June 2010

Books read in June 2010:

  1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.
  2. The Romance and Prophecies of Thomas of Erceldoune by Thomas of Erceldoune. *
  3. A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner.
  4. A Wizard of Earthsea by Urusla K. Le Guin.
  5. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.
  6. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri.
  7. Melusine by Jean D’Arras. *

* indicates in Middle English.

I am most proud of Melusine: 371 pages of Middle English prose, read in, if I count the days of actual reading only, 11 days, only half of which were full days in the office.

And now, for a proper update—

Today I have also had perfect timing: This morning I got up at the normal time, tossed in a load of laundry after my shower, hung up the washing on the line after breakfast, and made it into the office only 15 minutes after I normally would have. I spent 15 minutes perusing my Celtic folklore books for a Certain Project before meeting with Casey for our regularly scheduled coffee date. I ran errands and came back to begin work at 11. Excepting an hour for lunch, from 11 to 5.45 I read Melusine. And finished it. I went by the grocery, I walked home, began dinner. In and out of simmering processes, I took down the washing, folded and put it away, and sat down in front of my computer right on time for my regularly scheduled Skype date with Sarah. Now I am attempting to bring some order to chaos before going to bed, because tomorrow is July.

If only every day could account for itself so well, but in some ways I am glad they do not: while days full of industry feel nice on occasion, I read 130 pages of Middle English prose today. Even if I was speed-reading through the Saracen bits, I still read them, and I recognised the feeling in my brain on my walk home as being an echo of my MLitt and senior year of college. It is not an altogether pleasant feeling, even if I am used to it.

And thus comes July: continuing work in the library, finishing reading my primary texts, beginning work on a chapter, writing a conference paper, traveling, having a life, cooking and eating food, and yes, that Certain Project which some of you will know as JuNoWriMo. It has been noted on numerous occasions that I am perhaps attempting to live two lives at once. But, as Sarah said tonight: I have “the benefit of two minds, just in one head.”

JuNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo in July — 50,000 words in one month, and thank God am I glad July has a catch-up day at the end. What am I writing? Well, the sequel to last year’s NaNoWriMo, of course: “The Knight of the Rose, a Tale of Prince Linus.”

I am insane. Wish me luck!

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The Town Cat

Hamish the Cat

Most cats have a human or a family, but our cat has a town. He is a big, fluffy ginger cat and can be seen haunting Market Street or sunning himself on Queen’s Gardens. He deigns to be petted by the occasional commoner, but is usually aloof in a regal and leonine way, which can only be expected from a cat that has a town.

He was walking ahead of me on my way to church this morning. I was going to greet him as I passed, even if the two older ladies walking toward us overheard. Just as I opened my mouth, one of the older women called brightly, “Good morning, Hamish!”

See, I’m not the only one.

To catch up:

It appears that June is not a month for posting.

1. I have been reading primary texts, still in particular the epic Melusine, which is proving to be elusive even as I have an edition of the text right in front of me. That’s what happens when there’s only ever been two printed editions of a text and the last one was done in 1895. It appears that the two only other people in the world who study this text live in Australia. Also, I find that I will need to even further increase my palaeography skills, that I can not only recognise the scribal hand but also identify the dialect in which it is written. This, my dear readers, is being a medieval scholar.

2. I have been working in Special Collections, in which I’m a minion for the Manuscripts librarian. Thus far I’ve been inventorying the manuscripts in one of the stacks and reboxing them as necessary. Mostly I’ve been unrolling and rerolling old maps for county buildings and council housing around Fife, though I have found the occasional Cold War military map (what it was doing rolled up inside a 1924 water planning map I can only guess) and the occasional list of indexes of gold mines in Australia from 1890. It reminds me quite a bit of my job at the museum, and so I am well pleased.

3. I have been watching the World Cup as I am able, and am pleased that the U.S. didn’t lose to England and that Mexico beat France, but am also quite upset about last night’s disallowed goal for the U.S. I personally consider it to have been a 3-2 win, and it seems that most of the world agrees with me. And before you ask whether I am supporting England, allow me to remind you that I live in Scotland.

4. I have been ill yet again with a sinus infection, coupled with allergies. Thus I have been forcing myself to go to bed early and, in the case of yesterday and today, to sleep late. I have been mostly successful. I would have been more successful if the necessity of chores and laundry did not fall on the day I have off. Oh well.

But as the washing is on the line and the chores can wait, I am going back to bed.

Neo Illion

I hope that winning “Neo Illion” from Kelly doesn’t mean that I have to write the next Tom Lord novel, because I don’t think I can do it. It does mean, however, that I have temporarily broken my losing streak since March when I won “New Zealand”.

At present, I am reading Melusine, a 371-page Middle English prose romance/history, and I am baffled as to why it has not been given greater importance. When I finish reading it, I expect to find myself going to conferences and being the only person to have read it in its entirety, if at all. It may or may not be giving me ideas for a future NaNoWriMo novel, but that is the most I shall say on the subject.

The story I want to be writing isn’t finished percolating, and the one I wasn’t expecting to write for while is sending the occasional scene. I am collecting both stories bit by bit, scene by scene, shuffled and out of order. It is not a process I particularly enjoy, but I guess as long as the stories get written somehow…

When worlds collide

Usually I go visit Sarah and David, but this time they came to visit me. This past week I have had the immense pleasure of trekking around Scotland with Sarah and David. We climbed Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, explored the castle and cathedral in St Andrews, hiked along part of the coastal path, and wandered around Stirling before heading back to Edinburgh again. It’s been a delight to show such dear friends my favourite haunts and to have them see what has become my life now.

Perhaps the highlight of the week was our lunch on Wednesday, which we shared with my other dear friends, the Sharpe family, for my birthday picnic.

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(Somehow Casey managed to avoid getting photographed, hmm…)

I wish there were an equivalent in English to a sentiment I love from Spanish, to say that someone is hermano de mi corazón or mía hermana de mi alma. For to have friends so dear is truly to have brothers and sisters of the heart and soul.

Authorial intent

Last month I read Hue & Cry by Shirley McKay, a historical crime novel set in sixteenth century St Andrews. Considering that her husband is a professor of Early Modern literature at St Andrews, this novel held great promise. When Hew Cullan comes home after studying in France, he finds that the university and town are disturbed by two murders and the horrific charges of the accused murderer, who happens to be an old school friend of Hew’s. Convinced of his friend’s innocence and trained in law, Hew sets out to investigate the murders and solve the mystery.

As I said, this book held great promise. The novel had the flaws of a new novel: telling instead of showing, including irrelevant scenes and dialogue, being repetitive, an unsatisfying ending, and even using the loathsome ‘breaking their fast’ instead of ‘breakfast’*. What bothered me the most was the sheer amount of prose that was not directly relevant to the story, especially the scenes with the ridiculous comic horse. The good characters were too good, the bad characters were too bad; the good characters met with little resistance wherever they went and the bad characters made mistakes left and right. I was not convinced.

Tonight she spoke at the public library to promote the second novel in the series. It was a good thing I went: those things I disliked most about her novel were not her original intent. It was the publisher that insisted that she put in the comic horse (it rang false and felt shoe-horned in, because it actually was!) and to make the main character display modern sensibilities in order to be more sympathetic to a modern audience. It was also the publisher that chose the second novel’s title, Fate & Fortune, at which I had sniffed in pure snobbery when I first saw it. I liked her working title better.

All signs point to the second book being improved upon the first, in which case I am willing to give this new and local author another try.

The Ninth Sin has an alternative review of Hue & Cry here.
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* ‘breakfast’ existed in English the 15th century and in Scots in the 16th, therefore, the characters in this novel would have been more likely to say ‘breakfast’. There are too many fantasy authors trying to heighten the sense of ‘archaic-ness’ of their setting and characters by having the characters say, ‘Let us break our fast’, when in actuality this is an instance of contrived medievalism. /snob