Dame Eleanor Hull

Down the rabbit hole

I had plans for a sane and sensible work routine this week: work out first thing, then come home to feed myself and the cats, get to work from 9-1, put in roughly an hour each on Revisions, Translation, and Work-Related Administrivia, then spend the afternoon on House and Life Admin.

Cue hollow laughter. I’m not good at transitions. When I’m in the Zone, I want to stay there.

The present Revision material is the MMP-1 (for its history, see here, here, here, and, well, just search this blog for “MMP”). I love this project. For (mumble) years now, I have been living with its protagonist. When I’m working on this project, I stare at Google Images of his tomb and his lands (as they are now: so far, I have not convinced Google to cough up overhead shots from earlier centuries, though there are some nineteenth-century images of his parish church and nearby bridge). I am obsessed with this manuscript owner. I don’t know why the MMP-1 has not yet found a home, when the MMP-2 and MMP-3 have done so. Probably because it’s a large and unwieldy project. This version is going to be much better than the previous two submissions. I know where I will send it this time, and I know where it will go after that, if that’s what it takes. I believe in this project. Sooner or later, some editor(s) will love it as much as I do.

Ah, so, anyway, this morning I skipped the gym and sat down at my desk at 7:30 and put in two solid hours on the MMP-1. That was after about an hour of tracking down an obscure reference last night. When I could no longer ignore the cats, I took a break for about an hour, trying to get my head away from the MMP-1 and around translation. Or Administrivia. I thought I’d done it. But when I went back to my desk, from 11:00 to 1:00, I was immersed in the MMP-1. I cannot quit it.

I’m re-writing the whole thing, this time, because it has gone all patchworky and awkward from having too many bits imported from earlier drafts, a real Frankenstein of a piece. I’m very happy about writing 1769 words this morning. I want to write this piece in big chunks, because that will make the style much smoother. But I’m sure not sticking to the plan. There’s a translation deadline, and at least one Administrivia deadline (two days off, plenty of time), and I really prefer to go to the gym early in the day because it’s better for sleep and organizing meals and such. And a lot of Life Stuff to deal with, including travel plans for this summer.

Tomorrow is another day. Either the plan will work, or I will stay immersed in this project till it’s done. Again. Either is an acceptable outcome.

Inspiration from Ira Glass

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”-Ira Glass

I found it in the comments here: http://www.emkennedy.net/blog/2013/04/quote-me-parts-1-and-2.html

From the Desk of Basement Cat [with editorial comment]

Now that we have all had a couple of weeks to get used to Me in My new role as Senior Cat, there are a few points I would like to clarify.

First, I hate change. While being Senior Cat is, on the whole, a pleasant change, it is still change, and I hate change. Many of the following points have to do with avoiding change in future.

Regarding feline personnel: there shall be no further changes in the feline residents of this household, either adding or subtracting. I believe I made my feelings on this matter known upon the departure of the Tiny Cat and the arrivals of Glendower and Reina, with further vigorous protests at the addition of Sabra. Although I disliked Sabra, her disappearance alongside that of the old grey guy in the same week was too damned much. I wanted her to submit to me, not to vanish. I can’t be sure that she isn’t going to pop out of a closet and chase me around the house again. At any rate, now that we have achieved an equilibrium of three members of the ninja persuasion, let us remain a triumvirate.

The humans agree whole-heartedly on this matter. Basement Cat’s preferences are indeed well-known, which is why Sabra is now awaiting adoption (at a no-kill shelter) into a home where she can be an only cat. Her desire to be an only or Top Cat created considerable friction in the household, and is indirectly responsible for more than one injury among the other residents, mostly at the paws of Basement Cat making his dissatisfaction known. The humans, who are responsible for the veterinary bills, found this situation unacceptable, though they were reluctant to part with the beautiful and affectionate (to people) Sabra. The humans nonetheless reserve the right to offer temporary shelter to ferals awaiting or recovering from spay/neuter operations, and to foster and socialize kittens in cases of great need.

Regarding hoo-man personnel: there shall be no further changes among the hoo-man residents and associates. He and She shall remain in their current positions as cat servants, and shall not take time off (an occasional afternoon out may be countenanced under certain restricted circumstances). The only visitors shall be those who have already received approval from the entire ninja committee. Under no circumstances shall tradesmen, construction workers, or other creators of loud noises be granted entry to the premises.

The humans agree that a lack of construction workers and other creators of loud noises is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Unfortunately, in the interest of keeping the house from falling down around feline (and other) ears, it may on occasion be necessary to allow such persons to enter it. Further, the humans cannot control the city or the neighbors, such that loud noises may occur outside the house, disturbing the occupants. Rest assured that the humans sympathize deeply with the felines on this matter. Regarding travel, the humans undertake to provide qualified, competent cat servants, most likely recruited from the technicians at the regular vet practice, so that they will be known to the feline residents.

There shall be no travel by the hoo-mans, and most assuredly no use of the barbaric practice known as “boarding.”

See above on the topic of substitute servants. Humans, rather like Glendower, crave novelty from time to time, and like to go exploring outside the house.

Further with regard to feline personnel: Reina shall immediately disabuse herself of any notions regarding “Girl Power” that she may have acquired from that Sabra. This household shall observe strict seniority rights: I am Senior Cat, then Glendower, then Reina is Most Junior Cat. Should I inexplicably fail to live forever (in which case I hope Sabra, Evil Neighbor Catboy, and my other enemies will be rigorously prosecuted), then she may eventually have her chance to be Senior Cat. No female cat shall have any rights save those conferred by (lack of) seniority, while I am Senior Cat.

So long as violence is avoided, the humans will allow the feline residents to work this out for themselves, while reserving the right and obligation to break up fights, with the squirt bottle if necessary. It is felt that sufficient cat-on-cat violence has already occurred in this household.

Effective immediately, Glendower and Reina need to show their submission to Me by becoming messier eaters. One thing that pleased Me about the old grey guy was that he threw a lot of food out of his bowl, which was then available to Me. I am not getting enough to eat since he stopped eating.

That’s up to Glendower and Reina, but the humans would like to take this opportunity to observe that they are aware of this change in Basement Cat’s environment and have increased his rations accordingly. Moreover, not only are they responsible for the vet bills, they would also have to administer tests of blood glucose and shots of insulin should Basement Cat become diabetic, and it is felt that Basement Cat would not cooperate for such treatment. Hence it is desirable, from the human point of view, that Basement Cat should retain his present svelte and elegant figure.

Glendower and Reina shall immediately cede to Me any cushion, patch of sunlight, windowsill, or other desirable resting place should I indicate the slightest interest in it.

The bedroom remains Mine and only on My sufferance are other cats, including the rest of the ninja committee, allowed to rest or engage in other activities there.

So long as violence is avoided . . . .

The hoo-mans shall have no other cat before Me. Glendower and Reina may be tolerated as substitutions for Me when I do not feel like interacting with hoo-mans.

Oh, obviously the humans worship Basement Cat. May you live forever. =^..^=

The Grammarian, 2003-2016



My love abideth, thine is away;
My love thee calleth, thou steleth me fro . . .
So welcome to me there ar no mo . . .
Quia amore langueo.

The difference a story makes

More tidying/decluttering leads to more thoughts about the past and our relationship to it.

If a yellowed lace tablecloth had been on the table when the Prince Regent came to dinner incognito, or Grandmamma wrapped the silver in it when fleeing Estonia ahead of the Soviets, or Great-Aunt Lena draped herself in it as she ran out of the house to escape the fires that followed the ’06 earthquake, then there would be that story to tell, that reason to keep the tablecloth or even its fragments.

What I have is the lace without the story: pieces of hand-crocheted lace cut from a tablecloth, and a note in my mother’s hand saying that it was from my grandmother Eleanor’s family. I can guess that the pieces were crocheted by a woman, probably in the nineteenth century, probably by someone I am distantly related to, and attached to a tablecloth that probably meant something to this woman beyond simply that it was pretty and she made it. It might have been made as part of her trousseau, or for a daughter or niece. Eventually the tablecloth became stained and spotted, either by age or by food, or both. Someone, perhaps the original lace-maker, perhaps my grandmother (were they the same?) carefully cut the lace from the damaged material, probably intending to attach it to a new, replacement tablecloth. This never happened. The lace stayed in a drawer in my grandmother’s apartment, and then in a drawer or a box in my mother’s house, and then was packed up and sent to me.

I do not lead a life that involves frequent use of tablecloths, and on the rare occasions when I use one, I have my choice of half a dozen intact ones. (Deciding which of these to give away is a task for another day.) Nor am I given to sewing and handcrafts. My nephews have no memories of their great-grandmother, since she died long before they were born. We are not the sort of family that has stayed in one place for generations, stashing all the trousseau pieces in the ancestral attic. We’ve moved around and started over, frequently. The family I know about is mostly male and of a practical bent, although since my grandparents were all from large families there may be second and third female cousins whom I wouldn’t know if I passed them in the street.

So I’m giving the lace away, to a charity shop that has a selection of craft and sewing items. Maybe someone will feel like attaching it to a tablecloth for a bit of nineteenth-century charm.

If you have family things that mean something to you, write out their story, and store it with the things. Tape a card to the bottom of the china tray; pin a note to the tablecloth. It’s like labeling the people in photographs. The time will come when you, or your heirs, don’t know who they were. Even if the things get given away, it would be useful to have dates and some information. Maybe someone whose family later lost the ’06 tablecloth would like a replacement that has a similar story; or it might wind up in some local historical museum as a suitable piece of decoration for a house of the appropriate era.

I should do more of this with the things I have. I recognize my grandmother’s handwriting, and I know “L. T.” was her husband, so when I come across a note of hers referring to something that was his, I know the connection if not the story. But my nephews and their wives won’t know her writing. And there may come a time when I don’t, either. “Write the swyvere down” is good advice for more than research.

A couple of links


Profacero mentioned the book, then I found this, and also this:

The slow professor

and from a different sort of writer, this:


sorry, the tablet is being rotten about links this morning. Maybe I’ll go back to this on the desktop and put them in later.



No, no, no, no, NO, NO NO NO NONONONONONO!

Maybe I’m British. I am horrified to discover that it is Hug Your Medievalist Day. While I think Natalie Grinnell’s how-to guide is amusing (the more so the farther down you read), I think I need to caution people I know in real life: don’t hug me. I like it about as much as Basement Cat does.*

Who may hug me? Sir John. My dad. Small children to whom I am related IF they are not sticky.

I tolerate hugs from close friends and family members not listed above, though even with these people, close observers will notice my ears slanting back and the tail twitching a little.

From anyone else, a hug makes the ears go flat and the tail lash. Why can’t you just shake hands? What is with all this touchy-feely crap? How can I single-handedly reverse the rising hug-tide?

Listen up, people: around here, it’s SHAKE YOUR MEDIEVALIST’S HAND DAY.

Okay? Do it my way, and no one will get hurt.


*    Basement Cat and I are both bribe-able. Offer him kibble. Approach me very carefully with a large slab of dark chocolate. In both cases, you may get away with it, but don’t blame me if someone runs away with the bribe and eats it behind the bookcase.

A Warning

“It always at least briefly seems so sensible to just start another project if one’s stuck on the current project; but sooner or later, they all get stuck at once.” http://tbplofftheshelf.com/2016/02/03/interview-with-pamela-dean/

Pamela Dean turns to self-publishing


I have been waiting years for Going North to appear. I’m sorry that the publishing deal for it didn’t work out, but I am glad that I’ll be able to get my hands on it eventually. I already own most of Dean’s books, including ex-library copies of the two now available as either e-books or paperbacks, but I’m wondering who, among my friends, might like copies of Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary and The Dubious Hills, because I would like to support the efforts of one of my favorite authors.

I recommend both books to people who like fantasy, especially fantasy with interesting, active teen-age girl heroes. Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary is about three sisters of those names, particularly the middle one and her group of friends. I like the first two-thirds or so of the book better than the climax and the ending, but to be fair, what’s going on in the last chunk of the book is sort of hard to write about: weird psychological effects of a time-loop-y sort of thing (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but also trying to be clear about what some people might not like about the book). It’s definitely character-driven and has a lot of atmospheric set-up, which I like, but would drive a reader like Sir John, who needs Plot with a capital P (if not all-caps) out of his mind. JGR grew out of a short story, IIRC, which might help to account for the somewhat odd shape it has. I love it for the treatment of the group of friends; PD is very good on girls’ interactions. The parents are interesting in their own right, which is fairly rare in YA fiction. They met at the same college that is the setting for PD’s Tam Lin, but I never could make either of them correspond to any TL characters, and I think it’s just the sort of recycling that Barbara Pym, for example, did with some of her characters.

The Dubious Hills has a more novelistic shape to it. It’s the same world as the Secret Country trilogy, and even contemporary to SC’s action, but there’s no character overlap, and it takes place in a different part of that world. The characters are engaging and there’s a real problem to tackle, but again, must-have-Plot readers might find it slow. It deals with a family of three children whose parents have disappeared, mysteriously. The kids are very self-sufficient (this is a world where small children have magic abilities, useful for household tasks, which disappear at a certain point in their development, so small people have a sense of responsibility that is not common in our own world), but they miss their parents and want to find them. It’s a lovely book, which includes shape-shifting wolves (shades of Marie de France and William of Palerne, not werewolves as in Anita Blake or Harry Dresden books).

Going North is supposed to bring together the oldest girls from both The Dubious Hills and The Secret Country, in Heathwill Library. Since I love both characters and libraries are my native habitat, I can’t wait to read it (but I’ve been saying that for a long time, so I guess I can, and do, and have, and will). I’m hoping that since Dean is now self-publishing, we’ll get the long version, rather than the one that had to be substantially cut to meet the publisher’s requirements. I mean, editors do have a function, I realize that, and the shorter version might make a better novel, but I want more of the world. Or maybe she could publish both versions! I’d buy them both.

Above average, below genius

You don’t have to be a genius to be competent.

There may be some geniuses who specialize in deep insight, but who are not very competent at applying their insights. However, I expect most geniuses are competent at whatever the lower level of their field requires, even if they wind up doing it in some quirky insightful way that isn’t standard.

So becoming competent may never lead to genius. But it’s not a bar to genius, either. And anyway, isn’t it good to have more competencies? Or to deepen, extend, or speed up one’s competent work in a particular field?

Example: I am competent at various types of mathematics, but I don’t have the kind of insight into math that Sir John has. Basically, I brute-force everything, but when I did more math than I do now, I learned to be fairly quick at figuring out which methods would not work and which were promising. This means I am not a mathematician, but still, this sort of competence is much better than being afraid of numbers or unable to process anything more abstract than a quadratic equation.

This year I have been working on my language competence. I am certainly more talented at languages than many people; on the other hand, I am not one of those who seem to pick up new ones almost effortlessly, and wind up speaking 16 of them plus being able to understand related dialects. I’ve known some people like that. I’d love to be like them. But I am certainly skilled enough to deepen my ability with two or three languages I have studied, and I take considerable pleasure in doing so. There is no point in mourning that I am not hexadecimalingual. That would just get in the way of working on (playing at) improving the ability I have.

Writing should be the same way. If I allow myself to be competent (which I am), and try to improve incrementally, rather than bewailing whatever I see as the flaws that keep me from genius, I’m a happier and probably more competent writer.

Onward and upward.


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