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Wishcraft

A friend gave me a book a while ago with the words: “You need this. Read it.” I thanked her, then put it on the window sill in my office (aka The Graveyard of Random Notes and Lists of Things to be Done), where it continued to live for the next eight or ten weeks. A couple of days ago I finally picked it up. And I must say – she was right. I needed that book and it’s coming at a perfect time as well. Thank you Ilona!

The book in question is “Wishcraft: How to get what you really want” by Barbara Sher. I was sceptical at first. I had a period in my life where I got self-help books by the dozen out of the library and usually didn’t manage to read past the first five pages before I gave up in disgust. They always seemed to be written for other people, not for me. People who cared about career, how to manage a family, how to earn a lot of money. None of which applies to my life. However, Barbara Sher had me by the first page.

Her tone is so warm, so human, so down-to-earth that I immediately felt welcomed. And when I read on and realized that this book is not someone lecturing me on what I ought to have and ought to do to be a valuable member of society, but rather a book written by someone who tells me that everybody has genius inside them and reservoirs of talent and passion, whatever that passion may be! – and then goes on giving me exercise upon exercise for finding out what my passion is and what’s keeping me for living it and how to go about dealing with the things that stand in the way…  then, I think, I have found a new friend. That’s what it feels like. Someone who encourages me, shows me my strengths, believes in me.

I think that I already had a pretty good understanding of who I am and what my strengths are and in which direction my passions lie. That’s not to say the exercises weren’t useful to me – far from it, I found it very useful to really sit down with pen and paper and make lists and think things through, but what I mean, is that there hadn’t been any huge surprises (so far).

However, this morning as I was sitting in the weak spring sunshine that came through the living room window, I did get a surprise. The exercise was to list twenty things that bring me joy. No explanations, no qualifications and the only rule was to get to twenty. So I did. I wrote down things like: reading, developing characters, cuddling with the dog, hiking, swimming, sitting in the sun, taking photos, being with friends, … When I’d got to twenty, I looked into the book again and the next part of the exercise was to make a table and to note for each item the answers to questions like: When did I do this last? Is it cheap or expensive? Do I do it alone or with others? Is it indoors or outdoors? Is it intellectual, physical, spiritual? … and to add as many questions as I wanted.

I started doing it, but noticed very soon that the answers were mostly the same. The majority of things I like are cheap to free, outdoors, physical and intellectual or physical and spiritual at the same time (like hiking… for me, that’s both physical and spiritual), it’s done alone, I usually do it spontaneously and it doesn’t require a lot of planning…. and all of them I haven’t done in a quite a while.

And that brought me up short. So apparently there are all these activities that I enjoy and that make me feel good, most of which don’t cost me anything and can be done by myself without a lot of planning – and I’m not doing them??? Wow. Wait a minute. In other words, I’m forgoing a number of sources for happiness and contentment for no discernible reason except that I didn’t think about it or am too lazy to get up from my desk. What an eye-opener.

Needless to say, I’m going to make a conscious effort to include them into my present life. No use putting things off. Tomorrow morning, instead of talking the dog on our usual round, I’ll pack him into the car and drive somewhere new (up the hill on the other side of the valley, I think) and go for a really long walk. I’ll take my camera and instead of thinking of it as a necessary task that has to be performed, I’ll think of it as something that I have chosen voluntarily.

There, Barbara Sher – lesson learned, and I’m only in chapter 3.

If you want, try this exercise. Let us know what you found out. Even better, get the book and do all the other exercises. It’s fun and – who knows? – you might learn something new about yourself. 

a grand day out

As befitting a year devoted to courage, I continued the process of unfurling from my self-induced state of reclusion and had a grand day out on Saturday. My youngest sister had to go the airport in the morning to fly back to England and since for unfathomable reasons it’s cheaper and quicker to go by car than by public transport, that’s what we did. I dropped her off and then navigated the car downtown, the town in question being Stuttgart (the capital of Baden-Württemberg, which is a federal state of Germany, the one right down in the south-western corner).

We’d started out from home with blue skies and a rose-and-gold sunrise, but we’d encountered the first snow on the way down already. When I’d parked the car and walked the couple minutes to the centre, I sent my middle sister this picture and text:

"It's snowing here."

“It’s snowing here.”

I’d forgotten the acute sense of being connected and at the same time gloriously alone that you get when drifting through a big city, but I recaptured it as I tried my way through some new clothes (everything sorely needed, some of it coveted, practically nothing that fit), navigated some shoe stores (same story), ate my way through a variety of international take-away food, listened to street musicians, smiled at the pigeons huddling everywhere to be away from the snow, and looked out for the small human interactions, the gestures, the words, the movements that make a city come alive.

the new palace

the new palace – a cool place to hang out in summer, when people sit everywhere on the grass and the park benches, but very much less so in this weather

At one point it got really cold and I bought myself a cheap pair of finger-free gloves, choosing, from the rainbow of available colours, the electric-blue ones, which went together awesomely with my choice of nail polish for the weekend, hot pink. The rest of the day, I felt like shoving my hands in front of every stranger’s face and say: “Look! Pretty, isn’t it?” I didn’t. I didn’t take the gloves off again though, not even when I was sitting in a café. I enjoyed too much the feeling of being colourful again. And since you guys are my friends and won’t call the police on me for harassment, I’m gonna shove my hand in front of your faces. Look! Pretty, isn’t it?

gloves

exactly the right colour combination for a grey winter day

I’d toyed with the idea of spending part of the afternoon in one of my favourite museums (an ethnological museum that has the most interesting special exhibitions and is a mine of creative inspiration!), but they closed early, so I didn’t manage. Instead, I spent the time in the two major book shops, feeling calm and happy in a way it’s only possible to feel in the presence of large numbers of books. These are the ones I eventually chose to take home with me:

... aren't those covers pretty?!

… aren’t those covers pretty?!

They are all in the area of contemporary fantasy, which wasn’t planned as such. I pondered the poetry and the crime section just as long and the classics even longer. I was very tempted by a new edition of On the Road, with beautiful photography and set in a clear, stark font, but eventually decided to go for new stories. Now I wonder if there’s a deeper meaning behind my choices. Maybe I long to escape into a magical world as well. (Well, I know I do, I just didn’t know it was this easily translatable into book choices).

I’d also thought about going to the theatre or the opera in the evening, but there was nothing on that particularly interested me and after a whole day of walking and strolling and standing I was pretty tired anyway. Tired, but happy.

Happy because I bought four books whose covers I adore and that I can’t wait to read. Happy because I let myself drift, which is freedom and pleasure in itself. Happy because I smiled at people in cafés and behind counters and people making music and most of them smiled back at me. And happy because I haven’t lost the knack of noticing small, easily-overlooked details in the rushing crowds that make me laugh and think.

Life’s pretty good, all in all.

love hope dream imagine

the sign on the wall (of the old palace)

How was your weekend?

some good reads

Alright, so I found the perfect way to distract myself from my NaNo panic. After spending ALL day yesterday procrastinating by doing “research” into how to create perfect characters – everything from character charts, questionnaires, articles on character voice and how to write the opposite gender, … – I saw an update on “Princess” Monica’s blog where she raved about GoodReads and I caved in and signed up.

Now, I know you won’t believe this, but I really, honestly had not been a member there before. I hadn’t even checked it out. Yes, you’re allowed to laugh and no, I won’t hold it against you if you shake your head in disbelief and tut-tut disapprovingly. It’s justified.

I had been meaning to check out what it was all about forever, but it always landed at the bottom of the to-do list, plus, I don’t much like hypes and that’s what it felt like. But since I signed up last night, I have already acquired deep circles under my eyes, who in turn have gone red and swollen from staring at the screen so hard. My fingers on my mouse-hand are hurting from clicking on those teensy stars and I have landed myself with a new addiction. Hussa!

I’m also slowly starting to see why so many people are on there. True, so far all I’ve done is set up a basic profile and wreck my brain trying to think of all the books I’ve ever read and enthusiastically clicking ‘Want to Read’ on everything remotely interesting, but I can see that’s it’s a really good way of discovering new things to read. It’s also a really neat and specialized way of exchanging opinions about books and I think I’ll head over and check out the lists now, because I’ve been meaning to start reading some steampunk and I just don’t know where to start. I’m guessing the lists will be helpful there.

What’s your opinion on GoodReads? And what should I definitely try/look out for/experiment with? Any tips?

votes are in and names are up

Wow, thanks for everyone who voted on the NaNo novel! The numbers are in and it stands as this:

Option 1 (comic urban fantasy): III

Option 2 (children’s adventure): IIII

Option 3 (literary fiction): IIII I

So it looks as if I’ll be attempting some literary fiction. That’s a new one for me and I have to tell you, I’m a little intimidated by it, but in the end, challenges are good, aren’t they? Help us to rise above ourselves? Make us better and stronger people?

… alright, it did sound more convincing in my head…

Okay, I’ll be serious. Serious about planning, that is. Since it’s already the 18th (!!! gahhhhh! how did that happen?!?!?) and there is lots and lots to plot and plan. Some things I already know though. The names. I don’t how how you guys deal with names, but for me, it’s pretty much one of the first things I know about a character. Not always. Sometimes I know who he or she is and then find a name that fits them. But usually, the name and the character of the person come to me in a bundle. And then, once they have that name, that’s it. There’s nothing I can do about it. I might want to change it later on, because maybe the name has to sound different or maybe it conveys a ‘wrong’ cultural background or two names in one story sound too much alike, but in that case, it’s just bad luck. Nothing I can do about it.

I mean, just imagine if you took it into your head that you really didn’t like your own name that much and you decided to go by another. Maybe you have a second name, maybe you’ll change your surname to something else… but underneath, in your own head, wouldn’t you still think of yourself by your original name?

I can see how a change of name would help if you wanted to become a different person. Just like clothes, I guess: you put them on and you just feel different. They allow you to leave your personality and pretend, for a little while, that you are more fun or more quiet, more outspoken or more professional, more this or that or anything else that you can think of than you usually are. That’s one reason why people dress up for job interviews or for dates or for festive occasions – it’s an outward signal to themselves and it bucks them up to be professional or at their most charming or in their best festive mood. It helps. It’s certainly part of why I only really use make-up and fancy jewelry at certain times (like interviews and exams and parties and so on). In the end though, you’re still yourself when you take the clothes off.

A change of name, of course, is more permanent than clothes and I’m sure it would help you change, just by always reminding you to be different and act as a sort of guide to the new you. But that’s exactly my point with characters: once they have a name, that is them. I cannot change the name without changing the personality. And the other way round, if I think that that secondary character (or even, in one case, the main character herself) really has to be different to fit in the story, then I need to do them from scratch: new personality, new name, new character. The old ones gets put in a back corner of my head, where they sulks for a while, crossing their arms in front of their chests, huffing and kicking at the dusty furniture and pretending not to be hurt, until they snatch up a random particle of inspiration and hold it up above their heads, its light reflecting back on their faces and lighting it up with a wild hope and glee and they shout at me: “That’s my story, right there! All mine! My story! Do something about it! Move, come on!”

(I don’t know if your characters sulk or are hurt or angry at you or shout at you and order you about, but I fervently hope they do, because if they don’t, it might mean I’m crazy after all.)

So, yeah, names are IMPORTANT. They define people. They define characters in novels. And I have the names for my next book, and attached to that, the personalities of the characters. That’s a good start, right?

All the writers out there: do you find names as important as well? Are you able to change them in the middle of the story or is that utterly unthinkable for you?

updating the blog, part 1 (or: the honour of receiving and the joy of passing on awards)

Alright. Today is the day. The day I have been putting off for weeks: the day when I work through a whole list of things to do on and for and about this blog.

But because there’s so much all at once, I’ll split it up into three parts. Part one is all about awards. Part two is introducing and reviewing and adding a number of wonderful blog links. Part three will ask a serious and important question to which I need your answers.

So, first things first:

the awards

Kate at read wear write kindly passed The Booker Award on to me – back in June, but I don’t believe there’s a best-by date on awards, is there? Kate has interesting book reviews on her blog, funny photos of Al, her traveling alpaca (yep, I knew that’d interest you – here you have the direct link!) and she’s a fellow writer and always has interesting links to share! Go and have a wander around her blog!

There are some rules to this one:

This award is for book bloggers only. To receive this award the blog must be at least 50% about books, which includes reading or writing. Along with receiving this award, you must also share your top five favorite books you have ever read. Listing more than five books is still within the rules. You must give this award to 5-10 other lucky book blogs you adore.

And then there’s the One Lovely Blog Award, to which I have been nominated twice by Patricia, from Patricia Awapara. Patricia is a writer who plunged fearlessly into the adventure of self-publication and writes in English, even though it’s not her first language (like me! do we get extra-glittery bonus points for that?) and she’s also a really great artist – go have a look at her paintings – I love the colours!

And also some rules for this one:

1. Thank the person who nominated you and link back to them in your post.
2. Share 7 things about yourself
3. Nominate 15 bloggers you admire
4. Leave a comment on each of these blogs letting them know they’ve been nominated.

the conditions (or, books I LOVE)

So how to do this… I’m going to combine, alright? Here are seven books I love and why I love them (which is also saying something about myself, so that’s within the rules, right? Not that I care too much… 🙂 )

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I love Austen’s characterizations. The people in this book are alive every time I open it again (and I’ve read it upwards of a hundred times). I feel the embarrassment that Mrs. Bennet inflicts on her daughters, I get outraged at Wickham’s duplicty, I get all tingly from the tension between Darcy and Elizabeth… *sigh* I guess it’s something that Helen Fielding let her character Bridget Jones say about those two: in the same way that men choose football teams as representatives and feel the team’s successes and failures as their own personal successes and failures, so she, Bridget Jones, chose Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet as her own representatives of love, celebrating and enjoying their relationship as her own success.

I’m not particularly romantic, but I love it for the same reason.

2. all the Tortall books by Tamora Pierce

I’m talking the Song of the Lionness quartet, the Immortals quartet, the Protector of the Small quartet, the two books around Aly Cooper, the trilogy of Beka Cooper… all these books, I love with a fierce and reckless abandon. I’ve read each one … oh, I don’t know how many times, but it’s most definitely upwards of twenty, for each. I want to be all of her girl heroes at once, I want to live in Tortall, I want to travel around its world and I want to meet all of the people who inhabit this world. I think every girl should read these books. And all boys, too. Actually, everyone should. For me, Tortall feels like another country somewhere in the world, it’s that real. Much more real than some countries I don’t know much about. I become completely submerged in this world and in the people every time. No matter how often I’ve read them, once I open any one of them, I can’t stop reading till the end.

I love these books for how real the people feel to me.

3. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

One of the books that made me cry. Also one of the books that opened my eyes to my own ignorance. Also the book that made me fall in love with Hemingway’s writing. There is so much in there, and it’s so human. The human condition, I guess. It tells of gut-wrenching fear, of superhuman bravery, of deep and passionate love, of selfless compassion and of the cruelest kind of greed for power and revenge, and all the time without once using any of these words. He’s so serious, yet so unobtrusive about it all, so deep and important without once being obvious, instructive or philosophical. It’s most of all a story, an exciting story of a the struggles of a group of guerrilla fighters to sabotage a bridge and also a love story. Yet at the same time, between the lines, it tells of everything – the best and the worst that humanity is capable of.

I love this book for how it gets under your skin and stays there and never lets you go again and makes you feel as if you’ve held the world in your hands while you read it and when it’s done, how you have become a better, more compassionate, more empathetic person. And all of it just through the style of writing.

4. Bluebells on the Hill by Barbara McMahon

This is a romance. I used to read lots of romance, I don’t so much any more. This book, however, I love very much, mostly for the vivid and wonderful description of the area it’s set in, namely California’s Sierra Nevada. I read the book before ever being there and loved it and once I’d been there (years ago now, but still fresh in my memory), I loved it even more, because every time I read it, I can just see the tall pines, smell the tree-sap-saturated heat, listen to the creaks and groans of the wood expanding in the heat… It’s a daydream come alive. I also like the heroine, because I can relate to her on quite some levels – her love of solitude, her independence, her adventurous side.

I love this book because it brings to life a beautiful landscape and because it provides me, again and again, with wonderful daydreaming material.

5. The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas

One of a series of novels chronicling the cases of Commissaire Adamsberg, a highly unusual policeman living and working in Paris (I don’t know the corresponding title in English – chief inspector?). I like all of the series, but this one was the first I read and I have a special soft spot for it because it has a very romantic vein running through it. I just like the way these books are written – they read much more like literary novels than like crime, even though they are plainly crime stories. This one is especially creepy, with blue chalk circles appearing all over Paris, painted around seemingly unimportant objects to be found on any city pavement, and Adamsberg is the only one who can feel the cruelty and the threat of violence running through them, of course he turns out to be right. He also makes friends with a formidable and beautiful lady who has an exotic job, a strange hobby and the weirdest tenants possible. It just feels so real, so gritty and yet so magical. It’s a book I can read again and again, without becoming tired of it.

I love this book for the dreamy, beautiful way it is written and for the loving and sharp attention to details that makes it feel so alive.

6. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

This is one of the most intense books I have ever read. Apart from the first chapter, which is a kind of introduction, the whole story takes place in one day and it takes the reader on a wild, painful, joyful, beautiful and horrible ride through the life of one man. Like Hemingway, Lowry is unobtrusive in descriptions of emotions or states of mind, but he manages, in a masterly and utterly breathtaking fashion, to put the interior into the exterior, meaning: everything going on inside is reflected in the landscape, both natural and man-made. Two volcanoes, of whom legend says they are lovers, tower over the whole area and the whole story, and plants can be as fleshy, glistening, threatening and dark as any man’s soul and the ravine running throughout the town takes on a significance and almost a life of its own. This books is disturbing and grandiose and  and sweeping and detailed and it contains the most intense, the most heart-breaking, the most touching love letter I have ever read.

I love this book for its combination of the most gentle and passionate love and the most depressing, disheartening, desperate failure and loss and the way both are written into the very fabric of the setting.

7. The Unseen by Katherine Webb, The End of Everything by Megan Abbott, Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice

These three are books I’ve read in the past months and that have impressed me and touched me so much that despite having only read them once, I still think about them a lot and can still get caught up in their stories. The Unseen is a heartbreaking story of a girl’s desire to be free and independent, set at a time when women were anything but, and despite the desperate end being inevitable from the start, there are still surprises left. The End of Everything touched me quite a lot, and I wrote about it on here, how this book was eating me alive, and I haven’t changed my mind since. Orange Mint and Honey is a story that taught me quite a bit about music, even though I know quite a bit about music already anyway, and it also impressed me with the very unobvious way the story and the characters developed.

I loved all three of these books for themselves and for how they taught me about things I didn’t know before and for how they enriched my life.

And finally… the nominations!

Because a lot of the (personal) blogs I read are reading- or writing-related anyways, I’ll combine both awards, because these blogs are all about books and they are lovely. The nominees may choose to accept one or both or none. Fair deal?

So, in no particular order, I give you:   *cue drumroll*

1. Emily from Emily’s Tea Leaves – I’m not sure if she has received either of them yet, because she’s not telling! 🙂 Emily writes about writing, has a romantic novel in the works, and has interesting author interviews and book reviews on her blog.

2. tsena from succumbing – She writes poetry. Poetry that keeps me going back to her blog. Poetry full of wonderful and direct images. And she has a great feeling for language.

3. Peggy from Peggy Isaacs – She makes me laugh. I envy her talent to capture really great pictures of really cool stuff like dragonflies and lizards. She’s a writer.

4. Zen from Zen Scribbles – I’ve lost track of which awards she has or hasn’t got yet, so I’m just putting her on this list and crossing my fingers that the one or the other might be new to her. She is a published author of a book I’m just about to start reading, she loves chocolate, and she writes about writing, reading, books and anything to do with literature or chocolate in the most engaging way (I almost always feel compelled to comment – I challenge you to read her posts and not want to comment!).

5. Arlene from Science and Story –  Her blog is full of clever, insightful posts that I always enjoy reading. She’s a writer by profession and she has an extra side-blog, Wednesdy Book Review, just for book reviews – how devoted to reading is that?

6. Mieke at The Author-in-Training – I like her blog mainly for being inspirational and upbeat. The Sunday Inspiration photos are always worth a watch and a thought (or two or three) and the ‘note to self’ posts are special as well.

A big thank you to all these women – you make my days more colourful!

Reading is dangerous

Beware of reading novels.

You get eaten alive. Your thoughts are not your own. Your dreams are being taken over. Your waking moments are haunted by others’ thoughts. Your language changes. Your outlook changes. Your perception of the world changes. Your priorities most definitely change. (I’ll just finish this one chapter, and then, then I can finally sleep, like I wanted to at the beginning of each of the last five chapters.) You are out of your own control.

And not always, upon finishing a book, are you richer for the experience. Often, a bit of yourself stays in that story. It calls you back and makes you remember long-forgotten passages or characters or pictures from a book you read many years ago and have not thought of since and that you cannot recall and that passage will haunt you for days and weeks like a ghost at the back of your mind and not let go and everything you see will remind you of what you loved and then lost and then forgot and then remembered and lost again – that world that you lived in for a few days and cannot go back to, and you will feel poorer for it.