Sterkarm Report

      Well, I failed.  It's 7-30pm on Friday night, and I know now that I'm not going to have Sterkarm 3 with my agent by tomorrow, September 1st.
         I tried hard.  I finished the book.  I'm a lot further on than if I hadn't set the deadline - but I'm going to have to ask for an extension.  Wednesday 5th seems a reasonable goal.
          What I still have to do is a final read through, while removing all the headings which helped me find my way around in 138,000 words.  I'm about a quarter of the way through, on Chapter 10.
          What's held me up?  Well - violins, please - a flare-up of tendonitis has not helped.  I am pecking out this blog with my left hand.  My right arm in a sling because it's so uncomfortable and at least, in a sling, it aches a little less.  It hurts to pick up an envelope right-handed.
          This slowed me down - and I had to spend time at the doctor's, getting some anti-inflammatory tablets.

          Happier interruptions - I sold a book through my website's new book-store, and had to pack up the book and post it.  Thank you, kind person.  The book is on its way.
          Also my cousin phoned from Switzerland, to ask, could he book me to tell spooky stories in November, to the kids in his Swiss school - via webcam and Skype?  Now this is something I've been thinking about for a while, and Alan has given me a useful shove.  I shall resurrect my Skype account, get a webcam, and learn to use it.   And then I shall offer virtual school visits - and maybe one-to-one writing advice via webcam, instead of just e-mail.
         Get me - the virtual writer.

          And here, especially dedicated to all those of you out there wrestling with edits, is Blott.

By Bitter Sterkarm...

          This will be a short post, as I have taken an oath.  By Oak and Ash, and Bitter Thorn, I will finish Sterkarm 3 and have it ready to send to my agent - or will have sent it - by September 1st.
          I know I said it was almost finished, but...
          I had to round up those loose hounds... Well, it turned out, they weren't as hard to round up as I'd feared.  But while I was looking for them, I found a lengthy passage that needed rewriting.  I'd brought in two minor characters to do something that - I suddenly saw - would be much better done by one of the more important characters.  But that means rewriting that scene and surrounding scenes...
          And the ending.  Endings, of course, are a beach.  I am feeling my way through this scene by my fingertips.  There are several characters.  The revelations of the scene must be made bit by bit - but every character must behave in character, and speak like themselves - and it all means going back and forth, rewriting, scrapping, moving lines about...  It's slow and head-nipping.
          And so much of my time is being taken up by other things - e-publishing my back-list, blogging, tweeting...  I could see it all going on for months.
          But I'm a member of an on-line writers' group called Flatcap. We 'meet up' on line most days, to report to each other on what we've managed to get done, and encourage each other.
The Ghost Wife
          I was grumbling on Flatcap about how it was all taking such an age, when another Flatcapper, the witty Joan Lennon, told me to take, myself, the same advice I would give to a novice writer in the same situation.

          Why don't you, Joan sagely asked, set yourself a deadline?
          Well, this is just what Flatcap is for.  So I am taking Joan's advice and setting myself a deadline.  September 1st - no later!
The Wolf Sisters by Susan Price
    I am also coming round to the idea of A Sterkarm Embrace as the title - though I may have to write in an explanation of what a Sterkarm embrace is.
          I have two more e-books out - Wolf Sisters and The Ghost Wife.  Another is pending, but it will just have to pend until the Sterkarms are done.
            Nor have I forgotten the Green Man.  I have got as far as buying a mask for a former, and cutting the side off a large cardboard box to make a working surface.  I've covered the cardboard in clingfilm, so the papier-mache (when I get to that stage) won't stick to it.  When I have finished the Sterkarms - by September 1st! - I will allow myself, as a reward, to have a go at the Green Man.  My brother suggests using cardboard tubes, like toilet roll and kitchen roll innards, to help with the curl of leaves.
          But, on with the Sterkarms...
And Blott, of course... 

English Words

A tunky pig?
          As a child, I often heard the expression, ‘fat as a tunky pig.  My aunt’s over-fed dog, for instance, was often said to be, ‘fat as a tunky pig.
          I asked my father (who I regarded as a walking encyclopedia) how a tunky pig differed from other pigs, and was astonished when he didn’t know.  (But, to his credit, he admitted it.)  “I suppose,” he said, “it was a breed of pig.”
          I left it at that until, years later, I was researching my book, Christopher Uptake (available here, as an e-book.)  This involved finding out about the Catholicism and saints of the 16th century, and I happened to read about StAnthony the Great.  His emblem was a pig; and he came to be regarded as a saint who looked kindly upon all pigs.
Christopher Uptake by Susan Price
          It’s recorded by John Stowe that, in Elizabethan I’s reign, and probably earlier, market officials would not allow ‘unwholesome’ or underweight pigs to be sold.  Instead, they were marked by having their ears slit, and turned loose, to feed on the rubbish in the city streets.  Since all pigs were considered to be in St Anthony’s care, they were known as ‘St Anthony’s pigs,’ and left unharmed. They thrived, and soon learned to follow people who had food, making a bit of a nuisance of themselves.
          So, Stowe says, if someone pestered you for a favour, they were said to be following you ‘like a tantony pig.’  And someone who obviously fed themselves well was, ‘as fat as a tantony pig.’
          I had forgotten all about my childhood puzzlement, but when I read this, light broke in upon me.  “As fat as a tunky pig!”  ‘Tantony’,corrupted and contracted from ‘St. Anthony’ had suffered further in being passed down through generations of Protestants and – being my family – athiests.  Protestant athiests, if you will.
          Since Stowe explained its meaning in the 1500s, presumably it was an expression which was beginning to puzzle people even then.  I’m amazed by how far it staggered on down the centuries – 400 years, at least -  in frequent use by people who didn’t know what a ‘tunky pig’ was.  They probably just liked the sound of it.
          But words and phrases do survive, much better than people.  Perhaps they’re what Dawkins would call ‘memes.’
          Take the expression, ‘down in the dumps,’ meaning ‘depressed.’   How old would you say that was?  I’d assumed that it was 19th Century, perhaps a bit later – the kind of phrase found in one of those beautifully drawn Punch cartoons with a novella for a caption.   I was astonished to find it in Christopher’s Marlowe’s Jew of Malta, written in 1589 or 1590:

BARABAS. Go tell 'em the Jew of Malta sent thee, man. ..... Why, how now, Don Mathias, in a dump?

          And that racy 1970s expression ‘Come back to my pad’?  - 16th Century beggars’ cant.  They carried with them a rolled up sleeping-pad, which they often left outside towns, in lonely barns, while they made forays.  At night, they ‘went back to their pad.’  Why this re-surfaced in the ‘70s is anybody’s guess.
          That word, ‘cant’, which my Oxford Dictionary defines as ‘language peculiar to a specified group: thieves’ cant… Origin, 16th century, in sense "singing", later "whining speech", as of a beggar.'
         My mother often used the word.  She’d come in crossly, saying of someone she’d met, “Her kept me canting above half-hour and I’ve so much to do!”  Or, “Standing here canting woe mek the babby a new frock!”  For her, it meant 'gossip' or 'idle talk.'
          Coming from the Black Country, where the dialect is all that remains of Middle English, I learned a lot of very old words, which were used casually, in everyday speech.  ‘Wench’ for instance.  There was nothing ‘humorous’, as the OED puts it, or self-consciously quaint about our use of the word.  Nor did it have any sense of ‘prostitute’ as my OED insists the word originally meant.  It simply meant ‘girl’ or ‘young woman’ – just as the northern ‘lass’ does (Old Norse: ‘Laskura’, unmarried.)
          ‘Our Wench’meant ‘my sister’, as ‘Our Kid’ meant ‘my brother’.
         An editor once refused to allow me to use ‘Our Kid’ in this sense in my book, Twopence A Tub, set in the 19thCentury Black Country.  ‘Kid’ was ‘an Americanism’, she said.  I didn’t believe it then, and I see that my latest OUD (2009) gives its derivation as ‘Middle English, from Old Norse kith.’  As in ‘kith and kin’, I guess.  Ha!  Writer, 1: Editor 0.
          When, as an ‘A’ level student, I read of the king’s ‘reechy kisses’ in Hamlet, I didn’t need to look at the notes, because my mother was always wiping us down while exclaiming, “Yo’m reesty, reechy, riffy, dairty, like some kid nobody doe own!”
          When I came across ‘gledy’ (fiery) in Chaucer, I was already familiar with it because of the often heard description of people with a raucous laugh or voice: ‘like a gleed under a door.’  This, it had been explained to me, was when a small piece of burnt coal, a gleed, became trapped under a planking door and was scraped across uncarpeted, bare tiles or stone flags when the door was opened or closed.  The noise was painful.  So I knew that ‘gledy’ was associated with fire and burning.
          One more Black Country word from my childhood: malkin.  I used to think it was spelled ‘mawkin’ because that’s how it was pronounced.  It was often used affectionately, but means, ‘idiot, fool, silly person.’  I thought of it as ‘slang’ and never bothered to look it up – but I was flipping through my parents’ dictionary one day, and happened to see it, as the last entry at the bottom of a page: malkin.  It isn’t in my OED Concise, but I remember that the old dictionary gave its definition as ‘simpleton’and said it was derived from Old English.       
...Choose me,
You English words? 
...But though older far
Than oldest yew, -
As our hills are, old, -
Worn new
Again and again:
Young as our streams
After rain:
And as dear
As the earth which you prove
That we love. 
Edward Thomas.
          I'm always delighted to learn new dialect words, if you know any!


A Sterkarm Twenty Minutes

Ice on the inside of the windows
          About three decades ago, when I was already a published writer but still lived with my parents, I wrote on my typewriter wherever I could set it up and get a bit of peace.  That usually meant on the big table in the rarely used front room.
          We didn’t have central heating and, in winter, only ever heated the living-room (and there were no fireplaces upstairs.)  Most of the house was, in winter, literally freezing.  There would be ice on the inside of the windows.
         One cold Sunday, I wanted to write.  I forget what I was working on, but I was deeply into it.  I put on my coat, thick socks, and a woolly hat.  I would have added mittens, but it’s hard to type in them. The rest of my family were gathered in the living room, about to watch a Hammer Horror film on video (I forget which one.  Witchfinder GeneralCountess Dracula?)  I said to them, “I may be some time,” and plunged into the arctic conditions of the rest of the house.
      As I wrote, my ears were nipped, my nose dripped, my toes went numb and my fingers stiff.  I kept thinking, ‘It’s too cold, I can’t stand this.  Just another paragraph and I’ll give up.’ After about twenty minutes, I reached what seemed a natural break, and I was so cold, I couldn’t stand it any more.  I charged back into the warmth of the next room, stripping off my cold weather gear as I went.  The film was just ending.
          But wait!  A different film was ending, not the one they’d been watching when I’d departed for the North Pole.
          “Did you switch the other one off?” I asked.
          They looked at me strangely.  “We watched it right through,” they said.
          “But this is another film.”
          “Yes,” they said, as if to an idiot.  “We watched this one too.”
          “But – “ I said.  But I’d only been writing for about twenty minutes.  It had been too cold to do more.
          “We’ve watched two films while you’ve been writing,” they said. “And paused them while we made tea and fetched snacks.”
          They’d fast-forwarded through the slow bits, surely?
          Not at all.  They’d watched two films from beginning to end, with breaks for tea and snacks.  My twenty minutes had been two hours.
      For the past three years I’ve been working on Sterkarm 3 (and that, folks, is why a writers’ work shouldn’t be available free-to-all on the internet, as some argue).  I’ve been working hard on it, constantly climbing a metaphorical tower (perhaps an ivory one) and scanning far horizons with my imagination’s spy-glass, trying to see where the plot-lines might converge to an ending.
      Last Friday, I thought I might be drawing it all to an end – the first time in three years it’s had what felt like a conclusive ‘right’ ending.  About 9pm I looked at what I had sketched out and thought: If I keep going, I could finish this in the next few hours.
I made a decision: I’m not going to bed until I finish this, however long it takes.
      Some head-down time after, about twenty minutes, I was wandering around a sheiling with the cattle, somewhere in the drizzly hills of the borderlands, when I glanced at my watch and saw that it was midnight.  Okay, on we go.
      I wrote and wrote.  It was concentrated work, but didn’t take very long.  About twenty minutes.  That’s what it felt like.  I reached The End.  Collapsed on sofa.  Cheered.  Looked at watch.  It was 3-50 a.m.
      I think ‘twenty minutes’ may be the writers’ equivalent of ‘a country mile’ which is defined as, ‘any distance that has to be walked.’
Deerhound striking noble pose against mountains
     Of course, Sterkarm 3 still isn’t finished.  That ending is knocked into a rough shape, but it has to be polished.  There are characters who haven’t had their say yet – and who won't rest until they do.
          And there are two large dogs running around loose, I’m not quite sure where.  I’ve got to track them down and drag them to where they’re supposed to be.  (I’m sure Madwippet would never forget her canine characters and leave them roaming loose to worry cattle.)
A collie about to round up a synopsis
          But I’m starting to feel confident that, towards the end of August, I shall have a version of Sterkarm 3 that I can send to my agent without feeling ashamed of it.  (I may even decide definitely on a title.)
          I have another synopsis to send her too, again involving dogs, though these are border collies rather than large deer-hounds.
          But I’d love to hear other’s experience of ‘the writers’ twenty minutes.’

     Edinburgh E-Book Festival
          Just a reminder that the on-line Edinburgh E-Book Festival really starts today.  There's all sorts going on over there - reviews, interviews, poetry...

             And over at the Facebook page, the cool e-readers are gathering, in their sunglasses.  Yours is invited to join.
          Right: my Kool Kindle, in James Dean style red leather jacket and sunnies, kicks back with a glass of white...
          Over to Blott...

Let the Malmaroking Roll!

Malmaroking? - Only if the ship is ice-bound.
          One of my favourite words is malmaroking.  I learned it decades ago, and loved it for its exactness.  I shall probably never be able to use it, since it means ‘the carousing of sailors in ice-bound ships.’
          Not the kind of carousing you find outside nightclubs at a weekend, you note.  This carousing is done exclusively by sailors – and even if the nightclubs were crammed with drunken sailors, still no malmaroking would be done, because they’d be on land.  And merely having a ship load of drunken sailors isn’t enough either, because it has to be an ice-bound ship.  Only then would all the criteria be met, and you could honestly say that malmaroking ensued.
          ‘Malmaroking’ was originally Dutch, I believe – and I recently came across as article in the Metro, which, quoting the website So Bad, So Good, listed several foreign words without exact English translations, but with very useful meanings.  English has, in the past, been more than hospitable to foreign words, and here are a few more it might be worth taking in…
From via wikipedia
          However, one such word recently adopted, and which I enjoy, is the German ‘schadenfreude’.  It beautifully encapsulates a certain mean but satisfying pleasure (see cartoon, left).  (‘Schaden’ – harm, and ‘freude’ – joy.)  Its very sound seems to shape itself round the shades of meaning: the sneakiness, the hint of guilty discomfort, and yet the glee.  I congratulated my German friend Ulrike on having such an excellent word in her language - and found she’d never heard of it. 
          This makes me a little dubious about these ‘foreign’ words.  Have the people whose language they are supposed to come from ever actually heard of them or used them?
          Perhaps this blog reaches such far-flung shores that someone will let us know…
          One that I, and many other women, could use regularly is age-otori.  It means, ‘to look worse after a haircut than you did before’ and is supposed to be Japanese.  Do the Japanese suffer even more from haircuts than the rest of us, since they've had to invent a word for it?
          People beset with small children might find the Russian word pochemuchka useful – it means ‘a person who asks a lot of questions.’  I can remember being a pochemuchka myself, and starting every sentence with, ‘Why - ?  Where - ?  When - ?’  My parents begged me to desist, or at least to take a day off.
          Hansel and Gretel may have been pochemuchkas – perhaps that’s why their parents left them for the wolves.  After following the trail of white stones home, they probably suffered from waldeinsamkeit, which is German, and means ‘a fear of being left alone in the woods.’
          ‘Tingo’ is from the language spoken on Easter Island, Pascuense, and throws an interesting light on a whole culture.  It means, 'to persistently borrow objects from a neighbour’s house until there is nothing left in it.'  This suggests an orchestrated plan.  There would have to be a frenzy of borrowing, surely, to empty the house before the neighbour caught on and started saying, ‘No.’  Why?  How is the neighbour chosen?  Who gives the signal to begin?  Do you start with small things, like cups of sugar, or go straight for the lawnmowers and sofas?  If I think too long about this word, and its reason for existence, I shall become a pochemuchka again.
          My favourite, though, and which perfectly sums up a feeling I know I’ve had more than once, is again from Japanese.   It’s arigata-meiwaku, and describes that feeling you get when someone does something for you that you didn’t want them to do, and which you tried to dissuade them from, but which they did anyway, thinking they were doing you a favour – and this act of theirs causes you a lot of trouble, annoyance and expense, but you still have to thank them because they meant well.
          I’ve certainly choked on arigata-meiwaku in the past, and I suspect you have too.
          Can you add any words to this list?
The First Virtual Edinburgh E-Book Festival

          Before I go, word of more words - 
          My Authors Electric colleague, Cally Phillips, who already runs the Indie EBook Review, has set up 

          During 17 days more than 40 writers will take part in around 100 different ‘events’ as part of a daily programme which includes: 

 Daily Early Bird Tweet/Post at 10am
Short Story at 11.15am
a Writer’s ‘Piece’ at 12.30
Writers Reviewing Writers at 3pm
@the Festival at 5pm
Beyond Fiction at 7pm -
 and to take you into the night a 9pm Poetry slot.

           We will also post on Facebook and you can Like our Facebook Page for more information and interactivity.
Contact details:  email