NaNoWriMoDay 10 – looking back in conversation

So here, to use a well-worn Americanism, is the thing. Dialogue. Speech. Conversation.

Yesterday I set myself the challenge of writing some of the descriptive sections of the pieces I had already started, or of producing new pieces which were description heavy. So far most of what I have written is more like a script for a play, with occasional nods to place or weather for stage direction.

I sat and wrote, achingly slowly, a couple of hundred of painful, school essay words about the main character as a child. Then I heard another character suddenly say “I can’t live like that!” And I saw her as clear as anything, in a café, throwing her head back in defiance, then starting to cry. I went with it, and produced about 2500 words without breaking a sweat.

Friends, it turns out my characters are a right gobby lot. They just never shut up. Even when they are deep in thought, they are muttering under their breath or filling a conversation with placeholders, like “Well, right, OK.”

Those who know the human me, friends and colleagues, will at this point roll their eyes to heaven and say something like “Really, EBL?” in that heavy, drawly way. They will indicate, verbally or otherwise, that this fact is hardly worthy of breaking news; they will imply, assert or outright state that they are not in the least amazed to learn that characters I write are a bit chatty.

I suspect they think I could talk the hind leg off a donkey.

They may be right. I would try it as an experiment but apparently there are laws against that. It’s political correctness gone mad, I tell you.

In my head there are voices, and they belong to my characters. I can hear the Cockney (although I can’t write it without coming across like Dick Van Dyke), the Yorkshire, the Home Counties accents. I can hear the turn of phrase and emphasis on certain words. It’s Babel, pure and simple, or possibly Bedlam. Some place that is noisy and begins with B, like Basingstoke or Belgium.

I can see them too, standing in drizzly streets with light reflecting off the pavement, wisps of hair hanging down, soaked and glistening under the street lights. Yes, it is London. But I haven’t got time to tell you that, because keeping up with their conversation is fast and frantic work. If I stop to write about the place or people or artefacts, they give me the eye and tap their feet, or start to whisper and point. Cheeky buggers.

So I may have to remain a slave to their whim until they are all talked out and the story told. If I accept this challenge, then I accept it for all of us, and we have to wrok together to get the final pieces on the page. And only then, perhaps, will I crawl back to my thesaurus and find twenty words for rain.

Do your characters bully you like this?

Desert Life

Picture a desert.

My picture is pretty dry and empty. It’s actually quite beautiful, but stark and uncompromising. Crucially there is no life to be seen, unless you count a vulture circling high above.

I have watched those documentaries about the incredible creatures living in deserts, coming out at night, or burrowing deep to keep cool; I have watched the stop-motion cinematography of barren tracts blooming after once-in-a-generation rain, for a few brief days, before shrivelling back to dust.

This desert is the inside of my writing head. My writing head has been empty for days. It’s as if the creativity has been leached from me, burned away, in the terms of this painful metaphor, by the scorching sun of Real Life. For in Real Life I need all my creativity right now to sort out some real problems. Real Life, it may shock you to hear, is my priority.

There are implications to this, however.

Do I have a limited amount of creativity? Is it an either / or resource? EITHER I can spend time writing down my crazy ideas and making progress with building a satisfying story (much on paper rather than blogged) – OR I have to sort out Real Life.

I’m not wholly convinced I can’t have my pen and use it. Here’s why.

1. I am writing this about how I can’t write anything, Look, there are words and everything. Even sentences and some primitive structure.

2. I don’t believe this applies to other areas of human endeavour, nor that creativity is special. In our family we always sign birthday cards and so one with “All our love”. The children were pedantic about this when smaller.

“How can you give all of us all your love?”

“Well,” we said, “the really great thing about love is, the more you give the more you get. It’s infinite, like inside the Tardis.”

“Right,” they said and were happy. Tardis love works every time.

3,, I still have the story inside me, waiting to be written. It didn’t stop existing just because Real Life woke up and snarled at me. I still have words, and can use them to talk and type and so on; I’m just waiting to birth my story through them.

This isn’t exactly about not knowing what to write. At the moment it’s about making time and space to write it down. All the words buzzing about in my brain have decided to help me out by settling for a while. I can feel them watching me, hungry like the wolf, for when I will be able to feed them again.

Fandung 2


Some people might think it’s an anime title, but actually it’s the second exercise on my Old Englisc course.

The first exercise went OK, although I got muddled about dative and genitive cases because I kept thinking I was doing German or Latin instead of Old English. The clue is in the name – it’s English, stupid! Anyway, I am hoping I now have that sorted out and it certainly felt more comfortable doing the second set of exercises. FIngers crossed; I will try and send it all off tomorrow, and hope for the best.

Meanwhile my Significant Other managed to find me a copy of Sweet’s AS Reader in Oxfam.

I love Oxfam. All those funny old books you will never find except for extortionate prices in Waterstones or on Amazon – there they are for tuppence ha’penny in the charity shops. Oxfam is a bit pricey in comparison to some, but I don’t mind because the money is going to Oxfam.

Helpfully, being a second hand book, someone has already pencilled in some translation for me 🙂

It was quite exciting to browse some sections and actually get the gist of what was happening. It looks like the exercises are based on some of these passages because I am certainly finding the same people doing the same things – basically, fighting, bequeathing and listening to priests. If you need a sentence putting into OE about how you are bequeathing your estate, then I am the woman for the job.

I love the sound of the language too. It’s slow and measured because you pronounce every letter. For example, "write" is the same in Old Englisc as modern english, but in OE it is 5 syllables: w-r-i-t-e. By the time you say it Shakespeare could have knocked out a soliloquy, or Hamlet might have decided to actually do something.

Anyway, the last thing to report is that I found a good site for the character marks needed – pronouncing vowels as long or short sounds, for example, short o and long o.The site is at


Well, all for now! Wesað gē hale!

In mine huse ongean

Well, I managed to get to Manchester at the beginning of the week and had a brilliant time at the Status Quo concert. My ears were only ringing for a little while afterwards. It was very amusing to see the average age of the audience was somewhat greater than my own (I think – or else I’m older than I realise), but they were pretty much veteran concert goers and sang along with the music when poor Rick was unable to do so due to a throat infection.

Just to keep practising the AS I can now say:

ic ferde to Manchestere and ic hierde Status Quo mid mine dohtere

The first lesson has now been sent off for marking, and I am cautiously optimistic that I may have passed, despite ongoing confusion over which case to use for "in my town" etc. I went with dative on the basis that is how German works.

I also achieved a little shopping for the seasonal festivities, although lots still to do. Hopefully I will manage some more in Leeds next week. Today I have been wrestling with grocery orders for cooking ingredients, having finally sorted out the menu for 27th December; note to self – check who is actually coming!

In case anyone is interested this course has also been recommended to me, and sounds useful because it also provides context and links to modern English. I would certainly like a look at it some day…possibly around 25th December.

And here is a dictionary, of the sort someone like me would appreciate  🙂

Wesað ge hale

It’s here!


I was very excited to get home from town to find the first instalment of the correspondence course on the door mat. Yes, it is the stuff of dreams for me.

So this afternoon I worked through the first lesson, already familiar from the downloaded version I got a couple of weeks ago, but with more grammar practice.

The genitive plural is getting me a bit muddled but I think I am getting there thanks to the extra grammar drills. It’s when a possessive noun follows  “in, with, from” etc that I panic a little. Should I use genitive or dative?

Quaintly the spoken element is provided on a “cassette tape”; this is a medium that was much favoured in the 1970s when every hip cat  had their portable cassette player – long before the Sony Walkman, let me tell you. I was briefly and uniquely the cool kid at school in May 1973 when I acquired a cassette recorder before anyone else in the class. It remains an experience not since repeated. If I tell you I also had a red tranny I carried everywhere, I expect younger readers may be confronted with an unusual image or two. Transistor radios were very popular with the young people as I recall, although sadly mine couldn’t pick up Radio Caroline.

So back to the course, and a subject slightly older than 1970s music technology. I need to go out and buy some A4 envelopes for returning SAEs with work for marking. Wish I had known that when I was in town this morning! I will also spend a happy hour putting the work file together tomorrow so I can keep track of all the chapters and refer back and forth more easily. I also need to get hold of a good dictionary (hint, nearly Christmas – or “Geol” – and I am not averse to second-hand editions).

Off to see C on Monday, so let me try out a sentence, in present tense because I don’t know how to do the future tense yet:

ic fere fram Northymber to Stoke and ic mete mina dohtor. We hieraÞ Status Quo and ic fere ongean to Northymber.

WesaÞ ge hale! Smile

Can’t wait, won’t wait

Days after sending off for my correspondence course, I remain unfulfilled. The package has yet to arrive and I am fretting like a kid before Christmas. I haven’t done anything interesting like this for some time and just can’t wait to get started. It takes all sorts.

Anyway, to keep me going I’ll share some numbers. They are strangely familiar when said out loud Smile

Now, before I start, I admit to some confusion in that I have come across variations for some of them which may be due to dialect or period, or possibly some grammatical rule of which I am currently blissfully unaware. I’ll list them as I go.

1. an

2. twegan, tu, twa

3. ðrie

4. feower

5. fif

6. siex

7. seofen

8. eahta

9. nigon

10. tien, tyn

11. endleofen

12. twelf

20. twentig

30. ðritig

Like the German, and old-fashioned English, 29 would be “nigon and twentig”

As I don’t know what 40 is yet I’ll shed 10 years and say: 

ic eom eahta and ðritig gear eald.

Bear in mind that the g in AS is often pronounced as a y; so “gear” here is the same as “year”. Also the h in the middle of eahta is a “ch” sound, like German or “loch”.

I am also puzzling out some of the months, and have so far managed the following:

Weodmonað – August

Haligmonað – September

Winterfylleð – October

Blotmonað – November

Ærra Geola – December

Æfterra Geola – January

Solmonað – February

Eastermonað – March

The G in Geola is a y sound again – basically “yeol” or as we say nowadays “Yule”. This makes December “before (ere) Yule” and January “After Yule”.

I just read today about a Germanic tradition of giving “soul cakes” during February in return for prayers for the dead. Open-mouthed smile Sounds familiar!

Wesað  ge hale!

More Adventures in Anglo Saxon

Since my last post I have carried on trying to get my head around A-S.


It’s a while since I had to learn a new language and I had forgotten how tedious reciting the declensions of a verb could be. But satisfying to get it right and realise that with a little more vocabulary I will be able to write my own first hesitating sentences. Doing that on a blog will need some fancy font work though so don’t hold your breath!


Still, let’s see what we can do:

Alt 0198 = Æ is upper case ash

Alt 0230 = æ is lower case ash

Alt 0208 = Ð is upper case eth

Alt 0240 = ð is lower case eth

Alt 0222 = Þ is upper case thorn

Alt 0254 = þ is lower case thorn


Phew! That works then.


The other thing I have found is that because of different dialects and points of view (because there are no Anglo Saxons around to teach us differently so we have to guess how it was pronounced), the different resources available to learn the language teach slightly different pronunciations, and use the thorn and eth quite interchangeably.


So I have now sent away for a correspondence course and will stick to it until I feel sufficiently confident to explore all the different versions around.




Eala! Min nama is Phyllis. Benes sweosteres nama is Charlotte. Hiera broðora nama sind Sam and Tom. (I think.)


Well, hopefully some of that is nearly right.


Wes Þu hal!



More or less

One of my purposes in deciding to write a blog – indeed, the primary purpose – was to find somewhere to express the ideas buzzing around in my head. If the ideas engendered conversation, then that would be a bonus, but it was not a prerequisite.

Yet, while the ideas have not abated in any noticeable way, finding the time to create a semi-coherent entry has become harder. It’s almost as if, in providing a potential outlet for random thoughts, the whole mob of them has decided to seize the opportunity and demand more serious attention. And next the dilemma of focusing and writing about one during the very limited time available. I can create an entry in my head – but lose the flow when trying to recall it later. I can also, as I have here, draft something on paper during odd gaps in the day, waiting for a friend or sitting on the bus or in a cafe. I notice then that my style of writing is different – the pen moves on, I don’t mistype or have to deal with the sticky D on my keyboard. With a faster, smoother recording implement I can write in a looser fashion and keep up better with my brain. But, as family and friends will tell you, I’m not a great typist.

Without dwelling on the issue of access to the blog, I am interested in the one on style. The other aspect of of this is the Twitter effect; thousands of people condensing ideas into compressed squirts of text. I was distressed to find Stephen Fry abandoning his "blessays" for Twitter. While I am sure his tweets will be witty and thoughtful at least some of the time, I miss having something more substantial to read – the equivalent of the Sunday papers.

How we write or express ourselves can affect the way we think, and therefore behave. Plenty of research exists (I’m not pointing you to any; I’m sure you can google it, and I am writing this in a cafe) to demonstrate the impact of writing systems on perception, art and culture. I am interested to know what has been done on the modern variations of texting and tweeting – beyond giving the Language Purists a field day over the new editions of various serious dictionaries.

One of my pleasures, if I can call it that, is seeing how the English language evolves and mutates and absorbs other languages. I know this happens elsewhere too, no matter what the Academie Francaise may wish. English has absorbed foreign words both as invader and invadee; this has given us an amazing analytical tool (why are so many farming words derived from Saxon, but high society words from Norman French? Well, that’s not hard to answer, but I’m making the point.); it has also given us the cryptic crossword and the pun. Basically, we enjoy playing with words. Nothing pleases a toddler more than rhyming games an nonsense talk; Dr. Seuss, enough said. As adults we love a clever newspaper headline; same thing.

So, back to tweets (you can see why I don’t do Twitter). The constraint on length of tweet presents a challenge akin to writing a great headline, strapline or similar. In my case, that would be even more time consuming to devise than the stream of consciousness before you now. "Less is more" never was more apposite.

My solution to finding more time to externalise musings, then, is not to Twitter, despite readier accessibility. The only alternative I can currently conceive is a dictation device. I have previously used such software to dictate documents, so theoretically I could record pieces and either type them up or run them through the computer as a sound file later. Again, I am aware that this affects my style significantly . Plus I’d look like a weirdo talking to myself in public.

Conclusion: the world remains safe from a dramatically increased public output. However, I do need to buy more pens and a new notebook.

Back to the future

A number of different thoughts have seemed to come together recently for me. On the one hand I have been getting more and more anxious about the increase, as I see it, of intolerant articles and attitudes in the press and generally in conversations around me. I have also been getting nostalgic, not unusually for the time of year I suppose, and particularly recently I have been noticing how language has changed over time. Then today I caught Wendy Cope on the radio reading "Two Cures for Love". And it all came together!

Now, I would quote Wendy Cope’s poem, but there are copyright issue involved and I am aware she has strong feelings about her poems being quoted throughout the length and breadth of t’Interweb. And who can blame her? So I hope it will suffice to say that one of her suggested cures for love is to get to know the object of desire better. That should certainly do it (unless it’s true love, of course, in which case we can decide to put up with the foibles.)

The idea that getting to know someone better would make us break a relationship or demonstrate the futility of true love was what made me think that the -isms of the world are based on a lack of love (not a stunning revelation, it is true); it also made me wonder if perhaps we are harsher when we know more about other people. We judge friends more than strangers – this ties into the cult of Celebrity, where we invade the lives of the famous and get to know their every move and every detail of their day-to-day activities, however meaningless and mundane. When we see that others are really just like us, we see their faults as faults, not as exotic behaviours to be studied and catalogued. The example from childhood that I had been contemplating regarding changing terminology was around what we called people of Middle Eastern origin. When I was little we called them Arabians. "Arabian" conjured up romantic images: Rudolph Valentino, Fry’s Turkish Delight, 1001 Arabian Nights, genies and sand dunes and belly dancing, the Foreign Legion and ships of the desert, She who must be obeyed, blue moons and ancient spells.

This meant that as a child, when I met anyone from "Arabia" I was intrigued and fascinated and wanted to learn more. It is true I had strange ideas, from their point of view, but it did mean I thought they were special.

Now it seems we know too much about each other and the magic is gone, just as in a stale relationship: no respect, no mystery, no love. It’s all about who leaves the top off the toothpaste or hair in the sink, and not about our hopes and dreams and human frailty. We feel we need a cure for each other. Our language has evolved and lost the charm. Like the Bible we have moved from King James to Good News; more people understand it but fewer people want to. I am not suggesting we hold Mass in Latin again or anything of that sort, in order to revive Christian fortunes; I am suggesting that sometimes a little mystery is a good thing because the unpredictability and uncertainty keeps us focused and aware of the Other as new and fascinating. Instead of being a rival (taking our jobs, or whatever it is the BNP likes to spout), difference becomes intriguing. A threat comes from something like us, but frighteningly better; difference means that we have not established if a threat exists. It is true we may fear it, and so react badly, but if I am, say, an unemployed (male) plumber, I will worry more about competition from a Polish plumber (or a woman plumber) than a Martian.

Now, I’m not sure I agree with my own conclusions here, because I accept that some people will always be afraid of the unknown, be it Arabians, women or Martians, and that in fear people often react badly. However, I suspect they would react badly whatever the analysis, and I can’t personally provide the support or insight needed to help them over it.  But I do want to put myself back into the position of a child faced with something new. I might ask silly questions, but so long as I make sure they are asked from love not fear, I hope they will not be offensive. Hopefully it could be the start of a beautiful new relationship.

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.

It has occurred to me, rather belatedly, that writing a journal such as this exposes all kinds of sub-conscious detritus to the view of the masses. The only consolation for me is that my particular virtual corner of the Internet is so untroubled by passing trade that I am in effect only talking to myself, like some kind of electronic bag lady on the London Underground. The issue therefore becomes increasingly egotistical: "What can I learn about myself?", and hopefully will lead to the obvious concomitant: "And what can I do about it?".

One aspect that interests me is how much I do want to write something, and how frustrating I find it to be too busy to think coherently about producing anything worth the effort of typing up. The current output may be considered as a living illustration of the triumph of hope over over realism.

I am also enjoying reading other blogs considerably more than I anticipated; not, I hasten to add, because I had a low opinion of bloggers, but more that my experience in meatspace has tended to emphasise how divorced I am from popular culture. As a result I usually feel somewhat isolated and was pleasantly surprised to find that so many other people were out there that I felt able to relate to through their incredible willingness to share their writing.

I confess I have been resisting blogging ever since it became possible to do so. You may regret that my resistance crumbled. My experience of pen and paper journals had been singularly unsatisfying. I think it is the potential audience that has changed what and how I write. If you have stayed with me this far, I am hoping that means a measure of success in producing something entertaining.

Blogging, as we can tell by the evidence all around us in cyberspace, taps a hidden desire on a great number of people to write down and share their thoughts and ideas. In his book about The English, Jeremy Paxman contends that we, as a nation, are essentially people of words, as opposed to visual or auditory arts. We produce great writers – Shakespeare and the other usual suspects – but far fewer composers or painters. As individuals we consume a disproportionately large quantity of written products – books, magazines, newspapers. I am not clear if this is comparable to other English-speaking cultures (Australian, American etc). Nor am I clear how well he has done his research as I seem to recall that the Japanese are huge consumers of printed material – although I can’t recall my source for that so am prepared to concede the point – for now. Nevertheless, I feel it to be true that we as a people are demonstrably stronger at writing than other arts, and that this may arguably have contributed to (or be a result of) a range of other national characteristics such as a strong propensity to rationalism, scientific enquiry and secularism. I can only speak for myself, but I read…and read…and read. My house has a large number of books without which I would feel naked and alone.

So, language is a major issue, and informs many of our assumptions about what is a right and proper approach to the world. It impacts our thought processes. The style of communication we adopt may also affect us psychologically (see Biases of Ear and Eye by Daniel Chandler). As a nation we have imposed our language abroad through colonialism and today one of the results of that legacy is that mostly we do not have to try to to speak another language when we travel, nor do we have to adapt our thought processes to fit other ways of expressing ourselves. Nationally we may complain about people who don’t "bother" to learn English despite our tendency not to learn their language either, and fail to recognised the mongrel derivation of our  own language. On the basis of this argument about immigrants "fitting in", we should all be speaking some form of Gaelic or Cornish instead. We decry the performance of school children in literacy (but not so much in numeracy I suspect). Yet our rules of language are complex and irrational because they are based on a foreign system (Latin) which doesn’t work in the same way. In fact, we even make a bestseller out of a book about the proper use of punctuation.

I love the way language evolves and changes. It can feel a bit sad at times to see old, familiar words replaced by foreign alternatives or trendy neologisms. On the whole though, a language that does not change dies. (Requiescat in pace).

Perhaps in a hundred years or so, all the blogs we are now writing will need software to translate them into Chinese or some other language that has become the global choice. At the very least, our slang and sentence construction will be as impenetrable as Dickens or Austen to children today. But the blogs worth saving will survive with copious footnotes to make them more accessible. How will it feel to have your or my scribbles transformed into an academic curiosity? I certainly hope they feel it is worth the effort!

So what have I learned about myself from this excursion into the study of literacy? I am precious about language at the same time as enjoying playing with words. What can I do about it? I intend to work harder at the crossword, and try to improve my writing – time will tell if I get translated into Futurespeak in the next Age.