The Lighthouse – P.D.James

Having begun the year with Poe, I have come to the conclusion that he is best appreciated in small doses, and inbetween other reads.

This is partly because, while I was doing the mini-spring-clean which has provided me with an office, I picked a book off the shelf, as you do when you’re cleaning (or is that just me?), and that was the end of the cleaning. I was supposed to be doing the rest of the flat. I only did the office…

The book, well, that was The Lighthouse by P.D.James. I have no idea how I came by it, but apparently I did, and it was the book which leapt out at me.

Now, I like murder mysteries, but I have a hard time these days finding the sort I want to read: I’m not so keen on the fast-paced, conspiracy-theory-heavy thrillers, or those that provide every possible detail to prove the writer knows his/her police procedure; but I like Commander Adam Dalgliesh, and I like James’ writing. It is evident, but not in-your-face that she knows her stuff (and given her working life before writing, she probably ought to).

The Lighthouse is set on a fictional island off the Cornish coast. The sort of mystery with a limited suspect-pool and the murderer can’t get away, but everyone’s cooped up with him/her, so s/he’s likely to get desperate as the detective gets closer to the answer. This particular island is run as a very exclusive get-away for the over-stressed professionals, and they pay for the island’s privacy. And then one dies.

Dalgliesh is a sensible, robust sort of detective. If he lacks the eccentric flair I normally like in my detectives, there is a comforting solidity about him. Having found a much earlier James, from the ’70s, I’ve come to the conclusion that Dalgliesh must be a sort of Peter Pan character, since The Lighthouse is from 2005, but then, I haven’t read all the others to know what happens in his life between then and now, and nor do I know even his approximate age in either novel.

It is my intention to begin a P.D.James collection, and no higher praise can I give to an author.

A Room of One’s Own

Completing a novel is all about writing. About finding the time to write, every single day, whether for five minutes and a hundred words or eight hours and two thousand. It’s also about having the space to settle down, hopefully undisturbed, to use that time to write.

I lost the habit of writing in the last six months of last year, except for blog-posts. It’s easily done when Life makes other demands. Life does that, sadly. No time, no energy.

It didn’t help that the room I meant to use as my Stitchery and Office was filled with all the junk we hadn’t managed to get rid of just yet. There was barely space for my laptop, let alone me. No space, either. I can write while curled up on the sofa, but there are distractions.

Last week, though, the spare room became this:

Stitchery Office

Clean, tidy, and available for use. So far (touch wood), it’s working. I am writing again.

There is much to be said for Virginia Woolf’s claim that a woman requires money and a room of her own in order to write. Certainly the room is indispensable. Money would be nice, too, but we can’t have everything…

And yes, I do sit on the giant bean-bag, and yes, I do know how bad it probably is for me to spend so long hunched over the desk with no back-support.

It’s comfy, and I like it.

 

Rosebud Romance

There’s something about a new year which inspires change. I suspect it has something to do with having spent the festive period surrounded by family and family-friends all asking about your life and what are you up to now?

Rosebud Romance

I’m not sure I’d want to become a butterfly, necessarily, but with all the other changes of plans going on at the moment, this seemed an appropriate pattern to stitch. I’ve had my eye on it since last summer, when I found it in issue 295 of CrossStitcher, and now just seemed the right time. That, and birthdays after Christmas are a bit awkward. As per the suggestion, this was turned into a little bag:

Rosebud bag

I was quite surprised to find the pink fabric (I’m not sure what it is, some kind of poly-satin, I think) in my stash, and that it was so suitable for this project. Also, I so need to go back to IKEA for more of their linens.

It was nice to get my sewing machine out again. It’s reminded me that I collect so many patterns and fabrics, and then never do anything with them. Hopefully this will be the year when all that changes.

Mists of Time: The Viking Age

As a reader, the most important part of any novel is the story. A character or two for whom I can feel some sort of emotion (other than complete loathing) comes a close second in the list of priorities for choosing what to read.

As a writer, that story and those characters can come from anywhere.

I tend to find History to be full of both. There have been many, excellent, stories over the centuries. Leastways, I think so, and given the number of historical novels, apparently so do quite a few others. Anyway, as a step along my path, rather than just reading history and occasionally making notes in one of my many notebooks, I’m going to start sharing some of those stories here.

But first, I shall explain a little about the Viking Age. I’ve been doing that quite a bit recently – part of explaining my CV and background as a Viking Studies graduate.

The Viking Age is a very specific period. It is usually taken to begin with the attack on Lindisfarne at the end of the 8th Century, in 793, and the normal end-date of the period is 1066, with the Battle of Stamford Bridge and the death of the Last Viking, Harald Hardrada, at the hands of the last Anglo-Saxon King of England Harold Godwinson (well, OK, his army). Harold didn’t last much longer, dying at Hastings a few weeks later, leaving England in the hands of William of Normandy.

Actually, the Viking Age lasted a bit longer in the peripheries – in Scotland and Ireland – and had long since ended in mainland Europe and Byzantium.

After a bloody Ninth Century, Charles the Simple of France signed a treaty with Rollo the Viking in 911, offering him land in northern France in return for protection from other Vikings. Rollo said thanks, and proceeded to spread his wings a bit further along the French coast, with the Duchy of Normandy being established a couple of generations later, under Richard the Fearless (942-996).

In Byzantium, Vikings went from occasional raiders to Imperial guards, when Basil II formed the Varangians in 988. He decided he couldn’t trust his own people and recruited from the Northmen. Before he became King of Norway, Harald Hardrada was a very successful leader in the Varangian Guards.

To go ‘a-viking’ was something of a rite of passage for young male Scandinavians. Norwegians and Danes tended to west, towards the British Isles and mainland Europe; Swedes went east, down the rivers of eastern Europe towards Byzantium. Along the way, they also helped to establish Kiev and Russia – they were known as the Rus.

And that’s it briefly. I’ve glossed over it, and not talked much about Ireland and Scotland, but there will be more details when I’m talking about more specific people and not simply being brief.

The Path to Dreams

One of the …interesting… things about life is how quickly things change.

At the beginning of this year, we were planning a move Northwards. Two weeks later, we made the decision to stay in the South. Life, having been planned around said move North, is currently being reorganised for staying where we are. Surprisingly complicated for not going anywhere.

On the other hand, my current status of unemployment is giving me an opportune moment to really rethink my future and which way I want my life to go. Maybe one day soon I’ll have made a decision about my path. Knowing destinations is far easier than knowing how to get there. Shame there’s no map, but I suppose the journey’s always supposed to be the important thing, not the destination.

DSCN0468  The other important thing about the journey is being happy. Enjoying life. Having fun.

Destination: Being a Writer.

Path: To be Determined.

Keep Calm and Colour In

Colouring in’s all the rage right now – or it was last year: is it still? Apparently it’s soothing to the frazzled mind to sit still for five minutes with a colouring pad and pencils.

Certainly, I found it quite useful when I was revising for my summer AS exams more years ago than I care to remember – but I was using it to procrastinate, not calm down. I forget how calming it was. I think I got through an entire colouring pad that summer.

 

DSCN1777

The reason I bring up colouring in is that, having gone through my magazines with a fine-tooth comb, selecting potential projects and making organised notes of the supplies required, I now find myself in that limbo-land wherein I must await a trip to my local Hobbycraft before I can gather the last few items I need for my February Project. And I have a few weeks of my colouring-in calendar to catch up on. Sadly the camera is doing something funny, so instead I have a picture of the Peacock cushion I made for my mother for Christmas, from CrossStitcher 296. I like to think of cross-stitch as Stitching-by-Numbers, although there is that counting element, so it’s not quite as mindless…

Inbetweentimes, and aside from the colouring, I’ve also been testing another fabric I picked up from IKEA, but which sadly is not as excellent as the linen for cross-stitch, and I fear I will give up with it. A shame, as I planned to make a much-needed needle-book, but I have other fabrics. And my needles are still quite safe in their length of scrap-aida.

Lost for Words: Fire-Flaught

The internet is a many-coloured thing, with lots of wonderful resources. Is there anything more useful than knowledge at one’s fingertips?

I like knowing things. Nothing specific, just things. Lots of things. Random things. Obscure things. Details.

But of all the resources the internet has to offer me, one of my very favourites is the OED Online. For those who don’t know the OED – basically, I like reading a dictionary. But not just any dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary.

The reason I like the OED so much is that it doesn’t just tell me what a word means. It tells me how the word joined the English language and how long ago. It tells me who has used the word, and when, and in what context. It tells me the history of the word, and its spelling variations.

And I am incredibly grateful that my (several) library cards grant me free access to this wonderful resource. Sadly, at about 26 volumes and around £1K, I cannot afford the space or money for the paper copy, much as I would love one. And yes, I collect library cards. One day I would like to have joined every public library service in the UK (a bit ambitious the way governments like to close them, but I can dream).

Anyway, the reason I mention all this is because I thought it would be fun to share words. I like words and languages (although I’m not generally very good at speaking them).

My chosen word today is the noun  Fire-Flaught, which is a flash of lightning in the Scottish/N. English dialect. Apparently it was used interchangeably with fire-slaught by some authors, which is the older of the two, but that is now rare (interestingly, though, the most recent citation the OED has of it is 1999, whereas fire-flaught was most recently used in 1996).

The origins of fire-flaught seem distinctly Germanic, with fire having many cognates in the dead languages of the Dutch and North German tribes, and flaught  probably having roots in the Old English and Norse words for ‘flaying’.

I quite like the image of a lightning bolt as flaying the earth with fire.

Which words do you like?