Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: Apparitions

I'm off to try and find a theatre to see a play for my Shakespeare class tonight, but in the meantime, happy Tuesday! I sat down and wrote a bit last night, and hopefully I'll get to write more this week; I think this story's finally growing wheels and is ready to go along apace.

Maire's mysterious benefactor (who, have I mentioned? is NOT a love interest!!) has left her alone at the top of a hill and told her that someone will be waiting for her at the bottom. And then she turns around and is a bit startled by what she finds.



Maire made herself turn, slowly, to look down the hill to see what he had been talking about. The sight all but froze her feet to the ground. There was indeed a fence and a gate just below the crest of the hill – and behind that fence there was a herd of sheep, and beyond the field of sheep was a field of what she thought might be winter rye, and beyond that, another field where there were people sewing crops.

There was food. Right there, right in front of her. Enough to feed her family and her neighbours, perhaps half her village – perhaps the whole village. How was this here? How could so much be here, when everyone she knew was starving?

What manner of beautiful, wonderful, hellish place had that man brought her to?

After several minutes of gawking, Maire forced herself forward. She had to know if it was real – and whatever was in store for her there was better than wandering lost under the eternal expanse of the sky. Whatever her future was, she was going to face it. She would take it. And so she walked down the hill towards the gate and the sheep and the rye, all the while working hard to keep her marvelling from showing on her face.

As she got closer to the gate, she could see another figure moving towards it too; a woman, older than her mother, she thought, with lots of grey in her hair. Her clothes were well worn but not worn through, and her arms and shoulders looked thick and strong – the mark of any woman who lived on a farm. Any well-fed woman, at any rate. They both reached the gate at the same time, and Maire straightened up as tall as she could, refusing to flinch under the scowling scrutiny of the woman on the other side of the gate. Maire knew she was taking in her tattered and threadbare clothes, her skeleton of a body, the dirt all over her face, but she did not care. Whatever else lay on the other side of that gate, there was food, and she meant to find out why – and she meant to have her share for once.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Thoughts from Places: Edinburgh

Last Friday morning I woke up at an absurd hour (I sense there will be a lot of that when it comes to traveling this semester) and stumbled around in the dark for a bit before grabbing my overstuffed backpack and my flatmates and heading off to King's Cross Station. I did not see Platform Nine and Three Quarters, because it was busy and because it was early, but I did head over to platform 8 to board a train for Scotland.

I've only ever been on a train once before, and it was a short ride into Manhattan to see a show. The four hour train ride from London to Edinburgh was just lovely. Once we had gotten past the inexplicably ear-popping train tunnels out of London, there was nothing but rolling hills and fields and the occasional train station. We rode past innumerable sheep and little copses of trees and old farmhouses and the occasional Gothic spire in the distance. The English countryside feels so very spacious - miles of green hills topped by endless blue sky, stretching out around the train windows for forever. And then we crossed the Tweed River into Scotland, and all of a sudden the fields fell away into steep cliffs that dropped down towards the sea, an unimaginably breathtaking sight that left me leaning closer to the window to try and catch a better glimpse of it all.

We arrived in Edinburgh then, for three days of whirlwind excitement. We visited Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyrood, two more beautiful instances of history come to life for me, of feeling the weight of walking in a place where Bonnie Prince Charlie walked and Mary Queen of Scots lived, of feeling that history wasn't just a story after all and it was all there, in front of me, waiting for me to explore it. We spent a lot of time walking around the city; it's a beautiful city, a mixture of old and older architecture, and it makes me wish that we had proper alleyways in America. Edinburgh is very hilly, but it makes for some truly beautiful little streets, with all the Georgian buildings curving down the hill in little rows, letting in a glimpse of sea or sky over the rooftops.

On Saturday, we climbed Arthur's Seat, which I will refer to as a mountain simply because it is much too big to be called a hill. It was a "weather permitted" activity in our itinerary, but on flat ground it was a beautiful day, sunny and a bit cold, and a little windy. We began walking up, with the sun sneaking up on us over the top of the mountain to show off the heather and the steep valleys that kept appearing around us. As we went up, it got windier and windier, to the point where I, a rather scrawny person, was on occasion legitimately afraid of being blown off the top of the mountain. The view from the top, however, was more than worth a bit of buffeting.

It was beautiful - much like Glastonbury Tor, we could see for miles from the top; we had a view of the castle and the palace, of the whole of the city and the hills beyond it on one side, and the bay and the sea on the other side. We could see the clouds rushing over us in the wind - and yes, I did have to bend down or hold on to the rock from time to time, but it felt, as scary as it was, a little bit like flying might.

We then spotted a rather ominous looking cloud heading towards us and, not wanting to get caught in the rain, headed down the mountain. The cloud caught up with us, however, but it didn't rain - it started to snow. At first, it was beautiful - where one moment it had been sunny, suddenly everything was grey and green and white, covered in mist and little tiny snowflakes swirling around us in the wind like magic. But then, about halfway down the mountain, the wind kicked up and the snow turned to hail, and we were blown halfway down on the wrong side. It was terrifying and exhilarating; I was actually afraid that I might fall or someone else might fall and get hurt, but at the same time, it was fun. Either way, we made it down safely, even though we had to walk all the way around the base of the mountain to get back to the front again.

That evening, we went to a ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee), a traditional Scottish dance. I can hardly even explain how much fun I had. The little band - consisting of a drummer and an accordion player - walked us all through the dances first before we did them. I felt like I had stumbled across the ballroom at Netherfield (we did, in fact, do a few of the dances shown in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice), only with even livelier music and much more laughing. A little old Scottish man in a kilt asked me to dance, one of the dances that hadn't been taught yet, but he was the perfect leader; he could show me what to do without telling me anything, simply by guiding me around the floor, and by the end I knew exactly what I was doing. Everyone was so very nice and were so glad to talk to us and ask us how we liked it there. After the ceilidh, we went to a pub down the road and listened to another little band play American rock music and talked to two lovely old ladies who made room for us at their table. They seemed so happy to have us there with them, and I talked to them about my writing and their grandchildren and Scottish home rule. It was an absolutely amazing night. There's a ceilidh in Camden tomorrow night, and we're going to try and go.

The next morning, we wandered around various tourist shops and then Lisa, Matt and I split off from the group for a delicious lunch at The Elephant House, the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote some of the earlier Harry Potters. There's a view of an old graveyard and the castle out the back window of the cafe - no doubt inspiring for a fantasy writer! Perhaps I can hope that a little of that inspiration will rub off on me?

Then it was time to board the train for the four hour ride home. We did so many things and saw so many things, and I feel I got to know the people I spent my time with in Edinburgh much better than I had previously. And so, after a perfectly amazing weekend, we headed home to London. I inexplicably managed to trounce my friends at iPad Monopoly on the train ride home, another fun and silly thing to add to the weekend's accomplishments. After the sea and the cliffs, the hills and the sheep and the sunset, had all passed us by, we arrived back in London and traipsed back to the little flat I've come to call home, absolutely ready to take the weight off my very sore feet and somewhat less ready to bring the weekend to a close.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: Empty, Rolling Hills

So apparently it's Mardi Gras? Or rather, Pancake Tuesday here in the UK. It's rather a nonevent here; I would have forgotten had I not been talking to my friend who goes to LSU. Enjoy, all!

Midterms are next week, so between that and the traveling I haven't gotten as much writing done as I should be. I have, however, spent a lot of time staring out of train windows watching rolling hills and seeing the cliffs fall away into the sea. Yes, it was Scotland, not Ireland (I'm going there too, never fear!) but it feels so nice to know my setting firsthand for a change. I've seen more or less exactly what Maire is seeing here, and I can see why she would feel this way about it, even though I love the spacious feeling she hates so much.



The sun had risen by then, the grey sky replaced by gold-tinged blue, a clear day as far as she could see. There was no wind on the waves, no rolling clouds on the horizon, just endless green beneath her and endless blue above, a disorienting span of lifeless nothing that whisked by instant by instant. She wondered if he had calculated this route, this sad and hopeless path almost completely devoid of trees or houses or barns, on purpose. He had no need to create a labyrinth and lock her away in it – he only needed to ride, in a straight line but very fast, past nothing at all.

It was terrifying, that emptiness. Terrifying and infuriating. The wide expanse of the sea was one thing – perhaps it was still a straight line to the horizon, but the water moved and changed, the breeze brought new scents from the ocean, from the docks, from the ships themselves. But here, only a few miles inland, it was empty. The ground had failed them, and Providence abandoned them – Maire and everyone she knew and thousands she did not know were left alone in the dark to make something out of nothing, and they were finding that they could not. She clenched her hands tighter in the horse’s coarse black mane, making its ears flick backwards but not caring. She wished she could strike at the nothingness she had been granted, to throw stones or curses, but she did not even have anything at which to aim.

If it all came to nothing, where did this strange, devilishly persuasive man think that he was taking her?

And then, just at the crest of a hill, they stopped. The man yanked back on the horse’s head so hard that the beast reared up, causing Maire to slide half out of her seat. When the horse’s front legs hit the ground again with a resounding thud, the man let go of the reins with one hand and dropped his arm to his side – the arm that had been, until then, supporting Maire in her tenuously upright position. She fell, tumbling out of the saddle and onto the ground, covering her face in dirt and only just managing to roll away quickly enough to avoid being trampled into the earth as well as caked in it.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Adventure Time!

"I'm glad you feel comfortable enough with us to try new things," my flatmate said to me as I had my first ever glass of wine. (Disclaimer: I am twenty-one. I have been twenty-one since November. S'all good, guys.) "You need to feel safe when you're doing this, and I'm glad you feel safe with us."

She was absolutely right. Not that I've developed a taste for alcohol - my lifelong drink total remains about two and a half - but in order to try new things, you need to feel comfortable enough to try them. I'm talking about everything from putting Brie on a piece of bread to having a glass of wine to navigating the bus system on your own. Trying something new involves taking a risk - sometimes that risk is very small, and it might wind up that you simply don't like the food you've taken a bite of. Sometimes the risk is much larger - like the chance that you'll misread the bus schedule and miss your internship interview (which didn't happen, mind, but it's certainly a worry). And whether it's a big risk or a small one, you have to be confident enough in yourself to take it.

I feel confident here. I feel safe here. I've done a lot of things I haven't needed to do or wouldn't have done back home - find a flat to rent, for example, or find my way around the city on my own, without anyone to show me where to go first. I don't really consider myself a very self-confident person, but in the space of about an hour I've had three people tell me that I was, so either I hide it well or I'm turning into a confident person. I think being in a foreign country will do that to people.

So here's to London, guys. Here's to having cool and nerdy adventures with wonderful people, to finding my way around this beautiful city without getting lost or feeling afraid. This is a feeling I like, and it's one I think I'm going to take home with me.

We're off to Scotland tomorrow for more adventures. I'm looking forward to more exploring. :)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: Curiouser and Curiouser

Hello, blogosphere! How is everyone on this fine Tuesday? I have another teaser for you, of course!

In today's snippet, Maire's mysterious stranger (who still doesn't have a title... I need to think of one) whisks her off to her new life, and Maire decides that it's high time she asks a few questions. I want this story to be a bit like a twisted fairy tale, so you will let me know what you think about that aspect, won't you?



“Where are we going?”

“I will be taking you to your new workplace, of course.”

“Yes,” she said, only just managing to bite back a more flippant response, “but where is that?”

“Oh, it’s not far now,” he said, his voice sing-songing with the tilt of his head. “Come along, then. Up you get.”

He nudged the horse towards her, and it snorted and protested as it walked. Maire wondered what it was about her that displeased the creature so much, but she did not flinch; instead, she reached up and took the man’s hand when he offered it. She could just barely get her foot into the stirrup, and with between her leap and the man’s fierce tug, she found herself in the saddle in front of him. It seemed to be miles up off the ground, and she tried not to look, instead busying herself with arranging her threadbare skirt around her legs so that her knees, at least, stayed covered.

Then the man shouted something to his horse, and it sprang forward, racing along the road like the crest of a wave. Maire was nearly unseated, but she managed to get her hands into the horse’s thick mane and steady herself before she fell. The familiar landscape streaked past her, far too fast, so fast that places she had known all her life became unrecognizable blurs. This was not possible – a horse could not gallop as fast as this. There was something wrong here, something strange.

“You never told me your name,” she asked, twisting her neck awkwardly to speak to him, feeling as though she was shouting into the wind. “What is it?”

The man laughed, keeping his eyes on the road.

“Now why would you want to know a silly thing like that?”

Maire paused for a moment, one fleeting moment where she watched the grass and hills and lightening sky rush past, slipping away from her in the same way she felt her world, her control, her everything was slipping away, before she thought of a proper response.

“Isn’t it only right that I know the name of the man whose debt I am in?”

The man laughed; it was a hollow sound, one that Maire could feel resonating through her shoulder blades, and she was glad that she could not see his face.

“You are a clever one, Maire Finn,” he said slowly, emphasizing each syllable in her name, telling her without having to say it: I have the upper hand. I know everything, and you know nothing. “Watch yourself, now – cleverness will serve you well, if you are also cautious.”

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cardiff and Nerdy Things!

Hello, all! I'm sorry I didn't post anything on Thursday, but my internet decided to fritz out, and also I didn't really have too much to talk about but today I do because I went to Cardiff!! It was a very awesome and very educational day.

Lisa (my flatmate) and I got up at 6:30 and then went on an epic journey to find the Victoria Coach Station (thing 1 learned: the difference between the term "bus" and the term "coach" is that buses are the red double-decker things that go around London or other short term trips and coaches are things that take you cross-country. So don't go to Victoria Station (for trains, buses, and the underground) and expect to find your coach). We got there in plenty of time, watched the pigeons that had gotten inside flap around and sit up on the ceiling fans and such, and then got on a nice warm bus to Cardiff.

Bus travel is extremely uncomfortable if you are tall and have a long neck. Like me. I think my shoulders are still mad at me. But after many hours of dozing off and jerking awake and looking out the window and dozing off again, we arrived in Wales. Wales is a terribly pretty country - there was snow on the mountains as we drove in, and lots more rolling hills and sheep and birch trees. Also, all of the road signs are twice as long, because they are in both English and Welsh. I had no idea that Welsh was as prevalent as it seems to be, but it's absolutely everywhere. According to Wikipedia, approximately 21% of the Welsh population speaks Welsh, with over half of those Welsh speakers claiming to speak it every day. Kinda neat! Welsh is cool - it looks completely incomprehensible to me, and it sounds somewhere between Gaelic and German, I think. It's quite intriguing.

After getting extremely lost for a good half hour at least, Lisa and I found the National Museum and decided to go in. This seems to be a museum of everything - they have art and natural history and all sorts of things. We went and looked at the natural history things first, of course - we saw rocks from space and some interesting videos in Welsh and some dinosaurs, and then we walked through the weird modern art and saw an exhibition of teacups and other beautifully decorated china and then we found the Impressionists wing. It was amazing to find all sorts of really rather famous art in this tiny little museum in Wales - Lisa, who studied French in high school, was really happy to see all of the Rodin things they had there especially. It was really cool!

After lunch, we went into Cardiff Castle (Castell Caerdydd). It was absolutely incredible. The castle itself and the keep were built in the 1100s, I believe, but over the centuries of people living there, things kept getting added and changed to suit the comfort of the family and the decorative style of the time period. One of the things I'm loving most about living in England is that it is an absolutely amazing feeling to be walking somewhere where people have walked for centuries - to be climbing (incredibly steep) steps that Oliver Cromwell might have climbed, to walk along the tunnels under the keep that were turned into air raid shelters during World War II and feel what it might have been like to hear German planes overhead. It's just so exciting to be in a place where history seems so very alive.

Yeah, we climbed to the top of that. :D

After the castle, Lisa and I walked down to Cardiff Bay (Bae Caerdydd) because we are both massive Doctor Who fans and we could not pass up the opportunity to walk down to Roald Dahl Plass and see this:

It's the rift! Unfortunately, we saw no sign of the Doctor while we were there. Alas.

At this point, we were rather frozen, and we walked back to Cardiff Central and had some dinner and waited around for the bus. Another fun fact: sometimes, Megabuses are not Megabuses. We sat at the bus stop for a good forty-five minutes, unaware that our bus was right in front of us. Fortunately, a nice British lady pointed this out to us and we hopped on the bus, dozed off, and made it back to London in time to catch the tube back home. It was a most excellent day. :D