Saturday, August 27, 2011

The London Underground (plus Jack the Ripper and Harrods)

I keep thinking I'll have one nice post with one nice topic in it, and then things happen and I think oh! I have to put that in as well. So you are treated/made to suffer multiple topics in a post.

So! The Underground was my planned main topic, because I was stuck for ten minutes just outside Victoria Station earlier this week. I'd spent five minutes trying to catch a Victoria line train, because the platform was so full and the trains were so full that three went past before I could squeeze my way on. Lucky the trains run every minute or so - I counted between one train leaving and the next arriving, and got to 22 seconds.

There were a lot of people on the platform, as afore-mentioned, and they were all trying to get the best spots to board the trains. This meant that people were standing right on the yellow line about a foot from the edge of the platform, and didn't tend to move when the train roared past them at high speed. Near the end of my stay on the platform, I ended up in this position, and had to will myself not to fall forward as the train blurred past just inches from my nose.

I boarded a train at last, and stood pressed up against the doors before getting to the tunnel outside Oxford Circus, where I've spent many a bored minute on my way to work (you often stop here while you wait for the previous train to leave the platform). The driver informed us that this was the case. We waited. The driver informed us that some of the doors on the next train would not close, and they were trying to fix the problem. For a second I thought - why not just go without the doors? - but then realised that probably wasn't very safe.

We waited. And waited a bit more. The driver of our train was very good and updated us regularly. Multiple official people were unable to close the doors, so the train had to be 'detrained'. Imagine an entire train, full to bursting with passengers, getting off at an already-full platform. This took a while. Finally the broken train moved off and our train was on its way again. There were now 'severe delays on the Victoria Line'. I was extremely glad I hadn't been able to get onto the previous train, as we went past all its former occupants on the Oxford Circus platform who couldn't fit onto our train, and probably not the next ten trains backed up behind us either (one a minute, remember).

On Friday night Disneyland Tax Girl, Disneyland Tax Guy and I went on a Jack the Ripper tour, visiting most of the scenes of the Jack the Ripper murders. It was extremely creepy listening to the guide in the old streets in the dusk and the rain, and imagining/trying not to imagine what it would have been like to live in Whitechapel, one of the worst slums of London, 120 years ago. I'm quite tempted to go and read up on Jack the Ripper now, but I think I might do it in daylight. Lots of fun, anyway.

Today was set aside by DTG as Shopping day, starting at Harrods and finishing in Oxford St. Harrods was impressive, as were the Saturday crowds, and we spent a few hours wandering around and staring at bags and shoes and confectionery and the building itself. We rode the Egyptian Escalator, which runs down the middle of the building in a shaft lined with Egyptian statues and carvings and paintings and mosaics.We admired the Gucci gumboots (wellingtons) and the great slabs of chocolate and fudge and the creme brulees and the caviar. I hadn't realised that you could, if so inclined, do your grocery shopping at Harrods, and I'm pretty sure I saw a girl who was doing so.

In other news, I now have a guitar. It is a mini guitar from the supermarket and I am dubious about its tuning, but it is a guitar and it is blue so I'm happy.

Have a good week!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Writing and Bits of String

I have a few projects going at the moment, but I've been thinking that I should stick with one and get it all nice and send it out to beta readers (mwa ha ha. You should know who you are. And then I will stand over you with a big stick and ask sweetly when you will be finished). I am letting my perfectionist ways get the better of me, and it's always good to have a break and reboot, as well as hear things from a different angle from readers.

The first part of my current Work In Progress alternates chapters between two characters who do not meet (at least, not yet). One character has a nice, mostly flowing story arc that I'm quite proud of (though I know it can be improved. I have learnt anything can ALWAYS be improved), but the other's story arc is a bit like a rope with knots tied in it. She has a story, and it happens with scenes strung out along the story line, but things aren't quite as interlinked as they need to be. What I would like is a nice bit of finger knitting, where each bit connects to the next and pulls the story through, preferably with things getting ever worse for the character as you go along (it being the first part of the book). Now trying to figure out how to do this.

I always enjoy and admire stories where the story strands are like a friendship bracelet - strands appear and disappear, and weave together to create a cohesive tale. I see Harry Potter as a bit like this, with multiple strands from different books all coming together and being woven in at some point.

Then there are the stories where threads are left hanging on purpose. These are the ones that make you think, and wonder what might happen next, and whether possibly the author might write a sequel, and then check their author page every other week to see if they are planning one. Some of these books I have really enjoyed, and I like the idea of leaving the reader with something to think about. It also seems more real if things are left hanging and there are uncertainties, as if the world of the book is more tangible. In the real world there are always uncertainties. I've just finished Gemma Malley's Declaration trilogy, and it's one of these (don't let it put you off if you don't like these kinds of endings! The trilogy's really good!). Being by Kevin Brooks is another example, and I think in that case the open ending was meant as a jump-off point for online discussion. It certainly gave me something to think about.

What thread patterns have you noticed in books? What kinds do you like? Do you think of story structure in other ways?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Moshing at the RAH!

Proms, people. It is Prom season, and on Monday evening I stood outside the Royal Albert Hall in rain that couldn't decide if it was rain or not and queued for tickets to Swan Lake. I probably should have arrived earlier, because the queue was rather long, but it shortened much faster than I'd feared (unlike the awful ten people-forty minute queue in the bank at lunchtime) and I was able to get in.

You can prebook seated tickets to Proms, but they have at least 500 standing tickets available on the day for 5 pounds each if you queue. I queued for the Arena (henceforth the mosh pit) and entered a side door, passed through numbers of small warren-like corridors and into the mosh pit itself. Okay, okay, I'll call it the Arena. It is the Royal Albert Hall, after all.

And the Royal Albert Hall is huge. Even today, when we're used to gigantic ceilings and huge indoor spaces, it's impressive. In Victorian times it would have been absolutely incredible.

There's the arena itself, and then stalls surrounding it. Above that are tiers of boxes (sort of) set close to the walls, with seats three or four deep. There are three levels of those, and then a more traditional gallery above that. And then above that is yet another layer, where you lean on the rails and look down. The space yawns above you right up to the domed roof, and everywhere you look are touches of red and gold. At one point I noticed an audience member standing right in front of the organ, behind the orchestra, and it took me a few moments to realise it was actually a bust of Prince Albert. The forgotten glasses strike again. The Hall holds 6000 people, and the concert was sold out.

I didn't realise until halfway through that it wasn't just determination that was keeping people standing - you weren't allowed to sit down on the floor if you had standing tickets. I managed to get all the way to the end despite my two inch heels (my amazing red boots again. Comfortable, but not that comfortable), which was more than some people did - quite a few of the standing crowd left at intermission.

I'd actually thought the intermission was the end, because people were moving and saying 'that's it' and discussing going home, and was disappointed beause the end seemed quite abrupt. At the door I realised it was only half time due to the ushers scanning peoples' tickets 'for re-entry', so I bought an overpriced icecream (Haagen Dazs) and wandered through the halls. The halls are bigger around the main seating areas, but I still wouldn't like to have to evacuate.

The second half was definitely worth the sore feet. The orchestra was very good, and the conductor kept having to return to the stage because of the applause. He came back seven times in all, and the Hall rang to the sound of clapping and stamping feet (it's amazing how much better sore feet feel after stamping).

I'm planning to go again in a few weeks to hear Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 (if you don't know which one that is, look it up on Youube). The prebook tickets are already sold out, so I hope the queues won't be too bad to get in....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I know today is supposed to be about writing, but I feel that chocolate and writing are inextricably linked, so really this post is about writing.

It is difficult to get good chocolate in the UK, especially at my local store where it's all supermarket brand or expensive stuff. I have heard tell of New Zealand shops where I can buy proper chocolate at greatly inflated prices, but first I'm trying out different UK brands to see if any are acceptable. (On a side note, I noticed the other day that there is an upstairs to the supermarket, featuring a cafe! I had noticed the travelators, and the people moving up them, but I never really properly registered them. Even though I've been past them at least once a week for the past two months.) I received some Whittakers from NZ and it has one square left, which I am saving to eat the day before my next supply arrives in London on an Airbus. Five days to go. I will also be pleased to see Disneyland Tax Girl, who is accompanying the chocolate.

I'm relatively good at typing one-handed, which is mostly due to chocolate. Eating chocolate can be a messy business, especially when you want to savour it or disassemble the different layers. Subsequently, I found it necessary to type with one hand and hold chocolate in the other. I've become so used to this that I actually tend to type with one hand more than I type with both together, which probably isn't very good for my hands. Or maybe it's a gymnastic workout - it does mean you have to skip around the keys an awful lot.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Shadows of riots in London, shopping and tubes

Okay, so I have managed to stay out of the way of riots this week, which has been good. On Monday I was in Oxford Circus the night after some rioters were there (of course I didn't know this at the time) and there were a few police around. On Tuesday at lunchtime I saw nine police vans speed past towards the city with their sirens on and their lights flashing, and a few minutes later four police vans from Wales drove at normal speed away from the city. On Thursday at lunchtime I saw seven police vans with lights flashing and sirens going, this time over the Thames south-bound. Each time I checked the BBC to see if something was happening, but no clues as to why so many police vans were in such a hurry in the middle of the day.

Everything seems to be a bit quieter now, so hopefully it'll stay that way.

In other news, I have been enjoying having a bit of money to spend. As previously mentioned (in a post ages ago), one can not fit that much into a suitcase and keep it under 23kg, so I arrived in the UK with a total of two pairs of footwear, a few select pieces of casual wear and a few more select pieces of work wear. Recently I have realised that, somehow, much of my casual wear is grey, so I'll have to rectify that at some point. More important at the moment is work wear, and fortunately there are lots of sales on.

I spent rather longer at the mall today than I had planned, but made some good purchases including a pair of shoe/sandal things that I love, and which brings my total number of shoes up to six. Shopping at a major mall on a Saturday during sales probably wasn't the best idea, but I'm still in a phase where I'm awed and excited by lots of people, which you really don't get in New Zealand. Of course the crowds didn't really compare to Tokyo, where you had to make strategic moves across the footpath so you were in the best pedestrian flow.

Working means I've been taking the tube lots, and while there are masses of people at rush hour, it's nowhere near what it is in Tokyo. In Tokyo, I boarded a train where people were running at the doors and forcing themselves on with sheer momentum, because there was such a squash inside. Most of the trains here are smaller, too - they have to fit inside the small tunnels - but people have their own little bubbles, even when other people are waiting to board. I think the English just like their personal space.

Another random fact about the Underground: no rubbish bins. For obvious reasons.

Have a good week people!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I name thee....

First, for all those who want to know, I am fine! No rioting here in the immediate vicinity :)

Today I'd like to talk about names. Personally, I like names that are difficult to pronounce and/or pronounced differently from how they look. My own name is one of these, and in my life I have answered to many different pronunciations of it, which I mostly find funny. For a while my favourite name was Caoimhe (Kiva), but I have been persuaded that any possible future offspring would not appreciate being landed with the name.

It's different when you're writing, though. You don't really want a name that has to have its pronunciation explained, and if you do choose such a name you'll have to explain it at some point (e.g. 'Hermione' is explained in HP GoF). So I try to make the names I choose straightforward, and I try them out on people to see how they pronounce them. I still like uncommon names, though, so it's a fine balance between the obvious and the interesting.

One problem I have is names beginning with A - I have way, way too many of them. This is not just because A is the first letter in a naming dictionary - some of these names I made up myself. They pop up everywhere. In one book I originally had two of the point-of-view characters, a boyfriend, a best friend, the villain and a secondary character starting with A. It took me a long time to realise this, and then I decided to go through and change half the names so you didn't get mixed up (I was getting mixed up). For the next book, I was determined to avoid A-names altogether - but then an unexpected plot twist meant I had to have a main character with an A-name. Next book: Main characters both have names starting with A. I thought a long time about this and decided it had to be done. And yet another one (the one I've most recently been working on): two secondary characters have names beginning with A, and I did not notice this until they were in a scene together and I kept mixing up their names (they both also have n's and d's). It may not seem like a big thing, but it's surprisingly difficult to keep them apart in your head.

However hard I try, they just keep popping up.

And another thing: I keep running into people whose names I've used. In the last few months, I have met a possible flatmate, an actual flatmate and a writing buddy sharing names with different main characters, and none of the names are particularly common. One of my colleagues shares a name with a secondary character, which is really weird considering I made that name up.

Maybe these names are following me around, telling me to get writing, get writing!

Do you have any naming preferences?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lunchtime in London


That’s actually quite a useful way of opening a post. I don’t need to think about a salutation or whether to just start straight into things. Actually I suppose yelling ‘squirrel’ does start straight into things. And Hopeful Gardener, you will notice that this post has a ‘squirrel’ tag.

So the squirrel I saw today was in St James’ Park, performing for the tourists and getting its photo taken. It was quite well-groomed and ran towards a woman who held out her hand, but then ran away and up a tree where it sat pretending to be bark while other tourists threw bits of bread to entice it down and legions of pigeons descended on said bits of bread.

I’m actually writing this on Wednesday and will send the post through time to Sunday, so ‘today’ is Wednesday. I’ve had some work this week, which has been nice, but I have discovered the lack of outdoor seating in London. Today was an absolutely beautiful day (surprising, since heavy rain was forecast) with, at one point, almost no clouds to be seen in the strip of sky between two four storey buildings. I bought some kind of Moroccan burrito thing at a market and looked for a place to sit and eat it, disdaining the park bench I sat on yesterday (back to a main road, facing the end of a cul-de-sac. Thrilling) and deciding against the bank of the Thames (Monday’s lunch spot) because it was too far the other way.

So I walked. And walked. And walked. Today, on this hottest of summer days, I’d decided to wear boots (my boots are awesome. And I have no dress sandals, which is to be remedied) but I was also wearing loose trousers, so I undid the boots most of the way and walked around with slightly cooler feet and no one the wiser.

I found two parks with trees and flowers and grass, but both were fenced with high fences that prevented even the smallest flower from creeping out (they’re private gardens for the houses round about). Otherwise, nothing. Not even a concrete plaza with seating or a bit of seating on the side of the road (apart from the one park bench previously mentioned). In the end I sat in a bus stop.

Next time I’ll just go straight back to the river bank.

I had a nice walk after work, though. I was aiming for Buckingham Palace, but halfway there made a turn down a street entirely because it had cobbles, and I never actually made it to Buckingham Palace. On closer inspection, the cobbles had parking spaces laid into the pattern. Probably not eighteenth century.

As I neared the end of the street, a Smartcar drove by with its radio blaring ‘Empire State of Mind’ (the song that goes 'New York... these streets will make you feel brand new, their lights will inspire you’. Wrong city. But good song.

Next I walked past New Scotland Yard, and saw a signpost that I thought said ‘Portcullis’ (What? Where? said I) but actually said ‘Horticultural Gardens’. Very disappointed. Then I found St James’ Park, where I had my encounter with the squirrel and heard a French tourist pronounce ‘where is the subway’ in the same manner as we would say ‘ou est le metro’ when practising. Further on, I saw a sign saying ‘Do not feed the Pelicans!’. Pelicans!? Where!?

I walked across the Blue Bridge and was stopped dead by the view up the river, which was like a fairy tale – misty turrets amidst green trees above the softly moving river. I had to stop and take a picture, feeling like a tourist. A few steps further and I stopped again, because the London Eye had just come into view, so now the frame was fairy tale castles and giant ferris wheel (and a little bird on a nest in the middle of the river).

I hope you have enjoyed a (Wednes)day in the life of cyanz!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pantsing (I will explain)

I’m at a bit of my story where one of the characters is about to reveal something big, something important, something that will change everything.

Problem: I don’t know what it is yet.

I keep writing, and hoping the character will tell me (no, I do not have multiple personality disorder), but he hasn’t come up with much yet. At the same time, in another part of the story, another of my characters needs to enter an extremely high-security building and retrieve something, but I’m not sure how. It’s made harder by the fact that he’s also a fugitive.

This, to those in writing (I know some of you aren’t :D), is colloquially known as pantsing, as in by-the-seat-of-your. I know eventually I’ll figure something out, but in the meantime I’m hopping around trying to find bits that I’ve given up on at other times, or editing other things.

Every so often I try to plan things out. I come up with an outline I’m happy with, but then I start to fit it together with what I’ve already written and I realise what I’ve got already could be almost as good or better. Mostly I’ve made some good discoveries through the process, but thrown out the vast majority of the plan. Even when I’ve managed to fit it together with what’s already written, I veer off into the unknown and leave the plan behind.

But I do enjoy planning.

A bit like the One Who Speaks Russian (lol).

Oh no! I’ve just realised I have a total of one major female character in the fugitive/character-knows-something story. Almost as bad as Star Wars (at least I have some minor female characters). This will have to be fixed.

(goes back to re-plan)