Saturday, 28 May 2016

An ending - and a beginning.

Two weeks since my last blog - apologies! Things have been rather busy Chez Squidge, and I've not had an awful lot to write about.

Today, I have.

Remember my rainbow quilt? Well...part of my busyness has been tied up with that.

Still hand quilting the last few squares - and
the cat's already laid claim to it!

Stitching the layers together right at the edge before I add the binding...

Binding all pinned in place to hand stitch...

And then, late on Thursday evening, the last stitch went in, the thread was cut, and IT WAS FINISHED! Straight onto the bed it went...


I think it'll look just as good even with the
back side up...

So that's the ending. Always a bitter sweet moment, when you come to the end of a creative project, I think - there's the satisfaction of a job well done, pride in learning a new skill, and the joy of having a new possession! Mind you, I don't think I'll be idle for long, as I've already started to make hexie flowers for a quilt to go on the spare bed. I've made 22 of the 40 flowers I need, from scraps including leftovers from the rainbow quilt and other fabrics I had in my stash, so that one might be ready later this year. J has also begun to make her patchwork duvet during study leave, so it's a good job I'm stitching by hand while she needs the sewing machine.

But this blog talked about and ending and a beginning. The beginning? Well.

I am delighted to say that on the 27th May, StarMark became available on Kindle. Look!

A second ta-dah! moment...

Here it is, on my own Kindle, because seeing my book cover among the other authors I enjoy reading is, if I'm honest, rather thrilling! I'm not sure yet when the paperbacks will be available for those who pre-ordered, but StarMark is OUT THERE! (I do know that BInk and IPG are working hard to resolve the issues which have caused the delays, so physical copies should be arriving soon...)

But this is it - a beginning. A different kind of publication experience to Granny Rainbow because anyone, anywhere in the English speaking world can order a copy of my book and tell the world what they think of it. I don't think I'm going to be checking for reviews or sales figures every two minutes - I probably won't dare look! - but of course I'll be interested in whether people enjoy my story or not. If you read it, please let me know what you thought by emailing me, posting on facebook or writing a review on Amazon or Goodreads if you feel so inclined.

So there you have it. An ending of one project, and a beginning - a new phase - for another. Here's hoping that StarMark's journey is far from over.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Contrasts - a competition winner

Thought I'd share with you a short piece I wrote back in March, inspired by my trip to India. It was a Cloudie competition entry and it won! 
And yes, it's formatted differently because I've copied and pasted from the Word Cloud site - and it's copied the formatting too! Enjoy.

I step out of the way of an oncoming tuctuc, dodge around the bike laden with pomegranates and squeeze into a gap between sari-clad women and a group of young men.
“Mam! Mam! You want?”
“No. Thank you.”
My eyes betray me though, enticed by glittering jewellery and coloured scarves – a richness that comes cheap in terms of rupees.
The jingle of a bell announces sweet treats as the candyfloss seller touts his neon pink wares, the sound quickly drowned out by a near constant cacophony of vehicle horns.
A jolt, deep in my stomach, as I realise I can’t see Mike any more – have I lost him in the crowd? Then I see the heads turning, attracted to the pale skin among the dark.
I’m on the receiving end of a few stares myself. A white woman, here? The crowds press closer and someone grabs my arm.
An old lady, holding the hand of…her daughter? She speaks.
“Hello.” I smile and she grins a gap-toothed grin, the skin around her eyes wrinkling with pleasure and sun and age.
The crowd shifts, a few steps now instead of a shuffle. I have to catch up.
The woman takes my arm again as I move away. “Goodbye.” A wave and a head wobble.
We reach the road. The proper road, not the narrow strip of tarmac crowded by stalls. It’s as wide as a dual carriageway, but a free for all for motorbikes, tuctucs, buses, lorries and pedestrians. It’s deafeningly loud, chokes me with exhaust fumes, and has the first ‘green man’ crossing I’ve seen, which no-one pays any attention to. I step into the road and realise - too late - that I’ve misjudged the traffic because the locals stay on the pavement, leaving me to dodge round several buses, a motorbike coming at high speed with three people on it, and an ox cart.
Then it’s down the steps into the church compound, kick off my shoes at the door, and enter the holy place.
It’s not silent – there are still the echoes of distant traffic – but deep quiet descends. It reaches far up into the vaulted ceiling, stretches blessed fingers into the side chapels, and brings men and women to their knees in the nave.
Including me…
And I know that, right here, right now, I am where I am supposed to be, as the turmoil of life slips away.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Three little words...and none of them 'I Love You'

Wednesday last was NIBS: the Nanpantan Improving Body of Scribblers. We meet monthly, and our theme this month was 'Three Little Words.'

If I'm honest, I was a little fearful for this meeting. I've not been writing much lately, being uninspired and a bit parched on the word front. I couldn't be sure I'd be able to write anything at all...but I did, thank goodness.

We started off with three words, pulled at random from a random word generator. Combinations included 'defeat, necklace, lion' and 'confidence, rabbit, clown'. The idea was, we'd spend ten minutes pulling out new combos from the pile of paper slips and write a sentence to include all three words. Then we chose our favourite to share with the rest of the group (random words in bold);

The eagle's flight resembled a dance, choreographed to the phone's ring tone.

The wolf that had somehow found itself in the tower of evil was howling.

When I go to the dance at the Liberty Club on Wednesday, I always have to make sure I've have enough money to phone home and enough for a pint of Eagle gin with a cherry in.

Frustrated at the anger shown by the visitors to the planet, her shoes clipped briskly down the corridor.

There were many people killed and in pain when the train collided with the lighthouse that had inexplicably appeared on the track.

The third bunch of grapes down on the left hand side of the fireplace is thought by the castle's servants to bring them luck if they touch it.

Next step was to pick one of those sentences - not your own - and write a short piece using it. Well. As a result of that, we were introduced to the lovely ladies who drink at the Liberty Club on a Wednesday night (fabulous character sketches); a sci-fi birthday gift that hadn't been planned (His Pompous Ass, the Pompadour, did not expect THAT!); Malevolence, who actually never got round to including the two sentences the author wanted to use, but it was a flippin' atmospheric build up(!); a beautiful poem about an eagle's flight by a member of our group with a gift for poetry, and a poor wolf, trapped after an earthquake in a theme park called Armageddon...

The group found it quite hard to take someone else's sentence, because as one person pointed out "when you write your own sentence, you have a picture in your head of what the story looks like. All of a sudden, you have to build on someone elses's." Nevertheless, everyone rose to the challenge.

I took the eagle sentence as my inspiration. Here's what I wrote:

The eagle's flight resembled a dance, choreographed to the phone's ring tone. I ignored the caller, letting the notes of Fleetwood Mac's Albatross accompany its darker coloured Highland cousin as the bird soared above me. I shaded my eyes against the glare, following the silhouette. Dark against a cloudless sky, wings stretched wide to catch the warm and lift the eagle higher and higher, turning in wide circles until the dot became too small to see and the phone fell silent, the caller no doubt frustrated by my lack of response.

Oh, for a wind to take me to higher things, to move me on. Instead I'm grounded, stuck where I don't want to be.

I glance at the phone. Missed call. Matt's number. 

The eagle calls - once - from the lofty heights and suddenly I know, deep in my heart, that I've made my decision and I feel lighter than I have for months, years maybe.

I'm leaving him.

The next part of the evening took a different list of three little words, which, when put together in a specific order, gave a possible title. Now if you try this yourself, then be prepared for some combinations to work better than others - only choose the ones that give you something real, however wacky that reality may be. And be prepared to add 'A' or 'The' to fill it out.

We had a laugh over some of them, even more so when the pieces were written. There was the poignant tale of a family reunion: The Last Apple Alliance. The conversation of night time insects on a balmy summer evening Lantern Light Conversation. An end of term show and a beach paradise with singing trees, both featuring the Dazzling Humming Bananas, and then there was Gwendoline's Magnificent Momentary Revolt.

Now the author of that piece deserves special mention. She's a lady whose writing often tends towards the darkly humourous, and it has become a standing joke that someone always gets killed off in her writing. We said that perhaps we ought to have a night where we challenge ourselves to write in a genre we didn't usually attempt - in this author's case, it would have to be romance. She took us at our word, and Lady Chatterley had nothing on Gwendoline, watching the gardener wipe beads of sweat from his brow...admiring his manly chest covered in fine hair...and enjoying the sight of him clenching his...biceps (yes, we all thought it was going to be something else beginning with 'b'!) etc, etc, etc. You had to be there, really, to appreciate it, but I was crying with laughter by the end.

(The author has sworn never to attempt romance again!)

I managed to bring the mood down after that with my offering of The Sacred Tooth Ceremony...

Oh my son, do not go to the Picking, I beg you! You have a paltry three hands of summers, when there are others who have five six - even ten! Do not follow them to the cave where the Red-Handed Man resides, for if you do, you will have to Pick.

Oh, my son, I know you are tall and strong and have worked hard since your father passed into the realm of darkness, but there is no reason for you to follow him, not yet!

Of course the Picking won't kill you - but what comes after will! Oh, my son, if only your father were here to explain, it breaks my heart that I must...

If you are Picked...if you select the burnt crust from the basket of bread...then the Red-Handed Man will pull every tooth from your head to offer to the Old Ones so they can eat again.

What do they eat? Oh, my son...they eat the flesh of the one who was Picked.

It was great to get the wordy juices flowing again. It just goes to show how something simple can spark an idea and get the bones of a little bit of a story fleshed out. Actually, I have a little mermaidy project that I've been struggling with, ready to submit for a third Random Writers Anthology. I think I'm ready to tackle it again.

Right, where's my pen? Catch you later, Scribblers! I'm off to write...

Monday, 9 May 2016

Crochet collaboration

I seem to be making a habit out of blogging weekly at the minute...mainly because the writing's not going so well, the weather's finally improved so I'm outside a bit more, and I've a got a few creative projects on the go that involve media other than words.

So here's another of my non-wordy projects that's finally been completed. Remember this one? 
All about how Squidgeling J and I taught ourselves how to crochet. More specifically, how we mastered the art of Granny Squares. Yay!

Over the Easter week that the entire family was ill with a dreadful lurgy, J and I made 35 Granny squares between us. The aim was to make a knee blanket for my father-in-law, in the hope that it will brighten up his room in the residential home. All went well with the blanket, although the one thing no youtube crochet tutorial tells you about is sewing in the ends... There were hundreds of the darned things, especially as (as you'd expect from a colour-loving Squidge) there were at least three colours in every square. And yes, there is a rainbow square, slap bang in the middle of the blanket - but it wasn't me who made it.

The best bit was delving into the bagful of double knitting from my stash and putting it together in all sorts of different colour combos. It turned out to be quite addictive.

Anyway, squares made, ends sewn in - we were ready to join them up. We had to look up how to do it - if it'd been left to me, I'd have simply sewn them, but J found proper instructions on how to use crochet stitches, so we did it the 'proper' way instead. J's really neat - much neater than me! - so we made a deal. She'd stitch the seams and I got to sew in the ends...then she'd add the border.

And here's the finished blanket - ta-daa! Next time we're up in Yorkshire to see the in-laws, we'll take it...

The best thing about this little project? Not the fact that I've learnt a new skill, but the fact that I've collaborated with my daughter on something. Talking over the colour combos and working out the final layout and having a bit of a competition about how quickly we could get a square crocheted was time spent together that we might not otherwise have got.

And it got me thinking. See the square with the yellow middle, then red and orange fading into maroon? Three across from the left on the second row up? I found myself wondering what it'd be like to get the rainbow colours and blend in different graduating combos of four colours, so you get yellow, green, aqua, blue or maroon, red, orange, yellow, or pink, purple, red, orange... Maybe that's a project for the future. I've got far too many other creative things on the go at the moment to start another.

But watch this space, see if it happens!

Monday, 2 May 2016

While I'm waiting...

I found out over the weekend that yes, the publication of StarMark would be delayed - by two to three weeks. For those of you who've pre-ordered, I hope you can find something else to fill your reading time...

Like Debi Alper's De Nada Nirvana, the third book in her Nirvana series which has had a ten-year gap to publication. (I've spoken of Debi on the blog before - she is an author, an amazing editor, a friend and encourager to writers everywhere and co-runs the Writer's Workshop Self Editing Your Novel course with Emma Darwin.)

Or dip into Jody Klaire's Above and Beyond Series - she's a fellow Binkie and I'm sure you'll love Team Aeron and Mrs Squirrel.

But let's not dwell on what we can't change...let me update you on the rainbow quilt. I first mentioned it in this blog post, but I don't think I'd got to the point of piecing the completed blocks together.

Can I say at this point, what a lovely bunch quilters are? They made me - a complete quilting novice - most welcome in their established group, and were ready to offer advice and assistance whenever I asked for it. (And when I didn't, but that stopped me making some pretty rookie errors.) I enjoyed my four weeks on the course very much, and I shall pop back to show everyone the quilt when it's finished.

Back to the actual quilt. It took me a week to sew the blocks together, and on the last day of the course, I went prepared to add the border, buy the backing fabric and the wadding so I could ask for help on putting it all together. Petrina, the teacher, showed me all sorts of tricks to make sure everything was flat and smooth, and by the end of my last session, I'd got the three layers ready for pinning.

Ready for the pinning - falling blocks of rainbow colour

I'd fallen in love with the fabric I wanted to use as a backing pretty much as soon as I looked at it - swirls of rainbow coloured batik dots on a navy and grey base. Because it had so much pattern, I felt it would make the quilt reversible, and still kept the colour I so wanted to have. The problem with going by instinct on any fabric though is that you don't look at the price - and this one was one of the more expensive ones. I gritted my teeth, told myself I'd always promised to make a rainbow would be an heirloom...I'd never be happy if I compromised with something cheaper that I didn't like as much...and bought it anyway.

The backing fabric folded up so you can see it

And then, with every coloured square pinned through the three layers, I got ready to quilt. Now most quilters run lines or patterns all over the quilt's surface - it attaches the three layers so there is no bunching of the wadding layer. But I couldn't bear the thought of cutting through my very striking rainbow squares with a coloured thread. Plus, I wasn't sure I could physically manhandle the sheer volume of fabric and still stitch a straight line! So I'm hand quilting the whole thing instead. I'm echo-stitching (ie running the stitching just inside the seams) each block of colour, with a view to possibly 'stitching the ditch' of some of the black-to-black seams.

Ready to quilt...

So far, I've done a few squares each day, working from the centre of the quilt out, and it's looking reasonable. The top looks very neat, the underside...well, even with the quilter's loop to keep my fabric flat, I've found that I must be pushing my needle through at an angle, because the stitches on the reverse aren't as small or neat as the top. But the backing fabric is so busy, it's not as noticeable. And I'm working on the theory that every quilt is unique and my slightly wonky stitching will add...character. Yes, let's go with that. It'll be a characterful quilt.

After the quilting, there'll be the binding to add and finish it, but I think that's a fair way off. Oh - and then, J wants to make one. (We're cutting up the fabric today - it'll be an exam leave project I think.) And T has asked for one too...

I might make another for myself - couldn't resist  buying a Bali Pops jelly roll in the colours of my bedroom... Yes, I know the rainbow quilt's for my bed too, but I might want a change every now and then!

Just a few of the Bali Pops strips
 I think you can definitely say I've caught the quilting bug. And it'll keep me busy in the run-up to StarMark's publication; I have a couple of ideas for quilted gifts, so watch this space...