30 September 2009


In honour of the Seashell, I have decided I have to call the BF something better than "the BF." Really, he deserves to be known by something besides a generic abbreviation. I have given the matter much thought and hereby announce that from now on I shall refer to him as Lichfield, because (1) he was born there and (2) whenever he reminds me of that he mentions the Lichfield Cathedral:

Of course I am dying to spell Lichfield with a 't' (i.e., Litchfield)... I can't promise but will do my best to restrain myself.

Image credit.

This I know will make me a better writer

via Boden.

29 September 2009

My Seashell

The lovely BF bought me this:


I did not know beforehand it is aka "the seashell," as in


No surprise then who this is marketed at


I take it he will soon be buying me a beach to go with it?
Good points made on Strictly Writing last week about the latest Dan Brown (what's it called again?) and the concurrent snobbery against it. I liked the OP's attitude:
You don't have to love it. You don't even have to like it.

Just ask yourself; what is right with this story.

Plenty of food for thought in the comments afterward.

Slight pitfall in the post, however, when skimming.... I thought at first that 'TLS' was the Times Literary Supplement. Oops.

28 September 2009


I'd never heard of Crystal Renn but as I am fascinated by women, image, food and eating, I was captivated by an article about her in yesterday's Observer. She has written a book, Hungry, about her experience as a model -- at first anorexic and unsuccessful, then "full-size" and famous. Judgement of Paris does a good review of it.

24 September 2009

We've been cooking from this for two weeks....

Not sure how the author manages to look like that while biting into what appears to be an over-frosted doughnut, but all of the recipes we have tried in this cookbook are great. I bought this for Helsinki's birthday and she has been choosing what to make, then we either cook it together, or she makes it herself. She's become the resident expert in balsamic vinegar... Highly recommended, very girly, pink factor 10/10.

23 September 2009

Bed, glorious bed

Couldn't bear the thought of anything this morning, so after the girls were off to school I sent myself back to bed. Bed is so nice. It's the nicest place, really. It's warm, it's soft, nothing bad is allowed, all ogres, monsters, demands, obligations, pffft: not on this bed, they're not. Outside the window, all I can see is sky and tree so while I'm in bed I can pretend I'm not even in the city, but a rural idyll. I can almost not hear voices from the street or car doors slamming or the bus, just the odd wind chime, and those are allowed. These are the things you can eat in bed: toast, tea, coffee, chocolate, cheese, grapes. Other good things to have in bed with you: book, notebook, pens, magazine, cat. I don't have a cat anymore because she made me sneeze, but I would if I could. I slip my feet between duvet and sheet.... my own personal 200-thread count envelope. There are 30 blissful minutes before I have to get dressed for work and I intend to savour every last second of them.

Image of Yves Delorme bedding via Trendir

21 September 2009

Applying my internal proscenium

Started working on fiction again in preparation for the Arvon course I'm going on in November. (I know, I'm supposed to internally link but today I just cannot be bothered.) This is a different piece than what I was working on before the summer break -- somehow I couldn't pick up again with that one, which is essentially a story about a woman who is killed, mysteriously, during the Nazi occupation of the (fictional) island where she lives. Maybe because I stopped for the summer, I started to have too many doubts: about creating a fictional island (although I was enjoying that part); about how to tell the story -- in alternating voices, between the woman, her sister in the past, and/or the woman's niece in the present; about whether the world really needs another story in this "genre". Well, it would have been original I think. I'll probably write it one day. But it'll have to wait.

The thing that I'm working on now, I've had the idea for this story for years. I have written out several drafts of the beginning. Only now is it really starting to go any further. Writing poetry comes more naturally to me so I feel a bit lost in the "story" world. I'm at heart a miniaturist, each poem is really about one moment, or one very particular and nuanced emotion. Stories are the opposite of miniature: they are maxiature, big and complex and they move (or at least the kind I like to read tend to have movement). So at the moment my strategy is to write stories by linking one miniature moment, or scene, after another. I recently read something -- I think it was about Elizabeth Taylor the writer -- yes, it is in here -- it was very simple really, just that she said she wrote “in scenes, rather than in narrative". But this tiny sentence struck me: maybe I should try to write in scenes, too. And it occurred to me, too, how I might apply it to "Harry", the story I'm writing now. I have no shame about copying another writer's technique -- especially if it works! So I'm going now scene by scene, as though each part is under a proscenium. One benefit of this is it is easier to avoid too much digression into the past or thoughts of a character. You can only have so much of that before the scene bogs down. Consequently some scenes might be quite short -- no harm in that. Anyway I am proceeding now at my usual painful snail's pace, a few hundred words each morning before I go to the office, turning my internal proscenium to whichever character's turn it is. How long will this trick work? Stay tuned and find out.....

Image: Stage and proscenium from upper circle, Richmond Theatre, 2008, from The Theatres Trust Theatres Database

18 September 2009

Bookstore blues, Or, Why the chain bookstores deserve everything they get

Recently I discovered Elizabeth Taylor, the writer. (Also here, for more information.) For anyone who has not read her I whole-heartedly recommend "A View of the Harbour" (pictured below). But don't expect to find her books in a bookstore: this morning I went to the two English bookstores in town, Waterstones and Sterling Books, and neither of them had a single copy of any of her works. Not even one of the recently re-released Viragos, with introductions by authors like Sarah Waters, and blurbs by Jilly Cooper and Elizabeth Jane Howard. Oh, they had plenty of crap: piles of Anita Shreves and Jodi Picoults. You'd have thought they'd have had at least one ET novel -- or acclaimed short story collection -- just to prove to themselves that they could still be called a bookstore. But I've come to the conclusion that they might as well be subsumed by supermarket chains or keep to airports if this is the best they can do. I never thought I'd say "thank god for Amazon" but that is exactly what I'm saying today. ALL of ET's books are available there, to be dispatched at a moment's notice, and this, my friends, is why bookstores, as we used to know and love them, will die and are not worth saving: you can get what you need or want elsewhere and faster and cheaper. The stores we still call bookstores today give no added value. Second-hand shops are different and I predict these will survive. But the others are using some kind of business model that requires stocking up on best-sellers and ignoring the rest of their clients.

17 September 2009

The cello

I may or may not have mentioned this, but I've been learning to play the cello for the past 5 or 6 years. I got started because when Helsinki was ready to learn to play an instrument, she picked cello, and the cello teacher followed (loosely) the Suzuki method, which recommends that a parents learn to play along with the child. I was quite happy to do it -- I had always harboured dreams of learning piano or guitar, but needed a push to get going and if it was cello instead, so be it. Well I loved it, I loved the vibrations and the pitch and the way your entire body gets involved, kind of like yoga, and how you have to be relaxed and yet alert at the same time. And it was easy to practice with the girls around, even young Clover, unlike writing, which was too hard to do with them around, I felt I always had to keep one ear cocked and couldn't let loose entirely.

We have just started up with lessons again, Helsinki and I, after the summer. Our teacher, Y., is back after a year's sabbatical and although I loved our interim teacher, and felt I learned a lot from her, I could see right away the difference with Y. and am excited about progressing all over again.

Helsinki has no shame about telling me how bad I am but I choose to take this with a grain of salt, as any time I ask her "does this look OK" or something like that, her answer more often than not these days is "weird, Mom", along with an eye-roll.

Slightly frightening, however, is the idea that we may actually be at the point of buying a cello. It would be for Helsinki, ultimately, though in the meantime I could play it, until she is ready for a full-size. Cellos are expensive -- "why are they so much more than guitars?" asks the BF, and I don't know why, I am turning to the net for answers, and not getting many. One thing's for sure, there's an art to making cellos, and not even a big name is a guarantee of a gorgeous sound. It is worth it now to buy instead of rent, but it's a bit daunting to think of scraping the sum together, even if I can pay in a few big lumps instead of all at once.

It makes me glad that all I really need to write is a pen and some paper.

Image: Lady with Cello, from 'Le Morte d'Arthur', a painting by Aubrey Vincent Beardsley.

14 September 2009

Recipe for today

1 shower
1 large coffee
2 children (woken up, teeth brushed, hair combed, faces washed, breakfasted, suitably dressed for the weather, with backpacks)
1 trip to supermarket
20 minutes of yoga
10 minutes of frustrated searching for item of your choice: keys, agenda, mobile phone, clean shirt or blouse
5 hours of day job
10-15 minutes of worry when one or other of children does not phone you on their way home from school
1 walk home
1 phone call to cello teacher
1 phone call to change hour of horseriding lessons
1 hour catching up on email
1 dinner to make
1 cake to make
30 minutes x 2 of instrument practice
30-60 minutes x 2 of homework
2 baths
4 wet towels
More coffee, as required
Or wine, if after 7
Either very good book or very bad television

Take the first 6 items and do them, more or less in order, before 9 am. Kiss the children and send them to school. Optional: walk them to bus stop. This depends on how guilty you feel.

Proceed with next 6 items. You will have until, roughly, 5 pm. Cram the next 7 items into the next 4 hours. Lubricate with last 2 items, as you see fit. Top with last item.

For good measure, add several minutes of worry over (pick one): money, lack of career, the noise the car is making, how long it has been since you took the children to the dentist.

Don't forget: the leaky faucet, the keys you need cut, that you are out of milk.

Let all of it rest overnight et voila.... tomorrow you can pretty much do it again.

12 September 2009

Thanks, I needed that

New issues of both Granta and The Rialto arrived on the same day... Thank ye gods of soul-restoring magazines. I am now a woman on the verge of a serious bubble bath.

11 September 2009


My google Reader is overflowing with posts. These are all posts to blogs I have subscribed to, for one reason or anther decided I must read, and must have enjoyed at one point or else I would have deleted them (I'm quite good at that).

So tell me, then, why am I finding it hard to stay interested now?

Because it's not like these blogs have changed (unless that's the problem. But I don't think it is). For whatever reason, I read, consistently, two or three blogs and that's about all I can take in (and comment on, too). The ever-increasing unread posts of the others, I just ignore, thinking I'll catch up with them eventually. But will I really? I doubt it. Yet I like them, and want to support them. I don't want to unsubscribe and bring their stats down. I'm sure I can't be the only one in this situation.... What do other people do about this? Dear Reader, what would *you* do?

Image: Too Much Information (Self portrait with Twitter), Art quilt, 26" by 28", by Susie Monday

10 September 2009

They say a change is as good as a rest so I hoovered...

... or vacuumed, as they case may be. It was definitely a change but the jury's still out on whether it was good. I'll let you know.

Image credit to retro-housewife.com

08 September 2009

Poetry Daily Dreaming

I liked two recent Poetry Daily posts -- yesterday's 5 AM by John Poch, and the day before yesterday's To the Peasant, Avram by Alan Michael Parker. Poetry Daily runs a poem every day, selected from mostly American literary journals, and is always good for a hit when you're feeling in the mood for something different. I would really like to have a poem one day on Poetry Daily. That is one of my goals, right up there with getting into the top 10 hits on google when you google my name... right now a beadmaker from California is hogging all the top "Jeannette Cook" spots. Grr. But I am nothing if not ambitious, eh? It's good to have goals....

07 September 2009

3 Prayers for today

Help me be calm.

Let it not be all about me.

Help me be on time.

Yes, it could be a haiku. The photo is from Astronomy Picture of the Day. It is Jupiter Over the Mediterranean: Credit & Copyright: Tunç Tezel (TWAN).

04 September 2009

Even more Belgian Poets

This one rather suits my mood today. TGIF, everyone!

1. Speak in sentences
that understand people

2. Cut your life right
up to the line

3. Knock again
on the open door

4. Make the audience
your art

5. Restore order
until it breaks

03 September 2009

More Belgian Poets -

But a quick word first. It's a big week over here, the first days of school for both Helsinki and her sister -- let's call her Clover, that's the code name she likes best. Clover is taking the bus "on her own" (i.e., without her sister) for the first time. Though the bus is filled with lots of other kids going to her school. Helsinki started secondary school this morning. There was the inevitable excruciating calling out of names to get the kids into their various homerooms/form rooms/whatever they are called here. At last Helsinki was called. I discreetly blew her a kiss as she went on her way... I will do my best to not be The Embarrassing Mother.

The writing is coming along. I have been delving back into two highly recommended books, Peter Sansom's Writing Poems and Writing Poetry by Matthew Sweeney and John Hartley Williams. The second is full of exercises (which I am doing!) and the first is full of good advice (which I'm trying to take). I'll post tidbits from both in the coming weeks. I am reading out for feedback at the Brussels Writers Group tonight, the first time in front of this group for a very long time, will let you know how that goes. At the moment I'm more concerned about getting myself to the start of the meeting on time.... On Time being my nemesis.

OK. Now for another Belgian Poet. De Coninck wrote in Dutch and the original is presented alongside an English translation, at the link below.

Sleep Now
by Herma
n de Coninck

“Go to sleep now,” I say
to a daughter who is already asleep
and wakes from my words.

The thunder crashes. Perhaps
I want her scared, so I can be dad.
But there’s nothing I can do except
do nothing, together with her.

It’s like words. Things happen.
Without words they would still happen.
But then without words.

Harry de Coninck

I interrupt this broadcast....

...of famous Belgian poets, to draw your attention to a poem by American Craig Arnold, found in the depths of my Google Reader. The poem is called "The Heart Under Your Heart", and it is available here, on Poetry Daily. I am not sure whether I am allowed to reproduce it in full here. Please just go look at it, it is beautiful.

01 September 2009

Famous Belgian Poets - Miriam Van Hee

In honour of my naturalization, I want to feature some Belgian poets and their poems this week. Ironically my first google search took me to famouspoetsandpoems.com, where I thought I'd hit the motherload in one fell swoop, only to find the following:

Belgian Poets and Poems Total Poets: 0

Not quite what I had in mind. Poetry International Web is much more helpful. So I am pleased to be able to give to you today the poet Miriam Van Hee, two sections from her poem, Evening In Dún Laoghaire. She writes in Flemish, and the original can be found by following the previous link.

by Miriam Van Hee

the lady from latvia recounted
how the people ended up where they did:
the finns steadily pushed the lapps

and the prussians were so belligerent,
do you hear, that they all
perished on their campaigns
of conquest

why are there so few
funny poems, sighed
the lady from latvia, she called the waiter
and asked him for more whisky, then
she looked outside and said
there was no one any more
who spoke prussian

. . .

the world is large, said
the lady from latvia,
europe, america, my father
died in siberia

we speak the oldest language
in europe, there aren’t many of us
that’s why we talk a lot,
we should wash out
our mouths with soap
my mother would say, where
is my mother now, why
can’t I be silent, why
can’t I cry?

life is long, said the lady
from latvia and you can’t
trade it in