raven: (stock - roses)
Thank you all again for the congratulations you left on my last post(s). I say this so often, but I never stop being surprised at the warmth and kindness of you all.

Wedding planning has begun, though it really does seem like a rehearsal for all the rest of my life in that everything about weddings is culturally dictated, and if you happen to hail from more than one then congratulations, it’s time to feel really bad about yourself. (This is exaggeration. Kinda.) There are some small delights about wedding planning though: reading through all the poetry you ever heard of to try and find a reading, and not finding one, but feeling washed clean and translucent with joy because hey, you just re-read all the poetry you ever knew; discovering that the General Register Office for Scotland has many obscure requirements for a marriage but operates in the warm shadow of Scottish marriage reform; learning that your mother-in-law can, without fuss and fanfare, cast precious metal.

(I am not really sorry that I don’t do family law, mostly because I hear from people who do that it involves cowering under meeting room tables as clients’ chairs are thrown, but that said I find the law concerning births, marriages and deaths an oddly poetic area. Like any area of law where the public intersects with the private, it has to tread softly, and has that fascinating side-effect where purely legal text is transformed into something rare and poetic. (Witness this sentence from the GRO website: where no name was recorded for the still-born child at the time of registration, a name can be added at the request of the parents. There’s a whole novel to be written based on that sad little registrars’ note.) On that topic, people have used Goodridge v Massachusetts as a wedding reading, and I think that’s lovely, but appropriative in my case. Back to the drawing board.)

Life continues, otherwise. I have about a month left in the current job, with no word on where they’re putting me in September, and there’s a chance I may be responsible for a first-year trainee which bothers me greatly (I am a year into my training, which doesn’t seem long enough for me to have any sort of responsibility for anyone else); Shim passed his driving test first time (hurrah! I no longer have to drive anywhere okay that might be a lie, also I love my little green car); and, very excitingly indeed, the South African Siren is coming to see me! I have missed her so – for new readers, she was my dearest friend for the time I lived abroad, and I haven’t seen her in more than a year – and she will be HERE and we will have COCKTAILS and yes.

Olympics - tl;dr, I am REALLY EXCITED )

When I am not watching the Olympics, I’m reading again, which is nice. I just finished Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein - a purportedly YA novel (purportedly! I was harrowed!) about two friends, a Scottish aristocrat and a mill girl from Stockport, in the Second World War. And I’m going to say now that this is a wonderful book and you should all read it but practically everything about it is a spoiler.

Firstly, minor character spoilers )

okay now the MASSIVE spoilers – do not click if you have any thought of reading this novel, and believe me you SHOULD, soupytwist I am particularly looking at you )

Next up: The Scottish Prisoner, the latest Lord John Grey book, out in paperback. I have it, but haven’t started yet because to be honest I am afraid this is going to be a Jamie Fraser book (I was suspicious after she dropped “Lord John and” from the title!). And what I love about the Lord John books is that they are not Jamie Fraser books. Urgh.

Tomorrow, to London. Right now I just ate my whole weight in barbecued tofu and things are okay.
raven: (stock - scotland)
I got my [livejournal.com profile] yuletide assignment. As is the way of these things, I had a brilliant idea on seeing it, wrote three hundred words and then nothing more. I'm still cautiously optimistic I might make progress soonish. I think I shall have to rewatch re-read replay re-consume the canon and hope for the best.

Here are some things that make a post.

1. Work continues difficult and anxiety-provoking. (What a surprise.) Had a meeting this morning in which there was much discussion of single farm payments, solar energy and renewables generally, inter alia; my supervisor said, sternly to all present, that we should pay attention to such things; we should keep apprised of what's happening in our world. It's a world composed mainly of anxiety and grit, from my perspective. Grit that comes off deeds, grit that accumulates in my ears and nose after a day of deeds, grit from site visits, grit under nails, grit that shit grows in. At least it's about growing things, says the part of me that would quite like to go on site visits to windswept moors in the middle of nowhere. My supervisor gets in beautiful full-colour periodicals of blue-sky pictures so we can sometimes see what the land we handle looks like to stand on.

(We have reached the turn of the year where sunset is at three thirty. I am... feeling it.)

On the brighter side, on my way to work is a Buddhist retreat and education centre. They are having a charity bake sale. The Dharma Buns. FOR SERIOUS.

2. Shim and I have spent some evenings this week listening to Warhorses of Letters, and finished today to a joint chorus of NO THEY CAN'T LEAVE IT THERE. Please tell me you are listening to this, flist. Please tell me. It is a four-part Radio 4 fifteen-minute comedy that details for us the correspondence between two star-crossed lovers, Marengo and Copenhagen. Both of whom are known to history for being close friends of Napoleon and Wellington respectively, oh, and being horses. But, as their collected correspondence tells us, terribly gay for each other, though prone to jealousy and ah, needing rolls in wet grass to compose themselves. "It's not easy," as Copenhagen puts it, "being a gay horse."

KISS KISS HOOFPRINT. I have hearts. It's nominated for [livejournal.com profile] yuletide, which makes them sparkly hearts.

3. Speaking of [livejournal.com profile] yuletide and historical fiction, which I totally was, I am re-reading the Lord John Grey novels and rather enjoying the experience. I am still very far from being Diana Gabaldon's biggest fan - I cannot, no matter how hard I try, get into her Outlander books, which are just too doorstoppish and full of deathless! romantic! hero! tropes for me. It baffles me somewhat that she can also have written Lord John Grey: Lord John, who is a terribly romantic hero, in so many ways, being as he is charming, aristocratic, classically-educated, an expert swordsman, and indefinably attractive to women. But then, he also has a sense of humour. And he's queer. And, you know, I love that, I do: I love that Lord John is queer in a way that makes sense for the world he lives in (which is eighteenth-century Scotland, and London; he was born in 1729) but also just makes sense. He's proud of it in his own quiet way; regretful that he can't ever tell his adored brother and mother; and when asked if he thinks it's a sin, his answer is that he was made in the image of God. And I love his romances, doomed as they all are by exigencies of plot; I love that they happen in and around adventure-mystery fare; and I love that he's a soldier, and it's a part of his identity with his queerness, that they both characterise him.

this is my usual spoilery trigger warning when recommending the Lord John books )

So, anyway, I forgot to nominate, offer or request Lord John fic for [livejournal.com profile] yuletide, but luckily other people did not. I am reading them cheerfully, and feeling a little better about life now I have lived through another week.

Shetland

Mar. 29th, 2010 09:19 pm
raven: (misc - winter)
Our landlord wants to know what we're doing on Shetland. "Oh," I said, taken by surprise, "oh, we're here to look at the wildlife, I suppose."

"Good place for it," he said, and not a lot else; he is, on the whole, a chap of few words. The truthful answer is that I have no idea; for some reason, when [livejournal.com profile] shimgray suggested it two weeks ago, instead of going to Ireland or even Iona (where I've never been, shamefully), it caught my imagination.

I went off the idea again five hours into the North Sea, having spent all the time at sea thus far with my nose in a bag, horse-like. To make things worse, the only seasickness pills on board were homeopathic. The boat skidded into Kirkwall around midnight, and most of the passengers departed in the direction of Orkney, taking with them my scope for people-watching, and everyone else on board lashed themselves down for the long night. I dozed off eventually and woke up feeling rotten at seven - despite the clocks going forward to BST overnight, the ship had thoughtfully put on a burst of speed to get us there at the scheduled time - and we got off.

Here's a free bit of advice: don't arrive in Lerwick at seven on a Sunday morning laden down with luggage hoping, naively, to find a cafe. After we had been almost blown out to sea several times, and found not a single place open - other than the Co-op, socialism never sleeps - in the whole town (we hid in doorways from the wind, and I would have been worried we were going to be arrested for vagrancy had the general air of the place not indicated post-zombie invasion), I ran out of energy abruptly and we returned to the ferry terminal and dozed off again until lunchtime. At which point we were picked up by aforementioned landlord, and things got a lot better.

Here is the view from our kitchen window: complete with wind turbine in the garden )

The wind turbine is out of sight to the left, but when you open the door you hear it like a helicopter landing. I can only say the double-glazing is very good in this place. Oh, but the little cottage is adorable. It sleeps five, which is a little embarrassing - it was still cheaper to rent than a B 'n' B! - and has the most adorable little kitchen, and beds with little cuddly seals on them. I love it very much. It is about ten minutes' walk outside of Lerwick, down a hill with no footpath, and surrounded by skittish sheep. Downtown Lerwick, such as it is, took us about forty-five minutes to explore this morning, but I found it quietly delightful - full of tiny little shops, including one that looked just like Quiggins would have done if you packed it in a tiny box and posted it to Shetland (that is to say, a tiny insular goth-shop - complete with incense burners, silver skull earrings, slogan t-shirts and spiky dog collars, everything the self-respecting teenage goth needs), and a bookshop that claims to be the most northerly bookshop in Britain. It may well be. We bought a book for the sake of the thing.

(Oh, also: while I am here, I am reading Lord John and the Private Matter, having found it in a bookshop in Aberdeen, and enjoying its intrigue and mysteries and fiery-haired Scots a little more than I would in a less epic setting - and now it seems like there is something I haven't read. Lord John and the Scottish Soldier - is that a short story, or a novel I haven't come across before?)

In the afternoon, we rented a car. I was a little dubious about this idea; generally, I am not the world's most confident driver, and it's been a good long while since I've driven. But after a few false starts getting out of Lerwick, and a pause at home for lunch, we got out the OS maps and set out again. It's worth noting at this point that the weather here is never the same for five minutes. When we got up there was snow on the ground; this melted by the time we went out, became bright sunshine, became rain, became stinging, painful hail, become sun glimmering off blue water, became rain, became more sunshine. It was grimly grey when we got in the car and started driving north. The road, which is one of two A-roads on the whole island, curves around to the west towards the water, and we reached the crest of a hill, and I nearly cried. The land just falls into the water - just a gorgeous curve into the sound, with the sun coming out gloriously over the shallows towards Scalloway, the second town on Mainland. I've never seen anything so perfect. After that we kept on driving - across these tiny, one-track causeways between the islands, over to Trondra, and then to West Burra, with the sun shining high in the sky all the way. (Here, so far north, the nights are already short - it was bright-sunshine bright even at seven and eight.) Once we hit a one-track road on West Burra, I insisted we stop - like I said, I'm not a confident driver, and had just driven, almost on autopilot, across three islands - and we did, in a tiny hilltop parking-place, and got out to have a look.

There's a novel I read once - it may, to my sorrow, be by Ian McEwan - that described some extraordinary happening as being "like opening a cupboard and finding a beach."

We did that. like so )

Shim claims I look silly, carrying my handbag along a beach with my eyes shut (I needed somewhere for the car keys! I'm looking straight into the sun!) but I like it; it looks like that felt like, clambering down the rocks looking for nothing in particular and finding, out of nowhere, this perfect, tiny curve of beach, with white sand and blue water. I wandered across it feeling like I'd stepped into some other world - it was so unexpected, so perfect, and the sun was shining like it hadn't been all day, and the water was funnelling in along the sound from the North Atlantic, and had that oceanic clarity, that perfect blue.

On the way back there were little Shetland ponies in fields, peering through gorgeous mullets, and Shim claims he saw a tree. (No, several trees.) This is notable, really: it's a bit of a culture shock, getting used to an entirely treeless landscape, just rolling scrubland and salt water.

Tomorrow, we are thinking of heading further north, in the hope of spotting some seals. And otters. I am very much enjoying my holidays.
raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
I am feeling rather stay-in-bed gloomy and sad. One of those things, I s'pose. I plan to go to Taruithorn's dancing tonight, so perhaps that will be cheering.

Anyway, quick hit: anyone want a copy of Lord John and the Hand of Devils? I've talked about Lord John before, and how wonderful he is: basically, these are the adventures of an eighteenth-century aristocrat and soldier, who is charming, debonair, genuinely delightful, and kind of gay. Actually he's just gay. All of his adventures are interspersed with the young man of the moment. Really, I recommend them.

Sadly, Hand of Devils is not the best one to start with - it's a collection of three novellas, and I rather think the third one doesn't stand alone, but the other two are great fun, and feature succubi and princesses and battles and jokes about masturbation. Shim got me this one thinking it was the one I didn't have, but alas, I do, so it's going spare.

Anyone? It's an A-format paperback, ex-library. UK for preference, but open to persuation.
raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
I am sitting in bed with a pile of books and a cup of coffee, and it is an absolutely freezing Sunday afternoon and I have no desire to get out of it again. Clearly, the time has come to talk about the eighty-three novels I read in 2009. Like I said before, this was my New Year's resolution - to read, and in doing so, maybe re-establish the habit so the next year I wouldn't have to resolve it. I think it worked. I now feel a little sad that I didn't read for four years, but mostly happy, because I now have those four years' books to read.

So, eighty-three books. Five of them were non-fiction (two autobiographical books, one biography of someone else, one strictly "non-fiction"). Twenty-two of those were by just two authors (Patrick O'Brian and Lois McMaster Bujold), and another twelve were by two more (Terry Pratchett and Naomi Novik). Five were Star Trek tie-ins. I suspect only about fifteen in total had any literary quality, and I had read perhaps (an overlapping) fifteen of them before.

[Note: any links that follow go to my initial reviews of the books, when I first read them.]

So. Let's start with Patrick O'Brian and his epic, epic series of Aubrey-Maturin Age of Sail books. For the uninitiated: they start with Master and Commander, and feature the many and varied adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey, an officer in the Royal Navy, a bluff, cheerful, man with twin aptitudes for warfare and terrible puns, and his dearest friend, Stephen Maturin, a physician, naturalist, and spy. The books are the most unmitigated fun. Read more... )

Next, Bujold and her Vorkosigan series. These are... hard to describe, but in something of the space opera mould, much as I hate that descriptor. Basically, they're about the sometime-future, in which galactic travel is possible through wormholes in space between planets that happen to have them close by. Earth is one of these, but it's not the focus of the books. Instead, we have the planet Barrayar, an imperial, highly militaristic society with a great deal of technology and very little in the way of social change, and into this we bring Miles Vorkosigan, who is the protagonist of most of them. He's an aristocrat, the scion of an incredibly important family, intelligent and dedicated and energetic and, because of an attack on his mother before he was born, physically disabled in a number of ways. He's a very interesting character, and there are space battles, disruptor guns, mercenary fleets and antics galore for him to be interesting at and around. But I'm not really in it for the spaceships and whatnot; I'm in it for the Memory )

Next, Temeraire, by Naomi Novik. I read the whole series this year, and I loved it. The premise is just fabulous: the Napoleonic Wars, with dragons! Sentient, thoughtful, very talkative dragons with complex relationships with humans. Temeraire, the eponymous dragon, has for a captain a former naval officer called Lawrence, and the first book is all about the two of them getting to know each other and the author and the reader getting to know the world, this alternative universe with so much that's familar (in fact, familiar from Aubrey and Maturin!) and strange (the Royal Aerial Corps!). Read more... )

And there are other books I wanted to mention, too! Also in the sphere of historical fiction, there was the Lord John Grey series by Diana Gabaldon, which are, weirdly, romance-novel spin-offs. Gabaldon's romance novel series is called Outlander and is fun, but too replete with the worse tropes of the genre to stick with - too much perfect specimens of perfect manhood, etc - especially as her books are proper doorstops. But Lord John, who exists in the same universe, is much, much more fun. He is an eighteenth-century aristocrat, soldier and sort-of-detective, he's very funny, very likeable, his family is enormous and slightly unhinged, and he's gay. He really is, in uncomplicated fashion; the mystery of the moment is always entwined with whatever nice young man Grey has his eye on. It's pure delight to read, and so far I think Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade is the best one.

Other books I read this year: oh, The Monsters of Templeton was a silly but unexpectedly fun family story, Julie & Julia is a much better book than it sounds, a cooking-blog-turned-memoir that is light, razor-sharp and very engaging, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay made my heart hurt. Mason & Dixon was baby's first Pynchon and a seven-hundred page delight in eighteenth-century prose, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was very flawed and very charming.

But the best single book I read this year was, undoubtedly, Doomsday Book. I've talked about it at length before, and it's not like I'm not hideously late to the party as it is - it was published in 1992 - but this is really special, that sci-fi kind of enjoyable and textured with humour, but deep, sad and rich beneath all of it. It's set in a future Oxford, where time travel has been discovered and is being administered by the university's history faculty and by Balliol and Brasenose. Oxford in 2057 is, well, shockingly like our Oxford in certain ways, and very much unlike it in others, but I get the likeable sense that the changes are cosmetic and technological (admittedly, a Tube station under Cornmarket is quite a change) and that it really is my Oxford underneath.

And in this lovely backdrop, we have this extraordinary novel. The protagonist, Kivrin, is a history undergrad who's making the first trip to the Middle Ages, and Dunworthy, her tutor, doesn't want her to go but can't stop her, and sits at home and worries. spoilers get a little more specific from here, but not much more )

I actually wrote my [livejournal.com profile] yuletide story for it this year, and although that's a story about Verity and Ned from To Say Nothing of a Dog, it's really more for Doomsday Book in theme and, I don't know, all-pervasive gloom. But I really do recommend it - my initial review of it is here - and it won the Hugo and Nebula awards for the requisite year, so. You don't have to take my word for it.

So, that was my absolute favourite. The close second, which I actually read in the very last week of the year, was Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex. It's sort of the story of three generations of a Greek-American family, written in such a fluid, universal way that I can see the underlying immigrant narrative as at once familiar and entirely new, and it's also sort of the story of Cal, who was born twice - as a girl, and as a teenage boy, and how he finds gender identity, and how it finds him. I really, really liked it, for being a novel with something to say, about who you are and why you are, and also for being full of delights, silly names, unexpected witticisms and rolling comedy. (What I thought at the time.)

In 2010, I have read two books: The Birthday of the World and Other Stories, a collection of science-fiction shorts by Ursula Le Guin (some good, some very good, a very few unremarkable) and Silent Snow, Secret Snow, by Adele Geras, an atmospheric little young-adult thing which I picked up for £2 in the Last Bookshop, and is entirely worth it. I'm now reading yet more Connie Willis, and just finished The Winds of Marble Arch, a longish short story which is full of despair and longing and also silly jokes, because she's Connie Willis and I love her.

If I ever forget how to read again, remind me.

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