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The book-lover’s Christmas tree

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This Christmas tree was fun to make – finding the right size and thickness of books, varying the spine styles, and then decorating it. It’s far from an original concept – I first saw the idea here (where there are lots of other creative ideas too).

I’ve now wrapped some lights around it too, which gives it an even more festive look. What is Christmas, really, without some fun DIY?

Finally, and importantly, to all of you who visit my blog:

I wish you a very happy Christmas!

~

 

 

 

 

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The 15 little daily things that make life good!

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“Dandelion Art – Perennial Moment” by papermoth on etsy.com. 

This is my personal list, but I’m sure there are many who will find it rings true for them too!

1. Waking up to discover I still have an hour left of sleep time.

2. Driving along my usual route and seeing beautiful trees and flowers and wild grasses.

3. Listening to one of my favourite songs and having a mad sing along.

4. Having one of the little people in my life hold up their arms to me to be picked up and held.

5. Having a good cup of coffee – and it must be a really GOOD cup – when I’m flagging.

6. Writing or reading something beautiful, creative, witty.

6. Stepping outside and feeling a beautiful breeze on a hot day, or the sun on a cold one.

7. Laughing.

8. Receiving an unexpected gift, compliment or kindness.

9. Getting stuck into a chore, like cleaning a cupboard, but finding my groove in doing it.

10. Driving home and seeing the big wire angels on the verge near my brother’s house lit up (a family puts them up every Christmas).

11. Having an unhurried Pinterest session.

12. Feeling I did something for someone else that made their life better, even if just a little.

13.  Sitting down in the evening to watch one of my favourite sitcoms or reality shows.

14. Having a hot shower or bath (this has got to be one of the best luxuries ever!).

15. Closing my eyes at night, knowing the world and I have no expectations of me for the next several hours.

I could of course add more, but I suspect lists of 15 get more reads than lists of say 22!

Do YOU have a favourite daily thing you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about it 🙂

Today’s Google image is of William Tell – who was he?

Today’s Google pic looks like this:

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Who can see an image like that and not be intrigued?

Briefly, William Tell is a Germanic folkloric character who was forced to shoot an apple off the head of his son because he (the father) had failed to bow in respect to a hat placed on a pole by the newly appointed Austrian reeve, Albrecht Gessler. (Other people’s children, hey?)

William of course managed the feat (he strikes me as being the German equivalent of Robin Hood – a stupendously gifted marksman having to deal with a ridiculous, power-crazed little overlord). Legend has it that William drew two arrows before shooting, because if he failed and hit his son he planned to use the second on himself.

Here’s a 1554 rendering of the legendary scene (notice His Excellency the Hat on the pole next to the ghoul-eyed son):

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~

Running to lose yourself, or is it to find yourself?

Nothing was to be heard, only the steady plea of the wind across the moor and the susurrus of the grasses closest to me. I knelt down on one knee, intent on listening to this raw environment but also needing refuge from the wind. My fleece was zipped up to my chin, and I could feel cold sweat sliding down my neck.

I had left the sheep farms well behind me to follow a path of heavy slabs that led across the crown of the mountain, past a line of lambing shelters and then on towards what appeared to be nothing but past-prime heather and dirt blending into mud. Tiny raindrops started to settle themselves onto my face as I knelt, but I didn’t turn back. This place – this rough expansive place that belonged entirely to me in that moment – was a place I wanted to store within me. I couldn’t rush it.

So I hovered there for insensible minutes, knowing it would all have to last me a very long time.

~

Megan’s UK diary: Summertime, and the living is easy at Newton-by-the-Sea

A poor woman from Manchester, on being taken to the seaside, is said to have expressed her delight on seeing for the first time something of which there was enough for everybody.

(Sir John Lubbock)

These are some photos from my visit to Newton-by-the-Sea in Northumberland.

View from up on the dunes:

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You know how folks in the West, when seeing an image of African children playing with a primitive ball on a dirt field or smiling over a slice of watermelon, are prone to say something like, ‘Ah, bless – see how happy they are with so little!’? I must say that travelling around the UK I find myself thinking things like, ‘Ah, look at them little British kiddies making the best of their cold, blustering summers to visit the beach!’

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A simple shot:

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I like the pattern of the water and the sand in this photo …

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In the photo below, it is as though someone thoughtfully placed this lifebuoy up on the hill expressly for the sake of photographers. It’s probably a clichéd pic in the opinion of experts, as it’s reminiscent of an emotional film finale where the fallen knight’s sword is stuck in the ground and the camera gives us a low-angle, sky-backdrop view, so that our hearts might soar to transcendent heights … , but I lapped it up with the freedom of the novice:

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Here we have a sparrow. I asked him to show me his right side …

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… and then I asked him to show me his left side. (He said he looks good from both sides.)

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This puts me in mind of these verses from Matthew 10:29-31:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Ah, how romantic …

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… unless that’s his mother. I really can’t tell.

A view of Dunstanburgh Castle:

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More about Dunstanburgh in a future post.

~

For more ‘Megan’s UK diary’  posts, go to The green spaces of Sheffield and Jane Austen & Edinburgh Castle at night.

For other photography posts, go to Edinburgh shows off and Buttercup view from Stirling Castle.

For a history and photography post, go to Haddon Hall (the perfect mediaeval castle & location for Jane Eyre).

Megan’s UK diary: Haddon Hall (the perfect mediaeval castle & location for Jane Eyre)

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Two Englishmen, having climbed the Matterhorn, were regarding the wonderful view that stretched before them.

‘Not half bad!’ commented one of them.

‘No,’ replied the other, ‘but you needn’t rave about it like a love-struck poet!’

I thought on this quote, having come across it only that morning, as I strolled around Haddon Hall. You see, Haddon Hall is WONDERFUL, and my thoughts were thus in the territory of superlatives and exclamation marks.

A mediaeval castle in the Peak District, Haddon Hall is a quintessentially Norman building, square and solid, believed to have been built in the C12th. It is a romantic castle, containing everything from the Middle Ages that delights us in today’s world: battlements, very low doorways, a chapel decorated to the hilt, wildly uneven flagstone floors, and I could go on, but you are getting the picture, aren’t you, clever reader?

Moreover, the family who own the Hall, the Manners (it has been in their family since the C16th), has thankfully not gone the common route of restoring it to within an inch of its life. There still isn’t a perpendicular anything, anywhere. Some of the stone steps are curved into almost non-existence in the middle as a result of centuries of footfalls, and the decaying wooden chests and ill-fitted windows have been left alone.

wish I had the capabilities of the love-struck poet ridiculed by the Englishman above, because the only words that presented themselves to me to describe Haddon Hall were words like lovely, outstanding, amazing, and truly wonderful. Bleugh! The frustration of living in a society where such words are regularly used to describe getting the parking spot you wanted or a tasty sandwich, meaning that when I want to really express that something is special, I can either go with one of them, and sound bland, thereby failing to capture the imagination of a hyperbole-drenched readership, or I can go all Italian and really do risk sounding like an overwrought poet whose been sniffing heavily on deadly nightshade. Not great options either of them.

I will have to satisfy myself with something very simple. I will say that, to the C21st tourist, the castle is perfection.

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The Long Gallery, with a mom in it. My mom, in fact.
Long galleries, apart from their other uses, were intended as places where residents could find exercise, no matter what the weather. Elizabethan ladies, moreover, didn’t expose their skin or clothes to sunshine, so they could either walk the gallery or I suppose do sit ups in their bedrooms?
Is anyone else put in mind of Bingley’s sister asking Elizabeth to take a turn around the room with her?

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A very impressive old tapestry, coupled with some fresh oranges to give the room a lived-in feel.

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The garden was bursting with summer flowers, and as such was delightful in the special way that only English gardens can be. During my visit there were English roses, day lilies, thistles, agapanthus lilies, nasturtiums, yellow daisies, deeply purple clematis, red-and-white fuschia, and too many others to list. It was a garden of every colour.

IMG_2011One of the most striking things when you stepped out into the garden was the abundance of white butterflies (also called cabbage whites). They were everywhere, as were the bumble bees and wasps. I’ve perhaps never seen such a ‘busy’ garden.

IMG_1933The Jane Eyre connection

I also rather enjoyed discovering the Jane Eyre connection with Haddon Hall. The 2011 Jane Eyre film adaptation with Mia Wasikowski and Michael Fassbender (how fussed are we really if Mr Rochester is decidedly good-looking this time round?) had Haddon Hall as Thornfield Hall.

I recognised the little pavilion where Rochester and Blanche Ingram play at keeping a feather in the air, the courtyard where Rochester drags Jane off to the church so they can marry, and the narrow stone bridge that leads to Thornfield Hall. The romance of the castle and its grounds are so well suited to the romance of Jane Eyre – a gold sticker for the film’s location manager, please!

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Tra la la … I’m never wearing my C19th gown at the right moment.

~

For more posts on castles and stately homes, go to:

Megan’s UK diary: Chatsworth House forever

Megan’s UK diary: Jane Austen and Edinburgh Castle at night

Lindisfarne – A Holy Island.

Megan’s UK diary: Jane Austen & Edinburgh Castle at night

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There’s so much going on at the Edinburgh Festival, and not only strictly-speaking Festival things, but also other events capitalising on the crowds that the Festival brings. Like the Jane Austen evening we stumbled upon that was being held by Charlotte Chapel, a church that can be found in the pretty pedestrian, bunting-lined Rose Street. Like pilgrims, we journeyed to Rose Street on Friday evening to attend the event, secure in the knowledge that any evening devoted to Austen would be a good one. We arrived, and, intriguingly, were among a crowd of women only.

While queuing to go in we were all given an Austen quiz to fill in, and from thinking I would dominate I was instead chagrined to realise I knew very few of the answers with any certainty. For example:

– Who can say what the title of Pride and Prejudice was originally going to be? Options: “First Impressions”, “Elizabeth and Darcy”, or “Pemberley”.

– Also, which actor prompted a phone call from the Jane Austen Society to the director to complain that he was too handsome to play his assigned role? Options: Greg Wise (Willoughby), Hugh Grant (Ferrars), or Colin Firth (Darcy).

(Answers at the end of the post.)

It was a small, intimate affair – maybe 100 of us, tops? – and I really enjoyed it. One lady played Jane, sitting at the desk in the picture above, and she would read aloud extracts from Jane’s letters to her sister, Cassandra, wherein Jane would introduce her latest book and explain the primary themes she addressed in it. Other women from Charlotte Chapel would then appear, dressed in regency costume, and read relevant extracts from the novels. Sometimes snippets from some of the TV/film adaptations were also shown. My only complaint is that they used the BBC Emma when wanting a scene from that story, and I can’t stand that version; the 1996 McGrath version is superior in every way, from casting to directing to editing to … well, yes, everything. Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam forever!

Some of the titbits that most struck me were:

– Jane was very concerned with showing a development in self awareness in her heroines, and often her lead males too, Elizabeth and Darcy being prime examples. Only Fanny Price didn’t really need a journey of self-realisation, but rather it was those around her, like Edmund, that needed to learn a thing or two about themselves.

– Of all her heroines, Jane liked Elizabeth the best. Me, I have more sympathy with Emma and Anne.

– Jane dreamt up the independent and wilful Emma in response to complaints from her readers that her last heroine, Fanny, was too much of a doormat.

At the very end, a 30ish, single lady from the church chatted about how Jane’s preoccupation with marriage was very understandable, given that women of that period could only find any kind of financial or practical security through a husband. She then asked why, as modern women, we are still as preoccupied with romance and marriage, since we no longer need it to be financially secure? She pointed to our desire to have a relationship with someone who will love us and meet all our needs. Jesus, she said, is the only one who can actually be that person for each of us.

Charlotte Chapel seemed a really lovely, motivated church, and I was glad to have visited. I really admire them.

Afterwards, we walked home, a stroll of at least an hour that took us first through Princes Street Gardens, then up and over the Mound, before dropping us down again alongside Bruntsfield Links and our little res. As a South African, I have to give a nod to the awesomeness that is a late evening stroll through the city without a care for safety. So, yes: a big nod to that.

This is the beautiful sight of the castle at dusk, as seen from Princes Street Gardens:

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Answers: “First Impressions” and Hugh Grant.

~

For more posts from “Megan’s UK diary”, go to Chatsworth House forever, The green spaces of Sheffield and Edinburgh shows off.

Megan’s UK diary: Edinburgh shows off

Edinburgh is beautiful. I visited it for just 24 hours a while back, but was sufficiently captivated (not a word I use lightly) that I have always maintained I will return. Now I am here for the Edinburgh Festival – lucky sausage that I am – and I am seeing it at its best; the streets are overflowing with all sorts of interesting people, the sun is shining (not warmly, but at least it is there), and the late evening hours are about pink, streaky clouds and expansive parks filled out with lounging, relaxed people.

This is the view from the university residence where I am staying. The photo was taken at about 9pm. I love the romantic architecture, the warmth of the brick face as lit by the last, low rays of the sun, and the pretty, broad leaves of the trees, which were swaying in a bracing, night-is-coming breeze.

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~

For more “Megan’s UK diary” posts, go to The green spaces of Sheffield and Chatsworth House forever.

Megan’s UK dairy: The green spaces of Sheffield

Getting lost in new places is wonderful. In fact, I rather make a point of it. This morning I went for a jog, paying little attention to where I was going, just darting right or bolting left as the whim took me, because that is how I discover the best, most unexpected gems.

Today I managed to do a loop (loops being life-giving, backtracking the opposite), starting from Walkley and finding my way down the valley into Philadelphia and Upperthorpe, areas that are new to me. En route I found a charming warren of pedestrian paths in and around a housing estate (first moment of self congratulation), then I came across the Philadelphia Green Space, a small, elongated stretch of forest, footpaths and playgrounds (second moment of self congratulation).

“Phil”, the little bird on the educational signs dotted around Philadelphia park, told me all sorts of interesting things during my stint in his park, like the fact that 1/3 of Sheffield lies within the Peak National Park, and that although Sheffield is very urban and industrial, the city prides itself on its ubiquitous green and open spaces and is the greenest city in Britain.

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My mum, who was born in the 50s, remembers how in the decades after WWII the rose bay willow herb could be seen everywhere, from bombed buildings to wastelands, being a tenacious sort of plant that will settle in the most unlikely of places, like this one here, which has planted itself in a roof gutter.

 

I realised as I jogged about, smelling the damp, cut grass and smiling at the tiny white daisies that have already shot up in the short grass, that I always talk about how I love to travel when in fact I detest travelling. I’m a motion ninny, for one. Moreover, who doesn’t lose their joie de vivre when unable to sleep on an overnight flight? But what I do love is having all the travel behind me and then getting to explore new places. And Britain is one of my favourite places to explore, having so much in such a small space and containing things like public footpaths (the lure of which cannot be understated), ancient, crumbling buildings, Starbucks, and bus drivers that call you “love”.

So travelling:

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But exploring:

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Whenever it’s time to wind my way home after an explore, I crouch down and study my footprints, sniff the air, lick a finger and put it up in the breeze … no, just kidding of course, I read the signs and if necessary stop a local and ask them to share their knowledge of local topography and road names.

I’ve realised that a neat and effective trick when it comes to exercising is to charge off downhill at the beginning, when you’re still full of energy, life and bravado. Eventually, when you start to feel somewhat weary, you consider that it might be time to turn around and find your way back. The hike then begins, and by the time you finally reach your destination your muscles are nicely kaput. You can then pull yourself across the threshold of your abode, climb up a kitchen chair and slide into a nice bowl of cereal.

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My blogging spot while in Sheffield

Megan’s UK Diary: Chatsworth House forever

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I have something of a love affair with Chatsworth House, but you’d have to know me very well to know that. So when I met up with an old friend today, and she suggested several things we might do, I stopped her after the mention of Chatsworth with an understated, “Oh, that would be nice – let’s do that.” So off we went.

Driving through the Peak District has to be one of the most pleasant experiences a person can have. Purple heather was everywhere, pinky-purple rhododendrons were everywhere else, and the sun kept breaking through the clouds as though to say: I know you’ve travelled far to be here, so I won’t let them nasty clouds ruin your day.

We reached the car park and decided to walk through the grounds instead of going inside, all the more to embrace the perfection that is an English country estate in summertime. We thought we would walk to the folly on the top of the hill, but the dirt road we followed never quite wound its way there, and so we enjoyed green lawns and grouped deer instead. By the end of our walk, my friend and I agreed that we’d not only caught up on the past 3 years, but had, in the chatty manner of girlfriends, set much of the world to rights 🙂

Here are some photos from our stroll:

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The golden entrance gate

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An Austenesque house

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Not only the biggest mushroom I’ve ever seen, but also a concave, chalice-like one!

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I’m trying to get close to them deer, but they had the measure of me…

~

I’m in the UK for 6 weeks, and have decided I’ll write some “Megan’s UK Diary” posts. I’m in Sheffield at present, heading to the Edinburgh Festival tomorrow, and then many places besides. I’ll keep you posted with anything interesting I see or learn. 🙂

Patrolling the streets of this blog: The quest of a deranged cop

toonvectors-2654-460One of my jobs is editing and proof reading, and when operating in that role I have the excitable, obsessive tendencies of a crusading, steroid-popping policeman. When I sit down to edit, I am working off the grid – tasering spelling mistakes, eradicating typos, roughing up formatting evils, bombing inconsistencies, not to mention roundhouse-kicking indecent grammar and breaking the kneecaps of all other content-related bad asses.

So naturally I hate it when I hit that “Publish” button on a post, and then at some future date (often only seconds later) come across a devious typo or a word stoned out of its mind. It makes my patrol car come to a screeching stop, my coffee spills on my lap, and my mouthful of doughnut sticks in my throat.

But mostly I hate typos and their cronies because they steal the reader away from the content, rudely dragging him or her into the warehouse of linguistics, where they must endure the reality of clanking semantics swaying in the rafters, and have scar-faced goons from the wrong side of the shift button breathe heavily into their face. I work hard to maintain streets that encourage wanderers to contemplate the beauty of the green words on the trees, lose themselves in the lyricism carried in the wind, and relax into the encouraging warmth of the environment. A kidnapping detracts. Always.

So while cruising through yesterday’s avenue of thought (WWII, Socrates, Rwanda & personal boundaries) in an historic part of the local campus, what do I see but this sly malfeasant of a letter sidling up next to an innocent Private Eye:

“It do not consider it necessary or even helpful for me personally in my lifetime […].” What?! Hands up, you low-life, you stinking interloper of a ‘t’! I arrest you on the spot for trespassing on the property of Prof. Reader.

So this is my proposal to all my readers: I will be keeping an eye out for any typos or mistakes in my neighbourhood, but if any of you (citizen of the blog or tourist) should spot one and point it out to me first, then that person will receive the honour (?!) of having a ditty written either about them or with their name in it. I will make a post of it. Your fame will reach to all of my half dozen readers!!

I have no idea if I can write ditties on command (I’ve only ever written one ditty-ish thing that I can think of – Ode to a posy of flowers sitting on my desk), but should the occasion arise, I will do my best, and then we can all muse over the outcome.

So now that I’ve invited you to partner with me in my cop car, hopefully we’ll clean up the streets of Living my write life in no time, and we will all be able to take pleasant Sunday-type strolls anywhere we want, enjoying the peace of mind that comes from a world completely free of typographical thuggery.

~~~

A note: I am not inviting a traditionalist/prescriptivist scrutinising of my grammar – I don’t want to hear about sentences that start with a conjunction, etc. Sometimes artistic concerns must prevail. I am, however, inviting you to alert me to typos and mistakes because I want those to be as foreign to my streets as tanned legs are to a Scotsman.

Searching for Sugar Man

searching-for-sugar-man-posterI recently watched the captivating documentary Searching for Sugar Man. It’s about a talented American singer-songwriter-guitarist of the 70s called Rodriguez who couldn’t sell any records in the US, but who was, completely unbeknownst to him, a mega hit in Apartheid South Africa.

Rodriguez’s music inspired liberal-minded SA musicians in their anti-establishment efforts, but his fans here knew NOTHING about him as a person. He was a total enigma, and rumours abounded. Eventually, in the 90s, two South African fans began to investigate …

I won’t give anymore away, as it’s an excellent film and I don’t want to ruin it for you. I just want to promote it further for anyone who hasn’t yet seen it. South Africans in particular will find it intriguing.

~~~

Only very marginally related to the above, but I spotted this the other day and think it funny:

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Thank you, Pinterest, for the laughs!

Post Office Queues (the daily dental operation of life)

There’s nothing quite akin to a POQ (post office queue) to force you into an untimely examination of your life. Have you ever noticed that there is always a large clock placed up front? The effect being that in that hushed atmosphere typical of post offices, one can hear its loud ticking, driving home the […]

A mattering dot (a poem)

Many songs and many words, pretty, pretty lines. Many men and many voices, many ways to try to follow. Many getaways all about the place, like fluff ropes thrown to save me. ____________ I watch the news, I see the stats, I hear clearly what it says: my life is small, the world is big, […]

Ode to a posy of flowers sitting on my desk

Oh, pretty, pretty posy, what power you do have, to brighten what was bland and boring, with your colour and panache. You are light and winsome, my desk is hefty and brown, so you sit there ever so pleasantly, shedding whimsy all around.

Why I’m Addicted to Pinterest

Why I’m Addicted to I am very much addicted to Pinterest, but I’m quite surprised that I am. It has no immediate practical use, at least to a user like me. In my critical moments I tell myself that I have wasted hours forming and fussing over my boards when there is no measurable return […]

inksomnia

As soon as OED or Merriam-Webster give me a call, having heard of my newly coined word and its lightning-quick traction amongst writerly folk, I’ll be able to forward them the following, ready-to-go dictionary definition: inksomnia (ıŋk’sɒmnıə) n inability to fall asleep when tired as pithy lines and innovatory plot and character ideas start coming […]