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Acting and Ferret Farming Made Simple

(Cross-posted from Wordpress).

One of the earliest memories I have is of those little china animals that used to come out of Christmas crackers. Do you remember them? They were awesome. I particularly remember a horse, rearing up on its hind legs, and a cheeky little red squirrel. I loved those little animals. I coveted those little animals.

When I was about seven, I collected these, and other miniature things and kept them all in a shoe box. (Weirdly, there’s totally a children’s story hidden in that sentence, isn’t there?) I would take those animals out of the box and, feeding what was probably early onset OCD, arrange them in a variety of ways: colour order, height order, alphabetical order… and then one day, I have this very clear memory of using them to put on a show for my dad.

Someone had given me a book of nonsense verse and there was a particular poem – I wish I could remember it – that tickled me. So I used these little china animals to act out the poem. I distinctly remember the poem calling for an old man, so I made a beard for the horse out of cotton wool. I think he had to fall down some stairs. (It wasn’t ‘You Are Old, Father William’. I’m almost sure it was an Edward Lear poem, but I’m damned if I can remember it now!)

What I did was tell a story through acting.

A few days ago, I put up a lament on Facebook about how I was sad that due to Life taking over, I had to drop acting as a career choice and enter the real world. I love acting. I think it’s why I enjoy live role play so very much. The chance to be someone else and put Sarah on the shelf for a while. Since I put that post up, I’ve had a number of wistful thoughts about the subject and this morning, the Thought Train pulled into Epiphany Station and I realised that there are many similarities between acting and writing.

In both cases, you’re telling a story. A play is a story. It has characters, it has plot, it has exposition, it has Events. You convey emotion. It has dialogue. I love writing dialogue, I have to admit and I think that’s a direct result of the acting, of actually picking up words on a page and breathing life into them. Use of punctuation can inject a comedic pause, or add tension every bit as much as missing a beat can do. Writing something like this:

“I don’t know why I did it,” he said. There was an awkward silence.

“But I did.”

…has the same effect as inserting a dramatic pause. (Dramatic paws. RAAR. Sidenote explanation: one of the course books when I was studying drama originally had the best ever title. ‘Acting and Stagecraft Made Simple’. It was so much use that we called it ‘Acting and Ferret Farming Made Simple’. It waxed eloquent about the use of the dramatic pause. Which naturally evolved into paws).

A lot of people enjoy books filled with long descriptions of people and places. I prefer those that give you the bare minimal description – enough to fire your imagination – and plug the gaps with excellent dialogue. Terry Pratchett was a master of comedy dialogue. When his books were adapted so masterfully by Stephen Briggs for the stage, they worked perfectly. I prefer to let my imagination hear what’s going on. Again, I think that’s a side-effect of my inner Thespian.

I love learning lines of dialogue. I can recite great long passages of it from a variety of things. Shakespeare, TV and radio shows, films… I had a bet with someone once that I couldn’t learn and recite ‘The Jabberwocky’ in an hour. I won the bet and never forgot it. I can still remember my lines from the school Mummers play that I was in when I was… nine. I used to learn my lines AND the lines of other people. I remember once that during a performance of The Winslow Boy, the chap standing opposite me completely forgot his lines. The prompt, who was half-deaf to start with and lived in a hollow piano (true. This is true. I can’t even…) wouldn’t have heard his pleas for help, so in order to keep things going, I just warped his lines into mine and he picked up the thread without any of us missing a beat. Improvisation fun times. (Again, I cite LRP, yer honour).

Directing is something else entirely. As a director, you are even more in charge of the story telling. It may be hard to believe that having someone standing in a particular place, or wearing a certain expression, or maybe letting their fingers brush wistfully over a bottle on the side can make all the difference to conveying personality quirks, but it really, really does.

I’ve not done much in the way of directing. I think part of me is terrified of the concept. Having been an actor, getting plucked from where your feet naturally take you when saying a line and being told to stand over there, it fills me with cold dread to make those calls. I happily invite thoughts from people who direct. How hard is it to make that transition from reacting to the lines you’re speaking to reacting to watching those lines being spoken?

On stage, characterisation is about more than how you act and how you say the words. It’s about what you don’t say. About what you barely hint at. It’s those things that make a character accessible, believable. In books, such quirks could be people who chew their lip when they’re thinking. In a book, you can convey inner processing more easily than you can on stage.

The more I contemplate this subject, the more I realise that my acting energies channel themselves now into my writing, into LRP events, into online role play fora… so maybe the actor in me isn’t lost forever. Maybe the actor in me is simply approaching the art in a different way.

Keeping LJ Alive

Because I don't want to lose anything.

Dear Mum (2015 Edition)

Dear Mum

And around it comes again. Fifteen years since we lost you, fifteen years that have gone by both in a rush and which have dragged. So many changes, so many good times, so many lows.

Life, they say, goes on after you lose someone and that's certainly true. But the pain - whilst it may fade - never really goes away. When Jamie collected his GCSE results, when he did so well, I was heartbroken that you weren't there to share in his success. I was sad that you will never get to meet him as he is now: a nice, sweet, kind young man with a wicked sense of humour not so far removed from yours.

I have been quite low these past few days with the build-up to today. I know it's a self-fulfilling prophecy to make myself sad before the event, but I've woken up this morning and after a moment of reflection have realised that I'm actually OK today. OK doesn't mean I don't miss you, I miss you several times a day, every day. What I wouldn't give for an opportunity to talk rubbish on the phone with you again. But I learned a long time ago that lingering on 'I wish' won't help the healing process.

Struggling to find my Christmas head this year. However, as it's... Today... the tree will go up tonight. I suspect that may help me locate some of my Christmas cheer. It's for you. It's always for you, and Jamie always insists on having that little fibre-optic tree you bought for him the year you died. He puts it up in his room and in his own words, 'it's like having a piece of Nanna with me'. For a boy who wasn't even two when you died, that's immensely touching.

This year's not been without its highs and lows, but when you do an annual letter, you start to realise that's not so unusual. I'm hoping it'll end on a high, because I'm quite fed up of being sad. Some stuff happened over the last twelve months that's really dented my sense of self-confidence and it's a hard thing to come back from... but I'm trying.

Fifteen years.


But... I will put a smile on my face and work through today, as I've done every year since December 10th, 2000. For the people around me it's just another day, and that helps to put things into perspective. But for this moment of heart-pouring, of letter writing and communication with memories, it's just you and me.

Love you, mum. Always did, always will.

Happy Christmas!



Dear Mum - 2014

Dear Mum

Well, here we are again. Another year’s gone by and if I’m honest, there’s not all that much that’s changed. You’re still not here and fourteen years later, that still makes me alternate between sad and angry. I didn’t sleep well last night; the wind was lashing the rain against the windows and I could only lie awake thinking of you. This means I’ve woken up feeling a little on the gloomy side. I have to spend a day at work and I’m fairly certain it’ll only take one person to observe that I’m ‘a bit quiet today’ for it all to come out. I’ll try not to, though, there’s a colleague who lost her own mum earlier this year in that same sudden way we lost you. It’s far more raw for her than it is for me and I try, at least, to be considerate.

What has happened this year that’s worthy of note? Well, I’ve had two more books published, including the Plantagenet one I mentioned to you last year, and another Space Marine tale. I’ve decided to take a writing break, though. I essentially wrote four novels back-to-back over a two year period and tying that in with a day job means I was pretty wiped out.

Ben and I went back to LRP this year. I still can’t get over the warm welcome – people’s genuine pleasure and kind words made me a little tearful. It was great to go back without the pressures of trying to please all the people all the time (when it’s a fact that when it comes to LRP folk, you can’t please any of the people any of the time). I had fun.

Jamie took his first GCSE in the summer: Core Science, for which he got an ‘A’ grade. I was pretty proud of him, I can tell you. He has the rest to look forward to in 2015; and he’s received his conditional offer of a place in sixth form to do his A Levels. He has plans to go to University and study biomedical engineering and I believe he will completely do that. He’s that type: sets his mind to something and *bang* achieves it.

He’s sixteen in February. Practically an adult.

I took up a twelve-month secondment which I started in September. I’m hoping wholeheartedly that it becomes permanent, because whilst my previous job was pretty enjoyable, this one is better suited to my skillset. However, it will be what it will be and in the current economic climate, it’s good to have a job at all. I’m grateful for that, and the fact that I can provide a roof over our head and feed us every week.

There’s been some bad stuff this year as well. None of it as bad as this day fourteen years ago: I consider that the benchmark for ‘bad stuff’, but some of it so hard to deal with that I cried for days. I’m still pretty sad over some of those matters, but I think I’m coming out the other side. The short version is that the lessons learned from various things that have happened this year are: I should learn to trust my instincts, I should say how I’m feeling sooner rather than later, and that there will always be people who don’t give a damn about how their behaviour might affect others.

Back to the good: we have good friends in Lincoln and we spend lots of time with them and they spend lots of time with us. I’m starting to think that, once Jamie goes off to University and I’m no longer tied to the North East, I might well start giving thought to a relocation. Again, it will be what it will be – the housing market isn’t exactly a seller’s place just now, but I’ve been in this house for ten years (this week!) and I know that my mortgage statement should be a pleasant surprise this year.

We’ll be putting the Christmas tree up later, the ritual of the last fourteen years that I have come to insist upon. I’ll pop by the supermarket and get mince pies and we have a bottle of mulled wine in the house. Tonight, I will remember you – although I do that all the time anyway – and be grateful for the fact I got to spend so many years with you.

For the first time in a few years, I’m getting a little bit teary as I write this. I think it’s probably my cue to stop and go to work. I will be thinking of you and missing you.

Always love you, mum.


Still here!


Still Alive!

And now, so is my LJ.

Six of the Best

New bloggage over at Wordpress - marking the fact that today is my sixth wedding anniversary.

A Nature Documentary

Observe quietly as we watch the Hateful Troll in its natural environment, the internet.

It is not possible to place a sex on these usually rational creatures, because they may take either form. Nobody has ever got quite close enough to one to find out and their particular breed of camouflage – called a ‘monitor’ – means that unless you actually turn up on their doorstep, you are unlikely ever to know the truth. Rumour suggests that statistically, these Hateful Trolls are male, but there are plenty of females in the mix and females can be much nastier.

See now as the Hateful Troll ambles its way across the rolling internet savannah, searching for its next victim. Their hunting methods are strange; most of the time they seek their prey by themselves, but under the right circumstances, they form tight-knit groups, known by the decent folk of the internet as ‘fuckwitteries’ and engage in a brutal take-down.

There! See! Our Hateful Troll has spied its prey! See how it gently taunts the unfortunate victim, pushing at a number of buttons in an effort to get a reaction. See how, when the victim does the right thing and simply ignores it, the poking gets harder. Nastier. More spiteful. Until… yes! The Hateful Troll launches into a complete state of abusive, threatening behaviour which it somehow believes is perfectly acceptable in a social situation.

Observe how the Hateful Troll stands triumphant over its victim, crowing about its victory and how ‘it knows better’. It truly is an ugly beast, rarely breeding due to a lack of social graces that means its living habitat tends to be indoors. Hateful Trolls do not mix well in social groups.

The species has several sub breeds.

Here, we see the Forum Troll. The Forum Troll stalks innocent topics, inserting inflammatory or contradictory statements designed to ‘show its superiority’, but which generally only succeed in ‘showing its malicious streak’. Forum Trolls do not take well to moderation, often bleating, in their pathetic little voices about unfair treatment. They do not understand irony.

Several paces behind the Forum Troll comes the Social Media Troll. This evil creature hides behind its monitor camouflage, safe and secure in the knowledge that nobody is ever going to know what it really is. This breed is possibly the nastiest of all. This is the breed that thinks it’s perfectly OK to send death threats to people whose beliefs or opinions somehow enrage its delicate little sensibilities. These creatures need to be taken to task most severely.

A rarer breed is the Journalist Troll. These strange creatures put up articles that are specifically designed to attract other Hateful Trolls. A penis-waving contest then appears to ensue as the Trolls battle for supremacy. Nobody yet understands much about this breed other than it’s plainly odd.

It has been said that some males of the breed state that ‘women on the internet are fair game’ for such threats and suggestions of violence. Vets should be sent in as clearly these creatures require a check up from the neck up.

The game wardens of the Twitter National Park have installed a ‘report’ button so that tourists wandering their grounds and who encounter and/or suffer at the hands of Hateful Trolls can alert them to it. The true test will be whether the game wardens actively do anything with that process. Scepticism remains.

The Hateful Troll is retreating now, slinking back to its Troll Cave (usually located beneath a bridge). It will go into a state of slimy hibernation until its next opportunity to strike arises. We leave it now, curled up on a bed of cheap pornography, dreaming of the day when everyone acknowledges how awesome it truly is.

* * *

tl;dr? Bullying is wrong in every single form and via every single medium. The installation of a ‘Report Abuse’ option on Twitter is a step in the right direction – it’s what is done with those reports that matters. Nobody should be subjected to threats of violence, whether it’s intended or not. Not ever.

Living in a Material World...

I picked up a new car last week. It’s nothing fancy or particularly special; just a Ford Fiesta, but I happen rather to like it. I have a weird bonding process with cars. Sometimes I get into a car and fall in love. Other times, I never really get that attached.

This led to a conversation in the office last week about our first cars. I was able to openly admit that my first car – also a Ford Fiesta as it happens – broke my heart when we parted company. Some guy turned up to my house (I was living in Evesham at the time), paid me cash and drove away in my first ever car. I cried. I couldn’t help it. I’d had it for two years and we’d been through some amazing journeys and disasters together. This was the car that broke down at Leicester Forest East services and left me, to this day, with a fear of breaking down at that place.

The old design meant that the accelerator cable rested in a clip on top of the air filter. My Big Brother had changed the air filter for me before I left for the drive to the Peak District, but not put the cable back in the clip. Thus, it spent the whole trip lying on the exhaust manifold. And comprehensively melted. I still remember the horrors of driving around Leicester on a rainy evening, trying to find somewhere to buy an accelerator cable, with Phil the Very Patient AA Man. I also remember Phil being remarkably startled when I bought him a coffee, saying that nobody ever did that for him. What was I meant to do? YOU JUST SAVED MY LIFE, MR. KNIGHT IN SHINING YELLOW VAN-TYPE ARMOUR!

But it’s an odd thing how we form attachments to material objects. I’m sure most of us had a favourite toy when we were kids; you know, the one thing that went everywhere with us and woe betide if it were lost. Here’s a confession for you.

I have a stuffed toy; a lop-sided, decidedly misshapen little dog who goes by the name of Smudge. Smudge and I have been together since I was about seven or eight years old. Smudge has been all over the world, because for years (I joked) I had massive paranoia that if I was away, my house might get burgled and Smudge dog-napped. Truth was, I am so attached to that little toy, that the thought of it being in the house whilst I’m away used to give me terrible anxiety that the house would burn down. Screw all my other possessions; this is the only thing I TRULY cared about.

Smudge no longer comes on holiday with me. This is as a direct result of him being pulled out of my hand luggage the last time he travelled and being put through the scanner independently, presumably to be sure that I wasn’t smuggling drugs in him. I can see how mad I must have looked. A grown woman, lugging a stuffed toy around. I sort of smiled sheepishly at the airport security guy, muttering something about him thinking I must be a bit stupid only for him to then smile and say ‘don’t worry, I have this bear that goes everywhere with me’. So now, instead of house-burning down paranoia, I have worries that they’d cut him open and perform some kind of Smudge-ectomy on him. And that wouldn’t do. He may be battered, lop-sided, missing patches of fur and long ago lost the black pupils from his eyes (he now has this faintly terrifying, dead stare), but he’s mine. And I love him.

And I DO love him. Is that a strange thing to admit? That I have love for a stuffed toy? That I loved my first car so much that I was able to cry genuine tears of separation when it left?

I suspect that I love this toy so much because it represents a link to my childhood and a reminder of places I’ve been. It reminds me of the time I first got him; a single dog in a basket of similar dogs. He was the only one with an off-centre nose. He was the one who got the name ‘Smudge’ after my big brother whipped him out of my hands whilst we were up at my grandparents and threw him in the fireplace (the fire wasn’t lit – he wasn’t THAT mean) so he got all covered in soot. He’s the one who’s travelled to Florida, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santorini, St. Lucia, Las Vegas and Rome. He should have his own passport.

Alright. It’s a weird confession. So this is where I need you guys to help me out and reassure me that I’m not – ah – barking mad. (Pun re: dog stuffed toy entirely intended). What are your most cherished material possessions?

Smudge. Intrepid explorer, trusted friend and protector of the Universe.

That's a Comfort

(Cross-posted from Wordpress.

I had lunch with a friend of mine yesterday during which the conversation got around to that of comfort foods. Hers, apparently, is unbaked choc-chip cookie dough. Out of context, that sounds mad… but I can totally relate. If I’m baking, I always have to ‘test’ the mixture and who didn’t love ‘licking the bowl out’ when they were a kid? To this day I swear it’s the best bit of any baking episode. Even if you are eating raw eggs. But still. In context, the whole sentence made me laugh. This friend had been having a bit of a tough time and said her housemate… ‘found me sitting in front of the TV, watching a chick flick whilst wearing my pyjamas and eating raw cookie dough. I’m being a stereotype! Leave me alone!’

For stereotypes everywhere.

My friend Nik posted about comfort food the other day, and in the wake of yesterday’s conversation, I got to thinking about it myself. Everyone’s idea of comfort food is different, of course. People’s taste buds and favourite foods vary as much as the food that’s out there in the first place. I was reading an interesting article on the BBC News website this morning about the obsession with chocolate. The tl;dr version of the article is that people crave chocolate because of the chemicals it releases. Yeah, thanks, research team for hashing over old ground. People have known this about chocolate for years and yet scientists are still getting funded to research it. Maybe people also like chocolate because, well, because they like it? I’m not a huge fan of chocolate myself; given the choice of chocolate, vanilla or strawberry ice cream, I’d hit up vanilla every time. It’s not to say I don’t eat chocolate, I do. It’s just not something I MUST HAVE OMG every single day.

I have much less of a sweet tooth than Himself, who will eat biscuits like it’s some means of saving the world. The hand to mouth motion becomes a blur and possibly breaks all records. This is an actual photographic record.

C is for cookie.

For myself, I lean towards the savoury route for my favourites. There are two particular things that I crave when I want to eat for comfort. Potatoes, as Nik says. There’s something inordinately welcoming about a jacket potato straight out of the oven, or a huge bowl of mashed potatoes or roasties or…

Wait a moment, need to just mop up the drool.

But number one, the head honcho, the quite literal Big Cheese for me has to be cheese on toast. The toast has to be crusty white, the cheese generally a good mature Cheddar and there has to be an involvement from Mr. Worcestershire Sauce. A huge doorstop slab of cheese on toast chases away all the negativity for a while and brings me happily to food Nirvana. I have eaten at some pretty nice restaurants over the years. I have eaten some of the most incredible dishes. But nothing beats perfect cheese on toast. There was an advert a while ago for Farmhouse Cheddar (I think it was) when one person saw another making/eating cheese on toast and they got a craving for it… and started of a chain of people slavering for the stuff. Even my son, who is a self-confessed cheese hater (but who will eat pizza), tried some and acknowledged that it may be the Best Thing Ever. It’s not something I have all that often, but whenever I do, I wonder why it is that I don’t have it more regularly.

HAIL! You see that bit of melted cheese that’s oozed through the crust? Oh, heavens to Murgatroyd. Yes.

So… comfort food. What’s yours?

In other news, I am about to fire up the ol’ word processor and get back to Project: Carpark. I’ve neglected it a bit this month in favour of finishing Project: Comeuppance. It feels remarkably good to be back in the writing flow – which is probably why the blog posts have been coming thick and fast this week. I find that writing a blog is a great way to get myself into the mood for turning my attentions to fiction writing.

The Best of Hammer & Bolter V2 was released – contains a couple of my bits of work and a whole host of other Warhammer 40k and Warhammer Fantasy short stories. If anthologies are your Thing, then you could do a lot worse than pick it up! There’s also a collected edition of Space Marine short stories to be found in the Space Marines anthology.

I’ve had a couple of people contact me about my Fox Spirit short story Blood Bound, which is available in tree or digital version, to ask whether I plan to write more about the two main characters. This is always a massively satisfying thing to hear and the answer is… very likely. If Adele lets me, of course…