Monday, 26 December 2011

Lacking in Life Skills? Not Anymore...

You might recall a previous pair of posts highlighting my rather woeful lack of anything resembling a common life skill.  Sewing presented the most arduous challenge.  Finding that thing that turns off the water was achievable only after a frantic call to someone who would know such things.  And cooking?  Forget about it.

Until now.

Yes, I have at last mastered a skill I thought would forever be just beyond my reach.  I can now make soup.

I can sense the rolling eyes now.  True, it may seem like a rather simple task not involving anything that might previously have been considered skill, and for many well it may be.  However many people don’t also require a diagram depicting a leek and a turnip to assist with the identification process.  (I maintain my position that there was previously no reason whatsoever that I should know what a turnip looks like having had no occasion to encounter one in its original form.)

I quickly discovered that the worst thing you can do is ask an experienced cook how to cook something.  They immediately burst forth with all sorts of technical terms expecting me – as they would any ‘proper grown-up’ – to know what they mean.  So the first task is to idiot-proof the conversation.  “Mum, tell me as if you’re talking to someone who doesn’t know what a stock cube is for.”

Eventually, armed with my step-by-step instructions and a list of necessary ingredients it was off to the supermarket, where I felt very grown up and sensible as I perused the items in aisles I had not previously frequented.  Needless to say my trolley was much more nutritionally balanced than ever before. 

Preparation, it seems, is the key to these things, and I had it all covered – the ingredients were all laid out in the order in which I would need them, the lentils had been soaking overnight, and I had finally discovered the purpose of the food processor that had never been out of its box and it was all set up and ready to go.  (In my opinion the instructions for these sorts of things aren’t nearly detailed enough – it’s like the manufacturers assume if you’re buying one you actually know what it does.)  By Christmas Eve morning I was ready to begin.

I can’t describe the deep sense of pride and satisfaction I felt as I prepared carrots for something other than a snack for the rabbits.  I felt there was a real possibility that a domestic goddess lay dormant inside me and that I would turn out to be a rather good cook after all.  Until, that is, I tried to turn the processor on.  (Is it really too much to ask for a ‘troubleshooting’ section in the instruction manual?)

I will insist on giving myself credit on this point, however.  I only almost burst into tears, and I only hit the food processor twice before further investigation found that I had the bowl on the wrong way around.  After that small hiccup it was full steam ahead, and several hours later I had created that most elusive of all things – soup that was ‘just like Mum’s.’

So, with one life skill mastered, who’s to say I can master others?  I could be a proper grown up yet.

Now wouldn’t that be scary?

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Mission: Christmas

Mission: Christmas.  That was the title of the to-do list I wrote down today.  It’s my list of everything that needs done not just before Christmas itself but before I can even think about putting up my Christmas tree, and the list is long.  Whoever said it’s the most wonderful time of the year had clearly never been Christmas shopping.

Worryingly, the list looks rather like the list I had before going to Florida.  Clean out the cupboards.  Organise the DVD collection.  Check all rooms for signs of impending crisis.  How is it that after spending weeks reorganising the house in September I need to do it all over again in December?  Then there’s the rest of the Christmas shopping, the wrapping, the visits to various family members to drop off presents, the card writing, the food shopping…am I really the only person tempted to hide under a duvet until it all goes away?

What’s really scary is that I am considered by some to be a fairly organised person, though this tends to be based more on my having a to-do list than my ability to actually complete it.  I would love to live up to the image – I have some very grand ideas of sitting at home in front of the fire, sipping a glass of wine and enjoying the festive atmosphere in a perfectly decorated house.  Instead I am side stepping pockets of chaos all over the house, surrounded by shopping bags full of unwrapped presents and scraps of paper with half-written reminders about who knows what, ducking my head guiltily every time I see another neighbour putting up their Christmas lights.

I am not, however, one of those Bah Humbug types.  The madness of the festive shopping experience and cynical commercialism aside, I actually like Christmas.  I have the Santa hat to prove it.  So like Santa I’ve made a list and checked it twice (ha, see what I did there?) and I’m going into these next two weeks with a can-do attitude.  Or at least a hope-to attitude.  Or at the very least a must-do attitude. 

I think I’ll have a lie down first. 

Saturday, 26 November 2011

10 Reasons 2012 Will Be Awesome

I know it’s a little early to be thinking about next year, but if stores can start stocking Christmas goods in October then surely I’m allowed to indulge in a little positive forward thinking?

I’m the first to admit I won’t be sorry to see the end of 2011 and it got me thinking about all the things I have to look forward to in 2012 and why my 30th year is surely going to be an awesome one.

So, in no particular order…

Winter wonderland…

Would you like to know the cure for the post-Christmas blues?  A log cabin, in the forest, with a hot tub.  No phone, no internet, no people, just plenty of books, wine and chocolates.  A perfect January getaway.  Plus, I can go hunting for Anomolies in the forest.  If you don’t understand that reference you should probably be proud.  If you do, welcome to the land of the geek.

May the odds be ever in your favour…

The Hunger Games hits the big screen.  I could not be more excited.

The Irish are coming…

And we are going.  Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish are heading to Dublin, and so are we.  Ok, so this may be more awesome for my husband than for me, but still, a city break is a city break, and I’ll take any excuse to buy merchandise.

Let’s gather together in a field and have a chat…

And let’s hope that’s not how the Twilight Saga comes to an end.  After becoming briefly disillusioned with the badly adapted series, Breaking Dawn Part 1 has restored this Twilighter’s faith – let’s see what they can do for the grand finale.

Destination Anywhere…

Destination Braehead Arena, actually, to see the stars of The Commitments in their 21st anniversary tour. 

Green is good…

Kermit and co are finally making their way back to the big screen in February, and I have a special Muppets t-shirt all picked out.  Yes, I’m aware that makes me a bit sad.

Destination Anywhere Part II

For the first time since 2007, we do not have a trip to Walt Disney World planned for the immediate future.  2012 will be (hopefully) the year of late deals, last minute trips to anywhere that takes our fancy and, if I am very lucky, maybe even that dream trip to Boston…

Out with the old, in with the new…

2012 will be the year I de-clutter my life, dispose of the excess baggage taking up space and kick the bad habits.  Including the use of terrible clichés.

My name is Elizabeth and I’m a published author…

The power of positive thinking.  The power of positive thinking.  The power of positive thinking. 

And finally, it’s the end of the world as we know it…

Surely 2012 will provide us with some more highly entertaining apocalypse preparation.  Or at the very least another terrible yet oddly compelling blockbuster. 

Yip, it's going to be awesome. 

Saturday, 12 November 2011


I am happy to report that I am writing again.

In real terms it has only been a few months since I finished my novel and passed it with trembling hands to the first of my test readers.  It has felt like a lifetime.

Between post-Disney exhaustion, the endless drama of the Day Job and the emotional trauma of that most dreaded of questions – “are you all organised for Christmas?” – I was beginning to suspect that I would see the start of a new year before I would see a new story. 

I have the frustration and stress of working life to thank for my progress, though.  (Now there’s something I never thought I say!)  After a particularly distressing few days at work I found an escape in sitting down and writing a rough outline for a story that’s been tumbling around in my head for a while now.  And once I’d started I couldn’t stop. 

I’m tackling this new story in a slightly different way than the last one, which was written with only the barest hint of a plan.  That’s not to say I went in completely unaware of where I was headed, but I felt that the story changed as I was writing it, and in the end turned out quite differently than I’d expected (though I’m pretty happy with the result!)  This time I thought I’d try plotting out the story a little more thoroughly, perhaps even put together a full outline before I start to write. 

It feels unbelievably good to have my computer on for something other than job hunting or looking at houses I would buy if I won the lottery (an unhealthy hobby if ever there was one.)  I’ve always thought of writing as something I wanted to do, and I’m only now realising it might be something I need to do. 

It also feels like the next few months are going to be an exciting time.  I’ll be putting the finishing touches to my first novel and making the final adjustments, reading it and reading it again before I face the terrifying prospect of sending it to an agent (and the even more terrifying prospect of letting my best friend read it!)  I’ll also be bringing the new story to life.  I won’t say too much about the plot for the time being, but I can say this – there’s a reason the title of this blog is “What Happens in Hayden.”

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Sunday Book Club - The Hunger Games

I can often measure how much I enjoy a book by how quickly I read it.  Sometimes I start to read a book and I’ll pick it up every now and again when I have some free time.  I enjoy the story, I’ll probably even share a few of the book’s highlights with my husband, but it’s probably not going to be a repeat read.  Other times I pick up a book and I reach the end only after months of grudgingly returning to it just so I can console myself by saying I finished it.  Definitely not a repeat read.  And then there are the other books, the ones I don’t read but devour.

I started reading The Hunger Games, the first in a trilogy, last Sunday evening.  In the early hours of this morning I finished the third.  I dare say had it not been for that eternal inconvenience of having to go to work I would have read all three without pause. 

The eponymous Games provide a premise that is reasonably familiar, particularly to science fiction fans.  The citizens of the twelve districts of Panem, a country formed in the ruined remains of North America after its ambiguous demise, must pay an annual price to the ruling Capitol for their ancestors’ failed uprising – a sacrifice of two children from each district to compete in the televised Hunger Games.  The children, labelled as “tributes”, are sent to the Capitol and turned into hauntingly familiar spectacles, dressed up in grand costumes and paraded in front of cheering crowds, before being sent into the deadly arena where they will slaughter each other until only one remains. 

The story unfolds in present tense, told in first person perspective by teenager Katniss Everdeen, who has already endured such hardships that the Games at first seem hardly much worse.  It lends a sense of urgency to the story right from the start, as well as leaving the reader with a worrying sense that even our heroine may not survive.  Immediately we are drawn into to Katniss’ world and are invested in her battle to survive the brutality and cruelty of the Capitol’s never ending Games.

The story balances precariously between the grim realism of Katniss’ District Twelve, a starving coal-mining community, and the fantastical world of the glitzy Capitol with its cosmetically enhanced citizens and frivolous affairs.  Both have recognisable elements of our own world, and in the first book in particular the reader is left with an uneasy question of how much of a leap they are actually taking.  In a world where both science and entertainment are continuously breaking new boundaries and hitting new highs- and lows – you could be forgiven for wondering how easily we could slip into the same kind of madness. 

I have heard The Hunger Games – and its follow ups Catching Fire and Mockingjay – compared to a certain other series of books aimed at young adults.  As much as I find the melodramatic romance of the Twilight series mildly diverting, to compare the broken, frightening world of The Hunger Games to the wish fulfilment and wistful looks of Twilight does a disservice to Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, as well as to her resourceful heroine.  Yes, Katniss has two young men vying for her affection, but this is secondary to her battle for survival, not only for her but for the people she cares about.  She is brave and selfless and ultimately flawed by a lack of judgement and awareness that reminds the reader that in spite of everything she has done, she is still a child. 

It seems odd to me that The Hunger Games trilogy can be found in the children’s fiction section.  Books in which children endure starvation, disease and torture at the hands of so-called Peacekeepers before being sacrificed in bloody, brutal battles while Capitol citizens bet on their survival are overlooked and dismissed by some as “children’s fiction.”  As is often the case with books aimed at Young Adults, the label does it something of a disservice, because The Hunger Games is just as compelling, haunting, rewarding and moving as any book I have read in recent memory.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: a Muggle’s View

Orlando, Florida, 2009.  Tarps and scaffolding mar the skyline of the Islands of Adventure theme park.  Proclamations from something called the Ministry of Magic tell revellers to be patient as the giant edifice that will become Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry rises from the ground.  Cue rolling eyes and witless barbs about stupid children’s books from this intrepid theme park goer.

Fast forward to October 2011, and that same cynical, stubborn naysayer is racing through the gates of Islands of Adventure, surging through the early morning crowds with a steely gaze of unwavering determination and only one destination in mind – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

What changed?  As with any life altering event of this magnitude, it was something of grave importance – a dramatic, almost spiritual occurrence of epic substance and consequence.  I, er, watched the movies.  And read one of the books. 

Life altering might be a bit of a stretch.

It only took two movies before I was completely immersed in JK Rowling’s magical world, and though we’d planned on skipping Universal completely on this trip, a few months later it seemed unthinkable that we would miss out on the chance to visit the famous school and the quaint, magical stores of Hogsmeade village.  Plus, Butterbeer!

This park within a park is burdened with massive expectations.  The weight of fan hype and overwhelmingly positive reviews leaves it with a lot to live up to.  I’m happy to report that for the most part, it succeeds.

We entered Hogsmeade through a massive archway, complete with instructions to “respect the spell limits”, and were immediately transported into the world of Harry Potter and his friends.  The ‘village’ is really a row of snow-covered buildings sprawled out in the shadow of Hogwarts itself.  The initial impact is stunning, but the real treat is in the detail all around you.  Every window has something magical to behold, filled with touches from the books and movies, from Hermione’s Yule Ball gown to a shrieking mandrake.  At Honeydukes, visitors can shop for some of the more famous sweet treats from the series, or pick up some familiar joke items at Zonkos.  Best of all, you can spend the whole day drinking Butterbeer!

All this before we’ve even been inside the castle!

Inside Hogwarts, the route taken to the Forbidden Journey ride, the immersion steps up a gear.   It was a genuinely jaw dropping moment to watch the Sorting Hat come to life and speak to visitors as they weave through the cleverly disguised queue that leads deeper inside the castle.  Every twist and turn takes you into another familiar scene, truly creating the feeling that you are actually inside Hogwarts.

The Forbidden Journey ride is like nothing I have ever experienced.  I struggled to fully describe it to friends and family, as no conventional theme park terms seemed to do it justice.  What I can say is that is genuinely thrilling and utterly convincing.  After riding it five times it was still completely seamless, and as close to the world of Harry Potter as you can possibly get.

That’s not to say that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is completely flawless.  The area is very small, and breathing room inside the most popular stores is non-existent, leaving very little space for browsing through the merchandise.  Ollivanders in particular suffers from a distinct lack of space.   

The theme, while eye-popping, is not all-encompassing.  More could be done to disguise the ‘ride’ element of Hogwarts (the giant white warehouse structure detracting a little from the effect), and some of the people working in the stores and at the rides, while perfectly pleasant and helpful, could learn something from Disney’s Cast Members and their ability to fully immerse themselves in a role.  Being something a purist about these types of things, I would also like to see my purchases handed to me in themed or store specific bags.  Handing me a wand in a plastic bag with Shrek on it somewhat shatters the illusion!

These are minor complaints, however, in a place where you can ride on an enchanted flying bench and visit Hagrid’s hut, where the wand really does choose the wizard and where Butterbeer is real.  A definite must-do for wizards and muggles alike.

Monday, 17 October 2011

What is Normal?

Today was my first Monday back at work after almost three weeks away – the beginning of my first full week of work after two weeks of fun and sun at Walt Disney World and a third week to recover. 

Imagine my joy.

I seem to be talking a lot about getting back into my routine.  Or rather people seem to be talking to me about it.  The jet lag from this particular trip has been vicious, largely due to the fact that I’ve made almost no effort to overcome it (note to self: all-night marathons of One Tree Hill DVDs are not the way to beat post-park exhaustion), and I’ve been offered lots of helpful advice about how to ‘get back to normal’.

And here’s the problem.  I don’t want to get back to normal.  I don’t want to return to a routine that I didn't care for in the first place.

It’s not that I’m still pining for the kind of routine that revolves around rope drops, FastPass return times and Strategic Parade Position Planning.  Sure, I miss the carefree days of stroller wars and epic ride lines, but that’s not it exactly.  The thing about a trip to Walt Disney World is that it’s not a place where you go and switch off your brain for two weeks, or at least it isn’t for me.  When I’m there I’m surrounded by things that make me look long and hard at the way I live my life, and there’s a lot I want to change.

I want to learn more about history.  I want to read more than I already do.  I want to learn how to draw.  I want to grow my own vegetables.  I want to recycle more.  I want to do more for the environment.  I want to spend more time with my family and friends. 

More than anything I want to follow my dreams and feel the kind of inspiration that I see all around me. 

Clichéd?  Probably.  Sentimental?  Definitely.  It’s no less true. 

For me, getting back to normal means a routine of battling the demonic morning alarm and wringing out every last drop of sleep before starting my day; reading only half as much as I want to and watching television twice as much as I should; counting down the minutes till the end of every work day, rejoicing on a Friday and dreading a Monday.  It’s a routine that is always waiting for what comes next.

I don’t want to get back to normal.

I need to make a change. 

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Life AFTER Disney

It was a trip 18 months in the making. 

18 months of planning, and dreaming, and planning some more.  Hours and hours were dedicated to examining and re-examining every small detail of this trip, discussing everything we wanted to do and see, all the experiences we wanted to have.

The trip we waited so long for is over.  Two weeks of Walt Disney World have come and gone and I am…tired!

I’ve spent much of the last three days sleeping, entire days lost to the black hole of jet lag and post-park exhaustion.  A trip to Walt Disney World really does require extensive training and conditioning.  Of course I did not undertake any kind of remotely useful exercise before leaving, which might explain why my legs still hurt three days later!

So did a trip 18 months in the making live up to expectation?  Could it possibly endure the weight of 18 months of anticipation?  Of course it could.  This is Walt Disney World after all.

Of course the plan went awry.  Of course we couldn’t possibly do everything we wanted.  And of course after a few days the lines, the crowds and the people using strollers as battering rams begin to grate as the magic struggles to prevent patience from wearing thin.  

That’s the thing about Walt Disney World though.  It doesn’t matter if the plan doesn’t work or if it rains or if you can barely walk by the end of a long day running around a park.  There’s always something that makes it all worthwhile. 

I won’t use the blog to recall every last detail of our trip – a day by day account can be found on my Disboards trip report here.  As the dust settles on our trip there will be elements I’ll want to revisit, and certain reviews of places and people I might want to share. 

As for right now, it’s time to readjust to life in the real world where it’s no longer socially acceptable to wear mouse ears every day.  Shouldn’t be a problem right?  I’ll start with a trip to the cinema.  Now, where’s the Fast Pass line?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Six Days Till Disney - The Meltdown

It’s a trip more than 18 months in the making.  18 months of planning and preparation, hopes and anticipation, making plans then changing them then changing them back again.  Tickets have been bought, reservations made, details checked and double checked.  18 months of planning on an epic scale and all held together by The Planning Binder…

So why, one week away, do I feel so completely disorganised?

Maybe it’s because the house, as ever, is in chaos.  Having carefully selected a trustworthy house/pet sitter (or rather our sort of trustworthy best man!), the race is on to put the place in some kind of order acceptable for guests.  I’m not just talking cleaning here – that would be easy.  Instead we now have less than one week to rid the house of The Curse.

You might recall The Curse from a previous blog post.  If not, here’s a quick recap:  in this house, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.  When you live here you sort of get used to it – if an asteroid was to hit our street and leave every home untouched but ours, it wouldn’t exactly surprise me.  It might be a bit of a shock for a house sitter thought!  So the plan was to pull every room apart and check for any hidden problems and head any disasters off at the pass.  Good plan, right?

The good news is that so far we have not found any leaks, breakages, ruptures or cracks.  Roof tiles appear to be where they should be.  The windows and doors are all working.  The taps are all still attached.  We even have working lights in the hallway.  The bad news, however, is that the house is in total disarray.  Ever notice that when you clear out one room, the others miraculously appear more cluttered?

It’s my own fault.  I would insist on keeping every CD, DVD and book I’ve ever bought, none of which I have the storage space to accommodate.  Keeping old movie magazines is also a bad idea – putting aside the clutter, every time I find one I have to sit down and read it again.  It's not exactly speeding up the process!

We’re almost there, though.  Another few hours work and we will have finished tidying the spare room, a room used for storing anything and everything that makes Hogwarts’ Room of Requirement look minimalist.  After that it’s just the living room, the kitchen, the hall…

We have six more days to go – plenty of time…right?

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Lost for Words

When people find out that I am writing a novel (I suppose I can now say ‘have written’, since I finished the latest draft at the weekend) the first question they normally ask me is the most obvious one – what is it about?

When I say it’s the most obvious question, it’s not a criticism of the person asking, but rather as one of me, because for reasons unknown, it’s a question I just can’t seem to answer.

It’s not that I don’t know the answer.  Of course I know what the book is about – I wrote it!  So why, then, does this question unfailingly produce little more than flaming cheeks and confused mumbles?

I’d like to think that it’s simply a case that I’m better at telling the story on the page than I am in person.  Is that in itself a bad sign?  Who knows?  Maybe it’s just that I find it difficult to condense what to me seems like a complex and layered story into a few conversational snippets. 

The book – which has been tentatively titled Afterlife – tells the story of twenty-something writer Amelia Morgan.  Her life has had the same ups and downs as most people – raised in a single parent family, estranged from her troubled but beloved brother, forced to share a home with her shrewish, newly-divorced sister – but she is content leading a largely uneventful, carefree life in her home town of Hayden.  That life is shattered by the brutal murder of someone close to her, but it’s only the start of the nightmare.  The confession of someone even closer set off a devastating chain of events, and Amelia finds that nothing – and no one – is what it seems.  As her home life descends into bitter recriminations and violence, and her oldest friends abandon her, Amelia must fight for her life, and retribution for the life that was lost. 

That wasn’t so hard, was it?  Why is it that it’s easier to write than to say?

Perhaps part of it is fear of feedback.  I’m facing that particular fear this week as a draft of the novel is currently with my first semi-impartial reader.  I had that moment of panic before handing it over, thinking that it might be best that if the story stays with me, but then what’s the point?  Happily that fear seems to have been momentary. 

I also came across an interesting exercise on Write to Done, where writers were invited to post details of their work and have other posters comment on it.  I loved this exercise and the way it was set up to encourage constructive feedback.  It’s also given me a lot to think about in terms of the direction I want to take with my writing.

So if it’s not the fear of feedback then what?  Why do I find it so hard to talk about what I’m writing?  The truth is it could be all of the reasons above, or none of them.  Maybe it’s just that writing is something I love, and it feels like mine.  It can be scary to share it sometimes. 

Saturday, 27 August 2011

A Trip Down Memory Lane. . .with some of the bricks missing!

I took a little trip down memory lane last night, and realised it’s riddled with holes!

My parents are re-decorating and are clearing out what they glibly refer to as ‘the spare bedroom’ – in the other words, the bedroom formerly known as mine.

As anyone who’s been through this process will know, this means less junk in my parents’ house and more in mine.

In my case it also meant facing the horrifying discovery that I was apparently more intelligent ten years ago than I am now!

Amongst the various artefacts found in the museum to the last two decades that is my former bedroom, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer mouse mat was sadly not the most embarrassing find.  Neither were the collection of essays and four chapters of a novel I don’t recall writing, all store stored on floppy disk.  Yes, floppy disk.  I really am that old. 

No, the really awkward moment came as I was skimming through the contents of some of my old university text books.  I’ve never been able to bring myself to sell them or throw them away, partly convinced that they contain knowledge and information that I will one day find essential.  Some of the more relevant books have made their way to my own house over the years, and all that’s left in my old bookcase are the first year books, reminders of the days when I thought I’d be studying English and History for the next four years. 

And right there, in a book of poetry I recall being partly responsible for my decision not to study English any further, were my notes written in the margin, and I realised with not insubstantial horror that I had no idea what they meant.  My own notes!

I had not only used words that I no longer recall the meaning of, I have no memory of ever having seen them before!  Now there’s a moment that causes anyone to need a lie down!

The answer is simple. . .to paraphrase a character from Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher, the memory warehouse is full.  In order to make room for highly important information such as the entire back catalogue of episodes of Home and Away, I have apparently discarded half of what I learned at university. 

Alright, so it’s perhaps not as drastic as that.  If anything it’s just a little depressing – it makes me wonder what other memories might have been left behind.  And then there’s the dream I had last night – it was the end of summer break and I was supposed to be back at university, but I’d missed the first two months of classes. 

I don’t think I need degree to figure that one out!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Life Before Disney

I have a confession, one that some readers may find shocking.

At one time in my life, I was not a fan of Disney.  (I’ll pause for a moment to let that sink in.)

This is something that some people find hard to believe but I assure you, it’s true.  There was a time when I might have scoffed at the idea of me obsessing about Walt Disney World vacations.  The mere suggestion that I would queue to meet a character would have sent me running for the hills.  And It’s A Small World?  Forget it!

It’s not that I had anything against Disney.  I love the movies, I know all the songs, but the theme parks?  I just hadn’t thought about it.  When I heard people talk about visiting Orlando, I thought of Universal Studios.  Now that, I thought, is my spiritual home.  Being a movie geek of epic proportions, where better to spend a vacation?  Sure, I thought it might be fun to visit Walt Disney World.  I’m going all the way to Florida, why not check it out?  But I doubt I’ll find much that I like there. 

Fast forward three years and I’m a full blown Disney super fan.  I devote endless hours to planning my next visit to Walt Disney World.  My Ipod is filled with music from the movies, television shows and theme parks.  Half my Twitter feed is related in some way to Disney.  Come to think of it, half my home is related in some way to Disney.  Already a self-confessed merchandise addict, how could I not have not about haven such as this?  Watches, jewellery, clothing, artwork, kitchen ware, collectibles.  You name it, I have it.  I could give you dozens of examples of how Disney has crept into almost every corner of my life.

So what happened?  Well, this. . .

I know, I know.  I'm supposed to say it was the first time I stepped inside the Magic Kingdom, but truthfully, it was here.  Right inside the doors of the World of Disney, the magic simply took over.

The Magic Kingdom moment came later.  A week before heading to Florida on honeymoon, I made a typical rookie statement, boldly claiming I would not be ‘one of those sad people who take twenty pictures of Cinderella’s castle.’  That much, at least, turned out to be true.  I took forty.  In the first five minutes.

That’s the thing about Walt Disney World.  As many times as people roll their eyes at me when they hear I’m going again, or ask me in a fairly aggressive manner why I love it so much, it’s something I just can’t explain.  I could tell them about the rides, and the food, and the music.  I could tell them how it feels to stand outside Casey’s Corner as the lights dim and Jiminy Cricket announces the start of Wishes.  I could try to explain the familiar smell of the water as I walk through the winding queue of Pirates of the Caribbean, always my first port of call, or how it feels to be Soarin', or how I am always just a little but worried that we're really not going to make it on Dinosaur.  But I would probably just draw even more confused looks and wearied glances, because they are just like me before I had my first dose of Pixie Dust. 

So I try to keep it simple.  Why do I love Walt Disney World?  Because it has everything I want from a vacation, and the second I step inside those gates the rest of the world disappears.  I know I’m going to have the time of my life each and every day I spend there, and when I have to go home I might even cry.  

All this is my very long winded way of saying that it’s now 5 weeks till I go to Walt Disney World!  Come on, sing it with me. . .

"It's a world of laughter, a world of tears. . ."

Friday, 19 August 2011

Just keep writing. . .

With the various household crises on temporary hiatus, and my ‘6 weeks till Disney’ hysteria having peaked two days ago (‘5 weeks till Disney’ hysteria starting tomorrow), my attention has turned back to the epic saga that is editing my novel.

To use the word editing is probably something of a understatement.  True, some chapters only needed a little bit of work, but others have been completely rewritten and entirely new sections have been added. 

There have been times when, much like my main character Amelia, I’ve held my head in my hands and thought ‘I can’t do this.’  I worry that I’m butchering my own work beyond recognition, and that I’m obsessing about every little piece of writing advice that streams through my Twitter feed.  Most of all I worry that I’m never going to finish. 

The hardest part of the process has been deciding what to let go.  I’m trying to achieve a balance between telling the story and letting it tell itself, and that means sacrificing some of parts that have been floating around in my mind since the beginning.  Part of the reason I started this novel was that for the first time in a long time I had a beginning, a middle and an end, and I couldn’t wait to start writing it.  But the finished product was too long and, in parts, too slow, and some of it had to go. 

It’s at that point where the work begins to change, and I started to wonder if it would ever be what I’d imagined.  Slowly but surely, though, it’s starting to take shape again.  I’m sticking to a schedule, working out a routine and in hopefully only another few weeks work it should be complete.  Of course now I’ve gone and said that. . .

To get there though, I’ve had to take a drastic but necessary step – IGNORE THE ADVICE.  The internet is home to a wealth of information for new writers; prompts and hints and tips all appearing directly in my Twitter timeline, helping and guiding, but distracting.  Much of it is valuable advice, but right now I have to focus on what I want this book to be.  After all, if I end up with a story I don’t like, what’s the point?

So it’s on with the cuts and rewrites towards the next, even scarier stage – the test reader!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Sunday Book Club - The Passage

Call me morbid, but I enjoy a good apocalypse. 

Whether it be the suburban hell of Dawn of the Dead’s zombie-infested shopping mall, the small town devastation of Jericho or the frantic terror of Stephen King’s Cell, there’s something compelling about the idea of the end of everything.  Standing head and shoulders above them all as my favourite is another King masterpiece – The Stand. 

It was no surprise to find, in the further reading section at the end of Justin Cronin’s The Passage, a reference to King’s hefty tome.  Echoes of it are apparent throughout The Passage, primarily in the rich detail, the sometimes startling shifts in perspective and narrative style and the myriad of protagonists. 

As a reader I felt like I’d been taken on a similar journey as the one I experienced on first reading The Stand, from the dawning horror of the end as it unfolded before my eyes to the emotionally draining passage of time for characters so vividly created that their fates became more important than the story itself.  I found myself racing through the final chapters of the book, both desperate and sorry to reach the end. 

Like The Stand, The Passage depicts a United States ravaged by a virus; instead of bringing death, the virus turns its victims into vampire-like beings with almost no sense of memory or self.  There are many similarities in the stories, but it is unfair to make too many comparisons.  The Passage soon moves past any shadows of The Stand, Cronin creating a world entirely different to the typical King landscape, which often draws its horror from the familiar.  One neat moment in The Passage sees a band of survivors seek refuge in a Las Vegas casino, the slot machines and card tables completely beyond their understanding, their confusion upon finding the Eiffel Tower outside of Europe particularly touching.

  The story is split into parts, and initially suffers from a jarring leap in time, shifting from the creation and immediate aftermath of the virus to 80-odd years later, as we join an isolated colony of survivors, apparently unconnected to the protagonists we left behind.  One of the triumphs of Cronin’s story is that the reader realises along with the characters that everything happens for a reason, and everyone has a part they must play.

Any attempt to summarise the plot would be a disservice to it, contained as it is in upwards of a thousand pages (a pause here to salute the Amazon Kindle, negating the need to heave that one around!)  It is a story that asks as many questions as it answers, ending with a genuinely breathtaking cliffhanger and a tantalising taste of more to follow.  Roll on 2012, now known to me as The Year of ‘The Twelve’.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Only One Woman Can Carry A Watermelon

  The world has many reasons to despair today.  Countries face financial ruin, chaos reigns in cities across the UK, and as ever politicians are flapping about ineffectually.  I look to the world of entertainment for a little light relief, and what news awaits me?  They are remaking Dirty Dancing.  Despair indeed.

  I realise in the grand scheme of things it’s a relatively trivial gripe.  I could regale you with my take on the riots still raging across the UK, but my half-informed opinion on the subject will add little of value to the already rich commentary available elsewhere.  Instead I will reserve my ranting for a subject on which I can at least speak with some kind of authority. . .Patrick Swayze!
  My simple question is this – what are they thinking?  There’s no tangible reason I should be surprised.  After all, Hollywood has demonstrated again and again that no movie is safe from the reach of the remake machine, ranging from the marks-for-effort (Friday 13th) to the halfway entertaining (Dawn of the Dead) to the Have You Seen The Original?! (Yes, Halloween, I am talking to you.)  I can’t even bring myself to comment on Nightmare on Elm Street.

But Dirty Dancing?  Too far, movie bosses, too far. 

It’s a movie so iconic that couples all over the world line up to learn that famous finale, a routine so ubiquitous even Paddy McGuiness and Keith Lemon managed a near perfect replication.  Die-hard fans still flock to the Mountain Lake Hotel where part of the movie was filmed.  The late Jerry Orbach, an actor of considerable versatility and talent, will always, in our hearts, be Baby’s dad. 

And everyone knows that nobody puts Baby in the corner (sorry, I had to!)

The most disheartening thing is that when the new movie opens, and is watched by a new generation of movie-goers, some will never have seen the original. 

So this is my plea to Hollywood – leave the 80s alone!  For some of us, it was a golden era of cinema, when detention was a life altering experience, the girl from the wrong side of the tracks could win her man with the help of a home-made dress and Alan from Two and a Half Men, and yes, when we all wanted to carry a watermelon.

Take some comfort, 80s movie lovers, from the fact that some things, at least, are sacred . . .they would never dare remake Footloose.  Oh, wait. . .

Saturday, 6 August 2011

What Does Happen In Hayden?

I promised I would eventually share the meaning behind the title of my blog - what does happen in Hayden? The simple answer is everything, at least as far as my writing is concerned.  Hayden is the fictional home of Amelia Morgan, whose charmed life is about to fall spectacularly apart. . .

    How many times had she thought about this moment?  Death came to everyone. This much, at least, she’d known.  The last few months – now almost certainly the last of her life – had taught her the breathtaking speed with which a life could end unexpectedly.  Even so, had she really ever contemplated how quickly she would lose her own?  Maybe she had.  But it wasn’t supposed to be like this.
    It would be over soon.  How, she wasn’t sure yet, and she wasn’t ready to dwell on it and let the fear consume her.  She didn’t want to hear herself hope that it wouldn’t hurt.  And she wouldn’t think of the other one, the one already gone.  The one she feared, more than she feared anything else, had taken her place.
    She shifted stiffly, her legs sliding on the polished floor.  Even the tiniest movement took most of her strength.  She barely noticed now the thick, damp warmth pooling around her cheek as it lay flat against the floor, or the sharp twist in her skin, pulled tight by the ropes that bound her wrists.  At least she imagined ropes, wound around and knotted neatly, just like she saw in the movies.  There was really no way to tell what had happened when she’d closed her eyes. 
    Her legs were free.  They lay limp and heavy on the ground, dull weight that seemed to serve no more purpose now than to tether her to the earth, but they remained unbound.  She heard a voice, telling her that was important, that it was something overlooked.  The voice was telling her to get up.  She didn’t.
    This was how it was supposed to end. 
    And now, at last, it was clear to her where it had started. 

She has always been the one telling the story, the one who decides which character lives and which character dies.  For the first time in her life, she's caught in a story she can't control.

Amelia's story does have a title, and one that's likely to change more than once, which is the reason I haven't shared it.  The process of writing this novel has taken almost as many twists and turns as the story itself, probably more, and it has suffered more than once from own crisis of faith in its merit. 

There's a tiny part of me that wants to keep it hidden away from sight, with only me to worry how it all ends, but a book is meant to be read, isn't it?  So amidst all the countdowns to Disney (7 weeks tomorrow, in case you're wondering) and complaints about movie remakes, I would also like to share more about Amelia and the characters that populate her world. 

I hope you like it (and any feedback left in the comments section is both valued and appreciated!)

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Lacking in Life Skills Part 2

When I posted part 1, I really never expected that I would find an example for part 2 quite so quickly. . .

A little bit of background first. . .my house is cursed.  Not the fun kind of curse, the kind with the ghosts and demons and Zelda Rubinstein telling me this house is clean.  That kind of curse I could live with.   I, however, have the other kind - the kind with broken boilers, storm-damaged walls, faulty electrics, a pipe that emits a very alarming humming sound at all hours of the night.  On second thoughts, maybe this is the first kind. . .

It’s just one of those houses - in some ways it has brought us nothing but bad luck since we moved in, and today’s latest episode of Adventures At My House has highlighted another piece of useful information that, until today, I did not possess. . .how to turn off the water in the event of a flood!

After a thorough soaking, a few tears and a little bit of an argument over left versus right, I am happy to report that this is a basic life skill I have now mastered (and I hasten to add that the flood was not of my making!) 

Coming soon (hopefully). . .how to fix a broken kitchen tap!

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Lacking in Life Skills Part 1

It all seemed like such a good idea at the time. . .

Being the overgrown child that I am, there was almost no chance I would want to attend Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party this year without a costume of some kind.  Of course, it would have to be something Disney related, preferably paying homage to a favourite character or attraction, and it goes without saying that it would need to be compatible with the Floridian heat in September.

And then I had it, the perfect idea.  It would be so simple.  All I needed was a few bit and pieces; some PVA glue, a few bits of ribbon,  a couple of pom-poms, an iron-on transfer and hey presto, a costume.  (10 points if you guess what it is!)

One tiny, insignificant problem – I can’t sew.  At all. 

All I wanted to do was sew a piece of purple ribbon around the collar of a t-shirt.  I thought it would be easy.  Clearly, I did not factor in my failure to master basic life skills and frequent lack of common sense.

So after several hours and far more blood, sweat and tears than are strictly necessary for a seemingly simple task, what did I end up with?  A t-shirt I can no longer fit over my head (thankfully easily undone with a stitch ripper I found in my “Sewing for Idiots” kit.)

It makes it that little bit worse when my husband wanders in, looks at me with that familiar mix of ridicule and bemusement, and casually informs me I’m “not doing that right.”  Indeed.  That much, at least, I had figured out for myself.

I will not be defeated, however.  Just because there are many basic life skills I have not yet learned does not mean I must remain in perpetual ignorance.  I can do this.

So. . . anyone know how to sew?

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Mediocre Things Come To Those Who Wait!

Here at last!

At the risk of shocking those among my friends and family who have always believed this to be no more than an idle threat, I have finally started my blog!

It's a little bit basic at the moment but the fact that I have not yet tossed my lap top out of the window in sheer fury is a sure sign of progress in my long road to technophobia recovery.

So, onwards and upwards.  Welcome to my blog, thank you for joining in!  (Like the way I optimistically assume someone is reading this and I am not in fact talking to myself?) My name is Elizabeth, and I'm a writer with a Day Job, which really means I go to work each day harbouring secret delusions of grandeur, waiting for the day when I will see my work in print.  A girl can dream can't she?

I am also a movie geek of epic proportions, an official television addict and a Disney superfan, always waiting for my next Walt Disney World vacation. 

It will take a while for me to get to grips with this blogging business, so please bear with me!  In the meantime, you can expect chatter, rants and opinion on everything from the Fantasyland expansion to the remake of Footloose, with a few previews of my writing thrown in for good measure.

Oh, and you may be asking yourself at this point, what does happen in Hayden?  What is Hayden?  Well, that's an answer for another post. . .