Friday, July 30, 2010

All In The Name of Research

Apologies for neglecting my blog for two weeks - and falling so far behind with commenting and reading everyone else's blogs! I'm not sure I'll ever get caught up but I'm back to regular reading again now :)

A few days ago, I got the chance to participate in fire marshal training in my day job. It was really interesting, if scary and sobering. I learned a lot of things I didn't know, or rather that had never occured to me. For instance, in a house fire, smoke makes things extremely dark, so if someone (children, say) leave their rooms to find a grown-up, they are incredibly hard to find. You're effectively looking for them with both your eyes and theirs closed. This sounds like common sense, but it hadn't really struck me before. Imagine trying to make your way around your house blindfolded, looking for another blindfolded person. Oh, and you can't yell, or hear their footsteps.

I'm not going to rehash everything I learned here, because no one should be getting their advice on dealing with house fires from a blog unless it's maintained by an expert. It is worth doing some googling though, because I feel a lot more prepared now after getting that training.

At the end of the session, we went outside and were allowed to practice putting out small, gas-controlled fires so we could learn to use fire extinguishers. I learned the following:

1. They are heavy
2. I am a pathetic weakling
3. Getting the tag off and the pin out is a bit of a knack. I managed it no problem the second time, but the first time I couldn't do it at all.
4. If you are a pathetic weakling who can't get the tag off first time (you're probably not, but they do exist. Evidently), don't keep trying. Know when to give up and get out.

How does this link back to writing? This is supposed to be a writing blog, after all . . .

It got me thinking about the things we find out during the non-writing bits of our lives. I now know that carbon dioxide fire extinguishers are really loud. Also you can't hold them by the hose, or your hand could freeze to them and hurt you.

I've had quite a few jobs so far in my life, mostly because I worked during the summers when I was a student. I've sold school uniforms and broadband, I've handed out leaflets on toll bridges and free bags of baby products to new mums outside the National Maternity Hospital. I've worked on directory enquiries for the UK and thus can spell and pronounce Cirencester, Leominster and Leicester. I've temped in software companies and waited tables wearing a red dickie-bow and a ludicrous hat.

And as a result, I have amassed piles of useless knowledge. But you never know when you might want to write about someone who had to put out an electrical fire in their office one day and was surprised by how loud the extinguisher was.

Which brings me to a fun, but potentially very time-wastey, resource for writers - the Character and Plot Realism Forum on the National Novel Writing Month site. You can post any factual question you like and people will try to answer - such as 'My MC is an ambulance driver in Kentucky - is it feasible for him to have every third weekend off?' or (my favourite) 'My book is set in Ireland, what do I need to know?'. It's a great read when you're bored, and a brilliant resource when you need some facts that aren't Google-friendly. It's one to bookmark - but please, use it carefully . . . :)

Friday, July 16, 2010

If You Can't Say Anything Nice, Sit Right Here By Me

Natalie Whipple has just posted some social networking tips for writers.

They are as follows (she fleshes them out very well though, so her post is still worth reading):

1. Don't be mean.
2. Don't be boring.
3. Don't be annoying.
4. Don't be (too) whiny.
5. Don't do everything.

They're actually pretty good rules for life, too :)

They all come down to one basic point - you never know who might be reading. I've talked before about being conscious of my 'public' persona as an unpublished writer who blogs. I try not be mean. It's tough, because sometimes I read a book that is just so unbearably BAD that I MUST warn the world about it or else I will go to HELL charged with being an accessory to RUBBISH BOOKS.


But I don't tend to post those. Because who knows who might read it?

And sometimes this feels - 'wrong' is too strong a word, as is 'cowardly'. Weasel-y, maybe? Political? Egotistical, because who on earth is going to seek out my blog to read my comments on their work?

Offline, I'm quite a snarky person. I try not to be mean, because being mean is - well, it's mean. But I also try to be funny, and these are uneasy bedfellows. So I do sometimes make snarky comments, and I can be vitriolic about things I don't like. And I recognise that there is a big difference between being nasty about someone for its own sake, and blowing off some steam with a close friend.

I don't always get it right. I probably don't always get it right on my blog either.

Does anyone else feel like they 'hold back' when they blog? Also, the 'Don't be whiny' rule is interesting - unpublished bloggers out there, do you ever find it hard to stay positive on your blog? Could you care less about staying positive on your blog?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Reading for Beginners

I just read an article about the art of slow reading. In a nutshell - thanks to the internet, we all read too fast, our minds wander and we are losing the ability to appreciate and absorb longer texts.

I read all of my books on paper - I know that's increasingly unique, but not in Ireland. Although the Sony e-Reader is popular over here, the Kindle still hasn't been released, and with the iPad announcement earlier this year, I think most Irish consumers are still waiting to see what will win before we sink cash into more plastic and wires. Plus, Irish consumers are notoriously resistant to change at the moment.

But I am guilty of a short attention span when I'm reading, even if I don't read any medium that has a built in web browser. I read on the bus a lot, sometimes with my headphones in, and I'm prone to dropping my book if I notice the Sudoku in the free newspaper hasn't been done, or if I remember I have a podcast to listen to. I read on my lunchbreaks from work, which is probably the closest I get to total immersion, but even then I'm constantly checking the time to make sure I'm not late back, or sending text messages.

But I'm not sure every book necessarily needs to be read slowly and with the level of focus that the Guardian suggests - some books have a different natural habitat. I'm currently working my way through the memoirs of an Irish childcare worker named Shane Dunphy, who has written a series of books about his professional experiences (the misery-memoir-y titles don't fully reflect the content - they are personal yet professional reflections). These books are about society, and so I feel they can be read anywhere - on the bus, in a cafe, in the doctor's waiting room, at home.

On the other hand, Alexander McCall Smith books are the literary equivalent of a hot chocolate with marshmallows and a Flake. Where possible, AMcCS is only read on the couch, or in bed, with a large pot of tea and some biscuits, when I'm sure I won't be disturbed. He's also a great Christmas Day read.

And then there's everything in between - any book can be read anywhere, but some are more rewarding when you put more into them. Alexander McCall Smith is a lovely, relaxing, pleasantly thought-provoking chill-out read and where possible, I treat him as such. Alice Hoffman is another writer I like to tackle when I have a bit of free time, because she creates such detailed and rich worlds without info-dumping. I might read Alice Hoffman on the bus but I certainly don't start her books on the bus. I've even been known to go to cafes specially to start my new Alice Hoffman.

Is this just me?

Oh, and after all that, have an Etch-A-Sketch of Elvis. When I go to read the Guardian's G2 supplement I try to bring you guys back two presents :p

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Giveaway on Al's Blog

Sorry I've been quiet for the last week - I've been reading lots of non-fiction and haven't had too many useful thoughts about books that can be turned into blog posts. Normal service will resume any minute now. . . :)

Anyway, I just popped up to let you know about an interesting and unusual giveaway over on Al's blog. It's open to residents of anywhere, and the prize is three 8' x 10' prints of any photos from Al's blog (excluding the handful he doesn't own, obviously). Al's photography is really good and he lives in a beautiful part of the world (Australia) so it is worth checking out!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Born on the Fourth of July

This isn't a hugely personal blog, but today I'd like to say something personal. This weekend is - as I'm sure you've all heard! - the fourth of July, and almost all of my American blog friends have mentioned it.

The fourth of July is also my dad's birthday. He passed away in 2005.

He died on 2nd April 2005, the same day as Pope John Paul II. Every year on his birthday he got a parade and people would walk the streets and say 'Happy Fourth of July!' (yes, even in Dublin, just not too many of them). And the day he died, every flag in Ireland flew at half-mast.

He was like that :)

So every time the local paper prints fun American facts for the Fourth, I remember him. The title of the film 'Born on the Fourth of July' makes me think of him. So do a million other things - old books, newspapers, crosswords, the smell of engine oil, old Mercs, New Orleans, boats, the sight of Arabic script (he spent ten years in the Middle East before I was born). And not just on the Fourth, every single day.

There's no point to this post, really. I just thought that out of these 100+ blog posts, it would be nice to have just one that said that he lived, and that I miss him.