Why I’m starting to get spooked about my latest book project
My first husband used to call it “Papua New Guinea Syndrome”. I suspect he made that term up, as it’s not recognised by Google. It’s the phenomenon whereby you don’t hear about something for ages, or have never heard of it, and suddenly it’s everywhere, to the extent where it can start to feel a little scary.
In my current case, I feel like I’m being stalked by butterflies. That may not sound a scary prospect – they’re less threatening than, say, man-eating tigers or crocodiles – but I’m still finding it startling to come across butterflies wherever I go.
What’s this got to do with my next book? Well, the cover shows a big bold butterfly as a shorthand indicator that this collection of flash fiction stories are all about transformation.It’s due to be released as an ebook on Saturday, and between now and then I’ve got to put some serious hours into the editing and formatting process.
Until today, I’d taken the many occurrences of butterflies to be a good omen, wherever I found them. But then around 11am this morning, just when I was sitting down to do my final edit, our broadband cut out for no apparent reason.
After I’d exhausted the usual turning-it-off-and-on-again procedures, I phoned our broadband provider to investigate. Long story short, they deduced that the router was defunct, sold me a new one for £70, and told me there was nothing more to be done than wait for its arrival.
Already stressed by a plethora of journalistic deadlines this week, I sought to soothe my anguish my embarking on a mammoth clean of my husband’s messy desk and study. This included pulling out the table in the bay window to sweep behind it – and what should I find there but a dead butterfly? My heart sank. Was this a sign that my book was also doomed?
But then, things began to look up. Towards 5pm, after some vigorous polishing near the plugs, I noticed the green broadband light ping back to life. A miracle! So now, to our usual mantra of “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” we’ll be adding “Have you tried polishing it?”
On the power of lateral thinking, the joy of jigsaw puzzles, chance meetings and the fun to be had in museum shops
While musing in my last post about the similarities between writing stories and assembling jigsaw puzzles, I mentioned the fabulous Wentworth Wooden Puzzles, a near neighbour, whose jigsaws include fancy shapes called “whimsies”.
Clearly the whole experience of rediscovering the joy of jigsaws jump-started my brain, because as soon as I’d finished the post, I had the bright idea of sending its link to Wentworth Wooden Puzzles, on the principle that everyone likes to see themselves mentioned in a blog post.
I was pleased to receive a lovely message back, saying they’d enjoyed my post and had given it an honorable mention on their own website. When I asked if they’d like to offer a puzzle as a prize for my readers, they kindly said yes and invited me to choose a design.
Your Chance to Win This Jigsaw
This is the one I chose. I hope you like it! It’s clearly the bookshelf of someone teetering on the idea of filing all their books in colour order – something I’d love to do myself, but lack the stamina. (Have you seen how many books there are in my house?!)
The books have entertaining titles, such as War and Peas and Lord of the Pies, plus other witty details. Better still, it includes whimsies on a library theme, i.e. there are pieces shaped like things you might find in a library – a magnifying glass, a pair of glasses, a book, etc. Great fun.
For a chance to win this puzzle, just leave a comment at the bottom of this post. On Valentine’s Day, I’ll put all entrants’ names in a hat and ask my daughter (who started this whole jigsaw craze off for me) to pick one out without looking. I’ll contact the winner to arrange despatch direct from Wentworth Wooden Puzzles. They’re kindly stumping up the postage too!
Puzzles on the Brain
Suddenly I seem to see jigsaw puzzles wherever I go – a phenomenon known as the Papua New Guinea syndrome. Not because they’re keen on jigsaws in Papua New Guinea (though they may be, for all I know) but because Papua New Guinea is one of those things you’ve never heard of or heard much about, but then, like buses, several mentions of it all come along at once.
Accordingly, I spotted lots Wentworth Wooden Puzzles on Sunday in the National Gallery in London, where I had gone to meet my two old schoolfriends, Jane and Susanne. We wanted to visit the new Van Gogh Sunflowers exhibition, much hyped but actually a very simple proposition: two of the seven Van Gogh sunflowers paintings hung next to each other in a darkened room. The display looked startlingly like a child’s spot-the-difference competition. I wasn’t surprised to see both pictures were covered in glass, just in case someone was tempted to circle the differences with a marker pen.
We didn’t take long to complete our viewing (we spotted the differences quite quickly!) so then we sauntered, chatting, through a few more rooms, enjoying our favourite pictures and fondly remembering a trip up here with our RE teacher, Miss Hocking, a frighteningly large number of years ago. Our class went to see the Leonardo cartoon of the Virgin and Child and the Michelangelo Madonna of the Rocks, and had to say which we liked best, and why. I was on Team Leonardo.
As with school outings, Jane, Susanne and I didn’t consider our trip complete without a visit to the museum shop, where I spotted the ubiquitous Wentworth souvenir puzzles. You’ll find them at many tourist attractions, featuring relevant pictures, because they make great souvenirs – I’ve a little collection of them in our camper van.
An Artful Coincidence
A less expected sighting occurred just outside the National Gallery. Seeing a cute little toddler stomping along through the rain, I thought “Ah, she looks just like that little girl who lives down the road from me!” Exchanging indulgent smiles with her mum, I realised that her mum’s face also looked familiar. It took a second or to for the pieces to fall into place (to continue on the jigsaw theme), by which time we were out of each other’s sight. Only next day on Facebook did I have confirmation that they were the originals, not doppelgangers – the mum had posted a photo of the little girl inside the National Gallery, which is 100 miles from our village. What are the chances of that happening, as comedian Harry Hill likes to say?
My Artfull Computer
Confronted by this reminder on Facebook of my lovely trip to the National Gallery, on a whim I thought I’d make a return visit across the ether. I needed to check the exact name of my favourite Rousseau picture, the gorgeous, huge portrait of a bewildered tiger caught in a tropical storm. I wanted to tweet it to a new Twitter friend, exchanging our favourite paintings. In my head I’d always thought of it as “Tropical Storm with Tiger”, but its actual title turned out to be a very Twitter-friendly nine characters long: “Surprised!” (I was.)
I also discovered that not only could I view my favourite painting on the Natoinal Gallery website, I could also summon up any picture in its vast colletcion, to admire at my own leisure at my desk. Use this link to fill your idle moments with wonder: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/. What a gift to any writer in search of a story idea!
Even without this prompt, I’d already started writing a short story, set in one of the Gallery’s many rooms. It was inspired by that close encounter with my neighbour. This story is destined for my forthcoming flash fiction collection, Quick Change, to be published a little later this year. For free story samples and advance notice of new publications, sign up for my free e-newsletter by sending a request via this contact form.