So Steve and I are back from the Writer’s Festival. We had a great time – well, I did; I think he did too (his favourite was a workshop on Bears In Poetry; he got to read one of his latest pieces). I came back with a bunch of new books, a small jar of iron gall ink (more on that below), and a ton of inspiration and encouragement.
I think the one main impression, the key idea, I took away from this conference is this: There is no one way to doing things as a writer. It came out over and over in presentations, in workshops, in discussions, in Q&A sessions. There are pantsers, there are plotters. There are people who crank out novels every few months, there are ones who take years. Some write in third person past tense, some use first person present. There’s traditionally published authors, there’s self-published ones. There’s outliners, there’s free-writers. And you’ll find any stripe of them in any category – not all plotters are trad-published, not all self-publishers are pantsers (or vice versa). In other words, do whatever works for you and for what you’re working on. As one of the presenters (the most excellent Jodi McIsaac) put it: It’s not a rule, it’s a tool.
And speaking of tool, the last workshop I took, and probably the most fun one (even though it wasn’t directly related to the kind of writing I do, with keyboard and screen and stuff), was on ink. That’s right, the black stuff (or blue) that flows from the end of your pen and makes words on paper. The presenter, Ted Bishop, has written a whole book on it: The Social Life of Ink: Culture, Wonder, and Our Relationship with the Written Word. I haven’t read it yet, but yes, of course I got a copy. And he signed it for me – in my own ink. You see, being one of those suck-up-to-the-teacher types, I brought him a jar of my walnut ink (and a walnut with the husk still on it, to show what they look like).
But what we actually did in the class was make real, honest-to-goodness, classic iron gall ink. The kind of ink that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written in, and the earliest existing copy of the Quran, and Magna Carta, and of course all of Shakespeare’s stuff and Jane Austen’s and pretty much anyone who is anyone’s and every nobody’s as well, up until the early 20th century.
While Ted was talking about the history of the ballpoint pen (fascinating!), we passed around a mortar and pestle with an oak gall in it, taking turns grinding it down to a fine powder. Then we ground in a chunk of gum arabic (the stuff that’s the binder in watercolour paints), mixed it in water (it was still a boring buff colour at this point), then added a teaspoon of ferrous sulfate, which is a pale green powder (I got to stir). And – voilà! – the mix instantly turned a deep black! And then we got to try it out – and the funky thing about this particular kind of ink is that it doesn’t go on as black as it becomes later, but looks quite watery to start with. I thought the pen hadn’t been loaded correctly on my first stroke, and re-dipped it and re-drew the lines – but what happens is that it’s actually the chemical reaction with the air, aka plain old oxidation, that makes it go really black on the page. Kind of like Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map, where the letters appear pale at first and get stronger and stronger (Ted’s description, not mine). It’s a beautiful ink, a deep blue-black (once it’s done oxidising), and completely waterproof – I soaked the sheet of paper in the picture here after I’d written it, and it didn’t smudge or run at all. And it could last for millennia…
So, that’s what I did on my weekend. And now I’m itching to get back to writing (I’ve even played with the idea of handwriting a story sometime – not with iron gall ink, of course; dip pens are far too tedious – but then I always end up back at the keyboard).
So I’ll sign off, with Life, the Universe, a Writer’s Conference and Iron Gall Ink. Talk to you later!
I’m going to a Writer’s Conference this weekend, and as part of the conference registration you get to have a Blue Pencil (critique) session with a professional writer/editor. I sent in a short story I wrote a couple of years ago, an off-the-cuff piece about a girl who gets a marriage proposal she can’t refuse. I was feeling quite insecure about it – the blue-pencil presenter I’m having my session with judges short story competitions and is a professional editor, and, well, you know my rambling, drivelly style…
I fully expected her to tear the piece to shreds. I’d gone over it plenty of times, but couldn’t think of what else to do with it to improve it; it really was the best I could do with this story. So I just hit “send” on it, casting it on the waves – what will be, will be…
Then this morning, I get back an email from her. With fear and trembling, I open the message, and here is what it said:
“Hi Angelika, I really enjoyed your short story! In fact, it’s so good that I really don’t have a lot of advice to offer. Would you like to email me and bring the first 5-6 pages from another writing project to our consultation this weekend?”
And there I sat, with tears running down my face. Literally, that classic hand-clapped-to-open-mouth, laughing-and-sobbing-in-disbelief pose.
I carried my laptop downstairs to show the message to my Man, dried my cheeks, re-read the mail about another half a dozen times, then booted up my book files and found another piece to send to the editor. The first chapter of Star Bright – we’ll see what she has to say. At this point I’m willing to take almost anything from her.
Life, the Universe, and a Jaw Drop. Maybe I am a real writer, after all?
Some pictures of pictures I took last summer at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich: paintings of the Villa Malta in Rome. The first is a set of four by Johann Christian Reinhart (1761 – 1847), showing the view from the villa to the East, South, West and North. They’re hung in a small room in the museum around the four walls, so you can pretend it’s 1831 and you’re standing on the parapet of the Villa, looking out over the city.
And this is what the villa looked like from the city, painted by Domenico Quaglio in 1830. You see those little guys in the middleground, slightly to the left? At the bottom you can see just how tiny they are in the painting, with my thumb next to them to show the scale. Quaglio must have painted them with a single paintbrush hair.
That’s more words than normal for Wednesdays, but this little time travel excursion to 19th-century Rome needed a bit of explanation.
So that was Life, the Universe, and the Villa Malta in Rome in 1830. Apologies for all the words.
Gadzooks, I haven’t posted anything here since last Sunday! Well, I been busy. Fact is, I’m still busy. It’s not that I haven’t had thoughts on stuff to write about, just didn’t get to writing it.
So, meanwhile, here’s a few pictures to tide you over:
And that for today is Life, the Universe, and Random Stuff. Talk to you soon!
May I introduce Molly? Molly, Reader – Reader, Molly. Molly just arrived in our house by way of a Mother’s Day present from the Oldest Offspring, he who also gifted and named Steve some years ago. Molly came complete with name, as well.
She’s very soft and has extra-floppy ears, which, she tells me, are what makes her a music lover. Her favourite songs are in minor keys, and she was pleased when I told her that “Moll” is German for “minor”.
Steve is quite smitten with his new friend; at the moment they’re stuffing-deep in a discussion of the relative merits of the Beatles’ lyrics vs. the poetry of William Blake. Just wait until Horatio gets in on the argument – it won’t be more than a minute before he’ll be quoting “Tyger, Tyger burning bright” (being a stuffed tiger, he’s biased).
Life, the Universe, and Molly. Happy Mother’s Day!
Here we go with some more editorial pontification, about another issue that I’ve noticed while editing: the pesky and much-confused issue of “lie” vs. “lay”. I’m not talking about “lie” as in “telling a falsehood” – you know, “He’s lying like a rug.” Though, wait – actually, that latter example, yes, we will be talking about that. But not in the “falsehood” sense.
What this is about is the verb “lie” as in “to be in a horizontal, recumbent, or prostrate position, as on a bed or the ground; recline”. And then, “lay”, as in “to put or place in a horizontal position or position of rest; set down” (definitions courtesy of dictionary.com).
And there you have the difference in a nutshell: lie and lay are both about flat-on-your-back-ness, but the difference is who is implementing it. “Lie” means “to BE on your back”, “lay” “to PUT on the back”.
To demonstrate: Here’s me, laying Steve down:
And here is Steve, lying down:
So, picture 1, I lay Steve down, picture 2, Steve lies down. “Lay” always has to take an object; there always has to be a “whom?” or “what?” with it. Whom or what do I lay down? My stuffed bear, Steve. And once I lay him down, there he lies (no object) (also not a lot of initiative; he’s a bear, he’s too lazy to move).
You know the little children’s prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep…”? That one can really throw you off, because you’re talking about yourself here, your own flat-on-your-backness. But note it doesn’t say “Now I lay down…”, but “Now I lay me down…” Whom or what do I lay down? Me, my tired body. And once I lay me down, there I lie. Technically, the poem should say “Now I lie down…”, but that would screw up the metre, so, “lay me” instead of “lie”.
That’s also where “lying like a rug” comes in. If you say someone lies like a rug, that means he’s a really bad liar (I mean, a good liar. He’s really bad because he lies, but good at it. Umm – whatever.). A rug, by definition, lies flat on the ground, it’s the ultimate in passivity. You can’t get more lyingly lying than a rug. The rug lies – not lays.
Laying is something a hen does, with an egg – laying hens lay eggs. Whom or what do they lay? Eggs.
So, a rug lies, a hen lays (eggs). Easy, no?
But here’s the wrench in the works: “lay” is also the past tense of “lie”. So, yesterday, the rug lay on the floor (curse its woolly hide). But the hen, at exactly the same time, laid an egg.
“Lay”, “to put down flat”, is a regular verb; its past tense (and past participle, which you use in the past perfect) is formed by adding -ed, or in this case, -id: lay, laid, had laid. Today I lay Steve down, yesterday I laid him down, the day before I had laid him down.
But lie, the “be on your back” version, is an irregular verb: lie, lay, had lain. So Steve, having never got up when I laid him down, still lies there; just as yesterday, he lay there, and the day before he had lain there.
(The “tell a falsehood” version of “lie” is a regular verb – lie, lied, lied: today I lie, yesterday I lied, the day before I had lied – that’s where the rug simile breaks down, because you can’t say that last week Joe “lied like a rug”.)
So, one more time: “lie” stands on its own, it’s something I do, myself; “lay” needs an object, it’s something I do to another person or thing. The hen lays an egg on the rug that lies on the ground.
Now, before you’re comatose with boredom (as your lying on the floor with your eyes glazed over indicates), I’ll stop laying down grammar laws. But don’t say I never told you nothin’ – that’d be a lie.
Life, the Universe, and Lies, all Lies. Uh, I mean, Lie vs. Lay. Now you know.