Monday 28 November 2016

Sophie & Howl

Made it to the end of my proofing contract. Possibly more to come in the New Year. Have to wait and see. My eyes need a rest.

Managed to rehome two of the kitties. Even though I knew it was coming, I must admit there were a few tears shed as I helped put them in the box. But they've started their new lives with a lovely friend. She grew up with cats, but lost all of hers during the genocide. She now has children of her own and they were all super excited to have kittens. They took the biggest boy and the biggest girl, now named Titi and Fifi, respectively. Apparently the kids spoil them rotten.

That leaves me with the smallest girl and the tiniest boy (the runt of the litter).

My plan was to rehome them all, and I had hoped to do so on the same day, but the second viewer decided he could only take one, so I declined.

With each day that passes, I find myself wondering whether I might keep them. Life is much calmer with half the number of cats. There's certainly a lot less poo, and they are absolutely adorable.

I've temporarily named them Sophie Cat and Howl Cat, after Howl's Moving Castle

I know, I'm doomed.

The house and garden are currently sparkling. I have a friend from Kenya visiting. My mate Tracey, who runs Overland Travel Adventures (OTA), is bringing a tour over with her husband. They're crashing with me for a few days, whilst their group stays at a nearby hotel and explores Rwanda. It's been a really long time since I last had guests in the house, so I'm looking forward to it. Evicted the cats from the spare room and Dettoled everything.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Monday 21 November 2016

Coffee Bean Eyes

Fondling a Kusu Mask
My friend Maia recently gave up her job to turn her house into a café and night school. It's called Casa Keza, a Spanish-themed tapas bar in Kigali. The official opening was a couple of days ago. Check it out on Facebook

As well as teaching fiction there, I've also started to help a local trader from Caplaki craft village to market his wares. He deals in Congolese masks, and I've developed something of a fascination. I can now confidently identify several tribes: Luba, Teke, Tetela, Punu, Lega, Bembe, Chokwe and Songye. There are many more that I don't know.

Tetela mask, tribe of the first prime minister
of the DRC, Patrice Lumumba

Ancestor jars, like those in Sierra Leone

Top Right: death gathers in mask of the Lega Bwami society.

Right: From the secret male Elanda society of the Bembe.
Left: Pwo, first female ancestor of the Chokwe

Something really struck me the other day. Someone posted on Twitter about how bored they were of the US election. To illustrate this, they posted a picture of Ramesses II's mummy. Because I'd been staring at pictures of Congolese masks for the past three days, it really caught my attention.

There's a couple of common features with masks. The first is the high, arched brow, seen in the central and left mask above, the other is a triangular nose, and the third is what is often referred to as 'coffee bean eyes,' because the eyes look like dried coffee beans. The Kusu mask at the top of this post is a perfect example, and Pwo in the bottom picture. They often look sunken in deep circular pits.

What struck me about the mummified features of Ramasses, is that he displays all three of these traits perfectly: the rainbow brow, the triangular nose and the coffee bean eyes. He even has the square jaw of the Songye kifwebe. It certainly started me speculating about ancient African death rites and whether there is a stylistic difference between elemental spirit masks and ancestor spirits. I'd love to hear from anyone with more knowledge on this subject.

Thursday 17 November 2016


Raising my eyes for two minutes from the landslide of proofreading I'm buried beneath, in order to deliver an update on the kittens.

These little bundles of joy and destruction just turned two months old, and had their first round of jabs this morning. They were so good about it. Vaccines and worming tablets all taken without complaint. In fact, the vet couldn't listen to their hearts because they were purring so much.

So proud of them. On the proudometer it's seconded only by the day the littlest boy managed to control his own body temperature and began living outside my bra.

They have blossomed from tiny creatures that required syringe feeding and wobbled when they walked, into energetic balls of doom, tearing around the house and garden. My legs are covered in scratches where the largest boy keeps climbing them. I've even forgiven him accidentally clawing open the extremely sensitive, barely healed burn tissue on my arm. What a day of expletives that was!

They also poo everywhere. I mean, they are pooing machines. There is poo in the litter box, poo behind the fridge, poo in my shoes. One day, after cleaned up all of the poo in their room, I threw open the windows, but still thought I could smell something. I searched everywhere.

Then I opened the cupboard.

A mountain of poo.

The great wall of poo.

The apoocalypse.


And they're growing, which means the poo is getting bigger.

Anyway. They did really well today, and they've each got their official vaccine booklet. It's just sad that my name and address aren't down as the owner. All of this is in the hope of rehoming them in the near future. 

The vet was so taken by them, she said she might take two up to Musanze with her. This would be lovely. I'm very keen to home them in pairs. After losing their mum, I think it would be a bit cruel for them to lose each other. Especially as they enjoy playing so much.

Half of me really wants my house back, the other half knows I'll be crushed when they leave. 

But we still have a few more days of kitty cuddles to go.

So hard to tell whether sitting or shitting...

Sunday 13 November 2016

Punctuate Accurately

Sorry for the silence!

I'm currently on a massive proofing contract, helping to get textbooks ready for schools next year. Up against a really tight deadline until the 28th, so this might well be the last post from me for the next couple of weeks. 

Just finishing up for the night and wanted to share my most satisfying markup of the day.

I would also like to state that my flabber is gasted. Not a single Oxford comma to be found in the entirety of an Oxford University Press publication... go figure.

Flood of updates to follow longly.

Saturday 5 November 2016

Gunpowder Treason and Plot

My friend Jo posted on Facebook that she's feeling nostalgic for Bonfire Night. She asked us to share pictures, and I managed to go one better with this video. It's a few years old now, but it was filmed at our local shindig in Hollowell, Northants. They really do a fantastic event with a fairground and all the steam engines. Hollowell is best known for its annual steam rally. I used to run to the window as a kid to watch them pass through our village.

    Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
    The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
    I know of no reason
    Why the Gunpowder Treason
    Should ever be forgot.
    Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
    To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
    Three-score barrels of powder below
    To prove old England's overthrow;
    By God's providence he was catch'd
    With a dark lantern and burning match.
    Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
    Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
    And what should we do with him? Burn him!

Hope everyone is enjoying the beautiful bangs tonight.

[Note: You might need Teleport in certain countries to view that video.]

Friday 4 November 2016

Half of a Yellow Sun

I finished reading Half of a Yellow Sun yesterday. It's the first of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novels I've actually read, despite being a huge fan of her TED talk on The Dangers of a Single Story (which I show in my fiction class), and her outstanding talk on feminism.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a sweeping epic about the Biafran war:

With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra's impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover’s charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war.

I recently mentioned how much I admired Lawrence Hill's ability to tell his story convincingly from a woman's perspective. I particularly enjoyed Adichie's portrayal of Richard, a white British man. I think I enjoy it when authors do this level of role shift so well, because it flies in the face of today's mainstream media - the us and them attitude. The divisiveness. It proves that people are capable of extreme empathy across race, gender, culture. If we wish to understand, we can do so. Authors skillfully assist us in achieving that understanding, but if they can do it, so can we all?

A very interesting novel. I've learned, and retained, far more information about the Biafran war through fiction than I probably would have from a newspaper article. The power of fiction is to bring events alive, to trick our brains into living other people's dreamings. Because of this, we hold onto those places more as memories than dry fact.

The novel was turned into a film in 2013, though one tweeter pointed out the strange issue of the African trope. I'd like to add to this the covers for The Other Hand and A Woman of Africa.

Thursday 3 November 2016

Death of a Keyboard

It's been a slightly traumatic week in typing. One evening my trusted computer Ganesh (left) gave up the ghost. All of a sudden the G, H, backspace, Windows and @' keys stopped working. I hadn't knocked it or spilt anything on it.

To be fair, Ganesh is getting on a bit. The keyboard was very dusty and some of the lettering on the keys had word off completely. It's typed many thousands of words.

Took it to a local shop in town who replaced the keyboard. It all seemed to be working fine until I got home, then the ctrl, alt, T and N keys stopped working. By this point I had already invested in a new laptop, fearing the worst. 

Naturally, the next morning everything started working fine again!

Only, now I have a multi-lingual keyboard on which I cannot find the pound symbol or the hash - which makes Twitter somewhat infuriating.

Despite this, I'm sticking with the old laptop for now and keeping the new one for back-up. Partly because the old one has more space, and partly because I prefer the layout of the keys. The new one has a side section with extra arrow keys, and the backspace halfway along the top row. 

It dawned on me whilst perusing laptops that no one has ever really thought to design a keyboard for writers. I mean, writers can learn to get along with just about any keyboard if they must, but today's laptops are such flimsy things beneath the fingers.

I dream of a day when someone invents weighted keys like those upmarket electric pianos, so that writing a novel feels like playing a symphony.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

The Book of Negroes

Finished The Book of Negroes by  Lawrence Hill the other day.

About a year ago, I sublet my house whilst I went to visit family in the UK. The person I sublet to left with half my book collection. I was mighty peeved, but they did leave behind two copies of The Book of Negroes. I lent one to a friend and had the other on my shelf for months. People told me it was really good, so eventually I picked it up.

I let out an audible squee of delight. The copy I'd kept turned out to be deckle-edged! Something you rarely see. A beautiful, weighty, deckle-edged tome. I was predisposed to like it.

In all honesty though, this is an extremely accomplished novel. It's the story of Aminata Diallo, captured as a girl in Sierra Leone and transported on a slave ship to the indigo plantations of America, escaping to the north and then to Canada before embarking on a longer journey still. 

Very well told, and I always have a fascination with stories written by authors in the opposite gender. Hill is a man writing very convincingly from a woman's perspective. So well that I would never have known unless I'd seen his picture on the book sleeve. I love when literature transcends boundaries in such a way. It's artfully affirming that we can switch places with one another if we have the desire. That is, after all, the point of literature? A shape-shifting magic trick.

Really well told, completely immersing.

As part of my fiction writing course, I teach a unit on the history of fiction, which covers a bit about European and African literature. One of the people we cover is Olaudah Equiano, a freed Nigerian slave who also went by the name Gustavus Vassa. Vassa wrote his memoirs in the late seventeen hundreds and they were highly influential in helping to end the slave trade in the UK. The Book of Negroes is written as Aminata's memoirs, put to paper in order to help the abolitionists in their cause. It was nice to see mention of Equiano as being an inspiration to Aminata. A nice blend of fact meets fiction.

The novel won the Commonwealth Prize in 2008 and was turned into a mini-series last year.

Gustavus Vassa