Monthly Archives: May 2012

A Falconry Rant

At least once a day in the busy season, if not twice or more, I’ll overhear a particular comment as members of the public drift by to see the birds at our mews.  It’s usually some variation of, “Oh, now this I don’t like to see.”  And inevitably followed by some dramatic statement about how, “They’re chained to their perches, and not allowed to fly!   How cruel!”

Now usually I’m just out of eyesight of these people, and to address their comments directly is often impossible, or at the very least a bit creepy as I burst from the weigh room going, “Well, about that!”  So I generally go up to the fence and cheerfully ask if anyone has any questions.  Inevitably, the sort of person who’s vocal enough about their views to have made a comment in the first place will also be vocal about the perceived cruelty they’ve judged, in their ignorance, to be in front of them.  Their subtlety ranges from the careful: “How long do the birds sit out here like this?” to the blunt: “Isn’t it cruel to leave them on their perches all day?”

My current tactic has been a sort of upbeat, hyper-education in which I smile widely (this would be their cue to run), and start in about a wild raptor’s day-to-day life.  How catching prey uses so much energy that they need to conserve it for the chase.  The concept that they don’t spend their whole day swooping and diving just for the heck of it often comes as a surprise to these misinformed members of the public, unsurprisingly.

I tell them how our birds do get to fly, every day, in safe and controlled conditions.  To let all of our birds loose at once would result in a very messy end!  And that ones’ domestic dog needs a lead for its, and other dogs’, safety, so how is it very different?

I then go on to relate anecdotes about the time our Barn Owl, Louise, picked her knots and was free on the lawn one day – and promptly put herself in her mews to sleep.  Since they do fly free each day, if they didn’t like their living conditions they would just fly away!

Then I invite them to tell me if they’ve seen any wild birds of prey, and inevitably they’ll have seen a buzzard.  Who hasn’t?  I tell them how buzzards have become so lazy that they will often sit, for hours, on fenceposts by the sides of busy roads to wait for road kill, so that they don’t even have to put themselves through the bother of actually catching their own prey at all.

Sometimes they hear one of our birds shouting, and make an off-hand comment, “Oh he’s not happy.”  As if they know this after a five-minute observation of raptor behaviour.  I laugh, not cruelly at their expense, rather as a chuckle of long-sufferance from many, many hours of listening to all the screams, hoots and warbles that is the background music to my days.  I translate the call they’ve commented on, and then go on to talk about that bird’s personality, and relate stories of its hijinks.  They all have hijinks, it’s not hard to think of amusing ones to tell.

Generally by this point, the people who first saw rows of “chained” birds (where are the chains, I ask you?) forced to sit on perches all day now start to see the relaxed postures, the raised legs and preening.  The veil of outrage has lifted and their powers of observation start to return.  Sometimes they leave soon after, before I force more education into their closed minds, but other times they stick around and watch indulgently for a while.

There’s always the odd person who will never agree with us, because obviously they would know better than the people who make caring for birds of prey their life’s work.  Sure, we can agree to disagree.  Or rather, I can agree that you’re willfully ignoring the facts just to suit your self-righteous outrage.  Enjoy that.

But thankfully most people are happy to be informed otherwise, and I invite them to watch our birds flying free and see how the bond between falconer and bird works.  How impossible it would be to do what I do if I thought there was any cruelty to it.  We all come to this work from a love of these birds, and admiring their wild cousins, and we want to ensure their lives are just as good.  More so, since there’s no fear of starvation or an injury that wouldn’t be treated.

So when you say you “don’t like to see this”, I tell you to first try and actually understand what’s in front of you.  Ask us questions, and listen to our answers.  If you’re still outraged, well then please leave and maybe we won’t mind if you never come back!

An Ode to Angry Birds

Once again I bring to you a frivolous Ode:

An Ode to Angry Birds

O Angry Birds,
Why are you so?
It was those damned
Porcine foe.

They stole your eggs
And now must pay
In explodey, crunchy
Smashy ways.

O Angry Birds,
Where shall we go?
To defeat those damned
Porcine foe?

In space, in Rio,
In the Wild West,
Anywhere we find those
Porky pests.

O Angry Birds,
Why is it so much fun?
When I told myself
Work should be done?

It’s the height of
Procrastination
To smash and crash
And dream of bacon.

Epiphany!!

The clouds have broken, the sun is shining, and angels are singing, “HELL YEAH, BABY!”  I have had an epiphany.

Or rather, my dearest Mumsy has helped me have it, because she was present to say “hmm” and “yeah” in the right places whilst I moaned and grumbled about my current storyline predicament online last night.

Sometimes that’s all you need!

The problem that was troubling me and making it hard for my character to make a decision (or rather, for me to decide for her) has now been sorted.  Not only do I now have an interesting plot trajectory, but I also have a very interesting backstory to something I never realised needed one!  Oh I love days like this, it makes the months and months of frustration totally worth it.

Now to write this biyatch!

Decisions, Recklessness, and Keeping It All Straight

As I sat down to write (look at me go, keeping my promises!) and began to outline possible plot trajectories, it occurred to me why I’m having so much trouble now.  As explained in a previous post, I’m currently at the messy middle bit between introducing the story, characters and setting, and the end bit where things tie together neatly.  In other words, I’m writing the actual damned story.

Stories happen for one reason, and one reason only: the characters make choices.  As in real life, these choices aren’t always the right ones, but they’re made and irreversable.  But also, as in real life, the choices are hard to make but in reality you have to choose quickly because time will never stand still.  However, in the aether of my mind I can make time stand still while I try and puzzle out my character’s choices.  That’s been my problem.

Part of me wants to try to write recklessly, not thinking through the consequences and have my characters make their decisions quickly, soldiering through what may happen as a result.  But I’ve become more cautious than that in this draft, since that was how I wrote NaNoWriMo and its results were disappointing in some respects.  I shudder at the thought of having to do another rewrite as thoroughly as this one, having to remove huge chunks of the story where I “lost the plot” as it were.

It makes me think how my favourite books must have been written, if their authors just wrote from A to B, or if they wrote out a rough plan ahead of time and left the rest to chance, of if there were reams and reams of notations, maps, plans and a detailed narrative plan.  I’d love to have a rifle through the notes for George R R Martin’s Songs of Ice and Fire, for example, just to see how he kept it all straight!

It’s frustrating, the creative writing class I took at university focused on how to draw out ones creativity and be able to express oneself.  But it didn’t teach you the mechanics of how a story comes together, how to organise a whole novel, or what tricks you can use to ensure your plotlines twist and turn but never to the point of confusion.  Maybe it’s assumed that those are the easy bits, or that it should come naturally.  I never used to worry about it, I just wrote until it either splurged out or it didn’t.  But now I’m thinking I need to be more deliberate.

One thing I’ve had to start doing out of necessity is have a single document merely for naming all my characters, places and other important things of interest.  I often have to include their description and personalities as well, so that I don’t forget and end up making them schizophrenic!  It’s necessary because in Cobault alone I have roughly 35 characters all dancing around at once so far.  And since I have Euphemia and Algernon in a school environment, I’ve had to detail out their daily class schedules as well, the class titles, and make note of which classes are held where, the individual room numbers of various people, and the layout of each dormitory.  And that’s only just the beginning of the story!  So if I didn’t have this document listing these things, I’d get very confused, forget who does what and where, and generally it would all go to hell.

So this all brings me to a point, surely.  Mainly that I’d rather complain about how hard it is to write on my blog, rather than actually duke it out with my damned novel.

Reality, Schmeality

I just finished reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods yesterday, and it’s a little bit shocking I never read it sooner.  But it made me think about why I don’t like setting my own novels in the real world, even if that world is being turned into something fantastic.

First of all, I think my inherent laziness couldn”t handle the amount of research involved in dealing with real places and real things!  It’s absolutely terrible of me to admit this, but it’s so much easier just making things up as I go along.  At least I’m honest about it!

But second, and more importantly, since I mentally inhabit the worlds I write in, I simply have no interest in reinhabiting the real world.  Reality be damned, I want fantasy.  If I could honestly enter the realms of my favourite novels, I’d be there right now.  I want unspoilt landscapes, pre-industrial settlements, wind-powered sea voyages, horses as the state-of-the-art mode of transportation, battles with swords and arrows, leather and chain mail, falconry and hunting, subsistence farming, minstrels and lutes, cloaks and capes as practical outerwear choices, mead and ale, poultices and tinctures, mysterious old women living in the woods, sage old men living in the mountains, animal companions, hijinks, adventure and quests.  No, you can keep your internal combustion engines, your technological advances, medical breakthroughs, kevlar, machine guns, international stock market, breakfast cereals, personal hygiene, internal plumbing, higher education and mass produced everything.  No thanks, 2012, I don’t want it.  Give me 1012.

Back in the real world, that’s honestly why I live on a farming estate away from large population centres, why I own chickens and make a living in falconry.  I’m trying to close my eyes, put my fingers in my ears, and go “LA LA LA LA LA!!” to the modern world.  That’s not to say I want to go joining any Amish-style communes; I freely admit that many of the things I listed above, such as personal hygiene, indoor plumbing, and medical breakthroughs (and let’s face it, I do love my breakfast cereals), are sensible and I’m rather grateful for their existence.  But if, and it’s a big if, I could trade it for living in a fantasy world – I so very would.

And on that note, I’m determined to inhabit one of the worlds of my own making today and spend a serious amount of time on Cobault.  I’ve been lazy and full of excuses lately but today I have nothing else planned and will just have to be strong-willed and withstand the lure of laziness, the internet, and inane television programmes.  Now if only I really lived in a fantasy world, I wouldn’t have these readily-available distractions!  But I’m fairly sure I’d find something else to occupy myself, like hiding subliminal naughty words in my needlepoint, and doing that thing when you lift the body of a chicken but its head stays perfectly still.  Yeah I’d be doing that.