Four Green Squares

the tiny little blog no-one will ever read

Priming the pump March 31, 2012

Filed under: clarion,writing — FourGreenSquares @ 3:38 pm

I’m still trying to get my head around the idea of Clarion. I’ve decided that I want to take risks with my stories while I’m there. Writing the novel has made me such a structuralist and I want to get away from that for a while. Unlike a novel, short stories can be held aloft by naught but a conceit and a moment of clarity. A novel now seems like a Victorian matron getting ready for a coronation: belts and braces and laces cinching and girding and forming deliberate silhouettes.


I’ve set myself the project of coming up with a short story idea a day. Not to write, though I have found myself caught up in a few and scribbling out some rough drafts. (I’m not planning to take these with me, but figure they’ll be good for when I get back ready to test out my hard-won new skills but too brain-tired to write anything fresh.)


The story idea a day isn’t intended to come up with a stockpile of ideas either. I might end up using one if needed but I’d rather use ideas that come to me at the moment. This was intended more to prime the pump, get me thinking small, of moments of change, of truths revealed. I hadn’t expected to enjoy it so much. Now I just have to see what I can make of them.


But not until the novel is revised. That’s my main goal before leaving. A chapter a week’ll do it. Which means I’d better stop playing around here and get down to it. The page beckons.


Or maybe I’m just a slob March 29, 2012

Filed under: the way it is — FourGreenSquares @ 5:07 pm

This post takes inspiration from the story “The Things They Carried.” In my case, however, it’s more like “The Things that Accumulated.”

I was doing a major tidy today and it struck me that a) I am definitely on the shabby side of shabby chic and b) my mantel is a microcosm of my life. So here it is, a complete and accurate list of the items currently on my mantelpiece:

  • A tea light holder in the shape of a hand
  • An oil burner painted with a Greek design in the shape of a hand
  • An incense holder in the shape of a hand in the mudra position, which holds a half-burned stick of nag champa
  • A pair of blue Barbie high heels in a sealed plastic bag
  • A miniature bubble-blower in the shape of Frankenstein’s monster
  • A broken beaded necklace
  • Three glass vases, one art deco, one bought at a car boot sale for 50p, one given to me by a friend
  • Four Indian handbells, one of which is missing the clanger, which I tried to mend with a 5p piece and a paperclip
  • A cardboard cut out stencil to make a mermaid tail for a mini rapunzel doll
  • Three dried-up sprigs of lavender from the front garden, held together with a rubber band and balanced in a water bottle lid inside a candleholder
  • An unused fountain pen ink cartridge
  • A coaster made from a geode
  • A dented, slightly rusted paisley painted brass box that holds two more Barbie shoes and a baby tooth recently fallen out of the little one’s mouth.
  • One more vase, this one a jam jar decorated with coloured Popsicle sticks and filled with felt flowers that have googly eyes in their centres

Yep, definitely my life in a microcosm.


A place to keep my brain when I’m not using it March 27, 2012

Filed under: the way it is,writing — FourGreenSquares @ 11:19 am

Some people daydream about fancy holidays, new cars, finally paying off that student loan.

Nothing so grandiose for me. My fancies this spring have turned to…my ultimate writers app. Not a place to write; any old notes app or an email to myself is fine for that. I’m talking about an organisation app. A proper keeps-track-of-everything-and-can-tell-you-what-you-were-wearing-when-you-wrote-that-great-sentence-last-Tuesday type of intrusive, all-knowing app. Because, well, yeah.

After all, writing requires keeping track of so much informational flotsam and jetsam just in relation to the work itself. When you add in the business side of it…data overdose.

I realised that, whilst my story data storage systems have evolved utility, the other side functions at a mere basic level: I use sticky notes on the wall.

Easy to see and rather in-your-face, these worked well until spring. When I opened a window, they fluttered like prayer flags. By the end of the day, they’d detached themselves to form a scrum on the carpet, totems of promises made to a dream.

Spreadsheets on computer could overcome these physical afflictions but I don’t find this method conducive to setting goals, just tracking progress. And to collect all the bits I want to know about my writing habits, I would end up with an unwieldy number of different tables.  I want one place, one app, that provides me with a place to track all the bits and pieces I want to know.

My ultimate writers app, therefore, would include:

• BIC—daily tracking calendar
• Daily word count goal, with averages and space to log actual word counts
• Total word count—projected and actual. This will link with daily word count goal to give you a timeframe for completion, or suggest a word count goal if you give it a due date.
•Goals and steps to achieve them (lists and sub lists) as well as a calendar interface
•Markets and submission stats
•Revisions and versions, with file title and date
•Links and images

I’ve had a good rummage through the App store but not seen anything like it. Is it a case of ‘Make it myself’? Time to sign up for a good programming course.


in which there is news March 24, 2012

Filed under: clarion — FourGreenSquares @ 6:51 pm

Ahem. If I may draw your attention to the column to your right, to the list of categories.

I have a shiny new tag, for what I hope will be an interesting bunch of posts. So, what tag is that, you ask, ‘late night thoughts’? What’s so great about that?

No, no, look closer. Up one. If I could put it up there in a blinking font that shot rainbows and lasers out of your monitor, I would. But I think we are both relieved that I cannot. So I’ll give a hint: C…. CL…. CLA….


Too bad that the inaugural entry will amount to “AHHHHHAAAAEEEE!!” But in the interests of honesty, I have to report events as they happened. Those were my exact words (noises?) when I learned of my acceptance to the 2012 Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UCSD.

I was home with the little one when I found out.  I stared at the subject line of the email in a daze (I’d not expected to hear anything for at least a week, because I’d been anticipating a rejection), then let out the aforementioned whoop.

The little one gave me an enthusiastic ovation then dropped her My Little Ponies to join me in twirling dance-like manoeuvre in the middle of the lounge, giggling as she wondered why her mummy had gone a bit bonkers, but going along as it meant I wasn’t paying attention to bedtimes.

But now that I am here, I can say it again: “AHHHHHAAAAEEEE, I’m going to Clarion.”

It’s still sinking in and I can’t wait.


And I used a tape measure March 23, 2012

Filed under: the way it is — FourGreenSquares @ 3:24 pm

Apparently, I know as much about taking doors off hinges as I do about measuring chairs to see if they’ll fit through in the first place.

It’s been a fun, fun day.


Hint: it’s right next door to The Tap and Tumbler

Filed under: the way it is — FourGreenSquares @ 11:20 am

I’d decided to do some temping on the side to help prepare for the long summer break. I had a new assignment this week so I arrived in the city centre in good time, pleased with my punctuality.

I even found the street with, for me, remarkably little trauma.

(I should mention that I have no sense of direction. Trying to find a hotel in London recently, I planned the two block walk from the  Tube with all the foresight of some peoples’ month long Eurail treks. I mean, we’re talking Google Maps, tube maps, and the A to Z all open at once.  I felt invincible as I exited the Tube, muttering my refrain of “turn away from the flyover. Turn away from the flyover.” Despite these precautions, I ended up walking the entire length of Edgware Road twice before realising that I’d come out of the Tube from a different exit and the resultant course correction meant I should have walked towards the flyover. Oh well, 8pm is a fine time to check into a hotel when you have an interview at 10 the next morning.)

So you see, I can get lost in a paper bag. In any case, given these directional limitations, imagine my sense of accomplishment at finding a downtown street in a city in which I’ve lived for the past decade. Of course, I ended up walking out of the city centre to pick up the street from the far end before following it back in, during the course of which I realised that a) I’ve walked down this street before, and b) it intersects the road home right at  my tram stop.

Nevertheless, I’m claiming this as a win. I mean, I was there, on time, relatively un-dishevelled yet still caffeinated. So I slowed to amble down the road. I was looking for a Days Hotel. Easy peasy. Hotels have giant signs outside. How hard could it be?

After my third trip down the road,  I bluffed into an office block t o query the possibility that “Days Hotel” might be tucked above The Tap and Tumbler pub.

I finally called the agency. Comparison of their directions with the sight before my eyes led to the realisation that the Days Hotel had transformed into a Ramada in the past week.

Vindicated!! Yes, that’s the conclusion I’m drawing here. Problem with that?


The claw! The claw! March 20, 2012

Filed under: writing — FourGreenSquares @ 7:18 pm

Okay, I admit it. I’m an addict and I sell myself for my fix.

Also, the iPod nano is the gateway drug for apple product consumption.

I review apps for in exchange for the review apps free.

Most recently, I’ve reviewed Grabatron and my review can be found here.  Just so you know, I continue to play this game a month on, and still giggle as I dangle  then drop lowing cows over missile silos and donut shoppes. Kinda hard to square with my vegetarianism, but hey, I guess that’s why I gave myself four of them when I titled the blog…


Meet the new thoughts, same as the old thoughts March 19, 2012

Filed under: writing — FourGreenSquares @ 12:40 pm

The following comes from the old blog, a year ago now. Reading over it after such an interval, I’m pleased to report that my early optimism about the crit group has more than been upheld. It is a great group of people and I’ve learned so much about writing from their feedback.

I’ve also edited fiction professionally since I wrote that post, a gig earned largely through skills gained by critting their stories, so I have extra reason to be thankful for them letting me and my red pen loose on their prose.

Not to mention another reason this post might become apropos quite soon…


(originally published on 23 March 2011)

We had the first IRL meeting of the new critique group last night. Very interesting and helped me clarify my personal views on critiquing in fiction.

I’ve discovered I subscribe to the Platonic Ideal of story revision. Every story has a perfect form that’s absolutely frikken awesome. Blow my mind. It’s all there.

But the version you have managed to coax out of the aether to settle on the page might not yet capture all that potential. In all fairness, even the best stories never quite do.

But when you’re writing, it’s like Midsummer Nights Dream and you’re bewitched by elven Glamour, eyes shining with the version out there, not what’s on the page.

So I guess I think the job of a good crit is to ease the spell from the author’s eyes, help them see only the version on the page. Where has the vision translated successfully and where does it still need a bit of work? Knowing this can help the writer bait the muse-traps with more appealing lures, sew enough cold iron into their pockets to keep their vision clear on the next raid deep into the word-mines.

Because out there, the story is awesome. And I want that awesome version to make it into this world intact. The world can always use more awesome and I’m happy to help midwife it.


I am sure this makes sense somewhere March 18, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — FourGreenSquares @ 1:16 pm

I do like living in England as an expat. I love puzzling out all the subtleties behind the various idioms and sayings. But the distinction between “bleedin'” and “bloody” has me a bit mystified.

“Bloody” is a good, all purpose exclamation – an adjective, an adverb, can even be a noun in a pinch. It is certainly not polite but not particularly risqué; a bus company recently touted itself on billboards as a “bloody good bus company” so it’s not something people would start write-in campaigns to complain about.

But there are people who think “bloody” is too vituperative yet find “bleedin'” a more temperate alternative.

I admit to not understanding this logic. If they can find exsanguination acceptable for the expression of mild personal displeasure, why shy away when the floors end up awash with the logical outcome? Personally, I find the actual act of bloodletting more vulgar. But then again, I am not English. I will trust that there is cultural logic at work, even if the etymology baffles.


Soap Pumps and Civilization March 17, 2012

Filed under: late night thoughts — FourGreenSquares @ 8:22 pm

I have seen the end of civilization. I know, I know,  we all have these days. But I promise, my end of civilization isn’t your end of civilization. My end of civilization is…battery powered hands-free soap pumps.

Not because there is anything wrong, per se, with battery powered hands-free soap pumps. Au contraire, they are the logical next step in product development, straight out of the marketing manual: create a need, fill it, then create a new need based on the previous need and fill that, ad infinitum.

But… but…

C’mon, are there really no needs, even imaginary ones, left to fill that do not ooze such clear disdain towards potential customers’ critical reasoning faculties?


Is the thought process really likely to resemble:  ‘Oh, my hands are crusted with filth and germs. I’d better go wash them. Oh no, my soap pump, lord knows where that’s been. Can’t touch that.’

Maybe they’re trying to say that their soap can clean hands of everything but the super germs that their plastic containers can incubate. In which case, they are really in the wrong business and should be making bio weapons that resemble soap hand pumps.  On second thought, maybe they already are…

Sadly, this is the type of thing that keeps me awake at night, pondering the collapse of civilization around our ears. Our clean ears, at least.  So long as we don’t touch the soap pumps, that is.