Tuesday, 23 June 2015

In which I finally see my name in print

Not on my own blog, not in the school magazine I just so happened to be editor of at the time, but in a proper, professionally-produced magazine edited by somebody I have no connection with whatsoever.  My first-and-so-far-only story has been published!

Isn't that a thing of beauty?
For those wanting a copy of their own, it's available in electronic form (and later in a printed version) from Shoreline of Infinity in Issue 1.  I've been reading some of the other stories in this first issue and it looks like I'm in some pretty good company.  Plus there are illustrations, and the one that accompanies my story is absolutely spot on, a beautiful rendition of a pivotal moment in the story.  I couldn't be happier with it.

I'm celebrating this evening with a wee dram of Highland Park whisky, and keeping my fingers crossed that more of my stories will find homes soon.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

In which I attempt to replace a bad habit with a good one

Much like the excellent Allie Brosh at Hyperbole and a Half, I have been known to struggle with being a grown-up.  I'm pretty good at going to work every day and getting stuff done while I'm there.  I can (mostly) manage to pay my bills on time and Daughter is generally clothed and well-fed.  But I fall down every time when it comes to cleaning *all* the things.

I have never acquired the habit of being tidy.  As a teenager, the best way to enter my room was to take a flying leap from the doorway onto the bed.  When my parents' house was burgled they had to assure the police that my room always looked like that and had not, in fact, been ransacked.  Nothing's really changed since then, except that I no longer have even the mild risk of coming home to find my mother tidying my stuff (it didn't happen often, but it was always disastrous when it did).

So every so often I get seized by the urge to not live in a pigsty any more.  I go into a frenzy and clean the entire house (or at least as much as I can before the mood passes).  Sometimes I even drag Husband and Daughter into the whole thing and force them to help out too.  By the end, you could almost believe that the house is inhabited by adults.

Trouble is, once I'm done I'm worn out, and in no mood to tidy any more.  So it doesn't take long before the kipple starts to creep back in, and before you know it it's back to how it was.  Only this time there's the added bonus that I'm now irritated because damn it, I *just* tidied everywhere and now look at it.

Thus, new plan: no more tidying on such a grand scale.  No more cleaning *all* the things.  In its place, half an hour of tidying every day.  Half an hour of picking crap up off the floor is hardly going to dent my schedule, but I think it would make a difference to the house.  And maybe it won't wear me out so much, so will actually be sustainable.  It might not be, given that it's far easier to acquire bad habits than good ones, but we'll see how it goes.

The tidy people among you are probably thinking, "Well, of course that's what you should be doing.  It's hardly rocket science to say that if you want to keep things tidy you should tidy every day."  And you're right.  It's not rocket science.  But it'll be a major shift in how I do things, so how about just wishing me luck instead?

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

In which I actually like something I've made...

I have a weakness for tailored jackets.  Properly tailored, not just off the rack at [insert name of high-street shop here].  Luckily, I've been known to sew clothes from time to time.  Unluckily, jackets are bastard hard to get right.  I've made several over the years, some of which have been absolutely terrible.

One of the more terrible attempts involved Vogue pattern 8679.  I made it to wear to my sister-in-law's wedding, wore it for that one occasion and then never touched it again.  That one was poorly fitted, because I sized it for my waist and failed to take it in at the bust.  The lapels were a mess, and it was badly rushed towards the end.  Rushed to the extent that I was still stitching the hems on the bus to the wedding.

So, it didn't work out.  But I still loved the pattern, so I finally decided to have another crack at it.  Here's attempt number two:

I like this jacket because it's business in the front...

...and party at the back
It's much better fitted this time around (if I do say so myself), not least because this time I had Helena to assist.  I was able to take it in where I needed to without having to be wearing it at the same time, which really does make it easier.  The lapels, while not perfect, are also better than the previous attempt.

What I'm really proud of, though, and what doesn't really show in the pictures, are the pockets.  The actual pattern comes with pocket flaps, but no pockets, and that really irritates me.  It's bad enough when regular women's clothing comes with pretend pockets, but deliberately sewing it that way myself would be ridiculous.  So it was either leave the flaps off entirely, or go off-piste and make real pockets.  I chose the real pocket option.

It's only the second time I've made welt pockets.  The first was when helping out a friend with a jacket for some Eli Monpress cosplay.  That took the pressure off a little, partly because she'd reached the point of, "Just do it, I don't care if it gets ruined" (long story) and partly because, much as it's good for cosplay to look good, it only had to last for a single convention.  This jacket is intended for long-term use, so I wanted it to be right.

It was hair-raising, and it almost went wrong once or twice, but I managed to make actual, working pockets.  The marking for positioning the fake flaps made positioning the pocket welts easy.  I also elected to ignore the suggestion to make both sides of the flaps from the outer fabric, and actually made the undersides from the lining fabric.  It took a little bit of bulk out, and also gives a cheeky flash of purple when the flaps are raised.

So, yes, fully working jacket.  It's been test-driven in the office and garnered no comments whatsoever, which is a great result.  Nobody said, "What on earth are you wearing?"  That's a win.

Now on to the next jacket!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

In which strange things are afoot at the Circle K...

Things are happening at the moment.  Some of them I can't talk about, not least because those are the ones where I don't actually know what's going on myself.  I have my suspicions, but they're so wildly implausible that I'm sure I must be wrong.

But I didn't just come here to be intentionally mysterious.  There are things that I can talk about, like the fact that I'm about to start learning to support some new stuff at work.  We're being given stuff to do with Enterprise Service Bus, TIBCO and XMLM messaging.  It all seems a bit daunting at the moment, but then it's not been that long since I was having to learn COBOL from scratch, so I'm sure I can handle it.  And it all ties in nicely to my team's general conviction that we're the only ones who actually get stuff done.

Also new is the cat that's currently curled up asleep on the sofa next to me.  I'd take a picture, but he's solid black so photographs don't come out well, especially when his eyes are closed.  His name is Garrus, he's about three and a half, and he is the Softest Cat Ever.  Soft as in his fur, but he's also extremely placid and fond of company.  We acquired him from a friend who's about to move to Sweden and can't take him along.

Last but not least, I have multiple stories out acquiring rejections these days.  I've got quite a fine collection that I'm lovingly curating.  So far, only one story has been a disappointment and actually got itself accepted somewhere...

Yes, that's right, I'm having a story properly published.  It will be appearing in the very first issue of Shoreline of Infinity, which is due out next month.  Clearly fame and fortune beckon from here on in.  I'd be up for a Hugo next year if I hadn't foolishly made the protagonist a Japanese woman...

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

In which I actually get stuff done, for once

I've been writing a lot just lately. My laptop is positively bursting with stories. That's pretty unusual for me, so I've been musing on the reasons in the hope of sustaining it.

A goodly portion of the credit (blame?) has to go to the folks in the Sort-Of-NaNo-Based-Writing-Group. Having finally succeeded in keeping things going outside of November, it means there are people who want to know what I've written lately, and who keep throwing out writing prompts. Turns out all I ever needed to write a short story was for somebody to give me a title.

Then there's the COBOL factory. No, it's not also stuffed with writers (to the best of my knowledge), but one should never underestimate the power of one's mental state on writing, or of the day job on one's mental state. I'm finally in a job that I love, that challenges me, and that I'm genuinely good at. That feeling spills over into other things. Kicking ass at work makes me want to kick more ass when I get home.

Last but not least, there's the Mighty Power of Procrastination. Writing is a wonderful way of putting off other things. Specifically at the moment there's a jacket I should be sewing together. I'm just putting it off because I foolishly decided to go off-pattern and put proper pockets in it. I don't have a lot of experience of making pockets, so there's a real danger that I'll ruin the whole thing. I'll get around to it eventually, but in the mean time I'm putting it off by writing All the Stories.

Maybe this habit will continue, maybe it won't, but I'll be making the most of it while it lasts. There are stories to write, stories to edit (when my beta-readers get back to me, at least. The trouble with writing more is it leads to demanding more feedback), and if all else fails there's a novel to work on.

*puts on Boots of +3 to Ass-Kicking*

Monday, 2 February 2015

In which I dabble with cosplay

I've never been much of a cosplay person. Partly that may be because I can count the number of conventions I've been to on the fingers of one finger, but there are other reasons. A dislike of people looking at me. An aversion to spending money on something that can only be worn on specific occasions. An overwhelming fear of dressing up only to discover that nobody else has. I'm in awe of those who do cosplay and do it well, but I've never really seen it as something for me.

All of which is, of course, setup for writing about a recent brush with cosplay that I'm actually rather proud of. Many of the issues above didn't apply, because I wasn't the one wearing it. It was a costume for Small Girl, made at her request.

This last weekend, the National Space Centre in Leicester were having a special Doctor Who weekend, and on the Sunday the special guests in attendance were Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. Being the age that I am, I naturally consider them the finest Doctor and Companion ever to grace our screens, and so tickets were acquired to go and check out the event.

The website was encouraging people (and particularly children) to come dressed as their favourite character, and Small Girl does not share my fear of dressing up. Husband suggested that with her hair she should be Amy Pond, but she declared that she wanted to be Ace. That's my girl.

Step One was to acquire the base of the costume. We got lucky and found that Asda were selling 'leather' bomber jackets in their children's clothing section (even if they did shelve them in the 'boys' section). A skirt was easy enough to acquire, and she already had a t-shirt that would work. Bonus points for these all being items she can continue to get use from.

Step Two was to convert the jacket into something more Ace-like. The internet furnished me with a flat image of the logo from the back of the jacket that I could print and use as a template. I already had coloured felt to hand to make the pieces from. Rather than apply them directly to the jacket, I used some spare black cotton fabric as a backing. The felt was appliqued to the cotton using the sewing machine for a good strong finish, then I trimmed away the excess cotton and hand-stitched the pieces to the back of the jacket. That made it easier to position the logo correctly, and ensured the stitching didn't go right through the lining of the jacket. It also minimised the number of holes being made in the leather, keeping the jacket strong.

How does it look? Pretty Ace, actually...
Then it was on to the badges. There was no question of even attempting accuracy here. Achieving an accurate collection of badges involves a lot of time and expenditure, and getting certain ones custom-made. It was never going to happen when I only had two weeks and no desire to spend more money than strictly necessary. Instead I gathered up every badge and patch we already had in the house, plus a couple of extra patches picked up cheaply enough from craft shops. The finished jacket has NaNoWriMo merit badges, Shakespearean insults, Firefly and Monty Python references and some random bands all thrown together in a glorious mashup.

You want badges? She's got badges
So, was it worth it? You betcha. Not only because Small Girl loved it, though that was all I really needed from it. While we were at the exhibition, we attended a Q&A session with Sylvester and Sophie. Despite our sitting right over to one side, amongst a great crowd of people, Sophie spotted Small Girl's costume from the stage and came over specifically to talk to her and compliment the outfit. Seal of approval from Ace herself? Wicked! Hard work paid off in the best possible way, not least in the look on Small Girl's face afterwards.

Maybe I could get to like this cosplay malarkey after all...