Miss Alexandrina

The thinking-space of a not-quite novelist

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Review of Encante By Aiyana Jackson


Hello! Today I’m reviewing a novella I finished recently: Encante by author Aiyana Jackson, published by Aädenian Ink. As you can probably tell from the cover, it’s a high fantasy with humans and the eponymous mermaid-like creatures and is set almost entirely on a submersible – that’s submarine to those of you not so acquainted with the lingo.


Deep under the ocean, Simeon Escher, protégé to the leader of the order of Loth Lörion, finds himself an unexpected guest aboard the submersible, Narwhal. Home to a crew of humans, and strange mer-folk few people are aware exist, Simeon is swept up in their quest to find a world within a world, a possible safe haven from the insidious reach of the Kabbalah. Yet how can he think about his mission when the captain’s niece fills his every thought, distracting him from all that’s important to him, including his own fiancée.

My thoughts:


Whilst this novella started off slow, with large, dialogue-less paragraphs, it picked up by chapter three, and I enjoyed it once Simeon was on-board the submersible and we’d been introduced to the batch of characters. It’s one of those stories where one must go with the flow, or otherwise be left when the tide turns; I felt like I was being thrown into the deep end of a world – which was both good, in that Ms. Jackson doesn’t patronise the reader by trying to explain, and bad in that I took a while to resurface and understand where we were.

…I’ll stop with the water imagery now.

The use of voice and language really brought the novella to life. I did like the plot, but I suspect I would have skimmed had the voice had been so…facetious, I suppose. I could relate to Simeon’s tight, mannered personality (he rather reminds me of my MC Cathy, in that punk of steampunk).

There were bits that I found annoying, though. For instance, at the beginning, Simeon kept going back to thinking of the love interest as soon as she appeared. Not going three pages without his thoughts straying to Drusilla. To me, it was mildly annoying. I’m also not sure what I think about Drusilla’s gift to read minds. It took a little fun out of the romance, since she was forever interrupting and second-guessing. And, yeah, it took me a little bit of time to adjust to that. On the other hand, I guess that’s how Simeon was feeling. Good use of relatability.

However, by the end, I believed in their romance. I’m not sure if some would critique it for being ‘instalove’, but I didn’t find that the case. Yes,  the days flit by and there is very little time for pleasantry, acquaintances and getting-to-know, but The Narwhal submersible is a cramp place and proximity is going to affect the speed of attraction. Besides, Drusilla and Simeon evidently have that spark and connection and shared goals of travelling. Blows to Cecelie! Who wants a human when they can have a half-Encante?

Sorry, going off point– I will say for that, however, I was surprised how readily Simeon actually abandoned thoughts of his fiancé. Sure, he didn’t love her, but one would think for decency… Uh. I cannot say what I would do were I in his situation.

Certainly, it was a gripping tale that kept me turning pages for more. The beautiful, almost magical, world of The Narwhal and the ocean, filled with description such as

Several scarves in a rainbow of autumnal hues tumbled from a solid looking chest, and I was only marginally surprised to catch a glimpse of a skull nestled within them.

is a stark contrast to the foul, derogatory actions within the ship’s crew itself. I liked this Victorian feel to the class-system between the Encante and the humans, and it’s definitely something that, once I realised how strong the themes are of class in the novella, I wanted to read more of.

Overall: 3 1/2 stars. In terms of originality, I loved the novella. The Encante themselves sound like gorgeous creatures, though I was a little sad that the scene on the cover comes from the penultimate chapter. At times, I felt the story dipped into telling, and, whilst the voice was distinct of Simeon and enjoyable, I would have preferred a good deal less of the ‘seemed’ and ‘appeared’ in the prose. The antagonists were strong and believable, but I wouldn’t give full stars because of simply my subjective reaction to how high fantasy it was. However, it worked well on its own, and I would happily have read the novella without references to the conflict ex mare.

If you like the deep-sea side of the Steampunk aesthetic, like high fantasy in new worlds with new species, and enjoy a sustainable romance thread that doesn’t claim the story, then Encante is a quick read with believable characters and engaging stakes.

My gif verdict, a la the Notebook Sisters:

Well, in terms of aesthetic. Some Steampunk can feel cramp and all blimps-and-ether-guns, but being in the submersible added another dimension I hadn’t thought of.

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Photo of the Week: Hey!

Welcome to my new blog theme! I’ve been meaning to change it for a while now, but nothing particularly caught my eye until I had the time to go through it. Nothing much has changed in terms of the sidebar. Yeah, it’s changed sides and rearranged, but the sidebar notes are the same. One day, I’ll find a double-sidebarred theme. :)

A friend recently introduced me to Instagram. As you can probably guess, this is never a good idea, and the app is an addictive one if one likes photography and social sites. The like/favourite button on the pictures is simply a double-tap, which can be annoying when one simply wants to get to the photo page, but that’s a minor annoyance for me. It’s a pretty simple app to use when you’ve set it up anyway.

As such, though, I’ve been customising my pictures with the filters (I love me some filters) ;)


So, yeah, have a cool image of an alpaca that I met/fed at a zoo in Suffolk today. He knows where you live… *cough* Nah, he’s just a friendly dude who knows where your food bag is!

For more pictures of similar quality and colours, pop over to http://instagram.com/caelestia_flora

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Ready. Set. Write! Update 21/7

Ready. Set. WRITE! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability, and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on wherever we’re at in our writing—planning, drafting, revising, or polishing. This year, your RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin Funk, and Katy Upperman.

I was holding out on typing this post until I finished chapter 17, hence how late in the day this comes.

How I did on last week’s goals:

See last week’s post for why I didn’t set myself any rigid goals for this week. Some progress in the general scheme of things:

1. CampWriMo – nearing my end, both for time and for wordcount.

2. Finish at least one of the books I started reading this year. I’m about two-thirds through reading The Iron Wyrm Affair. On the other hand, I finished reading novella Encante. I need to think about not starting anything new until I’ve finished the books I’ve picked up so far.

3. WTCB… Completely reshaped the query and with a better focus on the romance goal for both Aidelle and Phillip and how much they ought to be together. Dropped the New Adult category, but I might still press it with industry professionals in the telos, who know their stuff better than I. I can argue both ways anyway.

4. As much as I’d love to start it, I’m going to drop Under The Carrington from my summer write list. I will pop in when I get the need to write once ‘H’ is done, but, at the moment, my head is too far into the fantasy bubble to attempt a contemporary.

(Those are probably the most prominent progresses I’ve made to any of my overarching goals.)

My goals for this week:

1. Reach at least the 50K mark for CampNaNoWriMo. I’m currently aiming to finish today with at least 42, so I only need (preferably 10-thousand words).

2. More July WTCB work.

A favourite line from my project:

As Cathy tries to return to England, she meets many people who have reasons for staying exactly where they are, including a former maid and this character:

“Certainly,” her voice churned the Italian lace into English stiffness, “I miss my daughters, but my husband… Let us leave at the thought that he was cruel. Controlling. Here, I am something more. I can hunt with the men, where I better belong. My body is not needed for child-bearing, and I have no obligation to sew, when my fingers are no match for the needle.”

Cathy tilted her head and gazed at the woman. She had kept her hair pinned out of her face, but strands of it tufted above her ears and towards a bald patch behind her right temple. Her leather-weaved trousers complimented the band in her hair and that stung well against the shards of heavy white metal she used as hairpins.

Mudhuts feature in my story, but a little more retrofuturistic than this.

The biggest challenge I faced this week:

Starting. It’s more general hesitance than procrastination, but I’m having trouble focusing my mind on writing chronologically, and instead keep jumping about from beginning of chapter to end and back.

Something I love about my WiP:

I can feel my character evolving, as she gains strengths from being thrown into bizarre and oft-uncomfortable situations. Once again, the theme of class has not escaped one of my novels, and I have a couple of characters leaning towards equality. Which is weird. I don’t want any lectures, characters. Plot’s getting into focus, too. I hope.

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Beautiful People: Cathy

Sticking with the theme (check out yesterday’s post about the Steampunk world I’m creating!), the character whom I’m interviewing for this month’s Beautiful People link up – hosted by Cait @ Notebook Sisters and Sky @ Further Up and Further In – is Miss Cathleen ‘Cathy’ , MC of my CampWriMo novel, Horology. Cathy is a very respectable young lady in both senses of the word, but her parents happened to be untitled scientists more interested in entomology in the rainforests than watching their little girl grow up, and therefore she has never known the fancier life. On the other hand, rarely seeing her parents made Cathy into a modest woman – if one who might rely on a man’s help a little too much.

“Haven’t you ever thought of how succinct some of The Passings are, but how some are more…fragile? I suppose that would be the word.”

1. What’s their favourite food? (Bonus: favourite flavour of chocolate!)

Cathy definitely has a sweet tooth. She adds honey to her porridge and rarely takes black (bitter) tea. As to her favourite food, I say it would be sweet, yet delicate pastries. She has a weakness for late breakfast croissants.

2. What do they absolutely hate?

So as to not clash with #5, I’m not going to answer this in my first interpretation, which was hate as in fear. Instead, what Cathy despises the most is the way Lords and Ladys use their money to manipulate society and the outcome of wills. One character with whom Cathy has a terse breakfast is more than willing to let his younger brother disappear because it means not having to share the house with him.

3. What do they enjoy learning about?

Neither music nor science become Cathy, and she was never taught to draw or to count. However, when asked whether she wanted to pursue a profession, sixteen-year-old Cathy jumped at the chance to learn the languages. Her strongest are French and Latin, but she has conversational German, too. Whilst Cathy never went to an institute of education to learn, her governess, Miriam, taught her all she knew, and when that supply was exhausted, Cathy’s parents employed an external tutor.

4. Who is the most influential person in their life?

Being smitten with a scientist has its upsides. It’s clear that a lot of what Cathy does and where she goes has been in habit of putting herself in Alexander’s path. As the story progresses, too, we see that she is desperate to understand what his theories have got him into – and to relate to the Theoretical Maths he’s created.

5. What is their childhood fear?

Ghosts. Cathy is unusual that, where most of the population accept and revere The Passing of ghosts every dusk in the world’s cold spots, Cathy has a deep-seated fear of their presence, which would, in modern psychiatry, be called a phobia. The other characters are, of course, utterly puzzled by this—and Cathy will have to face her face if she wants to save Alexander.

(I say ‘will’. I haven’t written those chapters yet.)

6. What is something they have always secretly dreamed of doing, but thought impossible?

In true Victorian fashion, Cathy’s desire for a relationship with Alexander has relied less on passion and more on logical assessment. Call me cliché, but she’d love to get married and raise a household like her mother failed to do. However, her analysis of Alexander – his blank stares and aloof mannerisms – led her to believe he had no interest in her beyond their friendship. How wrong she was. I guess that’s what my characters get for dating men ten years older.

7. Are they a night owl or morning person?

A morning person, by far. If she’s in London or New York, Cathy already gets jittery by evening by the mere thought of The Passing.

8. Do they say everything that pops into their head, or leave a lot unsaid?

Cathy can have a temper when she wants, but she generally curbs her tongue, out of polite habit more than anything. In a recent chapter, Cathy goes so far as to slap another woman, but, by this point, one can tell that she is really upset enough to do so.

9. What are their nervous habits?

Cathy sometimes pulls on strands of her hair when she is nervous.

Artist credit: Alex Hooper


Into the World of ‘H’

As you know, I’m currently ploughing through CampNaNoWriMo – all your wordcounts belong to me! – and, unlike last year…or, actually, unlike any of the other times I’ve tried writing challenges…I am writing straight onto my laptop instead of having to write on a physical notebook first (FYI, I still haven’t completely typed up DMWT from last year’s CampWriMo/trip to Uganda). In a way, this both heightens and releases the pressure.

I’ve currently written 35K, and am on chapter 16, but, due to the mishap with my laptop, I had to write on my phone for four days, so, whilst it felt like I skipped through the 20s merrily, I believe I am behind on the 2K-a-day trial. To add to that, I’m holidaying with a friend in Suffolk – we arrived yesterday – so I have no set writing times as I would when at home.

As with a lot of my writing at the moment, I’m going for a facetious tone, but trying to keep the heroine from being outspoken, as that would not suit her. I’m going to share a couple of extracts, to give you a glimpse into this fantasy/alternate history world, featuring an infected leech bite, a storm, and a dormant volcano. And that’s just in chapters 12 to 16.

NOW I get why Atlantis has always been my favourite Disney film

Who among you negotiates?

The language of the novel is vital. Well, not only is it something I love, but it shows their Steampunk world in more detail – how each character ought to interact, particularly that of the MC, since her actual words are often filled with more eloquence than her internal monologue.

Deal or no, if they arranged no posited lodgings with the lady, the sky would be pocked by nightfall and all hopes of survival in the alien wasteland would be dashed.

At least Cathy was not alone in her sympathies. In their quick exchanges, Amelia and Jonathon were demanding of the captain some little element. Cathy heard very little of the hisses – but the words lodgings, night, and help, even if they were imagined, warmed her chest.

“Lady,” the captain called, “I simply mean to ask if you would give us lodging for the night until we can fetch supplies for the journey to Rome.”

Silence. Even through the distance, no one would mistake that close-lipped smile marring the woman’s features.

Eventually – a mere minute dragged in desperation – Petite Victoria drew her fingers away and unstuck her dark lips. “Pray, who among you negotiates the treaties of sleep with strangers?”

Before he might speak and throw the entire operation, Cathy jolted a hand onto the captain’s arm, despite lunging across Amelia and Jonathon.

“Please,” she hissed to him. “Let me talk with her. I know their native language, after all.”

Ignoring the petulant half-snort that came from Jonathon, Captain Moorcombe nodded, and said to Petite Victoria, “You may have your time with the lady Cathleen.”


A device for seeing and finding…

Of course, every stereotype of Steampunk is metal cogs and airships, and, whilst that’s not something I completely abhor, I’d rather step away from the typical before it becomes another overdone trope. However, one can’t help admit that those items affect the aesthetic, and, done well, are one of the integral legs of identifying a Steam piece.

The woman gave Cathy a dry smile. This close, the eyepiece – or, rather, the lady’s eye – was inescapable. The metal was too light, too polished to be copper or brass, but, at the same time, it looked as if it had been crafted from the alloys of old, and that was an accomplishment, considering how the metal writhed and squirmed around the organic flesh.

Cathy blinked. Staring at the rooted disk made her own pupils ache by association. Still, that didn’t stop her stretching her fingertips to it. Quite what she was doing, she had no idea.

Petite Victoria halted, but she threw up her head, and connected eyepiece with Cathy’s fingers without a word. She needed none – her chin declared her pride at bearing the mechanical incision.

To the touch, the disk stank of alloy. Under that, the layer of charcoaled cogs rotated anticlockwise – clicking in the wind’s breath, they operated a chain of smaller and smaller winding cogs, down to the pupil itself, which had belonged to her in a previous life.

Now, however, the bottle-green of her right eye had been carved away and polished into a gemstone lock.

Victoria’s eye was no eye. It was a device for seeing and finding, for spotting and destroying.


Even that simple move had escaped her.

I can’t call it adventure for nothing. Yes, it involves a lot of travel and a handful of contagonists, acting for their own, not-mentioned purposes, who happen to cross the path of my MC. The stakes are high for the MC, who just wants to find where her fiancé has disappeared to, but the world into which she finds herself plunged is one of revolt and secrets.

Cathy struggled against the netting fabric, which cut unflattering lines into her face. She turned, but that did nothing to alleviate the awkward position into which she’d managed to fall. Although her petticoats were doing their best to cover her modesty, her ankles stuck into the top of the netting like two pillars in the skyline.

She fought to drag her feet down from their height, but even that simple move had escaped her. Whilst she moved her wrists and fingers like any other day, they’d barely dragged down her legs, one by one. She splayed them again – but she’d manicured her nails into square, polite shapes, and they’d lost any of their ability to cut. Not that Miriam would’ve been pleased by the idea of her former student, a young lady, slashing with her own humane fingernails.

Forget her. Miriam wasn’t here; she wasn’t the one finding a way from the tight spaces of the net. Cathy took a deep breath, surprised when her chest howled in pain from the corset jamming her ribs and breasts in all the wrong ways.

Smart footsteps – no urchin or shop owner afforded to pay for the types of metallic steel that lined this man’s boots enough to click as he rounded the corner cobbles – neared, and Cathy found herself holding her breath. She didn’t even know from where the anxiety rose. The thought of The Passing, perhaps? From this direction, the sun shone obvious and semi-circular over the Thames eastbank. It hadn’t even set fully, and she was already pulling worries from the frantic edges of her mind.

That’s it for now! I hope you enjoyed peeking into the scenery of my NaNo adventure.


Diversity is Difficult (For Me)

With all the talk of diversity from last month’s Pride month, I’ve got stuck thinking about the topic of all sorts of diversity.

Miriam Joy and I were discussing our Work-in-Progresses recently. Her YA contemporary about modern-day knights is packed with queer characters (to quote Miriam “I’m bad at writing straight people.”) whilst in my steampunk/alternate history, I’m finding it difficult to identify any sort of diversity.

My reaction when people talk about diversity in WIP novels

Any pre-millennium author would argue this is because of the setting and a world where not only was homosexuality considered a mental illness, many queer people refused to admit the truth to themselves—but I refuse to take that as an excuse for my own writing. The idea of diversity has to, fundamentally, exist throughout the centuries, worlds and genres. One can’t swipe it away by the idea that some genres or places are ‘immune’ to diversity. That would be ludicrous.

This is, sadly, a trend in my writing. One of my characters was obviously gay to me; and Agnetha is bi, even if she is more heterosexual-homoromantic than anything else; if any of my characters are asexual, that would be Andrew Costello, but even his disinterest is classed as being a confirmed bachelor in the NeoVictorian world*.

As I write, I don’t see my characters as being diverse, and I’m hardly one to shoe-horn in the queerness and the colour; as I’ve briefly mentioned before, I’d be happy to have some of my characters whom I envision as white in my head played by actors of colour, but I am – one might sigh and say sadly – one of those little middle-class white girls with a tendency to write about white girls. And, of course, they’re middle-class, because the upper and lower classes are too often written about.

On the other hand, it’s more difficult simply to make assumptions about characters—

Though I can’t help but want to let my readers decide about the sexuality of my Supporting Characters. With MCs, I tend to be more specific, since I can’t escape writing in romance. For instance, in Horology, Cathy gets engaged to Alexander, though I do accept that the certain fact does not negate queerness of either partner. But they’re straight. Believe me. SCs, however, don’t have to be specific. Of course, I’ll know what I feel they are meant to be, but characters have their own decisions ex libris and I cannot stop them feeling what they might.

Be that as it may, my authorial side has her own opinions/interpretations/assumptions – and it’s here that I find, once I’ve created the cast of a WIP, that barely any characters strike me as queer.

And one has to be aware of stereotypes. I know certain images appear at the thought of, say, the word lesbian, because of the way popular culture has shaped our views, and I have no wish to further the stereotype—yet, characters automatically conform to certain patterns of stereotypical appearance. For instance, I can see how a couple of my SCs in Horology could be queer, but they’re already non-conformist in their jobs and opinions, so – to me, personally, by the way; I fully understand the subjectiveness of the matter – it seems a cop out to have them be queer. That’s almost what the reader expects.

So, what about subtle queerness? But with characters who don’t need to be romantically involved, or are chased by an unwitting ‘straight’ (used in the very general sense) character, how does one show their sexuality without making a point of it? Or without doing a JK. Is it bad if I’m not being explicit? *overthinking*

You know, I’d like to see more diversity in interests, too. Whilst a lot of writers include ‘fun’ interests, like sciencey-things and music and stuff (specific, I know), I’ve not met many, especially non-contemporary, characters who are furries or lovers of inanimate objects or animals (and, no, I’m not talking about bestiality. Bestioromance. You know, in a nice way). Lifestyles that are a little deviant of ‘the line’. I think I’m allowed to raise that point, even though I’m only 50% Live-Action Role Playing.

I guess it’s too early in the Steampunk fashion boom to expect contemporaries with characters who Steam dress and have Steam personae, but I find this sort of ‘cultural’ cross-dressing is absent everywhere, despite knowing two people who, rather than cosplay, do daily dress in their creations.

In summary, I suppose what I’m raising is that I myself should be writing more characters in non-contemporaries who put on the gear of cults/societies/non-conformist fashion without fear of exposure/mockery/plot-device.

And, you know, more obviously queer characters.

I feel I ought to mention the series of Pride posts Nevillegirl did, since those also in part inspired this post and got me thinking about more diversity in my own works.

*Perhaps I’ll further explore the use of ambiguity in prose – both the oh-that’s-a-remark-about-sh*gging-guys and the author-isn’t-meant-to-know kind – when regarding sexuality in another post, since it’s a little off-topic here. In particular, the lives of a lot of the characters in The Continent world (When the Clock Broke) are private even to my eyes. There are some things to which I don’t want to know the answer.

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Photo of the WeeK: Balloon

With its bouncy, light pink feel, this photo could be taken as the epitome of summer. The disks remind me a little of the beach – I guess the sunshine we’ve had recently is making me crave dipping my toes into sand.

Balloon_AlexBTaken on the tenth, on my mother’s birthday.


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Ready. Set. Write! 16/7

During the weekend, I broke my laptop, so I was left stranded and rather confused. It’s fixed now, so I apologise for the radio silence, and for a rocky week of posts on which I have to work on. Why do I happen upon ideas when I have no medium in which to write them‽

As such, I’m going to do things a little differently today…probably for the better.

What I achieved this week-and-a-half:

I would say it was a good week for my CampNaNo… Well, it was a good week for writing until my laptop decided to give up its charge and I had to go hunting for a new charger. I managed to get to chapter fifteen, but I have no idea how long those chapters themselves have been (I’m personally not a fan of reading or writing chapters under 2K), since I still have to email them from my the notepad on my phone to my Word document. As you can probably guess, too, I don’t write as lovingly quickly on my phone as I do on a proper keys-and-clicks keyboard. Just as I much prefer print books to ebooks, I much prefer physical keyboards than touch screens.

I did, however, definitely complete one goal from last week: write about 10 – 20K, so I reach the 25K mark, past the quarter mark. Even with only up to near the end of chapter 12 fixed onto the Word doc., I have reached 27K, so hopefully I am on target.

This week, I’ve been introduced to a whole host of new characters and lost a few, too: the crew of a particular skyship, who come in handy at the heroine’s need, and, very recently, a group of anarchists living in the grounds of Vesuvius. But – shh! – the heroine doesn’t know as much yet!

A favourite paragraph from my project:

So far… I intend to post a more up-to-date paragraph once I’ve successfully moved chapters 13 to 15. This extract comes from the beginning of chapter 12, as Cathleen acquaints herself with searching for her fiancé.

Jonathon moved from the dockhand – who took that moment to run – a small click signifying that he’d tucked away the miniature knife, and slid backwards a metre or two. He pushed off from the ground and ran at the vessel, leaping the gap between the platform and the starboard side. Hands latched at his shirt and pulled him over the rail, but Jonathon had landed on the skyship with his jump before Cathy might blink and wish him helped.

“Mind the gap,” she muttered to herself.

Ah, so they’d returned for him or some other overt expedition that would unlikely take passengers. More than a simple smile would press the creases from her borrowed dress and allow her access onto the limited adventure-stat—

“Miss Cathleen!”

A hand. A wave. A flash of cowslip blonde under flying goggles. Today, Amelia had donned a pair of ivy green lenses adorned with two small glass disks, monocular and staggered. Her map-reading goggles perchance.

An impression of the Ellis Island docks and The Cloud-Chaser aerostat. Picture from Flickr and boat built by Kandace Commons in Second Life.

The biggest challenge I faced this week:

I guess knowing that a lot of what I’ve written will be cut in subsequent drafts in the name of pacing. Even in my more substantive drafts of other works, I prefer characters to sit and reflect rather than act straight away.

Something I love about my WIP:

Everything! In particular, the unlicensed skyship The Cloud-Chaser. It’s a lot more what you’d expect from Steampunk than the previous liner The Pearl: archetypal roles; less fancy, more steam-flight. The cartographer, Amelia, has a pet carrier owl called Albert, and strikes me as a tad philosophic in her spare time.

Plus she’s the perfect eye-candy for Secondary Character Jonathon. I was, from planning stages, determined that there’d be no romance between him and the MC (he’s not her type and she gets engaged in chapter one anyway), but this doesn’t stop him from being attracted to The Cloud-Chaser’s cartographer. I really like Jonathon, actually, even though, as a human being, I always planned not to like him: He’s one of those SCs that say the truth the MC doesn’t wanna hear.

Gosh! I was looking for a picture of Amelia, but I stumbled upon this almost perfect image of Cathy on The Cloud-Chaser, dress, goggles, everything. The only thing out of place is the mechanic pump in her hand – even the mechanic’s pouch could be Cathy’s satchel. Artist credit: Alex Hooper and LARP association Steampunk Things

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Quick Takes Friday – Returning Home, Birthday Cupcakes, and Latin Harry Potter

Feel free to join me and other bloggers at ConversionDiary to share our weeks.

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes on a plane!!!

Feel free to join me and other bloggers at ConversionDiary to share our weeks.


My first week back home I’ve been hard at work, even if I’ve barely left the house. Mornings unpacking and reorganising all my junk; afternoons spent in the living room. It’s all been about writing and the creativity of first drafts as I work through CampNaNoWriMo.


But I’m not just writing…I’m reading. I’ve almost finished Encante, and I hope to get a review up next week or so. I also spotted Harrius Potter in my books as I was unpacking. You read that correctly: I have the Latin translation of the Philosopher’s Stone. Of course, it is easier to read knowing the general gist than if it were the modern equivalent of unseen Ovid.


These last three/four days, six of my friends have graduated. I am beyond proud of them, but it’s a sad time of change for all of us. It’s true that I cannot complain that I won’t see them again, since I have the people in my own year still; for the leavers, they are parting ways with all of their university chums.


I baked cupcakes today, using a recipe I have meant for lemon cupcakes. Instead, I used my typical vanilla essence to flavour and added in a good dollop of cinnamon. My mother and I have enough cinnamon in this house to garnish an entire army! Because I made them simply for my relatives, I mixed a few with chocolate chips and drizzles my spare red food colouring on the top, for a half-marble effect.



Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. We stayed in, and didn’t really do much, but we had some splendid Taittinger (bubbly) and I watched Back to the Future Part Two. I have a weakness for television running in the background whilst I’m trying to first draft. And, in all fairness, I didn’t think Part Two was as bad as it’s said to be.


I’m going birthday shopping (you might remember that the certain day was two months ago!) with one of my best friends tomorrow, and I am so excited to see her in flesh again after, literally, months. I’d invited her up to see my uni room a couple of times, but she recently got a new job and has been rushed off her feet.


An extract of some of this week’s work on the Steampunk adventure I’ve been writing:

“Splendid!” the captain remarked. “Ten more minutes and we shall depart for the Americas.” He gestured forward the slipshod number of people he called his crew.

Cathy scratched her ear. Most of her didn’t mind this. She watched the brief procession of three civil servants. A middle-aged gentleman with a quiff and the spare screwdriver lodged behind his ear was introduced as engineer Whyte. A lean man with a sharp gaze and kohl-stained designs up his arms was said to be the helmsman, Eddard. Next filed forward the tall, light-haired woman—

Woman? A lady crewman?

“This is Amelia West. She is our cartographer, trained at the royal institute of science, no less.”

“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss West,” Jonathon said with his best alluring smile. 

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Understanding Voice Types

One thing that people who are not involved in classical singing (I’m going to say singing, because I respect that instruments are voiced, too, for instance, the alto saxophone or the soprano flute) do not appreciate is that harmonies are not simple. (I recently had to explain the simple four-main-harmony split usual in choral work, particularly that of school choral societies like mine when there are no enough chorists or ages to split into the eight harmonies.)

It’s something I myself only recently came to fuller understanding. You see, I managed to snag a place in the Reading University Chamber Choir – with the condition that I sing as second soprano, rather than my usual first soprano position. Nerves steal my audition skill. Now, second sop. is no doubt in my range – as a self-trained singer who started with popular music, I am used to practising in the second sop. timbre, and so much so that I often do it unconsciously, hence probably why I fold into the tone more swiftly – but it made me question how much I know about the actual mechanics of voice types.

Yes, each of the four main choral voice types – Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass – have first (higher) and second (lower) voices. Of course, like any rules, there are middle-grounds, and so there are for male and female voice types: the baritone is the ‘middle-ground’ between the tenor and the bass; the mezzo-soprano is between the soprano and alto voices. Oh, and there’s contralto, a very low female voice, which, I’ll admit, I know very little about. Don’t give me low, give me high!

Let’s do some more digging, though. According to Wikipedia, the “typical soprano voice lies between middle C (C4) and “high C”(C6). The low extreme for sopranos is roughly B3 or A3.Which actually doesn’t sound that low. Yeah…

I’m no alto, yet I do pretty well reaching the altonic depth (I just don’t feel comfortable down there as I do at the top). So, I thought, what if I’m a mezzo-soprano? In fact, the more thought I’ve given, the more I believe that the stretch of my range is better suited to mezzo.

Katherine Jenkins, your eye-candy mezzo for the day ;)

Mezzo-soprano range: The mezzo-soprano voice lies between the soprano voice and contralto voice, over-lapping both of them. The typical range of this voice is between A3 (the A below middle C) to A5 (the A two octaves above A3). In the lower and upper extremes, some mezzo-sopranos may extend down to the G below middle C (G3) and as high as “high C” (C6). (J. McKinney, via Wikipedia)

Voice types go even deeper (median-wise, rather than actual pitch-wise!), too. Every mezzo, and every voice type for that matter, has a style of singing, which is influenced by range and tone and vocal ability (eg. to perform demanding pieces in pitch and ornamentation, often involving long trills and jumps).

For instance, the ‘coloratura’ mezzo-soprano – this Italian word means ‘colouring’ and its etymology is from the first declension Latin verb colorare, to colour—wait, have we Brits been spelling it wrong all this time? :o – is the most elaborate of the operatic voice types. This voice is agile but also warm – it reaches the top notes from middle notes and rounds both of them equally.

The dramatic mezzo, as the name suggests, is best in the broad, range department out of the three main styles of mezzo; think the powerful belters of popular music like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. These actresses/operatic mezzos tend to be cast as older women or theatrical witches.

The lyric mezzo-soprano. “This voice has a very smooth, sensitive and at times lachrymose quality.” And a range of G3 or lower to B5. This is the voice most likely to be used in musical theatre, though I did laugh aloud when I read that it’s the voice type used for ‘trouser roles’. If you’re not of the theatre and don’t know what that means, it’s where a woman plays a male role. Like tasteful drag for women. And I do mean that in the nicest way, since I went to an all-girls school, and my ratio of playing women to men was 2:3.

I suit suits. I prefer to slump in my living room chair than point my toes and angle my knees whilst sitting, though I am not opposed to the latter. Any NeoVictorian lady opposed to the latter must be a mechanic. #sterotypealert

Mezzo styles are also very flexible. That makes sense when one considers how voices are used. As I said, I trained myself in popular music with a tinge of musical theatre – I sang a lot with throat closed and croony, and only really opened up when I tried belting high notes. Nowadays, I try opening the back of my throat more and rely more on my diaphragm than my larynx. Still…I am a mongrel of the classical, popular and theatrical, and my voice type shows such.

This revelation and its learning, however, has only deepened my love of the vocal arts, reminding me why my young self became so captured with singing in the first place.



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