procrastination1Technically speaking, I’m not procrastinating – and I have a red wordcount bar to show for it. Down there, in the left bar – see? To make a long story short, let’s say I gave myself a goal of 1500 words-per-day, and nine thousand and something words in five days means I’ve been meeting it, and then some.

Therefore, no: technically speaking, I’m not procrastinating.

Still, what do you call it when you tweak commas, and make yourself multiple cups of tea, and hunt for designs of Tudor mullioned windows through the Internet, and check your email again and again, and re-read an old play to make sure you are not recycling ideas too shamelessly, and mind your novel-related board on Pinterest, and plan what you’ll be writing between first and second draft, and do all sorts of things until you have an hour (or less) left before rehearsals/dinner/class/work/whatever – and then, in that hour (or less), pound out eight or nine hundred rather nice words?

And then you repeat the proceedings a couple of times a day, and end up breezing past your daily goal – all in panicky or sulky one-hour spurts of activity…

Yes, tell me: what do you call it, exactly?

I’m beginning to fancy “Microprocrastination” as a name – and yes, it seems to work at some level, and no, this doesn’t make it any less foolish and irritating. Because work it may, but in a this higgledy-piggledy way… There may be a method to my madness, but madness it is.

At whatever time I call it a night, I cannot see my met-and-exceeded daily goal without wondering : what if I had written all the time? What of the hour I squandered over those cursed windows? What if I had written instead of pinning like mad? procrastination

Hence, I manage to write at a fairly reasonable pace, and be frustrated at the same time. I don’t procrastinate, and I do. I need to be under pressure, but I only manage to create the artificial pressure a couple of times a day… And believe me, I don’t feel spectacularly sane, when I watch myself writing things like this.

Ah well. What about you? I won’t ask whether you procrastinate – please, leave me with the fond delusion that everyone procrastinate at least a little, at least sometimes. What I ask is: how do you procrastinate? And do you ever microprocrastinate?


Back before the Fire


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John B. Thorpe

Up for some virtual time-travel?

Good, because we are off to OpenCulture today, to view this impressive 3D representation of pre-Great Fire London, realised by six students fo DeMonfort University.

Based on a combination of period maps and documents, conjecture and extrapolation, the animation is incredibly detailed, and looks very accurate. Little wonder that it has won the first prize in the British Library’s Off the Map contest. Well done, Pudding Lane Productions!

The page also offers links to the developers’ blog, the BL’s Digital Scholarship Blog, and a few other 3D historical representations .

1485 by way of 1912


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EnglandA quick one today.

On the website of the University of Texas I found this large and lovely map of 1485 England, published in 1912 by Cambridge University Press.

It is part of the Perry Castañeda Map Collection – another e-place you enter innocently, only to get lost for hours and hours of happy map-gazing…

Have a nice journey.

A Tale of Vengeance



ErinyesBack in July, I gave a somewhat eventful Marlowe&Shakespeare talk for a local club, and then another in August, as part of a cycle of four. Of the other two talks, the first I heard and liked, the other I missed, because I was in London. Apart from a rather adventurous start, I had a good time with my talks – and never thought about them again, until last week.

Last week, I heard from people who knew other people who attended the fourth talk, that the speaker – a college teacher I never met – cited me as someone who will speak about English literature without being qualified to do so…


My first reaction was of fury, the second of some disbelief. Not that I had any reason to doubt my source, but it seemed such a nasty and unwarranted thing to say… And I rather doubt the lady in question had heard my talks: what could she possibly have against me? Moreover, we all know how stories blossom and swell from mouth to mouth, don’t we? So I checked my fury and set out to discover what had really happened.

After a miss or two, I ended up asking the lady who presides over the venue – a beautiful Fifteenth Century town house with a perfect little Renaissance garden. I told her I’d heard so and so, and didn’t want to believe it, but my curiosity was roused…

Being very nice, Mrs. R. hesitated a little, but in the end gave me the whole story – only, I suspect, slightly edited.

It seems that, due to a series of chance circumstances, the club’s website was left sporting my picture well after the date of my last talk. unfortunately, the college teacher noticed this, and called in a passion, to give Mrs. R. a piece of her mind, and announce she was calling off her talk. Mrs. R. apologised profusely, hastened to edit the relevant page, and spent a couple of weeks smoothing the lady’s ruffled feathers.

In the end, the Enraged One relented, and condescended to give her talk. So, on the appointed evening, she arrived, and prepared to dazzle the audience. Alas, who must meet her almost on the garden door, but the red-headed, Donne-loving, generally obnoxious Conference Loon? And of all the things she could have said, the Loon chose to ask why, why, oh why couldn’t the visiting lady give a joint talk with Clara Giuliani about John Donne?

Here I suspect a first bout of unpleasantness – because Mrs. R. skirted around the answer and cut to the talk itself, during which, it seems, the lady saw it fit to be “scornful and sarcastic” about the two previous talks. My talks. Again, Mrs. R. claims to not remember what she said, but really, nothing “scornful and sarcastic” can have been very nice, can it?

Mrs. R. was horrified, many members of the audience were not amused, and the lady must have thought herself revenged for the (entirely unintentional) web-slight. End of the story.

So, am I furious after all?

Well, not overly so. Not that it is any fun to be called incompetent in public, but the fact is that incompetent I am not. I may not have a degree in English literature, but I’m good at what I do – and that night’s audience, having heard me before, knew it. Enough that, it seems, many of them didn’t like the stab at my poor and absent self. All else apart, it is not done: you don’t go around badmouthing other speakers before an audience – much less within a same cycle of conferences… So, the excitable lady cut a poor figure for no real reason, and I rather doubt she did anything irretrievable to my reputation.

I’ll hardly develop friendly feelings towards her for this – but really, in the end, it was all so petty, it isn’t even worth getting angry, is it?

A Tale of Two Writers


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Three_Jacobin_tricoteuses_in_front_of_the_guillotine_(John_Mclenan)In 1859, as A Tale of Two Cities was being first serialized in weekly instalments in Dickens’ own magazine, All The Year Round, a play by Watts Phillips, called The Dead Heart, made its stage debut at the Adelphi, to much success.

Phillips, a novelist and playwright, had had little luck lately, because he insisted on writing serious, near-austere pieces that pleased the critics (and, apparently, the Queen) more than they did the melodrama-loving general public.

The Dead Heart, though, a stirring tale of the French Revolution, filled with thwarted love, howling injustice, epic struggles, evil abbés, heroic sacrifice, and so on, was a different matter – all the more so because very soon people started to notice the close resemblance between the play and that new novel by Mr. Dickens…

Plagiarism was suspected, and unpleasantness ensued – except, it soon turned out that poor Phillips was not to blame: it transpired that a few years earlier Dickens had attended a private reading of the play, well before he started work on ATo2C, and clearly liked what he saw.

The thing exploded when Sydney Carton’s story was adapted for the stage, in 1860, and the remarkable similarities were exposed for all theatre-goers to see. London split into two very belligerent camps, and then…

And then not much happened. Apparently, the audiences enjoyed their little scandal, there was a double Phillipsroaring success, and Phillips and Dickens settled the matter over dinner. How very civilised.

And if you are curious, here is the full text of The Dead Heart, courtesy of the Internet Archive. Have a look for yourself. All else apart, it is a fascinating glimpse on how Dickens grabbed and made his own another writer’s material.

Sewing Aloud


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Sewing iconRemember Ad Alta Voce, the not-quite-book-club?

Well, a couple of months ago a town councillor approached us about a shared event with the local sewing-club: an evening of reading and sewing. I must say I wasn’t wild about the notion. Call me a narrow-minded snob, but I wasn’t sure we’d have much in common with the seamstresses… All the same, the councillor is a persistent woman, and there was a chance that I might be wrong, and in the end we said, why not.  We already had scheduled and “Arts and Crafts” themed night, and it sounded fitting, so…

So, Tuesday night, we gathered at the Library – earlier than usual, because apparently the seamstresses were afraid we might keep them up late – and found our new friends already there, and a little miffed because we hadn’t arrived even earlier – and also because they’d had to put aside their machine-sewing for the night, in favour of quieter cross-stitching.

Not the most promising of starts, isn’t it? But that was nothing. Once in the library, the seamstresses swarmed to take all the seats around the table we usually use, spread out their stitching tools, and started to merrily cross-stitch away – without as much as a greeting to our poor little selves.

English: Turn of the century sewing in Detroit.There were seven of us, pushed in a corner, with most seamstresses giving their back to us. That’s when the councillor sketchily explained the evening’s purpose, the nice shared experience awaiting us, and all that jazz. That she felt the need to ask the seamstresses to keep quiet during the readings, I found a tad ominous. By then, I was in full Told-You-So mode, but it was too late to walk away – so, since there was no sign of quieting down, we decided we’d just start.

And start we did, with extracts from a book of memoirs about old river jobs. We are river people, around here, and there is a long tradition of water-related jobs. It’s a shared past, and we thought it might be of common interest… How naive of us. All through the reading, our seamstresses kept chatting in what perhaps they deemed – but weren’t – low voices. Clearly, we had failed to grab their attention. I was next in line, with the opening pages of Kipling’s The Bridge Builders, and Anglo-indian civil engineering proved as useless as the local washerwomen. Then it was Pablo d’Ors’ rival printers, then it was Maxence Férmine’s luthier… nothing. The seamstresses were as uninterested and uncaring as ever.

“Shall we make a little break now?” asked at this point our rather annoyed leader. No, was the answer, because they always eat at the end of the evening. Oh well, then: we were more than happy to read on, and I had just started with my translation of the Lighting Designer’s Tale (from Judith Cook‘s Backstage), when the leading seamstress up and announced we were going to eat the cake now.

Eatons_Seamstresses“I am, you know, reading…” I pointed out.

The seamstresses sat back – with something approaching ill grace. By the time I reached my last word, they were already handing out cake on paper plates…

After that we, the disgruntled readers, closed ranks, and went on reading – not much caring if the ladies with the needle listened or not. Needless to say, they did not, and instead grew noisier and noisier. We had some more Férmine, some Hrabal – until, quite in mid-reading, the seamstresses started packing up their stitching, and filed out, barely sparing us a “good night” – not to mention a “thank you”. But when I say they filed out, I’m overstating the case. As a matter of fact, a few of the ladies stopped well within hearing, to make some more, and louder, conversation. You see, poor dears they had kept so utterly silent all evening, they just had to give voice to a thought or two…

And yes – I’m waxing sour. But the fact is, when I went and asked could they please lower their voices, because we were still trying to read, they just moved over a few steps, and resumed their chatter… Ad Alta Voce – Aloud, indeed.

On top of it all, as we finished, the councillor arrived, all smiles, to say that yes, perhaps the two groups hadn’t mixed well – yet. A matter of different needs and interests, did we know… But perhaps next time… Not a word of apology – nothing. They tell me she is the head-seamstress’ daughter.

Then again, it was our own fault. We did invite them in, after all – like the ghost in that story. But now we’ve learned our lesson. Reading and sewing don’t mix well. We can’t expect much in the way of interest – or manners, either. Town councillors are potentially dangerous, and we must never again assume they know what they are talking about.

It was an experiment, yes. Let’s call it a learning experience. Now we can all happily go our separate ways, and next time we go back to reading, thank you very much – with and for people who come for the books and the stories.


Gorgeous Nothings


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EDDid you know that Emily Dickinson liked to write poems on envelopes? Not just on the back of the odd stray envelope – as one might do occasionally, when an idea strikes and no notebook is at hand. No: Emily did it in a curious and deliberate way, on torn or cut pieces of envelopes…

These paper pieces survive among her manuscripts, and are usually called “scraps”. Well, scholar Christine Burgin, who studied them in depth, gave them a new name, taken from one of Emily’s poems. She calls them the Gorgeous Nothings – in the Dickinson sense of the words: Nothing as a renovating force…

Here you can read a lovely article by Jen Bervin for Poetry Foundation, and see a few images of these very meaningful scraps. Fascinating stuff.



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Chapter1We have all been told countless times how vital it it to write a good beginning. A beginning is no red carpet, no invitation card… A good beginning grabs the reader by the troath, drags them in, and never lets go until they are properly hooked, and in for the duration…

Yes, we’ve heard it all.

How do you do that, though? By setting the scene, the mood, the voice. By showing the right amount of action, by introducing your characters just so – and, when you are writing historical fiction, by establishing the time period as an interesting place to visit.

Marie Savage wrote this interesting article on the subject, as a guest post for The Bookbinder’s Daughter blog. Check it out – and, while you are there, have a look at this very nice book-blog with an eye for great historical fiction.



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ddI know one thing I want when it comes to my writing.

Well, of course I want many things – one does. But these past days, as I took my two-day reading holyday (which happily and unexpectedly blossomed and became three days instead), I realized this particular thing: I want to write something that leaves the reader book-lagged.

You know what I mean: when you finish a book, and start the next one – and feel out of place, because you miss the one you just finished. As though you had traveled from one place to another, and couldn’t quite fit in the new place.

Finishing Sutcliff’s Simon, and missing the Civil War as I followed Thomas Dallam in his voyages. And then finding my sea-legs, and settling down – which is a bad choice of image for what is essentially a book of travels – and then missing Dallam very much as I went on to read Beagle’s Tamsin, all the more so because Jenny Gluckstein’s tale begins in modern-day New York. And then realising that all that modern-day New York, and the skilful foreshadowing was drawing me in so very well, and loving the whole thing so much that, for the third time in as many days, I’m book-lagged again.

And yes – this is what I want to do. To make up a world so vivid that the reader can feel it, and people so engaging, and stories so engrossing that the reader will miss them, afterwards. And have trouble adjusting to the world, people and stories of the next book. Or play – of course.

I’m off to write a good deal this year. I have plays in mind, and both monologues and short stories have developed a habit of just cropping up, and demanding to be written, and this is the year I go back to novel-writing, as well. A good deal of writing, yes. And while I’m at it, perhaps book-lag/play-lag is not a bad thing to strive for.


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