Friday, 27 March 2015

Portable Magic: the *Spanish* books I've been disappearing into.

Thank you for the warm welcome many of extended to this series after the first post last month and thanks for all chiming in with your bookmark confessions in our chat about folding down corners.

My eyes and hands may be occupied by crafty scraps much of the time but writing is what keeps my head and heart satisfied.  So it made sense to recognise that by introducing these new book-loving 'wordy' posts to my blog this year. So let's get on with today's chapter shall we?

Last month I talked about The Infatuations by Javier Marias - a book translated from Spanish and, at that time, I hadn't planned for it to kick-start a veritable Spanish literature festival on my bookshelf ... but, somehow the next two novels I read were also translated from Spanish.

So today I'll share with you the two novels which completed my Spanish literature hat-trick [or should that be my tres tantos de la literatura española? ]

I know some of you are taking part in a reading challenge this year which involves reading one translated book ... so maybe there'll be something for you here to look out for ...

Traveller of the Century :: Andres Neuman
This is a big book. In lots of ways.

For a start it's close to 600 pages. Which is fine by me. I enjoy a big book. I like the immersive feeling you get when you invest in reading something that long. Like I'm moving into another town, another era, another life for the duration.

And then there's the fact that it's so full of everything that it's very hard to describe in a short summary. The topics covered include everything from: European history, politics and the social conventions of the early 19th Century [in which the novel is set] - to love, sex, culture, the art of translating texts [the protagonist Hans is a travelling translator] and there's even a murder mystery plot thrown in for good luck.

So why did I pick it up from the library shelf? What drew me to it?

Well what caught my eye in the 'blurb' was the description of the [fictional, German/Prussian border] town of Wandernburg as having 'shifting geography' and I liked that idea. It sounded like it would, and indeed it does, give the book a slight air of magical realism.

In fact I thought it might remind me of Mark Z Danielewski's House of Leaves - where the house is creepily larger on the inside [and no, it's not a TARDIS.]

But it turns out that while the layout of the town does indeed keep changing [streets, building and landmarks never quite keep themselves in one fixed spot], baffling those who are unfamiliar with it, it strangely doesn't play a great part in the plot ... it just serves to keep the whole book in a slightly off-kilter, unreal, category, marking it out as being about 19th Century ... but which is happy to use more modern experimental narrative techniques.

Here are a few of my favourite quotes to give you a flavour of the prose.
"An hour later the cold was so severe that the fire no longer warmed them. [...] The wind entered the mouth of the cave and seeped into the cracks, through the gaps in their clothing, and under their nails".

I love the image of the wind being so persistent that it even makes its way under their nails!

And how about another delightfully clever visual:
"For the first time Lamberg let out a long guffaw, then seemed amazed at himself and sucked his laugh up again like a noodle".
Now then - it's time to put your hands over Granny's ears - because I want to talk about sex.

OK, I'm not actually going to talk about it [let alone quote from those scenes. Oh my!] but let me try to talk around it because as one review [from the Telegraph via the Amazon page] describes Traveller of the Century: [it's] "a big, utterly captivating murder mystery and love story, full of history and politics and the hottest sex in contemporary fiction."

To be honest I don't generally stumble across much sex [now there's a image you might not get out of your head for a while] ... I mean in the in the fiction I read so whether it's the hottest .. I don't know. But the relationship between Hans and Sophie - who wants more for her life than the stifling social codes of the day afford her - is both undeniably hot and, for me at least, an entirely unexpected interlude in the middle of this vast book about all kinds of other things!

The blurb said there was a 'love' story so I wasn't exactly prepared for any of the more ... let's call them 'energetic' scenes ...  let alone what Sophie did with those soap suds ...

But for the record, like the rest of the text, all those scenes are very well crafted and not at all cliché or exploitative. But they are graphic - so consider yourself forewarned.

Me? I'm not especially shockable so I didn't mind in the slightest except ... there was just one issue I had with those scenes ... none of which is the fault of author Andres Neuman:

I wandered into the majority of those scenes while at work.

When my student is busy working, and doesn't need any assistance, I can occupy myself with a book. Which is fine and dandy ... until you find yourself in a room full of students learning how to search the library catalogue ... and suddenly you find yourself thrust into a carriage with someone wearing tight breeches ... and then you're in a bedroom when whoops! there go the breeches ...

I was completely paranoid that everyone would know what I was reading. As if there might be a large speech bubble above my head displaying the words as I read them! And, blimey ... did I make doubly sure that no one was reading over my shoulder!

So, how can I round this review up? Well, not wishing to reduce this vast multi-layered intellectual novel down to level of discussion my sister and I tend to have over wine and Pinterest - but ...

... if there's anything that will get you through the story it'll be leading man Hans. You'll love him so much you really won't mind spending 600 pages with him.

He's intelligent, forthright, decent [he looks after an ailing old organ grinder and his dog for goodness sake] and not to mention dashing [wild hair and big white shirts, it's all there]... in fact ...

... if Aiden Turner's got time on his hands after Poldark I could happily see him in the role of our traveller Hans anyone cares to turn this into a mini-series!

Further reading:

Inferno :: Benito Perez Galdos
Like the Traveller of the Century Benito Perez Galdos's Inferno is also set in the 19th Century.
But, unlike the Neuman's novel which was published in 2012 ... this one was written and published in the century it was set [1884 to be exact] and it shows.  
Sophie in Traveller of the Century [the one enjoying herself with Hans] is a woman fighting against the social constraints of her time and making an attempt to live within the patriarchal oppression while trying to push at its boundaries. 
Meanwhile, Amparo, the protagonist in Benito Perez Galdos's Inferno is just as stifled ... but don't expect any forthright speeches on how and why things must change from her. And the relationship she develops with her leading man couldn't be more different to that of Hans and Sophie.
And that's the thing about reading something set when it was written ... it's more closely aligned to the attitudes of the day. Which is not to say that Perez Galdos is entirely unsympathetic to Amparo's plight [whose only options for a stable future are given as marriage or the nunnery!]. It's just that he's reflecting what was. Not what we - in our enlightened vantage point 130 years later - would prefer it to be.
This book contains some achingly frustrating scenes where you just want to shake the characters and tell them to get over it. To just be together. To stop caring what polite society will and won't allow.
And even more disturbingly there's a whole section of the book containing scenes of what we'd now term 'domestic violence' which I found desperately claustrophobic and uncomfortable. But then ... they were no doubt intended to be. That kind of character exploration shouldn't be easy to read. But, in a book I was already struggling to like ... this really asked a lot.
Have you ever read something set in the past but written recently and found yourself  pointing out its anachronistically feisty female characters saying "Oh that would never have happened? She would never really have been so bold, so outspoken, so emancipated" etc etc ... and you roll your eyes at the author for putting 21st Century words into 18th Century mouths? Well ..
... what reading Inferno has taught me is: when you find yourself inside a book which shows how some women really couldn't escape oppressive social conventions ... you'd really give anything for one wonderfully freeing unrealistic moment of defiance!  
Further reading: this was tricky to find, there's not a great deal out there - not that's been translated into English at least. Plus the book seems a little tricky to get hold of - I came across my copy randomly in a charity shop.
So, that's my journey into Spanish fiction over for now. Since then I've visited Nigeria, America and Sweden ... maybe I'll give you a tour of those books another time.
Until then I'll welcome your thoughts on:
  • reading translated fiction
  • reading any of the novels or themes I've mentioned
  • or even ...
  • how you've perfected your poker-face while reading sex scenes in public ... 
 I await your comments ...

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Cardmaking: with a photographic focal point

Hello hello.

How about something colourful and quick to kick-start your creative week that might also inspire you to dust off your printer to make use of all those photos you've been taking?

OK, then here's the card I made for Mother's Day this year:
The focal point - the photograph of a colourful fruit and vegetable market stall - comes from a very sweet set of mini cards and envelopes I found here at Lemon Cat Shop on Etsy. Here's a closer look:
Once I'd selected that this was the particular mini card I was going to use I drew from it the colour scheme for the whole card: lilac, bright green and orange.

For the record: I think orange is going to be a big colour trend this year. I've been thinking it for a while [I like colours ... it's the kind of thing that occupies my mind from time to time!!] and have recently started seeing it crop up in all kinds of places since. I've even spotted orange fashion displays in Marks & Spencer the other day! And surely it must be a strong trend if it's even reached M&S! So ... I'm predicting it'll be making into craft supplies soon ... *puts crystal ball back in the cupboard*.

Where were we? Oh yes ... a quick crafty card ...
  • so, I picked a pre-printed card and selected my colour-scheme from it;
  • then I gathered together a few scraps of paper in those colours and layered them up on a kraft card base;
  • I then introduced some splashes of white - via the jute mesh strip and mini peg clipped to the top - to pick up the white border in the photo;
  • my final touches came in the form of a 'love' sentiment sticker and one of my favourite ever  embellishments I created: an embossed, painted and die-cut metal heart:
I came up with the idea for these when I created a 'Metal Embossing' masterclass for Papercraft Inspirations magazine in 2014 [Issue 128 if you have any back-issues you want to flip through!] and I've enjoyed using them on my own projects ever since. This particular one was a prototype that I didn't use for my final published samples ... but I rather like its scratchy imperfections.
And that's that; a decorative card full of colour and texture, yet only made from 4 components:
  1. photo focal point
  2. coordinating paper strips
  3. a simple sentiment
  4. and a single eye-catching embellishment ... and you're done!
Here [again] is how it all mixed together:
Feel free to take the merest whiff of inspiration from it ... or else copy the whole thing outright. I don't mind. [Drop in to share your version with me anytime]. 
And if you don't have the mini photo cards that I used ...
  • then why not print one of your own photos on to some white cardstock and use that instead?
  • It'll not only make a wonderfully bespoke focal feature ... it'll also give you the chance to show off snaps of your favourite holidays, scenery, pets or family members!  
And, if you're brave / egotistical enough you could even stick a selfie centre-stage on a card!
Julie ;-)

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Portable Magic: Tell me you're not a corner folder: a few thoughts on bookmarks.

Hi, hi.

I know that many of you reading this are book lovers. Me too. Hence this ...
... and yet, although we may share that same 'bibliophile' label ... there are areas where our reading habits no doubt differ.
  • Some of us will enjoy reading big books [hello, that'll be me]; while some might prefer a book they can carry in their handbag without the handbag having to be a suitcase.
  • Some of us will have a shelf bulging beneath the weight of their book collection; while others will save their shelves [and pockets] by draining their local library shelves dry. 
  • And some may use a bookmark; while others, although I can't believe you would do such a thing, some ... mark their place in a book by folding over the corner of the page! 
Oh the horror.

I may very well chop books into tiny scraps for the sake of my collage and mixed media work but that's usually damaged books and books which have been gathering dust for years and which deserve a new lease of life.

You'll never catch me creasing a virgin corner into submission ... not on a book I'm currently reading!

So yes, I'm claiming the moral high ground with this one, but, just because I'm a smug bookmark user it doesn't always mean I have one on hand. And, as I absolutelywillnot fold a corner over ... I do find myself resorting to almost anything else almost to keep my spot.

Despite being a crafter in possession of any amount of paper that could easily be used as a fancy bookmark I tend to just reach for what's nearest; which usually means tearing off straggly corners from newspapers or magazines [unlike books, these corners are fair game when I need a placeholder! In fact, they're such a familiar sight in my house that James even has a pet name for them: he calls them my 'mingy bits of paper' which just about sums it up.]

And recently, in the library at work, I even resorted to using a packet of Monster Munch crisps to keep my place.

Roast Beef flavour, if you're interested.   

But if this glorious illustration by Grant Snider of Incidental Comics is anything to go by ... I guess I'm not alone in my creative bookmark improvisation:
Come on ... admit it ... how many of those have you used to keep your place?

[p.s: if you're new to Grant Snider's work before I urge you to visit his Incidental Comics site as it's an absolute treat.]

I'll admit to 3 of those ... plus the aforementioned 'mingy bits of paper' and beefy flavour corn snacks and yet ... this year all of my library books have been spared the indignity of having any of these things inserted into them because ...

 ... in what may yet turn out to have been some kind of bookmark-'intervention', two of my friends gifted me 'proper' bookmarks for Christmas/ my birthday.

Kirsty made these origami-folded lovelies for me:
Which I've been slotting over my non-folded corners ever since ...
If you'd like to make some for yourself then check out Kirsty's instructions by following the link on her blog.
I'll leave it up to you whether or not you choose to believe the rumour that I select which one to use based on how well it matches the book cover ...
And then, for my birthday, my friend Jean gave me a pad of these: 
And they too have been gracing my pages lately. Although I've yet to make notes directly on to one it would definitely be a fun way to keep track of what I've been reading. Imagine these, with all the details filled out, fixed to a scrapbook page or tucked inside a reading journal ... certainly something to think about and a fun way to combine my love of reading with my fondness for memory keeping.
If you quite fancy the look of these - I'm sorry but I don't know the manufacturer, I threw away the packaging, but if you Google: yes i'm actually reading this bookmark pad you'll find lots of places that stock them. 
So ... that's what's currently keeping my pages ... but what about yours? It's true-bookmarking-confessional time ... 
  • What do you regularly use to keep your page?
  • Are you one of those delinquent corner folders? Dare you admit to it here?
  • What's the strangest things you've used or seen someone else use to mark a place?
Who knows ... maybe one day I'll compile all your responses into a book. And you can use whatever you like to mark your place in it ...

Julie :-)

[p.s: if you enjoyed this post or think it would strike a chord with someone you know ... please do share, save or Pin it. Thankyouinadvanceyoulovelypersonyou.]

Monday, 16 March 2015

I can sing a rainbow [and buy one, and gift-wrap it too].

 Hi hi.
If you caught my rainbow craft tutorial last week then today's post will explain a little more about why rainbows are on my mind right now. And it's not because of St.Patrick's day tomorrow ... because, until last week, I didn't know rainbow crafts were a big thing for that ... no, here's the reason why I've been chasing rainbows in the last few months ...
It's that time of year again, when I head off to a converted barn in the most picturesque of countryside locations. Think Spring lambs gambolling in rolling fields; think dry-stone walls and trickling brooks; think waking to the sound of cows mooing in the milk shed; think having to walk to the end of the drive to get any kind of reliable phone reception.
Both the route to the phone signal and the whole crafting-weekend-away is a well trodden path by now. Our March 2015 trip marks the 12th time I've been away with the same group of friends, to the same area of the North Yorkshire countryside, and every year we've had something of a running theme for the weekend.
And every year we wonder if maybe we should maybe stop picking a theme.
Then every year ... we pick another theme!
So far our themes  - which have an effect on everything from our menu to our projects and also the gifts we buy to exchange - have included: Afternoon Tea Party, Alice in Wonderland [remember me in that dress?!!!], Halloween, Easter, Christmas [both in November and March ... which thereafter became known as Marchmas] and America. And our latest was: the Rainbow.
And so, no sooner had we finished with our Christmas theme during last October ['Octomas' didn't catch on] then we were thrown into plotting and planning to hunt out:
  • 7 suitable gifts,
  • one in each of the colours of the rainbow [the ROYGBIV version] 
  • with a maximum spend of £10.
And so ... after some bargain-hunting and colour-seeking here's what I ended up buying:
  • A RED Pritt-Stick.
  • A box of ORANGE scented toiletries heavily reduced in the post-Christmas sales. [They're called Orangegasm; so clearly we're not the only ones who like to glue two words together to create a new one a la 'Marchmas'!]
  • Rolls of washi-tape in YELLOW and GREEN.
  • Flowers in BLUE felt and INDIGO paper, and finally ...
  • A packet of fudge sweets  ... because the packet was VIOLET!
I thought it was a decent mix of something that [hopefully!!] smells nice with some useful crafty bits that whoever gets my gift can use while we're away; plus some sugar to keep them going if they feel like crafting until bedtime!

The second half of the task was to wrap each of the gifts in matching colours and fortunately I had a pack of issue paper on hand to help me with that part:
Then I dropped everything into a kraft gift bag which I customised using patterned papers [the rainbow fish design is actually some Paperchase wrapping paper I've been saving for about a decade!]:
And, of course, the tag is the one I made using the rainbow embellishment from my tutorial last week. If you missed the tutorial last week, here it is again, just click the image to be taken to it [it should open in a new window for you].

By now [this is a post I've scheduled ahead of time] not only will those 7 gifts be in the hands of their new recipient ... I too will be on my way home with a rainbow of gifts in my bag.

And as our thoughts turn to what the theme for next time might be ... I feel it's only right that we should go for gold ... after all isn't that what you're meant to find at the end of a rainbow?

I know that my group of friends isn't the only one that takes itself off for a creative weekend at this time of year. So do feel free to share any blog posts you've written sharing your springtime crafting adventures in the comments and we can all drop by and compare converted barns and  craft projects!

Julie :-)

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Make your own colourful rainbow embellishments [I can't promise a pot of gold at the end of it so 'self-satisfaction' will have to do!]

Hello hello.

I've had this 'how to' planned for months ... ever since one of these, that I made years ago, dropped out of a crafty-bits-bag and I was reminded of its colourful cuteness:
Then, just this week I received an email from Pinterest filled with rainbow craft ideas for a St.Patrick's day* party and decided that now was definitely the time to get this post written ... as it's St.Patrick's day on Tuesday 17th March.  
So, if you are planning a St.Patrick's day party:
  •  you've still got plenty of time to make a few of these to use as cup-cake toppers, decorations, bunting etc
And if you're not:
  • and you just want to use them on birthday cards, get well cards, scrapbook pages, tags and more ... then you've got all the time in the world!
*BTW: Until that Pinterest email landed in my inbox I had no idea that rainbow crafts were a big part of St.Pat's. I did know about the green Guinness ... but I don't have a tutorial for making that ... so this will just have to do for today.
If you like what you see then please do save, Pin or share!
If you don't have a die-cutting machine or dies then ...
  • I'm sorry, genuinely. It's annoying when you don't have all the things used to make something you quite fancied trying isn't it? But not all of my crafting tutorials use a die-cutter ... so maybe have a browse around my Pinterest tutorial board or just generally through my blog. 
  • You could always draw around 7 different sized glasses, plates, bowls etc
  • OR draw 7 different sized 'Auto-shapes' in Microsoft Word then print and cut them out and use them as templates.
  • OR ... you could always be friendly to someone who does have a die-cutter! Maybe your local crop or crafting group has one for anyone to use [ours does]. It might just be the push you need to get out there and meet some fellow creatives!
Here's a gift tag I made featuring one of my happy handmade embellishments:
I thought that using it alongside the mix of kraft and black helped add a smart counterpoint to the whole Technicolor spectrum aspect!

I'd love for this quick and easy rainbow-craft 'how to' to reach lots of creative eyes [and hands] so, if you liked it, please do pin it to Pinterest or share the post with friends. Thank you!

And be sure to send me links to your own versions either here on my blog or via my Facebook page. [If it's a bit quiet over there this weekend it's because I'm going to be offline for a short while - I'll reply as soon as I can].

Happy rainbow-making my little leprechauns!

Julie :-D