The End of Orange?

We went to Smiggle yesterday, and all the orange product was shunted away into a corner, and it was 60% off. Call me suspicious, but my first thought was, I hope they're not phasing out orange...

My second thought was, oh, good, we can stock up on some cheap orange stuff for someone in our house whose favourite colour is orange.

IF it's true, and Smiggle are planning to stock orange product no more, then I'm sad. The orange range, adorned with lions (and sometimes robots) was relatively gender-neutral, bright and cheery. Removing the orange product entrenches the stark gender division in the rest of the store, with pink/purple/pale blue on the girly side, and stark black and green on the boys' side (just in case you're a girl who likes green, the green range has been coded "not for girls" by the inclusion of tough skull-and-crossbone motifs, soccer balls, and boys playing guitars).

Why are there no yellow or red ranges in Smiggle? Too hard to code as "male" or "female"? Why not put animals on them, or fruit, or balloons?

I'm sure Smiggle would say (IF it's true) that the orange range probably sold less than the traditional "girly" colours. Maybe it was seen as too boyish for most girls, and too girly for most boys. But its removal just takes away another option for those kids who aren't that interested in stark gender signals -- and kids, like mine, who just like orange.



As far as my writing is concerned, I've always been a bit of a lone wolf. I'm shy about sharing my work in progress. I've never belonged to a writing group. I feel slightly baffled by those acknowledgments in the backs of novels that thank people for reading first drafts. Huh? You showed a first draft to an actual reader? Before it was a real book? Crazy, man!

So I was pretty nervous, as well as excited, at the idea of co-writing a YA novel with someone else, even if that someone else was a good friend and someone whose writing I love and respect enormously. Actually, that's probably exactly why I was so nervous! But the Girlfriend Fiction series needed a title at short notice, and Penni Russon and I offered to step into the breach.

We ended up producing Dear Swoosie at record speed. We sat at my dining table and threw around some ideas, then refined them with lots of emails and phone calls, until we'd nutted out a proper chapter outline and worked out our respective characters: flaky, self-proclaimed psychic India for me; smart, brittle Poppy for Penni. We'd agreed early that the story would be written in two voices, in alternating chapters; but we didn't realise we'd end up with four voices, because the middle chunk of the book is an exchange of letters between the girls' two mothers, Sarah and Mandy, which we wrote parallel with the main story.

But of course, if you're writing about two characters who are thrown together and gradually become friends, you can't just write your own person. It wasn't till I sat down to actually write the first India chapter that it dawned on me that I'd have to write dialogue for Poppy too. Yikes! I was a bit scared of Poppy. It was daunting to put words into her mouth, and then offer up those words to Poppy's creator… Penni and I gave each other editorial control over each other's characters, in case we didn't feel comfortable with words or actions that the other writer had given them; but I don't think we ever needed to exercise it. Penni did chide me once (deservedly) because I had accidentally left Poppy out of a crucial conversation toward the end, and I corrected some minor technical errors in a tarot reading, performed by India but described by Poppy. But otherwise the process was very smooth.

I wrote the first chapter in a google document, and emailed Penni to tell her when it was ready. Then she would get back to me with any comments or questions, and then a few days later, there would be an email from her to say that her chapter was up. We wrote fast, because we knew that the other person was waiting; but we couldn't prepare too far ahead, even sticking to our chapter outline, because there were always little details about the way the other had resolved a situation, lines of unexpected dialogue, unanticipated poignant moments, that would affect how the next installment unfolded. It was a perfect mixture of surprise and security, knowing where the story was headed, but never knowing what the scenery would look like along the way (or what might jump out of the bushes!) In retrospect, it kept the writing very fresh; it kept us on our toes. It was almost like living out the story while we were writing it.

In keeping with that feeling, we found that we had to sort of stay in character during our dealings with each other. We almost stopped talking or emailing, except for Swoosie stuff. One day we went op-shopping together, and Penni pointed out that the clothes I'd bought really belonged to India (eg a long purple velvet skirt… now in the dress-up box! Oh well…) When Mandy and Sarah had their big falling-out, and we had to write each other emotional letters explaining why we couldn't be friends any more, Penni and I upset ourselves so much we had to jump on the phone to check: 'We're okay, aren't we?' My stomach churned; I didn't sleep well for a few days. It had all become a bit too real…

But overwhelming, my memories of writing Dear Swoosie are of how much fun it was to share the creation of the story, the making-up-ness, with someone else. I would check my emails twenty times a day to see if Penni had sent the next chapter yet, and when it came I would read it and double up laughing. When the whole novel was done, Penni and I feverishly planned a whole series of Swoosie sequels: India going in search of her long-lost father, Poppy and India travelling overseas, Poppy and India starting university, moving into a share-house…

Maybe we will still write them one day.


Writing Blackadder

Not long ago, we bought the final series, Blackadder Goes Forth, the one set during the First World War, having realised that neither Michael nor I had ever seen the whole thing, despite Michael being such a WWI buff and me being such a Brit-com addict. Also, we reasoned, it would be educational for the girls… (And at least one of them loved it, and caught up with seasons two and three on iView, or maybe it was Youtube.)

So having been reminded how clever and funny Blackadder was, when I saw this book at the library I couldn't resist it. And it was, on the whole, an interesting read, though slightly burdened in places with a weight of crushing detail about the careers and relationships and true histories of everyone who ever walked onto the Blackadder set. (It was sad, and disconcerting, to read about the late lamented Rik Mayall in the present tense.)

But there was heaps to enjoy. I liked the story about the day that Rowan Atkinson stepped out of the dressing-room in full Elizabethan regalia for the first time, and the women in the studio were taken aback, and murmured to each other, 'Wow… he's actually quite, you know, sexy…' which was exactly the way I felt about Elizabethan Blackadder, too! Something about the combination of the ruff, the pearl earring and the curled lip just worked for Rowan Atkinson the way nothing else ever quite has…

And there were juicy details about the writing process. Just about every actor in the ensemble was also a writer, and they all felt they had something helpful to contribute to the script, which could be agonising. Apparently the character of Captain Darling was originally a colourless, flat character called Cartwright and Tim Mcinnerny complained that even his name was boring; it was someone's suggestion, during rehearsals, that he should be called 'Darling' which brought the character to full, twitching, resentful life.

It was a reminder of how much fun, and how productive, collaborative writing can be. Hm, perhaps there's a blog post in that!



My clever younger daughter made this iPhone cover for me. She found a Youtube tutorial to give her the basic shape, but she made up the rainbow pattern all by herself. It's a fantastic cover - light, bright and flexible, and if you drop it, it bounces! (I haven't dropped it from a great height though…)

It took three days to make, and she was quite apprehensive before it came off the loom, in case it all unravelled before our eyes (we have had previous catastrophes with fancy bracelets); this was the most complicated thing she's tried to make, and the most nerve-wracking. But it was extracted from the loom without incident, and it works perfectly. She was very proud of herself, and so she should be.