Monday, 25 March 2013

Musical Monday #1

I have recently had quite a few days like:


And:


And sometimes even:


And then some moments as bad as:


And while in The Long-Term only long-term concrete solutions will do, in The Short-Term, I have discovered a panacea, which lasts a few minutes.  And sometimes living from minute to minute is The Best We Can Do.

You may have heard of it.

It’s called music.

It is best administered directly into The Ear through earphones, because this blocks out everything else and to a large degree makes even anger, fear and exhaustion (and rain) seem rather meaningless.

However, it doesn’t quite work in severe painful cold or while really needing The Loo, and it can have adverse effects when a sad song or a song with seemingly meaningful lyrics comes on.

But for The Most Part, for a few minutes at least, it creates a safety bubble where troubles cannot reach and I feel like:


and that allows confidence and strength to be nurtured and grow until it is just a little easier to face The Trials Of Life.


I have also been thinking recently about musicals, because there is a magic to musicals lacking from everyday life.  Because in a musical The Reason a character bursts into song is because there is no other way for them to express their feelings or desires.  So The Musical Number isn’t frivolous but actually incredibly potent.  So added to how I already feel about music right now, I think that a good musical number is just The Kick we need sometimes.

Therefore I declare for as long as I remember to do it, Mondays are now Musical on Hillesque.

So I’m off to trawl YouTube to see what musical numbers have actually made it on there.




I suppose it would be ungrateful of me to start a series of musical themed posts without The Producers since The Producers is The Favourite Musical.  Of course, when I say it is The Favourite, I’m referring to the stage show, not the film adaptation of the stage show, which I still love for reminding me of the stage show but is so damn stagy at times that I want to slap it, although it isn’t the worst stagy film musical by far, because that would be Carousel.

Anyway, stagy it may be, but how could I begin this series of posts without the very song that was on when I found The Muse (is there a word for muse that doesn’t mean ‘woman’?).  Again, that was the stage show and this is the film, but whatever, here it is folks...


We Can Do It from The Producers

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Character-Nastiness Syndrome

The Writing Process kind of goes like this:

Most bizarre piece of criticism I have received from The Trusted Advisors:


I just didn’t know how to answer that one.

Yes?  No?  How do you know they don’t?  Do all women think alike?  Am I a woman?  Where am I?

Being a woman, being told by a man that you don’t write your women like women is just… well…

Confusing.

The Trusted Advisors are quite different to each other, with different tastes, which is very useful when seeking criticism, but there are two ways their comments are always similar. 

One is that they don’t READ what I have WRITTEN. 

but when someone is giving up their free time to help me out, just out of friendship and support for The Work, it is churlish and selfish to complain. 


So I can assume these situations arise because sometimes they are only skim-reading or they leave large gaps between reading different sections, because they’re trying to fit in helping me around their busy lives.

So when they completely blank a description, miss plot developments/an important scene and forget events and conversations that happened or ask where someone went on page 2 when I just explained it on page 1, I can put that down to their busy lives.

But two is tougher.

Two is that they’re highly and sensitively attuned to bastards and they complain no end about The Characters.  Characters I generally really like, they say are just too mean to possibly like.

I don’t know if it’s me, or if it’s them. 

The suicidal teenage narrator (Donald) of my ‘dork with superheroic delusions of grandeur’ manuscript (Working Title: Donald Benton: Superdork) is supposed to be sympathetically pathetic.

‘And so the stupid game escalated.  We were obsessed with proving that each other were gullible, and it got way over the top.
And then Truman, of all of us, called a stop to it.  Because he was in love and he didn’t want any stupid pranks spoiling it.
She was tall and ugly but friendly and a dork.  I mocked at him at first, until Libby pinched me so hard I still had the mark days later.
“I think it’s great,” she said.  “It would be good for you guys to meet other people.”
“We have met other people,” I mumbled.  “You’re another person.”
“Yeah, but I meant someone you can hang out with in public, who is of the same social level as you, and who isn’t so ashamed of you that she wants to die.”
“What are you talking about?”  I squinted at her.
She smiled this really sweet smile that she kept for special occasions.  “I thought I was your princess?”
I groaned.  I hated when she brought that up.  Truman was the one who pledged undying allegiance to her, Princess Libby, as her willing slave.  I was just sort of there too and I may have sort of agreed.
I was so over it.  But I couldn’t get out of it.
So Truman started sitting with this girl during break and stuff and he actually didn’t get bullied for it.  I still got bullied, standing on my own like a total dork.  I really didn’t want him to have a girlfriend.  The worst part was that I knew I was being selfish.  But if he got a girlfriend, then I’d always be on my own.  And I couldn’t stand being on my own again.  Not like last time.  That was when that stuff happened, that led to the counselling, even though I totally wasn’t serious about it.  But I still didn’t want to feel like that again.’
~ extract from Working Title: Donald Benton: Superdork, ms by LJ Conrad.

Instead, one of the Trusted Adivsors referred to Donald as


In my time-bending romance Working Title: The Unadulteress, the potential romantic interest/ex (Jimmy) is supposed to be caring, when not viewed in the biased light of being ex-husband of the narrator (Bertie).

‘The child ate and we walked in silence.  Jimmy’s head bobbed as if the situation displeased him.  He said, “Day out?”
“She’s been staying with me for a few days.  Tamara and Harry are having difficulties.”
“They seemed stable,” said Jimmy, almost sounding as disillusioned as I felt.  “Does Triss know?”
I half shrugged and shook my head.  “It’s only just happened.  They might sort it out.  I thought I’d take her out of the situation.”
His head bobbed, now with approval.  “That’s good.”
“I hope they work it out,” I said.  “They were so happy.”
“Happier than us, you mean.”  He sounded angry.
I looked at him.  “Of course that’s what I mean.”
“It’s your fault,” said Jimmy.  “That it failed.”
“Why?” I asked, crying again.
“Because you didn’t love me.”
“You don’t love me.  I might not have loved you at the beginning but I love you now.  Now you’re breaking my heart.”
He didn’t look impressed or moved.  “Bad timing, then, isn’t it?”
“How did it take you three years to realise you didn’t love me?”
“It didn’t.  I know exactly when I stopped loving you.  Twenty months ago.  We went to Tamara’s birthday, she was telling some stupid joke, and I thought, I don’t know what I’m doing here.  I don’t know her.  I’m living your life, not mine.”
I remembered that night.  That was the night that I realised he was always there for me, always stood by me and I loved him.’
~ extract from Working Title: The Unadulteress, ms by LJ Conrad.

Instead, the Trusted Advisors referred to Jimmy as


The joint main character of my World War II ms (Working Title: The Road To Confidence), the wounded airman and con artist (Clark) is supposed to be charismatically charming.

‘She stared at the picture of the Daily Mirror’s Jane and sighed.
“If you do that one more time I will throw you out,” said Clark, not looking up from his newspaper.
Hannah crossed her arms.  “It’s my shelter.”
He lowered the paper.  “The shelter belongs to Mr and Mrs Bone.”
Hannah prodded her chest.  I pay rent.  You don’t have rights.”
He folded the newspaper.  “I’ll leave, shall I?”  He used his walking stick to pull himself to his feet and she quickly left the picture and stood in front of the door.  He shook his head like she was an ass, but sat back on the deckchair and returned to the paper.
Her eyes returned to the picture.  “I wish I was prettier.”
“Me too.  You don’t have to look at you.”
“That’s a beastly thing to say.”
He gaped in phoney shock.  “Is it?  Oh my, I must try to be politer to people who won’t stop annoying me.  Anyway, she’s a drawing.  No real woman looks like that.  You might as well be jealous of Popeye.”
“Then why do you read every single one of the Jane strips?”
“To follow the story,” he said, smiling.
“You’re just hoping one day they’ll draw her with no clothes on at all.”
He indicated the picture on the wall.  “Nearly there already.”
“I can’t believe that picture is allowed,” said Hannah, staring at the clear outline of Jane’s bottom.
“But men far from home need these pictures, remind them what they’re fighting for.”
“That’s not what we’re fighting for.”
“Yes it is,” said Clark.’
~ extract from Working Title: The Road To Confidence, ms by The LJ Conrad.

Instead, one of the Trusted Advisors referred to Clark as


A move that did not put him in The Good Books.

And even the ANTAGONIST (Ansell) in my comic fantasy Working Title: Rigor Morris, is too ‘viciously’ unpleasant, apparently.

‘Pauline glared at the ceiling.  “How did you know I was here?”
“Contacts.”
Pauline glanced at him.  “But so quickly?  Do you have someone watching my house?”
Ansell’s mouth twitched.
Pauline shut her eyes.  She’d tried so hard to disappear and now it could all be happening again.  “Can I die now?”
Ansell used the bed as a support to stand up, placing a badly aimed hand on Pauline’s stomach.
As she yelped, he pulled his hands away, showing his palms.  “Sorry.  I didn’t realise.”
She slowly curled into a ball.
He winced.  “When I heard you’d been brought in here I worried it might have been because of me.  That I’d driven you to…”  He went pale.  “Something terrible.”
She squinted at him.  “You worried I might have self harmed because you’re threatening to ruin my life?”
He nodded.
“But you don’t care that you’re actually ruining my life?”
“You deserve what’s coming to you.”
She stared.  “I’m not sure I’m the one who’s insane.”
“You should be happy I’m changing my evidence to be slightly less harsh on you.  You’re a fraud, but you can’t help it.”
“Oh good, because people are much more likely to come to a medium who’s certifiable.”’
~ extract from Working Title: Rigor Morris, ms by The LJ Conrad.

Now possibly because several of the works that have influenced my writing portray ‘heroic bastards’ this has influenced me to an extent to which I’m not even aware.  Or because I find the idea of exploring the nature of villainy and redemption interesting, I deliberately insert these traits into The Characters but fail to get the correct balance.  Or because I am a bastard, even when I’m trying to write nice characters, I end up writing bastards.  But then, The Trusted Advisors are able to like me, so why not my characters.  Maybe it’s just a lot more fun to write bastards than to read bastards.

So with each redraft I have to soften them up.  Which is difficult. 

Ansell: ‘the thin man with the serious face’
(yes, I really messed up with this drawing)

In Working Title: Rigor Morris, Ansell has to be likeable enough for the reader to be happy reading scenes about him and from his POV, he’s supposed to become more rounded as the reader learns about him and since he exits and re-enters the narrative twice, that has to be something the reader wants to see.  But he can’t be too likeable, because he is the antagonist and it has to be satisfying when something rather horrific happens to him.  Surely this balance isn’t beyond me? 

Jimmy: ‘I saw his eyes.  Two black pits, like the eyes of a crow, uncaring and cold.’

In Working Title: The Unadulteress, Jimmy is supposed to be cold on the exterior and a good, warm person on the inside, but he switches from hero to villain depending from which part of the timeline we are viewing him, it’s meant to progress as the reader learns new things about the past; that’s the whole point of the story.  If I make him nicer during the wrong sections, it reflects poorly on the narrator (Bertie).  The more overtly selfless I make him, the more underhandedly selfish Bertie becomes, and the reader is supposed to like her.

Donald: ‘I looked in the mirror at that face that always stared back and wished I didn’t look so much like a girl.’
(I have no idea why I drew his eyes like that.)

‘Niceifying’ Donald of Working Title: Donald Benton: Superdork is the worst change yet, because he’s a flawed first person narrator which I thought gave him a free pass to some extent and I liked him a lot, but The Housemate couldn’t bear reading him so much that I had to re-edit the draft while The Housemate was still reading it.  I had to make Donald a nicer, less sarcastic person and now the story is really depressing.  I thought it was funny that he was a snipe, but now he’s just… sad.  At least when bad things happen to someone with a vicious streak, it’s funny.  Now it’s just crushing. 

Clark: ‘This airman had a virtuous, trustworthy appearance and yet he had an utterly guileful soul.’

Clark from Working Title: The Road To Confidence is the only one I’m happy to make nicer.  His WHOLE thing is that he’s impossible to dislike, so I have to do whatever I can to make him likeable (although he is supposed to be slightly mean to the other main character (Hannah) for two incredibly important plot reasons 1) to deliberately distance himself from her and 2) because he can’t help showing his real self to her).  But the fact that I thought he was likeable, and apparently he isn’t, is a huge problem.

Am I ineptly blind when it comes to the subtleties of nice/nastiness?

Or am I worrying too much and it’s just that The Trusted Advisors are a pair of wussies?
Possible.  When I had a third trusted advisor, he never complained about overly nasty characters.  In fact, he tended to really like the characters the other two hated and actually get what I was going for.

After all, characters have to clash with each other.  That’s drama.  That’s comedy.  Plus, as I said above, I like redemption (something that one of The Trusted Advisors thoroughly detests), I like to contrast outer action against inner thought and I like to explore reasons behind perceived villainy. 

But I still suffer from character-nastiness syndrome, because now when I write a character being even slightly mean, I have those two in The Head, chastising me until I end up castrating all The Interesting Characters and then all the tension ebbs out of The Story.


Grrr, indeed.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Before I Could Write – Part 9

Yes, it’s the next instalment in the Before I Could Write series, because I know you guys just love it SO much.  This series of posts follows the theory that I was incapable of writing anything other than tosh until 2005 (when I was about twenty) and chronicles my paltry attempts.

So, when I was 14, I came up with this piece of profound philosophy:

Life is like a clockwork mouse; it doesn’t do anything till you make it!




Thanks for that, 14-year-old me.

I wrote the following story, of which I was smugly proud:


Self Portrait

It was when we had only been here a week that the scariest encounter of my life happened.

We had just moved in.  Our old home had been blown away in a storm.  But this was safe and warm, it was indoors.

I used to play with my brothers and sisters.  We used to run around and hide and explore new places.

On the morning of the day before that dreaded day I had slipped away and went to explore on my own.  I found a door, it was shut.  Of course I was too small to be able to open it, so I peered underneath.

“I wouldn’t go through there if I were you,” a gruff voice made me jump.  I turned to see an old man.  He was big with long legs.  I shifted uneasily.

“Don’t worry, I won’t eat you,” he laughed, “but my wife might.”

I asked him why I shouldn’t go through the door but he wouldn’t tell me.

“You look too young to know about the dangers that plague this world.  Wait till you’re as old as possible I say.  Life is a lot safer that way.”

“And a lot more boring too, I should imagine,” I answered.  With that he turned away shaking his hairy head.

I stared at the door but I didn’t know what to do.  After about an hour of wandering around worrying I decided to ask Sidney, one of my brothers.

“Something new!  Something dangerous!” he cried when I had explained.  “Let’s go!”  He ran away and all my brothers and sisters followed.  That’s a lot believe me!

The last I saw of them was as they all ran through the door.  They never came back.  I listened all night by that door.  I heard strange noises, very strange.  There were bangings and crunches which I think must have been the end of Sidney and co.  Once I heard an almighty scream that could have cracked glass.

Strangest of all was a droning noise.  It became so very loud at one point I ran for cover.

The morning came and I could withstand the suspense no longer.  I crept ever so slowly and ever so quietly towards the door.  As I sat staring at it, the ground trembled slightly.  I thought I had imagined it but now I could hear the ‘clump, clump, clump’ of giant footsteps.  The ground was shaking now.  Whatever it was out there must have been over one thousand times bigger than me.  The footsteps stopped outside the door.  The creature was growling in its own language as the door was flung back.

And there, standing tall, far, far above me, was… a… HUMAN!!

I turned and ran as fast as my eight little legs could carry me.


GASP!  TWIST!

This was also the year when we were repeatedly shown the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth at school to teach us about World War I.  I got quite sick of it, since I had already seen it many times at home, having been brought up on Blackadder (and Red Dwarf).  Being insufferable, I can remember complaining to The Slayer how irritating it was that they were showing us ‘Blackadder’ as if it was something new and they must think we were some kind of idiots.  To which he obviously immediately said he had never seen Blackadder before.

Anyway, when I was 14 and two-thirds years old, I wrote another scene of the final episode, to go after the ending, which would totally undermine the point it was making.  And here it is:

Blackadder Goes Forth
Episode 6 – Goodbyeee
Scene 5: No-man’s land.

The sound of guns quieten into the background.  Blackadder is lying on the ground.  He is dead, or so it seems.  Suddenly his eyes open.
Blackadder: Good Lord, the guns have stopped.  Is everyone all right?
Baldrick: Certainly am, sir.
Blackadder: Typical, here I am, amongst thousands of dead men in no-man’s land and my only companion is a half-man-half-dungball with a brain smaller than an ant’s who’s had half of his removed.
Baldrick: Thank you sir.
Blackadder: (looking at a dead body) Look at that, it’s Cartwright, looks like he didn’t make it.
Baldrick: Neither did Willis and Petheridge.
Blackadder: I don’t suppose Darling made it either.
As Blackadder says this, the pile of bodies subside and Darling’s head emerges.
Blackadder: Of course, I could be wrong.
Darling: I say, have the guns stopped?  Am I alive?
Blackadder: Sadly, yes.
Darling: Oh, erm…  Blackadder.
Blackadder: Hiding, were we Darling?
Darling: Well, you see…
Baldrick butts in.
Baldrick: Begging your pardon, sirs, but where’s Lieutenant George?
Darling: Does it matter?  I’m safe, at last I can go home and marry Doris.
Blackadder: Yes, well I wouldn’t get your hopes up.
Darling: Why not?
A gun is put to his head.  They look up and some Germans aim their guns at our heroes. 

Scene 6: A German prison cell.

From outside ‘eins, zwei’ is heard, then a door is unlocked and Blackadder, Baldrick and Darling are pushed inside.
Blackadder: Good work, Baldrick, if you hadn’t acted like you had rabies and launched yourself at those Germans, we’d have been shot on the spot.
Baldrick looks bewildered, he wasn’t acting.
George emerges from the shadows.
George: By George, if it isn’t Captain Blackadder!
Blackadder: George, you’re alive.
George: Yes, almost wasn’t though, but I just happened to mention my uncle and the huns didn’t shoot, but bungled me up in here!
Darling: Look, Blackadder that window is open (he points)
George: So it is!
Baldrick: Sir, I have a cunning plan.
Blackadder: Yes Baldrick, and I have three complete morons as friends, but that doesn’t mean anything does it?
Baldrick: But sir, we could climb through the window, run round the front, jump the guards and unlock the door, thus setting us free.
Blackadder: Well, quite.  Alternatively, we could climb through the window and run away.
George: What a good plan sir.

Several minutes later…

George, Blackadder and Darling are by a fence.
Darling: We can get through here.
George: Wait!
Blackadder: What now, you’re holding us up.
George: It’s Private Baldrick sir.
Blackadder: Well what about Private Baldrick?
George: He’s not with us sir.
Darling: Who cares?  We can escape now, let’s go!
Blackadder: Really Darling, you have less backbone than a worm, which is strange, because that is exactly what you are.
Darling: But Blackadder, if we go back, we could be killed.  If we leave now we still have a chance.  Besides, you don’t even like Private Baldrick.
Blackadder: Look Darling… actually you’ve got a point.
George: Sir, you can’t be thinking of leaving him behind, what about friendship, what about trust, what about respect, what about honour, what about…
Blackadder: Ohhhhh a—ll right.

Scene 7: Staff HQ


Darling, Blackadder, Baldrick and George burst in, ragged and worn out.
Melchett comes out of his office.
Melchett: Oh hello Blackadder, George, heard you had a bit of a scuffle with the Germans.  We’ve advanced you know.  I’m moving the head quarters nearer.  SWEETY!
Darling: (stepping forwards) I’ll help you move sir!
Melchett: (looks up) Oh, Darming isn’t it?
Darling: Yes sir.  Something like that.
Melchett: Blackadder, George, Private, oh and Darking, I’d like you to meet Captain Sweety, my helper.  (An attractive young man enters carrying a box).
Sweety: Here’s the last load sir, oh and I found this picture of you and some bloke, what shall I do with it.
Melchett: Ohh, burn it.
Darling looks crushed.
Blackadder: Sir, I hate to interrupt but we’ve been through a very dangerous, traumatic and frightening experience…
Melchett: Oh yes, I know.  Blackadder, George, Private, Darding, so I’ve phoned for a car so you can get back to that exciting war of yours.
Blackadder, Darling, George and Baldrick steps forwards menacingly as the programme ends.


Oh yes, well done 14-year-old me, it would have been much better if it had ended like that.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Jane Eyre Challenge - Part 27 - THE FINAL PART

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This is it.  The time has come.  The Grapes have officially finished their abridgement/adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.  Today, in THIS post, they reveal how it ends!

So, did you make it?  Did you manage to read the whole novel before they ruined it for you?  Discuss.

'Discuss' means 'would you like to comment on this post?' because no one ever comments.  So if you're reading this, why not comment?  How hard can it be?  How much time out of your day would it take?  This message particularly goes out to all you people who DO comment, only you do it via twitter, facebook or verbally.  DO IT HERE INSTEAD.  Just an idea.

I'm probably going to regret asking for comments, aren't I?

So, in case you've missed Parts 1-26, they can be found here: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26.

Or start at 1 and just use the 'newer post' button.  Whatever.

Anyway, I am very pleased to state that after today, The Blog is finally going to be grape-free!


A Grape Free Area

They're just so happy.


And now, the final part in the Grape Eyre saga: (click/look below)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Jane Eyre Challenge - Part 26

Now you only have ONE day left to finish Jane Eyre before The Grapes.

1

ONLY ONE DAY LEFT!
AARGH!
PANIC!
RUN AROUND WAVING YOUR ARMS IN THE AIR
READ JANE EYRE!
AVOID GRAPES!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Jane Eyre Challenge - Part 25

FINAL COUNTDOWN for the grapes.  You only have 2 days left to finish Jane Eyre before they do.  Can you make it?

2





Monday, 4 March 2013

The Jane Eyre Challenge - Part 24

Today The Guts, scamps that they are, have been playing a really awesome fun game called 'feel-like-we've-been-set-on-fire-and-then-throw-up'.  However they have worn themselves out after playing it for several hours in a row so I am just about able to function again.  Although I have apparently gone an unhealthy colour, feel like my internal organs have been vacuum packed and never want to eat anything ever again.  I felt so weak earlier that I even forced Disgruntled Bear...



...to be cuddled for about half a hour while I lay limply on my bed listening to classical music.  He was disgruntled about it.

The Grapes however are in just GREAT shape, smug gits that they are.  So click/look below to see where they've got to today in their version of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre:

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Jane Eyre Challenge - Part 23

The Housemate is breathing down The Neck wanting his laptop back (because he's TOTALLY UNREASONABLE like that), so this is just a quick post to see where those grapes have got to in their abridgement and adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre...

Oh and on a serious note, if you haven't read the real novel yet STILL because you actually do live under a rock on Mars, then please don't read the rest of the grapes until you have read the novel because they're getting very near the end now and will completely spoil it for you.  Because they are naughty grapes like that.  And you don't want them to win, do you?

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Jane Eyre Challenge - Part 22

Loyal readers, yes, both of you, may have noticed that although Grape St John has been in Grape Jane Eyre for two posts already, I have not actually named him.

This is because St John is a stupid name.

Firstly because who calls their kid St John?  It's either INCREDIBLY pompous 'my kid is a saint', or really harsh 'you'll never become a saint so I might as well stick that bit in here now' because there's never going to be a St St John, is there?  Or maybe you're just a HUUUUUUGE fan of one of the 82 or so Saint Johns and you want to name your kid after him.  In which case, crazy idea but CALL YOUR KID JOHN.

Secondly because how the hell do you pronounce St John?  Is it Saint John?  No.  Is it a sort of Norwegiany sounding Stjohn?  No.  Is it Street John?  Not even that.

No it's something like sinjin.  Or sinjun.  Or snjn.

Perhaps Brontë was going for an obvious 'this character is saintly so I will call him St John', to really hammer the subtext home.  Here's Jane, always wanting to live up to Helen's example, but failing and giving in to her fiery passionate nature, especially around Mr Passionate Nature Rochester... and then that all going wrong as if God is telling her off, so she has to put her passions aside and become that Helenesque woman after all and here is the saintly man to help her do it... oh the subjugation.

But Brontë was writing this stuff down.  She didn't have to say it out loud.  She couldn't have.  Because snjn is A STUPID NAME.

So what is Grape Snjn up to today?

Friday, 1 March 2013

The Jane Eyre Challenge - Part 21

The Housemate's musings on Jane Eyre (the character):


The grapes are still marching onwards, abridging and adapting the hell out of Charlotte Brontë's best work.

Should I feel guilty saying that?  That's the trouble when authors do great work.  They inevitably think their other, later work is better, because they have grown and learnt.  But I do like Jane Eyre better than Shirley and Villette.  And I like Sherlock Holmes better than The White Company - do you hear me, Doyle?

I'm sorry, I can't help it.  I just DO.

Excuse me while I guilt out.  And while I do, here's the grapes...