wall, but for me, eight years are in fact my whole working life. Before then it was the uni and before then it was school, all the way back until I was six. I suppose it’s therefore pretty accurate to say that, for the past fifteen years, I got up in the mornings and got ready for work.

Now that work as such does not exist outside of these few walls, I still get up in the morning and I feel a subconscious pull towards the rushing to the bathroom and the rushing to do my hair and my face and the rushing out of the door, even though I’ve got nowhere (indeed no reason), to rush anywhere. I’ve even started to entertain the very foolish idea of getting up at the crack of dawn so that I could be the first person through the coffee shop doors when it opens, sat in a corner with a steaming cuppa and a fresh newspaper.

But what for? What do I even feel this need to get up, get ready and go, when I always found the whole ritual so violent that I often ended up grinding my teeth through the blaring alarm clock? I need a good re-wiring, that’s what Paul was telling me only the other day, when I spoke of my great ability to fret about frittering time and about trying to find a structured purpose to each and every hour of the day, as if I were in the military.

Because re-wiring is a big job, I do not think that even these past three months have come near to even remotely showing me the way. In fact, it’s a bit of a miracle I’ve even realised I need re-wiring, let alone started it. To think that only a year ago I used to whizz past my favourite Starbucks at eight in the morning, wistfully sighing to myself and wishing for a life of leisure unencumbered by meetings and the tyranny of the clock! And now that I have it, it’s like I don’t know what to do with it!

Mac, who supervises my PhD, says that we are fixated with working many hours a day, all day, all day into the evening, even at weekend when, really, four steady hours a day, five days a week, are more than enough to allow us to do everything we need and want to do, research-wise. He thinks that I will, eventually, learn to let go of this MUST DO feeling and that I will be able to enjoy the days as they break down into pleasurable activities, as opposed to huge blocks of boredom, which is what characterised my working life until very recently. And so the journey begins... Tomorrow is the beginning of the rest of my life.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I like the word fritter, even though it conjures up smells of cheapo fried-ups and it hints at the wasting of precious time. Oh yes, I fritter a lot. I've always frittered you see and at some point I even fretted I would fritter, even when I wouldn’t start frittering until I actually fretted about it, which is absolutely insane. In the now far away days when my currency was not money but time, I still succeeded in frittering plenty of it, especially when I used to return to my hotel room, take a warm bath and then zone out in front of television programmes I really did not want to watch. I think it’s symptomatic that I do not remember any of them, even though I recall all the beds I slept in and baths I slipped into at the time.

Now that I do not work outside of the house any longer, the house itself has become the signifier of frittering and the raison d’etre of my fretting. Take today for example. What did I do today? I don’t know. At a guess I would say I did nothing and nothing is a rather accurate description of it as well. The idea was to spend a quiet day of study and philosophical contemplation, the sort of thing I need to do when I harness brain power in order to effectively pour it onto the page. Strange as it may sound, a philosophical reading of The Name Of The Rose intertwined with Batman isn’t something as easy as a blog post to write.

Work didn’t happen, because I aimlessly drifted from nothing to more nothing from not very much to even less until I hurled myself on the exercise bike at four in the afternoon, slotted The Rise Of The Silver Surfer into the computer to make the pedalling ordeal ever so slightly more bearable and reached the end of the day feeling like I at least burnt 800 calories. So this fritter problem continues to rear its head, no matter where I work or what I do. We often lament a lack of time but... what do we really do with it when we do have it? That’s when the fretting begins, at least in my case; I fret that I fritter and nothing gets written. Apart from scattered thoughts.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Walking On Air

Only a handful of weeks ago I talked about my career counsellor and his grand ideas of a retail or marketing or PR job for me. At the time, it seemed like a good idea to go with the flow, to follow his advice at least insofar as considering the options available to me. Of course I said at the time that none of the above would find itself on my path (or in my way), and this morning I concluded my sessions to a figurative round of applause, showing the guy my fresh business cards marketing my writing and translating venture and promising that I will stay in touch.

And so I felt delivered of a great weight, of this faking that I may have been interested in an office job that I knew, deep down, I already despised. I have often thought that my new beginnings never take place in the spring, when nature wakes up to live another year, but in autumn, when the same collects itself, draws balances and takes a figurative rest. Well, all hail to the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness; it seems to be working for me.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Remembrance Sunday 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008


I couldn’t think of a better title than this one, even though grave-digging is definitely not something that I do in my spare time, yet, today was such a beautiful, blistery, windy autumn day, that it seemed only fair I searched for another graveyard and stood in awe among peaceful muddy paths, underneath magical trees.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Come Dine With Me

December's British Vogue, which came through the door the other day, reads: 'Extraordinary guests, surreal settings and unforgettable food - five party people describe their dream feasts'. Well, they really inspired me. Today I give you my book's launch dinner.

Spider-man, Blade, Jason, Michael Myers, The Joker, Leatherface, Hannibal Lecter, Freddy Krueger, Lestat, Superman, The Batman.

At The Waldorf in New York City.

Hot topic?
Slaughter Is The Best Medicine, my first book.

What would everyone be wearing?
What they always wear of course! I'd expect Freddy with the hat and the striped jumper, The Joker in his little purple outfit,Spider-man in full-on lycra, Batman in his latest uniform, cowl included and so on... As for me, I'd certainly wear some auburn hair extensions like I did a few years ago; I looked amazing, they actually gave me a jawline and cheekbones. I would also wear a Versace gown slashed to the thigh if I were really thin. My very conservative purple silk dress more like.

What would you dine on?
Me on tofu, the others on turkey, except for The Batman, who doesn't eat at all, and for Hannibal, who has brought a friend for dinner.

Who would you sit beside?
Batman to my left and Spider-man to my right; I'd also be right opposite Hannibal, just to stay on the safe side.

Last to leave?
I can tell you who will leave first: me and Spider-man, then Blade, Batman and Superman. All the others stay because everyone knows that horror never leaves.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bloody Google

You’d be justified to think that I harbour a secret, dirty fondness for graveyards, especially for this one

which I photograph every time I walk by, in all seasons, in all lighting conditions. Once I even tried at night, for an extra dose of eeriness, but I just haven’t got the camera that can capture the darkness without looking like a picture of some black treacle.

So, yes, graveyards. I love them, particularly so when they are as peaceful and movie-like as this one. I recall being in holiday in Austria many years ago and walking by a church graveyard that made me plan for my mortal remains to rest for eternity within its soft grass. Not bad an impression if you consider I was eleven at the time and sketched the place in countless pads thereafter, picturing my own grave stuck sideways in the soft soil, underneath a tree. And do you know what is funny now? I don’t even remember where in Austria this graveyard is, which is very disappointing. But all of this graveyard talk is a digression because it isn't at all what I wanted to talk about when I sat down.

Today I went to a business meeting, a proper, fully-fledged business meeting, a bit like the ones I used to run only a few months ago. I’ll tell you the truth, I was sick with remembrances for the first half hour, oscillating between a desire to laugh (because I am free now) or cry (at the passing of eight years in such intellectual wasteland). Still, it’s a miracle I even made it there because, even though this place was only a handful of miles from home, my GoogleMaps directions were just bonkers, and I am putting it kindly. But didn’t I know it already? Last year they sent me to Hale via Gatley, which won’t really mean a lot to those of you who aren’t local to me, but let’s just say that it’s a bit like walking from Columbus Circle to Saks Fifth Avenue via Haarlem. When I made it to dinner and sat down angry and flustered, blaming GoogleMaps for the misshap, the partner who had been waiting all this time said: ‘What happened, didn’t the BlackBerry pick up the signal properly?’.

If only he knew that I still had a geriatric Nokia purchased four years prior in my pocket... It irritates me not to find places, you see, because I am actually a really good driver. I whizzed around San Francisco like a blender a few years back and drove from Oslo airport all the way to bloody Sweden (and back and into Oslo and back to the airport) without once getting a wrong turn. And how about my skillful driving in France and Italy where only the insane and the locals and I would drive? I left unscathed and so did the cars (the ones I hired and the ones I skimmed by on a few occasions).

I suppose this is yet another proof that humans should trust their own sense of direction sometimes, instead of computers and satallite maps. Still, I am back safe and sound, with a Bailey’s latte by my side and a few more leafy pictures to organise. You didn’t think I wouldn’t take the opportunity to take a few snaps of the orange countryside during my unwanted detour, right?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Duvet Day - Part II

It was awful, like it hadn’t been in a while. Then, it eased up out of the blue, as if the gear at the bottom of my spine suddenly started turning again, as if whatever had held it stuck in one place all day, pushing against itself, had been removed. I am still sore everywhere but I can walk as I normally do, not hunched over myself, at a 150 degree angle, which is what I did this morning when I very, very, very slowly walked to the chemist for William’s prescription.

It was not in any way the sort of duvet day I thought it would be and it never really is when illness is involved, but it was tangled with a movie after all, Collateral, which I watched for the third time in two days and for an extra two times in French as well. Yes, you got it figured out, it played in a loop all afternoon, including when I managed to edge myself in the shower for a very hot muscle relaxant water jet.

I have practised my pitch for tomorrow’s meeting all day. I recorded every single one, trying to elude all pauses, all uhs, all ehrms, all aaaaaands and all you knows which I never feel compelled to use, unless a tape recorder is on. Around about take one hundred and fifty I realised that I did not sound as horrible as I thought around about take one and there is a great likelihood that there was in fact no actual difference; I am only getting used to hearing myself from the outside. I can see why some actors say they never look at themselves in pics or on film because they find it really cringe-worthy. But, you see, I know better. I know better because I am already day-dreaming of book signings and of book talks and of radio interviews and of podcasts and so on and so, I’d better be ready, non?

Duvet Day

I don’t think I ever had a duvet day, mostly because it is another word for a skiving day and I do not recall ever having skived work with a duvet and a DVD in mind. If I had a job outside of the house though, today would definitely be a Duvet Day and I am deadly upset about it as well.

I am upset because I haven’t consciously decided to curl up on the sofa, needles in hand, movie in the computer and hot chocolate on tap. Oh no, of course not. I am grounded with an extremely sore back, something that afflicts me from time to time. I wouldn’t be so upset and worried by it if it were business as usual and if all I had to cancel this week were just an appointment to have my hair cut.

Unfortunately, I have a really interesting (and important) meeting to go to tomorrow and I know that I will not be able to enjoy myself, or indeed to project the right image, because of the great pain I am feeling. And I am getting so worked up about it you would not believe it. It was bad yesterday, when I forced myself to meet up with Britt because I value our weeklies so much (and because, no less importantly, she is off the country for four weeks straight), but, boy, was it hard to even stay sat in one place without grimacing every time I moved a little finger. I was praying for the situation to improve today but I still cannot stand or walk straight (or even straight-ish), I cannot sit comfortably and even laying on the bed puts a lot of pressure everywhere. I swear my bottom is spreading out of all normal proportions as well, and it has nothing to do with food; my body is so screwed and so out of place that the skirt I wore yesterday almost didn’t fit me, as I was so hunched and side-bent and just generally out of normal shape.

I suppose that, if I were that hateful Pollyanna idiot I never could stand, I would be grateful it is not as painful as my last acute phase at the end of January, when I was grounded for two weeks before I went to New York and had to stop and sit down every fifteen minutes when I was there. But I am not hateful Pollyanna and I am upset that I cannot even take a warm shower to try and make myself feel a little bit better somehow. I tried the exercise bike, because movement is better than lack of, but when the pain is so great you really cannot move. It’s a bit of a miracle I can manage a bathroom trip unaided; it hasn’t always been this way.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Impostor Syndrome

A friend of mine told me about it, because she saw that I am badly affected, trying to sabotage my successes all the time. Are you?

Monday, November 3, 2008

None For Recruitment

A friend of mine is looking for a job and is currently mingling with one of the world’s worst working races: The Recruitment Consultant. It’s a funny thing about The Recruitment Consultant (who, for brevity, I will now call in a flash of French flair Le Récro, or perhaps, l'idiot): they are as disliked as estate agents and lawyers and yet, nobody is vocal about this dislike. Why is it that there are jokes about estate agents and lawyers and none about recruitment consultants? What is it that shelters them from the irate brunt of all of those people they screw around for weeks via a multitude of means only to leave them hurt and dejected by the sidelines? Why aren’t we all up in arms about their general lack of professionalism?

Two things irritate me above all else every time I think of Le Récro: the first one is Love Bombing and the second is CVs.

When you’re new and turn up at your first meeting in a set of newly polished shoes and perfect briefcase, Le Récro won’t even let you sit down without gushing about details. It could be what you’re wearing or what you said over the phone prior to the meeting or what you sent via email with your old CV. Whatever it is, the Love Bombing begins immediately because, even though they do not love any candidate, not really, you are the equivalent of a walking stack of cash to any of them.

And so it begins, call upon call, job profile upon job profile, email upon email, you delude yourself that this person has your best interests at heart and that, in no time at all, you will be in a new job thanks to your supah dupah fantastic Récro. The reality is that you will be dropped like a sack of bricks as necessity commands and you will never hear from that adoring fan of yours ever again. This is exponentially more likely to take place if your CV was found by Le Récro while crawling the net, as opposed to you yourself approaching the agency directly. You'd be surprised (only if you never dealt with them of course), but it does work like this. You may be registered with twenty of these leeches at any given time and you will suddenly wonder one day, two months down your new working line, hey, what happened to him? Wasn't he supposed to call back on ten weeks ago?

The CV Problem is one that affects millions of individuals the world over. There is no standard in CV writing, put that in your head and live happily ever after. Ever leafed through the hundreds of CV writing books that litter your nearest bookshop? If you have, you will have noted that there are numerous permutations of what an acceptable CV looks like, all valid, all fine specimens of how to get a job. What these books, and Le Récro with them, do not tell you, is that they objectify the market through a subjective view of it. This means that each one of these people who recommend CV writing in a certain way, base their recommendation on a set of rules that are non-existent. Other than ‘check your grammar, check your spelling, don’t print on pink paper, don’t scent it’, we should all be aware that Le Récro is going to suggest what he thinks is right which is not at all the market standard. This is because there is no market standard, no CV that will make every single employer, or even the majority of employers out there, fist-pump the air in delight when they read it. There really isn't. It's a written document and like all written documents it is predominantly judged on an entirely subjective basis.

Today I heard from a friend whose Récro suggested to remove the ‘28 years of experience’ line from her CV, on the (ridiculously flimsy) basis that her age, or a hint of an age, should not be revealed in it. Except the diploma acquired in 1978 alone would be enough of a hint to anyone who isn’t an illiterate, mathematically challenged moron, that the candidate at hand isn’t twenty. My career counsellor, who used to be a recruitment consultant many years ago, agrees that the vast majority of them are just bums on seats and do not even have an inkling of what life-changing head hunting is all about. Usually, leafing through Reed’s pages is enough to single out job positions advertised by recruitment consultants, not because they start with the ubiquitous ‘My client...’ but because the adverts are riddled with spelling mistakes and grammatical inaccuracies, with apostrophes scattered over the page like random soft sheep upon a grassy knoll and with the lack of them hanging over the writing like a bad smell. Don't believe me? So there, copied and pasted two minutes ago:

"A hugely challenging oportunity has arisen to work for one of the countrys leading financial services' providers. We are looking to recruit a focused and highly driven Operations Manager to manage an established contac centre during an exciting period of growths. Managing the contac centre operations your role will to be manage all levels of staff to ensure an effective delivery of the strtegeic objective. You will be ensurring the delivery of business' KPIs and be responsible for managing and developing the internal and external customer relationships. You will be commercially astute with a keen eye for figures and have full budget responsibility for your area."

I am told that there are good Récros out there but they are a bit like mythical figures, a bit like Santa, whom we see here there and everywhere all year round, even though we know perfectly well that those we meet are all impostors and that the real Santa is somewhere at the North Pole. I heard good things of the book How To Handle Your Recruitment Consultant even though I have no direct experience of it and no wish whatsoever to read it. All I would suggest is to handle them with a carrot and a sackful of sticks if you must, otherwise, not at all.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Squeakety Squeak

There is a designer on Ravelry who is head and shoulders above the rest of them. Her name is Ysolda and she is a creator of things girlie and cute and those who know me (or those who think they do on the basis of this diary alone), know that I am crazy about girlie and cute. Besides the beautiful knitwear and cute toys that Ysolda has already graced the web with (and her own likeness; she is indeed a dream-looking girl, straight out of an old movie, if I may say), her latest pattern is one for a mouse that is so adorable I couldn’t resist it, even though it is a knitting-in-the-round affair and I still fear the rounds very much. But I am sure it will be worth it because this little darling is tops.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Well, wouldn’t you know it? There is an online movement called NaBloPoMo that encourages bloggers to write every day of the week for one month. The month in question is this one, November. This feat is regarded as the height of blogging commitment, even though when people force themselves to write daily, it is inevitable that the content isn’t always as good as it can be. I speak as someone who has more than a little experience of the blogging every day mantra, as between June and September, I wrote more than one post a day. Why don’t I get a blogging medal for that? What’s so special about November?

More important to those who read this space may perhaps be the reason why I stopped my little ritual of daily update. I stopped it not because, as some would think, something drastic or better or more important or more valuable has taken place in my life; I haven’t stopped because I am now pregnant and feel exhausted every two hours or because I only want to talk about the baby and feel like I can’t yet. I haven’t stopped because I am getting married and the wedding planner is taking up all of my time. I certainly haven’t stopped because something dreadful has happened; heck, I managed to update daily when I thought that William would die back in the summer.

No, no my friends, I have stopped for far less prosaic reasons than the above or any other. I have done so because us Virgos (or Virgoans, as some would have it), really love our mental calculations, the straightening of our own little plans into charts, the creation of a reality that looks totally under calculated control. I wanted to finish the calendar year with a set number of posts, 260 to be precise, which breaks down to 5 posts a week, every week of the year. It became soon apparent, around about March, that I needed to crank up the writing game by about one hundred notches if I wanted to meet my self-imposed statistical finishing line and so I calculated that, in order to be able to do so, I needed a writing spell of at least one post a day over a number of months. Come October, the numbers finally met me half-way through my daily life and now I can do whatever I want to do without asking myself whether there is anything worth snapping for the daily post.

While this is great in principle, I have found that I do not recall anymore what I have done in those weekends that I haven’t chronicled in here, even though all I talked about in many was just food. For one who has never kept a journal (working under the assumption that, what’s the point, if nobody but you reads it?), I must confess this feeling came as a surprise. I thought I would hate the self-imposed ringing of the writing bell, but I didn’t. While I feel like it’s confession time about the blog I may as well disclose the reasons for starting one anyway: I really wanted to yak about domestic life in all of its mundane permutations. It goes to show that writing indeed has a life of its own.
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