Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday's Windows: Hugo Boss

Before I went to the UK, the Hugo Boss window in Siam Paragon caught my eye. It reminds me of the kinetic installations that a peer on my fine art degree used to make. This window display didn't move, (can you imagine how fabulous it would have been if it could?) but, for anyone in Bangkok, there's a vast clockwork installation in the middle of Central Chit Lom that does move! (BAH; why didn't I take a picture when I was there yesterday?)

Using a light source to throw shadows is a simple idea but I imagine it's not as easy to execute as it looks.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mad Hatter or really a writer?

I think I must be a very fickle woman. I flit about between writing and making and while I might concentrate on one at a time, I can’t quite commit fully for ever: when I’m writing, I think I can live without making and vice verse, but eventually I realize I need the other one in my life too. And I dump the one I’m doing for the other. For a bit. ‘Til next time. Fickle, see?

I dumped writing back in February. I flirted a bit with jewellery but my talents didn’t lie with metal; too small (bananas for hands) and too tough (I was a bit scared of the material’s needs (fire!)

As a maker (I have never been very comfortable with the word sculptor. I think perhaps my interest in craft - as opposed to fine art – makes me more comfortable with the notion of being a maker. Though when I did my fine art degree, craft was considered by some, the poor cousin) Anyway, as a maker, I’ve always been materials led but it can’t be any old material. It needs to be right.

As well as being fickle, I’m a courses ‘whore.’ I do LOVE to learn. And after several summers taking Arvon courses (writing) this summer I chose millinery. Long term readers will know that I’ve dabbled in making headwear, though god knows after this summer, I’m a bit embarrassed about them. Still, there’s a learning curve to everything, eh?

Here then, modelled by Daughter, are the two pieces I made during an AWESOME three day workshop with the enormously talented Bridget Bailey, of Bailey Tomlin. See, I’m never writing again; it’s making (hats) all the way from now on…

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"27: Six Friends, One Year" by R J Heald

Ruth has just published her first novel, “27: Six Friends, One Year.” It was the first book I downloaded onto my new kindle and I’m looking forward to settling down with it. In the meantime, Ruth has come to Tea Stains again to talk about her book.

Welcome Ruth. Tell us a bit about your book.
"27: Six Friends, One Year" book was a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2012, I was a winner of the Next Big Author Competition in September 2011 and I was shortlisted for the Brit Writers Awards in 2010. 

Your 27th year is a turning point.

Kurt Cobain. Amy Winehouse. Janis Joplin.

They died at 27.

Six friends reunite in London. From the outside their lives are enviable; from the new father, to the rich entrepreneur to the carefree traveller. But underneath their facades they are starting to unravel. Dave is made redundant, Renee’s marriage is crumbling and Katie is forced to return home to her parents after six years abroad. In a world fuelled by social media and ravaged by recession, the friends must face up to the choices they must make to lead the lives they truly want to live.

So, your novel 27 is about a year in the life of six friends ages 27. Is it based on your own life and your own friends?
Yes and no. I wanted to write a book that featured ordinary people leading ordinary lives in modern day London. So some of the situations the people find themselves in are very real, and will be real to a lot of the people reading: redundancy, the breakdown of a relationship, getting married. However, although the situations may have happened to my friends and I, no character is based on anyone in particular. Instead, the characters are a mash-up of everyone I know. So no-one I know is exactly like Dave, but he might be a combination of 6 or 7 of my friends.

Six friends, one year is an interesting concept. What made you think of it?
As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to write about the drama of ordinary lives. But the nature of life isn’t linear like a story; it ebbs and flows and everyone changes at the same time. Although we all like to believe we are the central character in the world, the most interesting thing about us is the relationships with have with the people around us.

By taking a year in the characters’ lives I was able to capture the complexity of everyday life within a structure, whilst telling each character’s story. But I also wanted to capture that sense of continuity; the characters lived before the book began and they will continue to live afterwards.

Some readers have compared the book to One Day by David Nicholls and I think that’s a good comparison. His story is also time-defined; revisiting the characters on the same day every year. And in his story you also get the sense of continuity, that regardless of painful events, life goes on.

Who’s your favourite character in 27?
When I’ve collected feedback on 27, most people say their favourite character is Katie. I think she is the least selfish of the characters and is therefore the most likeable. It’s hard for me to choose my favourite, but I think in real life I’d probably be friends with all of them, and like the others, I’d be jealous of all the success that has come to James. He seems to have it all, but underneath the surface he is battling real demons.

Some authors plan, others just write. How do you write?
That’s an interesting question. When I wrote my first (unpublished) novel, I planned meticulously. I had a colour-coded Excel spreadsheet that listed out what happened in every single chapter. I started writing and I stuck religiously to my structure. It took me a year to write and I’m still editing it now! I think part way through I started to lose some of the enjoyment of writing and the structure limited my creativity. However, without the structure I’m not sure if I’d have got to the end at all.

When I wrote 27, I really did just write it for fun. I just had a vague idea to write a year in the lives of ordinary people and I didn’t plan at all. I just wrote the most poignant scenes that came into my head; the everyday dramas of ordinary lives. Then I started to structure a story about them and the inter-relationships between the characters. I enjoyed every moment of writing the book.

Some people say there’s a right way and a wrong way to write a book, but I really don’t think that’s true. You have to write in the way that feels most comfortable to you.

Some authors say that after a while their characters start to come alive on the page and have ideas of their own about the plot. Did that happen to you?
Yes, I think it did. When I started writing the book, I had no idea where it was going. After a while the characters started to have minds of their own and they drove the plot more than I did. Sometimes I had an idea where I was going to take the story, but the characters just wouldn’t allow it. They wanted to do something else. For instance, one of the characters wanted to sleep with someone completely unsuitable... By the end all the characters had really clear voices, and I had to go back and change some of the storylines at the beginning because I realised they just wouldn’t have behaved like that.  

How long did it take you to write 27?
Actually, it didn’t take me very long to write the first draft at all – only about a month. But the editing has been a real killer. That took eighteen months. I kept taking the book to beta readers thinking it was finished and I just kept getting more and more feedback. So I kept rewriting. After I finished writing the first draft, it took me another 18 months to get the book to a place where I was happy with it.

What did you think of the writing scene in Bangkok?
I was pleasantly surprised when I came to Bangkok and I realised how big the English language literary scheme was. I had imagined being isolated in my apartment with my computer writing away, but the support network in Bangkok was brilliant. There’s a huge expat community. While I was there I met many, many writers and belonged to two excellent writers’ groups: The Bangkok Women’s Writers Group and the Bangkok Writer’s Guild. There’s also the lovely Neilson Hayes Library, a colonial-style building which houses many English language books. I was lucky to be asked to speak at the library last year at the Bangkok Literary Festival, alongside Stephen Leather and Christopher G. Moore.

What inspires you to write?
People. I love people-watching; observing the subtleties in relationships. You can overhear so much if you just listen: arguments on the tube, groups of friends in a bar gradually getting louder and louder, couples maintaining polite small-talk in a restaurant. Conversation is about so much more than the words; it’s about the things that aren’t said as well.  If you watch and listen for only a very short time, you can start to see signs of the undercurrents beneath the surface. 27 is about those undercurrents: the differences between the public face people present to the world and the reality behind it.

I’m planning a sequel to 27, set a few years later. I want to meet the characters again when the dust has settled and see where they are and whether they have found happiness. I’m pretty sure things won’t be quite as they imagined and there will be the usual ups and downs of life. I have lots of ideas for that, but I haven’t started writing yet.

I have another two novels currently on the back burner – one is a story of a doctor-patient relationship. That’s the one I’ve already written that one and it’s locked away awaiting further editing. Another is about an expat couple in 90s Bangkok. I’m about a quarter of the way through the first draft of that one. I actually have too many projects – it’s hard to decide which ones to pursue first! 

Thanks to Ruth for joining me here. You can find "27: Six Friends, One Year" at Amazon UK here and at Amazon US here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wednesday's Windows

There have been two main themes in the UK's window displays this summer:

  • Celebrate Britain/Jubilee/Olympics
  • And Not..

I may post others in coming weeks, but Selfridges wins the prize for the most wonderful. (It probably also has the biggest budget... but that's life, eh?)

Don't forget to scroll down to the bottom picture for my very favourite window: it's all about the tea, people.


The seaside

The boat race

Changing of the Guard

Britain's high streets

The Pearly King and Queen

The English fete

Britain's obsession with the weather

A builders' tea party

Monday, August 13, 2012

I do like to be beside the seaside

A few days after I arrived in the UK, we took a trip to the East Sussex coast, to the St Leonards Festival, an annual event that coincided this year with the arrival of the Olympic torch. Warrior Square Gardens in St Leonards was packed with stalls, live music, performances by local community groups, a fancy dress competition and street theatre.

Our reason for going was to see my sister performing with the Galloping Cuckoos, a company of six performers who devise theatre, site specific performance and street theatre. For one reason or another, I hadn’t managed to see either of the pieces they were performing today, HUG’e or Driftwood, but I knew this would be my chance to catch both of them.

The Galloping Cuckoos perform 'HUG'e'

This is HUG’e, ‘a flock of yellow heart-shaped lovebirds housed in a beautiful life-sized birdcage.’ The piece is lovely; it made me cry and laugh. The birds connect with the audience – your yellow t-shirt might attract their attention - they sing and gesture; they might even offer you a love note. You can see a YouTube of them here.

After HUG’e, we set off down the front to Hastings (right next door) to see Driftwood, which the other half of the Cuckoos were performing.

The Galloping Cuckoos perform 'Driftwood'

Driftwood is a group of fisherwomen who wander the coast with their small fishing hut; ‘the fisherwomen will encourage you to write down your worries or wishes, stoppering them up in a bottle for safe-keeping.’ They share their stories with the audience through folk songs and sea shanties - just beautiful. (Go here - 1 hr 7 mins in -  to listen to an interview on Radio Kent and to hear one of their songs that had me weeping at my desk in Bangkok!)

The next stop was on the side of the road to wait for the Olympic torch to come by.  I found it strangely moving, if only for 6.4 seconds it took for him to whizz by…

One of Hastings' torch bearers (not the Morris dancing one...)
Pic courtesy of Daughter
We continued along the front towards Hastings old town and somehow managed to overtake the torch bearer as they changed to a new one so that by the time we’d got to the old town, we stopped and watched again. In true, quirky Brit style, this man was a Morris dancer and every couple of steps, he threw in a Morris hop: absolutely hysterical.

This looks more like the English weather I'm used to...

After a fish and chips supper, we made the brisk hike back along the front to St Leonards before the weather changed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Not with a bang but a whimper..

One of the problems of having a blog break - or a period of blog bone idleness - is that when you come back, you do want it to be with a bang not a whimper.

There was something of a bang last week after a visit to a garlic farm on the Isle of Wight, a tasting session and a garlicky lunch, but I’m betting you don’t want those details. It was a fantastic place though and, assuming you treat the garlic loading with a bit of respect, you’ll probably be fine during the following twelve hours.

I didn’t have a great journey to the UK. My first blister appeared before I’d left Bangkok airport. It turns out that you can’t put feet that live for eleven months of the year in flip flops, into contained shoes and not expect injuries. My plasters were in my suitcase (of course) which I couldn’t get into because I’d sealed it with a plastic cable tie: one of those things that goes on but not off unless you cut it. As well as not being able to carry any cutting implements on a flight, I’ve discovered that no members of the airside personnel are allowed to have scissors either.

I’d stayed up to watch a film on the flight – totally against my better judgment - and didn’t have enough sleep but things began to improve a bit at Paddington station. I thought. I found someone that had scissors and finally broke into my own suitcase; I found Vodafone open at 7am where I got a sim card sorted and I found a Starbucks where I drank tea and ‘What’s Apped’ Husband.

I just didn’t have the energy for the underground so I treated myself to a taxi between Paddington and Charing Cross. I tried to lift my case into the taxi but, in spite the laws of physics, it was heavier by several kgs than when I’d left Bangkok. And, damn it, I’d been taking things out of it… alright, so they were only plasters, but it was eight of them. How could it get heavier?

I could have slept in the taxi if it hadn’t been for the alarming rise of the meter. Although the Olympic vehicle lanes hadn’t yet opened, several of the roads were shut around Buckingham Palace and Whitehall so the fare was higher than expected; still, it was much easier than the tube.

At Charing Cross I thought I’d better replenish my dwindling funds so I went to the cashpoint but hmmm: no card. I searched through the crap vital receipts and cards in my wallet in case I’d slipped it in somewhere for ease… Nope; definitely no bank card. Through my addled brain I knew there was only one place the card could be: Vodafone. But, for heaven’s sake, they’d just sold me a sim card, so why hadn’t they rung me to tell me I’d left it there? I pulled out my phone: four missed calls and two text messages… I must have turned the sound off when I put the phone in my pocket.

I called my parents to let them know what kind of an idiot I was, put my suitcase into left luggage – ker ching! - and went down to the underground to return to Paddington – more ker ching! I was shattered by this time but so grateful to see that there was one last seat on the underground train. As the doors shut, I set off over people and their luggage to the spare seat. As I lowered myself down onto the seat, the tube train gave a great lurch and I landed in the lap of the man next door to my chair.

Things continued to improve over the four weeks (they couldn’t have got worse, surely?) I haven’t seen any friends – sorry to all of them but I am back in October – but I have had a rather lovely trip. My folks have been pretty good, it was my parent's 60th wedding anniversary and I’ve been on a couple of courses, which I will come back and tell you about soon.