Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Concerning An Ancient Way Over The Hills, And Cunning Transportation of De Book

Well what a lot of fun we've had with the book signings! The O'Brien Press simply could not believe that so many people in America, Canada, Australia and other far off lands wanted personally signed copies. This before De Book has even reached Amazon.com! I don't think it had ever happened to them before, and they are thinking that clearly they need to pay a lot more attention to abstruse topics like 'blogging', 'knitting', 'Ravelry' and the like.

Sarah came down from Dublin with two boxloads and as we signed, I carefully ticked each one off the list I'd been keeping. (We had to have that double check, because O'Briens wouldn't know who wanted the personal inscription unless you'd told me as well.) Then we put a sticky note inside each individual copy so that there was no chance of one going to the wrong address.

Of course even as Sarah headed off again, more emails were coming in with requests from more lovely people who had ordered from the publishers but wanted an inscription too. We actually chased after her, and signed another one as she got a puncture fixed at the local garage, and the garage staff were all delighted. But then she was definitely gone (I know you think Ireland is so tiny that Cork and Dublin are only a hop, skip and jump apart, but believe me it's a good three hours' drive and that's before you hit the Dublin traffic, so it's not to be undertaken lightly). For the next batch we had to think of something else.

Enter Tall Fair Sitar Player, who happened to be coming down from Dublin on the Tuesday and going back up again on the Wednesday. I'm not giving you his real name because he might be embarrassed, but he is sort of part of the publishing family. And yes, he does both teach and play the sitar. Sigh...

Look, we can't just sign all these on the back of the car outside this locked car park, can we? Yes we can, there are no traffic wardens about.

(The Music Department of Cork University is situated in the delightfully-named area of Sunday's Well, but the narrow roads were never intended for heavy traffic and parking here is really at a premium.)

Settle down, settle down. I'll convey your good wishes to him, right? But he's spoken for, he's spoken for...

Anyway, we have now set up one of those particularly Irish arrangments known as 'going with the milk and coming back with the bread', ie that whoever is coming south from Dublin will bring additional supplies, and whoever is going back will take the personally signed books. In the meantime, I email their very helpful girl in charge of sending out orders, so that she knows to hold one until the properly ascribed text arrives. So if anybody else wants to order an individually inscribed copy for someone's Christmas present, make sure to tell me as well, so that I can set the wonderfully circumlocutory mechanism in motion. No, we haven't tried a donkey and cart yet, but I would love to. The next batch is heading up to the capital city with our editor tomorrow (Wednesday) morning. MaryJo, Kira, your copies are in there, so they should be on their way to you soon!

That's quite enough about De Book. Let's have some knitting content. Knitting has been continuing - in fact it was ideal for picking up and putting down while all this was going on.

Here's a little vest made on the knitting machine with Noro Silk Garden Sock. Two strips, joined together at the back, some little buttons for fun, and a stockinet strip (the machine won't do i-cord, but the strip curls under just fine) to finish it off. Good use for the long colour changes of Noro.

Fell madly in love with Thu's Kimono Vest when I saw it on Ravelry and determined to make it myself forthwith. As in, bought the pattern there and then, downloaded, printed out, found the yarn and needles, and cast on. All this at midnight!

Worked obsessively on it for two days and nights, in the intervals of book signings, and Sophy Wackles got a bit upset (she was upset anyway at all this to-ing and fro-ing of book reps and sitar players, but my attention being focused on something else was the final straw).

She had been sitting moodily on DH's lap, watching me work on the by now cumbersome project, and then, determinedly, climbed up on to the table, shuffled across, and lay down right on top of the knitting. Isn't that exactly like a cat? They can't stand your attention being diverted from them for a moment, but I hadn't known a dog show this annoyance before. I remonstrated, and said I couldn't really work double moss stitch with a heavy lump of fur lying on top of the piece.

Don't care. Staying here till things get back to normal.

Managed to finish the vest anyway. Isn't it delightfully simple and chic? Can't think why everyone isn't making this one.

With the onset of autumn, vests are definitely on the knitting agenda. Two down, and several more in the planning process. The Jane Thornley group on Ravelry are having an Autumn KAL on any one of her patterns, and I'm going to do a variation of the Sunset Bolero.

I've been making up some new Samhain kits for those who requested them, and will use one of them myself for the new JT vest.

This is the Samhain one, in the traditional fall colours, which would do just fine for the vest, but my mind right now is running on deep green woods and mosses, so I think I'll go for the Secret Forest colourway.

Can't wait for October 1 to start knitting this.

Yes, I'm getting to the ancient way over the hills right now! And it's all linked in together really, now that I think about it - De Book, and the green secret forest places and the old traditions and everything. Because the publishers have tentatively suggested the possibility of another book, this time on the old Irish faery traditions. Not just looking at the stories as we know them now, but going behind them to see where they really might have originated, how perceptions and attitudes changed over the centuries, and how today's funny Little People might once have been the ancient gods and goddesses of the landscape. A fair bit of research in there, but can't think of a nicer subject, can you?

And it so happened that last weekend was Gougane Sunday, the late September day when, for hundreds, probably thousands of years, people gather at the lake in Gougane Barra. Originally I suspect they came to venerate the spirits peopling the source of the mighty river Lee in this strange cirque or bowl in the hills, but in later time Christianity took over, and now Mass is celebrated in the little church on the island. What interested us though was the fact that as well as jamming the one narrow roadway into the hidden valley, people traditionally come in by the old routes over the hills and mountains. These are the paths and tracks that have been used since prehistory, and on this one day they are used again. Suddenly we needed to be there. And early was a good idea, not just for parking, but (whisper it) to enjoy some of the cafe's legendary baking as well.

We were tucked up comfortably in the old bar, enjoying coffee and freshly baked scones, when one of the family came in and pointed to one of the mountain crests towering high over the lake.

The first pilgrims had reached the top already! They would have left the valleys of Kerry several exhausting hours earlier. Refreshments forgotten, we dashed out and up a rough side road where we knew they would come in.

DH found a useful gate to lean the camera on while waiting for them to come into view.

I don't know why it should be so moving, to see those tiny figures in the wild landscape, making their way down the old mountainside route, but it was. I felt very strange indeed, witnessing an age-old tradition still reverenced today.

Sure 'twas only a bit of a stretch of the legs, said Timothy, from whose farm this group had set off. And 'twasn't too bad on the top, although you'd have to watch your footing. And then he was off again, heading down the road to Journey's End with his travelling companions.

They would all have dearly liked a sup of something, I would think, after that gruelling trek, but custom is custom, and Mass came first.

The tiny church on the island isn't very old, but there are ruins of a 17th century monastery with monks' cells there too. However, people have been coming to this hidden valley and mysterious lake around the time of the autumn equinox since back in the mists of history, to venerate far more ancient spirits. I'm glad we were there to see it still happening in today's world.

This is far older than Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, than Santiago de Compostela. This is older than time.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Of Bright Mornings, Blasket Islands, and (of course) De Book

Honestly, what a lovely lovely lot of people you all are! I never expected such an outpouring of good wishes on the publication of De Book. I knew that we were a strong circle of friends, reaching out to each other from around the globe, but the friendliness and very evident delight you felt in its publication warmed my heart. And yes, brought tears to my eyes. DH, accustomed though he is to the camaraderie and close-knit ties of the blogging world, was taken aback - and as for the publishers, O'Brien Press, they were flabbergasted. I think they're going to have to take the world of blogging a little more seriously from now on.

Listen now, those of you who have ordered directly from O'Brien Press, this is for YOU. I've asked them to hold all your orders until a bundle of books can be delivered down to us for personal inscriptions thereon, which should be within the next few days. BUT - and again, BUT - they don't know which orders those are, so you will have to tell me as quickly as possible. Email, private message on Ravelry, carrier pigeon (as long as it's the Concorde species) or runner and cleft stick (Olympic standard only), as long as you let me know. WITH the name and address given on the order, since sometimes I only know you by your blog name. Oh, and if you want it dedicated to someone other than yourself, tell me that too. And anyone else thinking of having your copy sent from Ireland, and wanting it signed, do it now and let me know. I would simply hate for someone to be expecting a signed copy and not get it. (Jeanne, and Sally, I have you on the list, never fear!)

It's nice to order direct from the publisher. Not only does it support a small independent house in a world that is increasingly run by gigantic conglomerates, it also makes Ireland feel important and loved. I know they won't overcharge on international posting. (In fact I think it's usually far less expensive to send something from here to the Far Beyond than it is in the opposite direction. We go strictly by weight, whilst the rest of you tend to have basic charges, whether it's a fallen leaf or a gold ingot that's being posted.)

Angeluna was the first to post a review on Amazon! Way to go, you can tell that woman's a professional! Mind you, she'd advance ordered from O'Briens before the ink was even dry on the books. Clearly carries a field marshal's baton in her knapsack. She tells me the most ooh'd and ah'd over pictures among her friends were of the pathway through the cornfield to Kilcrea Castle and the old forgotten road through the Gearagh.

We went down to that exact spot early the other morning, to tell it all about the book and how it had a starring role therein. It was quietly pleased, and whispers rustled up and down the old road all the time we were passing underneath the interlacing branches of hazel and willow. 'Did you hear? Did you hear? We're in a book. Yes, the old road and the old ways, and everything. We're not forgotten at all, so we're not. Everyone will know about us now.'

It was a beautiful, quiet early morning. A flock of Connemaras (well, most of them were dapple grey, although I see now that none of those in this picture are) were grazing in some rough pasture by the water. Just look at this pony's perfect reflection. You can see his muzzle hasn't touched the surface yet, can't you - there isn't a ripple.

The mute swans were floating serenely among the ancient tree roots, only clue to the lost riverine forest that once shaded this whole area, making it a place of mystery and magic (OK, yes, and moonshine-making too).

Even Sophy Wackles wanted to sit there for the day, and watch the mist rise over the reedsBut there was work to do, and it's been a busy few days. So much so that on Sunday, DH being out on a job, I called a rest break and took the selfsame Sophy down to the far far west, to visit one of our absolute favourite cafes. You could well call it the Cafe at the End of the World, since it's right out on Slea Head, beyond Dingle.

Getting there is definitely half the fun. The road gets narrower and narrower, and you'll find sheep wandering along the verges, taking their own sweet time, while you keep one eye out for the first glimpse of the legendary Blasket Islands on the horizon.

I love the poignant history enshrined in these old grey drystone walls, winding right up to the top of the high hills. They hold the memory of pre-Famine times when the population of Ireland was far higher than it is now, and every scrap of land, however poor, was desperately needed to grow food. Today the people have gone, but the walls still remain, echoes of the past.

There was no time to visit the prehistoric beehive huts, nor yet the newly restored Famine Cottages. They will have to wait for another day. We finally got to Dunquin and Sophy had a little walk down the lane before I headed into the Pottery for that long-awaited coffee and fresh scone.

Here's the view from the window. A little oddly-tinted perhaps (the window glass has to withstand some pretty strong storms in winter) but you can see why it has to be a top contender for the Coffee-With-A-View award, don't you? That's The Bishop lying there in state on the right out in the Atlantic, also known as Inis Tuaisceart, one of the smaller Blaskets.

Wasn't time for a trip out to the islands either, though their lure was as irresistible as always, but in any case there was a strong wind getting up, and you do not, repeat, do not try going out to the Blaskets when the wind is up. Bad idea. And the tide was really really low too.

The small bit of road you can see in the foreground twists down to the tiny pier where you embark for the islands. But on Sunday the tide had gone so far out that the entire beach was exposed. The clear colour of the sand shows that this doesn't happen every day. I couldn't tell if that group by the water were waiting hopefully for a curragh or holding a secret ceremony. They were a long way down and ours was a long road home.

Here is the driver's view going the other way on Slea Head. In fact I took this picture from the window as I waited in a lay-by for another car to get by. It doesn't do to be in too much of a hurry when you're out at the end of the world.

Edited, later in the day, to add: Hey, the O'Brien Press have added an interactive link on the web page, so you can browse the first few pages of De Book, and, and, AND -

Through the Cornfield to Kilcrea Castle is there! Go look!

Aren't they poppets? Oh, and they've posted your review from Amazon on their page too, Angeluna! I think they simply couldn't resist such a lovely piece.

Monday, September 06, 2010

De Book Is Published, De Book is HE-E-E-E-RE!

At last, the happy occasion! Oh frabjous day, callooh, callay indeed! West Cork: A Place Apart, comes into the world today, September 6, 2010.

We are so proud, you wouldn't believe it. Yes, we've both had literary children elsewhere in times past, but this is our very first one together, and it couldn't be more welcomed and loved. There is something very special about working on a book together, each knowing exactly what the other means, what he or she is aiming for. Mind you, there were plenty of 'Oh no, I don't like the way you've written that at all', and 'No, no, I wanted the landscape to say this, not say that!', but overall there were very few difficulties. And we had a really superb publishing house in O'Brien Press who kept us going when we lost confidence, didn't feel like it, were sick of the whole long drawn out process. 'It'll be beautiful,' they said calmly and confidently, and weren't they right?

Here's a bit of truth behind the picture on the bookflap, just for you, because I know you enjoy insider information.

The general brown tinge to the landscape might hint that it wasn't exactly midsummer when we took this, but in fact it was an utterly freezing day at the beginning of February last. We'd been told we simply had to get the author shots in right away, so down to our favourite place in the world we went, Brow Head, overlooking the Crookhaven peninsula. (This was where Richard lived when he first came to Ireland from France at the age of 16, it was here we met, here our parents, now no longer with us, got to know each other, here many of our fondest memories are placed. Who would have thought that after all the intervening years, all the different corners of the world, we would after all find ourselves here again where we started, publishing our first book together?)

Oh but it was a gaspingly cold day, with a wind that would take the horns off a goat. The kind of day that froze your face the second you got out of the car. And we (because DH is a perfectionist) had to crash our way through gorse bushes and brambles, lugging tripods and lenses, until we found the perfect spot.

No, of course we didn't bring another cameraman. You think DH would allow someone else to take his picture? Look more closely. His right hand is holding a camera, his left is pressing a remote control. Cool, huh?

Trouble was, he wasn't prepared to doff his heavy coat for the picture, no matter how much I nagged. 'Quick', I cried through chattering teeth. Just take it off, throw it out of the frame, and it will all be done in a second. But he refused. Me, I got acute hypothermia during the few seconds it took to capture the picture. There are a heavy padded gilet, a thick jacket, a woolly doubleknit hat and a scarf all out of sight there, and they went on again, double quick.

All your favourite places (as I know from your lovely comments on this weblog) are in the book, and a few you haven't discovered yet, whether in person or from the comfort of your armchair, wherever you are.

The cool green woodlands of Glengarriff, where you can wander for hours amidst moss and ferns and ancient trees, meeting only the spirits that protect such a lovely place.

Galley Head on its dramatic promontory, again with a guardian spirit in the shape of that black cat watching the camera so keenly. This was considered for a cover shot, but in the end it was thought that it looked too posed. Cat owners, can you imagine a feline agreeing to pose obligingly for a photoshoot? No way. That moggie was there because it was his territory and we were the intruders.

And of course the strange unearthly Cailleach Beara herself, the old Hag who stands on a lonely peninsula beyond Castletownbere, forever watching and waiting for her lover to return from the sea. She's the subject of a very famous ancient Irish poem - here's a scrap from the translation by Lady Gregory in 1919:

It is of Corca Dubhine she was, and she had her youth seven times over,and every man that had lived with her died of old age, and her grandsons and great-grandsons were tribes and races. And through a hundred years she wore upon her head the veil Cuimire had blessed. Then age and weakness came upon her and it is what she said:

It is riches you are loving now, it is not men; it was men we loved in the time we were living... When my arms are seen it is long and thin they are; once they used to be fondling, they used to be around great kings...

Whatever time of year you visit the Cailleach, you will find little scraps of heather, twisted wreaths of reeds, coins, beads, placed in and around her enigmatic presence. People from all over the world come here, sometimes perhaps simply to see a tourist sight, but almost inevitably finding themselves drawn to leaving a gift, a sign, a token. The old ways are still very strong in this part of the world.

I hope people will love this book as much as we loved creating it. Oh I'm so thrilled. I keep looking it up again, on Amazon.com, on other sites, trying to imagine I'm somebody else discovering it quite by chance. What an idiot! You'd think it was the first baby ever born, wouldn't you?

Listen, if I don't catch up on Knit Nation and tell you about the fun we had there, I'll never do it. It was way back at the end of July, for heaven's sake, and here we are in September!

The next few pictures were taken on a tiny little camera because of weight issues on flights, so please forgive if they are not up to the usual standard.

I met up with Ros and Linda, two old friends from Sock Madness. Linda and I have met at several events before now, but it was the first time ever coming face to face with Ros in real time. Isn't it funny how blogging and Ravelry can make you such close friends when you've never actually met?

And Chrispindle and I had a wonderful night wandering through the deserted streets of Kensington hunting for a restaurant. No, really, it was wonderful, although we didn't realise it at first. Long quiet roads, only the swish of expensive cars passing by. Trees rustling gently. The Albert Memorial by moonlight. The Albert Hall all lit up for performance, with just a few black-tied ushers hovering in the foyer. A splendid palace-like town house with Rolls Royces pulling up outside and footmen ushering in elegantly clad guests. And us pottering happily along the pavement talking of everything under the sun. Yes, we did find a lovely little French restaurant eventually, and had a very nice time there. But the whole evening was part of the experience.

Took a lace class with Anne Hanson and that was wonderful too. Anne is another old friend from early on in blogging, and it was simply great to meet her in person. She's a pretty fine teacher, making everything seem so simple and obvious, even down to the difference the placing of a yarnover can make in a design. Learned a lot during that hot morning session (wouldn't you know there was a heatwave in London that weekend). And Anne, it was lovely to meet you. (I was the troublesome one out there on the periphery who kept talking.)

There were some wonderful stands at Knit Nation, selling all kinds of desirables, but the queues outside the door at eleven each morning had only one preliminary goal in mind - the Wollmeise stall at the furthest end of the hall. When the door was finally opened, there was a stampede - only word for it, and I should know, I was there - all the way down those resounding wooden floors, until a hundred or more eager yarnhunters arrived panting at the Wollmeise stand.

Bless her, she had brought absolutely tons of stuff over from Germany, and the overall effect was one of dazzlement, of confusion, of total inability to choose. You found yourself darting from the blues and greens to the scarlets and oranges, from laceweights to sockweights, and back again. All around were sighs and oohs and clamberings and pilings into arms... we were very courteously offered carrier bags to stockpile our choices.

In the end, the choice was too much. I limited myself to just four. No, don't chorus in horror, honestly, if you'd been there you'd have been confuzzled too. (I'm not going to tell you how much I paid later on for a skein of Fleece Artist Seasilk.)

These ladies didn't have any such confusion issues. They were having a wonderful time, going over their purchases and making sure they hadn't missed out on any utterly unmissable colourways before finally heading off.

My good friend Sarah from Babylonglegs was there, with her divinely dyed fibres and yarns. 'Why don't you have these for sale online?' I demanded. And of course she does. Has had for ages. Why don't I check these things instead of jumping to conclusions?

The adorable Andy from Bluefaced.com was sharing a stall with Jeni of Fyberspates (the only person I know who can master a sock knitting machine just by looking at it sternly). She was happily getting on with some knitting in between hordes of customers for her gorgeous hand-dyed yarns.

Bought several pairs of very good bamboo circulars in the smaller sizes, at exceptionally good prices, from Atomic Knitting. And one of those extended crochet hooks (Tunisian?) with a cable to it, just in case I feel like refreshing my memory on that technique sometime. I shall definitely get more supplies from her online - the bamboo has been tested and come out with flying colours. Finally fell for the siren song of The Enchanted Sole - who could resist a book which shows pearl-decorated socks on the cover? - and darling darling Sandy, who had used the excuse of Knit Nation to take a whole week away from Sweden, actually gave me her copy of The Intentional Spinner. Sandy, your sock machine awaits. We just need to be on the same land mass at the same time with motorised vehicles, right?

When the credit card refused to come out for even one more airing, I called it a day and set off for a little place I know down near Covent Garden.

Now there aren't that many little places down near Covent Garden. Most places there are large and brash and designed to separate tourists from their money. But Treadwells of Tavistock Street is a delightful little anachronism - or, rather, it's a delightful little relic of former days in old London, when small independent shops were the norm, not the exception.

It's a magical bookshop - that is, it exists to supply the practitioners of magic, Wicca, what you will - and surely must have provided some of the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books. Dark, mysterious, peaceful and utterly welcoming, it positively invites you to browse, relax on a battered old sofa or armchair, read this ancient text, discover the latest research on that topic, even stock up on herbs, frankincense, oils, get a new set of rune stones... I spent hours here. Outside the roar of central London on a broiling Saturday, inside, the calm of the old ways. Gave me the energy I needed to face the Tube, the train, the airport security, before at last, thankfully, arriving home to the welcoming trees and green seclusion of Inshinashingane.

What, no knitting, you cry? Well, with all this going on you'd have forgiven me for not working a single stitch, but in fact it's been busy on that front too. With The Enchanted Sole, a skein of Seasilk, and an Atomic Knitting bamboo circular to hand, I cast on for the Tristan und Isolde socks before even leaving Knit Nation. The original pattern doesn't have pearls on it, but that was clearly an oversight. Celtic Memory is into pearls at the moment and they are going on everything. Pictures when there is something worth showing.

So why, given that Knit Nation was at the end of July, and this is early September, are the socks not completed? Well, shawl-mania hit this corner of West Cork rather hard recently. Blame the Ravelers who run 10 Shawls in 2010, Small Shawl Lovers, Folklore and Fairytales, and other irresistible groups. At the moment, can't seem to stop making shawls.

Here is Shaelyn, helping me to pick blackberries, as befits a sensible shoulder shawl worked in Shetland yarn.

Here is Annis, in a heavy silk which I overdyed with blues from the original basic turquoise.

And here is Pamuya in progress. Using my own hand-dyed merino/tencel fingering weight for this, and the sampler-style stitchery is a delight to work. At least another dozen patterns waiting in the wings. When shawl mania strikes, it strikes hard. Already I have ideas for some new shawl kits to tempt those not already struck down...

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go coo over a little bookbaby cot.