Nov 30, 2015

Why I Skipped NaNoWriMo This Year

Messrs Cooper, talking at motor car
Image from New Old Stock, original Flickr link here.

                                                                                                                                                              The National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it's known to its friends, is finishing up today. Congrats to everyone who participated, whether you hit the 50k words or not. Good for you!

I skipped NaNoWriMo this year, and I probably will in  the foreseeable future. It's just not for me.

Last year I tried my own version: writing as many short stories as I could. I liked the feeling of community and all the pep talks etc., but I discovered that the process of writing for word count gave me quantity, not quality. In the end only one of the short stories I wrote ended up being worth the trouble to revise. The other two were just a mess. (Sure, there's a nice scene or two, but the story just doesn't come together.) That's what writing without a plan gets me.

So, lesson learned: I'm definitely not pantser material.

I have to go at my own pace, even if that means watching other writers zip by. Some writers are scooters, some are even race cars (hi there, Mr. Wendig), but I'm a pedestrian; it's slower, but you get to take in the scenery as you go.

That's the other thing: comparing yourself to others is seldom a good idea. Even if someone else manages 3,000 words a day, it doesn't mean I have to. My 500-1,000 words will get me there in the end.

And who knows, maybe as time passes and my writing (hopefully!) improves, I'll get faster at it, too.

Hey, maybe I'll trade in my hiking boots for a rickety bicycle next year.

One can only hope.

What about you? Who are you as a writer? The unicyclist juggling bowling pins? The trusty tractor ploughing the same field over and over again? Or maybe the bulletproof silver Aston Martin rigged with smoke screens, front wing machine guns, and an ejector seat? Tell me in the comments.


Nov 29, 2015

Steampunk Bats and Gingerbread


My family got together to celebrate my dad's birthday, and we checked out the Christmas lights and window displays in Turku city centre. Stockmann had the coolest one by far. 


                                   You can't see it that well, but one of the bats had a jetpack!


             My niece and nephew loved this. There were a lot of moving parts and little details to notice. 


                                        We also baked the first gingerbread cookies of the year.


                                                     Yes, the skeleton ones are mine.


The finished product. Tasted pretty good, too. 

Then we watched The Return of the Jedi. The ewoks were a big hit with the kids.

A fun day, all in all. 

Nov 27, 2015

Shakespeare's Greatest Insults

Shakespeare's insults are legendary. Here are a few of my favourites:

More of your conversation would infect my brain.
Coriolanus (2.1.91)

They have a plentiful lack of wit.
Hamlet (2.2.198)

'Sblood, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat's tongue, you bull's pizzle, you stock-fish! O for breath to utter what is like thee! you tailor's-yard, you sheath, you bowcase; you vile standing-tuck! 
1 Henry IV (2.4.227-9)

Thy food is such
As hath been belch'd on by infected lungs.
Pericles (4.6.156)

Thou sodden-witted lord! thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows.
Troilus and Cressida (2.1.41)

Here's one for writers:

Thou hast the most unsavoury similes.
1 Henry IV (1.2.75)

Ooh. Burn!

Want more?

 This Shakespearean Insult Generator will toss some random Elizabethan insults your way.


Nov 25, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: The Shakespeare Edition, Part 2

Did you know that Shakespeare actually invented a lot of  new words as he wrote his plays?

Words like gloomy, bandit, bedroom, bloodstained, hobnob, gossip, madcap, majestic, lacklustre, and zany appear on the list, according to

If you look up the words, there is usually some word he used as a basis, maybe coming up with an adjective from an existing noun or verb, turning nouns into verbs, and playing with prefixes and suffixes. Some words are fully original.

Gloomy, for example, is based on gloom, "to look sullen or displeased."

Lacklustre, on the other hand, came about when Shakespeare combined lack + lustre into a whole new word in "As You Like It." has a comprehensive list, so just click here to see more. All of the words are handily linked  to the play they appear in. Useful, huh?

But those are not Shakespeare's only legacy. Some of his most famous characters live on in the English language as well as his plays.

Consider words like Romeo "a lover, passionate seducer of women," or Falstaffian "fat, humorous, jovial," for example.

Not bad for a playwright from the 1600s.


Nov 24, 2015

How Writers Write Fiction week 7: Revision


So, the last session of How Writers Write Fiction has come and gone. Whew! I'll be glad to get back to my regular writing schedule. But first, a few words about revision. 

Revision is just that, re +vision, seeing the text with fresh eyes. We talked about layering, as in adding layers of depth to your description, and on the other had doing several passes over the text for different aspects of writing, like grammar, character arcs, using all the senses, and dialogue. 

You can edit all you like, but the hard truth is that you need feedback from other people to move forward. Taking criticism well is hard, and I'm glad the session had some pointers on that and how to get the most out of your critiques. I think that participating in a critique group helps with developing those skills (and to develop a thicker hide, chitinous carapace, whatever). 

While the session was titled "Embracing Revision," it had a lot to do with subtext. A part of our required reading was "The Secret Life of Subtext" by John McNally.

Here's a quote: 

If the story itself is a lake, then its subtext is the Loch Ness monster, dipping in and out, keeping mostly hidden, but sometimes rising up and scaring the bejesus out of you. Or sometimes the subtext is the main story's doppelgänger: it looks like the main story, it has the same cast of characters, but it's acting in peculiar ways, and (more frighteningly) it has its own agenda.Revision is the act of teasing the Loch Ness monster out of the water or drawing the doppelgänger out from the shadows so that we can take a good look, see it more clearly, and perhaps understand why it's doing what it's doing.

Something to think about. (And I do love a good Loch Ness monster metaphor.) 
Great course. I'm happy I took part. I hope they do another one next year; I'll definitely join in the fun.  

Nov 23, 2015

Hamlet and Coriolanus

I saw National Theatre's Hamlet and Coriolanus recently, and greatly enjoyed both. National Theatre Live is a great idea. I'd have never been able to see these without it, and I'm deeply grateful. I only hope they'll release these great performances on blueray or dvd one of these days. The Metropolitan Live opera performances have been released, but not the theatre ones. It seems to be a matter of rights, or something like that, but it feels like a waste if these fantastic performances disappear, burning brightly for an instant, then gone forever. 

Coriolanus is basically an Elizabethan action movie set in ancient Rome. Hiddleston was fantastic in the role, and the production was very well done. I loved how they used the colour red throughout the play. (This is how you do symbolism, take note, Crimson Peak.)  I've always been fascinated with ancient Roman graffities, and I liked how they used graffiti in the production. One of my favourite National Theatre productions of all time. 

There have been some great modern Hamlets in the past few years. I liked Benedict Cumberbatch's performance, and this newest production was beautiful, but I prefer Rory Kinnear's Hamlet from 2010. David Tennant was also memorable in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2009 production. (That one you can get on dvd, click here to go to Amazon.)

It's interesting to compare the productions and how the actors made the role their own.  Tennant brought a nervous energy and humour cut with cold capriciousness to the performance, while Kinnear's Hamlet was tragic, almost an everyman rather than a prince, his madness close to depression. Then emotional range and subtlety in his performance was astounding; that's the Hamlet that made me cry. The production was also very good, and I liked the Big-Brother-is -watching-you symbolism of the surveillance cameras as a parallel to the paranoia of living in the Elizabethan society of Shakespeare's time. Cumberbatch was almost rational in his madness (I am aware that I might be projecting this on his performance because of Sherlock), and his soliloquies were beautifully done, but I didn't get the same feel of really being in the character's head as with the others.

Writerly digression: Shakespeare gets away with a lot of  exposition with his grand soliloquies. Like this, for example:    

129   O, that this too too solid flesh would melt, 
130   Thaw and resolve itself into a dew! 
131   Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd 
132   His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God! 
133   How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable, 
134   Seem to me all the uses of this world! 
135   Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden, 
136   That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature 
137   Possess it merely. That it should come to this! 
138   But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two: 
139   So excellent a king; that was, to this, 
140   Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother 
141   That he might not beteem the winds of heaven 
142   Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth! 
143   Must I remember? why, she would hang on him, 
144   As if increase of appetite had grown 
145   By what it fed on: and yet, within a month— 
146   Let me not think on't—Frailty, thy name is woman!— 
147   A little month, or ere those shoes were old 
148   With which she follow'd my poor father's body, 
149   Like Niobe, all tears: why she, even she— 
150   O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason, 
151   Would have mourn'd longer—married with my uncle, 
152   My father's brother, but no more like my father 
153   Than I to Hercules: within a month: 
154   Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears 
155   Had left the flushing in her galled eyes, 
156   She married. O, most wicked speed, to post 
157   With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! 
158   It is not nor it cannot come to good: 
159   But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue. 

(Quote from Hamlet by William Shakespeare.) 

I've probably mentioned this before, but a really useful website for understanding Shakespeare's plays is They have notes on the more obscure allusions in the plays and also vocabulary stuff. The notes are placed conveniently beside the text so you don't have to go back and forth to see them. The site doesn't have all of Shakespeare's plays, but it's worth a look if you're interested in the subject. 

I know Shakespeare's plays are regarded as somewhat highbrow nowadays, but they really weren't at the time he wrote them.  Shakespeare aims to entertain; there's fight scenes and comedy and vulgar jokes aplenty (check out Shakespeare Navigator for the ones you missed.) in addition to the deeper themes and drama. And the wonderful thing is that even after hundreds of years, Shakespeare's plays can still touch you, make you laugh or make you cry. 

That's pretty amazing in my book.

Nov 22, 2015

And So It Begins . . .

The first snow. Winter is officially here. The streets were so slippery that I had to dig out the old Icebugs for my walk today. Some kids had already built a few snow lanterns in the park. Glad somebody's enjoying it. 

Northanger Abbey


I just finished reading Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen's first novel to be completed for publication. Austen sold it to a London bookseller Crosby & Co. in 1803, but they decided against publication, so she bought it back for the same sum of ten pounds, and it was finally published after her death in 1817. 

Northanger Abbey has all the trademarks of an Austen novel: the intricacies of etiquette in high society, deliberation on marrying for money and marrying for love, the social commentary, and Austen's wry sense of humour. Austen uses the book to poke fun at the gothic novel, which is hilarious at times, but somehow that part feels extraneous to me. Maybe it's just that I've read Austen's other works, which feel more polished and complete. Okay, the obsession with gothic novels is part of the main character, but is it necessary to the story? If Austen had gone another way, would it have hurt the book?

There is also an unexpected author intrusion where Austen gives the reader a piece of her mind on the value of novels. Apparently there was a great deal of prejudice against them at the time.  

As the main character, Catherine, is obsessed with gothic novels, and the book plays on that fantasy versus reality aspect, I wonder if the author intrusions where Austen reminds us that we're reading a novel and breaks the reader's immersion in the story are a conscious choice. Here's a link to the Jane Austen Society's analysis of the book for further reading. The page also has an excerpt of Austen's defence of the novel. 

What did  I take away from this as a writer? Parody's hard to get right. This is one of Austen's earlier works, originally meant to be read only to her family. Maybe she was still finding her groove? The prose is lovely, and the voice is there, but somehow this rings hollow to me. I didn't get that invested in the characters or the story; not like I did with Pride and Prejudice or Emma

In the end, I feel like this is two books smooshed together: a Jane Austen novel and a parody of the gothic novel.     

An enjoyable read, but it doesn't make my list of all-time favourites.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Nov 21, 2015

Turns Out You Can Buy Happiness

Stockmann and the Hope charity have combined forces to bring Christmas cheer to underprivileged children this year. A lot of parents have trouble making ends meet and can't afford much in the way of Christmas presents for their kids, and that's where we come in.

You can help either by donating old toys to children in need or by purchasing a present from a wish list. I elected to do the latter.

The process was very simple: I just walked up to a salesperson and we picked out the present together. After I paid and wrote a small note to the child, she took care of everything else.

Think about participating if you can. It can be hard to rediscover the magic of Christmas as an adult, but doing this will make your heart grow at least three sizes, and you get to make a kid really happy in the process.

You can read more about the toy drive here and peruse the wish list here.

(The info here only applies if you're living in Finland, but for everyone else, I'm sure that you can find similar toy drives at a local charity.)

Nov 20, 2015

The Cow Creamer

Remember P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves books? What about the TV show? Jeeves and Wooster, what a pair. One of my favourite episodes is the one with the stolen cow creamer, and when hubby and I saw this, we just couldn't resist.  (And yes, I know the one in the story is silver, but this will do for us.)

Nov 18, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: Rhetorical Devices

On Monday's post I explored some rhetorical devices James Joyce used in the Ulysses. I don't speak Greek, so I find a lot of these words very difficult to learn and remember. (Insert mandatory "it's all Greek to me" joke here. Interestingly, in Finland the expression goes "It's all Hebrew to me.") So, I thought I'd take a few of my favourites and find out where they come from. I kept the definitions from the first post; they are mostly from Ulysses Annotated.

Ellipsis, a deliberate omission of a word or words implied by context, comes from the Greek elleipein "to fall short, to leave out," from en "in" + leipein "to leave."

Metonymy, the substitution of an attribute of the thing for the thing itself, has its roots in Greek metonymia "a change of name," from meta "change" + onyma from onoma, "name."

Syllepsis: a word made to refer to two or more words in the same sentence while proper applying to only one, or applying to them in different senses (literal and figurative). From Greek synlepsis, syn "together"+ lepsis "to take."

Zeugma, the use of a single word to modify or govern two or more words, especially when applying them in different senses, comes from the Greek zeugnygnai "to yoke." Zeugma in Greek means "to join together."

Heavy stuff, but this makes the definition of the word much clearer to me.

Hey, maybe I should study Greek next?

Ulysses Annotated by Don Gifford and Robert J. Seidman

Nov 17, 2015

How Writers Write Fiction: Weeks 5 and 6: On Setting and Description


I grouped these two sessions together, because they both focused on setting and description.

 For week five, we talked about voice and setting, with interesting lectures from Naomi Jackson and Horacio Castellanos Moya.    A lot of this was familiar stuff, and most of it was directed at literary writers, once again.

Jackson talked about research, living in the place you're writing about and picking up those little things that make your story ring true, like special words people use, what they eat,  and what customs they have. These things are useful for building your fantasy and alien cultures, too, and understanding what makes a real-world culture tick helps with building your own.

Another useful tip was to use of real-world maps to track where your characters are going, and if you can't do your research in person, Google Earth is a useful tool for "seeing" your surroundings.

Using all the senses was familiar advice, but it was a good reminder to also think about filtering your description through your character, remembering that his or her state of mind, her age, etc. will affect how she sees the environment, what she notices, and how it will make her feel and react. Different characters will notice different things.

Another thing that stuck was Jackson's talk about the language of home, the language of the schoolyard, and the language of the kitchen; all of these languages are different and have their own vocabularies. An interesting way to look at it.

Week six focused more on description. Leslie Jamison offered an interesting exercise: try to describe the same setting or object through characters in different emotional situation, like a man whose wife has just died, a girl on the first day of summer vacation, or an elderly woman who has just heard that her children aren't coming to visit her for Christmas, for example. You'll get very different description of the same object from all of them. So a scene has to have emotional and physical textures to the description.

Paul Harding spoke about the similarities of detail in paintings and in prose, and how you can use a similar process to do some word painting. I found his ideas of scale and contrast interesting. He said that you should always put the light next to the dark, the large next to the small. An example he gave was that any thunderstorm can be compared to the storms on Jupiter.

He also talked about being specific, using specific detail, and mentioned Anton Chekhov's short stories as a good way to study this. Another volume for the to-be-read pile.

The exercise for week six was interesting, as it began with doing a description exercise where we took half an hour and just wrote description about our surroundings. I did this on the train back home from Helsinki. As you can imagine, a train carriage is about the most boring environment to examine, but I was surprised by how much vivid detail I came up with. I did a similar exercise in the workshop at Archipelacon last summer, and it's very useful, especially for someone like me, for whom overly abundant description usually isn't a problem. I'm a bit jealous of those people who can just fill page after page with description, making it look effortless.

Lots of food for thought. It's a good thing the course ends this week. I think my brain is full.


Nov 16, 2015

What James Joyce Taught Me About Rhetorical Devices

So, Ulysses is progressing, slowly but surely. Everything went fine until I got to the Aeolus episode (the one in the newspaper offices).  Suddenly it just stopped making sense. There were these weird titles, and even though I had read the notes in Ulysses Annotated, I couldn't understand what was going on. I understood the words, even the sentences they formed, but the whole of it . . . Nope. Then I noticed a note at the bottom of the page on Ulysses Annotated about rhetorical devices. This led me to an appendix titled "Rhetorical Figures in Aeolus."

Yay! Finally it makes sense; Joyce designated the "art" of this episode to be rhetoric and then proceeded to stuff it with every rhetorical device imaginable.

What is a rhetorical device? Wikipedia defines it as a technique that the author (or speaker) uses to convey to the reader (or listener) a meaning with the goal of persuading her to consider a topic from a different perspective. Maybe it's to provoke a rational argument from an emotional display, or to evoke an emotional response or to give perspective to action. Different aspects of this are logos (using logical ideas to appeal to the audience), pathos (appealing to the audience's emotions), and ethos (describing the guiding beliefs of an ideology, nation, or community, an appeal based on the character of the speaker). Check out Aristotle's Rhetoric for more. (I'm adding it to my to-be-read list, but one massively difficult book at a time.)

 I found stuff on the list that I've never heard of, a lot of it fascinating. It kind of makes me want to try some of them out in my writing, too. No, not like Joyce. I do appreciate the complexity of the Ulysses, but I feel that writing and storytelling should be about communicating with the reader, not only with English professors. (Come on, admit it, Joyce is kind of a show-off. A lot of the time it feels like he's thumbing his nose at the reader, doing a little jig, and singing "I'm smarter that you, I'm smarter than you!")

Here's a few examples, divided into three categories. The middle one has the stuff I plan to try out. (The quotations are from Ulysses and the explanations of the rhetorical devices from Ulysses Annotated) :

Kiddie stuff

Allegory: description of a subject under the guise another subject. Example: "Youth led by Experience visits Notoriety."

Alliteration: the repetition of similar consonant sounds at the beginning of words or stressed syllables. Example: "Peeled pear."

Anticlimax: opposite of climax. Example: "Father Son and Holy Ghost and Jakes McCarthy."

Anagram: the transposition of the letters of a word. Example: "feetstoops."

Anataclasis/antistasis: repeating the same word in a different sense. Example: "More Irish than the Irish."

Apocope: the omission of the last letter or syllable of a word. Example: "Nannan" (For Nannetti.)

Asyndeton: the omission of conjunctions. Example: "They watched the knees, legs, boots vanish."

Climax: arrangement of words, phrases, clauses in order of increasing importance. Example: "and then the lamb and the cat and the dog and the stick and the water and the butcher and then the angel of death kills the butcher."

Diasyrm: an expression of ridicule or disparagement. Example:"All his brains are in the nape of his neck."

Ecphonesis: an exclamation. Example: "Start, Palmerston Park!"

Epimome: persistent use of the same word or words. Example: "Fat folds of neck, fat, neck, fat, neck."

Epiphora: the insistent repetition of a word at the end of several sentences. Example: "Working away, tearing away."

Homoteleuton: a series of words with same/similar endings. "Mouth south: tomb womb:"

Hypochorism: a pet name. Example: "Doughy Daw."
Irony: intended meaning is opposite of the words used. Example: "Our lovely land."

Metaphor: the comparison of one thing to another without using like or as. Example: "Weathercocks." (Referring to journalists.)

Onomatopoeia: the formation of a name or word by imitation of the sound associated with it. Example: "Sllt" (Thesound of the printing machine against the paper, or something like that.)

Oxymoron: the conjoining of contradictory terms to give point to a statement or expression. Example: "I feel a strong weakness."

Palinderome: a word or verse that reads the same backwards and forwards. Example: "Madam, I'm Adam."

Parenthesis: an explanation inserted into a sentence with which it has no necessary connection. Example: "The Roman . . . brought to every shore on which he set his foot (on our shore he never set it) only his cloacal obsession."

Paronomasia: a pun. Example: "The Rows of Castille . . . Rose of cast steel."

Polysyndeton: the use of several conjunctions together or repetition of the same conjunction. Example: "And then the lamb and the cat and the dog and the stick and the water and the butcher . . ."

Prolepsis: the anticipation of and response to an opponent's objection. Example: "Vast, I allow."

Prosopopoeia/personification: an imaginary or absent person is represented as speaking/acting; also, investing abstractions with human qualities.

Simile: comparing something to something else using like or as. Example: "The loose flesh of his neck shook like a cock's wattles."

Syncope: the loss of letters or sounds in the middle  of a word. Example: "o'er."

Synonymy: the use synonyms for amplification. Example: "the vista far and wide."

Tautology: needless repetition of a word/phrase. Example: "Our old ancient ancestors."

Say what?

Anacoensis: the speaker appeals to the hearers for their opinion. "Look here. What did Ignatius Gallaher do?"

Anaphora: repetition of a phrase in several successive clauses. "See it in your face. See it in your eye."

Anthimeria: the substitution of one part of speech for another. Example: "Now am I going to tram it out all the way . . . "  ("Tram" becomes a verb.)

Ellipsis: a deliberate omission of a word or words implied by context. Example: "Hand on his heart." <-> (His) hand on his heart.

Erotesis/erotema: the bold assertion in the form of a question of the opposite that the question asks. Example: "Or was it you that shot the lord lieutenant of Finland between you?"

Hyperbaton/anastrophe: the inversion of the natural order of words or phrases, especially for emphasis. Example: "Hell of a racket they make."

Hypothyposis: the visionary imagination of thing not present. Example: "The ghost walks."

Metonymy: the substitution of an attribute of the thing for the thing itself. Example: "THE WEARER OF THE CROWN" (Refers to a king?)

Mimesis: an imitation of the words or actions of another. Example "Boohoo! Lenehan wept." (Mimicking the grief of Pyrrhus' followers.)

Paramegnon: the conjoining of words derived from one another. Example: "imperial, imperious, imperative."

Solecism: the violation of the rules of grammar or syntax. Example: "pensive bosom."

Syllepsis: a word made to refer to two or more words in the same sentence while proper applying to only one, or applying to them in different senses (literal and figurative). Example: "Gave it to them on a hot plate, the whole bloody history."

Synecdoche: the use of a more comprehensive term for a less comprehensive (whole for part or part for whole). Example: "Neck." stands for the whole man here.

Synchoresis: concession, a rhetorical device of enlisting sympathy before a tirade. Example:"Vast, I allow: but vile."

Truncated simile: a comparison of one thing to another especially as an ornament in rhetoric or poetry. Example: "Steal upon larks."

Zeugma: the use of a single word to modify or govern two or more words, especially when applying them in different senses. Example: "We are the boys of Wesxford/ Who fought with heart and hand."


Anacoluthia: a want of grammatical sequence; passing from one construction to another before the former is complete. Example: "Maybe he understands what I."

Anastomosis: insertion of a qualifying word between two parts of another word. Example:"Underdarkneath."

Anastrophy: inversion of the usual order of clauses/words. Example: "Was he short taken?"

Chiasmus: reversal of words in parallel clauses. Example: "Grossbooted draymen rolled barrels dullthudding out of Prince's stores and bumped them up on the brewery float. On the brewery float bumped dullthudding barrels rolled by grossbooted draymen out of Prince's stores."

Diaresis: the division of one syllable into two. Example: "Co-ome thou lost one/ Co-one thou dear one."

Enthyme: an argument based on a probable premise. Example: "If you want to draw the cashier is just going to lunch." (The implication is that it's payday.)

Metathesis: a transposition of words; the interchange of position between sounds or letters in a word. Example:  kcirtaP."

Prolepsis: the taking of the future as already existing. Example: "The moon, professor MacHugh said."

Ulysses by James Joyce
Ulysses Annotated by Don Gifford and Robert J. Seidman

Nov 15, 2015


For all the victims of Friday's tragedy and their families, my thoughts are with you. Maybe if we all light a candle we can bring some light into this darkness and terror. Paris is the city of light, and none will ever dim her splendour or extinguish the spirit of her people.   

Les feuilles mortes 

Oh ! je voudrais tant que tu te souviennes
Des jours heureux où nous étions amis.
En ce temps-là la vie était plus belle,
Et le soleil plus brûlant qu'aujourd'hui.
Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle.
Tu vois, je n'ai pas oublié...
Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle,
Les souvenirs et les regrets aussi
Et le vent du nord les emporte
Dans la nuit froide de l'oubli.
Tu vois, je n'ai pas oublié
La chanson que tu me chantais.

C'est une chanson qui nous ressemble.
Toi, tu m'aimais et je t'aimais
Et nous vivions tous les deux ensemble,
Toi qui m'aimais, moi qui t'aimais.
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s'aiment,
Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable
les pas des amants désunis.

Fallen leaves

Oh I would like you so much to remember
The joyful days when we were friends.
At that time, life was more beautiful
And the sun burned more than it does today.
Fallen leaves can be picked up by the shovelful.
You see, I have not forgotten...
Fallen leaves can be picked up by the shovelful,
So can memories and regrets.
And the north wind takes them
Into the cold night of oblivion.
You see, I have not forgotten
The song you used to sing me.

This song is like us.
You used to love me and I used to love you
And we used to live together,
You loving me, me loving you.
But life separates lovers,
Pretty slowly, noiselessly,
And the sea erases on the sand
The separated lovers' footprints.

According to Wikipedia,  "Les feuilles mortes" ( "The Dead Leaves")  is  a 1945 French song with music by Hungarian-French composer Joseph Kosma and lyrics by poet Jacques Prévert. (the Hungarian title is "Hulló levelek" (Falling Leaves)), but it's most famous for Yves Montand's version in the film Les Portes de la nuit (1946).

Ai Weiwei's Startling Ideas


The Helsinki Art Museum is showing an exhibition of Ai Weiwei's art until the end of February, and I checked it out on my trip to Helsinki. Ai Weiwei is a human rights activist, as you all probably know, and a lot of the pieces reflect that, or have ideas stemming from social injustice or tragedies in his native China, but I found a lot of these stunning from a purely visual standpoint. 

Weiwei uses a lot of reclaimed wood from demolished houses or temples. The tree above was built of dead trees from the mountain regions of China. It had a weird vibe to it, like the heart trees from Game of Thrones; it's beautiful, but somehow wrong or strange. Intimidating. 

This wasn't a temple, although it looks like one. It's an old house, painted white. Something skeletal about it, isn't there?


This one affected me the the most. Weiwei did the piece after a school collapsed due to shoddy building practices, killing lots of  children. These boxes have marble versions of the bent support beams inside, reminding us of the lives lost.


This piece consisted of beautiful antique tables and wooden beams salvaged from temples. The guide said that it might be a metaphor for the oppression of the state towards the people, represented by the humble tables. Without the tables, the whole thing would fall apart. This was an art critic's though on the installation, not Weiwei's own, so I don't know. I found it beautiful and strange, in any case. 

Regardless of the politics, I enjoyed the exhibition. There's a lovely geometry to Weiwei's pieces, something that just lets the mind rest. 

If you're traveling in Helsinki, it's definitely worth a look. 

Nov 13, 2015

Modern Fairy Tales


Do you like modern retellings of classic fairy tales? Here are a few of my favourites. Most of these are anthologies of modern retold fairytales edited by  Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. 

Most of you probably remember Gregory Maguire from his Wizard of Oz book, Wicked, but I much prefer his Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, a retelling of Cinderella. 


Want something even more modern? Why not check out Bill Willingham's comic Fables, the story of fairy-tale characters exiled to our world. It's pretty awesome up to the end of the war against the Adversary, so about to Fables: The Dark Ages.

What about you? What's your favourite modern fairy tale?   

Nov 12, 2015

Steampunk Finds


                              While in Helsinki, we had time for a few hours of retail therapy. 


The coat and steampunk jewellery is from a shop called Morticia in the Kamppi shopping centre. They specialise in goth fashions, but there's plenty of steampunky stuff from gorgeous corsets to fascinators. The pictures don't do these justice, btw. 


                                  These are from the Opera Shop. I just couldn't resist. 

Nov 11, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: Frozen Words

In honour of Frozen Fairy Tales, I thought we'd look at some wintery words this week.

The word winter comes from Old English wintru "the fourth and coldest season, winter." The origins are probably in the Proto-Indo-European word wend from root wed- meaning water, so "the wet season." Another possibility is Old Irish find  meaning "white."

Ice comes from Old English is "piece of ice." The Online Etymology Dictionary lists lots of related words, but the origin is uncertain. Snow is also of Old English word snaw, from Proto-Indo-European root sniegwh- "snow, to snow."

Freeze is from Middle English fresen, from Old English freosan, from PIE root preus- "to freeze," but curiously it also means "to burn." Related words are Latin pruina "hoarfrost" and pruna "live coal." The meaning "to become motionless" is only from the 1720s, while the "perish from cold" meaning is from the 1300s. Interestingly, the word hoar seems to come from Old English har "hoary, grey, venerable, old," from PIE root kei-,  a source of colour adjectives. A possible explanation for this is thought to be the resemblance of white feathers of frost to an old man's beard.

What about the northern lights? Aurora borealis means "northern dawn," from Latin Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, from root aus- "to shine," and Greek Boreas "north wind."

I had fun browsing the related words. Here's a few interesting ones I found: gelid, from Latin gelidus, "very cold"; psychro-, a word-forming element from Greek psykhrein "to blow to make cold," the same origin as psyche; cryo-, a word-forming element from Greek kryos "icy cold"; frigorific from Latin frigus "cold"+ ficus "making" so it means cold-causing. Gradgrind means a cool, factual person, from the mill owner in Dickens' "Hard Times."

Okay, I need a hot cup of Earl Grey now.


Nov 10, 2015

Frozen Fairy Tales


  The Frozen Fairy Tales anthology is out today!

Here's some info from the World Weaver Press site. Isn't the cover gorgeous, by the way?


Winter is not coming. Winter is here. As unique and beautifully formed as a snowflake, each of these fifteen stories spins a brand new tale or offers a fresh take on an old favorite like Jack Frost, The Snow Queen, or The Frog King. From a drafty castle to a blustery Japanese village, from a snow-packed road to the cozy hearth of a farmhouse, from an empty coffee house in Buffalo, New York, to a cold night outside a university library, these stories fully explore the perils and possibilities of the snow, wind, ice, and bone-chilling cold that traditional fairy tale characters seldom encounter.

In the bleak midwinter, heed the irresistible call of fairy tales. Just open these pages, snuggle down, and wait for an icy blast of fantasy to carry you away. With all new stories of love, adventure, sorrow, and triumph by Tina Anton, Amanda Bergloff, Gavin Bradley, L.A. Christensen, Steven Grimm, Christina Ruth Johnson, Rowan Lindstrom, Alison McBain, Aimee Ogden, J. Patrick Pazdziora, Lissa Marie Redmond, Anna Salonen, Lissa Sloan, Charity Tahmaseb, and David Turnbull to help you dream through the cold days and nights of this most dreaded season


Introduction by Kate Wolford
The Stolen Heart by Christina Ruth Johnson
Faithful Henry by Steven Grimm
The Ice Fisher by J. Patrick Pazdziora
Buffalo Wings by Lissa Marie Redmond
Cold Bites by Tina Anton
Death in Winter by Lissa Sloan
Simon the Cold by Charity Tahmaseb
The Light of the Moon, the Strength of the Storm, the Warmth of the Sun by Aimee Ogden
A Heart of Winter by Anna Salonen
Happily Ever After by Amanda Bergloff
The Heart of Yuki-Onna by Alison McBain
The Wolf Queen by Rowan Lindstrom
What She Saw by Lantern Light by L.A. Christensen
The Shard of Glass by David Turnbull
How Jack Frost Stole Winter by Gavin Bradley


Kate Wolford is a university lecturer and anthologist living in the Midwest. Fairy tales are her specialty. Previous books include Beyond the Glass Slipper: Ten Neglected Fairy Tales to Fall in Love With and Krampusnacht: Twelve Nights of Krampus, both published by World Weaver Press. She maintains a blogazine, Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine, at

Nov 9, 2015

Fairy Tales: Step Off the Beaten Path


I love classic fairy tales, but sometimes you're in the mood for something a bit different. For a westerner, these Japanese tales are just that. Sometimes fairy tales can get a bit predictable, but there's no danger of that with these stories. Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn is a collection of Japanese supernatural horror stories, and  Royall Tyler's Japanese Tales will transport you to medieval Japan and introduce you to ghosts, demons, healers, and saints. Some of the animal fable type stories were quite graphic, but then, Grimm's Fairy Tales aren't all snuggles and cotton candy, either.   

It's interesting to read folk tales from different countries. Sometimes you discover a familiar story in different guise, and it makes you wonder if that's the original one. When people traveled to distant lands, they took their stories with them, and the best ones got adopted by the locals. Pretty cool, huh? 


This beautiful book is a souvenir of a trip to Scotland, but you don't have to sit on the shores of a dark loch to enjoy these tales. Pour yourself a dram of the good stuff and settle down in front of the fire to learn all about selkies, giants, mermaids and ogres.  


Have you heard of Baba Yaga yet? Trust me, you need to. Russian tales are dark and magical, and they appeal to those who like their fairy tales dark and gruesome. My edition is in Finnish, but you can probably pick up a nice collection on Amazon. 


The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries By W. Y. Evans-Wentz isn't exactly fairy tales, but a "scientific" book of a folklorist gathering stories of the Fey in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Brittany. I found it a fascinating read, and a treasure trove of story ideas. Be warned, the writing's a bit on the dry, scholarly side. I bough this in a magic shop in Edinburgh, so that makes the book extra special to me. 


This is for all the Finnish readers out there. Myytillisiä Tarinoita by Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura is a classic for anyone interested in Finnish ghost stories and folklore. You''ll probably have to track it down at the library, but trust me, this book is worth it.  (No translation that I know of, sorry.)

So, that's my picks. Have a book recommendation of your own? Post it in the comments.

Nov 8, 2015

He's Here, the Phantom of the Opera


I saw The Phantom of the Opera at Kansallisooppera in Helsinki yesterday, and it was amazing. Somehow the Finnish National Opera got permission to make their own sets and costumes for the show and to do their own interpretation of the musical. Here are a few photos of the program leaflet to give you an idea (Photos by Stefan Bremer, according to the program).


The sets were gorgeous. I loved the way they did "The Phantom of the Opera" with moving stairs and stone pillars, and the Phantom's lair was one or the most beautiful sets I've ever seen. The chandelier was also very well done, spectral and possessed, floating on invisible strings around the hall. The singing was competent, too. Not up to the London cast, of course, but especially Carlotta and Christine stood out.  

There were a few tiny flaws, of course, but mainly just minor quibbles. The Finnish accents of the singers were a bit distracting, and I disliked the phantom's costume. The golden mask looks pretty up close, but you can't actually see it if you're not sitting in the first few rows. So there is a point to the white mask of the original production, I think.  The Phantom also wore a weird coat that left his forearms bare and some fingerless gloves. That combined with the long hair made him look like a middle-aged heavy metal fan. Raoul on the other hand was gorgeous. Rather unfair. 

They also played up Christine's fear of the phantom, so the sense of wonder and the Phantom's seduction of Christine in the beginning got some dark and unpleasant overtones; it was less seduction, more getting kidnapped by a weirdo in a mask. A sound idea, I guess, but it did take away from the sexual tension between them and kind of killed the love triangle. This made the ending ring a bit hollow for me. 


                                                                   Raoul and Christine. 


Here's the Phantom. The detail on the coat is nice, but you could only see it up close.

The show is sold out, but the same production will be shown at the Göteborg Opera in 2017. Details here, if you're interested. 

Nov 6, 2015

How to be a Dandy

I bought this book from the museum shop when I saw the Dardel exhibition, and I thought I'd share a few pictures from it. Dandyism is alive and well in the modern age, as you can see.

Don't these gents look très élégants?

Source: I am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman by Rose Callahan and Nathaniel Adams

Nov 4, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: The Dandy

Dandyism was about cultivating a certain aesthetic, appreciating beauty, satisfying one's passions, and a sort of aristocratic intellectual superiority. As Oscar Wilde, a famous dandy in his day, said: "One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art."

The word dandy is from the 1780s, with origins uncertain. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it originally appeared in this Scottish ballad:

"I've heard my granny crack
O' sixty twa years back
When there were sic a stock of Dandies O"
In that region, dandy is a diminutive of Andrew. Dandy might also be a shortened form of the 17th century jack-a-dandy, meaning conceited fellow.

Can a woman be a dandy? Sure! There's even a special word for it: cointrelle, even though dandyess and dandizette were used briefly. Cointrelle comes from the word coint, meaning a skillfully made thing.