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Monday, April 30, 2007

 

An interesting article on plagiarism

It's called:

Look What I Found In My Brain!: What can happen if you accidentally plagiarize

It's brief, gives a couple of case examples, both of which are horror stories about what happens if you're careless about checking where your stuff comes from, and is very readable. Check it out.

Friday, April 27, 2007

 

Why you shouldn't smoke

There are lots of reasons why you shouldn't smoke, most of them variants on 'it's bad for you' and 'it's anti-social'; the smoking ban that comes into force this July is something I'm looking forward to tremendously. Finally pubs will be bearable places! I think that smokers tend to underestimate just how horrible cigarettes are to non-smokers: smoking blunts your sense of smell, and gets you used to tobacco anyway; the fact that you can smell a smoker ten feet away even if he isn't smoking at the moment, or that one cigarette on the other side of a crowded room contaminates the whole place, is probably something they just aren't aware of. That, and the virulence of it; nothing lingers like the smell of cigarettes. It's like something creeps inside you and chews on your lungs, and if you spend one minute in a smoky room, the smell of it will linger in your clothes and hair until you wash them, for days.

So hooray for the smoking ban. But I'm currently living with a more direct experience of why smoking is unhealthy, and it has to do with redecorating my new house.

The previous owners were clearly heavy smokers. I first viewed the house last December. It was standing empty, and had been for some time, and yet the first thing I said going through the door was 'It stinks of smoke in here.' I moved in four months later, the house still having been empty and smoke-free all that time, and it still stank of smoke, even after I got the carpets shampooed. It was only when it came to stripping the walls that I realised the full extent.

The ceilings were discoloured, a kind of dingy beige marbling effect like the inside of a neglected teacup. I realised that those were smoke stains - but then we got out the steamer. And as the steam started loosening the paper, it also loosened the stains. Nicotine residue started dripping down, fat rusty globules that stained everything they touched, over everything. It's hard to describe just how revolting they were; it was like the house was sweating stale urine. All of which was because the previous owners smoked indoors, probably blithely unaware of the effect it was having.

If you've got a child and you want to put them off smoking, I've got the answer: send them round to my place when we're steaming the ceilings, point to the orange dribbles and say 'That's what the inside of your lungs will look like.' In fact, give them some paint and a roller and I'll let them in for free.

For anyone in the UK who's trying to quit, here's a website that gives you the location of your nearest NHS stopping-smoking service. Good luck to you.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

 

Corporate Camel

A good friend of mine has introduced me to a most useful concept, that may be familiar to those of you who have watched a badly-managed series: the Corporate Camel.

Here's how it works. When she was a small girl, my friend's father would play what they called the 'dot dot dot game' with her, which involved each of them taking turns telling a story, then stopping at a significant point, saying 'dot dot dot...' and letting the other take over. She only played it once with her mother, however, because of a fundamental difference in artistic vision. My friend began the story about a corporate camel, a businesscamel who had important meetings and wore a suit. Her mother, a practical lady, didn't see this as plausible: to her mind, a camel would not make a good businessman. Instead, she reckoned the hero would be happier as a racing camel. Hence, whenever the mother took over the story, Corporate Camel ripped off his business suit and went to the racetrack. Whenever the daughter got the story back, Corporate Camel left the racetrack, got back into his suit and went to another high-powered meeting - only to leave it for the racetrack again when it came back round to the mother's turn.

This is a pleasing example of a problem you get when different writers collaborate on a series without a definite leader, or a shared vision. As per my usual policy I'm naming no examples, but I'm sure it's a familiar experience: in episode three, Corporate Camel is romancing a beautiful dromedary; in episode four, he decides that romance is a luxury a tough camel can't afford and he needs to be a camel of action; in episode five, a little bit of action exhausts him and he spends most of the episode recuperating; in episode six, he's back to courting the dromedary again; in episode seven she's dumped him; in episode eight she takes him back...

This is not much fun to watch; in effect, it means every writer is undermining every other writer, and the result is that nothing really builds to anything. It isn't given time. No sooner has one thing been set up, then the next writer comes along and knocks it all down. In situations like this, it's probably better just to pick one thing and go with it: a dromedary romance that works all the way through is preferable to an endless on-again-off-again tick tock, even if romance isn't your favourite thing. Collaboration is the name of the game: sometimes it's best to think of the overall effect more than the individual moments.

Otherwise you wind up with a Corporate Camel: a horse designed by a committee, with chronic career indecision besides.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

 

Negativity

Let me tell you a story:

Harold, a small, weaselly man with bad skin, leaves his dingy apartment to go for a walk. His wife stays behind, snoring in a bed with dirty sheets; Harold never loved her, but married her because he had to marry someone. She didn't love him either, but married him because she was too plain to get anyone else; in fact, she's having an affair with the delivery boy from the local grocery store, who drops off wilted vegetables and rank cheese every Thursday, and then has strenuous, grunting sex with her on the ratty living room rug. He has bad teeth and halitosis, but he also has a large and ever-ready penis, so Mavis, Harold's wife, keeps shagging him, though she usually fakes orgasm because nothing much gets her going. Anyway, Harold heads off to work, passing the fat, sour-faced crossing guard Martha en route, and arrives at the door of his company, a boring place that sells badly-manufactured radio parts, where he does a pointless job for an ugly and irritating boss...

Have you had enough of this story yet? Because I have.

It's a surprisingly common mistake in inexperienced writers to produce fiction that's unrelentingly negative. 'There's no fiction without friction', as a writing teacher of mine used to say, and that means putting some conflict in: if Harold skipped down the street and nothing went wrong all day, it would be an uneventful story. But there's such a thing as putting in hostility just to give your characters something to do - and that's not a good idea. It feels forced; without sound justification for the negative feelings you're writing about, then you have characters who are just pissy, which is no fun to read. Ceaseless griping is no substitute for interesting storytelling.

There's another reason why inexperienced writers do this, though, and it has to do with timing. Basically, it's quicker to read a book than to write one. It's possible to read a book in a single session if you have some free hours, but you can't write a book at a sitting. You can only spend a few hours on it at a time, and then you go and do something else. As a result, the mood of the book is not as constant for a writer as for a reader. You can write scene after scene with exactly the same feel without it becoming monotonous for you, because in between these scenes, you do other things. But if other things don't happen between them in the book, the reader gets nothing but the same thing, over and over. Hence, a writer going for a striking mood may decide to get the reader's attention with little character sketches that focus on flaws, without realising that they've accidentally strayed into Hateland, and produced a book where every single character is ugly, incompetent, morally bankrupt, stinky, stupid, or all of the above. It gives the reader a headache to read, but it's perfectly possible that the writer hasn't noticed.

It's not just the monotony that makes this a problem, it's the implausibility. Nothing and nobody is all bad. Some stories have villains who are entirely evil, and while it's crude and not particularly realistic, it can serve a narrative function - but such villains are offset with nice people. It's hard to care about a world where everything is awful; you just don't want to be there, and it also doesn't seem real. Try this:

Harold, leaves his apartment to go for a walk. His wife stays behind, asleep in bed. Harold and Mavis had fun when they first married, but the spark has gone out of things a bit, and while each would like more attention and praise from the other one, they're both too tired to make the first move. Mavis didn't mean to become this kind of woman, but when the grocery boy started flirting with her, even though she hadn't fancied him much to begin with, it was so nice feeling young and desirable again that she ended up flirting back. Now they're having sex when Harold is out, and even though the boy needs to get his teeth straightened and they don't talk much, he seems to want her, which, after years of Harold being so used to her, is too much to resist. Anyway, Harold heads off to work, stopping briefly to say 'good morning' to the crossing guard, Martha, who's been there as long as he can remember. Martha's doctor had told her she needs to lose weight, but she loves to eat too much to listen to him; she has an endless fund of anecdotes she tells in the pub every night and a nickname for every child she shepherds over the road. Harold arrives at the door of his company, where he's done the same job for ten years; it's not exactly stimulating, but he's used to it, and has learned to laugh at the boss's bad jokes because the man is trying to be entertaining and there's no harm in being polite.

It's the same story, but if you cut everyone a bit of slack, not only does it make it more bearable to read, but it gives much more possibilities for character development. In version 1, when Martha discovers that Mavis is sleeping with the delivery boy, her sour nature is obviously going to lead to disapproval, and either blackmail or spitefully telling Harold, who's going to be pissed off with his wife - but as he was pissed off to begin with, we're probably going to end where we've started. Martha as well: she's a sour woman, so discovering an affair is just going to confirm her view of things. Stasis. In version 2, you have a fragile and disillusioned marriage, more subject to change; because Martha is basically an optimist, the discovery is going to surprise her, put her in a conflict where, because she's not a sour cow, she's going to feel empathy for more than one person and have a variety of choices to take. The ending, in short, can be much more interesting, because you haven't trapped yourself in a single emotion in the set-up.

Different readers can swallow different levels of negativity, of course; I can think of some very successful writers who have an extremely negative tone. But as a general principle, it's monotonous to have everything be bad, and it's careless not to check over your work to see if you've fallen into that trap. And if you want your characters to have intense feelings, give them a reason. A good one. There's no point bringing more hatred into this world than it has already, after all, and a bit of compassion is an essential quality if you want to write good characters. If characters feel things without good reason, they'll do things without good reason, and that's not a good story. Cut everyone some slack, and you'll find you have much more room to manoeuvre.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

 

When your efforts don't please you

Here's an extract from Old School by Tobias Wolff, describing early attempts at poetry:

I'd written fragment beneath most of the poems in the notebooks, and this description was in every case accurate. Each of them had been composed in some fever of ardor or philosophy that deserted me before I could bring it to the point of significance. The few poems that I had finished seemed, in the hard circle of light thrown by the gooseneck lamp, even more disappointing. The beauty of a fragment is that it supports the hope of brilliant completeness. I thought of stitching several of them together into a sequence, a la 'The Waste Land', but that they would thereby become meaningful seemed too much to hope for.

This sense of frustration and discontent is familiar to many if not most of us, and it would be easy to read the description as the struggles of someone inadequate (if you can overlook the crisp, vivid excellence of the writing style, that is). But that sense of inadequacy and struggle is not actually a sign of incompetence.

I've quoted George Eliot's Silly Novels by Lady Novelists before, but there's a phrase in it that's relevant to this question:

In [silly novels] you see that kind of facility which springs from the absence of any high standard; that fertility in imbecile combination or feeble imitation which a little self-criticism would check and reduce to barrenness; just as with a total want of musical ear people will sing out of tune, while a degree more melodic sensibility would suffice to render them silent.

It's the high standard that's the issue. The young hero describes himself as producing substandard work, but that's because he has standards. He can tell the difference between good and bad. He's uncomfortably aware that his efforts so far have been on the wrong side of that divide - but that's a good sign. Read enough slush piles and you'll know that many people simply can't tell the difference between good and bad writing, don't know that there is a difference. Naturally, their work is bad: while it's not the whole picture, an essential part of ability is the being able to identify quality. Being able to identify it and being able to produce it are not the same thing, of course; many a fine critic can't write good verse - but a fine poet will also be a sound critic, if possibly an eccentric one. If you can't spot bad writing, you can't expunge it from your own work; on the other hand, discrimination shows the hero in this passage refraining from inflicting a garbled mishmash on his friends and teachers, because he knows it wouldn't be any good.

Discrimination, in short, prevents him from wasting time producing something bad - which leaves him free to carry on trying to write something good. The next sentence in the passage is 'I would have to write something new': seeing that his efforts haven't pleased him, he tries again. Sticking to bad work in the hopes you'll somehow get away with it is a pernicious habit: not only does it waste time, but it also wastes commitment. The subconscious is a rather simplistic thinker when it comes to composition: turn in a lazy work, and it's liable to conclude that you've finished the project and go back to sleep. Only by discarding stuff you know isn't going to work, by struggling to improve stuff that isn't right yet, will you keep it alert and productive.

They say that there are four stages of competence: unconsicous incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and unconscious competence. Conscious incompetence is a stage along the way. It's no guarantee of future genius, of course, but if a beginner is struggling with a sense that what they write doesn't seem to work - or if that beginner is yourself - don't judge it too harshly. Someone who isn't happy with their efforts is almost certainly more talented that someone who's utterly content with every line they dash off. We can all take heart from this: as long as you don't cleave to it, bad work isn't the end of the world.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

 

Civility in the blogosphere

Aha! The dustsheet has come off the computer. So, what does everyone think of this new 'civility in the blogosphere' drive?

Personally, I'm all in favour of civility per se. It's really depressing what an aggressive place the Internet can be. There's a certain kind of personality that you see all over the place that I generally call the 'angry geek' - the person with trenchantly simplistic opinions, whose social skills seem too low to be able to detect that they're being offensive - leading to them becoming ever more self-righteous and quasi-embattled the more people take offense at their bad behaviour. Sometimes they end up concluding that women, or left-wing intellectuals, or the professional members of the fishing-fly manufacturing guild, or whoever it is keeps asking them to be a bit nicer, is an evil cabal that can't handle their opinions; in all cases, they tend to be rude, patronising, opinionated, demeaning and literal-minded, none of which are qualities that add to worthwhile discourse. And they blame other people for being offended by their offensive comments. I'm entirely in favour of moderators coming down hard on such behaviour; if appeals to someone's better nature don't work, they their comments should be deleted before they spoil the party for everyone.

This, incidentally, doesn't impede free speech: there'll always be somewhere else they can express themselves, and if nobody will accept them on a comment thread, they can always have their own blog. You're not preventing them from expressing their opinion; you're just obliging them to take it elsewhere if they can't express it in reasonable language. Free speech doesn't mean that every forum has to put up with everything every jerk in the world with too much time on his hands feels like spewing out.

Arguments defending this kind of thing all have a very similar ring. The one that really gets under my skin is the 'civility is subjective' argument. No it's not. That's an horrible abuse of language and logic both. Civility is context-dependent, but that's not the same thing. Saying 'Who's a clever boy?' to a baby who's just managed to get his spoon accurately into his mouth is perfectly civil; saying it to a relative stranger who's just got a Master's degree is probably rude. But that's not about subjectivity. The basic rules of civility are universal: you show respect for other people and refrain from wantonly doing and saying things that will cause them unnecessary distress. I don't care where you are or what you're talking about, those rules work for everyone. Saying civility is subjective is just a tricked-up way of saying 'Oh yeah? Sez you!', assuming that because your behaviour isn't upsetting you, it shouldn't upset the person on the receiving end, which is just stupid.

So nasty behaviour doesn't merit much tolerance. On the other hand, do we need to ban anonymity? I don't see how that helps. It's perfectly possible to be aggressive under your own name; some people are proud of their aggression, because they're self-righteous. It's also perfectly possible to be polite anonymously; I've never had a nasty remark from an anonymous poster on this site. Anonymity, among other things, can protect posters from the nasty people; say, for instance, a working editor wanted to post a piece on this site about rejecting manuscripts, but was concerned that authors they'd rejected might start attacking them if they remarked that many submissions are badly written. Should they have to do it under their own name? I don't think so. That leads to fewer opinions being expressed, because if you're worried you'll be hounded for saying something and can't say it anonymously, chances are you won't say it at all. Not good for free debate.

(On the other hand, while I don't necessarily subscribe to the whole list of recommendations for civility, I'm not going to have a go at Wales and O'Reilly for suggesting it. They're trying to do their best for the public good as they see it. As long as they don't try to manage my site for me - which they ain't, I've searched the whole house and I couldn't find their spies anywhere - then anything that treats civility as an important issue deserves respect.)

The best way to keep a site civil is to keep an eye on it. But there's another issue as well: the person blogging sets the tone of the discussion. If I see a blog written by an angry-geek blogger, I don't bother to comment; aggressive blogs attract aggressive reactions, and why go into the ring if you don't want to get hit? Similarly, polite blogs attract politer readers, because someone looking for a scrap will be looking for something good and aggressive to pick a fight with. The blogs people read regularly tend to be within an emotional bandwidth that feels comfortable to them. This tends to build on itself; if there are no comments on an article you disagree with, it's easier to write something very aggressive than if there are fifteen moderately-expressed and thoughtful posts: for everyone but a complete jerk, it's kind of embarrassing to be the only one shouting. On the other hand, a blogger who continually calls people idiots and crooks shouldn't be too surprised if some commenters start saying 'The same to you, pal.'

We need to take responsibility for our own blogs, and make sure they're up to satisfactory standards of courtesy. If you're getting lots of hate mail, it's possible you might want to dial back your phrasing. But on the other hand, some subjects just attract bastards no matter how you write about them, especially political ones, and it's ridiculous to always blame the victim. I gather that a number of bloggers have attacked poor Kathy Sierra for complaining that she found the threats and insults upsetting, on the grounds that they'd also had threats and insults, which seems pretty stupid to me: if insults don't bother them, that's their prerogative, but it doesn't mean they shouldn't bother anyone else (it's the 'sez you' argument rearing its ugly head again), and besides, since when was it worse to say you don't like death threats than to call someone a boring slut? The first people to get criticism here ought to be the trolls, not the bloggers who don't like them.

I'd like to thank all the people who post on this site: between you you've created a very relaxing, intelligent and enjoyable atmosphere, and I always look forward to hearing from you. This is to your credit. I won't hesitate to kick off anybody who gets threatening or rude, but I'm grateful to you all for making it a moot point. Take a moment to congratulate yourselves.

Finally, here are some thoughts on what I consider rude behaviour in discussion threads. If anyone else has other ideas, do let me know...

- Obviously, making threats, libelling, calling people names and ill-wishing them.
- The typed equivalent of shouting.
- Talking to people like they're stupid children because you happen to disagree with them.
- Overly personal and/or ill-informed speculation about people's motivations. (For instance, one I've run into several times is someone assuming that I don't respect or agree with them because I'm published and they're not - 'will she respect my opinions more if I get published?', that kind of thing. To which the answer, incidentally, is no, not if they continue to be a jackass about it. On the other hand, if they say something civil and intelligent, I don't care if they never so much as won third prize in the village paper's cornflake slogan competition. I'm democratic about publication: I don't care if people are published, I just care whether they're talking sense.)
- Failing to actually pay attention to what people have said, either putting words in their mouths or firing off opinions that are only tangentially connected. If you want to debate with someone, you ought to listen to them as well as yourself.
- Passive aggression.
- Refusing to respect someone's knowledge or expertise.
- Unnecessary power plays and jockeying for position.
- Setting yourself up as a self-appointed auriga, and trying to take charge of keeping a total stranger's ego within what you consider appropriate limits. That one is just stalky. (I made some remarks about this earlier, if anyone remembers, because I'm sure you all sit up late at night memorising this blog. Heck, it's better than insomnia.) Er, guys? Even in Rome, aurigae weren't self appointed...

Civility, on the whole, is something you know when you see it. But if there's behaviour that you'd like to see me encourage or kick the booty of, do let me know.

What do y'all think of this here civility debate?

Monday, April 16, 2007

 

The reason for the radio silence involves paint. Lots of paint.

Okay, okay, sorry about the dearth; I'll be back soon. Painting the living room was supposed to take two days, but then the badly-applied lining paper ripped, and we discovered decentish plaster underneath, so we decided to strip it all, and then we had to steam it, and then when we tried to paint the plaster flaked so we had to put PVA on it ... oh, it's boring. But the short version is, decorating got out of hand, and the computer is buried under a variety of dustsheets, so I'm in an Internet cafe with West Side Story playing on the video screens overhead. But it'll be finished soon, promise, and then I'll come back and try to be interesting.

What to say in the meantime? Well, not much has been happening apart from getting covered in paint. I have an interview with an Italian journalist tomorrow, which feels kind of posh, (Bareback is shortly being published in Italy by Einaudi) - although I have a mental image of some Gucci-chic elegant icon spotting the bits of paint I couldn't get out of my hair and raising a delicate eyebrow at my recently-washed but kind of scruffy outfit (my smart clothes not having been unpacked yet, nobody knows where they are), but I'm sure she's nice really.

Did I mention I'm covered in paint?

The best dessert is an English cream tea. There's a lovely cafe round here that does them, and they're delicious.

Despite the horrors of moving, my new neighbourhood is wonderful and I love it here. There are trees! Lots of trees! There are parks! People tend their front gardens! It is green and I am so much happier. Never neglect the importance of greenery when choosing somewhere to live.

Well, I think I hear paint calling. In the meantime, if you're bored, let me recommend two of my favourite webcomics: Home on the Strange, and Questionable Content (the latter responsible for the incredibly useful concept of Quantum Fetish Mechanics). I personally don't pretend to get all the references (it helps if you know a bit about sci fi for the former and indie music for the latter, and neither are things I'm that knowledgeable about), but they've got great characters and stories, and they're funny and involving and very entertaining. Give them a try.

I'm going to say the word 'paint' again, because I sometimes find it entertaining to hear words continually reused in different places, besides which it tells you something about my day.

PAINT.

Sorry. Sensible service will be resumed at some hopefully not-too-distant point in the future.

Monday, April 09, 2007

 

Happy post-Easter!

And in the spirit of reflection and enlightenment, here are two of my favourite pieces of writing about religion:


Whenever we encounter the Infinite in man, however imperfectly understood, we treat it with respect. Whether in the synagogue, the mosque, the pagoda, or the wigwam, there is a hideous aspect which we execrate and a sublime aspect which we venerate. So great a subject for spiritual contemplation, such measureless dreaming - the echo of God on the human wall!

-Victor Hugo


This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond -
Invisible, as Music -
But positive, as Sound -
It beckons, and it baffles -
Philosophy - don't know-
And through a Riddle, at the last -
Sagacity, must go -
To guess it, puzzles scholars -
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown -
Faith slips - and laughs, and rallies -
Blushes, if any see -
Plucks at a twig of Evidence -
And asks a Vane, the way -
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit -
Strong Hallelujahs roll -
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul -

Emily Dickinson, 501


And for the secularists out there (or indeed the religious people who like pretty things), here are some springtime pictures, of a nest, and some rabbits in fields, and some cherry blossom and new leaves, because it is spring and the world is beautiful.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

 

How does one refer to writers?

It's a curious question in this internet age.

I read English at university, and I was taught that you referred to writers by their surnames. But that doesn't always seem the case on the Net. It seems to vary. A friend of mine who's a Buffy fan, for instance, refers to Joss Whedon as 'Joss'. As my participation in the TV show consisted solely of watching it rather than talking about it on the Net, I'm guessing that's a convention among many Buffy fans caused by the author being particularly friendly to his viewers, but I couldn't say for sure. It can't be a general TV thing, because my friends who like The West Wing don't talk about 'Aaron' rather than 'Aaron Sorkin'. But it somewhat puzzled me the first time I heard it. 'Oh,' I thought, 'have you met him? No, hang on, he's in America, isn't he?' She's by no means wrong to do it, of course - what do I know about it, after all? - but it seemed unusual, to me at any rate.

Then you get authors who get referred to by their initials; I discovered, for instance, when referring to John Scalzi's post about Laurell K. Hamilton's dispute with her fans a coupla months ago, that people refer to her as 'LKH'. Whether this is because it's quicker to type or whether people would say it in conversation as well, I once again don't know. But it seems strange to me. If you can touch-type, then 'Hamilton' doesn't take much longer to type than 'LKH' - no, scratch that: it's quicker, because you can go easier on the shift key, and I for one find it easier to type when my little finger isn't hobbled.

It doesn't have to involve the internet to be a tricky question. There's an absolutely excellent biography of Jane Austen by Carol Shields - well-written, sympathetic, intelligent, perceptive about writing and of easily manageable length - which includes an interesting discussion of how to refer to Jane Austen. Shields points out the difficulties of various possible solutions: 'Jane' would have offended her as over-familiar, as would the brusquely masculine 'Austen', but 'Miss Austen' would have been wrong, as Jane Austen had an older sister and technically only the oldest unmarried daughter is Miss. (In Pride and Prejudice, for instance, the eldest sister Jane is 'Miss Bennet', and the other sisters are 'Miss Elizabeth Bennet', 'Miss Mary Bennet', 'Miss Kitty Bennet' and 'Miss Lydia Bennet'.) Shields settles on referring to her as 'Jane Austen' throughout, in what I think is a nice gesture of respect towards the excellent novelist.

But the internet certainly does seem to be upping the use of first names. I sometimes find it disconcerting. You all, my dear website people, address me as 'Kit', for instance, which is entirely appropriate, as we're in conversation - but sometimes I see a total stranger reviewing my book or discussing my opinions on their own site with no reference to me at all, and they're still calling me 'Kit'. It's a bit peculiar, because I don't know them. When they're slagging me off, it rather rankles; my friends call me Kit, and such people do not seem to be my friends. I'd rather they called me Whitfield; it's a gesture of respect, at least insofar as it acknowledges that we don't know each other.

Possibly this objection is an English thing - we have not been introduced - but then again, I don't hear reviewers speaking of American novelists by first name. But also, thinking of 'Joss', and its usefulness as a handle - would his fans refer to him by his first name if he called himself 'Joseph'? - makes me wonder about names in themselves. Kit is a slightly unusual name for a woman, and it occurs to me to wonder whether people would be using it in reviews if my name was Claire or Sarah. Has 'Kit' become a kind of logo?

What do you do when referring to writers? What would you rather be called if being discussed as one? Is there a convention I'm not aware of here? Fill me in, guys.

Monday, April 02, 2007

 

Free running!

I am moved. I have broadband, but I'm also ill, so normal services may be on the blink for a bit. In the meantime, for your continued entertainment, here's a post I wrote a few days ago and didn't get round to putting on the blog...

I just watched Casino Royale, which was surprisingly good - normally I can't stand Bond, but this was a good thriller and I enjoyed it - and there's a scene in it where there is free running. Free running, for the benefit of those of you who, like me, had never heard of it and didn't have someone to explain it, is an urban sport where basically you treat the landscape like a combination of an obstacle course and a gymnasium, and leap through it as gracefully as possible. Anyway, it was amazing. Amazing! In recognition of which, here's a clip of some more of it - that one's three and a bit minutes, this one is six and a bit. Do not, not, not try this at home, unless your legs have been getting on your nerves and you figure a good compound fracture will teach them their place, but it's wonderful to watch. It's like getting back to our monkey roots; I've seen marmosets do leaps like that in the zoo, but I didn't know people could do it. (I love monkeys with all my heart, so this is meant to be a compliment.) Yay Darwin! Yay taking advantage of ugly urban environments to do something beautiful! Yay free running!

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