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yikes

My surroundings (in LJ only, fortunately) have gone undead. I assume this is something to do with halloween or zombies and that if I cared - really really cared - I could probably find out, or even do something about it. But, meh. Maybe if I ignore it, it'll go away.

So, writing is going. Perhaps not well, but at least something's happening. I forgot that if you don't write anything you have nothing to edit so instead of sitting around (or, more accurately, frantically chasing a toddler determined to throw peaches on the floor/ draw on the walls/ eat crayons) and worrying that my new beginning wasn't going to be perfect, I started to write it. And it isn't perfect but at least it's there.

Toddler-wise things have been a bit crazy. He was ill (with a SuperCold + mini-measles from the MMR) and is now pretty much better (another 3 days before we discover if he has mini-mumps, but that seems less common) and now I am ill (with SuperCold only) and kind of fuzzy and incapable of Thought. And not so hot on patience either.

But I did just buy some funky brightly-coloured nappies for him, so that's making us both happy (me more than him, admittedly, but I think he likes being able to choose the colour. There's been less screaming about nappy changes, anyway). And some babylegs so he looks like a 1980s dancer - someone out of Fame, probably (or was that the 1970s?).

I've been reading... the second and third Cast books. What do I say? They're a guilty pleasure. They have to be. Anything that gives you that much pleasure has to be guilty. And the fourth is out and I will buy it when Amazon gets itself sorted out.

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crying and writing and THE PERFECT SUIT

So all that stuff I wrote a couple of weeks ago, about how there's no evidence that distress actually damages your baby? It can stand as an example of how random internet searches conducted by people who know nothing about the area don't turn up anything helpful. Apparently there is quite a lot of evidence that distress is bad for a baby - bad for their brain development , especially when they're under 2. Not that I was tempted to make S cry until he gave up in despair, but it's a bit frightening that health visitors etc. are advocating that approach.

Writing is um stalled sort of.

But I have bought the perfect perfect suit. It's just gorgeous and I love it passionately. When will I wear it?

Oops S is crying. Better go before he concludes I've been eaten by a rhino.

Edinburgh book festival

I went to a 'writers' workshop' on novel writing at the Edinburgh book festival, run by a very nice woman whose books I haven't read (yet) who tried to run through everything in an hour and a half. Honestly, the thing was full of weirdos, which left me wondering about myself a bit...

But: she said one thing that really made me think. She said: look at your story outline and think - "is there anything I can turn around to make things more surprising or effective?"

I got as far as the first event (character leaves old job because she's bored of it) and went "oooh". It's now: character is forced to leave old job and is very unhappy about it. It makes things much tighter in the first few chapters and it's more fun to write. Of course it does mean a complete re-write of the first 3 chapters or so, but they needed it. It also gives me a really good way in and a first page (or five) that is much more powerful and interesting than before.

So hurray for that.

Now I just need to deal with being a weirdo.

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Oh woe

I have finished King's Shield and am desperate for the next book, but Sherwood Smith says on her webpage: "Treason's Shore, is about three-quarters written...". Argh. 
I know I know I know. 
But I want it NOW.

Baby-wise the sleep thing is still going astonishingly well. 9.30pm-6am last night. Yey.

Much to my surprise (since in my pre-baby head I was going to be Strict Victorian Mother, always impeccably turned out, aware of the latest political developments, and capable of a conversation that didn't involve half sentences trailing away into the ether) we turned out to be attachment parenting, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, knitted yogurt-type parents. Who'd have thought it?

Anyway, the lovely thing about giving the baby everything he wants (except permission to poke bits of metal into electrical sockets/ stroke passing cars) is that it's just... lovely. And he is just lovely too. The downside, for us, was we haven't had a full night's sleep for eighteen months. Which isn't as bad as I would have thought in my pre-baby days when, I vaguely remember, I was horrified at the idea that children woke you up at 7am at the weekends. HAH.

For the past five days I've been trying a sleep programme (the first one I've tried, except fragments from the No Cry Sleep Solution, despite the Health Visitor telling me sternly (and repeatedly) that I should let him cry it out as soon as he reached six months). Well, it's not really a sleep programme, it's Jay Gordon's night weaning in a floaty gentle co-sleeping attachment parentingy sort of way. At least in theory. 

And and (don't let me jinx it, please please) it's going so well.

I have friends who did this and who suffered terrible nights of screaming. One set triumphed in the end (after 3 weeks I think) and one set tried twice and had to give up each time because their little girl just wouldn't stop screaming... all night... for weeks. Argh.

The first night S cried and then complained (going "nonononono") for about 40 minutes on and off, falling in and out of sleep as well, which I found hideously difficult even though I knew it was an incredibly mild reaction. On the subsequent nights it all seemed to sort itself out and he still occasionally complains briefly but it's normally in his sleep. We're not even picking him up, because he doesn't want/ need to be picked up - he just rolls over and goes back to sleep.

An indication of how desperately sleep-deprived I must have been before we started this, was that I actually paid money (real money) to buy something called The Sleep Sense Program, which advocates a programme that I find really unattractive - full of advice about "teaching the baby to put himself to sleep" (for which, read "cry until he decides you've been eaten by wolves and gives up"). Admittedly you don't just leave him a room alone, but you don't pick him up and you do that thing where you leave him to cry for longer and longer. It makes me go "ugh".

She said "there is no research evidence that leaving babies to cry damages them". And, in a cursory investigation carried out by me, she seems to be right. On the other hand, the review articles I read about interventions to get babies sleeping for longer (nearly all of them based on "extinction" - ie: removing the encouragement for the baby to wake up, which is often feeding them but might be cuddling them or whatever) finish after a few months - so there may be no evidence that it harms them, but I don't think there is any evidence that it doesn't, either. 

One interesting thing was apparently if you drug the baby to sleep well (this is known as a "pharmalogical intervention") and then remove the encouragement, they are less distressed than if you just remove the encouragement (there's a technical name for the distress: Post-Extinction-Response-Burst (PERB), which goes on for a week or so and makes them clingy and weepy, but why call it PERB when you could call it something sensible like "distress"?).

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um...

Not much to say, really. I'm not even sure why...

Writing-wise things are once more going well. I've dug out the last draft, changed the beginning (again, again, yet again) and am working my way through it, editing and seeing how things fit together (that sounds more effective than it is).

Reading-wise I read, finally, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I finished it a couple of weeks ago and decided that I need to read the whole series again. Am currently about to begin The Half-Blood Prince, which I'm rather looking forward to because I've only read it once.

It's clearly affecting my brain because I have come to the conclusion that the HP books aren't really about HP himself (despite all the available evidence, including the titles) but about his mother: she's really the most important character. I mentioned this to a friend and was cheered when he told me that he'd decided they were really about Snape (I kind of agree with that too).

Work-wise have just spent forever trying to find a hotel in Newcastle that (a) is reasonably close to the university, (b) has free parking, (c) is not a "stag and hen night destination" (even though we'll be staying Monday/ Tuesday the thought of  vomit - or whatever - in the carpet just makes my skin crawl), (d) looks like it might be semi-baby-friendly. Sigh. I haven't been to Newcastle for years, despite the fact that that's where my father is from. Quite looking forward to it, even though it's become this huge expedition that has eaten up my work time.

Also struggling miserably with Word 2007 on new computer. Can't find anything, EndNote won't work with it, I can't open documents I wrote at work when I'm at home unless I download a bit of software (actually that was remarkably painless and straightforward - hurray to Microsoft for their add-ins which have been surprisingly good -- but it's the fact I needed to do it that annoys me). Grrrr.  It looks really pretty, and I (secretly) love the font, but it's such a pain trying to learn the new system that I am seriously contemplating asking for Word 2003 back.

Baby-wise: oh life is good. He's so gorgeous at the moment. Sleep, not so brilliant but I am working myself up (with rage and bile and other helpful maternal tools) to do something about that. You know, when his cold's better and his teeth are through and maybe when we're back from Newcastle too... Then, definitely.

Book counting

I'm not very well-read, but the Big Read list makes me feel like an intellectual giant (of easy-to-read books).  Stealing the idea from oursin who talks about it here .

Look at the list and:
1) Bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.
4) Strike through the ones you couldn't stand.

Geekery

My work computer is old and beginning to die so I'm getting a new one. While I was buying shiny new technology I got an external hard drive to make carrying things around (and transferring stuff) easier and because, well, I wanted one.

I'm so in love with it. 

It's tiny (significantly smaller than my hand) and lovely and it's 250 GB (well, 230ish, but who's really counting?). I wondered if there would be space on it for all the stuff I've worked on since 2001 when I came here. HAH. My computer's hard drive - the one with all my stuff on - is 57 GB. I had to check several times because how is it possible that a tiny external drive (with funky blue light) can possibly be about four times as big as my huge and clunky machine? Ahh technology. It makes me happy.

Edited to say: unbelievable. I copied all my files off my old machine to the external disk and it took about 250 minutes - just set up new machine and copying them back and it's taking about 11 minutes. Can't quite get my head round the difference. It seems unlikely, somehow, that my stuff is really being copied.

Uninspired

I am in the process of making the draft good enough -- good enough to be read through and all hang together. It's not elegant or smooth, I cringe at some pieces of it, but it will make sense as a story.

Then, after that, I will make it good.

Otherwise, lost in and fascinated by The Post-Birthday World. I know this sounds idiotic but it's such a big book - I keep wondering how she can possibly make the story last for that long. It doesn't drag - it's great - but I can't quite believe it goes all the way to the end.

And just, well, bewildered by this WisCon stuff and equally by the amazing fuss over Fern Britton and her weight/ weight loss/ surgery.

What's going on? Who are these people? Why don't they have something better to do with their lives???

Tired (but good tired - we went swimming and had lunch with friends and then out to a babies&biscuits this afternoon where my lovely friends gave me CAKE and sang to me too and it only took me a little over an hour to get S to sleep tonight and there was no yelling - though I must have sung Rock a Bye Baby about a hundred times) so I am going to do a bit of 'good enough' and then I am going to bed.

Punctuation

I have not been writing anything with any enthusiasm recently, so reading instead. Fell upon The Post Birthday World which happened to be lying around in the sitting room because someone had taken it out of the library. Presumably they were planning to read it, but they'll have to wait... I love that feeling when you pick up a book and vaguely read the first few pages and then it's two hours later and someone's prising you away from it with a fork (except, now, it's 10 minutes later if I'm very lucky and it's a small and sticky hand that does the prising). 

The other thing I've been reading - although so vaguely and sporadically it barely deserves the description - is The First Five Pages. That one I found for myself in the library. So far it's sensible (do not submit your manuscript written in crayon on the back of an envelope) and a little worrying (multiple adjectives are the sign of an amateur. Eeek).
 
He's written others, and the one that caught my attention today was A Dash of Style: the Art and Mastery of Punctuation. Not that I've read it, naturally, but I read the amazon page and learned, to my consternation that: 

"Punctuation reveals the writer: haphazard periods, for example, reveal haphazard thinking. Semicolons might indicate affectation; colons might denote melodrama; dashes might point to scattered thought."

What, sorry? Melodramatic colons? Affected semicolons? Yikes. The pitfalls are apparently bottomless.

At this stage I should ask for the fact that I am married to a specialist in psycholinguistics to be taken into account, milud.

(must say that, despite what I've said above, having now read the free sample, he makes a lot of sense. He also uses a lot of commas. Yey. I like commas. Actually, I like the excerpts. When I allow myself to buy another book it might be this one...).