A Long Short Week

As Arkwright used to say, “It’s been a funny sort of week”.

I’d foolishly expected a quiet week. It’s half term – people are spending time with their offspring, offices are quiet, I didn’t have a single medical appointment and – after all – I’m meant to be retired. Instead, I’ve had my busiest unplanned four days in years.

Apparently everyone saw an opportunity to catch up with little jobs – especially ones that required my input. At least that’s what it felt like.

It started with Hubby travelling all over the place for work. Not terribly relevant, except I couldn’t rely on him to help with transporting or shopping or anything. I even had to catch two big spiders and put them outside before the cats noticed them.

Speaking of the cats, they had to go visit the cat-doctor for their annual checkover. Fortunately, Hubby was here, but I’ve had a couple of clingy cats for the rest of the week. Cat cuddle overdose!

We had a CRAG writers meeting midweek, which I did know about in advance and was great fun. (We meet in a local pub and I always come home buzzing from contact with like-minded writers.) But I managed to complicate things by mentioning my idea for increasing sales to the landlord. More about this another day!

And then people deciding to phone me! Three people wanting my considered opinion, two editors and a partridge in a pear tree (*). Sending out books, chasing shops about stocks, booking a few weekend sales trips and sorting out access problems with my business bank account. And working on a new Chrystal story! A friend rang me this afternoon and I confessed if he’d left it five minutes later, he’d have caught me with no clothes on. (I was running a bath!) He’s too much of a gentleman to comment…

So, I’ve earned a quiet weekend. With wine – and we’ve started already. Cheers all and have a great weekend.

(*) The partridge is a lie. Sorry for any confusion.

A Meditation on Modern Life and Stress

Homo Sapiens is, as far as we know, the only species to ever devise ways to abuse our bodies’ natural stress-responses. We are animals that have chosen to increase our stress-levels in unnatural and prolonged ways.

Our bodies are programmed to cope with stress on a short-term basis in ways that keep us alive. The various parts that make up our brains and physicals selves react to three different phases of a stressful situation.

Firstly, there’s the surprise element, then there’s the anticipation and finally there’s the denouement. So, our primitive ancestors would experience the fear when they think they’ve seen something large and stripey in the undergrowth, followed by a heightened sense of awareness while they freeze to the spot and try to see the shape lurking in the bushes, and finally the famous fight-or-flight response as the branches part and a tiger launches itself across the clearing.

Whereas modern man (and woman) faces different cues. Let’s saying your employer announces there will be redundancies (surprise) and you endure weeks of paranoia while your manager refuses to tell you you’re safe, your colleagues avoid meeting your eyes and personnel email to say they need to meet with you (anticipation). Then it’s almost a relief when the day of your personnel meeting arrives and you walk in to find your boss is there, too…

It’s not just the event itself that causes stress, it’s all the anxiety leading up to it – and lots of worrying about events that may never even be on the cards. We deliberately put ourselves into situations that are inherently stressful. But what may be fun for a fairground ride isn’t so enjoyable in a long-term situation. Whether it’s a difficult working situation or an increasingly-intolerable home life, many people have long-term stress in their lives and suffer the consequences. We are animals that can tolerate short spells of panic and fear, but the system becomes self-damaging if the stress becomes long-term or paranoia.

Now, I’m no expert on human biology, but I can understand how changes that are meant to last a short time can wreak havoc over a period of weeks and months. Our bodies react to fear by closing down non-essential functions so as to prepare to fight for our lives or run to the hills. But over the long term, this means that the digestion and immune systems aren’t being allowed to function properly and people develop gastric problems and succumb to every little germ drifting around the office.

The key to defeating stress lies at the heart of its bodily roots. Those three elements of surprise – anticipation – denouement are the killers. Most of us aren’t in a position to avoid the first or the last, but the anticipation is something we may be able to address. In a heightened state of fear or stress, we are biologically primed to see the negative, we automatically look for the next bad sign, whether it exists or not. A person in a long-term stressful situation is in highest need of some positive thinking but is rendered almost incapable of doing so, by their own physical responses to stress.

But even a basic awareness of the inherent dangers in anticipation can be enough to help.

Think about it

Tubular Bells for Two – Wow

Tubular Bells, an iconic album produced by one man with a 24-track tape recorder, a lot of talent and a little help from his friends. It’s been performed live – and it takes a small army of musicians and singers. There’s no possible way to perform it live without a stage groaning under the weight of performers.

Until now. Two Australians. Four hands and four bare feet to play the whole album live on stage. Yes, they use looping – but it’s played and looped live as part of the performance. If you’d asked me, I would have said it was impossible.

The sheer choreography of two men moving between instruments, shifting stands and microphones to where they’re next needed, playing guitars or keyboards, whilst operating loops and playing drums with their feet. This pair won’t need a gym membership to keep fit if they keep playing this concert.

Yes, there were a couple of points where they stretched a passage by a few bars, giving them time to setup the next phase – but I can’t hold that against them. And they simplified some of the arrangements – but so does Mike Oldfield himself.

This is a stunning achievement and an incredible performance.

Go see it for yourself and then decide if I’ve overdone the superlatives.

http://tubularbellsfortwo.co.uk/

Tolkien with Tits

I know I’m late for the party, but I’ve got an excuse.

I’ve been aware of the phenomenal success of George R.R. Martin’s books, but haven’t got round to reading any of them. So many books, so little time! Neither had we watched the TV adaptations, largely due to not having a Sky subscription. (Other pay-to-view networks are available.) But I was tempted by a super-cheap offer on a boxset of Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD, so we settled down to watch it.

We were both impressed by the variety and depth of characters, the broad sweep of the intertwining plot threads and the sheer imagination that went into its creation. This is fantasy on a grand scale. But it’s still fantasy – and we all know that doesn’t sell unless it’s a well-established brand like Tolkien or Dr Who. Fantasy is for kids – so how has Game of Thrones become so popular with grown-ups?

In a word – sex. I don’t know how much is in the books, but the programmes are liberally strewn with naked boobs, buttocks and, um, bits. Then there’s the incest and other unsavoury practices. Is this what it takes to sell fantasy to a 21st Century audience? Do adults only tolerate fantasy if it has adult content?

Hubby and I discussed the nudity factor of the programmes. He suggested a lot of it wasn’t gratuitous because the sex was relevant to the plot – which I agree, it is. But if that’s the case, why so much more female nudity than male? I reckon there must be a dozen naked boobs for every shirtless chest seen onscreen. I have no doubt the skin on show is meant to appeal to the male audience. I don’t have a problem with this, I just like to be clear about it.

Having said all that, I enjoyed these series more than most drama broadcast on telly this year. It’s grown-up fantasy with all the ingredients of good TV storytelling. The top-flight cast sparkles, from known actors like Sean Bean, Aiden Gillen and Charles Dance to relative newcomers like Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke. It’s clear where the huge budget has been spent – on costumes, special effects and locations, as well as the cast; but there’s also some wonderfully written script and very black humour. If you’re not put off by the flesh and the strong language, then it’s entertaining, multi-layered entertainment. Characters to love and hate, scenery that makes me want to move to Northern Ireland and genuinely unexpected twists.

I might even get around to buying the books.

The Joy of Text

Hello. My name is Meg and I’m a bookaholic.

Yes – it’s true. And I’ve said it before. But I make no apology for saying it again. I just love books. I love reading ‘em, I love to have ‘em piled up in every room. And now I’m writing ‘em too and there’s no hope for me.

Thankfully!

It’s been a seriously good week for me on the bookaholic front. It was World Book Night last week and I was chosen as a “giver” for the third time. So if you were in Chepstow Town centre and a be-hatted woman on a purple buggy drove up and gave you a book – that was me. It was a good morning to smile at a stranger. And I hope you’re enjoying the book, too.

Last night (Tuesday) was a Local Authors’ Event at Chepstow Library. There were meant to be three of us, but Sue had to cancel rather than risk infecting the rest of us with her bug. So – much scrambling around to get ready and try to fill the gap, although I did my best by reading an extract from her book. I had to suggest the audience pretend I was about half my weight and five months pregnant – they didn’t seem to mind. Hopefully Sue’ll be better soon!

The event went really well, with Paul and I reading excerpts from our books and answering questions about writing, agents and other outlandish subjects. We had a mini-writing competition during the break (just in case anyone thought we were doing all the work) and awarded a prize after we’d all been tempted with the refreshments laid on by the Library. (Yummy cake bites.) All in all, a very successful evening.

So what’s next on the book front? Well, I’m running writing workshops, chatting and signing at a couple of Steampunk events in the next few weeks. And we’ve got a drop-in event at Chepstow Library as part of Adult Learners’ Week. Links below.

Meanwhile I’m working on a short story about Chrystal, involving an Ambassador and a séance. 😉

Steampunk at The Labyrinth, Looe: Saturday 11/05/13, 12noon onwards. I’ll be on twice.

Steamcheese Event at Frome: Saturday 18/05/13, from 10am. I’ll be in the Authors’ Area.

Chepstow Library: (Drop-in on Saturday 25/05/13, any time between 09:30 ~ 12:30)