June 2011

Books read this month:

  1. King of Attolia. Megan Whalen Turner.
  2. Reading Mélusine: romance manuscripts and their audiences c.1380-c.1530. Tania Colwell.
  3. The Princess and the Hound. Mette Ivie Harrison.
  4. Serenity: Those Left Behind. Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews, and Will Conrad.
  5. An Introduction to the English Version of ‘Melusine’: A Medieval Prose Romance. Robert J. Nolan.
  6. Black Powder War. Naomi Novik.
  7. The Hero and the Crown. Robin McKinley.

Best novel about a king: King of Attolia
Best novel about a red-haired princess: The Hero and the Crown
Best other novel about a red-haired princess: The Princess and the Hound

How could I choose between The King of Attolia and The Hero and the Crown for best rereads? Honestly.

Today I finished:

My novel: Just a short while ago I wrote, Here ends the tale of Princess Agnes and the Golden Crab, closing my novel at 50,022 words. A month ago I did not have a novel. Now I do. I’ve written the third book in a series! Wow.

My thesis chapter: This morning I put the finishing touches on the second chapter of my thesis, printed it out, and handed it to my supervisor after lunch. This chapter at 19,652 words, ‘What is the difference between fairy and demon? The Case of Melusine‘ forms the keystone of my PhD thesis. My PhD thesis is now nearly half-way done! Oh my.

A favourite book: I spent the remainder of a sunny afternoon reading in the quiet serenity of the Cathedral cemetery, where I read the second half of The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. Without a doubt, Aerin is my favourite princess ever. I have been told that I am more than a little like her, and I’ve lost count how many times I’ve read this beloved book.

Both Rebecca and Kelly have pointed out that this has been quite the month of writing for me. I may or may not have written the most words I have ever written in one month this June (I honestly don’t know), but one thing I do know: that it is possible to write a novel and be actively writing my thesis at the same time.

Another ‘On’ Day

Have I mentioned recently how much I love where I live? It is days like today that remind me of it: when the sun shines unexpectedly, warm as summer should be; when, feeling restless in my office, I can escape to the sea by walking down the street. How fortunate I am that ‘work’ can mean walking along the cliff and the seaside, letting one part of the brain stew over what to write next while the other glories in the blue of the sea that sparkles with diamonds.

Today was another good day. If last week was an ‘off’ week then it looks like this week is ‘on’, so far! I wrote nearly 5000 words today, 2300 for my thesis and 2300 for my novel. I just need another day and a half of ‘on’ days and then I can rest for the weekend.

A while ago Ros called up the stairs, saying, ‘O Writing One, the last piece of cake is yours!’ So I am going to go reward myself with cake.

WORD COUNT: 47,775

A day in the life


  • 6.00. Wake up when it gets fully light in my room, and go back to sleep.
  • 7.30. Wake up again with my alarm.
  • 8.40. Morning ‘commute’ (including a short pause to watch the ducks).
  • 9.00. Arrive at the office. Make a cup of tea and sit down to work.
  • 1.00. Lunch with Rebecca and Ros.
  • 2.00. Return to work.
  • 5.30. Leave the office.
  • 5.50. Catch the tail end of PM on BBC Radio 4.
  • 6.00. Make and eat dinner while listening to the Six O’Clock News and Comedy Time on BBC Radio 4.
  • 7.10. Sit down to write novel.
  • 10.45. Put clothes in the washer.
  • 11.05. Blog.
  • 11:20. Bed.

An ideal day would also include time spent reading for fun and/or knitting, but I am not going to argue about today. Instead, I’m going to bed with a Cheshire cat grin on my face because I added about 1000 words to my thesis chapter today and wrote over 3000 words for my novel and finished Chapter Nine. Excuse me while I am terribly pleased with myself.

WORD COUNT: 45,491

Busy Sunday

Today I:

  • Read intercessions at church;
  • Roasted a chicken;
  • Made gooseberry and elderflower jam;
  • Repot one of the roses;
  • Skyped with Felicity and Kelly;
  • Made dinner for PGCU (Postgraduate Christian Union);

Whew. What a busy day. The problem with having Sundays be my ‘day off ‘ from work means it gets full of everything else. I did not, however, work on my novel or read for fun, which were both things I wanted to do today. The latter was forestalled because it took me 20 minutes to figure out how to turn the gas on for the stove at church, and the former because I arrived home at 10 PM and I am exhausted. It is a good thing I wrote some extra yesterday, and I will have to write extra tomorrow. It is rather frustrating though, to have this be the first WriMo in a good while in which I have not been two days’ ahead for half the month, and that here I am, four days from the end and have gotten behind.

I know. Moaning about a self-imposed deadline for a self-imposed insane task of writing a novel in 30 days which is a self-imposed glorified hobby/second-career in addition to that of my ‘day job’ as a PhD student.

Pomp & circumstance

This week has been graduations at my university. I ushered three of the eight ceremonies this week. Our university, being the oldest in Scotland, has a wonderful ceremony full of tradition. (Though I will admit, the quality of Latin spoken these days makes my medievalist heart cringe.) One of the honorary graduands at this year’s ceremonies was none other than Sir David Attenborough. I had the pleasure of attending his lecture on ‘Alfred Russel Wallace and the Birds of Paradise’ on Tuesday night and of attending the ceremony in which he was honoured.

In my last post I mentioned that it had been pouring rain. Well, it certainly was on Tuesday, the first day of graduations. At the end of each ceremony, the academic procession leaves the hall to go to Sallies Quad. A piper leads the way, followed by the university’s maces, each carried by its own bedellus. Behind them come the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor and the rest of the Senatus Academicus, the honorary graduates, and the new graduates. The procession always goes right past my office, so I stand out on the front stoop to watch them walk past, waving at any of the graduates I might know. Well, the very first day of processions still took place in the rain.

The rain also meant that I didn’t do any gardening this week, and the garden is already being taken over by weeds. I did a bit of weeding today, since it was sunny and mostly dry, but I only cleared the area around the sweet corn. Weeds in a garden of this size are going to be a constant battle.

I also had a moment of happy surprise this week. My walk to and from work takes me along and across the Kinnessburn, a smallish river. There are usually an abundance of ducks around the footbridge that crosses the burn. One particular duck is my favourite — she appeared last year and has the most extraordinary colouring, being cream and white instead of the usual brown and black. I had been worried that something had happened to her since I hadn’t seen her since before the mating season began, and though I hoped she just might be farther upstream, I hadn’t gone on a walk along the burn to be sure. All is well though, for she has come back! With babies! Eight of them, already looking adolescent-like and less baby-like. I saw her again today and am very pleased indeed.

See, isn’t she pretty?

WORD COUNT: 40,028

The Forest of Darkness

This has been a frustrating week. Bad hay fever, miserable headaches, obnoxious and infuriating people (person, rather), utility bills, pouring rain, discovering another book to read with a looming deadline and another deadline just days after that. And amidst all this, I got behind with writing my novel. Though it meant staying up tonight, I didn’t want to fall any more behind, so I wrote. Princess Agnes and the Pooka entered the Forest of Darkness in their quest to rescue the Golden Crab, and, well, it is called the Forest of Darkness for a reason…

Agnes had been transformed into a rabbit.

Behind her came a low growl. She bolted. Instinct told her to run, and how to use her legs. She leapt forward, bounding in quick, far reaching leaps. The hunter chased her, just as swift. She panted, barely feeling the ground beneath her as she touched it lightly with the tips of her toes. Smell and hearing and some sense she did not know told her that the hunter still chased her; sheer luck kept her just ahead of it.

She smelled the thicket before she ran into it. Diving down at the base of it, she slithered and crawled her way under the branches. Thorns pulled at her fur and dug into her skin. Broad, heavy paws scrabbled at her from behind. Agnes was certain her heart would burst. One paw swiped her tail. Yelping, she jumped forward. The thorns raked wicked gashes in her sides. On the other side, the princess sat very still, panting and straining her ears. There was nothing to hear.

Except for the growl that came from directly in front of her. The thicket had been a mere thorn bush. Her struggle through its thorns only gave the hunter time to circle the bush and wait for her on the other side. The growl came from deep in its throat. Deep and low and quiet and terrifying. Agnes only caught the glimpse of yellow eyes as it leapt toward her, its jaws clamping down on her neck. She screamed and screamed and screamed.

…that was the first, if not the second, nightmare Agnes experienced. She was also attacked by willows, wandered lost and blind in the forest, heard horrible things from her dearest friend in the world, mistook something that was definitely not the Pooka for the Pooka, and was pushed down a well by the person she loved. And then she fell, and fell, and fell…

I’m back on schedule and I should finish Chapter Eight tomorrow.

WORD COUNT: 38,571

My own roses

Though a bit late this summer, everywhere I walk in town the roses are blooming. Whether they are climbing up garden walls or growing in bushes here and there, whenever I see them I smile. I used to hate roses — or rather, the idea of giving someone roses, because it was cliché and I didn’t really like the look of roses that came from a florist. Roses growing out, though, are a different thing entirely. The Red House in Oklahoma had a rose bush, and while caring for it for the year and a half I lived there I read Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley, and well, I fell in love with roses. Since then I have remembered that my MeeMee kept roses at her house in Charleston. I am glad to share this connection with her.

So when I was walking home from working at the Registry today, helping prepare for graduations this week, I was admiring other people’s roses and feeling sad that my own garden did not have any. It was a beautiful warm afternoon and I took a longer route home, even if I was very tired from a full weekend of work. My route happened to pass by the other little garden shop, which tends to have a greater variety of plants than the proper garden shop nearer my house. I paused to looked at the plants, not intending to buy any, as most plants are out of my budget right now. But then I saw a teeny rose peeking its head out from the shadows of a low shelf. I walked away with two, because together they were only £3, and I couldn’t decide which I wanted more. I came home, repotted them, and put them on the sitting room windowsill — the default home for plants until I decide where they need to go. I hope they stay there, because it also means I can look at them, and smile at my very own roses. I plan to keep them in pots as long as I can, so that they can move with me when I move house.

WORD COUNT: 32,335

Balancing act

The most difficult thing about a being a PhD student — I think — isn’t figuring out a topic, doing the research or evening formulating an argument, even though these are all rather difficult and stressful tasks, as I can clearly attest to. The most difficult thing is to figure out one’s modus operandi, to find the balance between thesis and non-thesis. Unlike my American comrades, I have no classes. I teach if I want to, not because I have to. From day one I have complete freedom over my time, just so long at the end of three or four years I have a book-length thesis of satisfactory, if not excellent, academic quality to present to the university. I choose when to work, when to sleep, when to eat, everything. No one cares when I work; no one is keeping tabs on if and when I use the office or the library. My time is, quite literally, my own.

I know I am self-motivated — otherwise I wouldn’t be here — and supposedly I am self-disciplined as well. Yet even I find it difficult to find the balance between what I want to do and what I need to do, even when these things are very often one and the same. I am naturally a night owl (even if in recent years this rarely goes past midnight), and with my closest friends living at least five or six hours behind me, the time difference encourages this tendency. My best insights for my creative writing often happen after 8 o’clock in the evening. However, I take pleasure in the early hours of the morning before the rest of the world is awake and I know I perform my best academically while the sun is ascending. But, as I have posted before, I sometimes have trouble sleeping and so taking advantage of these morning hours is becoming more difficult.

In some ways, it would be ‘easier’ if one did have classes and other demands on one’s time. I’ve spent most of my life working around class schedules and finding times to get things done between classes. That is something I know how to do. It is the complete and utter freedom that requires the most discipline. And I think that is something most non-academics don’t realize about the life of being a PhD student. It is a privilege to have this freedom, certainly; but neither is it easy.

So, how does one take advantage of being a night owl (when I am most creative) as well as being an early bird (when my academic work is sharpest)? I have yet to find out.

WORD COUNT: 28,459

Items of note

A few notable things as of today:

  1. Having finished Chapter Five and passed the 25k word count mark, I am now half way done with my JuNoWriMo novel;
  2. I have moved on to my second pair of gardening gloves, having thoroughly worn the first pair into shreds. Seriously;
  3. After going for six (6) months without buying a single book for myself, I bought two books today: Sabriel and Lirael by Garth Nix, because I wanted them, and because I felt that six months without buying a single book was quite enough.

WORD COUNT: 25,410

Under 25? Actually, no.

I went to Morrisons today for my weekly shop. On the menu this week is risotto, which necessitates white wine. Having never been carded before at Morrisons, I was not anticipating any problems. However, when I handed the cashier my Texas driving license as a form of I.D., she said, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t accept this form of I.D. It has to be a UK driving license or your passport.’

My expression was one of utter surprise, and I cannot entirely remember what I said. Something along the lines of ‘Really?’ with tones of disbelief and criticism.

She explained that she could lose her job or pay a hefty fine. Meanwhile, I was thinking to myself, But my driving license is a government issued form of I.D…

‘I’m twenty-six,’ I said. The signs in Morrisons all say Under 25? Don’t mind if we card you, etc. I don’t exactly look seventeen anymore.

While she rang up the rest of my items, I pointed out that since I live in this country, I wasn’t going to be carrying my passport around. She said it used to be that they would only accept British passports. I thanked her curtly and left the shop.

On my way home, I stopped by the co-op and picked out a bottle of white wine. The cashier asked for my I.D. and I handed her my Texas driving license. She said, ‘Perfect,’ and gave it back to me. Thank you, Spar, for proving Morrisons to be absolutely ridiculous.

Edited: In a fit of customer annoyance, I sent a complaint to Morrisons explaining what had happened. Their response admitted that they are actually unable to accept non-UK passports as forms of I.D. either. They suggested that I purchase a PASS approved Proof of Age card (which are £10). Hah!

WORD COUNT: 23,913