Miss Alexandrina

The thinking-space of a not-quite novelist


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Quick Takes About Going to Writers’ Support, Stumbling my Way Through Work, and Unupdated Spotify

It’s Friday, so please join me and other Catholic bloggers over at ConversionDiary.

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes about South Dakota, The Shoe Song, rap battles, and why I should not ask people if I can pray for them

~1~

As usual, my life and my evenings have been hectic, big and full of life. As it’s a Friday, I won’t be going out tonight. I might actually watch Lewis when it airs tonight. Or sleep.

Sleep is good.

~2~

We’ve got another open day tomorrow, where I’ll be working with our Quidditch team and Southampton’s to put on a bit of a show for visitors. Then food fun, because I’m totally an adult self who doesn’t buy pizza every week. xD Plus, I’ve got to work on my Hallowe’en costume. I’m thinking clockwork girl, which is easier said than done.

~3~

AJ Ayer’s linguistic phenomenalism is the focus of my madness studying. Urg. It’s really hard to be focused these days.

~4~

 To fill this nice blank space – a mimic of my mind, indeed – have an Abney Park video. I’m excited for their new studio album, even if Spotify is not yet up to date with their dieselpunky 2013 album Circus at the End of the World, which contains brilliant songs like The Anthropophagists’ Club. Yes, you read that correctly. Great song.

~5~

Although my cold was said to have disappeared into its dark annual past, I suffered the vengeance of a sore throat this entire week, which put such pressure on my chords that my head voice has been hoarse a lot. Sadly, I struggled in the beautiful random carols we’ve been looking at, but the Duke Ellington is going swimmingly my way.

~6~

Writing! An exclamation point because I wrote a thousand words today alone, even if the rest of the week was not so full of productivity. The president of the Creative Writing Society at Reading invited us to her ‘Scribblers Support’ group, effectively one of those sit-and-write meet-ups. Because of not sleeping well and being slightly sleep-deprived, I only set myself the goal of 500 words in an hour, but one I started writing, the fog cleared from my mind and I stayed on for another hour.

Today’s extract is from the first chapter, as Jess and her roommate Meg acclimatise to the rush of their college bar. I have officially bordered the chapter off – and, though it has a bunch of scenes, it’s shorter than I expected, word-count wise.

~7~

The swill of the new people settled on her skin like humidity. It suffocated her with heat and breath and pulse – and Jess had no escape but that of running from the bar. Retreat versus exploration. Bleh.

And the noise! More than anything else, the noise was a buzzer in her ear. Not the ring of perennial pop-songs from the jukebox – in fact, those managed to fade into a white noise – but the surge and lull of the passing people invaded her ears and spooked chills from her belly-button to the dip between her collar-bones.

She scratched it and eyed the girl across the table. Voicing that to Meg would be as easy as draining the contents of her glass, and perhaps a little more tranquil, yet—

Jess opened her mouth, then clamped it shut.

“What?” asked Meg.

Jess shared a smile with her. “Nothing. I was just—nothing.”

 

 


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Characters and Their Surprising Attributes

Sometimes characters traits appear random, especially from a retrospective point of view. Rion has one arm. Agnetha is claustrophobic. Charles is not as much a bachelor as the term suggests…

I swear I didn’t plan those things. Right now, as I edit, they are known and integral attributes of the characters, but I suspect that to begin with I had a conscious point in giving my character them. Though Rion’s arm is mentioned, and Agnetha’s claustrophobia makes her logical mind a mess of emotion, neither of these things are vital to the plot. They just happen to be those decorations and side-effects that come with having a three-dimensional character (I hope *crosses fingers*).

The thing is, I never intended for my characters to turn out that way.

I mean, sometimes those points arrive more due to closing one’s eyes to the characters beforehand. In my recent (ie. this year) rewrite of OJAP, I realised that both the DCI and Agnetha’s school-friend Vera are people of colour. In fact, Vera is gorgeous:

On the other hand, the point I’m raising today is when one knows there might have been a reason at the very beginning of a story conception for certain characters with certain features, but it’s been lost to the canon and myth. Isn’t that a fun phrase to think of? “lost to canon” *dreams*

Looking around the internet, you’ll find various posts and articles about character traits – some focusing on big commercial and popular fiction, eg. Disney and green-eyed villains; others with a view to the more subtle references that less-well-known authors make.  Sometimes we writers do that, slipping in references, ‘Easter eggs’ for readers to squee at. I’m not going to elaborate on that, since many others already have.

As a writer, though, I do wonder where some of those “lost to canon” ideas stem from. If they’re not vital to a plot, what is the point in having them in the first place? To develop a character. In the same way that we ask ourselves the silly questions: “what would your character have for breakfast?” In the same way that I know Agnetha “hates cheese and likes puzzles”, a facetious homage to me, though one that started as a joke and stuck. In the same way, Cait at NotebookSisters runs the monthly Beautiful People link-up to let us delve beyond what is needed for the people in our fiction.

Just as with worldbuilding, characters are icebergs. Luckily, they’re not going to hit you in the face with their surprises–uhh, don’t hold me to that. Mostly not. Often sometimes. Yes. Let’s just say that if a character reveals something to you whilst you are writing:

a) you’re not paying enough attention to them in the first place (see my point above about missing the fact my characters were better as POCs).

b) your writing’s going to be better off for it.

and c) you’re probably going to realise that the character was meant to be that way in the first place. Hence my first protestation that the character-icebergs you hit are very less likely to dent your story than fantasy-world-icebergs.

One’d think that once one comes up with these specific traits, assigns them and folds them into a character’s life, that’s the end of it. Well, maybe so – but I was hit by the thought that I have traits that I love the characters for, but never consciously assigned to them.

How does that crazy thing happen? I guess characters pick up these things and hit the ground running with them.

So, maybe, despite what I’ve said, it’s a combination of the writer understanding that something extra should be added to the character and the character bringing surprise to the world themselves.

Nevertheless, even if you never include more than a glimmering shadow of these traits, every writer should attack their first drafts with a green pen for character enhancement. Give them something quirky, regardless of the setting. Jess and Laurie are in the uni caving society. Aidelle makes tomato soup with sharp herbs and spices. Christophe reads poetry in his spare time. And maybe one day, you’ll look back at your work and forget, in but a blink, that these characters never had those traits, and they’ll become part of their original shapes.

Okay?

I have had that meme in my head these last few days.

What about you? Have you ever written character traits and then come back to them with no idea of their origins?


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Space Trains and Novella Ideas

(I was going to post this tomorrow, but I have work to do, it’s 11.30pm and I haven’t even written half of today’s planned post. So, you’re getting something I’ve already written today…)

Hello, everyone, readers and world.

I’ve been working on a draft blurb of a novella I’d love to write. Some of you Whovians might recognise the setting a little, but after Mummy let me down, I did say I wanted to expand on a similar setting with a proper steampunk edge. Plus the Mallard is less well known, but still an iconic London and North Eastern train.

Other than that, there have been lots of requests for steampunk not from the upper-class perspective, so I thought I’d try a view from someone whose position in the story is helped by her being of lower class, a la Alexandra in A Game of Murder.

Plus, Nell’s position was inspired by a new blouse I found. I love it.

WP_20141011_002

When Nell was accepted to serve onboard the English Mallard train, she didn’t anticipate Queen Victoria’s secret assignment – to travel into space.

It’s not the Mallard’s first journey, but it’s certainly leaning on being the train’s last. Forget projecting thirty passengers into the stratosphere with metric tonnes of steam – that’s the easy part – but something’s amiss amongst Nell’s customers. A princess of the Indes bought her way through the barriers, but she won’t share the dining car with the young orphan who won his way onboard, not to mention his benefactor who won’t leave their sleeping car and a New Order alchemist who only hears in colours. Nell’s role jumps from serving tea to impromptu nurse when one passenger wakes with scratches across their arms and legs.

Neither does that explain the locked cabin #34 or the miniature model of the train, pieces slowly disappearing.

Plus there’s a cute barman in an oxygen bar and I’m excited to write about the colour-blind synethesiac character. What do you think? Yeah, it’s all a bit here and there, but the concept is one I’m really interested in. I could do a lot with the concept of steam past the stratosphere and how steampunk characters would get around that. I suspect automatons may feature in some aspect, too. *grins*


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DOCTOR WHO Series Eight Review: “Mummy On The Orient Express” (Co-written With Alexandrina Brant @ Miss Alexandrina)

Alexandrina Brant:

As promised, a reblog of Engie’s official post of Mummy on the Orient Express review #2. It’s pretty overview-y, but we quote a few things and watch a few things, and, as usual, I say a lot. Enjoy. ;)

Originally posted on Musings From Neville's Navel:

Good evening! I’m a lizard woman from the dawn of time and this is my wife and I’m* reviewing the latest episode of Doctor Who, “Mummy on the Orient Express,” with Alexandrina Brant from Miss Alexandrina. She’s a pretty cool blogger and we have more than a few interests in common, including books, photography, and Quidditch!

*SORRY NOT SORRY. I saw my chance and I took it, all right?

P.S. You can find previous collaborative reviews of Doctor Who‘s eighth series here.

-~-

Alexandrina Brant is a second-year psychology and philosophy student at Reading University, England, which means she alternates between planning experiments and critiquing history. When not polishing her fantasy romance novel about time travel, she’s cosplaying steampunk, singing, and playing Quidditch for the university team. She has authority in writing this review because she’s River Song’s doppelganger, hair and all. You can catch her blogging at Miss Alexandrina

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Photo of the Week: Jazzomophone

saxomophoneGoogle

Reference for the title. Homer Simpson has no idea what a saxophone is. Here’s the actual photo – from the swing event. I had my actual camera, so I was being all artsy and messing around with the placing on this photo. The gold of the saxophone in the paler lights of the suite room really works, I think, plus the focus narrowed well.

AlexB_JazzSaxophone


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“It’s hardly a perfect 20s recreation if Queen is playing!” (Mummy on the Orient Express Review #1)

My Private Notebook

Fair warning, this is long – but you are treated to gifs along the way. If you don’t like gifs… *shrugs* – though I have now taken from it most of the remarks and paragraphs made in the shared review. Too, it’s rough, but that the entire idea: my random spontaneous bizarre thoughts as I experience what I’ve now decided was a bizarre episode of cult favourite Doctor Who. If you want to see more of my thoughts, go to Nevillegirl’s post.

I originally tallied down my thoughts for Engie whilst watching Mummy on the Orient Express, but they got so rhetoric, dry (as in dry wit) and random that I decided not to share them with the review I was doing with her. A silly sense of humour that requires spontaneity is awesome, but not when one has to be in pair. Hence, review #1. #2 I’ll repost that sometime this week. Sundays are meant to be my days off… #toomuchtodo

Obviously spoilers. As with my review of Into the Dalek, I also had my good friend and Doctor Who conversationalist @EmuCat live tweeting alongside me, which made for some interesting tweets, the conversations of which I’ve included. Then we’re good to go! Without any further ado…

Oh, sorry, wrong fandom.

A bit overdramatic a pre-titles opening, though the concept of the ticking clock is interesting.

“Is there a Doctor?” Here’s where I expect The Doctor to jump out. Oh, look, a wild TARDIS appears.

I still love those opening titles. A perfect balance between Classic and new Who, me thinks.

“But in space.” You don’t say.

Don’t Stop Me Now. How appropriate. Are they really travelling at the speed of light? I doubt it. Give me proofs and figures.

CoNVER1

Indeed he was. I haven’t talked about the setting here, but you can find it in the other review.

Oh, hi Clara. *not impressed* But is this just an ulterior Clara? “It’s like you’re malfunctioning.” Four for you for the robot reference – I’d actually be interested in seeing a version of Clara that’s actually a robot. It would make the frequent death/resurrection interesting.

Oh, okay, it’s her last trip. I see. Interesting conversational dynamics between them – anger, but restrained and kept together, in the way Clara is great at doing. Plus, there’s that scene of talking whilst trapped in the carriage. This is almost a third draft I’d write. Okay, cruel comment. But the thought stands – Doctor Who gripped me more when there were less emotional complications. Even Martha put the alien-fighting before her feelings.

The Doctor is doing his best to avoid the conversation again.

convolasthur

Thought I recognised it. Nevertheless, it’s a very 30s phrase.

Ooh, some science. This makes me happy. Excelsior Life-Helping :D I’m not gonna say I want one, ‘cause that would be Playing God, but I’ll admit that it sounds like a cool piece of tech, especially for the context.

Perkins! Oh, hey, Frank Skinner. *waves* Great character. Very rounded. Very witty. His choice to walk away is very poignant – reflects Clara, and foils every past companion. The not-companions. He’s a great intelligent mechanic, too, and it’s been a while since there’s been a side-character with such attributes, even if he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with The Doctor on so many levels.

This is almost Dieselpunk in itself – technology and electronics in a world run by steam(ish) and gorgeous archaic decoration. Otherwise, the world would be dark and cold, I suppose, and that would be poor evening TV performances.

That smile <3

Call me Gus!

I liked Gus. I like optimism in death. I like computer voices, disembodied souls, even if they leave obvious doubt in everyone’s minds as to their Good-Sinful orientation. Will we ever meet Gus again? I hope so. I want to know the history of this train.

But the sonic isn’t working! Oh, hi, I was right: transportation of artefacts. Funny that it’s here because of the mummy, rather than t’other way around.

convo2

Now I wans’t convinced by the sacrifices. They didn’t give us long enough to know the captain or the expert – “can we get a new expert?” yes please. I don’t even remember his name – before they were claimed by The Foretold.

Clara’s dress is nice. Good choice of muted colours, even if they match her hair. Call it cliché of the era, but I want that dress. So pretty! And it suits her. If only life had costume designers.

I didn’t like Maisie. She irritated me. I didn’t see much point to her character but that of ‘the one to save’ or ‘Clara’s friend’. Umm… Bechdel test anyone? I know, I know, it’s been commented that some characters do need to get things off their chest this way – but I, a girl who often fails the Bechdel test in life, was sitting there, thinking “can we please move on now? I’m bored.”

Her makeup. It’s terrible, and I mean that it’s deliberately so. It reflects her life – and what a twisted, non-paranoid life that was! It also suggests more of the falsity behind the entire set up of the train. Not only are the guests playing dress-up with their imaginary, faulty 1934, but the train is playing dress-up with them, right down to the holographic passengers. That begs the question, though – what role was Maisie meant to be in the scientific investigations? She must’ve had some mind on her, but with the trauma, she was shown to be nothing but weak, and the stress of her overdone makeup showed that.

But I couldn’t connect to her. I didn’t see the depth beyond her exterior, and isn’t that writers are meant to make us see?

The occasional cutting back and forth to the clock in the corner was disorientating.

Conflict: you can’t run from The Foretold (which makes sense if one retrospects to the phase-shifting science). Good. Another time-pressure level.

It’s almost 11.30 in the captain’s cabin.

Okay, that was an interesting – if a Christie-esque cliché – turn of ‘who is the one behind this?’. This is the peak in the story, the pick up of pace in a slow episode. And, of course Gus is morally questionable. You’re aiming to catch and/or kill this phase-shifting creature, after all.

Oh, wow, it’s not a train. And, oh look, more fake scenes. This seems to be a running line of interest – a possible link to Missy and the final episodes? So who invited them onto the train? And they didn’t know? A bit of continuity stuff here. Give me facts, numbers, eras!

A good use of the lab and lab-rat settings, though gruesome. I prefer the idea now that’s a set experimental scene, rather a façade where nothing fits. Is that a homage to At Bertram’s Hotel? It also pokes some fun at the forced falseness of the 30s class system, even when the times are changing I guess, for links like that, this episode gets cookies, but links and references are not enough to sustain me.

The use of The Doctor to work out the pattern – and now the pace does increase. Randomness. Or not. But the Mummy is trying to help…? Oh, no. He’s just trying to kill the enemy.

Ooh, phase shifting (not musical). I knew that if they explained science they’d do it well. The addition time pressure that they will all eventually die is worth it, I think, but, for me, it’s a little too late. I wonder if The Doctor, having two hearts, would be the last to die in that situation.

The implication of picking off the weakest – now, is that hardly fair? I mean, good tactic – we sometime video-game players use it to slaughter the enemy, but in real war, one’d probably want to try and knock out the big man first. One swipe from him and you’d be dead. Just kick away the mini men at your ankles.

Okay, I’ll admit those are pretty sharp. *cymbal crash somewhere far in the distance*

Oh, no, Clara don’t go off on one. Not now, when people have 66 seconds to describe a being that will consume their entire energies at the end of that minute-six.

Cinematography: beautiful, luscious train, in contrast with the haggard, bandaged brown-grey of the mummy. The deep, dark colours of the captain’s cabin intrigues me – does it reflect his darker past and personality? I don’t like him personally, but I like the arc his character faces.

And the brown of the mechanical bay – a reverse reflection of the lab atmosphere, which is surprisingly bright against the dark under-train discoveries…almost as if the more the characters learn about the creature and their position, the more their surroundings reflect the growing knowledge. The blue and whites of the lab are very…stark. Cold, but a safe kind of cold. The use of light is great, too, especially in those final scenes. Another stark change. Unsettling. Irritating.

The TARDIS too is looking very blue today. Electronic. In a nice way. That’s a nice bookcase. Gets points for space symmetry.

The ending… I don’t know what to say. I’m kind of gaping at the screen. Clara’s ‘wobble’. Hmph. She’s still there. I’m not convinced.

CONVO3

The Doctor. He lies. Of course. I guess it would be interesting to know whether he did or did not save those people, and the idea of him being a monster again. I feel this episode nevertheless veiled its darker moments, so that one could enjoy the science and the sci-fi without, for the most part, having to contemplate the social and ethical dilemmas nearly all of the characters go through… Clara and her want to leave; the captain and his desire to ignore what’s in front of his nose, probably a symptom of his PTSD; Maisie, who’s bottled up her dislike of her gran for so long (she’d be a good Christie murder suspect); The Doctor and his cold, harsh nature here. Can I just point out how quickly the scientists walked away from the window after the cooking team was decompressed? I know they have to work for their lives and not mourn, but nobody says two words about Gus’ methods of persuasion and lack of mercy, least of all The Doctor.

Who is the greatest monster in Mummy on the Orient Express? I don’t think we will ever know.

People have been saying about this reference/foreshadowing:

I’m not sure about that being a foretelling, though. Goddess. After all, the other Christie-esque episode had ‘foreshadowing’ where The Doctor says to Martha just before she leaves him that they should visit Mrs. Christie.

The more I think about Mummy, the more I want to write huge paragraphs of why I didn’t like it. My biggest criticism/disappointment was that it wasn’t fun. Sure, it was entertaining and there were a selection of passable one-liners, but I didn’t find it fun in the way I did the Unicorn and the Wasp.

Dark, though. Dark and deep.

Overall, a very weird episode. Not what I expected at all, but impressive. 3.5/5. I’m sure you’ll find loads of other blogger reviews if you Google. Two analytic ones I liked were New Who For You Too!’s live Tumble of the episode and Doctor Who TV’s look at the 12 Great Moments from it. Do check both of them out, as they look at the episode in a much more positive light (I’ve tried and I do think it was very clever, I simply couldn’t get myself to enjoy it, as sad as that was, and one must go with the gut instinct on a review), whilst also touching on some of the more in-depth points and themes that I, in either of my reviews, have not spent enough time on to pull apart. Oh, and do check out the Doctor Who Extra program on YouTube. This, of course, allows for admiration of costume, set, lighting, filmography etc without my questioning of the overall arc and plot and me with my analytic magnifying glass :D

Mummy on the Orient Express will certainly be one of those episodes that stands more as a stepping stone to the characters’ actions and overarching series plot than one that I’d watch for its solo merits (contra Unicorn and the Wasp).

Have a good day.

lJL5fa


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7 Quick Takes about Grabbing Some New [Text]Books, Overflowing the Scores, and Doubling the Extract!

Please join us for this week’s 7 Quick Takes, hosted by ConversionDiary.

7 quick takes sm1  7 Quick Takes about podcasts, getting back into a routine, and asking your radio guests to fold your laundry

~1~

I almost skipped today’s Quick Takes because I’ve been so busy with academic stuff that I’ve barely had time for momentous things that are worth talking about. So excuse any possible dry writing on this post.

~2~

Swing social tonight! Very exciting.

~3~

I was on a book-buying spree this week, but sadly none of the fictional variety. I got my uni-sponsored book-token to work this week, so I nabbed a couple of course books. Ones I’d actually (that aren’t, you know, so textbook-y) recommend: Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic if you can stomach some of the philosophy terminology, and Lyas’ book detailing the thoughts of proponents of philosophy’s aesthetics theory. Aesthetics itself is a fascinating topic for someone like me.

~4~

I have so much music to learn that my chamber choir folder is overflowing with scores, everything from random Christmas carols that we don’t know what we’re doing with yet to the Elgar and a full score of the aforementioned Duke Ellington jazz numbers. The remnants of my cold, however, have settled on my larynx, and yesterday’s rehearsal was marred by the fact that my notes are, at the moment, predominantly breathy, something away from which I spent years training myself.

~5~

I did very little editing, and of OJAP, this week, because I prioritised getting my critique of my friend Jo Wu’s first chapters to her, and, apart from that, I have actually had to do uni stuff. :P

~6~

Writing. You get two sneak previews today, you lucky things! This morning I was going to give you my week’s measly work, but then I got inspired in my Cognition lecture this afternoon. I didn’t have to include both, but I wrote the beginning of The Rain Scene, one of the scenes near the end of the novel and a major turning point for Laurie and Jess’ relationship. It had be included as a weekly extract of Under the Carrington, and you may see why. Totally unintentional.

Modern recreation of the Stoa of Attalos. Photo by Emma

Modern recreation of the Stoa of Attalos. Photo by Emma

 

 

The way his smile had a stupid effect on hers, making it melt right out of her face. She was pretty sure her brain had followed suit – the world was the drug-fuelled level of sensible hazy, and she hadn’t had a drop to drink for almost a week.

~7~

She ducked out of the person’s range, but, after hovering to a stop, the umbrella remained. It tilted, Jess blinked the water from her eyes, and Laurie’s grin emerged from the rain, the Cheshire Cat in the tree.

“Laurie!” Jess sighed with relief. Her heart continued its rumba beat, but now she didn’t mind. It staved off the rain’s chill.

“I startled you?” Laurie asked. “I’m sorry.”

He huddled closer under The Carrington’s awnings, and Jess curled her fingers into her palm. What was that about not going after the reps? Despite the moments she stopped herself from looping her arm into his, she wouldn’t stop the sincere warmth that made itself known in her chest. The day’s emptiness carried a bare blip when he stood grandly beside her.

“Were you walking back to Wellington?”

“Yes.”

“Allow me.”

It took Jess a whole moment to comprehend, but Laurie extended his bright yellow umbrella between the two of them.

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