Monthly Archives: April 2016

Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales: week 2

In week two of the course, we are now looking at two stories, one written by the brothers Grimm, The Blue Light, and one by Andersen, The Tinderbox. Both are based upon the same traditional folk tale, and the examination of these two stories in parallel is a means for introducing two fairy tale frameworks: the actantial model and the home-away-home model.

Continue reading Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales: week 2

A poem for Wonderwool Wales

Yesterday I took a trip to Builth Wells in Wales to go to Wonderwool, a wool and textiles festival which was so much more than I expected, full of amazing yarns, cool crafting tools, beautiful creations from clothing to decorations and even an “under the sea” themed knitted & crocheted grotto, and also a few live sheep and alpacas. It was great and I made a few modest purchases and picked up dozens of business cards and leaflets.

The day inspired a poem, and here it is. I used the meter and rhyming structure from On Wenlock Edge by A E Housman.

On looming peaks the Welsh sheep graze

In shadowed glen and green hillside

Beneath scudding clouds and sun’s bright rays

They chew the grass, quite satisfied


As golden daffodils droop brown

And newborn lambs leap, jump and skip,

The Welsh hill’s bride must shed her gown –

Dark winter has released his grip


And I, upon the road below

Drive home from Builth Wells with car full

And glimpse those sheep who cannot know

Their fleeces have become my wool


Where I bought it – there was art!

Creative crafts I want to learn

Beauty formed from wool and heart

With my purchase I take my turn


Beneath scudding clouds and sun’s bright rays

I sit with crochet on my knee

The wool which in those colder days

Once warmed the ewe, will soon warm me.

Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, week 1

Fairy tales are one of the roots of modern fantasy, and Hans Christian Andersen is one of the best known writers of fairy tales. With the start of a free online course by the Hans Christian Andersen Centre at the University of Southern Denmark on Futurelearn, I have the ideal opportunity to learn more about this influential genre of storytelling and examine its impacts on the development of fantasy.

My prior experience of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales is limited. I have been aware of many of his tales throughout my life, both as bedtime stories and as Disney movie adaptations, but was unaware until recently just how many of them were in fact written by Andersen. I was surprised to learn that stories including The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen (the inspiration for the hit Disney film Frozen) were all written by Andersen.

During this article series I will be commenting on the course content each week and analysing the stories examined in it. I will also seek to understand the influences these fairy tales have had on modern fantasy and examine modern adaptations including Disney movies and other film and television versions.

Week 1

The first week’s content sets up the context in which Andersen wrote his fairy tales. He lived in a period of dramatic technological advances and consequent social changes. After Andersen’s father, a soldier, died, Andersen faced a future in a factory. Instead he set off for Copenhagen and there managed to find patronage and an education that would have otherwise been barred to him, and later opportunities to travel around Europe. Besides fairy tales Andersen also wrote short stories, novels and poetry, and also drew and made paper cuts.

Just as Andersen himself managed to transcend social boundaries – having been born into the working class he gained a middle class education and ultimately became quite wealthy – so too do many of his protagonists. Characters who break the mould are a key theme in his fairy tales.

Andersen’s fairy tales draw upon folklore. Some of his stories are based on folk tales while those of original composition draw upon the traditional elements of folk tales, such as using settings which could be almost anywhere at a nondescript period in history, including magic, and choosing ordinary people for the main characters.

These stories also draw upon Andersen’s upbringing and the struggles he and his family faced living in poverty.

In this respect Andersen is very much typical of fantasy, drawing upon traditional stories as well as personal struggles. A century later, Tolkien did the same, using his research into Anglo Saxon history and culture in conjunction with his personal experiences of war to craft an epic tale.

Next week the course will look at a folk tale, The Blue Light, and one of Andersen’s earliest fairy tales, The Tinderbox. I will, I am sure, have plenty to say about these stories. I have already read the Tinderbox and made a few notes, but with the analysis and comparison that the course offers I am sure I will have even more to say.

Camp NaNoWriMo: a brief update and some thoughts

I’m 9 days into Camp NaNoWriMo and so far I’m a bit behind. I haven’t topped 1,000 words once – and I need to average that many words to meet my 30,000 word goal for the month. So I’ve got a bit of catching up to do. But I think things are starting to move now. I have a good idea of where things will be going for at least the next two or three thousand words, which is always helpful. And after that there will be plenty of excitement too.

There is a different structure to Camp NaNo compared to the original November NaNoWriMo. In that one, you had access to busy forums that hundreds of other people were posting in every day. With the cabins, it’s quieter, more intimate.

I think I’ve got a pretty good cabin. Only about half of the cabinistas are active in the chat, so it’s mostly the same four or five people I’m talking to, but that works for me. Sometimes when there are too many people you can feel drowned out and insignificant. Especially when – like I often find myself – you’re in a different time zone than most people talking, so you miss the chance to get involved in discussions because they happen when you’re fast asleep. With this cabin, though, it’s quiet enough that I don’t feel the conversation all happens when I’m asleep, I feel involved, and that’s helpful. Even when the conversation isn’t about writing, it’s encouraging and self-confidence-building to simply feel part of something positive.

And I’m not just saying that because some of my cabinmates have started following my blog, I promise.

The chat format, though, can be restrictive. It’s a single feed, with a character limit. There’s a reply function which simply puts the name of the commenter who wrote the comment you’re replying to at the start of your comment, so you don’t get threads and digressions. The character limit forces conciseness (though I do sometimes post multiple comments in a row to say all I want to say; conciseness is not my greatest strength) and the single feed seems to have helped us keep on topic, for the most part.

But I do often find dedicated single-topic discussions helpful. The multiple-thread forum format from main NaNoWriMo and other writing boards allows more in-depth discussion, which the chat doesn’t really. It’s probably a good thing; talking about writing can be a massive time sink, a procrastination activity. Ruling that out is probably good for productivity (though of course it doesn’t stop me seeking it out elsewhere, so it’s not a silver bullet to procrastination).

I will say this: I am very glad I requested to be put in a cabin with people with similar goals and the same genre. It means we’ve got more in common, are more likely to be at a similar wordcount. In the past I’ve had writers around me – whether friends on main NaNoWriMo or cabinmates in the two previous Camp attempts – who have either soared ahead and churned out more words in a day than I can manage in a week, or who are taking a far more relaxed approach and only writing a hundred or two hundred words a day. Either one makes me feel discouraged. With the former, I feel inadequate; with the latter, unsupported. With similar goals I can look at what they’re doing and think “oh, she’s doing well, but if I push myself just a little more I can catch up”. Or “well, everyone’s having it tough right now so the fact that I only managed 700 words today doesn’t mean I can’t meet my goals in the end.”

It’s a lower pressure challenge than main NaNo, which I think is what I need right now. It’s less of a big deal. And yes that means my progress towards my million word challenge won’t be as rapid, but it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, to use an old cliche. This is helping. It’s motivating. It means I’m pushing just a little harder than I did in March and February. And that’s really what I need.

In support of the Herne Hill’s Carnegie Library sit-in protesters

The Herne Hill Carnegie library – one of over two thousand libraries opened and funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in the early 20th century – was closed by Lambeth council on Thursday. Officially, anyway. There are still people in the library, using it to play chess or study for A-level exams – all as part of a sit-in protest against the council’s plans.

Lambeth council intend to repurpose the library, turning it into a “healthy living centre” which would include gym facilities and a “neighbourhood library” – without librarians or indeed dedicated library space. The BBC has reported on the story here.

The Friends of Carnegie Library stated a few weeks ago that market research, both in 2000 and in 2014, has shown significant support for the library retaining its existing uses and location. There is strong opposition to converting part of the building into a gym:

In the assessed responses to the 2014 survey 84% of respondents opposed having a gym in the building even if the library stayed in its current position.

Lambeth council have attempted to discredit protesters by accusing them of being “misleading” as the library will reopen – but have failed to address that it will not be a library that’s reopening, but a gym with a few bookshelves.

A library is more than books. It is more than computers. It is more than study space. It is a community asset where learning and reading are nurtured. It is a supporting environment that brings communities together and promotes happiness. It is a motivating place where anyone can change their future, can strive to make more of themselves than they might otherwise have had a chance to do.

Libraries have been the breeding grounds for writers, academics, researchers, revolutionaries for decades. They are the fertile ground in which people can grow. They enable and encourage social mobility. They nurture curiosity and creativity. If the government wants artists and scientists propelling the British economy in the next few decades, it should be investing in libraries, supporting them, expanding them. Not cutting librarians and turning libraries into gyms.

Lambeth council’s plans are regressive. They plan to give the library building to a private gym company, while maintaining what essentially amounts to a book room. No librarians, presumably considerably fewer books, and none of what makes a library a library. It’s certainly not what Andrew Carnegie would have envisioned when he provided money to build and stock the library and maintain it. It should be owned by the community, not by a private company seeking profit, and it should be for the purpose of encouraging and enabling learning.

If Shropshire council ever threatens to close my local library – or indeed convert it into a gym – I would certainly consider joining a sit-in protest. I use my library regularly for knit & natter meetings, and read a lot of books from it. I’ve printed off my CV in it, learned local history in it, made friends in it.

I absolutely and wholeheartedly support the residents of Herne Hill who have decided they are not going to let their library close without a fight. And I condemn Lambeth council for ignoring the people they are meant to serve.

Progress Report: One Million Words, March 2016

March’s numbers ended up being only slightly more than February’s: 20,335. The month ended up a little slow due to a few busy days with limited writing time (on the plus side, I had a great time seeing some live comedy last night). My March daily average was therefore 656 words. Though I did have a few days over 1,000.

That brings my total to 175,158/1,000,000 words, or 17.5%.

Most of March’s words were on Horrible Monster. I’m working my way through it now. I also spent a few days on something else, a short piece that doesn’t have a title.

Continue reading Progress Report: One Million Words, March 2016