Scalpel and sinew under the northern lights

February 29, 2020 at 5:43 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

My head is very much down, hands on keyboard, blues on the stereo. This month has seen meetings with my lovely publisher and agent, work on my manuscript, collating of ideas for the book cover, publicity photos, a writing retreat, and so much joy (which never really comes without stress, does it?). I took time out to read a Lit Hub article detailing a set of questions the author always asks writers with a new book out. The questions were intriguing, the answers illuminating. Of course I picked up a pen, and answered some myself.

Without summarizing it in any way, what would you say your book is about?
Identity through isolation. Bird bones and snow. Regeneration through fragility. Icelandic sagas and Australian rainforest. Home and heart. Scalpel and sinew under the northern lights.

Far northen Iceland

Bird bones: anatomy of a thrush

Without explaining why and without naming other authors or books, can you discuss the various influences on your book?
Big Mama Thornton’s voice. Feminist punk lyrics. My familiars of cat and snake. A one-month writing residency in far northern Iceland. My taxidermy teacher. Victorian memento mori. An Icelandic-English dictionary. Trumpet lilies in my garden. Snake skins. My agent’s wisdom. My husband’s chest. My history of agoraphobia. The photography of Petrina Hicks. My constant search for solitude in snow. Red birds.

My trumpet lily tattoo

Petrina Hicks

Taxidermy workshop

Without using complete sentences, can you describe what was going on in your life as you wrote this book?
Studied Icelandic and taxidermy techniques. Fell in love. Pagan handfasting on the Winter Solstice. Honeymoon in Brussels with Bosch and Bruegel paintings. Leaned into step-motherhood. Got an agent and a bass guitar. Pulled my hair out with rewrites. Learned I was part-Norwegian. Husband signed a book deal. Loved my coven of scribe sisters.

Bronco bass and Marlow muse

Handfasting

If you could choose a career besides writing (irrespective of schooling requirements and/or talent) what would it be?
Translator of Germanic languages. In my degree I did a double major in Linguistics and Germanic Languages, which is where I first studied and fell in love with Icelandic. It’s a notoriously difficult language and my love for it far exceeds my skill. Setting my novel in Reykjavik with a protagonist who takes Icelandic classes meant being able to shine a light not just on the beauty of the language, but my reverence for it. I’ve lived in Brussels several times and travel as often as possible to Berlin: I would absolutely adore dipping into English, Dutch and German as a translator. In a perfect world, Icelandic would follow (and then Russian, and Finnish, and Gaelic, and…and…).

Windowsill eavesdropping, Brussels

Have I procrastinated enough?

Head down, stereo on, and back to the keyboard.

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Crying like a cowboy

July 10, 2011 at 2:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

‘So you’re a writer? What’s your favourite book?’

I loathe this question. I also dislike being asked to explain my reluctance to embrace the music of The Pixies, whether I’ll regret all my tattoos when I’m older, and the dreaded ‘What’s your novel about?’

I’m just going to start answering ‘Cheese’, and walk away.

But I think I’ve found the answer to the first question. If I had to choose one book to take with me to a deserted island (or a ski lodge in the middle of an avalanche, which is, let’s face it, much more my style) I know which one I’d choose.

I would take my 1400 page, $120 dictionary of etymology.

Etymology is the history of words, and without a doubt, one of the linguistic areas I love the most. I’m the word nerd my friends call during dinner party debates to ask Is it true that ‘nice’ used to mean ‘lewd?’ (yes, before 1300) or Does the word ‘caesarean’ come from Julius Caesar? (contrary to popular belief, no). How a language has changed over the centuries relies on a rich stew of history and culture, and I find the process fascinating.

Recently I found a word that made me reach for a pen immediately.

Bubulcitate: to cry like a cowboy (17th century).

Now, if that doesn’t pique your interest, there’s really no point in reading any further: this blog ain’t for the likes of you. I went looking, and found several obsolete words that give us a tantalising glimpse into another time and culture.

Blepharon: he who has great eyebrows

Chantepleur – a person who weeps and sings at the same time

Sproag – to run among the haystacks after the girls at night

Tyromancy – divination by the coagulation of cheese

Peristeronic – suggestive of pigeons

Iatrogenic – symptoms caused unintentionally by a doctor

Rapin – an unruly art student

Panurgic – ready for anything

Microphily – the friendship between two people not equal in intelligence

Redeless – not knowing what to do in an emergency

Pavonize – to act like a peacock

Elucubration – writing by candlelight

Unbepissed – not having been urinated on

The latter raises so many questions…

But without a doubt, the one that clearly pertains to me, and possibly anyone who’s read this far, is Vocabularian: one who pays too much attention to words.

And quite proud of it.

 The following sites, books and people are well worth taking a look at:

http://www.etymonline.com/

http://obsoleteword.blogspot.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kate_Burridge

‘Reading the OED’ by Ammon Shea

‘The Word Museum’ by Jeffrey Kacirk

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So what do you call a nostalgic gherkin?

May 27, 2011 at 1:35 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

I need a word.

Last night I came home, collar up against the icy rain, and found in my letterbox a plump little package. I sat on the floor of my lounge room and tore it open, and into my hands fell a book. When I scanned the index of stories I saw ‘Baskerville Old Face’ by Rijn Collins, a moment before a cheque fluttered out and landed in my lap.

I can’t find a word to describe that feeling.

In my last post I gave details of words in other languages that English doesn’t have a name for. Ever since then I’ve been thinking about other words we lack, and came up with these:

–          When you stumble in the street and then pretend you were just taking a jaunty step

–          The curious discomfort you can feel when a pet watches you shower

–          The two wisps of hair that stick out of your temples like antennae on stressful days

–          The feeling when you’re in a shop and people mistake you for a staff member, especially if it’s of the..ahem…lower end of the quality scale (this happened to me in Dimmey’s once, and perturbed me for days)

–          The deliciousness of walking the streets of a foreign city and realising that absolutely no-one in the world knows where you are at that precise moment

–          The exact sensation of having your head massaged by one of those amazing orgasmatrons you find in novelty shops

–          The face you make when you check yourself out in the mirror (everyone has one, and it’s always the same expression – take note next time you do it)

–          The shuffle you make from the bathroom to the bedroom, wrapped in a towel, trying to stay in your neighbour’s blind spot because you’re too lazy to pull down the blinds

–          The food you keep in your fridge that’s aeons past its use-by date but you can’t throw out because of nostalgic value (I still have a jar of gherkins that a Swiss boyfriend cooked me raclette with over two years ago)

–          The realisation that you’ve been calling your colleague the wrong name for the last two months and they’ve been too embarrassed to correct you

–          Saving the last skerrick of food on your plate because it’s the most delicious, only to have your partner take it because they think you don’t want it

–          The intense desire to spear someone with your fork because of the above

 And if I can add one more…sitting down at my computer, as I did this morning, to find another email from a publisher saying yes, yes, we found your story intriguing, we’d love to publish it  (check out the wonderful folks at Metazen and all their inky glory – my story is coming soon).

I can think of euphoric, blissful, thrilled, jubilant…but you know, I’m not sure any of them can quite capture this feeling.

If you’re a Douglas Adams fan (of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame), take a look at his list of words that are missing from English in  The Meaning of Liff.

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