What I look like

I read someone’s post about how they hated having their photo taken and it reminded me of how I felt about my appearance.

Actually, it reminded me of how I felt about other people’s.

I saw a documentary about the smallest man alive a while ago and he met the tallest man alive. Both were so beautiful and kind and loving. How could anyone not love these people? They deserved love. If they deserved love, I deserved love.

I saw another show about burn victims and there was a little girl just four years old who had most of her face burnt terribly and was writhing and screaming in agony in the hospital. What kind of person would not love that little girl more than anything? She deserved love.

There was a man who because of cancer had no nose. Who was I to worry about the size of my nose?

Another man had his jaw smashed off in a car accident when he went flying through the windscreen.  He had to wear a prosthetic so as not to provoke the responses of horror from others. How arrogant and shallow would I have to be to worry about any problems with my jaw?

I cut my hair as short as possible to donate it for wigs for cancer patients and as it grew out the appearance niggled at me. I then saw a woman on Instagram with no hair due to chemotherapy. She looked amazing. If I could love her and her appearance then why would I worry about mine?

It made me realise I was very grateful for my hair.

The bigger thing I realised was that I was not interested in hearing from anyone about my appearance because if they could judge me, what would they say about that four year old girl? What about the littlest man in the world or the woman without hair?

That’s my standard. Those people deserve to be loved and if people can judge me then they are judging those beautiful people who have gone through so much, too.

I’m not here to judge others’ appearance, I’m just passing through.

Being positive and offering editing services

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Almost two years ago now, I started to hunt for every book / fictional work that mentioned or was set in Bristol. I turned this into the Best Bristol Novel search. It turns out the best way to do that was to become the Books Editor of a magazine. Since I only write about Bristol authors or relevant Bristol fiction, I overwhelmingly come across more and more Bristol novels.

I also come across novels that could do with some editing. A friend book blogger tells authors that she only accepts professionally edited works but I often get sent books unsolicited so I don’t have much choice. I can’t find it in me to send back criticism or what I feel would be good advice, because however well-intentioned, it still feels like spreading negativity.

Instead, I will focus on what I can do, let people know that I offer editing services ranging from copy editing to story structure suggestions.

If people feel they need some help with their writing then they can contact me at joanna@ephemeraldigest.com for a quote or some advice. This isn’t just for Bristol writers and sending me your manuscript doesn’t mean that I will write about you. This is a service I am offering so that when I receive something full of mistakes I won’t have to point them out. (Aside: Would you point them out?)

For a wider range of what is available to writers, also check Book Helpline (Disclaimer: with whom I occasionally work**) for a comprehensive description of what they offer in story advice and text editing.

Unsolicited advice

Now here is some unsolicited but relevant advice: If you are going to send your writing to an agent or a publisher then check with a professional about whether it needs some editing. It doesn’t have to be me but it should be someone. Don’t ask your friends or your writing group as they are more likely to be nice to you. If you send me, or any editor, work that it is self-published and riddled with mistakes or bad writing then it will be a wasted chance to get reviewed or to get coverage in the media.

There is a lot of competition out there so don’t waste your opportunity to get published professionally.

For a quote, contact me at joanna@ephemeraldigest.com.

** For who afficionados, Sentence First has some good news.

Animals we use

UPDATE:
I thought I had posted this as a draft but alas my iPhone app published it instead. Apologies for the randomness. I was at breakfast a few weeks ago and couldn’t help but notice that all items, even in veggie-friendly places, overwhelmingly rely on animals.

every single breakfast item relies on animals  

   

Crocheted rib cowl

Not sponsored and even though I mention brand names, there are no affiliate links or anything of the sort

I’ve not written much about any type of craft recently but thought I would mention this new crocheted rib cowl that I’m making for the second time.

I started to crochet less than a year ago because I was looking to make a baby blanket and I wanted to make one like the ones my friends Kimberlee and Mouse made for their babies. I couldn’t find any knitting patterns that were similar and then discovered Granny Squares. It was a bit of a revelation. Well, for the next 11 months or so, I didn’t know there was more to crocheting than Granny Squares. I bought lovely yarn and made many. At some point I moved on to another project and part of the reason was that my baby had arrived and her wonderful auntie Jenny had already crocheted her a perfect blanket herself so I wasn’t as motivated as I had been.

Lois's baby blanket from Auntie Jenny

The granny squares are still unjoined but I learnt to love crochet.

I have found that it’s easier for me to crochet than knit because the project isn’t as likely to unravel. When I’ve crocheted enough, I take out the hook, pull the loop to make it longer, and put it all away for another day. With knitting, and especially lace knitting, there is so much that can go wrong and with my sleep deprivation and lack of energy, I just couldn’t find it in me to make some of the more creative stuff.

Crochet seems to be more comforting, mindless (depending on the pattern – see Sophie’s Universe) and quicker for me.

Unlike with knitting, where I already knew some of the basic stitches, I found crocheting harder in terms of learning the physical process of it. There was a proper learning curve with in-built frustration and lots of repetition required to perfect / learn the techniques. I could create a chain with no problem but then making the magic circle was incredibly tough for me and also learning how to hold the yarn with the right amount of tension.

I used two books I borrowed from the library and plenty of YouTube videos. I still couldn’t do a magic circle until I found a new technique from one of the most amazing CALs (crochet a long’s) I’ve ever been part of and read. Hours and hours of work have contributed to this tutorial for the Sophie’s Universe project. Also, this Facebook group of crocheters is genuinely the nicest group I’ve belonged to. There is rarely any arguing at all and the members spend a lot of time supporting each other and praising everyone’s work. It also represents a hell of a lot of countries.

So here we are to the mindless but great crocheted rib cowl:

 

Crocheted rib cowl in Skeino

Finished rib cowl in Skeino

 

I had some luxurious and beautiful yarn by Skeino that I wanted to make sure I used up so I found something that I thought would be easy and that I would wear. I mainly scrolled through Pinterest while nursing Lois.

 

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Skein of Skeino from Yarnbox March

 

 

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Half-way through the Skeino crocheted rib cowl

I am now making the same cowl but with Manos del Uruguay yarn from the Clasica range.

 

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Manos del Uruguay yarn, Clasica, from Yarnbox April shipment

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Crocheted rib cowl in Manos Clasica

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Half-way through crocheted rib cowl in Manos Clasica

I’m not sure it’s turning out as nicely so will see. I may even try to find a different pattern but so far the actual crafting itself is nice.

After writing this I remembered a competition that Deramores had for blogging about a trend and the chance to win £500 worth of yarn. The competition is now closed but there are six blog posts about different trends and the rib cowl is one of the ones written about – crocheting that looks like knitting. If you’re interested, the blogs are here. They seem to be great crafty blogs too.

The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds and how men get to speak while women stay silent

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The following are some thoughts after seeing the show:

I have just watched the Secret Life of 4 Year Olds which is based on observation over two weekends, each six months apart, observing children. The men with PhDs, who said they had never been able to listen to children like that before (this group of children wore microphones), were the only ones who commented on behaviour while the female teachers were not shown expressing any opinion even though they had a lot more contact with children this age. This felt one-sided. 

The children were fascinating but I won’t comment on their behaviour. 

Channel 4 describes the show as follows: 

 This documentary follows 10 four-year-olds as they meet at nursery, exploring how children make and break friendships, share, stand up for themselves, and find their place in a new social group.

Dr Paul Howard -Jones is from the University of Bristol and one of two educational neuroscientists who observe the children from behind the scenes by observing the action on monitors. The show cuts away at regular intervals to the two male scientists reacting to the children while watching them and listening on headphones. 

Jones said :”Even though I wasn’t interacting with the children, I found myself becoming incredibly involved, emotionally, in the narratives that were developing for each individual child.”

The other scientist was Dr Sam Wass from the Cognition and Brain Science Unit at Cambridge University.

The two women who do interact with the children are “highly trained teachers” and their profiles are not posted on the website and their opinions are not sought. 

 The questions I have about this show 

 1. How much of children’s  behaviour is copied from their carers? 

 2. How can the scientists draw conclusions from the children’s actions without seeing how their carers behave? 

3. Do the teachers agree with all the conclusions?

 4. what do the teachers have to add about individual children and group behaviour based on their experience and education?

5. What do they think about the limitations and benefits of filming  children over such short periods of time?

How dumb do you have to be to call a baby lazy?

The first person who implied my seven day old newborn was lazy was the midwife. She was teasing, supposedly, and when talking about how Lois slept a lot she said “it’s a hard life, isn’t it?” in a sarcastic tone. She was a very helpful health professional who showed me how to breastfeed, checked that we were both ok and made sure I knew what to do in an emergency. She was brilliant but there was still something in her tone that implied my child, any child that age, was lazy.

Today on instagram, a woman with a baby born under a week ago called her baby lazy for sleeping all the time. She probably meant to be funny and cute but she made me angry.

A woman in a blog post a few months ago didn’t know why people were criticising her for saying her two-year-old had nothing to worry or get upset about and then listed a whole host of reasons that effectively made fun of him for getting upset at things like having a green rather than a blue sippy cup. He had told her jokingly that he’d been having a tough day so she wrote a blog post mocking him. She didn’t understand the criticism.

My child is just over three weeks old. She can’t hold her head up and can’t control her body movements and has no control of her life at all. She is defenceless and vulnerable and has to sleep a lot and feed to grow. I don’t think it’s easy to grow a whole body from nothing. I think the energy it takes induces lethargy to the extent that the only time in my life I can remember being like that is when I had the measles and thought that I might be dying.

Growing is tough for a little baby. Losing the few things that are familiar to you in a world you simply can’t understand must be tough for a two year old. Life doesn’t feel easy for a lot of the time but when you’re little, things being different to normal are unexplained and can bring on a terror close to thinking you’re going to die.

A mum walked out of St Michael’s Hospital two days ago with her four-day-old baby in her arms. The police found and identified their bodies in the last 24 hours. That baby was utterly defenceless and had no chance and no choice.

Not lazy. Just growing and defenceless.

What does 4G testing mean for Bristol?

This post was not written by me

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The rise of the famed 4G mobile internet network has a lot more significance to the smartphone users of today than just a flurry of Kevin Bacon adverts.

Short for fourth generation, 4G provides mobile internet at considerably faster speeds than its predecessor, 3G, averaging around six megabytes per second compared to the average speeds of one megabyte per second during the 3G era.

While it may not sound like much, this increase in speed has given rise to a whole new host of opportunities for those who browse on the go. Whereas 3G could scarcely do more than open an email or allow a user to access a relatively uncomplicated website, 4G is apt for video streaming, video calls and more.

But how has 4G affected Bristol? In August of this year, mobile telecommunications giant O2 announced that they were commencing 4G testing in the area. At the time, the company kept quiet about testing, choosing to tell their followers on Twitter that anybody experiencing 4G was doing so because of the testing.

However, keen to outdo their competitors Three and EE (Everything Everywhere), O2 soon began bringing their services to the city. Masts are now springing up everywhere around the city in locations such as Ashton Road, which has already proven to have speeds far higher than the aforementioned average of six megabytes per second.

A test taken in the area this August near the Dovecote Pub revealed that smartphone users could actually achieve download speeds of up to 57.3 megabytes per second, while upload speeds of 21.9 megabytes per second were equally as impressive. With speeds faster than those afforded by most home broadband packages, the rise of 4G could mean big changes for Bristol.

As one of the most populous areas of Britain, Bristol has its fair share of mobile internet demands, particularly in city centres where Wi-Fi facilities can only do so much. This gives Bristol’s residents the chance to take on all that the internet has to offer, with the mobile internet offering of today extending beyond just communication.

The online gaming world, for instance, has only grown in popularity thanks to the the availability of wireless internet and the new range of choice out there. For example, games at MrSmithCasino have come a long way in recent years, moving away from traditional slot games to incorporating gamification and working to many topical themes.

So whether we’re gaming, talking to our friends on Facetime or just checking our emails, the rise of 4G can only be good news for Bristol.

Frozen DVD review

I received this DVD from Suppose.com for review and to let you know that they found it for £10.00 rather than £15.

Since we received this DVD, my three-and-a-half-year old daughter has been obsessed with it, when she isn’t watching Tangled and Max and Ruby on Netflix. I have had the songs stuck in my head and we have yet to convince her daddy to watch it all the way through.

Two sisters, torn apart by the distance of keeping feelings and powers secret have to confront a reality in which they need to be strong. The movie passes the Bechdel test and would be a bargain at any price.

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Lego movie review

We now have a copy of the Lego movie thanks to Suppose.com who sent it over for review purposes. My first thought was to say yes to the review so that my three-and-a-half year old could have something fun to watch but in reality she lasted perhaps five minutes in front of the movie action.

The other reason was a more surprising one. The FT gave the Lego movie five stars and as an avid FT reader I felt that I was being guided to a positive experience. I wasn’t entirely wrong.

The Lego Movie, as opposed to other Lego movies, of which there have been several in a variety of guises, is the first in a trilogy that will see releases in 2017 and 2020. The first one in the series sees ordinary, and instruction-abiding, construction worker Emmett accidentally stumble onto a great prophecy in which he is forced to confront not only a world outside of the limits of the instruction manuals but the scary power and responsibility that comes with freedom of thought.

Lego brings on a cast composed of past Lego incarnations including unicorn kitty, Batman, the characters from Lord of the Rings and various figures from past and present sets. It also brings an extremely catchy theme tune, lots of fun and witty dialogue and some out of character action that brought lots of giggles.

I have no idea why a serious, national newspaper would give this movie such a great rating. I can only imagine the reviewer had been eating the Opium-laced Chinese food because this movie is fun but it’s no genius creation. It makes for pleasant background entertainment and I’m glad we received it.

The Lego Movie from suppose.com

Week 7: Clever Girl vs Things Unborn

Two things are unavoidable in Bristol novels: slavery and the suspension bridge. I’m now almost certain that a reference to Bath Spa University will have to be added to that list.

Tessa Hadley would have walked alongside C.J. Flood, Nathan Filer and Anna Freeman at Corsham Court in Bath as she lectured and still lectures at that university. One way in which she stands out from the rest however is that she has often been published in the New Yorker, including two chapters from Clever Girl.

clevergirlIn Clever Girl, she writes about Stella who we follow from the bedsit she shares with her mum in Kingsdown in the 1960s, all the way to adulthood and through most of Bristol. Stella’s auntie ‘Andy went to work on the factory floor of the chocolate manufacturers where Uncle Ray was in dispatch.’ The chocolate manufacturer is Fry’s which was based at Nelson Street.

There is a move from the city centre to a new estate on Stoke Bishop. We chart her various phases through location. Young, single mother Stella works on Park Row and lives in a commune.

What got very tedious for me was the constant description of everyone’s face and personality. The way they were labelled in such detail. Hadley says that “I never think that the material detail is an addition to the story. A story is what it is through the detail.” And yet those details have to progress the story not just be used to add words.

Stella is a sad and burdened kind of character who is talked about by her future self as if she spent her whole life lacking self-awareness. The characters aren’t easy to enjoy but the story did bring up something very Bristolian that doesn’t get discussed very much; the wide disparity between those who participate in higher education and those who don’t. Or those who have opportunities and those who don’t.

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The map of Bristol above shows a range of areas with different levels of participation in HE. Dark blue areas are where most young people will go on to HE and the red patches show areas where few, if any, do. In Bristol, it is often the case that these areas are right next to each other. Clifton, Cotham and the city centre are all areas of higher participation and right next to St Philip’s where very few young people may know anyone in HE.

The two universities in Bristol are also very different. One is full of “girls and boys with glossy hair and loudly assured voices who’d been to private school” and the other is UWE, surprisingly not mentioned in this book. Stella in later life gets three As at A Level and ‘with these good grades [she] applied to university” and got in to study English literature. This of course makes little sense in real-world Bristol University. Every one who applies there has three As (or A*s now). Good grades are only a distinguishing factor if that’s what separates you from the other candidates. At Bristol this does not and most people of Stella’s background apply to and attend UWE instead.

Things Unborn by Eugene Byrne is the contender against Clever Girl this week and while I knew it was a novel set in London with very little Bristol reference, I just couldn’t resist writing about Byrne and seeing what his fiction was like. If there is ever a writer who knows Bristol then it is he. He has written about Bristol in magazines, online and in published books. He wrote about Brunel and about plans for Bristol that never did get built.

Things Unborn, however, is just not that informative about this West Country city. There is a wink at Bristol with reference to the Locarno Music Hall which used to be where the O2 Academy is now and was popular in the 1960s. There is also a pretty great description: ‘The great city of Bristol was the light and the shadow of their lives, a huge, sprawling, noisy port where merchants got rich on slaves and sugar, and the poor drank and pissed their money and miseries away in stinking dockside ale houses.

In 1962, the USA and Russia went to nuclear war over Cuba…after millions of deaths, people started returning. Not just those killed in the Atom War, but people who had died centuries previously. And they were always reborn in the place where they died, at the age of their death. In Britain, there were struggles for power between Catholics and Protestants, another Monmouth Rebellion. Now, in 2008, Richard III rules the country – although he holds no real power. And Protestant fanatics would see him, his government and their “Liberal Settlement” destroyed. A handful of policemen and their allies must hunt down the conspirators.

Protagonist Inspector Scipio Africanus lived his previous life as a slave in Bristol and is a reference back to a black slave or servant in the household of the Earl of Suffolk. He died aged about 18 and was buried at Henbury Churchyard, Bristol, in 1720. His grave is one of the few known burial places in the UK of an African from the period when Christian Englishmen traded in slaves.

The links to Bristol are there but not enough to make this book a real contender. It’s a heavy-going read with a lot of information to process. There are many explanations about the new reality, about the retread procedure, about each and every past era from which the people who have died have arrived. Also the new reality consists of current police procedures, geographies, machines and products that all take some explanation and then there’s the parallel world’s history, current politics and future trajectory. And in between all this there is a storyline.

The effect is one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld meets Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. A quality production but not light and breezy.

This week’s winner is unquestionably Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley.