Friday, December 30, 2011

Sharing 'Little Dorrit'

Four people sit, staring enraptured at a TV screen. On it, actors and actresses play out the stories of their characters. As a certain character comes on, they are greeted with smiles or groans. Every so often someone explains a minor detail to one of the others. This is me, Charlotte, Mum and Dad, watching 'Little Dorrit'.

Ever since I received the 'Little Dorrit' mini series for my birthday, I have loved it. The actors caught me from the first few moments, and the story sucked me in and held me. I enjoyed the series so much, that I wanted to share it with someone. And who better than Mum and Dad?

Mum was enthusiastic about it, having started the actual book. But before she would watch the mini series, she wanted to finish reading the book. So we set ourselves a challenge. Read the book, and finish it this holidays.

Charlotte charged through the book, finishing way ahead of the rest of us. Mum finished next, persevering longer than me. Me? I just finished the book yesterday, after putting it off and reading around it with great skill.

Only a few nights ago we sat down to start watching the mini series. Mum, Charlotte and I knew the story almost off by heart by then. Dad however knew nothing about it. But he quickly picked up on it, and hardly needed any explanation from us.

When we finished watching on the first night, Charlotte and I waited anxiously to see what Mum and Dad had thought of it? Would Mum be bothered by the fact that it wasn't exactly like the book? Would Dad not like the characters? Had they enjoyed it as much as we had?

Yes, they had enjoyed it. 'Little Dorrit' was a great success. Everyone watching it had found a character they liked. Everyone had something to say. Watching the mini series again was great fun for me, but what was even better was that I was sharing it with others, who loved it too.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dead Ereaders and Kindles

A few months ago I broke my ereader. The button for turning the pages gave up between page turns. I had worn it out through copious reading. Which meant that I was stuck, halfway through a book.

This meant that I had to go back to reading paper books. While I loved paper books, I missed the library of classic books I had had. After all, paperback books must be bought, while classic ebooks are free.

Christmas came, and I was still borrowing free ereaders to read on, or reading on my computer if I wanted to read ebooks at all. I managed, but really missed my poor, dead ereader.

Opening one of my presents on Christmas Day, I was surprised and delighted to find myself staring at a brown box with the word 'Kindle' on it. My very own Kindle! At once I knew I was going to love this present. After all, Mum
loves her Kindle, and it is such a pleasure to use. Plus, as I soon discovered, it has two sets of page turning buttons, I assume in case you break one set through heavy reading.

Because Kindles don't come with covers, I made my own out of felt and silver beads. It turned out better than I thought it would.

I love using my new Kindle. The buttons are so nice to work, and I navigate the menu so easily. I love it even better than my dead ereader.

Right now I am working my way through 'Little Dorrit'. The percentage counter on the bottom of the screen is perfect or keeping track of where you are in the book. In 'Little Dorrit' the meter doesn't move very fast.

I love my new Kindle, and I look forwards to using it for a long time to come. Hopefully I won't break this one through my dedicated reading.

Monday, December 26, 2011

5 Pages of Criticism

Earlier this year I happened to stumble across a writing blog, Go Teen Writers. And while I explored this new blog, I noticed a writing competition that had just started. Every two weeks or so a new writing prompt would be posted, and the competitors had to write 100 words after that phrase.

It interested me, and I joined in a few times, though not consistently. I wasn't disciplined enough for that. But I did well enough, and even placed a couple of times. But for the most part, I never really though about the contest. It was just another way to practice my writing.

In the meantime I kept writing for myself too. Mainly I worked on my novels, though I attempted short stories too. Normally I don't show my writing to anyone, but I decided to show one of my stories to Mum.

I was filled with pride in my work when I handed my laptop to Mum. Mum read through my writing, then gently told me that it was good, but not a short story. She suggested several ways I could change it and make it better, more what I wanted.

I was crushed, and put on my best 'I'm upset but pretending not to be' face, mumbled something about thinking about it, and promptly decided not to even attempt short story writing again.

But I did, and with much better success than before, thanks to Mum's suggestions which I finally made myself use.

A few days ago an email dropped into my inbox from the Go Teen Writer's blogger, Stephanie Morril informing me that I had won a 5 page critique due to my having joined in with the competitions and having placed.

I told Mum and Charlotte at once. Charlotte screwed up her nose when she heard what my prize was.
"Who wants five pages of criticism?" she asked in scorn.

I attempted to explain what a critique was, but she still maintained that she wouldn't like 5 pages of criticism.

Mum considered this, then asked, "How do you think you'll be able to take this criticism? You didn't like it when I made suggestions."

I have no idea how I'll feel about the suggestions made on my writing. Will I get all uptight and defensive again? Or will I listen to the suggestions and act upon them? I sincerely hope I'll manage the latter, but, knowing me, I'll probably do the former!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Feeling Like Christmas

Around the house it's feeling like Christmas. The Christmas tree twinkles from it's corner, presents from friends and extended family strewn about it's trunk. Christmas decorations hang from the windows. Cats sit around the kitchen, their noses quivering as they try not to jump up and investigate the wonderful scents of food.

The air is filled with mouthwatering smells. Chicken and turkey smells mixed with the tang of lemon and the luscious smell of chocolate. Christmas dinner is in the making. Cinnamon scented candles give off a spicy scent that tickles the nose.

Christmas music floats through the house. Beautiful voices, delicate music and bells charm our ears. Hissing and bubbling, rustling and clinking noises come from the kitchen as Dad continues to cook.

In a few short hours we'll be placing our gifts under the tree. They'll spread out over the floor in a sea of wrapping paper and curling ribbon. Then, filled to overflowing with excitement and anticipation, we'll hurry to bed and hope that morning comes soon.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Appreciating Power

Down our street stood many knobbly power poles. They poked up out of the ground, covered in peeling layers, hideous red-brown paint, and resembling nothing so much as old fingers.

It never occurred that anything would be done about our old poles. But, checking the post one day, we found a slip of paper informing us that the power would be turned off while the power poles were replaced.

At 8:30 the fridge's buzz ceased. Sophie flicked at the light switch. The power was gone. We sighed, and settled down for a day without power.

Sitting by windows, squinting in the dim light of an overcast day, I soon grew tired of our powerless situation. No light. And no internet! How could I check blogs, moderate comments, write emails?

While we amused ourselves without electricity, a great operation was taking place down the road. Three work teams were yanking poles out of the ground, drilling new holes, and putting in the new poles. Well, some of the men were.

Three men worked one cherry picker, seeing to one of the poles. Two men with road signs stood at either end of the roadwork zone. The rest of the men...sat around in a perpetual tea break. Occasionally the tea group would break up, each man picking up his chair and walking along the side of the road. A few metres on, they would reform the circle and continue their break.

As the day grew darker and longer, we all wished heartily for the power to come back on. But alas, there was still another hour to go.

My eyes followed the clock. 3:05. 3:10. 3:15. Beep, beep, beep. The washing machine buzzed back into life. We were free! At once we set the kettle going for coffee, opened out netbooks, and resumed normal, electricity filled lives.

I never realised how much we really do rely on power for everything. I knew we would miss the cooking appliances but until we had no power, I never knew how much I rely on power for everything else. Now we have power again, and I hope that we shan't lose it again for a long, long time.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Real Tree, Fake Tree

My cousin emailed me a couple of day ago with the news that, for the first time ever, her family had a real Christmas tree. This was a strange thought for me, as our story has been quite different.

For years and years we used to have a real pine tree for our Christmas tree. Dad would set off, two weeks before Christmas with an empty van and one son in search of the perfect tree. Many hours and several tree farms later they returned, always with a beautiful tree shedding it's needles in the back.

Then the stand was nailed onto the tree and the boys and Dad carried it in through the door, covering the carpet with more shed needles.

The real tree filled the house with the smell of pine. Every day the floor needed cleaning, but the real tree was so perfect for us that we never minded the extra work it caused.

But then, two years ago, disaster happened. The van returned without a tree of any kind. The tree farms had no trees for us.

What to do? Dad had checked everywhere for a tree. Were we doomed to a treeless Christmas?

No, it wasn't that bad. We were only reduced to a fake tree. Mum and Dad bought one at once and we girls started to put it up. I was ready to hate that tree. How could a fake tree compare to a real tree? There was no possible way.

But I couldn't hate it for long. The tree hardly shed any needles. It went up so much easier than the real tree. It even looked real. The only thing missing was the smell. And, though it was fake, it was a tree.

This year I don't mind the fake tree. It can't help not being real. And it does it's best to be a real tree. Plus there is space for all our many ornaments.

I love real trees. I love the smell and the mess. But the fake tree is tidier, more perfect, and can be used year after year. It's not real, but it is still a tree. And I don't hate it. I think I might even love our tree.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Turning Books into Films

I have a lot of favourite books. They're the one's I've read over and over again until I've memorised whole passages and can imagine every character and scene in my head in full colour and motion.

Now if there's one thing I like almost as much as reading my favourite books, it's watching them on DVD. I'm always excited to hear of a favourite story being turned into a film, and am eager to watch the film and see how it compares to the book.

I was extremely excited when I heard that The Lightning Thief had been turned into a film. In fact I even went to see it in the cinema, which is rare for me. But although it was a great film, and has been added to our collection, it wasn't satisfying to me.

This made me think. What makes a good movie adaptation of a film? Why do some adaptations work better than others?

For me, the best adaptations are the ones that stick fairly true to the story and have good actors who fit the parts. The BBC mini series of Pride and Prejudice is my favourite film version of the book, simply because it is so much like the original story, and so much like I imagine it in my head. Little Dorrit and The Lord of the Rings are more examples of good adaptations by my standards.

Where Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief failed for me was that is was so different. So much had been changed, altered. All the things I loved most about the book and had hoped to see in the movie were missing. It was too different. And it was disappointing for those reasons.

I don't say that films loosely based books are bad. Taken as films, they're good. They just don't work as film versions of books for me.

What makes a good film adaptation for you? What are your favourite adaptations of books?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Charles Dickens and I

I have never been a full fan of Charles Dickens. I've waded through pages and pages of Oliver Twist, getting properly lost and confused in the many clever plot twists and sub plots. That was my very first introduction to Charles Dickens, and I can't say I liked him very much. He was too difficult to follow, too clever to understand. He was someone a professor might read and enjoy, not a young girl like me.

I abandoned Dickens, leaving his books languishing on the bookshelves gathering dust and turned my mind to easier, lighter books which required less effort to read. And I forgot all about him.

Then, Mum started to read Bleak House to Charlotte and me. Sitting on the sofa with nothing to distract me from the words falling from Mum's lips, I was sucked into the world of Bleak House. The many, varied characters and their enthralling actions held me captive. The vivid descriptions, spanning pages and pages, brought the world to life.

Our daily readings battered at my former idea of Dickens. Maybe he wasn't so hard to read. Maybe I just wasn't trying hard enough to understand and enjoy his books. Maybe I should try again, give him one last chance.

Before I even touched a book however, I received an unexpectedly nice birthday present. The BBC's Little Dorrit mini series.

After hearing this series praises sung, I was eager to start watching it. And it did not disappoint. The end of every episode left me begging for and craving more. I hardly wanted to stop watching to go to bed each night.

The moment we finished the mini series, I wanted to read the book. Surely, to make a series that good you had to have an amazing book to start with.

And so I picked up Little Dorrit. I fully expected it to be quite different from the series. After all, adaptations are nearly always drastically different from their source books.

Imagine my surprise when the book and the movie stuck close together. I read whole speeches and remembered them from the mini series. Whole scenes, almost perfectly recreated, waved at me from the mini series. And the characters! In my head they went through every action, spoke every speech, and showed every emotion in full colour while I was reading, almost exactly like I had seen them in the mini series.

Little Dorrit amazed me at every turn. Thanks to the movie I understand the book so much better. And, thanks to the book, I understand the movie much better.

Charles Dickens and I may have got off on the wrong foot. We may not have had such a happy relationship up to now. But, thanks to the BBC and Little Dorrit, I may finally be finding the love of Charles Dickens that every good reader should know.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Through a Writer's Eyes

I've lived in the same area for almost the whole of my life. I've always been surrounded by the same scenery, seen the same people, and done basically the same things. I'm so familiar with my area that I hardly need to look out the car window to know what we're passing. Car trips get a little boring with not much in the way of inspiration. Well, they did.

Because we are a family of writers, there is nothing we like to study as much as writing (well, Shakespeare's plays might just beat it). So when Mum borrowed a book called Word Painting, we were hooked at once.

Unlike most writing books I have read, this one challenged us to think about how we describe things. It pushed me to think of new ways to describe the world around me. And at once, a new hobby appeared: Description.

If I am sitting in the car, absolutely silent, you can bet I'm thinking about writing. How can I weave that Hummer Stretch Limo into my next post? And doesn't it look like a hearse? I bet you could fit three people in there. Most economical. How to describe those tree branches reaching up to the sky like old bony fingers?

We drive along the same few country roads over and over again, nearly every single day. But there is never a boring drive. I'm looking at the world through a writer's eyes. The world can never be boring again.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

To Follow or Not To Follow?

I have so many questions about blogging that I haven't yet worked out, even after almost a year of blogging. But the question I wonder about most is: How do you know when to follow a blog?

Most of the blogs I follow are family blogs and blogs of my friendliest followers, generally other Catholic homeschoolers like myself. But I read so many more blogs than these.

When I want to read a blog, I subscribe to a feed, or bookmark the page. That way I always know when there's a new post. Following would make this so much easier. But then, do I actually like these blogs enough to follow them and make myself known?

I am always so pleased to open my blogger dashboard and see a new follower. There's something about having a person like my writing enough to publicly announce it. Should I follow other people and spread the joy? But then, I can't decide when I should follow.

How do you know when to follow a blog? Is it when you first decide you like this blog? Or is it when you've been reading it for a while? Is it when you're regularly commenting? Got any advice for me? I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Handmade with Love

As Christmas draws closer, we're pulling out the family traditions, dusting off the Christmas music, and have finally swung into proper advent mode.

One of our greatest traditions is to handmake decorations for the house and tree. Over the years we've accumulated these treasures. Our advent wreath is made of salt dough, and has been used for 12 years. Our nativity scene is made of felt and cornflake boxes. This year, our Christmas craft is tree decorations made of felt.

We girls all sat down today, with a pile of felt, a neat bundle of threads, and several pattern pieces. All beautiful and orderly. It didn't last long. Soon snippets of felt littered the table, beads and thread covered everything. And in the middle of all this mess we four girls sat, needle in our hands, creating the first craft of advent.
Gemma-Rose chose to make a felt bell, despite not knowing any of the stitches needed. With my help, she soon learnt though, and flew through her work, her needle more sure than mine as she sewed her pieces together.

Sophie wanted to make a bird. Despite knowing how to sew quite well, she insisted on thinking her bird wasn't any good, and left the table as soon as it was done, though she'd sewn her brid beautifully, and without my help.
Charlotte chose the hardest project: a beaded, tasseled hanging ornament. Her needle never stopped moving. Every time I looked over, she'd taken her felt to a higher level of beauty.
My own project isn't finished yet. It's not even original. I decided on the spur of the moment to make a bird like Sophie. Only, when it was finished, I didn't really want to stop. I wanted to make a whole string of them. So far I've made two out of five.

Though there are many nice Christmas ornaments in the shops, which take less trouble to buy than to make, I believe that homemade things are still the best. So many of my memories are bound up in our handmade decorations. Each one is an old friend, used year after year, never thrown out or forgotten. Yes, the factories may make fine decorations, but they'll never beat a felt ornament made with love.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Crazy Runner

I crack one sleepy eye open and glance blearily at my bedside clock. 6:10. Too early to be awake yet. I snuggle further under the blankets. Mm, it’s nice in here.

In the bottom bunk, Charlotte humps around, sounding like there’s a baby whale tangled in the blankets. The mattress squeaks and groans as she sits up, then her feet hit the floor.

My eye snaps shut. I know what comes next. Maybe, just maybe she’ll forget about me if I’m asleep. I know she’s watching me. Is she fooled?

“Imogen? Do you want to go for a run?”

Apparently she’s not fooled. My eye inches open again. If I grumble and moan, maybe she’ll let me off. This bed’s too nice to leave now. I need another half an hour at least to really appreciate it.

“Can I take the bed with me?” I ask. Hey, that wasn’t what I meant to say. I don’t really want to get up and exercise. I want to stay here.

My feet thump to the floor. In my head I’m still in my nice warm bed, even though the rest of me is getting into my running gear. Is it possible to tie shoelaces with your eyes shut?

The moment I step outside the door, I snap out of bed and back into reality.

“It’s freezing out here!” I’m shivering already and we haven’t even left the doorstep yet. By the time we reach the soccer field I can’t wait to get running. I should have brought my bed, or even a quilt. Anything to keep me warm. Can you run in a quilt? I’m sure I could find a way.

“Hey, you’re running faster than normal,” Charlotte complains. She huffs and puffs like a little steam train.

“That’s because I’m cold.” I don’t slow down. She can keep up or get left behind. It’s her fault I’m out here in the cold.

Halfway through the second lap Charlotte slows to a walk. Bother, I was just getting used to running. Couldn’t she keep going for just a little longer?

“Go on,” she tells me. “Keep running.”

That’s all I need. I’m off again. My feet hit the ground, thud, thud, thud, pounding out a steady rhythm. My lungs heave in huge breaths of fresh, cold air. Hey, this isn’t as bad as I thought it was. Was that really another lap? I don’t want to walk yet.

A black and white collie attempts to tackle me as I run past, dragging its owner through the grass. In the middle of the field a boxing lesson starts. More crazy people like me.

It’s still cold out here, but I’m nice and warm. I’m not tired at all. I could run for hours and hours…

Maybe not. Suddenly exhaustion catches up with me and claims a piggy back. All I want now is a drink and a rest. Mmm, breakfast sounds good too.

I reach the end of the lap. Charlotte hands me my water bottle and we start back to the house. We grin at each other. A whole day ahead of us and the run is done. See that wasn’t so bad. I might even like this idea. Until tomorrow that is…