Wednesday, 30 November 2011
Monday, 28 November 2011
Meanwhile below is another photo I took of the Canada Goose that seems to think it's a mute swan, which I previously mentioned here.
a) Although to date I have mostly written haiku, short poems and flash fiction, I have proven now that I can at least write enough words for a much bigger piece of work.
b) Just writing with the aim of reaching a given total word count is liberating, as it means you just write without worrying about the quality.
c) at the same time just writing like that means that I didn't get stuck on polishing the first paragraph to perfection only to find myself left with nothing to add to the one perfect paragraph (having said that, the first paragraph is probably the best paragraph in the novel!).
d) but oh, this isn't a novel. Not at all. It's a very rough first draft, which, with a lot of editing and polishing, may one day resemble something like a real novel that people might want to read. (So that's what I'll be doing over the next year or so!)
e) It's useful just to write through the plot dilemmas, in this draft I have characters talking about where they want the plot to go, at one point a character actually says she wishes the author could sort out a particular aspect of the plot (hang on a minute, maybe I should keep that! It could be a nice post-modernist twist to the novel!?)
f) I had always thought that I would find research so tedious it would put me off ever writing a novel but in fact I really enjoyed the research aspect. I think it would be more tedious for me if it was historic research where you need to get all the facts as accurate as possible. Given that my novel is speculative fiction set in the far future then I have a lot more freedom to do what I want with my research. (I've had great fun with extrapolating some elements of the contemporary world into the future!)
So now I'm going to catch up on all the research information I identified but never got the chance to read properly then I'll start looking at the 'novel' in a few weeks time and get it into some kind of decent shape.
And I won't keep talking about it, promise!
How was NaNoWriMo for you?
Sunday, 27 November 2011
The director of the film Frank Poulsen travels to the mines in Congo to see what conditions are like there. (There is a really harrowing scene down the mine.) He also travels to Finland to try to talk to decision makers within Nokia, the largest producer of mobile phones in the world to see what they are doing to make sure that their phones don't contain minerals from conflict areas of Congo. Nokia are very evasive, they don't say where their minerals come from and in fact spend much of the film denying that it is possible to trace minerals through the supply chains. (despite the fact that German scientists interviewed in this film have devised a way of doing just that - surely Nokia with their large resource and development budget must be able to pay these scientists to trace their minerals?).
Every Nokia employee interviewed in the film whined about how difficult it is to make a difference and assured the film maker that Nokia is doing all it can. Somehow I doubt that they really are.
It is likely that there is no mobile phone in the world that can be guaranteed free from conflict minerals. To do your bit to change this, you can write to your mobile phone company and ask them what their stance is and encourage them to source conflict free minerals. In addition you can take the actions on the Blood in the Mobile website.
You can also do your bit by considering whether you need a mobile phone at all and if you conclude that it is actually essential to your life, then only replace your phone if it breaks, rather than buying the latest hot new model, as I believe is what many people do these days.
As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.
Saturday, 26 November 2011
There were also alot of Canada geese on the river. Plus a few redshanks and five turnstones. We then walked along part of the John Muir Way along the coast. The wind was wild and the waves were high. I could scarcely keep my binoculars to my eyes it was so windy, so there may have been long tailed ducks hiding in the waves, that I just didn't see. We did however see eiders and goldeneyes on the sea.
We then visited Musselburgh Lagoons where we sat in the bird hides (and particularly uncomfortable bird hides they are too, all concrete seats and no roofs!). The views were magnificent though. There were large numbers of waders (oystercatchers, curlew, bar tailed godwits, knots and dunlin). There were also good numbers of two pretty species of duck - teal and wigeon. Then one lonely lapwing. Crafty Green Boyfriend took several photos of the birds on the lagoons, but they were too far away to come out well enough to share here (much better to follow the links in the text and find out what the birds look like from the RSPB website!)
The walk back into Musselburgh was even more blustery than the walk out had been! But even though we didn't see the birds we had hoped to see, we were very happy with those we did see!
As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks that take you to other websites where you can find out more.
Friday, 25 November 2011
Tuesday, 22 November 2011
I was very pleased that Greener Leith posted my recent blogpost about the public meeting about the tree felling that is happening as part of the Flood Prevention Works along the Water of Leith. You may have read the post on this blog, but you can read it on Greener Leith here.
Tree felling was stopped yesterday at Canonmills as it seems the specific trees to be felled are subject to tree preservation orders and cannot be removed. The original plans for the Flood Prevention Work had committed to saving those specific trees. Some trees have already been felled along the river, this can't be avoided unfortunately if flood prevention is to be provided, as there is no natural flood plain alongside these parts of the river and the protecting walls can't be built without removing trees. Once the flood prevention works are completed two trees will be planted for every tree that is felled.
As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.
Monday, 21 November 2011
Oceans is a visually stunning documentary of the life to be found in the world's oceans. There are some amazing shots:
shimmering cuttlefish; sea slugs looking like underwater flying carpets; supermodel fish species posing on the coral reefs; enormous blue whales leaping from the sea; sea turtles emerging from their nests and making their way to the sea and having to survive the attacks of frigate birds to get there; a mass mating of crabs; small fish cleaning the teeths of larger fish; an adult walrus cuddling its offspring and many other wonderful sights.
There isn't much narrative and what there is, is unfortunately less impressive than the visuals. On the one hand there is virtually no information in the narrative, so we are not told the species name of anything that appears on screen (now blue whales are probably recognisable to a fair proportion of people prepared to turn up to a French language documentary about sea life, but cuttlefish less so and some of the species of weird looking fish are possibly unknown to all but well informed marine scientists). On the other hand there is a lot of heavy handed environmental preaching in the narrative, which is probably counterproductive. Far better to either have the film with no narrative at all, just beautiful music, or get someone like David Attenborough to do a properly informative voice over.
As ever, red text in this post contains hyperlinks which take you to other websites where you can find out more.
Sunday, 20 November 2011
You've Been Trumped is a documentary film about Donald Trump's project to build 'the world's best golf course' on an area of rare sand-dunes which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Aberdeenshire. It's a very well made documentary that is at once heartbreaking, inspiring and entertaining. There is beautiful footage of the dune system as it used to be, a vibrant, beautiful areaof wilderness that not only was wonderful for wildlife (hence the SSSI designation, which issuppposed to offer protection against development) but also was a popular place for local people to walk. The film also shows the bulldozers ploughing roughshod over the land, destroying the ecosystem, which can never be restored, due to its uniquely fragile nature. The resulting golf course is one that local people are unlikely to be able to afford to play on, even if they were to want to. (Interestingly, some American golfers who were interviewed in this film as they played on the golf course at St Andrews said that they would not be interested in playing on Trump's course, and they are the target audience).
The film focusses on how local people are being affected by the development - the construction has caused locals to lose their water supply for weeks, has demanded that they pay for fencing and has built sandbanks round their houses to hide them from view of the rich Americans who will be playing on the golf course. A number of local families had been threatened with compulsory purchase orders on their homes, though Trump did back down on this after a demonstration.
The local police are shown to very definitely be on the side of Trump, they harrassed and arrested the film makers and took the side of Trump in every conflict with the local people.
The film also shows some of the positives that rose out of the whole debacle including some excellent arts projects, including these photos by Alicia Bruce.
I've followed the development of this golf course over the years (this link takes you to all the posts I've written that mention the subject). I am still shocked as to how a Scottish Government that claims to support local democracy, be concerned for the environment and be working for an independent Scotland can overturn local decisions (the Aberdeenshire council originally refused planning permission for the course) and basically sell Scotland's natural assets to the highest bidder to create a golf course (as if Scotland doesn't have enough of those already) that will be marketed to rich foreigners.
Rachel Fox wrote a really good review of You've been Trumped on her blog here.
The You've Been Trumped website is here and their facebook page is here.
The Tripping up Trump campaign has a website here.
Some cinemas have refused to screen this film, claiming lack of audience interest (Trump has been putting out propoganda saying the film isn't worth seeing and there's no audience for it). If your local cinema claims that there is no interest in seeing You've Been Trumped, prove them wrong and ask them to screen it.
As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other websites where you can find out more.
Saturday, 19 November 2011
Friday, 18 November 2011
I'm delighted to hear that Calvet is now being released at selected cinemas across the UK, starting with the Cameo in Edinburgh, at 18.40, Thursday 24 November. You can see the full listing of screenings here.
Here is the review I posted back in June:
Jean Marc Calvet is a self taught French artist, currently living in Nicaragua. Calvet is a biopic of his amazing lifestory. The film is basically an extended interview with Calvet, interspersed with scenes from the places he has lived, views of his amazing artworks and abstract, impressionistic interludes.
Calvet was born in Nice, France, in 1965. He had a hard childhood and an early career as a bodyguard to the stars, a French Legionnaire and a vice cop. He then abandoned his partner and young son to take a shady job in the USA, which led to him absconding to Central America with huge amounts of cash he had stolen from his employer. He hid out in Costa Rica and at one point hid in his house on a coke binge that lasted months. The film gives a brilliant and disturbing recreation of the hallucinatory paranoia he was experiencing at this time. During a particular hallucination he literally found some paint and started throwing it around the house. He realised that this formed a sort of emotional release and he started to paint on a regular basis. At this point he was seeing it as purely a therapy, it was months or years before he began to see himself as an artist.
When he had overcome his problems and moved to Nicaragua, Calvet decided to search for his son. I found this part of the film a bit tedious, involving as it did a lot of getting lost in little streets and asking the neighbours if they knew Calvet's family. However, tedious is probably how it felt in reality at times and there is an emotionally satisfying conclusion to Calvet's attempt to reconcile with his first family.
Calvet is now married with a daughter and he is a successful and prolific artist.
You can find out more about Calvet the film here. You can Like the film on Facebook here. You can see a previewof the film here.
You can find out more about Calvet's art here.
As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.
Thursday, 17 November 2011
The Water of Leith Conservation Trust have worked with the contractors of the flood prevention team to ensure that the natural environment would be as little damaged as possible as a result of the work. The trust have been really good at sharing information about the flood prevention plans with volunteers. The trust, Edinburgh City Council and the contractors have regularly updated people who live in the affected areas. However, when I recently saw the felled trees along parts of the river and read about how many trees in total are going to be felled I panicked more than a little bit. I didn't remember the discussions or plans ever indicating this amount of tree felling.
The same point was brought up by several people at the public meeting. The council engineer and the contractor at the meeting didn't actually approach people's concerns in the best way. Rather than directly and immediately addressing the issue about trees, they chose to give a presentation about the history of the flood prevention plans. They went into a lot of detail, which was interesting, but anyone who has been in Edinburgh and concerned about the flood prevention plans over the last ten years or so, would be aware of the outline of these plans and though it was useful to hear it again, it lead to a lot of impatience in the room.
The presentation did highlight the fact that if flood defences are to be built alongside the Water of Leith in the centre of Edinburgh, then in most places there is not the room to allow for natural flood prevention measures. The river is closely bound by housing, offices, roads and gardens along much of its course in central Edinburgh. One area that was a potential sink for flood waters has had housing built on it since the flood prevention plans were first put forward, despite the council overturning the plans, the Scottish Government had stepped in and said the housing should go ahead (housing built on a flood plain in times of increasing floods and rising sea levels?!). So that is a problem that could have been avoided. Another problem is that Scottish Rugby Union who have their ground at Murrayfield by the river, would not allow the council to use part of their fields as natural flood defences, despite it being ideal for the purpose (I've spoken to an engineer on the project who is puzzled to say the least about that decision, which was upheld by the Scottish Government I think).
Most parts of the river in central Edinburgh, as I say, though don't have potential for natural flood prevention measures. Mathematical modelling was used to decide what degree of flood protection was needed. The design chosen will protect against the effects of a once in 200 year flood incident (remember that with the changing climate what is now a one in 200 year event in the future becomes much more likely). The plan is that existing walls near the river are to be knocked down, metal barriers are to be sunk to a great depth below where these walls ran and then the walls are to be rebuilt in concrete and then clad in stone of the same type as the original stone. The river will not be canalised (apart from areas where it already canalised), as in most cases the walls don't run exactly alongside the riverbank but are at a distance.
This is where the problem with the trees come in. The work in fitting the metal barriers and replacement walls needs access. Trees get in the way unfortunately. The trees that get in the way are being removed. Lots of trees. This is really upsetting and a great loss to local biodiversity. However, if we are to prevent floods then this work needs to be done (though obviously it would have been better if housing and offices had never been built on a floodplain in the first place....). When the work is completed, all the trees will be replaced - two new trees will be planted for every tree that is removed. (Why the contractor and the spokesperson from the council didn't say this right at the start of the meeting, I don't know. It would have prevented some of the bad feeling that run through most of the meeting, judging from the delighted reactions from some people in the room to hearing this announcement). The trees will be planted with the help of the Water of Leith Conservation Trust and with local residents associations, who have been closely consulted all along the way. (Some people at the meeting have had their houses flooded and had nothing but praise for the way that the contractors were involving them in the future restoration of the trees). Of course these trees will grow slowly, and it will be years before the area is back to its current beauty, which is really sad. However, given the circumstances I do think that everyone involved is doing the best they can.
(As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other websites where you can find out more).
Monday, 14 November 2011
The novel explores how progress affects the family's life, sometimes in unexpected ways. The characters are all well drawn and have their own believable reactions to the changes that are on the way. There are many misunderstandings between the family and the surveyors, which sometimes become melodramatic.
For me the most enjoyable thing about the novel are the descriptions of nature. The reader feels transported to this tiny island in the middle of a moody sea:
A crack appeared in the northern cliffs. They passed a stack with a pinpoint of light in its heart that gradullay grew until the stack became an arch, and they could see the sea shining on the other side. Beyond the stack was a fissure full of tumbled boulders, and the dark mouth of a cave. Sea and sky were suddenly full of birds. A wild clamour rose from the crack and a plume of kittiwakes, far more graceful than the puffins, soared above the headland, riding the air currents. A thin ribbon of white fringed the rocks ahead. A scatter of rounded boulders suddenly turned into seals, which humped their way down to the water and dived in a series of neat splashes. A minute later, half a dozen heads surfaced close to the boat, watching the new arrivals with dark, dog like eyes.
Sunday, 13 November 2011
Saturday, 12 November 2011
Meanwhile in Colinton Dell (which is an area of the Water of Leith that thankfully won't be affected by the Flood Prevention Works) this is how the hornbeams (that I've been studying for Tree Year) looked earlier this week. Notice in the first photo how some of the branches of the hornbeams are full of very yellow leaves, while others are full of leaves that are still very green!
Friday, 11 November 2011
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
As a volunteer with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust, I know that the trust is working closely with the contractors to minimise disruption to the natural environment (one part of the defences work was delayed for example to allow a kingfisher pair to finish raising their family). I also know that the contractors have agreed to plant wildflower seeds and make other environmental improvements once the defences have been completed.
However, lots of trees are being cut down so that the defences can be built. These are old trees, home to lots of wildlife and beautiful additions to the urban landscape of Edinburgh. It is just heartbreaking to see these trees being lost gradually along the river between the Stockbridge and Leith areas of town. While I had been following the plans for the flood prevention scheme, I had no idea initially that so many trees would be affected. A public meeting has been called for later this week to outline the reasoning behind tree removal and the mitigation measures that will be put in place after the works are completed. You can read more about it here.
As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks that take you to websites where you can find out more.
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
It was a dull and drizzly day today as I walked along the Water of Leith. There are spider webs everywhere, looking like lace with all the raindrops hanging on them.
Sunday, 6 November 2011
There are some amazing patches of fungi throughout Cammo, these bracket fungi are particularly impressive.
Then there were the birds! The woodland was full of blue tits, long tailed tits, great tits and coal tits. We also saw a goldcrest and a treecreeper. But it was the farm fields around Cammo that were most exciting for us as birdwatchers. We saw a big flock of small birds and quickly identified some of them as goldfinches (common but very beautiful, groups of them are appropriately called charms), yellowhammers (getting to be rare these days, but still quite reliably seen on farmland round Edinburgh) and tree sparrows!!!! I've never seen tree sparrows in my life before so I was quite excited. There were a load of them chattering away as they flew between the trees and the stubble in the fields. They are delightful birds, more elegant than house sparrows, and male and female look the same. They are one of the birds on the Biodiversity Action Plan in Edinburgh and are red listed because their numbers have declined drastically in the UK in recent years (though apparently there has been a slight improvement in the past year or so).
As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other websites where you can find out more!
Saturday, 5 November 2011
If you're setting off fireworks, make sure your pets are indoors, because they can be scared by the loud bangs.
Here are two haiku that I've written about Bonfire night:
from the bonfire -
star filled sky
previously published in Blithe Spirit, the journal of the British Haiku Society
the herring gulls
Friday, 4 November 2011
There are lots of fungi around at the moment, including these impressive earth balls, which seem to have been partially nibbled by a squirrel.
Thursday, 3 November 2011
This book is a memoir centred on the years that Hamilton-Paterson spent living on an island he calls Tiwarik off the coast of the Phillipines. It is an uninhabited island but one that is popular with youngsters from nearby villages as a place to play, camp and fish. Hamilton-Paterson finds a niche for himself in the local community, not least because he turns out to be an expert spear fisherman.
The author has a wonderful eye for detail and describes the underwater world beautifully, there is a particularly breathtaking sequence when he stays underwater almost too long and afterwards realises that the air he had been breathing had been tainted with oil, so his sightings became more and more dreamlike and surreal. He also meditates on the damage caused to the local ecology by the large ships that dynamite the coral reefs. He also is saddened by the fact that the local fishermen often use poisons and small amounts of explosives in their fishing, but realises that for them it is a matter of survival and making a few pennies at the local market. (Interestingly he doesn't seem to differentiate himself from the local spear fishermen, who use the most sustainable form of fishing, without reflecting that he made a choice to live there and kill those fish, while the local people have no choice if they are to stay in the area.)
He also ponders his early life (at first I had found these flashbacks annoying, because I thought that the book was meant to be a travel book, but later I realised how insightful they are).
Sadly since the book was written, the island of Tiwarik has been bought by a Japanese company and turned into a tourist resport.
Wednesday, 2 November 2011
The autumn colours are magnificent this year. Beeches are always one of my favourites at this time of year and thisyear they seem to be excelling themselves with wonderful mixes of colour in the trees as you can see from these photos (above and below).
Also the hornbeams (the trees I'm 'studying' for Tree Year are looking lovely.
and footpaths and riverbanks are collaged with leaves.
I do love autumn!
For those of you who are interested in my progress with NaNoWriMo I'll be updating every few days on Over Forty Shades and every day on Facebook. I'll be posting interesting links I've found while researching the novel over on Twitter. (I've written 6 107 words so far!)