Wednesday, 24 February 2016

St Prex and Founex in the Snow, Istanbul Noir, and the History of Middle-earth

One of the earliest things we noticed on arriving in Switzerland was the views of the Swiss, or of expats who'd lived here for much longer than us, on the weather. Every change was heralded by the words "it's not normal". Thus, a long sunny summer was "not normal". The interruption of the sunshine by two or three weeks of rain and cold (as happened last July) was "not normal". Bitter wind in December was "not normal". A lovely mild spring early in March (as when we first arrived in 2014) was... you guessed it... "not normal".

What is normal weather for this part of Switzerland, I wonder? This winter seems to have gone on longer than last winter, though when I look back at temperature charts, it's relatively the same (though it might have been sunnier, but maybe that's looking back through rose-coloured glasses). And nothing could compare to the grimy slush and icy endlessness of a Montreal winter (where the only saving grace on a day of -40 is that, if you can stay home, the sunshine pouring in through your windows into your nice warm house is very heartening. I always feel guilty about this, not just in thinking of those without homes, but also in wondering whether my rejection of the cold and the long-lasting winter betrays the native population, including the Inuit, who may have participated more fully in all the changing seasons of the land. But then, -40 in the deep silence of the woods does not feel half so miserable as -40 on a dark morning, surrounded by the wind tunnel-forming concrete hulks of a city street).

All that to say I'm sharing more snowy photos today! The first batch is of a walk in the medieval village of St Prex, a couple of months ago:

Approximately 1,000-year-old church

View from the hill of the church

And here's our village under snow (down by the lake, it's snowed a handful of times since November, but it never stays on the ground for longer than half a day. It's fun to look up and see the snow-covered tops of the hills and mountains, and to not have to live with the inevitable brown slush and grey polluted snowbanks that follow snowfall in a city):

Then there's ROW80. I went through my box of Writing To Do and pulled out the notebooks for NaNo2014 (this story needs a title!) but in the process discovered -- a la Christopher Tolkien finding bits and pieces of his father's papers -- more parts of Larksong that I haven't typed up yet. I've got to get into a regular habit of spending at least 15 minutes, if not 30, every morning typing up these handwritten drafts.

The second part of my update is long, and detailed partly for record-keeping purposes (I love this blog as a record of books read!); feel free to skip it!

Speaking of Christopher Tolkien, and my other ROW80 goal of reading all the unread books in the house, I've just completed a project started in 2012 -- rereading all 12 of the books in the History of Middle-earth series. I first read them all over 14-20 years ago (dated, in Christopher Tolkien fashion, by various slips and receipts used as bookmarks or to take notes on that I left in between the pages during my first reading. From these, and from the way I left everything but a schoolbag behind at my parents' house when I moved to Turkey for a year in 2002-2003, it seems clear that I read the twelfth book in the winter of 2002, exactly 14 years ago. I'm not sure when I first read the first book, the Book of Lost Tales I; it could have been any time between 1995 and 1999. When I was young, I was intimidated by the books, because all 12 were never displayed at once in order in any bookstore. Sometimes there'd be only one, sometimes a handful, and it was never clear what they were. Gradually, with the advent of the Internet, and with flipping through some of the copies, I figured out what they were and what their proper order was, and started on them, but that could only have happened after I was 15 or so, when I first started travelling downtown to the bookstores by myself), and it's been fun to see my notes from then, to reread my favourite parts (The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers and the draft Fourth Age stories), and to rediscover certain passages on language, stories, and the patterns of subcreation, not to mention the references here and there to other authors, including Neil Gaiman.

Now to turn to a reread of Tolkien's letters! Among other things...

One of the books I'm in the middle of is the intriguing Istanbul Noir, published by Akashic Books in their noir series of anthologies, launched in 2004, of which each story is set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the city of the book.

I discovered the Noir anthologies when Diana Gabaldon contributed a story to Phoenix Noir. I can't wait to see which authors are featured in Montreal Noir!

Then there's this fellow, who comes to visit me every morning:

Are you a fan of noir stories?

Do you have an animal that's not a pet that comes by regularly?

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

NASA Posters, Edinburgh, Blists Hill and Ironbridge, and ROW80

Third and final post in the Edinburgh series.

First, though, I just discovered something that might be useful as inspiration for writers and artists:

NASA is giving away free posters!

"Imagination is our window into the future. At NASA/JPL we strive to be bold in advancing the edge of possibility so that someday, with the help of new generations of innovators and explorers, these visions of the future can become a reality. As you look through these images of imaginative travel destinations, remember that you can be an architect of the future. Click on any of the thumbnails below to learn more and download a free poster sized image."

The one of Earth is especially poignant

I love the Titan image
Here's the description: "Frigid and alien, yet similar to our own planet billions of years ago, Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has a thick atmosphere, organic-rich chemistry and a surface shaped by rivers and lakes of liquid ethane and methane. Cold winds sculpt vast regions of hydrocarbon-rich dunes. There may even be cryovolcanoes of cold liquid water. NASA's Cassini orbiter was designed to peer through Titan's perpetual haze and unravel the mysteries of this planet-like moon."

Back to Edinburgh!

Flowers the French Embassy, the day after the terrorist attacks

Charles II
The oldest statue of Charles II

Outside St Giles cathedral

More poignancy -- this time related to human health

St Giles

We took a two-day trip from Edinburgh down to the Midlands, and visited a couple of sites:

Blists Hill, a recreation of a Victorian town
Ironbridge, the first arch bridge in the world to be made of cast iron, across the River Severn in Shropshire (1781)

My ROW80 goal, to Read All the Unread Books in the House, got derailed last weekend because we had a weekend away (in Venice! My first time in Italy! Photos to come), and now I'm trying to incorporate some editing back into my days. I think the simplest way to ease myself into it will be to type up my NaNo 2014 story, fixing as much as I can while I type. I probably left the ending unwritten as well!

Which of the NASA posters do you find inspiring?
Is there a story or other creative piece you've returned to after a long absence?

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Edinburgh Writers and Poets and Outlander

Edinburgh, part two (of three)!

Today's photos are all linked to writers and poets.

World's End pub

Doom Bar beer, which I was drinking because that's what Detective Cormoran Strike drinks in the Robert Galbraith novels.
Strike does not have a sleeping baby in the vicinty.

Hamilton and Young, jewellery designers, on the Royal Mile, and their Outlander display!
I bought a lovely pair of Dragonfly in Amber earrings, a couple of gifts, and a Craigh na Dun Christmas ornament!

Our first logo for the Outlander Switzerland group, with Graham McTavish's appreciation!

Where Johnson once stayed...

Lord Byron's costume at the Writer's Museum

The poet Fergusson and the churchyard
Where the poet Shelley stayed when he ran away with Mary

I haven't read any Fergusson yet, but I've actually been doing rather well with my new ROW80 goal of reading the books I already own -- and with my hope from last year's review of books read that I would read more poetry.

Here are the latest poems:

Career by Yevtushenko
Human life in this century by Yevtushenko
Willow by Anna Akhmatova
Sonnet LXVI by Shakespeare
Sir Walter Raleigh to His Son
Fair Jenny by Robbie Burns
MacPherson's Farewell by Robbie Burns
O Wert Thou In The Cauld Blast by Robbie Burns
The Rolling English Road by G. K. Chesterton
Ode on Venice by Lord Byron

Have you read -- or written -- a poem lately?

Books I'm Reading and Finished Books

  • The Making of Outlander by Tara Bennett
  • Testament of Experience by Vera Brittain
  • Zoom sur Plainpalais by Corinne Jaquet
  • beta read! (JB)
  • ***Reading At Intervals***
  • Sophie's Choice by William Styron
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw
  • Burning Sky by Lori Benton
  • 12 Anne and Avonlea books by L. M. Montgomery (skimming/reread (this was free on Kindle!))
  • Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford
  • Istanbul Noir (Akashic Books anthology)
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien manuscripts edited by J. D. Rateliff
  • The Jerusalem Bible
  • ***Finished Books***
  • The Children of Men by P. D. James
  • A Daughter's A Daughter by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)
  • A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
  • Sunlight by Margaret Rucker (poem; floating in a cocktail glass)
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
  • Preface to The Hobbit, by Christopher Tolkien
  • Ilk Defa... by Beste Barki (essays)
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (essay)
  • The Moon and I by Betsy Byars
  • The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
  • Rogue Warrior by Regan Walker
  • Beauty and the Beast by Villeneuve
  • Black (what was this? I don't remember!)
  • Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
  • Thomas the Tank Engine by Rev. Awry (26 book collection)
  • beta read (Born to Run by RB)
  • The Little Turtle by Vachel Lindsay (poem; reread)
  • The Kraken by Alfred Lord Tennyson (poem)
  • Android's Dream by John Scalzi
  • The Mysterious Tadpole by Stephen Kellogg (reread)
  • Yashim Cooks Istanbul by Jason Goodwin
  • Miniatures by John Scalzi
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
  • Kitty-in-Boots by Beatrix Potter (illustrated by Quentin Blake)
  • All or Nothing by Rose Lerner (short story)
  • Merry Christmas, Emily (board book)
  • Extra Yarn by __ and Jan Klassen
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Outlandish Companion II by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Outlandish Companion I, Revised by Diana Gabaldon
  • MacHinery and the Cauliflowers by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Dileas by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Gold Watch by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • betty, butter, sun by Monica Byrne (short story)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay by J.K. Rowling
  • The Very Cranky Bear (Scholastic)
  • various haiku by R. Wodaski
  • ongoing rereads of most board books listed last year!
  • see the 2016 list and statistics at
  • see the 2015 list and statistics at
  • see the 2014 list and statistics at
  • see the 2013 list and statistics at
  • see the 2012 list and statistics here
  • see the 2011 statistics on
  • see the 2011 list at
  • see the 2010 list at
  • see the 2009 list at
  • also in 2009 at
  • see the 2008 list at
  • also in 2008 at
  • also in 2008 at