(My first hat! My first cable stitches!)
This is the other:
(Blurred for Spoilers, and because first drafts are not meant for Mortal Eyes)
With both the hat and the novel, I found that I started going faster and faster as I approached the ending, and that has led to the last bits of both projects being a bit messy and wild. Fortunately I can revise the novel, and the top of that hat doesn't really show when I am wearing it, unless I happen to be around enormously tall people.
[Tangent question for my knitter-friends: is it sensible to assume that if the leftover yarn I have weighs more than the finished hat, I could knit another one with it?]
In other news:
My husband and I went to see Cirque du Soleil last month when they were in Boston. The show was Amaluna, and I loved it. The underlying story was loosely based on The Tempest, but with a mostly-female cast (Prospera played a mean electric cello, and had an all-girl backup band and a host of Amazon warriors).
One of my favorite acts of the entire show was "The Balance Goddess": one performer, holding the entire audience captive as she built an enormous structure of carefully balanced wooden ribs. There was a bit of music to start, but eventually it all fell to silence, until all that was left was her breathing. It was absolutely mesmerizing!
And now I am off to wander around listlessly in post-novel ennui for a bit.
But even so, I am really looking forward to April, when the first crocuses and squill start to push up through the snow!
In the meantime, here's what I've been up to in February:
I finished a draft of a NEW BOOK! NEW! Not a revision or a rewrite. NEW!
I am blissfully overusing caps because it feels SO GOOD! The last time I finished a first draft of a brand new book was in 2011 -- since then I've been rewriting and revising that book (which does not have a home yet, alas) and working on various false starts.
Of course, the new book is by no means a perfect book. In fact, I suspect it needs a significant amount of work. Especially the parts where I left behind notes to myself like "Insert major turning point here that will explain why X happens later."
So I spent the second half of the month working on a new outline, brainstorming, reading and re-reading craft articles and books on structure. One of my goals with this revision/rewrite is to really focus on staying true to my characters, and to ensure that the plot is driven by character choices and motivations.
And now that it's March, I'm diving back in again. Wish me luck!
2014 continues to be an excellent reading year for me -- not just the fact that I've been reading more, but the books have been awesome! I keep wanting to take pictures of my to-read pile because I am so excited about all the great books waiting for me.
Here's what I read in February:
Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford
(Adult Biography) I found this fascinating, sad, inspiring, and disturbing. I have been a fan of Millay's poetry for years, but I never knew much about her life. This is a dense book, but filled with excerpts from letters and diaries. I found it particularly interesting to read accounts of how much of a... glamour... Millay seemed to possess, almost literally enchanting the men and women she encountered. But it was also a bit hard to read in places -- especially those where Millay was dealing with poverty, interpersonal drama, and addiction. Still, a fascinating and truly gifted person, who was fiercely dedicated to her art.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
(Adult Fiction) I loved several of these short stories (including the first two, which was what sucked me in!) and found the writing to be beautiful and evocative throughout. Several of them (the titular "Interpreter of Maladies", "A Real Durwan", "Mrs. Sen's") were a bit too bitter/unresolved for me to really *enjoy*, but they have continued to ripple through my thoughts, and I think perhaps I need a bit more time to fully decide how I feel about them. My overall favorites were "This Blessed House" and "The Third and Final Continent."
P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia
(MG Historical Fiction) I enjoyed this every bit as much as the first -- I very much hope there will be a third book! I love the Gaither Sisters!
The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet
(MG Fantasy) Magical, charming, quirky, lovely, and *beautifully* written. I especially loved Maya, who makes mistakes and has faults, but is strong and funny and wonderful. I ached over her worries, especially the ones about her mother. And the vicarious trip to Paris! Both the story and the writing style reminded me a bit of Diana Wynne Jones (a Very Good Thing, for this reader).
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
(MG Fantasy) Deserving of all the accolades. One of my favorite Gaiman books so far. I loved the concept (an orphan being raised in a cemetery by ghosts), but I loved the characters even more.
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
(Adult Historical Fiction) This had the feeling of some of my favorite comfort reads, though the WWI and post-war trauma elements added some considerably more uncomfortable moments (as they should). I found it interesting that while Maisie had to deal with a lot of adversity of situation, she is one of those characters (like Anne Shirley) who seem to be almost universally loved by the other characters in her world. Some readers might find this "unrealistic" but I didn't mind. I look forward to reading more in the series!
Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau
(YA Science Fiction) I enjoyed this even more than the first in the series-- I have a soft spot for "school" books and protags with math/science/tech leanings, and I enjoyed learning more about the world and political structure (even if some of it doesn't entirely make sense if I look at it too closely).
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
(YA Fiction) Amazing voice. The ending did not entirely work for me, but the rest of it made up for that and more.
Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro
This book worked best for me when I could nibble it off in small bits. There were many essays that I loved and felt instantly true, and others that I found less applicable to my experience of the writing life, as they felt a more oriented toward someone who writes for a living (and does not have a day job, as I do).
One of the best things I did in last month was to spend several hours sliding and flying across a beautiful desert landscape toward a mysterious shining mountain, piecing together the story of a lost civilization, accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack.
Otherwise known as playing the game Journey.
It was just as amazing as promised by those who recommended it. I kind of want to bring everyone into my living room and sit them down and make them play it now, too.
Admittedly, I don't play a lot of video games -- the only one I've completed recently is Sword & Sworcery, which I also loved. In fact I had a stronger personal emotional reaction to S&S (for spoilery reasons) than Journey. But Journey was just plain beautiful to play -- the music, the art, the atmosphere, the story. And in many places it evoked a sort of effervescent joy I never would have expected from a video game.
I don't want to give too much away, but if you have a Playstation and haven't tried Journey yet, or if you are just curious, there are some screenshots and movies on the website I linked above. And if you've already played Journey -- I'd love to hear your thoughts. Did you play it in the online mode? Did you play it more than once? (I kind of want to go through a second time now).
(Special thanks to Gavin and Jenn, who both raved about Journey on Facebook, and convinced me to try it out. Jenn also blogged about it here and here, with some fascinating links to articles about the game, storytelling, and the concept of "flow").
Steampunk Fractals. Go look here!
Making patterns. I would love to see a live performance by this artist!
Knitting! I finally managed to dig out the hat I am working on and figure out how to read a chart (or at least this not-especially-complex chart). I haven't gotten to my first cable stitch, but I am on the way!
January was a really excellent reading month for me -- I managed to finish 11 books in a variety of genres and levels (1 picture book, 1 adult non-fiction, 2 graphic novels, 6 YA and 1 MG). I'd love to keep it up all year!
Two of my favorites this month both have "Summer" in the title, a fact I had not realized until I started typing up this blog post. Apparently my brain is eager for winter to be over! But they are also really good books, so I wanted to mention them here...
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Of everything I read in January, this is the one that has been staying with me most strongly. This MG historical juggles so many different elements: life in the 1960s, the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers, family dynamics, sisterhood, art, poetry. But I think the reason I loved it most was the protag, Delphine. She's just plain awesome, from her fierce dedication to taking care of her two younger sisters (even when they don't want to be taken care of) to her sense of humor and wry observations, to her deep wounds and need to be an 11 year old girl. The only reason I'm not reading the sequel right now is that I'm saving it as a reward for my next writing milestone!
The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork
I loved Stork's earlier Marcelo in the Real World, but I think I might actually have liked this one even more. Pancho doesn't necessarily invite the reader to love him, and yet I did, no matter how prickly he was. And I appreciated the absence of false sentimentality, especially involving D.Q., the boy dying of cancer who could easily have been played purely as a sort of Manic Pixie Dream Boy but was much more real.
January was also a good writing month, as evidenced by my latest stickers:
One sticker = 500 words. I'm on the downward slope with this draft, and hoping my momentum will propel me to a finish in February.
I hope January was kind to all of you, too!
Here's how I did on my goals from 2013:
Didn't do this as originally stated. Instead I wrote first chunk of a draft, then rewrote it a different way. My overall wordcount was more than my normal first draft length, so I still feel good about it, though
I didn't end up knitting the One Ring scarf I had planned, but I revised this goal to be "knit a pair of fingerless gloves and learn to use double-pointed needles" which I did!
Go to Paris
Read four books I've had on my to-read list forever
Partially done. I did plenty of reading in 2013 but only read one of the books on this list (Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers). I did read the first few chapters of the others, but I wouldn't call it a real strong effort. So they stay on my to-read list!
Send emails to the authors of books I read and love, and blog more recommendations here
Partially done. I did manage to blog about several of my favorite reads, but I failed at sending emails! I know well the joy of reader mail, so I am sorry I didn't do better at this!
And now here are my goals for 2014:
Finish the Hermione hat
I started knitting this back in July (!)
Avoid watching/reading bad news that has no redeeming qualities
It's one thing to educate myself about world events, but I really don't need to read any more articles about horrible car crashes and murders...
Finish drafting my current writing project
And revise it sufficiently so that I can send it to my critique partners and agent.
Draft (or get a good start on) something new
Ideally something that pushes me in one of the areas I want to improve craft-wise, or explores a new genre.
Send letters to five authors whose books I have read and loved lately
Read at least 25 books by diverse authors and/or about diverse protagonists.
Write up my Paris trip journal
So many of my friends have recommended it (I already bought the soundtrack and use it for writing music) and we now own a PS3!
I want to reconnect online with my friends (especially the writer-friends I don't see in 3 dimensional life). I've been kind of a hermit for most of the past year or so, and lately I've felt more lonely, missing the awesome folks I used to communicate with. I realized this year that while I read blogs and FB (and occasionally twitter and tumblr) I barely ever post anymore. I want to change that, to reach out, instead of just passively observing. So to start, I'm going to try updating at least three times a week on FB/G+ and at least once a week on my blog for the next month-- then reevaluate. If that doesn't feel comfortable, I'll figure out a replacement goal! Perhaps I will even dust off my unused tumblr account...
Do you all have any goals for 2014? Do you share them online?
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
If I had to pick one favorite book of 2013 this would be my choice. I'm not sure it would work for everyone but it worked for me. The two things that initially drew me in were:
(1) the main character is an artificial intelligence that once controlled a space ship, as well as hundreds of "ancillaries" created from the bodies of people taken from planets annexed by a sprawling intergalactic empire. Now she's down to just one body, and is on a quest for revenge.
(2) the sprawling intergalactic empire doesn't differentiate for gender in either dress or language (although they do have a concept of male and female, and seem to be some far future version of humanity). This is represented by the main character using "she" and "her" to refer to everyone, except when speaking in a local language where gender is relevant.
I feel like reading this book made my mind bigger-- stretched it out in ways I hadn't even realized it could be stretched. But it was also just plain fun, and I really came to feel for Breq (as the spaceship calls herself in her single form). There's not a lot of big action, but I loved the tension as Breq slowly reveals the painful, heartbreaking events in her past that led to her present situation. This book tells a complete and satisfying story, but I am definitely going to be watching for Leckie's next book (coming later this year I believe), which will continue the story of these characters and their world.
[Adult Science Fiction]
Champion by Marie Lu
This was the third and final book in a trilogy (following Legend and Prodigy). I actually read all three in the past year, and loved them all very much. The two main characters June and Day have wonderfully distinct voices and perspectives (which can be a stumbling block in some dual POV books). I love how the entire series explores power and choice, and doesn't try to give any easy answers. And that while there is a quite lovely romance, it doesn't dominate the plot.
[YA Science Fiction]
Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis
This was a great year for third books! It is so hard to write a compelling book, let alone a compelling SERIES, but I adored every one of the Kat books, including this one. I love how Kat herself continues to develop -- growing older and wiser but still remaining as spunky and loyal and fierce and wonderful as she ever was. I especially loved how so many of the ongoing character threads were brought together in this book, and resolved in a way that was satisfying and believable. If I were queen of the world I would commission another three books about Kat and her sisters!
[Middle Grade Historical Fantasy]
These Broken Stars by Megan Spooner and Amie Kaufman
This one had a lot of buzz and for me it totally deserved it. I downloaded a sample to my ereader and immediately had to go buy the full book. Very readable! [YA Science Fiction]
This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith
I think my fairy book-mother was looking out for me on this one. I was in one of those states when you know you want a particular type of book but you aren't entirely sure what. I kind of wanted something light and fun, maybe a little like Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, or Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. And I found this, which ended up being perfect: a teen hearthrob boy meets a girl poet from a small, seaside Maine tourist town via a mistaken email about a pet pig, and they become friends (without actually knowing who each other are). Then boy tracks girl down, and hijinks ensue. [YA Contemporary Realistic]
What have you read lately and enjoyed? I still have some holiday gift certificates to spend! :-)
I knew I had passed some sort of threshold when I was trying to read a physical book this fall, and I tried to tap the right edge of the page to make it turn.
There are things I don't like about ebooks: that my library is spread across five different reading apps, that sometimes the formatting is wonky, that I can't lend most of them. But overall, I expect I will continue to buy more ebooks in 2014, and save my physical book-buying for nonfiction, books with pictures and particular favorites.
Some overall reading stats for 2013:
Total books read: 73 Books (not including a half-dozen manuscripts for critique).
Breakdown by Source/Type:
25 owned physical (14 of these were re-reads)
23 owned ebook
22 library physical
1 library ebook
1 ARC (advanced reader copy)
Breakdown by Type:
44 YA Fiction
15 Adult Fiction
6 Middle Grade Fiction
4 Graphic Novel (various age levels)
1 Picture Book Fiction
My full reading list for 2013 is over on Goodreads.
This was a really enjoyable reading year. I read more of what I wanted. I re-read a lot of beloved favorites. And I think I found more books I really loved because I did a TON of ebook sampling on my Nexus tablet first.
About 20% of the books I read this year were by diverse authors or featured prominant diverse characters. This is comparable to last year, but not as high as I want it to be. I want to make more of an effort in 2014 to seek out diverse books, and especially books by authors who are diverse. I also want to make an effort to read more Middle Grade fiction in 2014. And I want to continue to re-read. I really enjoyed the chance to revisit some of my favorites, and I think the best books reward you over and over again.
I think the best word to describe 2013 for me is "revitalizing."
I started off 2013 in kind of a low place, feeling as if I was flailing in many ways. I was struggling with ongoing anxiety and depression, and sad that I was in a publishing dry spell. But I finally sought treatment for the anxiety/depression (and I am telling you all this in the hopes that it will encourage other folks to do the same, if you are hesitating). It took time and effort, but by the middle of the year I was actually enjoying life again.
The second half of 2013 was excellent! I went on a lovely writing retreat with one of my long-time critique partners where I got to hang out with a bunch of other awesome writers, swim in a lake formed by a meteor, and spend my days writing. Bob and I visited both our extended families in Minnesota. I explored more of Maine, picked strawberries with my best friend, went sea-kayaking with my brother, and started playing a new LARP campaign with a crew of amazing people. And I got to go back to my beloved Paris for ten days, with my husband and my mom, where I ate all the pastries, saw heaps of beautiful things, and spent hours wandering magical streets.
|From Paris 2013|
By the end of the year I think (hope!) I've come to terms with the fact that I don't have any new books under contract. It helps to read posts like this one, by Jessica Spotswood (author of the Cahill Witch Chronicles, the third book of which I am dying to read after gobbling up the first two this summer), and be reminded that the only thing I can really control is the writing itself, and that the best reward is the joy that comes from falling in love with a story and trying to record it as faithfully and truly as I can.
It also helped that the end of 2013 brought me some of the coolest reader feedback on my published books I've had so far, including my first actual paper fan mail. Circus Galacticus is on the Sunshine State list in Florida, and I've had some lovely correspondence with readers and teachers and librarians there. I am truly grateful that I do have books out there in the world, and that they are reaching readers.
I wrote 135K new words this year on fiction, a little more than last year. Some of them were on a revision of a book that is searching for a home, but most of them were on something new (still in progress, after a number of false starts). The past two months have been especially good, possibly due to the fact that I started motivating myself with cute stickers:
Hopefully I can keep it up in 2014. I have plenty of stickers!
I wish you all a wonderful New Year!
So I was delighted by two different podcasts I listened to, recently, that both delved into aspects of art and science and how they are both creative and help us make sense of the world.
The first was this episode of On Being, an interview with physicist S. James Gates. That link will take you to a transcript, or you can listen to the full podcast via a link on the upper right.
The entire show was fascinating (and delves into pattern-finding as an essential part of human nature, which is a topic dear to my heart) but the part I especially loved was this:
Dr. Gates: It feels as though one makes a discovery of something that was already there. It often feels that way. It's almost like the equations are trying to tell you a story. It's a little bit what I hear about when authors discuss how they work, that when you write a character, then the character at some point begins to take over and begin to determine …
Ms. Tippett: Right. They come to life.
Dr. Gates: Right, come to life, and then gets you to tell the story that the character wants to tell. This sense of finding the mathematics that was already there is very similar to that, I think. That we discover these things, but there's something that seems to be pushing often. I mean, when you do the calculations, it's as if there's an imperative to follow a path and that this path then tells you the deeper story that the equations are trying to get out for us.
I love that notion! That in a way, physicists (and other scientists) are doing something similar to writers (and other artists): using their language to find and reveal truth.
One of my favorite parts of writing are those moments when I feel like the story is alive, that it is telling itself TO ME, rather than me being the one in control and telling it. That it exists independently in some way, with its own truth.
I would be curious what my fellow writers/artists and scientists think of this -- do you feel like the story/pattern is out there already, and you are searching for it, in order to... bear witness to it, in a way?
The other podcast is this one on Musical Language from Radiolab. In particular, the section starting at around 27:30 that asks the question "How does music make us feel things?" and goes on to talk about Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, which caused riots when it was first performed (not because people loved it, but because it was so dissonant!) but later went on to become beloved and acclaimed.
The part that I found especially intriguing is the notion that we are discomfited by sounds that are unfamiliar, that our brains are not used to processing and can't make sense of (find patterns in). But that over time our brains can adapt, and find the patterns, and those unfamiliar things can become beautiful. I can't really do justice to the story here (especially the absolutely adorable voices of neurons trying to make sense of what they are hearing). So if you have any interest in this, please listen to the podcast!
Bringing this back to story-telling, I love it when I find positive characters in fiction who do have an interest in math/science. And I am wondering if any of you folks can recommend any books (esp YA or MG) that features such characters. Bonus points if anyone can suggest a book with a character who is adept at/interested in math/science and is ALSO creative and artistic (musician, writer, poet, painter, etc)!
The summer here in Maine is so beautiful I want to revel in it, make every moment count. (Actually, that statement applies to life in general, but is particularly evident when the weather is splendid). So in my non-dayjob and non-writing time, I've been kayaking, picking strawberries, visiting friends and family, swimming, walking in the woods, and glorying in the summer fruits and veggies.
I've also been reading a lot and accumulating a long list of things I want to tell people about (books, blog posts, podcasts). I'll save most of them for later posts, and focus on just three, because they are connected in that strange and wonderful way that things sometimes are. In life, as in writing (and mathematics!) I love it when unexpected patterns suddenly blaze out into significance. It's like I can suddenly hear a tiny bit of the song the universe is singing.
This most recent unexpected pattern sprang out of a sorrow. My grandmother passed away last month. She had a long and rich and happy life, and it was not unexpected, but it was still a hard thing. When I was packing for the trip to New York for the funeral, I decided to bring two books.
One was non-fiction, a collection of letters by Edna St. Vincent Millay, which I had discovered via the wonderful Brain Pickings blog. I'm still working my way through the collection, but I already knew I wanted to own a copy after the first few pages. Vincent (as she calls herself) is a fascinating character, coming so early into relative fame as a poet, traveling to Vassar for college, maintaining vibrant correspondence with other poets and her beloved mother and sisters. I have a particular interest in Millay as she grew up in Camden Maine (very near one of my own childhood homes, in Rockport Maine). I also discovered that one of my favorite modern poets, Mary Oliver, was deeply influenced by Millay and even helped organize her papers, as well as also attending Vassar for a time!
I had only learned about Brain Pickings because a friend had posted a link to this interview with Maria Popova, who writes Brain Pickings. And the quote that made me go subscribe to Brain Pickings was what Ms Popova says here:
Brain Pickings began as my record of what I was learning, and it remains a record of what I continue to learn – the writing is just the vehicle for recording, for making sense.
That said, one thing I’ve honed over the years – in part by countless hours of reading and in part because I suspect it’s how my brain is wired – is drawing connections between things, often things not immediately or obviously related, spanning different disciplines and time periods. I wouldn’t call that “expertise” so much as obsession – it’s something that gives me enormous joy and stimulation, so I do it a great deal, but I don’t know if that constitutes expertise.
Drawing connections! Finding patterns!
The other book I brought with me was ROSE UNDER FIRE, a companion novel to CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein, which I read and loved last year. You don't have to read CNV to follow the story of RUF, though RUF does spoil certain plot points in CNV so if you've an interest in reading that, you should probably read it first. I ordered my UK copy from The Book Depository because I couldn't wait for the US release on September 10th!
And I loved it -- perhaps even more than I loved CNV. I found it a hard book to read, because of the honest depiction of human cruelty and brutality. But it is full of such wonderful characters, such love, such true friendships. RUF is the story of a young woman pilot (American, this time), helping the Allied war effort during World War II. Rose is a poet, and it is poetry that helps sustain her (and the other women she meets) during some horrible, harrowing times. Her own poetry, but also that of one of her favorite poets-- Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Then, at the funeral, my uncle asked me to read a poem as part of the service. A poem by Millay. In fact, one of the poems that is quoted in ROSE UNDER FIRE.
I know some patterns are actually probably just coincidences. But I still love them, especially at a time when I am all too aware of death and endings. I think drawing-- seeing, finding-- connections is one of the best things we can do as living, loving creatures. It's part of the reason I write. Because to me, telling stories is also about finding patterns, understanding connections.
So thank you, Grandma, for helping me find patterns. For helping me love the world a little more.
One of my favorite poems by Millay:
I shall go back again to the bleak shore
And build a little shanty on the sand
In such a way that the extremest band
Of brittle seaweed will escape my door
But by a yard or two, and nevermore
Shall I return to take you by the hand;
I shall be gone to what I understand
And happier than I ever was before.
The love that stood a moment in your eyes,
The words that lay a moment on your tongue,
Are one with all that in a moment dies,
A little under-said and over-sung;
But I shall find the sullen rocks and skies
Unchanged from what they were when I was young.
And here's a question for the writers out there: if you're working on a draft of something, and you get maybe 75% done and then realize that you want to go back and substantially change some core element that may impact character motivations and subtle stuff (the WHY) in the last 25%, but won't necessarily change the actual events/plot points (the WHAT) do you power through and try to write the last 25% or do you go back and do the rewrite of the beginning first?
First up: I was lucky enough to get an early look at Amy Butler Greenfield's beautiful new YA historical fantasy CHANTRESS, which features musical magic, terrifying mind-flaying ravens, science and a determined heroine making her own destiny. I interviewed Amy about the book here on the Enchanted Inkpot. CHANTRESS just released yesterday and Amy shared a lovely, inspiring post about her writing journey on her own blog. If you are struggling with a creative project, go read it. If you like YA fantasy, English history, music, hard choices, and complicated, slow-burn romances, go read CHANTRESS.
Second, I just finished reading ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, which is a YA novel set in 1986, about two teen misfits who meet on the schoolbus and fall in love. I loved this, and not just because it features the music of my teendom (The Smiths, The Cure, U2, New Order) and X-Men comics. It reminded me of a John Hughes movie (in a good way). Eleanor is a smart, prickly, poor, fat (or at least, big enough that she gets bullied for it), white girl dealing with a really rough family life. Park is a quiet, music & comic-loving, half-Korean boy trying to live up to the expectations of his macho dad. It's not a perfect book (in particular, I need to think some more about the portrayal of Park's family, though I am so happy to see a hot Asian boy as the romantic lead in a popular novel). But it was perfect for me, and it might be perfect for you too!
One of my favorite quotes: “Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”
Note: ELEANOR & PARK does feature some pretty mature content and language. And a lot of dark stuff mixed in with the romance and funny bits. And the ending may not work for everyone (it worked for me though). Actually, I really want to talk about the ending with someone else who has read it! I am very curious what other folks think of it.
I know what I think the three words are. But I don't want to spoil anything more here...
Also, I am super-excited by the looks of Rainbow Rowell's next book, coming later this year: FANGIRL. It's got cover art by the fantastic Noelle Stevenson, which brings me to...
My third recent reading recommendation! This one is easy to check out because it is free and online: Noelle Stevenson's webcomic Nimona. It's about heros and villains, science, best friends who are now enemies. The titular main character is teen shapeshifter Nimona, who wants to be the side-kick of supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart, who was once lawful before having been betrayed by his former best friend, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, the golden boy of the kingdom.
It starts here.
Stevenson is also the artist behind the highly amusing Broship of the Ring.
There you are. Go forth and read!
Have you noticed how "more interesting" so often translates to "Aaaa! How did I ever think I could possibly be capable of THIS???"
But I wanted to learn something new. Like using double pointed needles. Like doing increases and decreases. I wanted to understand arcane invocations like "ssk" and "k2tog" and "pick up one stitch to close the gap."
It is possible I was slightly over-ambitious. But I fumbled through it, with a lot of help from YouTube and Ravelry. I got almost to the end -- I could see the lovely pattern emmerging, I could actually put the thing on my hand and see where the hole for my thumb was and everything. Unfortunately, I could also see all the mistakes. The places where I had created ladders. The uneven sizing. The fact that the glove was just TOO BIG.
I stared at that glove for a long time. I thought about how I was so close to finishing. I asked myself if I could live with those imperfections, knowing I could do better now that I had learned more.
I taught myself another new bit of knitting terminology:
FROGGING: When you undo a bunch of work (or an entire piece). Because you "rip it" and move on.
I started over. I adjusted the pattern to fit my smaller hand. I used what I had learned from the last time. And finally, I ended up with this:
Now I just need to knit the other one. Hopefully before fall!
Over the past few years I've been working on another project. A book. I have frogged it (in part or in full) a frightening number of times. Yesterday I finished my most recent revision, which involved a pretty significant rewrite of the first few chapters. Yet again.
But I don't regret it. Each time I learn something. Each time I get closer to the perfect ur-book in my mind.
And hopefully each time I move on to something more interesting!
(Like maybe this?)
Of course sometimes one has to be willing to fail and make mistakes, in order to learn and grow. So when I make goals, I do so knowing that in some cases I am going to fail -- especially if I push myself a little beyond my comfort zone
Here are my 2013 goals:
1) FINISH A NEW BOOK DRAFT. I just (re) started a new YA fantasy project, and am only a few thousand words into it. I've been taking a little "reading break," but come Jan 1st, I am sitting down and getting to work again!
2) CRAFT THE ONE RING. Well, not really. But this is my next knitting project. It's going to require a couple new techniques, so I think it will be a good next step.
3) GO TO PARIS. I've been once before, back in 2006, for a week. I've wanted to return ever since the day I left. But with so many other fantastic places to visit, it's been hard to justify returning. This year (hopefully in September) we will finally get the chance. It's possible we might split the trip with another destination, maybe Amsterdam, or somewhere else in France? Any suggestions? Ideally somewhere reachable by train.
4) READ THOSE BOOKS. The ones that I've had on my to-read list for ages, by authors I have never read but that so many of my friends sing the praises of. Specifically, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers, The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett, and Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigred Undset. I may not actually end up finishing them, but I want to make a good faith effort to read each!
5) SHARE THE LOVE. Send email to the author of any book I read and really love (the ones I give five stars to on Goodreads) this year, telling them how much I enjoyed it. Also post a recommendation here!
6) PICK STRAWBERRIES. I am always sad when I miss the too-short local strawberry season, since they are one of my favorite fruits. So although this is a small thing, I am making it a goal this year: to get out there to one of the local upick places and fill up my freezer!
That's it! I might add a few more when I re-evaluate in July.
Anyone else setting goals? Do you find them motivational?
~Six Excellent Books~
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
YA historical fiction. The story of two girls who are part of the British war effort during World War II. A fantastic portrayal of friendship, sacrifice, and finding humanity in the midst of brutality. I can't say too much about the plot because it is twisty and layered and there are surprises and reversals. But it starts out with one of the girls writing her "confession" to her Nazi captors. There is a wealth of historical detail which might be overwhelming to some, but I loved it. If this book works for you, it will rip your heart out and then give it back to you, a little broken but a little brighter, too.
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
YA fantasy. A brilliant and gorgeous fantasy setting, with some of the best world-building I've read lately. The title character has a marvelous voice, telling her own story with humor and prickly charm. Some of the blurbs about this book give away a certain plot element you might want to discover on your own, so read them with care. The short version: Seraphina is a musician in a kingdom of humans who have had a long and conflicted history with a race of dragons. The dragons are almost Vulcan-like, valuing logic and science. But the dragons can also take human form, and in that way experience the span of messy, dangerous, fascinating human emotions. This makes for a marvelously rich and nuanced political setup, which Seraphina needs to navigate from her unique position, to try to preserve peace between the races and keep safe those she loves.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Adult Science Fiction. A giant love letter to video games and 80s pop culture. As a child of the 80s, I loved it. Wade Watts has to live up to his alliterated superhero name and find an Easter Egg hidden in the most popular virtual reality game in the world, to claim the enormous monetary prize, which he desperately needs to improve his own wretched life (and to keep an evil corporation from taking over the game). Fast-paced and funny.
Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Nonfiction. Sooo dense, but worthwhile! It took me the better part of the year to get through this, but it was a fascinating exploration of happiness and finding satisfaction in your life. "Flow" is the author's term for the optimal experience of getting so absorbed in an activity that you lose your sense of time and gain a sense of being fully present and engaged in life in the moment. Some of the most interesting sections discuss how these "flow" activities are (surprisingly) not mindless entertainments, but active work: surgery, chess, mountain climbing, listening attentively to music, running, even daily chores.
Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis
MG historical fantasy. More of the delightful tale of Kat, a Regency-era girl with a large, lovably-flawed family and new-found magical powers. Full of humor and adventure, but also quite a lot of heart. I was especially impressed by how well this book worked as a sequel, reminding the reader what happened in the first book (Kat, Incorrigible).
American Primitive by Mary Oliver
Poetry. Simple, stunning, gorgeous. Most of these poems feature imagery from the natural world, but they also raise profound questions about humanity and how we live our lives.
I read many more books that I enjoyed this year, including a number of re-reads of old or recent favorites. I've avoided re-reading in the past, but decided this year that it would both be fun and also useful from a craft perspective to try to study how my favorite books do what they do. And I am glad I did!
My full 2012 reading list is here. I'm afraid there's not a lot of detail in my "reviews" but you can generally assume that if I finished it, I found something about it compelling!
Little Furnace by Jim Guthrie (Sword & Sworcery LP - The Ballad of the Space Babies)
My love for this song is mixed up with my love for the video game it is featured in (see more on that below). There's something sad and sweet that gets me every time.
3326 by Olafur Arnalds (Eulogy for Evolution)
A shortened version of this song was featured on So You Think You Can Dance this year, which is where I first heard (and loved) it. Stark and emotional, even harsh in places, but beautiful.
Invocatio by Irfan (Seraphim)
Short but hauntingly beautiful. I love many songs by this Bulgarian group, which reminds me a lot of another favorite band, Dead Can Dance, and it has become a staple of my writing soundtrack for the book I've been working on for the past two years.
Infinite Legends by Two Steps from Hell (Invincible)
Listening to this makes anything you are doing more heroic and epic. Even chopping carrots or doing the dishes. The entire album is worth a listen if you like this one.
Starlight by Muse (Black Holes and Revelations)
This just grabs my heart.
In the End by Snow Patrol (Fallen Empires)
I seem to have a thing for slightly melancholy yet fast-paced songs. The video is quite cool too!
~Six Other Entertainments~
THE LEGEND OF KORRA
This animated series is the follow-up to what I currently feel is THE best television series I have ever watched, Avatar: The Last Airbender. The new series has the same glorious animation and complex Asian-inspired world as the original, with the added interest of being several decades in the future and thus now featuring more advanced technologies. I love Korra herself: strong, loyal, impulsive, (over) confident and yet still struggling with some of her Avatar powers and responsibilities. And I am so thrilled to see a character like Lin Beifong: a tough, middle-aged, metalbending woman in a position of authority (Chief of Police). The pacing is a bit too quick for my tastes, and it seemed to me that everything was wrapped up too easily and abruptly in the end. But I blame that on the network, which only ordered the single season at first. (Which seems crazy to me, given how popular the first series was! I wonder if it was due to concerns that a girl MC could not carry the show?). Thankfully they have now ordered three more "Books" of the story, so I hope that the creators will be able to slow things down a bit.
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this animated film about the "bad guy" from a video game trying to become a hero for just a little while, but it definitely exceeded my expectations, especially in the variety of female characters and themes. This post on The Mary Sue pretty much says everything I would, but much more coherently, so I will point you there.
THE GOOD WIFE
A show about lawyers and corrupt politicians isn't normally the sort of thing that calls out at me, but after reading a number of positive comments from friends, I did finally check this out. And I am so glad I did! The acting is top-notch, and the character interactions and relationships subtle and complex. And it explores so many fascinating questions about gender issues and ethics, and presents a number of diverse characters (including my favorite, Archie Panjabi's Kalinda Sharma, a fearless, intensely private, somewhat misanthropic investigator who breaks my heart when she does show the cracks in her fierce shell). Also, it's got Alan Cumming, who I would watch reading a phone book. Even if he has an American accent here!
THE LIZZIE BENNET DIARIES
A re-telling of Pride and Prejudice developed by Hank Green and Bernie Su, in the form of a video blog by modern grad student Lizzie Bennet. There are currently 75 short (3-5 min) videos, with more on the way about twice a week, as well as tumblrs, tweets and videos by other characters. For anyone familiar with the source material, these are so much fun! I love seeing how the story has been adapted to the modern times, and the acting is quite amazing (especially Ashley Clements, Julia Cho, Laura Spencer, and Mary Kate Wiles who play the four main characters, Lizzie, Charlotte, Jane and Lydia). I am really looking forward to how some of the remaining pivotal plot points are interpreted in this modern setting!
There are so many more cool and fun board games available these days than I remember as a kid. I mean, I did love CLUE, and had fun playing Balderdash in college. But they are nothing like the cool (mostly German-made!) games I've discovered in the past few years. My parents and brother moved to Maine over the summer, and we've been getting together with them to play all sorts of new games: Puerto Rico, Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Agricola. We also just got Dominion and Risk, and are looking forward to trying those out.
SWORD & SWORCERY
Up until this year, I had not touched a video game in at least a decade, possibly two. As a kid I played ZORK on my grandpa's cassette loaded PC, Lode Runner on our AppleIIe, and occasionally a round of Street Fighter2 or Gauntlet. But then I got into LARPing and ended up focusing all my gaming energy into that. Then, this year, I read this post on the Mary Sue blog about a game called Sword & Sworcery. The suggestion of a faintly tragic storyline, the description of how atmospheric the game's art and music are, and the fact that the main character was a warrior woman known only as "The Scythian" all compelled me to check it out. Bob and I ended up playing the entire game together, alternating the role of mouse-clicker to send the Scythian exploring her lovely, magical world, fighting wolves and dark horrors, and learning more about her "woeful errand." And by the time we finished, I had somehow put a part of me into the game (I still am trying to figure out how that happened, since it is a quite simple game and you don't actually learn all that much about the characters). I was kind of useless for several days after finishing, poking around the internet for fan art and listening to certain songs over and over again. And there are even some elements of the game that have worked their way into my brainstorming for my next book project (more on that in a future post, perhaps).
The art is simple (the Scythian herself is a rather retro, pixelated little figure), but oddly compelling. Here's an example:
[Click to embiggen]
So that's it!
And if any of you have your own favorites to suggest I would love to hear your recommendations (especially for fantasy/sf/YA books and atmospheric writing music. Bonus points if it's world-music inspired like Dead Can Dance!). I have some gift cards for bookstores and iTunes ready to go!
We actually made this trip back in September, but I've only now (over my holiday break) found time to write up my notes into a real report. So, here it is!
I love reading exhaustively-detailed trip reports, so I am probably going to go overboard. I'll divide it into two posts, and include a list of resources at the end for anyone who might find them useful.
There's also a photo album on Picasa, here.
( Click for an abundance of detail )
All those people who say it rains all the time in England and that the food is terrible are liars. Liars I say!
We just got back yesterday from two weeks in England. We spent the first in the Cotswold region, based in Chipping Campden, and the second in London, based in Chelsea. It was fabulous, and I have a bazillion pictures to share. But I will restrain myself for now and simply point anyone interested to a selection I’ve put up in a Picasa album here.
I’m going to be posting a more detailed travel journal as well, but that will probably trickle out over the next few weeks in dribs and drabs. Thank you to all of you who provided suggestions and guidance!
(And seriously, it rained for about three hours total during our entire trip, two of which were early in the morning. And the food was amazing, especially in London.)
I was chatting with some friends about reading, right around the new year when resolutions were in the air. “Read more” or “Read X books” seem to be goals for a bunch of folks, and it reminded me of the Dark Times.
As in, the years when I was not a Reader.
I started off as a Reader. My wonderful mom read me Tolkien on cross-country car trips, I got piles of wonderful books as gifts from relatives, and I visited the library constantly. My parents were extremely generous in letting me buy books too, and willingly carted me around to numerous used book stores in search of that one Sheri S. Tepper book I just couldn’t find anywhere else (Jinian Footseer! Has anyone else read those? Gosh I loved them…)
Then I went to college. And it was a wonderful place where I met some life-long friends and got to delve deep into all sorts of fascinating things like Topology and Chaucer and Arctic Studies. So I was reading, yes, but not nearly as much fiction, and not nearly as much for fun. And somewhere along the way I kind of forgot how to be a Reader. So once I was done with college and grad school, and off puttering around at my shiny new job, I didn’t really get back in the habit right away.
I still read, but probably only about ten books a year. And I know that sounds like a lot to some people, but it was a fraction of what I used to read. And worse, I wasn’t really excited by what I was reading.
Like I said, they were Dark Times.
It took a deliberate effort to remind myself how I used to read: voraciously, joyfully, widely, and deeply. And even more effort to take steps to change my reading habits and break out of the slump.
So, for anyone who wants to read more, and to enjoy reading more, here are ten things I did, that you can do:
1) Surround yourself with books. Literally. Keep books beside the bed. Take books in the car, in your purse or backback, on vacations. Keep a book on the coffee table so you can read during commercials while watching television. You’re not going to read if you don’t have books around you!
Here’s some of the books I’ve currently got surrounding me:
That’s a mix of books received as gifts, books purchased, library books and used books!
2) Take advantage of libraries. Get a library card at the most convenient library to you. I pay a yearly fee for a membership at the library in the town where I work my day-job, because I can walk over there at lunchtime to browse, and because that library has an excellent online interface (unlike my small, free, local library). Take out lots of books. Take out more than you think you can read. The point is to give yourself options! When you hear about a book that sounds interesting, request it (I have the library system website bookmarked so I can do this with just a few clicks). And with interlibrary loan, most every book I look for is available. Many libraries also now offer eBooks and online downloads of audiobooks!
3) Visit your local Bookstore. Not all bookstores are created equal, but if you’re lucky enough to live near a bookstore run by folks who really LOVE books, take advantage of it! Look for shelf talkers and “Staff Picks” notices. Ask the staff for suggestions. Check to see if there are frequent buyer programs. But please remember it’s not a library. If you want read the whole book, buy it!
4)Buy used books. I usually stick to buying used books by authors who are dead, because I want the money I actually spend on books to support the authors I love so that they can keep writing. But there’s also something magical about puttering around the cavernous halls crammed full of books. You never know when you’ll discover some hidden treasure! And if you are ever in Connecticut, do try to visit my favorite used book store. It’s amazing!
5) Ask friends what they’ve read and loved. One of the most challenging things for me in re-kindling my love of reading was finding good books I actually enjoyed reading. And asking for suggestions from friends has been, by far, my most reliable way of finding new books to read. Of course it works best if you have friends with similar tastes in reading!
6) Check out book blogs. As above, the goal here is to find out about great books. If you don’t have family or friends to make recommendations, try to find other folks who do. There are tons of wonderful, passionate readers online talking about books of all genres. For example, here’s a Sampler Set of kidlit-related blogs. Or you could try poking around the Book Blogger Directory or Kirkus’s Book Blogger Network.
7) Check out Awards and Lists. Again, this can be a great way to find new books. If you like a certain genre, go check out the awards and notable books lists for that genre. For Young Adult books there’s the ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults list and Printz awards. Kirkus, Amazon, and Publisher’s Weekly all feature “Best of…” lists every year, in a variety of genres.
8. Try Shelfari/Goodreads/LibraryThing. Me, I use Goodreads. It can be a scary place for an author (I try my best to avoid actually looking at my own books) but for a reader, these online social reading sites can be a wonderful place to find new books and new reader friends. There are also discussion groups devoted to specific genres and authors, book giveaways, and more. I have to admit that the neurotic, achievement-oriented part of me also really likes being able to track how many books I’ve read each year!
9) Listen to Audiobooks. I always try to have one audiobook in my car, and one on my iPod, to listen to while driving, walking the dog, cooking, folding laundry, etc. It’s got to be the right sort of book — the kind you can enjoy even if it’s only ten minutes at a time. But it’s a great way to fit reading into a busy schedule! And if it’s a really good book, you might find you get a lot more chores done, heh.
10) Don’t be afraid to stop if you don’t like something. The fastest way for me to get into a reading slump is to get stuck on a book I’m just not enjoying. Because if I start to dread picking it up, I read less, and then I don’t move on to other books I might actually enjoy. Sometimes even a good book just isn’t the RIGHT book at a particular time. You can always come back to it later!
So there you go! Ten Steps to Reading More (And Hopefully Enjoying it!)
What about you guys? How do you stay out of reading slumps and keep yourself excited about reading?
One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite books (Betsy in Spite of Herself by Maud Hart Lovelace) is when Betsy and her friend Tib stay up all night on New Year’s Eve (to ring in 1908) making resolutions to be different. Betsy wants to become Dramatic and Mysterious, and thus compounds a list of things such as “Start signing your name Betsye” and “Don’t laugh so much” and “Use only Jockey Club perfume… be lavish with it.”
As Betsy (Betsye!) says:
“Jockey Club is perfect!” Betsy doused her flannel night gown rapturously. “And Tib, I’ve read that women of the kind I’m going to be always match their eyes in clothes and jewels. So I’m going to start wearing green.”
“Your eyes are hazel,” Tib objected. “And blue is your best color, Betsy. Always has been.”
“Blue!” scoffed Betsy. “It’s namby pamby. And there’s lots of green in my eyes. Green for jealousy,” she cried in a thrilling voice, resuming her stroll around the room.
“Whom are you jealous of?”
“Oh, nobody! I just like the sound of it.”
Hee! It’s a wonderfully funny and sweet and painful book — because I think many of us have felt that same desperate yearning to change ourselves. I won’t give away the ending to those who haven’t read it, but (as you might expect) Betsy’s plans to be Dramatic and Mysterious don’t quite work out as she plans. I love it! Especially because once-upon-a-time I made similar resolutions, trying to change essential things about myself.
[I may even have gone through a phase myself-- long ago-- during which I signed my name Diva. To be Dramatic and Mysterious.]But! I am reasonably happy with who I am now. Not that I don’t have flaws (I do! Plenty of them!) but New Year’s Eve is (to me) more about setting defined goals that will push me in the directions I want to go with my life.
2011 was a transitional, inward-looking year for me, especially in terms of writing. I worked on something brand new and different, and I poured my heart into it. I started working with a new literary agent I adore. I tried to re-focus on what really matters to me: writing the best books I can, and making connections to other writers/readers/book-people. It was a quiet year, but rich with friends and good entertainment and delicious food and hikes and pine trees and strawberry-picking and adorable tail-wagging dogs.
That said, I have high hopes for 2012! And new things I want to push myself to try. Here are my goals:
- Write a brand new book. Do my best to make it better than anything else I’ve already written.
- If I sell my new YA romantic fantasy by spring, then go on a vacation to London and the Cotswolds in the fall.
- Get together with friends to play music, céilidh-style, at least once.
- Try at least five new soup/stew/curry or salad recipes. (I have no problem finding motivation to try new pastry recipes!)
- Invite at least two people over to dinner whom we’ve never had over before.
- Listen to an audio book or podcast on meditation.
- Bike to work at least 10 times. (I only live 5 miles from my day job! It’s shameful that I never once biked to work this year!)
- When reading, make a point to flag the passages and lines I love most, to try to analyze just why I love them, and what I can learn from them. (I have a brand new pack of Post-Its ready and waiting!)
Do you make goals or resolutions? And do you keep them?
Part I can be found here
Part II can be found here
As a reference for anyone planning a trip to this part of Ireland, I’ll note that we drove from Ennis to Dingle by way of the Shannon Ferry, and it was fine though not very scenic, and driving through Tralee was particularly stressful and confusing. But it got us to Dingle!
~Days 5 & 6: Dingle~
This was the highlight of my trip! I loved Dingle from the moment we came out along the southern coast past Inch beach and saw the tracks of silver light running along the sea toward Kerry.
|From Ireland October 2010|
Dingle itself was such a charming little town, full of restaurants, pubs, and cute dogs. Not to mention tourists! Bob and I particularly enjoyed the brightly painted storefronts:
|From Ireland October 2010|
There is also a tower out on one hill overlooking the bay that strongly resembles a Dalek:
(not my picture, I found it in this photo album — sadly there was no time for a hike up the hill to get a closer in person look)
We spent the afternoon of our arrival rambling around the town, window-shopping and sampling some much-lauded local ice cream (which was good, but nothing extraordinary. We find much better made locally in Maine. Or by Ben & Jerry’s)
We particularly enjoyed a visit to the Dingle Music Store, where the proprietor welcomed us warmly and (upon my asking about local CDs featuring concertinas) pulled down a concertina from a shelf and began playing for us. He moved on to accordion later! We enjoyed our impromptu concert very much, and were happy to get his recommendation to see a session later that night down the street that would feature an uillean pipe player. I was sorely tempted to accept his parting offer of a sip of whiskey, because it would have made a good tourist story, but alas neither Bob and I care for it and wouldn’t have wanted it wasted on our palates.
We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant (Tir Na Ri), being in the mood for something different. It was comparable to standard restaurant Chinese food we’ve had elsewhere. We did enjoy the oddity of seeing fellow diners having their beef with broccoli over chips (fried potatoes) as well as rice!
After settling into our B&B (The Lighthouse, located a brisk uphill walk from the downtown, very comfortable, with a huge lovely tub and plenty of hot water at last!) we rested up a bit before following the suggestion of our music-store friend.
The recommended pub, An Droichead Beag (“The Small Bridge”), was conveniently only a 10-15 minute walk from our B&B. There were probably at least a dozen other live music sessions going on that night (a Thursday) but we are so happy we chose this one! Not only for the excellent music, but for the atmosphere of the pub itself. It was a low, wood-beamed, fire-flickering place that reminded both Bob and I of The Prancing Pony from The Lord of the Rings. It was crowded, but everyone was very jovial and there was a wonderful energy throughout, no doubt assisted by the music. We’re pretty sure the band must be relatively famous locally as there were not only tourists but plenty of locals (more so than the following night, when we returned to see a fiddle and guitar duo play to a smaller and less boisterous crowd).
We had a wonderful time, squeezed into our tiny corner. Even the Diet Coke seemed to taste better, in the small glass bottles! We left during the break between first and second set, and I kind of regret not staying to hear more. But we were tired, and I am not a night owl, and we had lots to do the next day!
For our second day in Dingle, we decided to do the popular Slea Head Drive, a loop that runs west from Dingle to the farthest tip of the peninsula. This was probably my favorite drive of our entire trip. We stopped a number of times at various forts, beehive huts, and scenic overlooks.
It was absolutely gorgeous!
|From Ireland October 2010|
We especially enjoyed stopping at Dunbeg Fort, where we paid a few euros each to the old gentleman tucked into a tiny shed, then headed down a pebbly walk to the edge of the cliffs, where we found ancient stones marking out the structure (it’s not a “fort” in the sense of more modern defenses). A good part of it has already fallen into the sea, alas. We each tested out the beehive guard-hut, and peered down between the gaps in the stone walk to glimpse the ‘suterrain’, a secret underground passage.
After touring the site we watched a video at the tourist center across the street, and had some tea and scones at the Stone House, a restaurant that shares the parking lot. The scone was so tasty and the Stone House itself so appealing (with its sunny, brightly decorated rooms, and tables to sit at outside, all sharing the gorgeous view down to the cliffs and across the water) we decided to have an early lunch. We were delighted to hear that the brown bread and roasted chicken for our sandwich were still in the oven but would be out shortly, so we hung out and talked with the friendly chef/waiter Mark (whose uncle owns the restaurant, if I remember correctly). He told us that this summer they switched from a high-end expensive fish menu to a less expensive more traditional menu, and that it had been a hit. I can see why, as everything we ate there was marvelous! The scone was light and fluffy inside and buttery-crisp outside, the open-faced chicken sandwich was so fresh and juicy, and came with a tasty side salad dressed with a corn-pepper-pesto relish. Mmm… It was the best food we’d had so far on our trip so we decided we might as well have dessert too, especially as Mark said it was the last day he would be there before closing for the season! I had a really luscious Bailey’s cheesecake, while Bob had an apple tart. Highly recommended!
Another of our favorite stops on the drive was at Slea Head Beach. It’s an amazing setting, right on the tip of the mainland, with only the Blasket Islands further out. The beach is a cup of pale sand held between sharp dark stones. You reach it by means of a steep curving switchback, and when you stand on the beach facing out to sea, a tall cliff looms behind you. Very dramatic!
|From Ireland October 2010|
We continued on, stopping to observe more interesting landscapes:
|From Ireland October 2010|
Our last stop before returning to Dingle was the Gallarus Oratory:
|From Ireland October 2010|
We enjoyed visiting the Oratory itself, marveling at the mortar-less construction that has stood watertight for centuries. We also enjoyed parking in the lesser-known public lot and walking in, thus avoiding the fee for the visitor center.
Back in Dingle, we had late afternoon tea at the Goat Street Cafe and wished we would have been able to have a full meal (it was closing at 4:45 and we weren’t really ready for supper). It looked like the kind of food we would really enjoy (spicy stirfries and couscous and curries and tarts), and smelled wonderful. We contented ourselves with dessert. Check out the cute plate decorations:
|From Ireland October 2010|
We went back to our B&B to rest up for another night of music, then found ourselves a late but tasty dinner at an Indian restaurant down by the harbor. If we return to Dingle we’d definitely eat there again, but we’d also have liked to check out The Blue Zone, which had some delicious-smelling pizza but was sadly full when we stopped in.
After supper we returned to An Droichead Beag for another round of music, and then to bed to rest up for our last full day in Ireland!
~Day 7: Lough Gur and Bunratty again!~
Our only fixed plan for our last day was to attend one of the touristy “feasts” at Bunratty Castle for dinner that night. We decided to break up the drive back by stopping in the Lough Gur area, south of Limerick.
We loved this region, and wished we could have spent longer! Lough (lake) Gur is surrounded by interesting sites ranging from hill forts to neolithic tombs to the largest stone circle in Ireland. We were fortunate to also have lovely weather with blue skies and puffy white clouds, which leant the scenes a fairytale quality.
|From Ireland October 2010|
We were amused that the stone circle also served as cow pasture:
|From Ireland October 2010|
|From Ireland October 2010|
Regretfully leaving Lough Gur, we drove north through Limerick (not as bad as we feared) and found our last night’s lodging at Headley Court in Bunratty. This was a serviceable B&B we chose primarily for its convenience to the airport (10 minutes away). It wasn’t the most lovely location or the most charmingly decorated, but the proprietor was friendly and breakfast next morning was tasty (for the first time we were offered something other than eggs/toast/porridge: French Toast!)
After checking in, we returned to Bunratty Castle for the second time on our trip. As I had expected, the affair was slightly (or perhaps quite) cheesy, but was still fun, and the food and entertainment were actually very good! I don’t think I would do it again, however, because it was pretty clear they were packing in far too many people for true comfort, in the interest of making as much money as possible no doubt. The tables were packed so tightly it was uncomfortable, and I am not even a particularly large person. The food service was likewise rushed, probably because there are two seating each night, and we were the first. But aside from those drawbacks, it was a fun way to end our trip!
Overall I had a very good time, though it was also a learning experience for me in terms of what I enjoy and what I don’t enjoy in a vacation. I discovered that I much prefer a vacation where I stay put in one place for several days, and do more of my sightseeing by foot. If I were to return, I would probably try to rent an apartment in Dingle for 5 days, or perhaps somewhere on the east coast, and do more walking tours. I also much prefer staying in an apartment for purposes of eating. Not only do I enjoy poking around local grocery stores, but it would have made it easier to eat healthily and cheaply. So, it’s good to know that for the purposes of future vacation planning!
And lastly, here’s the entire set of pictures from our Ireland 2010 vacation, for anyone who just hasn’t had enough cows, stones, sea, and silly off-kilter self-portraits.