Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thursday extracts: Pratchett and names

Whenever I write, one of my biggest challenges comes in finding believable names for my characters. I sometimes stoop to wandering around churchyards looking for suitable contributions from headstones.  Terry Pratchett has no such problem. The names he creates are instantly recognisable, even when they are totally insane.  In Dodger, his latest novel, the story is set in Dickensian London, and the dramatis personae includes some wonderfully descriptive names.

The dog is called Onan, by the way. I had to look that one up.

Some of the lads and lasses were drinking outside the Gunner's Daughter, sitting on the old barrels, bundles of rope, hopeless piles of rotting wood and all the other debris of the riverside. Sometimes it seemed to Dodger that the city and the river were simply all the same creature except for the fact tht some parts were a lot more soggy than others. 

Right now, in this tangled, smelly but usually cheerful disarray, he recognised Bent Henry, Lucy Diver, One-Armed-Dave, Preacher, Mary-Go-Round, Messy Bessie and Mangle.

Terry Pratchett

Monday, December 24, 2012

Tree Time

It's Christmas again. That means the house will be in turmoil and nothing will be in its proper place and I shan't be able to find anything and afterwards I shall have to spend simply ages putting everything back in order. It's always me that has to do it. The others think it doesn't matter, that everything will be here somewhere and it's not like we ever really need to look a long way for things that have been put somewhere different. It's not like it's a big home.

Well I know that, and I'd not want to live anywhere bigger. It's cosy. We've been together a long while, and the sparkle might be a bit worn off since the old days but we're comfortable together. Him and me and the kids.

I remember the first time we met: that Christmas long ago. I fell for him straight away, in his red suit and his polished black boots. He winked and said my wings were beautiful, and called me his Angel. He's such a charmer.

Now we celebrate every year, on the tree, surrounded by friends and relations. It's not a bad life, even if I shall have to tidy the whole shelf when we get back in the New Year.

Oh well, here we go, it's time to shine.
Merry Christmas to all.
Love from the Bauble Family.

My latest Thinking Ten contribution

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thursday extracts: James Stephens on women's difficulties

In the centre of the pine wood called Coilla Doraca there lived not long ago two Philosophers. They were wiser than anything else in the world except the Salmon who lies in the pool of Glyn Cagny into which the nuts of knowledge fall from the hazel bush on its bank. He, of course, is the most profound of living creatures, but the two Philosophers are next to him in wisdom. Their faces looked as though they were made of parchment, there was ink under their nails, and every difficulty that was submitted to them, even by women, they were able to instantly resolve. The Grey Woman of Dun Gortin and the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath asked them the three questions which nobody had ever been able to answer, and they were able to answer them. That was how they obtained the enmity of these two women which is more valuable than the friendship of angels. The Grey Woman and the Thin Woman were so incensed at being answered that they married the two Philosophers in order to be able to pinch them in bed, but the skins of the Philosophers were so thick that they did not know they were being pinched. They repaid the fury of the women with such tender affection that these vicious creatures almost expired of chagrin, and once, in a very ecstacy of exasperation, after having been kissed by their husbands, they uttered the fourteen hundred maledictions which comprised their wisdom, and these were learned by the Philosophers who thus became even wiser than before.

The Crock of Gold
James Stephens

Monday, December 17, 2012

A matter of faith

“In a shed? Are you serious?”

Her voice was even shriller than usual, but he realised she was tired and knew he had to be patient with her. She was never at her best when she missed out on sleep and the journey had been long and arduous. Joe lowered his eyes and tried not to inflate her anger any further, but he suspected he was in for a tirade. She didn’t disappoint him.

“That’s the best you can do? Really? Didn’t you think to book anything? You knew we had to come here. You knew it would be packed with other people, and yet it never crossed your mind to make arrangements. Trust you to mess up completely. You want me to sleep in a shed. The management expect me to sleep in a shed. On what, exactly?”

Joe started to mumble apologies and explain how he would make it as comfortable as he could. It was more of a stable, actually and there would be hay, and horse blankets and he’d do his best, but she wasn’t listening. He tuned out when she mentioned her “condition”, because he knew all about that. He had to grit his teeth to stay quiet about that. After all, it wasn’t his baby she was carrying. It couldn’t be. They’d never done anything to cause a baby, and she swore she was a virgin but she obviously wasn’t.

He had agreed to marry her in spite of that, because he loved her and she promised that the real father wasn’t around any more. It was a shame they’d had to make this trip so close to her due date, but they didn’t have a choice. As he started arranging straw into the semblance of a bed, he put up a silent prayer that she wouldn’t go into labour tonight.

But it seemed God had other ideas.

******************* Today's Thinking Ten prompt was: in a barn or shed

Friday, December 14, 2012


I'm back on Thinking Ten. It's got my creative juices going again, although so far I've not come up with anything that continues from the previous day's creation. But these four lads have appeared before.

“Well this is a right wash-out if you ask me.”

That was Alan; always the first to complain about anything.

“Well no-one did, so shut it.”

Simmo. Putting an end to Alan’s whinge before it got out of hand; probably protecting Baz from feeling guilty. He was good like that. It had been Baz’s idea to sneak out from home, tell all the parents that we were staying at someone else’s house, but sleep out in the old shed on the allotment. He said it would be a laugh and we were all quick enough to agree, but none of us was quick enough to think it through. We had no food, no drink, no light, not even warm clothes, and it was freezing. Not to mention that we’d broken the shed window two weeks ago trying to get inside the place.

Nigel saved us in the end.

“Let’s go to mine. Mother won’t care if I say you guys are crashing on the floor for the night. You can all say honestly that you’ve got permission.”

Baz didn’t look too keen at first but he perked up at Nigel’s next announcement.

“There’ll be cocoa, and biscuits. And Dad brought that new street fight game home today and I’ve not had chance to try it yet.”

So we all trooped off to Nigel’s place, trying to look like we planned it that way.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thursday Extracts: The Days of Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin Trail Hull

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Philip Larkin

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Don't give up your day job

A computer expert in Florida has designed a program that is capable of writing stories. But don't panic, all your scribes out there: it doesn't write very good ones.

The software, called Xapagy, has been loaded with a lot of existing tales, translated into a language it can understand, then asked to create new writing of its own.  At first it was given a section of a known tale, such as Red Riding Hood, then asked to predict what came next.

Anyone who was taught English by a creative teacher in the 60s will be familiar with that technique. Xapagy looks for familiar connections within the given script, and uses them to create the next stage of the narrative. Here's an example of its work:

"My, what a big mouth you have Grandma," says Little Red Riding Hood, with just a hint of suspicion. The wolf sneezes. "Bless you," says the little girl.

The idea of the program is to improve the design of future robots; to make artifical intelligence more human and therefore more user-friendly. Experts predict that eventually it will be able to make up its own stories, once it has a large enough store of existing ones.

Xapagy's tale is told in the December 8 edition of New Scientist. I had to check that it wasn't from April.
The programmer's name? Lotzi Bölöni.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Inspiration, Thinking Ten, and generally getting my act together

I have been remiss. I admit it. I have been doing absolutely no writing for weeks/months/ages. Then I heard that Thinking Ten had been missing for a while but was back. I had been missing for longer.  In penance I visited and played the prompt (yesterday's prompt I admit - but I did it anyway!)   Herewith:


It wasn’t like it was the best room in the place, and by god the place had some very nice rooms, but it was comfortable and well supplied. And once Ingrid had a pass key it was easy enough to come and go as she pleased. Nobody took much notice of her and her kind. They were supposed to act in a way that wouldn’t disturb the other residents. That was the point.

She liked to think she paid her way. She knew what had to be done and was happy enough to do it, even the dirty bits, in exchange for her little piece of freedom. So she would never have to go back to the awful man who took her money and made promises he didn’t keep. Oh he’d brought her to England alright, at least, most of the residents spoke English, so she assumed that was where she was, but there was no mention when she bought her passage that she would have to pay more on arrival, and if she couldn’t pay (Of course she couldn’t pay. It had taken every coin she had to buy the ticket!) she would be made to provide in other ways. With men. Dirty, smelly men with hard fists and limp dicks.

Luck followed her the night she got away, when she hid by latching onto a group of rag-tag folk by a dimly lit back door of a huge building. She was hustled inside and given a pink-checked uniform to wear and sent off with another woman who showed her how to clean and tidy the hotel rooms and make beds with fresh new sheets when guests left. That night she learned where all the stores were kept and she realised that behind the shelves was space: enough for a bed, made of abandoned cushions and covered in last year’s style of sheets.

Six months had passed, as far as she could tell. She worked every night and early morning but never asked for pay. She lived on leftovers, and people’s waste, and was richer than at any other time in her life.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Thursday extracts: Yorkshire politics


Religion, when we were kids, was all about control. It was about the ruling classes being hand-in-glove with the church to keep ordinary, hard-working people terrified of having a mind of their own.

Sally Wainwright
Last Tango in Halifax
(BBC drama. Delivered by the character Alan, played by Derek Jacobi.)