Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Thursday 7 November 2013

One of Life's Little Lessons

I just read this blog by Sarah Pinborough about home comforts and growing up and I realised that I have all the things that she describes, and I realise just how lucky I am to have all the things she describes, and how very, very lucky I am to have all sorts of other things besides.

I guess I was always that person.

Sometimes I kid myself that I’m the convivial, outgoing bonfire person that Sarah claims she used to be, but I’m not, not really.

Sometimes I think that I’m horribly isolationist, insular even... I worry that I shut myself away far too much and that there are people who resent that. Perhaps it’s true.

My lit stove from today's writing chair
On the other hand, perhaps I blame too much on certain aspects of my personality when, actually, it’s OK to enjoy my own company and the husband’s company and the dort’s company. Perhaps it’s OK to sit alone in front of a roaring fire and to be content with who I am and what I have. Perhaps I am a grown-up, after all, and perhaps that’s OK, too. Perhaps I really do have what I need, and I spend too much time second guessing myself too readily on other peoples’ terms.

Sarah Pinborough makes an approximate picture of my life sound so wonderful to me that before writing this little blog I took myself off into my drawing room and prepared my stove with newspapers and kindling and logs cut for the purpose. I struck a match and thrashed around with the poker until I had my blazing fire, and my fingers were sooty and smelled of newsprint. Then I sat in a wing backed chair with my feet up on a gout stool and tossed a blanket over my legs while the cats settled in for the afternoon.

It’s a cliché, I suppose, but since I have all this, where else could I possibly want to be? And what else could I possibly want to be doing?

I’ve been struggling with two writing projects of late, but I suspect I might just get something done this afternoon.

Thanks, Sarah.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

This Shit is Driving Me Nuts!

Not for nothing, but over and over again life is made infinitely more difficult than it needs to be because of the silly shit that people just don’t bother to do. The devil, as my grandmother would have it, is in the details!

There was a terrible saying back in the day that went something like this, “When you assume something you make an ASS out of U and ME.” Can you tell one of my first jobs was in sales? I hated all that time we spent working ourselves up to close that sale, and I hated all the daft wannabe aphorisms that were concocted to back up the hype. On the other hand...

Twice in the past twenty-four hours our time has been wasted and our schedule messed about because no one bothered to do the really bloody obvious. A couple of years ago when I was at an event that was so badly organised that all anyone could do was laugh it off, someone actually suggested that the thing was outside anyone’s reasonable control. My answer to that was that it wouldn’t have been if anyone had bothered to actually take control!

Yes, I know I’m punchy, but I’ve said it before and I’ll said it again: If freelancers don’t work they don’t get paid; if we mess up we don’t get paid, or, at the very least, we pay the price in terms of hours of extra work to make up the shortfall.

Last night, the husband was due to take part in quite a complicated conference call across two continents. It was outside our usual office hours and dinner had to be shifted to accommodate it. The American office had told the husband the UK time for the call. No call came through. No call came through because no one in the US office had checked the time in the UK, because someone had assumed that the clocks would go back in the UK the same date that they went back in the USA. 

You know what? You can’t assume something like that, especially when it takes seconds to check. You also can’t have people sitting on their arses for an extra hour at eight o’clock at night just because you couldn’t be bothered to check the time. Of course, if the US office had given us the American time for the call the husband or I would have checked the correct UK time and all would have been well, because, you know, there’s a reason to be organised!

The inevitable shrug!
This morning, after waiting several months for a new car windscreen, a man came to deliver and fit it. Someone had ordered the wrong part, because they had assumed that because our car was a certain model we would want the heated windscreen. We bought the car from the same place we ordered the windscreen; no one asked which windscreen and no one checked the car details. The poor man delivering and fitting the windscreen has now got to return tomorrow with a new part and go through the entire process again. What’s more, we’ve got to be here so the job can be done, and we’ll be inconvenienced by the process for the second day in a row.

This shit happens day in and day out. This nonsense is a regular feature of my life, day in and day out. It is expected. People shrug. No one is surprised by these mistakes, no one apologises. This is normal.

Well, I’m sorry, but if we were as disorganised as this we wouldn’t survive very long in this business.

I’m not suggesting that we don’t make mistakes. I’m not suggesting that we’re perfect. We’re not. I most certainly am not.

I do try though. I do try to be organised, and I do try to think ahead, and I do set out to do the things that I have said I will do, on time and to a standard, and I try not to put anyone else out in the process.

It really shouldn’t be this hard to get through a day without someone cocking up and then shrugging at me, should it?

Monday 4 November 2013

The Kindness of Strangers

Wow! What an extraordinary weekend!

I have just spent three days in the company of a very select band of Black Library writers and fans, and a very good time was had by all, I hope, but certainly by me.

The Belfry Hotel in Nottingham hummed with the conversation and often the laughter of a lot of very happy people who had a little something in common. I’m often surprised by how well everyone gets on, how comfortable we all are together. We are both sexes and a very wide spectrum of ages and experiences and social and economics backgrounds. We might have very little in common were it not for the Black Library and yet we find a great deal to talk about besides what brought us together in the first place. We shared and compared stories, we made new friends and we all came away from the weekend better people for having attended.

The second Black Library Weekender was special for me for two reasons in particular. The first was the kindness of friends. Several people that I have met at previous events, whom I like to think of as more than just fans, came bearing gifts. They remembered my tastes and brought me wonderful things to remember them by. It is always a little overwhelming and exceptionally lovely to be remembered in this way and I cannot say how delighted I was.

Alizabeth Bequin's shawl
The kindness of one stranger really stood out, though. A fan of the husband’s Inquisitor books brought a gift for us that was remarkably lovely. She had designed and hand knitted a gorgeous shawl, which she presented to us, in particular for me to wear. She had made it from the description of Alizabeth Bequin’s shawl. That someone should take so much time and trouble is really rather special, and I was genuinely touched.

The other reason that this weekend was particularly special for me was  my inclusion on the panel for The Pitch Factor. It was an evening entertainment event whereby anyone could pitch a short story to a panel of ‘Experts’ and the best would be submitted for possible publication by the Black Library.

It became quite clear quite quickly that it took a lot of guts to stand up and make a pitch in front of the panel and the large and baying audience. I know that I couldn’t have done it. The pitches were universally well thought out, and well delivered, and I have huge admiration for all who put their necks on the line to take part in what was after-all intended chiefly as an entertainment. I hope that those who didn’t get past the panel this year will take onboard the criticism that we offered, which was certainly intended as constructive, and I hope they will all take other opportunities to pitch and submit work to the Black Library and to anywhere else that offers the chance to be published.

It was a privilege to listen to all of you. Bloody well done to the four writers whose pitches were chosen, and good luck with your stories!

Friday 1 November 2013

Frocks and Politics

So, I’m in Nottingham and I’m in a frock. I did warn you.
Today's shirt and dress combo,
and yes, it is leather.

Yesterday, Gita messaged me on Twitter to the effect that she expected a bit of feminist politics with my blog on clothes.

Interesting, I thought, especially in the twenty-first century.

Despite being a raging feminist, I’m not sure I have a feminist agenda when it comes to what I wear, and I’m not sure when last I had such an agenda, and I’m not sure who still has that agenda. As far as I’m concerned I have equal clothing rights with anyone and everyone, and as far as I’m concerned everyone should have those rights. I don’t care who you are, as far as I’m concerned you can wear what pleases you.

It’s my preference not to see young, particularly pubescent and prepubescent kids sexualised in their clothes, and I might be considered a snob when it comes to the appropriateness of clothes. I’d rather not see vast quantities of anyone’s flesh on show, but then I’m not all that keen on seeing discomfort, either,  of any sort, including men in stiff collars and too-tight jeans, and girls in too-high heels that they can’t walk comfortably in.

We should all feel good in our clothes. We shouldn’t be swamped or crippled by them, and it’s a pity if they don’t honestly reflect our personalities.

My problem with wearing jeans was only that I was conforming, taking the easy route. It wasn’t to do with politics.

I am political about clothes, though, and I think there are good reasons to be political about what we wear, just as there are good reasons to be political about what we eat or drive.

In his blog, John Scalzi talked about his lack of interest in clothes from a sartorial point of view, and I get that, but I was surprised that he didn’t talk about his interest in clothes from any political point of view. I was surprised that he didn’t question under what circumstances it was possible to manufacture a pair of socks for a buck.

For me, that’s a political question I’d want to know the answer to.

The truth is that with cotton growing in the States being heavily subsidised Mr Scalzi’s probably on safe ground with his socks. Here, on the other hand, with so much cotton imported from India, sixty pence for a pair of socks would probably mean that someone, somewhere was being exploited.

My preference is to buy clothes manufactured in the EU where I can be fairly confident that fair wages are being paid and safe environments maintained for the factory workforce. I don’t want to be responsible for big carbon footprints when things that I’ve bought have been shipped large distances, and I certainly don’t want kids who should be in school working industrial machinery or, for that matter, a sewing needle, for less than a living wage anywhere in the World. I don’t want to support economies that don’t have carbon standards for manufacturing processes or for their power stations either... not at any price.

Yes, of course that means I pay more for my clothes, but I also choose to buy fewer clothes and treat them better. I’ve got clothes I’ve been wearing, quite literally, for decades. I buy what I like and what I think suits me, and I buy decent quality; I launder carefully and I trust my dry cleaner, and I know how to use an iron and a sewing needle. 

The same goes for footwear. I’ve got boots that are three decades old, still boxed that have been heeled and soled countless times; they cost me three pounds new, in a sale, and they’re bottle green suede. I kid you not.

On a cost per wear basis, I get damned good value for money out of my expensive clothes, I get to wear things that I love, I keep my carbon footprint down, and as far as I’m able to determine, no children are harmed in the making of my wardrobe, so my conscience is clean.

The next step is for clothes labels to contain information as to the origin and carbon footprint of raw materials and where and by whom they are processed. I would love to know that my frock made in Spain was manufactured using cotton grown in India and processed and dyed in China. It would be fab to be able to make that choice, too.