Friday, October 31, 2008

So pretty, I could cry, and did

I know, I know, wrong holiday!

But I just had to show you the gift my sister in law brought me from London: Nigella Christmas.

I think everybody knows by know that I adore Christmas. And it's no secret that I adore Nigella Lawson. I don't care that she moans on tv, her recipes are wonderful, and she writes with such wit and warmth that I often read her cookbooks just for comfort. So what could be more perfect than this book?

I would love it just for the concept, but in addition the layout is so pretty, and the photos so gorgeous, they bring tears to my eyes. As does the beautiful array of turkeys and pies and cookies and salads. Even the stuffing looks like it it being served in a fairy tale. And just look at these rocky road cakes!

Thank you, Christina, thank you, thank you.

Now, if any of you are planning on trick or treating on Grünerløkka today, I've not forgotten. I've got candy. I've got smiles. I've got an adorable cat to help me greet you. Welcome, kids (and grown ups unable to let go).

(Also, please don't be angry at me for swiping your photos and not doing them justice with my poor cell phone camera, Nigella, I only did it to show how great you are).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First and unexpected snow

This morning, the first snow of the year fell out of the murk and settled upon Oslo. It dusted my spire, alit on the naked branches of the birch trees, gathered in the lingering willow leaves and draped itself over the lawn of the park outside like a light blanket.

It won't last, I know, because the days are not cold enough yet. But the first snow is special.

In my world, the first snow is of vital importance, almost as important as snow on Christmas Eve, the significance of which is all but immeasurable. Here's a little passage from chapter five, The Heart of Winter, (and forgive the hasty translation):

"- Of all the creatures of Yulevale, the Winter Princes are the most enigmatic. They look like humans, but are not, because they are born of ice and their souls are wrought from it. Without them, there would be no Christmas, no matter how hard petlings and teddyfolk work to make it so, said Theodor.

- You see, the Winter Princes are guardians of rare treasures, beautiful snow globes which they carry in their arms when they emerge from the ice, and which they keep close to their heart always. These globes are magical, very magical, because they have the power to make it snow on Earth.

- But I thought snow came with low pressures and cold fronts, said Lin, who was not the daughter of Herold Rosenquist for nothing.

- That is true, said Theodor with a small chuckle. – But sometimes there is unexpected snow, snow which causes meteorologists to frown and mutter. And it happens like this: The Winter Prince chooses a place in your world, perhaps Paris, and holds it in his mind. At once, a tiny Paris appears in the globe, with the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Élysées and a miniature Seine. Then the Prince shakes the globe, so that snow flakes swirl around the small buildings inside. At that exact moment, it starts snowing in the real Paris, the city you know on Earth.

Thousands of Parisian children watch the snow flakes drift and dance down from the skies. Some look out of their windows, others run around in the streets, catching flakes on the tips of their tongues. All of them are filled with a wild happiness, for while grown ups fret over slippery roads and driveways that must be cleared, children feel only joy when there is unexcpected snow."

Now, this is not my imaginary world, and there are no Winter Princes. But I still say that the first snow is special, and that it grants one wish to those who feel only joy at the sight of it.

I've made mine. Don't forget to.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday list of joys

1. My little Pims is back! There weren't any babies in her belly, so she demanded in no uncertain terms to meet with tomcats again. And she has, and if things work out this time, there will be kittens on Christmas Eve. I'll just have to name them Baby Jesus, Santa, Popelku and..or maybe not.

2. I'm reading a great book! Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley. I haven't gotten very far yet, but far enough to know that he constructs everything to my taste, language, characters, stories and settings, all the while making me forget that it is a construct.

3. I baked some Christmas cookies yesterday, laden with cardamom and cinnamon, chewy in the middle and crisp around the edges. And I'm going to have some with my coffee afterwards.

4. I finished chapter 14, teddyfolk and all. I also started chapter 15, and it looks quite good. Pretty soon, pretty soon, I'll be in the clear, with only unchartered territory in front of me. I've been longing for this, for some wind on my face.

5. The evenings are getting very dark now, which may be depressing to some, but I like it. I like the way people are caught in the dark on their way home from work, how their faces are illuminated by shop windows, and their eyes filled with snuggles and sleep to come. From the street I can look up into the ceilings of strangers, and observe the glow of good lighting or the flimmer of tv-screens or the flicker of cosy candles, and it makes me feel safe and happy that they are safe and happy.

You are, aren't you?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How teddyfolk are born

I know you're scared right now, little one, and that it's dark and rainy and you're all alone. But just you wait a little. The Inners aren't that far away.

And a sunny kid like you? It's got to be Someria, where it's always summer. Fireflies light up the night and lawn mowers drone reassuringly along the hedges. You can live near Crystal Town and see the goldfish dance, or you can pick strawberries near Basket, if you like.

Just you wait.

One hundred days and one

On the hundrered day since Dad died, a storm came in from the ocean. It whipped the waves into 20-foot walls, hurled itself against the bare rocks of Klubba and tore at the small wood that shelters the cemetery from the sea.

The trees did not yield, of course, they have seen worse before. But some of the weather made it through their creaking guard. Wild gusts raced between the rows of stones, mussing up the heather, tugging at the lanterns. The deer hid between the pine trees, giving up all hopes of fresh roses to chew. The birds crept close to the tree trunks and let the wind speak for them.

All this I imagine, because though I know there was a storm, I was not there to feel it.

In Indonesia, the friends and family of lost ones are not done with their communal grieving after the funeral. They gather again after one week, after a hundred days and after one year.

I could not come to Kristiansund yesterday, but it still seems right to share.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Just a stinking softpaw

Chapter 14, chapter 14. Hmmm.

Chapter 14 is the crux of one of my worries.

The Winter Child has a life of its own now. It takes me places I didn't know of, dipping into ravines and climbing hillocks that looked like flat country when we started the journey. I'm writing it, yes, but the story is leading the way.

But who am I writing for? At first, this was definitely a children's story, measured by mood, scope and pace as well as the buiding of plot and characters. But with more depth, more sinister villains, more chilling scenes, more hillocks and ravines, I suspect it grew up a little, becoming a story for young adults.

And yet, there are my teddyfolk, teddy bears who have finished their time in our world, either by being destroyed or by being packed into a box in the loft and just forgotten. Almost half of the people in my world are teddyfolk. They don't need to eat or sleep (though they can), and therefore make the best caravan knaves. They often have problems doing fiddly work with their soft paws (and that's how they get their nickname, softpaws), but they are incredibly strong and enduring, not to mention brave and loyal.

In The Winter Child, we meet Theodor, the stern and secretive historian, Doctor Kott, whose three fingers on both hands give him more dexterity, and Big Ted and Small Ted, twin grizzly bears who have yet to find a suitable occupation, since porcelain painting and lace knitting is sort of hard with no digits.

And then there is chapter 14, where we meet Søplehue, who has not yet got a perfect name in English (and it would be great if you could suggest one). In Norwegian, Søplehue literally means garbage head or garbage brains, but it's also a name you might call someone who makes a mess of things, who is dirty or slow, who is unsavoury or unreliable.

Søplehue has a rusty beer bottle top in lieu of a left eye, one of his ears bears the marks of badger teeth, he smells of old puke and mould and there are flies in his stuffing. His arms and legs have been sewn on with fat, black stitches, and he swears like a stranded pirate.

I love him.

But is he too childish for my story? Will young adult readers take one look at him and think that this is a story they're too old for? After all, he is no ice elf, no vampire, no evil knight or lost prince. Just a stinking teddy. It worries me.

I know you're supposed to kill your darlings, but I can't bring myself to off Søplehue, not unless evil future publishers make me.

See, I'm loyal, too. And a little clumsy, come to think of it. If it weren't for the endless munching of food and treats and the guilty, drowsy mornings, I'd make a perfect softpaw.

(Drawing by Kris)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More on maps and a tinkly chill

Laini asked me about my story maps, and I thought I would post the answer rather than hide it in a comment, in case someone finds it helpful.

My story maps, let's see. I make two kinds. One is a 'regular' map with all the settings. I draw lines with arrows to mark the movement of my protagonist (I stick to a fairly severe third person point of view, and don't take descriptions of the past and memories into account here). I also jot down the numbers of the chapters next to the spot they take place in. For instance, chapter eight takes place mostly in a little café called the Waffle Heart, so that location is marked by the number eight.

The other 'map' is a list of the chapters, where I write down the general area (Yulevale) and then the specific settings (the Waffle Heart), and the general mood (cosy and christmassy, with only small glimpses of danger ahead) and what sort of pace I've chosen (a breather, with plot details surfacing through other characters). Though I try to let the story flow naturally, this list helps me see when I've been sneaking around for too long and a measure of safety and comfort is required, or if a little adrenaline is overdue.

My current maps shows that we will spend about the same amount of time in the woods as we do in town. I suppose it makes for a darker, colder, more star strewn and tinkly Christmas, which is what I'm looking for. My story is, after all, about an abandoned child whose soul is made entirely of ice.

Pic by Line.

A promise to return

Lin and Gwen have left Yulevale and are skating up the frozen river that cuts a silver slash in the forest. There are crooked thickets with more than one surprise, and hidden valleys, and a palisade made of long, sharp thorns to come.

But I promise to return to the town in due time.

As a reader, you see, I'm always worried when a story veers off track. What if it doesn't come back? When I've invested both imagination and dreams into a setting, like a busy coastal town with steep cliffs and cold beaches and creaking ships and seagulls, then I've come to love it. You could destroy it, and that would be horrible in a good way. But I don't want it to be cast off randomly, like a toy some kid suddenly finds boring.

If I've spent time getting to know the underground tunnels of a cold, grim castle, where I've discovered secret doors and how to sneak out lemon cakes from the kitchen, I don't just want to leave for good, unless I've been properly rewarded for my hard work. It's disappointing (and see Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy)!

And consider 'The Two Towers'. In the film version, it is never really clear why the heroes choose to go where they go, they just do. But in the book, their path seems inevitable. Of course they must go to Edoras, of course they must go to Helm's Deep. I think this is one of the main reasons the book version makes sense where the film does not.

This is why I make maps of my stories. I trace the plots to stop them from shooting off in random directions, and hopefully I'll make the story swell and flow, back and forth, carrying settings, persons and mysteries to their final resting place, as if that were the only place they could possibly belong.

Which is to say that you've not yet seen the last of the Observatory, nor of the Falcon Cage, nor of the Witch's Well, nor of Nalle, the quiet, unassuming assistant. That I promise.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Whirr. Wheeze. Click, and then...

This beautiful old clock hangs in a cabin close to where my grandmother grew up, and it reminds me of her and the clock she had while she still lived on the farm.

It is an old wall piece that now hangs silently, high in one corner next to the gallery of children and grandchildren and great grandchildren smiling on confirmation days, graduation days, wedding days.

My grandmother had (and still has) a very crooked back from carrying water and hay, and she would reach very hard to wind the clock. Even as a child, the creaking of her once-strong joints next to the rattling of cogs and chains inside the wooden box saddened me. It made me wonder what the house would be like without her, and without the clock and its many voices.

The pendulum marked the passing of seconds with a hollow not-yet, not-yet. Every fifteen minutes, the clock whirred, wheezed, clicked and then gave a single, stern chime. Every hour it posed a question. Why are you still in bed? Why are you not yet asleep? Why do you accept that the seconds of your life are counted out and lost?

My only answer is that time, and clocks, and the inevitable ticking of seconds are important cogs in my story. Whirr. Wheeze. Click. Just hope the chime doesn't sound. Not yet, not yet.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Some things to celebrate

A little late again, but not because I forgot (thank god). Yesterday was such a whirlwind of moving and restaurants and cleaning and beer that I never got round to doing this.

But I want to post it anyway: happy birthday, my most excellent Pan, bringer of good times and kindness and very fine burgers, sailer of tiny boats on 18-foot-waves, cuddler of cats and friend to the trees. You are quite something. Moreover: congrats on the outstanding result on your final exam. Smart, too!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Monsters, magpies and dragonflies

It's Dine's mass today, supposedly a blustery day that will shake the rest of the leaves off the branches. The wind did a pretty good job on the old ash tree outside my mother in law's house, and then left to give room to autumn weather of the warm, gleaming sort.

We've been staying here for a couple of weeks while they fix the bathroom floor in our apartment (after the dinosaur/alien incident). Lots of good food, and one happy little cat who loves exploring all the nooks and crannies of the old house. I swear there are monsters in the closets here, because Pims sometimes shoots out of them, wild-eyed and yelping. She loves walking in the garden too, which we did today and were duly sniffed by a dragonfly and teased by a magpie.

Pims tried to chase the magpie, but then she didn't know what the rest of us do: that magpies are cleverer than Jon Stewart and cannot be caught.

It's lovely here, with the water and the tall, creaking trees. And yet I'm glad that we're going home soon. Tomorrow at the latest, it's back to Marselisgate, lattes, sister and brother, and my new favourite spot by the fireplace in the kitchen.

But most importantly, it's back to smooth, unrumpled, un-slashed writing time, with the tinkling of Tri Orisky Pro Popelko in the rafters. And then I'll get the hang of chapter 14, I just know it.

What the whiskers is going on?

Pims has had a rough few weeks. She's been getting increaslingly grumpy. Increasingly sleepy. Increasingly hungry. Increasingly interested in bags, comforters, closets and blankets. And she's been just increasing.

I think you might be pregnant, little one. That's why you feel so funny. And don't look at me, you're the one who insisted. Seriously.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A whisper of snow

October first. I love this date, because it means I'm allowed to look forward to Christmas. No, I'm not going to buy ornaments or hang decorations or bake cookies or anything like that (well, maybe some cookies), but I get to think about all those without feeling guilty. I get to buy magazines with picture perfect mountain lodge Christmases and new recipes to try. I get to 'glede meg'.

I love this expression, too. It is so much juicier than 'look forward to'. It literally means 'to joy myself', and that is what I'm doing.

And there's so much to 'joy myself' over! Lin's warm Lucia buns, the smell of fresh pine tree, Sufjan Steven's Christmas music, cranberry sauce, It's a Wonderful Life, the first whisper of snow in the air...Makes my belly tingle.

That tingling is probably the cause of my wonderful writing day today. 1200 words, most of them not rubbish, and I'm beginning to see the end of chapter 13. Yay!

(By the way, Lin and Pep: seen the snowflake before?)