Wednesday, 15 December 2010

3BT: books, buses and babies

1. I laugh out loud, several times, on the tram, at The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I am enjoying it so much that I don't care about the funny looks I get.

2. A bus driver on a break opens his doors for me. He's reading a big thick book novel, with his feet up on the steering wheel, tells me to make myself at home, then reconsiders and we clarify that I shall do so within reason. Another bus comes along, due to leave first. "Fancy a sprint?"he asks me, and lets me off.

3. I have a random moment daydreaming about Josh and Donna. Donna is feeding their baby boy orange puree of some description. Josh is excited by the potential for speech in his son. "De-mo-crat," he repeats over and over, and gets excited when the baby says something like "damaca". "I'm trying to get him to eat," says Donna, rolling her eyes. "This is spiritual food," says Josh. Yes, yes. I will write this fic. It was a beautiful moment in my head, though.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Tweets that made me smile today

@bpdreview: Dear musicians, Falling in love before meeting someone is not love. It's hormones. Love, Brian

@purpleclaire: Hey hey. I object to that.

@bpdreview: Well you've gotten to know him so you're fine. I'm talking about songs about people falling in love before knowing each other.

@purpleclaire: I love you. (Though obviously not in the same way as I love him.)

@bpdreview: Probably for the best. You'd run out of energy if you multiplied your love by two.

(It's probably only funny if you're me, and if you know what we were talking about. But hey. I love @bpdreview - one of the wittiest tweeters out there, and one of my earliest fellow tweeters. Plus, Josh Malina once tweeted both of us together, so I feel a special kinship.)

3BT: readers, trains, and decorations

1. I wake up to a Facebook message from my wonderful friend Rebecca, Faithful Early Reader and Editor of "Inevitable", saying she has responded, within hours, to my comments on her comments. "I can't wait to read the next draft" has to be the most beautiful phrase to me at the moment.

2. I don't miss the train.

3. The metro station at Avenue Louise is wallpapered in one huge, red, bilingual "happy Christmas" greeting. Sometimes, Belgium makes me smile.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

3BT: tea, encouragement, and who knows what lies ahead...

1. A friend comes to my rescue with some non-posh teabags. They taste like home.

2. The mum of one of my students emails to tell me that according to a teacher, her daughter's work has substantially improved since I've been teaching her. She definitely smiles more than she used to in my lessons, as well.

3. "Nine and Counting: the Women of the Senate": I am reading it as research for my novel, and finding myself increasingly challenged and inspired; remembering a prophetic word over me, "you will speak against injustice"; and wondering if it's entirely coincidental that the character in my book who is a little like me has ended up in politics because of a man called Brad. I am suspecting again that this whole West Wing thing may well be a God thing. I am excited, and a little nervous, but I will try to think of a metaphor that does not involve pregnancy.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

3BT: mostly about writing...

1. I am almost up to 56,000 words. I know that you are not that interested, but bear with me. If you've ever been pregnant - I imagine this is a little like reaching the third trimester. And the best thing is, I am not running out of inspiration. I thought I had told all there was to tell, but no. There keeps on being more, thanks in part to Janet Fitch's writing prompts in "A Writer's Book of Days". And I am believing in my book again. I was buzzing for most of the day. I am in That Place again, a place I thought I had lost. It feels good. More than good. It feels beautiful, in fact.

2. Setting up for Christmas-themed Church - filling goodie bags with Belgian treats while singing along to Chris Tomlin. All together now: Glory in the Hiiiiighest...

3. According to a couple of friends, I have invented a new literary genre: lolitics (love meets politics - gosh, I wonder where I got that idea from). The name needs some work, but it made me laugh.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

3BT: rather more than three beautiful things today...

1. Today, I have written. I have watched two West Wing episodes. I have drunk mulled wine and eaten flapjack. I have watched snow drift past my window as I sat snugly inside with my coffee and music and my novel-in-progress. This qualifies as a very, very good day.

2. New gloves from a new friend. And they're purple. They're fluffy. They're fab. They're warm. They're a vast improvement on my previous arrangement, which involved a sock.

3. Long conversation with an old friend who has finally, finally finished the West Wing, though she has some unorthodox views on Josh and Donna. (I held firm, though.)

Friday, 3 December 2010

3BT: enthusiatic students, Saturday lie-ins, and books

1. The chattering of my students as they enthusiastically set about to group-write a story based on a random collection of ten English words.

2. It's Saturday tomorrow, and I get to have a lie-in, stay warm, and spend all day writing.

3. The most delicious dilemma of them all: what to read next?

Thursday, 2 December 2010

3BT: similar themes

1. The snow, again. Today, not settled snow, but lightly falling snow, like gold-dust, against the backdrop of the night-time sky.

2. Rather than trudge through snow and have my nose bitten off by the cold, I got to come home early and do my last lesson from the comfort of my sofa. A lesson via Skype chat, my first ever: chilled, easy, interesting for both of us, and useful for my student. It's good for me to remember that I love my job.

3. I have been officially reborn as my writing alter-ego, Claire Lyman: thanks, I assume, to Writing Magazine, people are searching for her, and landing on my blog. The transformation is thereby complete.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

3BT: Snow and refuge from the cold and a dream coming true

1. The snow. Yes, it's cold, but it's so pretty. I love watching the Christmas-card landscape roll past from the train window.

2. It's a cold, cold day. I'm not looking forward to waiting for the bus - my iPod batteries are flat so all I will be able to focus on will be the cold gnawing my face. Then someone calls from a car window: a student of mine. Do I want a lift?

3. I am published! A published writer. Under my pen name. Writing Magazine arrived today and contains 300 words of mine - the first 300 of Inevitable which shows, says a professional writer, good dialogue skills, an appealing voice, and an interesting relationship to be explored.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Week of Win!

I've spent a lot of today floating.

It's been, as my new friend Rebecca would say, a "week of win".

I spent a substantial part of Thanksgiving Day tweeting, and wishing I were in America. Nothing new there, you may say, and you'd be right, although the turkey cravings were perhaps slightly more unusual.

But the tweeting got me thinking. As I think I may have said last year, I love the idea of having a day to think about what you can be grateful for in life. Grumble, grumble, I thought, I don't have much to be thankful for, but then I was walking down a snowy street and it occurred to me that I have central heating, and then, once I had thought of that, somehow the thankful thoughts started tumbling through my brain quicker than I could update my Facebook status. Oboe lessons. Affordable flights to America. Cocoa. And that's without even having to resort to all things Aaron Sorkin.

Anyway, Sunday at Church I used this as a springboard for discussion: what are we thankful for? Then, seemingly unrelatedly, I read my Writing Magazine in the train on the way home, and it mentioned this wonderful website, where the blogger lists three beautiful things every day - the often small things that make her smile, that we so easily forget about and yet that would make us more grateful, happier people if we just remembered.

What a great idea, I thought, I will do that too, and then promptly went off and wasted more time tweeting. So I haven't done it yet, but by the end of this week I will have many, many things to be thankful for.

Firstly, the happy news as recorded in a previous blogpost, that Starbucks is coming to Brussels. The even happier news, for me, that when I pitched this as a basis for an article in an expat magazine, one in which I've wanted to write for a while, they came back within days and said yes please. I used the same news as a basis for an assignment for my journalism course and my tutor said lovely things about it, and encouraged me to pitch it. (I'm not sure if there are enough expat mags in Belgium, but I will certainly bear it in mind.)

Then, my currently all-consuming hobby got some coverage in the press, and that's been a lot of fun.

Then, then, today I got an email from Writing Magazine, Britain's best-selling, erm, writing magazine. They've got a new section where they review 300 words and a synopsis of a novel. They've chosen mine this month! I'm so excited about this, not just because, well, it's always nice to be chosen, but also because of the coverage it gives me, and the boost in confidence.

Add to that the fact that someone close to me is out of hospital, and that my oboe teacher keeps heaping praise on me and telling me how much better I'm sounding, and we have a happy Claire.

All I need now is turkey, and some pecan pie... Anyone?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

An Abundance of Katherines opens with a very ordinary tale of adolescent heartbreak. But Colin is not ordinary, and neither is his predicament: his nineteenth Katherine has just dumped him. Him! Him, who is destined for greatness, if he could just work out how to make that difficult transition from child prodigy to adult genius. Him, who can make a dozen anagrams out of any given set of words. Him, who can speak far more languages than anyone will ever need to.

Enter Hassan, the loyal best friend who cares enough about Colin to tell him when his conversational tangents are Not Interesting. He drags Colin away from home so that he can forget about Katherine XIX, and together they can engage on the American rite of passage par excellence: a road trip. But they never make it past Gutshot, Tennessee – here they meet some new friends, find a job, and Colin works on his Important Project: a mathematical equation that will predict the success of a relationship.

Colin is a collector of useless facts, and shares many of them with us. By the end of this book, you will not only have spent time with some lovable characters and learned more than you ever thought you wanted to about maths, you will also know which President was so fat that he once got stuck in the bath and why the shower curtain always seems drawn towards you.

Think of this book as Adrian Mole meets the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, with a dash of social commentary thrown in.

Warm, witty, and engaging, this is a “Young Adult” novel with an appeal far broader than the genre would suggest. Lovable, self-confessed geeks like Colin and Hassan are particularly likely to enjoy it.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Quirky things about Belgium: Starbucks?!

Yes. It's really true. There's really going to be a Starbucks somewhere other than the airport (and I've long argued that while it's great to start a holiday with a celebratory blueberry muffin and tall latté, if you're at the airport, you're probably going somewhere that has plenty of Starbucks - ie, just about anywhere else in the world).

Okay, yes, there is also one in Antwerp, but that's also a long way to go for coffee.

The choice of venue baffles me somewhat, though - they're going for Gare Centrale, which in many ways is the worst of the main stations: its design is the nicest, but it feels dirty, frequently unsafe, and yes, it smells. The more recently renovated Gare du Midi might make more sense, particularly with the Eurostar terminal being there. (And the fact that I go through it more, and they would therefore make a lot more money.)

At the airport, the coffee and the muffins taste exactly as they do in the UK (not as they do in the US, where the muffins are different, but that's another story, and since I'm from the UK, that's fine with me), and the décor is reassuringly familiar too. The price is high, though, and the service slow - or maybe it just seems slow because I'm usually rushing to get the plane I'm late for. At peak hours, in Penn Station in New York someone comes to take your order while you're queuing, but I'm under no illusions about that happening in the Capital of Inefficiency.

I'm also unconvinced that Starbucks-style opening hours will be in operation: seven days a week, 6.30 am to 9 pm (for example) seems unlikely. It would be lovely to imagine that someone has realised that demand is actually likely to be higher at weekends, when most people are likely to have a lot of time to kill given that most middle-distance trains are hourly (yes - hourly), and that in those long stretches of time reading a paper in a comfortable chair rather than sitting on the cold, forbidden steps is likely to appeal. This logic, though, is profoundly unBelgian.

Here's the thing with Starbucks, too. I don't think I so much want one: I've lived here long enough now that the latte cravings have dulled substantially. It's not that I want their gourmet coffee (because, as Belgians will probably be quick to tell you, and as I used to claim myself, it's not really coffee anyway), it's the convenience of their ubiquity that I miss. I want to know that I will be passing one wherever I go, the whole no-time-for-breakfast-I'll-grab-coffee-on-the-way thing, obviating the need for my now dying thermos thingy that I religiously fill with home-made coffee every day (or long discussion in places like Exki where I try to explain I would like a lot of coffee, and a lot of warm milk, all together, but I will mix it myself). And that seems a way off yet.

But, lest you think I do not welcome this development, I do. I really do. If it were not 2 am I would, in fact, be dancing for joy.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Quirky things about Belgium: the perfect brunch

Yes. It really does exist. After a lovely meal last night in a newish Nivelles restaurant (more on that another time), where the waiter had taken a shine to us and given us a whole bottle of wine for the price of half, plus free kirs for aperitif, I had a craving for brunch this morning.

I was meeting a friend at L'Atelier du Pain at Vanderkindere: I like their plain, Ikea-style decor, and their comfortable seats; I also like their coffee, though I had forgotten how much. I knew, or suspected, they would have nice goat's cheese salad type affairs, and I reasoned with myself that this was at least as good as a greasy brunch.

But then - oh happy day - there was a breakfast section of the menu, and the cheerful, polite waitress was happy for me to order it after 11.30, though not at the special-offer price. And one of the options was l'Anglais: bacon, eggs, bread, butter. The waitress did not roll her eyes when I asked if the bacon was real - she offered for me to see it, and it looked English enough, and tasted wonderful. Delicious, perfectly cooked, as were the eggs. Even the butter tasted great - and I didn't feel I was missing out on the coffee front, either, which if you have been reading this blog for any length of time you will know is a minor miracle.

Well done, Belgium: five stars. This may be almost be enough to redeem your myriad other quirks.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Souler Opposite

It took me a long time to come to terms with the idea of Bradley Whitford playing anyone other than Josh Lyman, but I got there, mainly thanks to people who kept insisting I had to watch Studio 60. I'm glad I did; thanks to my little crush on Brad, I've discovered a lot of films that I wouldn't have known about, most notably Little Manhattan, which is exactly the kind of thing I love but had never heard of and Burn Up, which I may not have thought I'd like, but I was captivated, and very cross when my laptop ran out of battery somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean before it finished.

It's taken me even longer to accept Janel Moloney as anyone other than Donna Moss, though I did see her guest spot on Sports Night, and enjoyed that. But a little while back I found the film The Souler Opposite on Amazon, and heck, there was politics, and while it was even stranger to watch Janel in a Donna-but-not-Donna role than it may be in, say, Armless, I'm all about the politics, so I couldn't resist.

Essentially, Barry is a failing stand-up comedian who bumps into Thea one depressing night, and they begin something like a relationship (Thea is not interested in having a boyfriend). The setting is pleasingly retro, 1992, and Thea is working on an electoral campaign for a Democrat named Joe Brown. She walks in off the street to the campaign and ends up with a job on the staff and an offer of being "half of a DC power couple". (It's worth noting that it was Aaron Sorkin who wrote the line: "Good writers borrow from other writers; great writers steal from them outright".) Every girl's dream, in other words, or perhaps not every girl's, perhaps only mine, and perhaps thanks to Janel Moloney in the first place. Anyway, I digress.

The film itself - I'm not sure. Parts I liked, parts I didn't. (The beginning, with Barry and his best friend as sixteen-year-olds, could have been cut.) Janel's character, Thea, seems like she has a lot of depth to her that never fully gets explored or explained - frustrating not just for me as a viewer, but for Barry, her "souler opposite" (played by Christopher Meloni, whose surname is presumably pronounced exactly like hers). There were some cheesy lines (kudos to Janel for keeping a straight face for that "nectar from the gods" line; aside from that I can't remember any, but cut me some slack, I was high up in the air, mourning my departure from America), but there was also some good writing, and the acting was fantastic - Thea was a totally different character from Donna and it's always a relief when your favourite actor turns out to be able to play distinct people. Also, Christopher Meloni is very easy on the eyes.

If you're hoping for deep political commentary, you'll be disappointed - but if you like the backdrop of politics and DC (thankfully, grey and rainy, which mitigated my mourning after three days there in the beautiful autumn sunshine) for a romantic chick flick with a pleasingly determined male protagonist, you could certainly do a lot worse.

Other reviews can be found here, and I particularly agree with the first line from the New York times: "Anyone who can get past the title pun and the opening shot of misogyny in ``The Souler Opposite'' is liable to like Bill Kalmenson's alm in spite of itself."

Friday, 12 November 2010

Another thing that made me smile...

I have a whole new level of respect for Bradley Whitford. 

Yes, yes, I know - you didn't think it was possible.  Neither did I. But I went on a tour of Juilliard yesterday (was it yesterday? I won't even attempt that kind of mathematical time zone gymnastics - I've slept once-ish, since, so it must be yesterday) and - wow.  

For a start,  750 - 1,000 people apply, and they only take about 20 each year. 

Then, once they're there, they work them unbelievably hard: six days a week, 8 am till 11 pm (apart from Wednesday and Saturday evenings - woop).  And they're not let anywhere near an audience till their fourth year.  

Just after we sat in the theatre where the seniors perform, we walked down a corridor lined with framed black and white photographs of performances past.  Shame I don't know what year Brad was here, I thought, because he might be somewhere on these walls.  And then, I don't know why, but I turned my head slightly to the left and the photograph I was facing caught my eye; I read the label, just in case, and yes - it was him: unrecognisable in his youth and wispy moustache.  

I couldn't help feeling it was another of those just-for-me moments, like finding Hillary Clinton's Living History in a box of free books in front of a house in a Georgetown house.  It made me smile.  

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Adventures in DC

It's been a wonderful, wonderful day, with only a few frustrations rooted mostly in painful feet and faulty logic ("there must only be one street called 5th street", "if this metro is not going to Shady Grove, it must be going in the opposite direction", "if I keep asking this graduate student questions about the MFA in Creative Writing, she will suddenly realise she does know the answers after all").

First, there were the famed scones from my host: while not (of course) the same as British scones, they are reminiscent of them, and were a great start to the day. Then I wandered down to Union Station to meet up with a Twitter friend - who turned out to be exceptionally kind, generous and encouraging. We prayed for each other right there in the station. Very cool.

I made my way to Dupont Circle, where in a misguided fit of excitement at having found the house where Donna lives in the episode of the West Wing where Josh throws snowballs at her window, I asked a passing stranger to take a million photos. A task she undertook with gusto and flair, but alas, all in vain, because although the houses are very similar in style, it wasn't the right one.

Still, it made me happy at the time. And under the blue, blue sky I made my way to Embassy Row, where after making admiring noises at posh buildings I eventually struck up conversation with yet another kind and knowledgeable stranger who pointed me in the direction of Georgetown. I'm not normally a walker, but my unusual physical exertions were amply rewarded when, somewhere on Q street, I passed a box marked with my two favourite words: Free Books. Among which was Hilary Clinton's autobiography, which I've been thinking of buying. Much happiness ensued. I continued my path through the beautiful Georgetown streets with the houses that are all so different yet somehow form a coherent whole. I could have photographed every single house; they all had character, and colourful charm.

Georgetown University was nice, too, and I love listening into students' conversations and imagining that I am still one of them. I walked and walked and walked, it seemed, in pursuit of a cafe that my guide book had recommended, but instead I passed one that called itself the "cutest in Georgetown" and it lured me with its outside patio and old issues of Time Magazine, and I'm glad, because although the coffee was terrible, the crepe with banana and Nutella was so enjoyable that I didn't even get cross at the article in Time about the alleged benefits of being an only child.

And in the evening, after much getting lost, I finallly ended up at Busboys and Poets, for an authentic DC experience listening to a Very Famous Man I've never heard of talk about the Death of the Liberal. Really interesting, and great food at the same time. Should I ever move here, this will become one of my favourite places.

Tomorrow, Eastern Market, Library of Congress, Hawk and Dove, and Politics and Prose, although that seems a lot to manage in a morning, so I may have to let one of them go. I love this place.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Quirky things about Belgium: never having heard of THE film of the year

Me, to employee of one of the biggest UGC Cinemas in Brussels: "Excusez-moi, quand est-ce que le film The Social Network sort?"


"Ze sociaal networrrrk. Quand est-ce que ca sort?"

Gallic shrug.

Today!! To flippin day!! Nine days after I asked you! I was free! I could have seen it!

Now look what you've made me do: overuse exclamation marks.


Thursday, 21 October 2010

On Bradley and Twitter, for possibly not the last time

So, there we have it. Thanks to Jenny Wade, straight from the man himself:

How can you miss me if I don't go away?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Bradley Whitford is not on twitter. He wants us to long for him from a wistful distance. You know, I think even if he were on twitter, I may be able to manage that.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Dear Josh Player,

I didn't want to have to do this, since I think that one of the first rules of twitter role play is (or at least, should be) that you don't give away who the person pulling the strings is, or try and find out who the other person is. But this is the best way I can think of to communicate with you.

It should not still be bugging me, six weeks on, that you don't want to play with me anymore. But there you go, it is, and it's especially sad because the election is coming up and we could have a lot of fun with that. I know you have another Donna, and that I have another Josh, but people seemed to think we were good together, and we are the ones with the most followers. And I hate disrupting continuity, and well, yes, I miss you, our interaction, and the little world we had built.
Since you haven't told me what I've done wrong, I've had a few weeks to come up with my own theories as to what that might be.

Maybe you have another half in real life, and she/he was not happy with your online flirting. So let me be clear: I'm in character when I play, and I'm assuming you are too. For all I know you are an 85-year-old woman with no teeth. (Unlikely, I admit, but you get my point.) But if that is what it is, then I understand.

Maybe you regret telling me about aspects of your job. But I said your secret was safe with me, and it is.

Maybe you didn't like the way I was doing Donna, or aspects of our life together. That's fine - I'd have been happy to readjust things, very happy to communicate more to make it happen, iron out fine print. I didn't want to keep checking with you over everything because I didn't want to swamp you with DMs, and I didn't want to assume you were as into is as I was. I've also found it hard to keep up with the politics, what with being in a different time zone and not as knowledgeable as I'd like to be.

There's also another possibility, though I don't like it much. I've not tried that hard to cover my tracks - so maybe it's possible that you worked out who I was in real life, and decided you didn't like the sound of me. Well, obviously, that's your prerogative, but just a couple of things to bear in mind: 1) It's not me you are tweeting with, it's a character I am acting out and 2) I come on twitter for fun and frivolity. Some people, I know, tweet their deepest thoughts and their every sandwich filling. I don't. There is plenty going on in my life that I don't mention online. It is possible that my twitter feed makes me sound a little like a dizzy blonde trapped inside a brunette's body; friends have been known to tell me that my online presence does not really match up to who I am in person. The benefit of the doubt may be a nice thing to have from you in this case - especially since I have no idea who you are either. (I haven't tried to find out.)

I don't know if it's too late - I hope that it isn't. I'm sad it's come to this. Can we please be twitter friends again?

Your Donna

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Adventures in writing... the journey continues

Maybe it's my age, and the ticking of my biological clock, but the longer this writing adventure goes on, the more it feels like being a mother.

Let me explain.

You may remember that in the summer of 2009, when I was embarking on the adventure, I wrote a clumsy blogpost about how it felt a lot like being pregnant: walking around carrying the invisible promise of something new and alive and a part of you, something that consumes your every thought and hope and dream.  

Even the way it all started was a little like that sudden niggling realisation.  Uh oh.  I think I might be pregnant. I didn't purposely sit down to start writing a novel. I was coming back from one of my first lessons with a new student, thinking, probably, about the West Wing (this was at the beginning of my, erm, interest), and it occurred to me, wouldn't it be fun to teach Bradley Whitford French? And then I got out a notebook and started writing.  

And now? Well.  Maybe it's the later stages of a very long labour.  (I could get more specific, but I don't want to put you off your breakfast.)  At least, I hope it's the later stages.  I'm pleased with what I have so far, but I need another 12,000 words, and I'm not sure where they're going to come from; but then I also didn't know where the last 11,000 were going to come from, and somehow they appeared.  

Well, actually, not 'somehow'.  A lot of it was thanks to the midwife, my new friend Rebecca.  I've never met her in real life (yet) but we have talked a lot on Facebook over the last few months - we share a mutual, erm, interest - and she has been an incredible help and inspiration and support, cheering me on from the sidelines - push, push

I sent her my draft back in the summer, and she came back with such helpful comments and ideas and suggestions that where I thought I couldn't keep pushing, she gave me a fresh impetus. Above all, she is almost as excited about the novel, Inevitable, as I am, and that is so motivating.

And here's where it's also like being a parent.  Those of you who are mums probably remember what it's like to drop your first child off at school.  Are they going to be okay out there in the big wide world? Will they be liked? Will others realise how special they are? What a privilege it is to meet them?

At the same time as I sent my second(ish) draft off to Rebecca, I sent it to four other people, three of whom had asked me repeatedly to send them a copy.  Months later, I've heard nothing back from any of them apart from a couple of yes, I'm reading it comments.  

It's like your child coming home after you have spent all day wondering how they were getting on, and you ask, how was school, and they shrug and say, okay.  And you ask, what did you learn and they shrug and say, stuff.  And you ask, did you make friends and they shrug and say, I guess.  

Heartbreaking, isn't it?

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Computer Geeks needed!


I've just dropped my nifty little notebook thingy (Asus) from a great height onto an uncarpeted surface and strangely enough the screen is cracked, but worse, it says: "reboot and select proper device".

I don't know what this means - can anyone help?

It doesn't have a CD/DVD drive so I can't insert anything.

I really, really need to get to some of the data inside... (Yes, yes. I know. I thought I had backed up. I hadn't. Wrote one of my favourite scenes last weekend and now it's gone... Slap me on the wrists if you like, but please offer a solution. Thanks.)

And if you're in Belgium - can you suggest a GOOD computer repair shop in either Nivelles or Brussels? (other than AZERTY in Nivelles, because when I took in my computer last year they made the problem worse...)

Thanks :)

(smiley face? really? I feel like crying...)

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Misadventures in Cyberspace

About a year ago, I started tweeting as my favourite character from my favourite TV show. If you've ever met me or read any of my blog, you'll need no further explanation; if you haven't, well, then, good, we can retain some mystery.

Many of the other characters had been around in the past, but they were all dormant, so much to my chagrin I wasn't able to interact with them. Consequently, aside from the odd political comment or random observation there wasn't much I could do with the account. Then, oh happy day! I did a search one day and found that my man was on twitter too. There'd previously been several incarnations of him, but they'd all stopped tweeting a year or so back.

And this guy was, is, good. He's totally in character, very witty, well-informed about all the things that his character knows about.

We started bantering.

We were good together.

At least, I thought so. Judging by both our follower counts and various re-tweets, other people thought so too. It lasted about five months. I was perhaps ever so slighlty addicted, but it was a lot of fun; it was summer and work was scarce.

Then one day, from out of nowhere, he blocked me.

After much protest from me, and some intervention from other characters - who by now had jumped on board after seeing how much fun we were having - he unblocked me but said he wanted to uncouple the accounts.

Now, if you've ever watched the TV programme I'm talking about, you'll know that breaking these two up would possibly cause the universe to implode. So while that might have been the obvious solution, it wasn't an option here - particularly as we had been the cyber-picture of romantic almost-bliss.

All the characters that we were interacting with follow the two of us together, tweet about the two of us, stick up for this version of me when another one asserts herself. Our cyber-lives are intertwined ,but he wants me to pretend he doesn't exist. It's like dating a co-worker then breeaking up with them and seeing them every day and having to remove their email address before clicking reply-all.

It is, in fact, a lot like breaking up with someone. It's been a month and I'm still sad and cross, in particular because he never explained to me what the problem was. In particular, too, because this show, and especially these characters, always made me smile, and now that has soured. They inspired me to write, too, and it's probably not a coincidence that my novel has been taking up less and less of my thinking time lately.

I could slink away quietly. Probably, I should do that. But I have 630ish followers, and my pride, not to mention the impulse of the only child: "But I was here first!" And, also, we had built a universe I kind of fell in love with, and I'd be sad to leave that behind.

That said, that universe has kind of died already, and my account has become increasigly insipid, because I can't initiate any talk about domestic life, or about him and his work, which he might then contradict, intentionally or not. Everything has become complicated. It's almost no fun at all. Everytime I open twitter I feel sad.

He, of course, continues to soar in popularity. I can only watch miserably from the sidelines and wonder what I did wrong. And then kick myself for caring.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

On Rachel Maddow and Ed Miliband, only not really

I had an epiphany a couple of weeks ago, while I was standing on the side of a busy road with a sleep-deprivation headache, and heavy bags full of grammar books, waiting for a lift from one of my students. It came to me as a question: Do I still want to be doing this when I'm 35?

And then, before I'd had a chance really to even contemplate what exactly I meant by this, I heard myself saying, out loud, but I am 35. Well, not that far off 35.

The this might have been the dependence on other people. Or the hours of public transport in any given day. (Five, on that particular day.) Granted, this could be resolved by the purchase of a car (and a few driving lessons), but I have no money for that kind of thing - which itself may be part of the this.

But the this goes deeper than that. Let me explain.

Just a couple of days after this standing-on-the-side-of-the-road moment, I was listening to the Rachel Maddow show, as is my political-junkie wont, and they mentioned her age: she's in her thirties.

I'm in my thirties.

Then Ed Miliband won the Labour leadership contest. (He's half-Belgian, by the way, a fact which has not been mentioned often enough, or in fact ever). He's forty.

That's only eight years more than me.

Where will I be in eight years' time? And my worry is this: shouldn't I be on my way there already?

I am frustrated. I know that I have the ability to excel at something. That if I could single-mindedly set my course, I could still get there, albeit a decade or two behind Rachel or Ed.

Wherever there is. And that's the nub of the problem. Single-mindedness is, by its very definition, exclusive. It takes, apparently, 10,000 hours to master a skill; that's 10,000 hours not spent doing something else. And I'm one of those people with "too many passions to pick just one": desperate to excel, yet trapped in what feels like mediocrity by the paralysis of choice.

Every week, it seems, a new dream job occurs to me: White House correspondant for the Guardian! Literary Agent! Manager of Social Media for a US Senator! The list goes on, and on.
And I just can't seem to choose one to the exclusion of all the others.

Besides, it's too late, isn't it? It's too late for unpaid internships and three more years of study and depending on the goodwill of people in London or New York or DC to house me for minimal rent. That moment was in my twenties, and I've missed it.

So I feel deeply dissatisfied. Purposeless. And frustrated because I feel like I could do so much more, be so much more, and I worry that I'm wasting my life and my abilities and just getting by.

I'd love to have a great, rousing, optimistic conclusion for you. I feel, though, that this post is just going to fizzle out. Sometimes I worry that my potential is going to do the same. I hope not. I hope that writing really is going to be it, in the end, whether that's journalism or fiction or both.

And the great thing about writing - aside from the excuse to spend a lot of money on funky stationery - is that it can encompass all your other passions. (There's a reason the hero in my novel has curly hair and dimples, and a reason why the heroine, who used to teach languages, and loves books, lives in DC and is a Senator fighting for better childcare laws.)

I loved the novel One Day, partly, I suspect, because Emma could be me. She has a good degree from a reputable university but is adrift in a sea of vague possibilities, never quite settling on what to do with her life, dabbling in teaching before realising in her early thirties that all she has ever wanted to do is write.

And maybe I'm being too impatient. Maybe writing is it for me, the thing in which I will excel, the way I will make my mark on the world. Maybe writing is my this. Maybe I just need to put in those 10,000 hours. But I'm standing at the bottom of my mountain, thinking that sounds like a lot. Looking at the Rachel Maddows and Ed Milibands who have been climbing since they could toddle, and getting discouraged at all the catching-up I have to do. Running to the foot of another mountain and then another and wondering if this one or that one would be more fun, more profitable, more me.

And while I'm running from mountain to mountain, wishing I had the right equipment to climb, time is slipping away, and I am becoming increasingly frustrated.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Belgian English: the top ten mistakes

1. Actually

Actuellement is translated currently. Actually simply means en fait, and rarely adds anything to the sentence.

2. Availabilities

Availability is always singular in English, as in: what is your availability?

3. Interesting

If you mean that something is a good price, then it is a good deal, or a bargain. A book or a film or an idea is interesting if it is something you want to think about.

4. Please

In English, you only use please when you are asking for something.

If you are giving something to someone, then you say here you are, although you often don't say anything.

If you are responding to thank you, you say that's okay, or you're welcome.

If you are saying you don't understand something, you say sorry? or could you repeat that?

5. I live in Brussels since two years

An action that starts in the past and continues to have an effect in the present is expressed in the present perfect. I have lived in Brussels...

Since - with date: I have lived in Brussels since 2008.

For - with length: I have lived in Brussels for two years.

6. Thank you for correcting my English

In English, this construction means "You have corrected me, and I am thanking you for something you have already done". If what you mean is "please correct me", you should say it would be great if you could correct my English, or would you mind correcting my English?

7. Open days

Open day means journée portes ouvertes. We call Monday-Friday business days.

8. Are you there already?

Already is much more narrow in its application than deja. It means "sooner than I expected". So "are you there already?" means "I was not ready for you to arrive yet, and I am panicking."

9. Tea

To a British person, tea is what you call "black tea". Any other form of tea - mint tea, green tea, chamomile tea, fruit tea - is called herbal tea. If you offer us tea, we expect tea! (Yes, probably with milk.)

10. British food is very bad.

While grammatically there is nothing wrong with this sentence, please understand: British food was very bad in the past. Now it's very, very good. We have learned a lot from other nations, especially Mediterranean ones, and we even have a new word - foodie - which describes a person who knows and understands food.

Belgian dog owners...

Is there anyone out there who owns a dog and lives in Belgium, or has done so in the past?

Newsweek has declared Belgium to be the best place to live for dog owners, and I'm writing a piece about it. I'd love to speak to/tweet with/exchange emails/buy you coffee this week if you have any insights or views as to why this might be!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Spiritual lessons from the West Wing: in this White House?

The first episode of The West Wing I ever watched was the one in my flatmate's laptop when I borrowed it one evening: it. happened to be the one where Ainsley Hayes starts work at the White House. Ainsley in intelligent and beautiful (blonde, of course) and fiercely ambitious - perfect in the way that only TV charcters can be. She's also a Republican.

When she's offered a job by Leo, she babbles incoherently (in iambic pentameter, because she's being written by Aaron Sorkin) where the rest of us might be speechless. "Ainsley," he says, "don't you want to work at the White House?"

"Only since I was three," she replies. "It has to be this White House?"

In other words, wow. This is my dream. I just didn't think it would look like this.

And now I'm being offered this position, and it's exactly what I want, but it's exactly not what I want, all at the same time, and so I'm confused.

I think many of us can relate to that. Take me, for example.

Claire, asks God gently, don't you want to be in leadership?

Oh, only all of my adult like.

I just didn't think it woud look like this.

Really? In this White House?

Not married to a Church leader who grew up being discipled by David Stroud and going to Stoneleigh Bible Week? Not married at all, in fact, not with three kids, the fourth on the way, maybe even twins?

Not in a Newfrontiers Church where I'm clear on the vision and embrace the values, where I know what is meant by "church", where I'm comfortable with the way things are done, where I understand what is expected of me and roughly how I should be going about it?

Yes. In this White House. In this capital city. In this Church. At this time in history.

"Appeal to her sense of duty," the President tells Leo. In other words, remind her that what unites us is bigger and deeper than what differenciates us. We all long for great things for our nation.

Ainsley, of course, takes the job. Sadly, Aaron Sorkin then forgets about her and she wastes away in the Steam Pipe Distribution Venue, to be replaced later by the very dishy Joe Quincy, played by none other than Matthew Perry, but I digress.

Since my life is not being written by Aaron Sorkin, I need not worry that such a fate awaits me. I am called by God, here and now, for such a time as this. And while the way my new Church does things is not the same as what I grew up with, while it is not always what I would choose, it is also not as radical a departure from my values as Ainsley Hayes' serving under a Democratic President. And what unites us is far, far deeper than what differentiates us.

Yes, Claire, really. In this White House.

I serve at the pleasure of the King.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

What I love about Writing

Today's topic for the weekly Sunday evening #writechat on Twitter is: what do you love about writing? Well, I decided that 140 characters were not really enough to answer that, and I know I have a few faithful readers out there who must be wondering if I am still alive, so I put two and two together and came up with the radical concept of a new blogpost, possibly partly motivated by slight panic at the thought that I might otherwise actually be in bed before midnight on a Sunday.

Firstly, and because no blogpost of mine would be complete without a mention of Bradley Whitford, I must quote the great man himself, with apologies to those of you who have read this a million times before on this very blog.

(Pause here for a few minutes while I use this as an excuse to distract myself by googling him, in the interests, you understand, of journalistic integrity. Or something.)

"... Want to write more than you want to be a writer. Life is too challenging for external rewards to sustain us. The joy is in the journey."

My point being, not just that Bradley Whitford is very wise, on top of all his many other qualities, but also that number one on my list of things I love about writing ought to be this:

1. Writing

The process itself. Sitting down with my coffee and my writing music (a mixture of classical music, easy listening Norah Jones type stuff and jazz) and entering another world. And that high you get. You know the one? Nothing else does that for me, though I'm told runners experience this. Is that an external reward? Probably. When I meet Brad I will get him to clarify. (Or he could comment right here...)

I feel like when I'm writing I'm doing what I was born to do. To paraphrase Eric Liddle, "God made me to love words, and I feel his pleasure when I write."

And when you feel you're doing it well, forming beautiful sentences and bringing characters to life, it's exhilerating. Really.

2. It's an excuse for doing all the other things I love, namely:

- Reading voraciously
- Learning new words
- Watching the West Wing (seriously - it inspires me! Plus, it so happens that two of my characters, Brad and Kate, are West Wing fans...)
- Listening to jazz (Brad is a jazz pianist, so...)
- Keeping up to date with American politics (Kate is a Senator, so...)
- Travelling (for research, and also because being in a new place seems to seriously inspire me.)

3, Escaping to another world.

Reality sometimes feels over-rated. My love life is non-existent, and has been for so long I prefer not to keep tabs on it anymore. In the world of my novel, I get to be someone else and be in love with a beautiful man (though I do get my heart broken, which is perhaps not so great).

I admit that this part of it can be unhealthy and that my head-in-the-sand tendencies which were already considerable are now insurmountable. But still, it's a lot of fun.

It's brilliant to create characters and see them come to life on the page, go and hang out with them for a few hours a day.

4. I am never bored.

There is always something to observe, a conversation to "accidentally overhear", a detail to scribble in my notebook.

5. There is the vague hope that one day I might be a published author. Maybe even a famous one.

Yes, yes, Bradley, I heard you when you said the joy was in the journey. However, I can't say that any of these things would be unpleasant:

- Having a fan page on Facebook with more than two members. (It's here, if you're interested.)
- Seeing my name (well, my pen name) in print
- Reading positive reviews about myself
- Maybe making some money

6. Apart from the world of my book, it also allows me to indulge some other fantasies, like:

- Sending it to Brad, and to Janel Moloney (who, in my head, are two of the actors on screen when it's a film) and hearing back from them that they love it.
- Brad saying he wants to write the screenplay
- Generally getting to meet loads of cool, famous people (Yes, yes. They are just people. I know. But.)

I know you're judging me for that right now. The fact is, though, I'd be willing to bet that all writers have those fantasies. It's just that only some of us admit it. Also, some of us allow them to develop further than others do.

7. Bringing other people pleasure

The first (and so far, only) person to have read a draft of Inevitable from beginning to end loved it. She cried! She wanted more! She couldn't stop reading even though she was getting up early the next day! I want to do that for people. I want them to laugh and cry and miss their stop on the tube because they got so caught up in the book. This probably ought to have been nearer the top of the list, but there you go, it's late, I'm tired and if I moved it further up, having only just thought of it, I would feel hypocritical.

8. It allows me to develop all my other interests

This might sound like I'm repeating point 2, but allow me to expand. I'm one of those people for whom the following book was written: "The Renaissance Soul: life design for people with too many passions to pick just one". I am such a person. And I've always felt as a result that life felt a bit messy (although, possibly the, erm, mess in my life also contributes to this). Writing gives me a framework, a reason for all those passions: they can be articles! Ideas for novels! Short stories! They all meet in that one goal and that is oddly satisfying. Anyone else feel like that?

9. It allows me to meet really interesting people

Writers are great people to be around. Possibly because they love Scrabble.

10. A tangeible result

Sometimes life can feel a bit plod, that you're doing the same thing day in, day out, that your business is not particularly growing, that nothing new is happening, that you have no answer to that dreaded question: "what's new?". This is particularly true when all your friends have a nice two-year cycle of Exciting News going: I've met a guy! I'm engaged! I'm married! I'm pregnant! I'm pregnant again! etc.

These days, when people ask me what I'm doing with my life, I acutually have an answer, and although this novel has had a longer gestation period than human babies, it is growing, and doing many of the other things that babies do, like taking over my life and messing with my sleep patterns. And at the end of it, I will have a real, physical thing and I will be able to say I DID IT! And that's quite exciting.

So, there you are. There are some of my reasons, and I've probably missed many out. What are yours?

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Happy birthday to me!

A number of things about today have been fab...

- My birthday started a few hours early with a noisy but fun trip to Pizza Hut with my adopted big sis and her family. Apart from the delights of Pizza Hut itself, too many to name here, there were also a couple of waiters who weren't unpleasant to look at - including one of them who entertained us with a brief but spirited rant about the noisy Germans on the table next door. There was also a baby to cuddle and a niece who, out of nowhere, suddenly I feel a lot closer to.

- It was not dignified, but I begged: on Facebook I asked some of my heroes to come and sign my page in honour of my birthday. One of them responded within minutes, which made my day, and the next within hours: "Happy birthday Claire (from everyone ever associated with The West Wing, except Brad Whitford)!" You can probably guess who that was. But it made me smile. As for Brad himself, he is still hiding, and frankly I don't blame him.

- Unrelatedly to my birthday, and yet delightfully timed, was a comment from the first person ever to have read the second draft of "Inevitable", the novel I've been harping on about for about a year now. She loved it! She couldn't stop reading! She said her heart was breaking! She even cried! This was the high point of my day. Possibly I need to get out more, or possibly I've found my passion in life and that is something to be celebrated... Later on she emailed me detailed comments which will be so helpful in writing up the next draft. Amazing.

- I now have, in writing, an invitation to visit a good friend in Colorado. Yay.

- I opened my birthday presents, and shouted "Yes!" when the Studio 60-shaped present in fact turned out to be Studio 60. Only one thing better than Bradley Whitford and Aaron Sorkin: the two of them plus Matthew Perry. (Who, by the way, always reminds me of Brad and vice versa, but apparently that's just me.) I was also really chuffed to get books from my mum and step-dad: they seem no longer to buy me what they thought I should want, but to go, as directed, to my Amazon wish list. It's a ridiculous length, which means that when I get a parcel I really have no idea what it's going to be - and this time it was an intelligent-looking book about the West Wing from my step dad, and two books about writing from my mum, which may be her way of saying she believes in me. More books from another friend, too. Which is useful, since I've promised myself I'm not buying any more till I've read all the ones I've got. (Hmmm. Not sure how long that will last.)

- Time with my dad was great. It's so nice to have such a chilled, and normal, relationship with him. Also, the Chinese restaurant we went to was great. And, he's bought me a coffee machine (useful after staying up till 2 am rewatching my favourite Season 7 episodes). So all is well with the world.

- CQ Politics ran a headline that should not have pleased me, but did: apparently aides are now burned out and leaving the White House in droves. Today I have been asking the birthday fairy for a job in the White House. Coincidence? Didn't think so.

Plus, I'm now back in even numbers of years, which pleases me. I'm a little odd, I know - but I think you'd picked that up by now...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Those pesky Americanisms...

Views expressed in this post are not intended to cause offence! I'm not saying Americans should change the way they speak...

I used to have no fear that my English would be, well, corrupted. I lived in England; read British novels; watched so few films that there was no way American would creep into my speech, much less my spelling - perish the thought.

These days, I spend a lot of time communicating online with Americans and click through to links on US websites. I read American novels. I listen to seemingly endless podcasts about American politics. My internet browser is stuck on "US English" spellcheck. I'm writing a book with two dishy Americans in it. (Take that, Safari spellcheck. Dishy is more or less what you guys would call hot.) I even hang out, face to face, with a few real life Americans. And then, of course, there is the West Wing.

This morning, I was thinking about the month of January (who knows why - this was in the not-quite-awake stage of my day) and I suddenly realised: why am I pronouncing it JanuAry? What has happened in my brain? Eek. This invasion must be halted.

And then a friend of mine sent me a link to this fab, if somewhat grumpy, piece by a newspaper editor, and for the first and hopefully last time ever I found myself nodding vigorously when reading a Daily Telegraph article. (I hope you will not judge me.)

"Some Americanisms keep slipping in, usually when we are given agency copy to re-write and do an inadequate job on it. There is no such verb as “impacted”, and other American-style usages of nouns as verbs should be avoided (authored, gifted etc). Maneuver is not spelt that way in Britain. We do not have lawmakers: we might just about have legislators, but better still we have parliament. People do not live in their hometown; they live in their home town, or even better the place where they were born."

Here's the thing: we all know about words like pants. (Even though in the episode when Josh asks Donna is she's wearing the same pants as yesterday, my first instinct is always to wince in disgust.) But there are other, way more insidious phrases and grammar differences that creep in. There was one, right there: way more. And another: right there. I'm not sure I would have written either of those before my West Wing obsession.

So I'm starting a little blogpost, to be updated as I go along, probably more for my own benefit than anyone else's, so that in ten years' time when I'm married to Bradley Whitford and living in California I will remember how I used to speak.

I guess - I suppose
A couple people - a couple OF people
I just saw him - no, no, no! I spend hours bashing my students over the head with the difference between the past simple and the present perfect. By definition, if you've just seen him, then you've just seen him. Present prefect.
Way to... - okay, I love that expression, and I don't think we have an equivalent, do we, unless it's "what a great way to..."
movie - film, people! If you're British, it's a film!
I could care less - I think, surely, you mean "I couldn't care less"? If you could care less, then surely you care a little bit to start with, which is the opposite of what you're trying to say, isn't it? And yet if even Aaron Sorkin makes this mistake, it can't be a mistake at all. It must be an Americanism.
come see - come and see
stay-at-home mom - didn't we used to have our own phrase for this? I can't for the life of me me remember what it was, though - can you?
Gotten - you'd have thought I would never, ever say that. And yet, I heard myself, loud and clear.
Psyched for... - two for the price of one here. What you really mean is "excited about". Although my public-school teacher friend justifies it thus: It's my favourite Americanism: it combines excitement and nervous energy with confidence and a generally positive mental attitude, and I don't think that any other single English word conveys exactly the same meaning. :) And I think that's a pretty good argument. Erm, sorry, I mean quite a good argument. How do you translate "pretty" into British anyway?
Awww - shame on me for this one. I didn't even realise I was doing it - which is precisely my point on these cheeky Americanisms. The British spelling is Ahhhh.
Ugh. I always, always used to say, yuk. I'm not saying I don't prefer ugh. But, still.

Monday, 2 August 2010

You've got 90s Nostalgia and Dial-up Internet

Ah... You've got mail. I remember thinking last time I watched it about a hundred years ago that it was a film I really ought to have loved, but I didn't, not quite.

Well, I've got more emotional in my old age, and I welled up a couple of times, but again... unconvinced. I get that they fall in love online. After all, I was gutted when Mark from Columbus stopped messaging me back - I was developing a crush on him, his style of writing, the way he thought. And if you've been paying any attention at all, you will know that I profess to be in love with a man I have never met, although I know an awful lot about him through what I've seen and heard and read.

So it's not the falling in love part I object to. It's just the fact that (spoiler alert, by the way) one minute they're fighting and the next minute, ping, he's in love and taking her flowers. No explanation, really. I suppose in a book you could explain that better, the complexity of his thoughts. But unconvincing.

But anyway, it was fun to watch, mostly for the nostalgia. That internet dial up tone. The absence of Harry Potter books in the bookshops. And back then, no guilt, because I'd yet to place my first order with Amazon.

And, of course, New York. Places I tell myself I vaguely recognise, though on closer inspection it's just generic New York I recognise, but that's good enough for me. I love it there - but then you know that, too.

And Starbucks. When I watched this back in whenever it was I probably had never seen a Starbucks, let alone having a clue as to what it would become. (And how desperately I would one day come to miss it...) And I don't think I even fully understood whether they were emailing, instant messaging or what. In my defence, I never had AOL, so it was all a bit confusing: computers didn't talk outside of America back then.

I'll leave you with my favourite quotes, and recommend you watch it, if you too long for the happier, simpler era of the late 90s...

"I could never be with anyone who didn't take politics as seriously as I do." (and you were thinking there would be no mention of the West Wing!)

"People do really stupid things in foreign countries."

"The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don't know what the hell they're doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino."

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Spiritual lessons from the West Wing: Season Five moments

Fans of the greatest TV show ever made will know that something terrible happens at the end of Season Four. And no, I don't mean the departure of Rob Lowe, though the loss of Sam Seaborn upsets the balance of characters and, in my opinion the series never fully recovers from this.

No, I'm talking about something far more fundamental: Aaron Sorkin left. Someone else was writing the characters. Getting America involved in peace-keeping missions, keeping Josh and Donna apart, all that stuff. It wasn't the same. Still now people complain about the change in the behaviour of some characters: Richard Schiff was reportedly angry at what happens with Toby later on, and loving Donna as I do, I desperately miss Aaron Sorkin's version of her. She would never have said "not much nostalgia there". Anyway, I digress.

Those who watched the West Wing for its fast-paced, intelligent dialogue (and I'm guessing that's most of us), for its, well, its Sorkin-ness, went into mourning.

The change was jarring.

Life feels a little like that, sometimes, doesn't it? Everything's going along well. You think you know where things are heading. Then something happens, something you did not expect, something perhaps that years later you will still question. Something that upsets the balance of your life.

If you're in a Season Five moment right now, struggling to work out where things went wrong, why it had to be this way when you liked it so much just the way it was, take heart: God is still in control. He has not left you. He still knows the end from the beginning, and He is still getting you there. Remember Joseph? Thrown into a pit and sold into slavery. But God meant it for good.

I'm reading a brilliant book by Pete Wilson at the moment: "Plan B - what to do when God doesn'tshow up the way you thought He would". The best advice I can give you is to work through that. Well that's not entirely true: the best advice I can give you is actually to cling to God, but that book will show you how.

Who's writing your life? Be thankful (no, really) that it's not Aaron Sorkin. Be thankful that it's not any man (or woman) who at any point could leave you at the mercy of less-than-perfect scriptwriters. He knows where He is taking you, and He will get you there. Even if the route seems circuitous at times.

Aaron was apparently going to bring back Sam Seaborn, going to resolve the cliff-hanger at the end of Season Four very differently. (Who knows, maybe we'd have even seen Donna's answer to Amy's question.) But He wasn't there to do it. That will not happen for you: the Author of your faith is also the Perfecter of it, the Finisher of it. He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.

He will not leave you. He has not left you.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Bradley Whitford live chat - sniff.

I just missed, by minutes, Bradley Whitford doing a live chat on the Washington Post website.

"Distraught" does not even begin to cover it.

I am, however, happy to report that as I suspected, the guy can spell. Only one mistake was spotted by my keen eye, and I think I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it was a typo. Also one tiny punctuation issue. This reassures me, on the whole: he is human. Therefore he is real.

So, Brad, if you're out there, these are the questions I would have asked you. Apart from all the obvious ones, and all that.

- How can we convince you to join twitter?
- Which book are you currently reading, do you read several at a time, and which five books would you take with you to a desert island?
- Please will you write the screenplay for the book I am writing?
- You have a bunch of very devoted fans. Do you ever get freaked out by their adulation of you?
- How about coming to Europe to do a play?
- What is the one question you wish people asked you on these kinds of occasions?
- Do you ever Google yourself or do a Twitter search and find out what people are saying?
- When are you going to write a movie and give Josh Malina a really bad part?
- When can we have coffee?

And also, please, oh please, can you let me know when you next do one of these? Thank you.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Together on a mission: a personal perspective

Expect the unexpected, went a prophetic word on that first morning. Hooray, I thought. A husband, at last! A call to DC! Both rolled into one, maybe: my own Jesus-loving, Church-planting Josh Lyman. Well, a girl can dream. And this girl does. A lot. Too much, maybe.

I was missing the point. The unexpected means you can't anticipate it because you don't know what it's going to be. You can't conceive of it, a bit like those verses in - 1 Corinthians, is it?: no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has ever conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. If no mind has ever conceived, then it's going to be something unexpected.

At this year's conference the unexpected was this: what God did in my heart through relationships. Relationships? At Brighton? Dashing from one meeting to the other with barely enough time to peg it up the hill in between for yet another Costa latté? Yes. Strange. I know. But I reconnected with some people from my past - from my eighteen-year-old past, back when Impact was called FYP and my heart was filled with dreams of changing the world and hopes of church planting, and also pain that God would graciously come and minister to, in large part through the wonderful family that I lived with.

Every year at Brighton I see them again and every year it's special, but this year it was different. We got some real, quality time together, sitting on the beach in the sun, and we really talked, and prayed, in particular about some hurts and unforgiveness I have been carrying around for years. You know how preachers always say that when you don't forgive it's really you that you are hurting? Well, turns out it's true. Even if the other person does know about your unforgiveness. Which, as it turns out, sometimes they do. And sometimes you have to go and say sorry for that. It's humbling. It's embarrassing. Turns out that it also has incredible power.

It was emotionally exhausting and I had a headache and puffy eyes for what feels like a lot of the time. (Thank goodness for Boot's cucumber eye gel: it should be standard issue at Christian conferences.) I'd forgotten (somehow) how tiring it is when God deals with stuff in your heart. I didn't really know if much was happening but since coming home I've realised what God has been doing, and I'm so thankful. He's been softening and healing my heart, and if I let him, if i pursue him, this could transform me.

There were some other things, too. Some of them less unexpected. Ever since Stoneleigh days (yes, I'm that old) I've been underlining David Stroud's seminars in my programme and making sure I get to them. Something about his style really connects with my spirit and he always seem to speak into what I'm passionate about: whether it's the prophetic, church planting (yes, that again), and, more recently, the concept of "Everything": the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, so part of our mandate as Christians is to transform culture. I was buzzing when I came out of his seminar, having realised that my book is not just a soppy love story but actually does challenge an idol in our culture: the idea that girl + getting the guy = ultimate happiness. The next day, in Matt Hatch's seminar, part of the same training track, my eyes kept filling with tears as I listened to inspiring story after inspiring story, and as I talked afterwards with two other teachers I gained fresh vision for my job: being an excellent teacher, and building good rapport with my students is not just "something I should do 'cause I'm a Christian, hrmph", but part of the mandate to transform culture! Suddently it's exciting again!

Another thing I love in Brighton is this: for one week it feels like anything is possible. God might call you anywhere, and He will be with you as you go, and with you as you stay. Madrid? Back to London? Could the US stuff, the politics, the writing, any or all of it, really be God? After all, the writing is in part a product of another unexpected Brighton moment on the last morning in 2008. And... ooooh... did anyone else notice Brussels being mentioned from the stage? So who knows where to from here. But I know this with new-found certainty: there is a cup-bearer in heaven, and He has not forgotten me.

And also, next year I will take a swimsuit.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Favourite things that begin with B...

Dear Bradley Whitford,

So you get through a book a week? This, this, is why I think you should be on Twitter. I would like to know what's on your bookshelf right now; what your favourite novels are; whether you ever well up when you read Barack Obama.

I'd like to know if you've read Let the Great World Spin and, like me, paused on page two, and then many, many more times, to think that if your writing ever gets sent out there into the great spinning world, this is what you would like it to sound like.

Come and join us.

Or you can write to me. That would be fine too.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Open letter to my hero

Dear Tom,

We both know that's not your name, but I don't want to get sued, so let's call you Tom, in memory of my last doomed love affair. Although, since you're American, let's pronounce it Tahm.

I am not asking you to marry me. I think the M word probably sends shivers up your spine these days. So let's start with a coffee, take it from there.

Because, here's the thing. I think you might find me valuable.

The more I read about you, the more I think it unfair, tragically unfortunate even, that you were born 20 years before me into a nation separated from mine by hundreds of miles, an ocean, and a common language, and into a destiny that will no doubt keep us apart.

You are passionate, articulate, intelligent, talented, generous. You love words. You make time for people.

You understand the importance of coffee.

You are a devoted father. I'm guessing the last thing you want is more kids, and that's fine. The whole pregnancy and birth thing freaks me out anyway. Let your children be the recipients of the reserves of love that I long to give.

You read a book a week. You write a thousand words a day.

Imagine the Scrabble games we could have.

I am not, or no longer, the kind of woman who needs constant entertainment, and so imagine rainy Sunday afternoons curled up together with our novels, interrupted only by coffee, fresh juice and perhaps some physical exercise. Imagine, too, the conversations: inspiring and energising as they so often are between bookworms.

We could take turns reading out our writing and help each other to find synonyms and new ways to convey old truths. We could work on a screenplay together, cast all our best friends in the movie, give Josh Malina the role of a lifetime. You could make me laugh with your witty one-liners and I could correct your spelling mistakes. Except that I have the feeling that you don't make any, apart from the usual American ones.

And when we're not doing any of that and you're not working - and I love your work, you know that - maybe we could run a political consultancy. Or campaign together to get Obama re-elected. You could teach me all there is to know about American politics. I think you would secretly quite enjoy that.

Can you honestly tell me that does not sound like fun?

Buy me that coffee and convince me.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Keywords, blogs, and yes, Bradley Whitford...

Time was 90% of people found my blog through two keywords, "Bradley Whitford" and "Janel Moloney". Shocking, I know. I don't know what happened there.

I'm happy to report that my readers have now diversified. Not only do I get references to, respectively, moustaches and pregnancies, I also get wider references to the West Wing and even, occasionally, to entirely different things.

On the moustache (and for the person who asked "why does Bradley Whitford look different"), briefly: yes, he has one, no, I don't like it, but yes, I understand his artistic choice of the accessory. I just hope he was joking in a recent interview when he said he was going to keep it.

On the pregnancy: Janel and her film composer husband now have a beautiful baby boy. This makes me smile for several reasons.

One, that I'm sure she is happy, and that's only fair after she spent so many years of my life bringing me joy. Although, I don't think she did it just for me, but when I eventually meet her I will verify that. Meeting a certain Other Famous Actress recently has made me realise I don't want to meet Janel unless she's going to be nice to me and allow me to gush at least a little about how much I love her, but that's another story.

Two, we have even more in common than I thought. "Is that possible?" I hear you cry, what with my blondeness, slimness, legginess and incredible talent for the perfoming arts. Ahem.

Aside from all those things which we do not share, there is one thing: when asked what she hoped for in season 5 of the West Wing: "Any chance to make out with Brad Whitford, that would be great". Incidentally, she reports that he is a great kisser. Well, yes.

Anyway, I digress. But we do have this in common: I once almost-dated a wannabe film composer. Okay, so I didn't marry him, and I think he's ended up working for a bank, but when I say almost-dated I mean that I was madly in love with him (I think it was mutual) and probably would have married him had circumstances been right, and he is a gifted musician who may still make it one day.

The other is that had I been a boy, I would have had the same name as Janel's son. Well, my mum told me that once, but then she's also told me I narrowly avoided being called Scarlet, and it turns out it wasn't really that narrow after all. Still, I'm sticking to my story, though I don't really see where the conversation could go after "I was nearly called that".

So, there you go. That's that story. You heard it here first, except probably not.

Sticking with the Brad theme for now, I think my favourite recent keyword was "Is Bradley Whitfield a Democrat?" I assume they mean him, and since they don't really know his name all that well, they can be forgiven for not knowing that the question is actually a far classier and more original version of "Is the sky blue?" or "Is the Pope a Catholic?". One which I may, in fact, start using, if nothing else because the sky is hardly ever blue where I live.

It also makes my little heart glad that people are typing in "Josh Malina Bradley Whitford" and, most excitingly, "Brad Whitford Josh Malina twitter comments", because I invented that particular genre of tweeting. Yes, the first time I ever had a tweet from Josh Malina (which had my jumping up and down with glee) was in response to one of mine. "Bradley Whitford," he said, "Is a hateful man whose career is receding faster than his hairline." Ouch, but very funny. People have been baiting him no end since, and I think it's distressing in the extreme that Brad is not on twitter to defend himself and fight back.

Anyway. There's plenty more where all that came from - like "email address for Janel Moloney" - oh, to have that information, which I would most certainly not broadcast. But I feel flattered that my blog was where Google thought people should come for that information.

It's late, though, so you'll have to wait - on the edge of your seats, no doubt.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Alphabet tweets

How, I wonder, does a Twitter trending topic start?

I loved last week's #lesserbooks thread, where people suggested titles like Harry Potter and the Chamber of Commerce, The Prunes of Irritation, or Modesty and Open-mindedness. It was a great Friday afternoon chuckle until the spammers got hold of it and clogged the thread. Grrr.

Anyway, who started it? Does anyone know?

And does anyone know how I can start my own? Because here is a game I think we can all play. Today, in the middle of Gent, I mentally updated my Facebook status to "Claire is aching for American adventure". Then I thought - wow, look at that alliteration. Maybe I should go through the alphabet. Creative writing prompt, or something. Mostly, just a bit of fun.

So, if you want to join in, add a comment to this post, or perhaps tweet with the hashtag #alphabettweet... How are you feeling? Your aim is to tell us with at least three words that all start with the same letter, and you're allowed an extra one in there for good measure.

Aching for American Adventure
Buzzing with Belgian Battiness
Crazy about Colin's Co-star
Dreaming of Dating a Dude
Eternally, endlessly elegant (okay, a little poetic licence there...)
Fearful of foreseen failure
Garrulously Googling the Gorgeous Good Guys
Healthily Hopeful about Her Holidays
Inquistive about Important Issues

And all the way to Zzzzzzz .... I'm too tired for this right now. Will finish another day though. Night all.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Want to help with my book?

Dear readers of my blog,

I wondered if you'd be able to help me out with something. As you can't fail to have noticed, I'm writing a novel. I'd love to exchange emails or have coffee with any of the following people:

- a Brit in a relationship with an American
- someone who has worked or is working at an American Embassy (if it could be the one in Brussels, that would be fantastic), or really any Embassy; don't worry, I'm not going to ask you for state secrets!
- a jazz pianist
- someone who has sacrificed themselves in some way for love
- Brits who live in Brussels
- Americans who live in Brussels
- People who have a different nationality to their parents', and feel fine about that
- Belgians who have lived in the UK all their life (that may be like finding that proverbial needle, but anyway...)
- non-Americans who feel drawn to live in the US (though, I can probably just talk to myself on that one!)

Thank you!

Claire :)

Dilemmas of a writer: pen names

I have a dilemma.

I'm soon to start entering short stories for competitions. I already have a writer's blog, and a Facebook page. This is not because I am spending more time thinking about being published than I am about working on my novel. No. Because that would be disobeying the wisdom of Bradley Whitford:

Want to write more than you want to be a writer. Life is too challenging for external rewards to sustain us. The joy is in the journey.

And also because, I do actually love writing. I don't always love it when I sit down. There are moments when I fling my pen down in frustration; sentences I start over and over again; things I just can't work out how to describe so they come alive; characters who refuse to be distinctive; emotions that are hard to put into words.

But usually about thirty minutes in, sometimes a lot more, and sometimes never, there comes that moment: the writer' high. It stays with me all day. Runners are probably best placed to understand what it is. It makes me want to continue writing, and it inspires me to come back again and again.

So mostly I think about writing. But at some point, I'm going to have to settle the issue of my pen name. (I've never been that happy with my own surname, not least because it's difficult to spell correctly.) I currently have one that consists of my own first name and a borrowed surname. I'm happy with it. But recently I've been pondering using a different first name - something that might flow better. Something like Anna or Melissa. (Donna may be taking certain obsessions a little far.)

Here's the thing, though. If people know me as, say, Amy Scott (which was my pen name in my teens, but I'm ditching that one, or at least for now), then Amy is the name that I'll have to respond to, assuming there are things like interviews and book signings,, and that would feel odd, because I'm not used to doing that. I would feel a fraud. Just changing my surname wouldn't do that; I've spent half my life imagining myself with different ones anyway. But somehow changing my first name feels like changing the essence of me, and I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that.

Although, in a way, it's no different from acting, is it? I can re-invent myself, slip into a new persona, which could be fun. Oddly, I would have no qualms whatsoever about replying to an email under a different name. But face to face? I don't know.

Any writers out there? What do you do about this?

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Reality check

Back in the eighties, yes, the eighties, a little TV programme called Neighbours arrived on the BBC.

My life would never be the same again.

For the non-Brits and the desperately young, let me explain: it was (and, unbelievably, still is) an Australian soap opera based on one street, Ramsay Street, in the fictional Melbourne suburb of Erinsborough. And back then, it was incredibly tame, discounting the haircuts, which were horrendous. It starred the then-unknown Kylie Minogue and her on-screen boyfriend, Jason Donovan.

Except, oh happy day! My ever-knowledgeable friend Philippa came to stay with me and told me "they're married in real life, you know". The fairy tale was coming true! The on-off romance was permanently on, off screen. So exciting.

I was ten. It was forgivable.

Also forgivable was the fact that Philippa had got a little confused and Jason and Kylie never were actually married as such. But they were together - or at least, according to Between the Lines, Jason's recentish autobiography whose terrible ghostwriter has a predilection for the word "for". "Because" will do fine most of the time! Anyway, that's beside the point.

I owed it to myself to read it, you see. Because twelve-year-old me (yes, this obsession lasted a while) was in love with Jason. I even prayed semi-regularly for him to become a Christian so that I could marry him. (Since there was obviously nothing else standing in the way.)

Luckily for my mental health and my mother's phone bill, there was no twitter or facebook or livejournal, there were no yahoo groups, not even any internet to speak of.

Twelve-year-old me spent several years desperate to visit Australia and learning everything she could about Jason and Kylie and Melbourne and Neighbours. She may even have dreamed of living there herself, being on the show, who knows what went on in her head.

Ahem. Of course since I am now all grown up I do not indulge in any such behaviour.

Okay. Some of it I do. But I do not expect, say, Bradley Whitford and Janel Moloney to be together in real life just because they had amazing chemistry on the West Wing. Had I known that Janel was married (and few people did until recently; she's got to be one of the most elusive famous people in the world), I would certainly not have entertained the thought for even a hundredth of a second, despite the photos of them together as real people and the quotes that are still kicking around the internet suggesting that they were never exactly repulsed by the idea of having to kiss each other. I'm glad that Janel is seemingly so happy and I really do hope that Brad will be again one day, too. Heck, I'd even be willing to help him out with that one. Even despite the moustache.

(On a serious note, this interview of his now ex-wife Jane Kaczmarek made me sincerely wish they could work things out. I was so impressed with her - such dignity, grace and kindness.)

I am not confused. Well, not about this: Bradley Whitford is not Josh Lyman. But I will admit that this piece comparing the two may have been the initial trigger to the transfer of my affections from Josh, who is a fictional character, to Brad, who may as well be, because let's face it, I don't know what he's really like.

Or do I? If sites like eHarmony insist you can get to know people through reading profiles and exchanging emails, then surely reading interview after interview, and speaking to people who have met him, gives me some idea of the kind of person he is. Don't they? Who knows? I feel I know him a little. I feel I certainly know him enough to accept the offer of coffee should it ever be forthcoming.

So when I talk about Brad, I'm not talking about Josh. (Nor, incidentally, am I being disrespectful or implying close personal friendship by using his first name. It seems kinder and warmer to me, and when people use just my surname, it makes me want to smack them; I'm not sure why.) I'm talking about the Bradley Whitford I feel I know something about. When I say I want to marry him, it's shorthand for I'd like to meet him, I'd like us to become friends, I'd like us to fall in love, then, if all of those things work out and he shaves off his moustache, I'd like to marry him. What can I say, I love fairy stories. You know, ordinary girl marries handsome actor and lives happily ever after. Writes a book about it called "Find Me Valuable".

But of course that's all it is. A fairy story.

It's just that I'm not ten anymore, so perhaps it's less forgivable.