Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Thursday 27 July 2017

July's literary house

Finn Family Moomintroll (Moomins Fiction) by [Jansson, Tove]

Nothing better for summer than a little Moominsummer Madness, and this story is madder than most. It’s from Finn Family Moomintroll. The family have found a Hobgoblin’s Hat, and discovered that using it as a wastepaper basket has its risks. Nothing stays the same for long in there: eggshells turn to clouds, and the words in the Dictionary of Outlandish Words become little rune-like animals. However, the most spectacular transformation happens when the children are out one afternoon …

‘Moominmamma had gone upstairs for a snooze, but before doing so she had dropped the ball of poisonous pink perennials into the Hobgoblin’s Hat in an absent-minded moment. The trouble was she should never have tidied up really, for while the house lay deep in its after-lunch nap the ball of poisonous pink perennials began to grow in a strange and bewitched fashion. It twisted slowly up out of the hat, and crept down on to the floor. Tendrils and shoots groped their way up the walls, clambered round the curtains and blind-cords, and scrambled through the cracks, ventilators, and keyholes. In the damp air flowers came out and fruit began to ripen, and huge leafy shoots blotted out the stairs, pushed their way between the legs of the furniture and hung in festoons from the chandelier.
‘The house was filled with a soft rustling sound: sometimes the pop of an opening bud could be heard, or the thud of ripe fruit falling on the carpet …
Moominmamma woke with a start, and, to her amazement, saw that her room was full of small, white flowers, hanging down from the ceiling in leafy garlands.
‘Oh, how beautiful!’ she said. ‘Moomintroll must have done this as a surprise for me.’ And she carefully drew aside the thin curtain of flowers by her bed and stepped on to the floor… There was a small forest on the staircase, and the drawing-room was a positive jungle …
‘And the shoots grew up through the chimneys and climbed down over the roof covering the whole of Moominhouse with a thick green carpet, while out in the rain Moomintroll stood and stared at the big, green mound where the flowers went on opening their petals and the fruit ripened from green to yellow, from yellow to red. ..
‘As they pushed through the door a remarkable sight met their eyes: the Muskrat was sitting in the fork of a tree eating a pear.’

Well, the cucamelons came close to taking over the kitchen last summer, but it was nothing like this!

In fact, there are paper scraps all over the study floor, but it's only because I'm trying to sort out the plot of the next Hippolyta, temporarily (at least) entitled A Murderous Game. Have to start proper writing next week, but there's a good deal of furniture to shift first - and indeed the plot to sort out!

Thursday 13 July 2017

Houses, gardens, books and wool

Well, it’s been a busy time recently, and none of it was writing, though I did fit in the odd bit of knitting, crochet and reading. I’ve had a work project on which was a bit intense, but is now done, and I’ve been helping a relative move into their new house which has required a fair amount not only of box shifting and unpacking, but also ringing workmen and sorting out estimates and orders and all kinds of work. To be fair, the man we had doing the wet rot work turned out to be something of a project manager and looked after the other tradesmen, which was great as the house was not habitable just then. He was a bit of a treasure! I bet he’s pleased to be shot of us, though.

Now it’s time to do a bit more gardening: the place is hopelessly overgrown and the allotment is rather undergrown, with two of the beds helpfully cleared by the incumbent rabbit population. My plot has been selected for the site of the humane rabbit trap, but fortunately I don’t have to supervise it. When I was last there I did still have courgette plants, potatoes, nibbled onions and broad beans, and very timid mangetout. At home I have tomatoes, peas, more potatoes, and peppers – and aubergines and squash if they ever get to doing anything interesting.

The knitting includes an Aran jersey, size XXL, to be finished by November, a tunic and a Norwegian jersey to be finished whenever, and a guest bed blanket which now only requires sewing on to its backing. There are as usual also gloves and seafarers’ hats around the place for casual knitting moments – the seafarers’ hats (along with socks and gloves) are for the Mission to Seafarers, to be distributed amongst those sailors who set off on a plane from the Philippines to join their ship in Aberdeen dressed in shorts and sandals, and are consequently a little chilly.

Reading has been varied. I’ve just decided to give up on a Stuart McBride – not a Logan Macrae one, and therefore lacking the humour that makes me go on forgiving the darkness. It’s just too noir. Started Post Mortem by Kate London, whom I saw at Granite Noir, and I’m enjoying it so far. TheHerring Seller’s Apprentice was daft and fun, with some dark insights into publishing. A Clash of Spheres was deeply enjoyable as usual, except for a couple of modernisms and a dearth of punctuation (reminds me of that Billy Connolly monologue where someone tells him breathlessly about Bonnie Prince Charlie coming to Dumfries and taking the shoes off the people, and he says ‘Listen, son, for Christmas – ask for a comma.’) She will keep ending on cliff edges, though: good, but I like to feel I’ve finished a book. The Ghosts of Ardenthwaite was better than its predecessor, I thought: more rounded, more satisfying, with a fairly believable plot. Midnight Crossroad was not, I thought at first, my kind of thing – not really interested in Midwest small town America – then I realised why it was a bit weird, and enjoyed it much more. This Crazy Thing ICall My Life was fun and touching in a balanced, well-written way as ever, while Long Spoon was a bit of a departure in some ways for the author but as always a satisfying read.

Now, perhaps, I can get back to work on the standalone I wrote in 2000 and am editing, and on the next Hippolyta Napier, provisionally called ‘A Murderous Game’, and due out in early December (but not yet started, help!). I’m also still thinking about a series set in 1785, and another one set in a very different time period which someone suggested to me but will need some considerable research to make it work. Again it might be a question of writing the first one and seeing how they go – though I tried that with Hippolyta and wrote two to see how they would go! Oh, well.

The mailing list subscribers are reading the novella, A Dark Night at Midsummer (at least, I suppose they are: perhaps they just wanted to use it as some kind of psychoanalysis tool). I need to take a week and do all the mending and sewing that is blocking up the study – and we hope this summer to move some rooms around so that my study is in fact in a different room (not something I’m particularly looking forward to, but maybe it will work!). This will involve – hey, more decorating and fixing and wallpaper ordering, and there we are, full circle!