Thursday, 30 August 2012

Discovering old books

Nothing makes me happier than leafing through old childhood books, so you can imagine my joy when my sister brought two boxes of books back to me from her attic. I absolutely love my kindle and think it's really taught me the value of being attached to the words and not the pages on which the words are written, but regardless of this I will always have a major soft spot for children's books. They're so beautiful! Roald Dahl (and therefore Quentin Blake) or an illustrated Disney treasury, I'm not fussy; I just love it.
Another type of book that can never be acceptable in kindle form is that of the 'coffee table' variety. And so, in my boxes of books, I found PostSecret. Have you ever come across this phenomenon either in a book or on the Internet? I know it's pretty widespread so maybe I don't need to explain, but just in case- PostSecret started as a blog where people could send their innermost secrets, anonymously, of course. The postcards are supposed to be succinct and arty and truthful, but those are the only real rules. The result is amazing: a mixture of secrets that make you laugh and cry, feel hopeful and hopeless, all at the same time.
Today I went on the PostSecret website (check it out) for the first time ever. I've always been wondering if/when I would see a secret that related to me, and today, out of the blue, there it was. And it didn't just relate to me, it was the exact one I would write, down to the word and feeling, if I was ever able to tell. It was so precise it made me cry, even though it's a secret long buried and almost forgotten. But that's the absolute beauty of PostSecret I suppose. It's raw and rough and tells it like it is, no tip-toeing, no messin'.

I'll leave you with one PostSecret that made me laugh out loud, bearing in mind my soon-to-be-new-life.
Do you think this will be me??

P.S On an unrelated note have a look on story stuff if you feel like it :)

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Weird and Wonderful Imaginings of Many

On the never ending quest to improve my writing and gain inspiration, I've recently joined the website You Write On. It's quite a basic set up, but I really like the idea behind it. You upload the opening chapters of a story you're working on, then review other people's stories in exchange for having your story reviewed. It's really a two way thing, as 1 review you write rewards you with a credit, which you use to get another review for your story.
I've been finding great joy in this part all on it's own; feeling a wonderful sense of smugness at 'banking' my credits, much like in The Weakest Link. The aim of all this, the real pinnacle of the adventure however, is not to bank as many credits as possible (note to self) but to get the most good ratings and make it into the top ten charts. The excitement! Actually it is quite, as the number one spot gets a real review by publishers at Random House and Orion.
The small matter of how on Gods earth you make it to the top spot is a bit of a mystery to me, as the competition starts afresh each month and therefore surely the stats must be wiped. How many reviews can one girl realistically do in a mere thirty days? So far I've managed four and bearing in mind it takes 8 to even rank in the charts, it's a little alarming how exhausted I feel!
I must say it's been good for me to be reviewed, as it's something that easily slips into non-existence as a writer, your work becoming to you like the ring to Lord of the Rings' Gollum. My precious! Being reviewed/critiqued is a tricky business though. However much I prepare for it and attempt to be 'cool' it's still hard not to feel pissed of by the STUPID F*CKING COMMENTS!!!!
Ha ha only joking. Sort of. No, generally it really is useful and very interesting to get feedback, I guess I just object to someone called Betty lecturing me on my inability to replicate real teenage speech. 'Maybe you should consider getting a job that involves working with them.' Only what I've been doing for the last seven years! 'Or see how they interact with each other on facebook.' Doesn't that constitute stalking?
Anyway, enough of that. I promise you I'm striving to become less of a baby and actually listen to my peers.
I'm very much enjoying the complete randomness of the entries I've reviewed so far. It's great that whether I like or loathe a piece, I can always learn something from it, be it in the realm of plot, dialogue or description. The extracts are only small (between 5 and 7 thousand words), so can be read fairly quickly, which has had the effect of sending my head into a whirl. The four extracts I've read to date are so different, but have begun to intertwine and merge in my brain. What an interesting story that would make for! Imagine the scene: A battered and deflated housewife in 1920's far reaching Scotland, working for the FBI and hot on the heals of a bloodthirsty mass murderer. But as she waits for the killer, her work is interrupted by an explosion in her block of flats, which merges her brain (in her body) with a Polish builder. And all this during the stress of an impending visit from Ofsted....
I think I have a best seller on my hands.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

An entirely different tongue

My new language venture (which will inevitably end in failure and disappointment but hey I'll give it a go), is Arabic. I know it'll be exceptionally hard, but it has more use potentially than learning say, Korean, so hopefully my motivation will be higher. Especially now that my new favourite book's been delivered from Amazon.
Ladies and Gentleman I introduce to you, The Usborne, First thousand words in Arabic!
How amazing.

We had the English one of these at home when I was little- and I love this version because it's exactly the same, complete with western faces and British scenarios, just with Arabic words instead. I particularly like that there's a page devoted to 'the fair ground' but in the whole book there is no mention of a head scarf. Nothing has been altered to be culturally or socially more appropriate. I guess that's why I love it.

On a related note, I recently found an old dictionary from school. This is no ordinary dictionary, mind, but one that me and a friend compiled for our secret language, Flugen. Not content with back slang as a way of communicating- it being an entirely crackable code, we decided to make up our own language, word for word. This was serious business; hours were spent sitting in a bedroom or even up the ladder in the loft for added privacy, writing page upon page of Flugen words. And practising speaking to each other. In the end the project was short lived and we gave up, but looking back at the book made me laugh a lot, especially seeing what our priorities were in terms of important words or phrases. The main reason for Flugen’s existence was to allow us a forum for talking about people, especially boys. Perusing the Flugen dictionary, I discovered a definite trend towards a certain theme. Some favourites included: myben (fancy), ib (kiss), zlig (love) and zlup (vagina!). I think this last one is certainly a contender for a new addition to the Oxford English Dictionary.
And more important than even all that, the Flugen dictionary included a list of code names for all the people we wanted to talk about. Perfect.
The best phrase I remember practising was Le geebe tof gi funkle. I think you are fit. On reflection, however, it seems a bit of a silly one to learn, as if I said it to anyone I thought was 'fit' then they simply wouldn't understand and my efforts would be wasted.  
Apparently Jimba (my friend) and Jamba (me) had way too much free time as fourteen-year -olds. You gotta hand it to us though, it was genius. I wonder where we'd be now if we'd kept it up... Probably in a mental hospital somewhere jabbering rubbish at each other.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

There and back again- a taxi mans tale

In the last two weeks I've been to Heathrow Airport three times, to drop off and pick up students. Hanging around in airports is a familiar concept to me, but waiting to collect unknown children-who don't know you from Adam either- is weird. I've always liked arrivals, as it's a place where people are reunited, but after the first hour or so it loses its charm.
The 'unacompanied minor' situation involves children being passed on from one adult to the next, each hoping that the others will do their job properly. Some parents, understandably enough, come to England for a visit so they can accompany their children on the journeys. I think I would do the same, rather than putting my ten year old on a plane alone. The set up I witnessed on Saturday, however, was nothing short of ridiculous. I had to wait at the terminal with a German girl for her Mum's 'man friend' to arrive on a plane from Dusseldorf, to then take her off my hands and fly straight back. Madness. Not only was it totally over the top (I mean, if you are so worried about your child, maybe you shouldn't be sending them away at all?) but it was also risky. What if his plane had been delayed? But then again buying a new ticket is not a problem for the rich.
Anyway, the main inspiration for this post is that as a result of these airport trips, I have spent around 9 hours in taxis, with taxi drivers who wanted to tell me everything and learn everything and generally chat shit for the entire journey- there and back. Saturday was a classic. Shane-I'll call him that to protect his identity-talked so much that I think I could give you at least 30 facts about his life. Like that his long term girlfriend left in March, taking the kids and leaving him with nothing but a blow up bed. Now is that really something you share with a stranger? Also that he hasn't seen his kids (13 and 16) since then, but that he pays his child maintenance. And that he's been having various online and text conversations with women, some of which 'he just simply couldn't repeat.' Thank God for that. And that he's going on holiday to meet a woman 'probably just for friendship' and then moving to Australia. Then there was the conversation about the psychology behind the text kiss. And the smiley. At what point is it right to start putting a kiss, and should it be one or two? What would you do regarding kisses if a bloke was texting you? How should I know? I'm bloody married! At one point I was reassured 'I'm not looking for anything serious right now, Rachel.' Great, really good to know, cheers.  
And then there was also the incessant questions. When are you going to settle down? What are you doing after this? What is the pay like here, and in Saudi. So many questions, forcing me to talk more about myself than I would ever choose to do with someone I'd just met. But in the passenger seat it's exhausting trying to deflect or ignore direct questions. The real high point of all this was when he asked me if I'm thinking of having children yet. Not knowing how the hell to respond, I told him I thought it was a strange question, to which he replied, 'Well, that body clock's gonna start ticking soon.'
I know being a taxi man must be a boring and lonely job at times, but is that really my problem? You're paid to drive, damn it, so leave me alone to read my book/sleep/stare at the road in peace!