Thursday, June 12, 2003

Death, Coraline, and, oh, what's the word for it... Begins with an M...?

Let's see... several people wrote to tell me:

Actually, Death IS in the 20 questions site. You have to register and set it to pg, rather than g.

Drethelin, a bit annoyed that this is the first thing he felt the need to contact a famous author about, but still too paranoid to put his real name.

Ah. That had never occurred to me. It would nervously get up to its twentieth question, and then nervously suggest "a shadow?" or "a hole?" or "the colour black?"

Hi Neil,my name is Coraline I'm 27 and I live in Italy ,actually I'm both french and Italian...i was sure till today that my name was unique! Since my name has always been a mystery to me I'd love to know why and how you choose this name...that's mine...!

Well, your name is pretty unique, actually. (And several dozen of the people reading this will shake their heads and go "you can't be pretty unique! there are no shades of uniqueness! either you are unique or you aren't!" and mostly I agree with them.)

It started for me as a slip of the fingers -- I was typing to a Caroline, and it came out wrong. Larry Niven wrote an essay collected in the Bretnor book on writing science fiction where he talks about treasuring your typos as ways to name characters or alien races, and that's the only time I've ever done that. I loved the name -- the way it was like, but not like, the name Caroline, the way it reflected, that it was about coral, which is both beautiful and hard and hidden...

The first time I noticed it as a real name, I was reading the memoirs of Casanova, and at one point, at a ball in Venice, if I remember correctly, he met a young lady named Coraline. "It's a real name!" I thought.

When the book was out in proof editions, I remember checking e-bay to see how much people were selling them for, and discovering that people were selling things connected with Coraline corsets -- and I found the sheet music for a Victorian song called Coraline and paid my less-than-five-dollars for it. It was one of those songs about a sad young lady who had died in unfortunate circumstances that were never really spelled out, and all of the rhymes for Coraline were "een" words, like queen and been and mean. (I pronounce the title of the book, and the name of the heroine, in English, Coraline, to rhyme with Horror-wine, although when I'm in France I pronounce it "corraleen". But am happy for people to pronounce it any way they want to. In Poland they pronounce it Koralina, and spell it like that as well.)

I thought it was an antique name, but have now signed several books for Coralines -- and have been introduced to a handful of very, very small Coralines (named after the book) so I assume that there will be more coming....

And, of course, it's a word for a kind of algae, and for a kind of rock. It's what Stone Town in Zanzibar is made of....

I'm pretty sure this is not frequently asked but for once it is actually a question.

I came down with meningitis towards the end of April. I was pretty wretched for awhile. Pretty wretched = asking nurse at hospital to execute me gangland style if I signed a consent form. I'm feeling much better now and I passed my neuroligical exam.

However I'm still all wrung out and draggy. I've been told it will take months to get my strength back. That's fine. I can deal with that.

What worries me is my memory has developed large holes. I spent half an hour last week trying to remember the word regret. Not even a fun word like persiflage or sinecure - a boring word! My spelling has gone to pot. I used to be a proofreader and now I can't even spell my own stuff.

Did you have any trouble like this? I'm a writer and an actress and I need my memory. I'm working on this very odd horror story and it needs some more humour. I thought of some great stuff while in the bath and forgot it all before I could get to my computer.

I suppose I am hoping you will say that yes, you had some trouble with your memory but it's all just jake now and not to worry. Can you say that?


PS - I was so scared of my spinal tap I took Coraline with me because I thought if she can be brave enough then I can be brave enough. Silly, hmm?

Not silly at all.

It's not "all just jake" now, but it does seem to get better from day to day. I know exactly what you mean: I lost most of my phone numbers, there were words I'd have to triangulate in conversation a lot, "He was in, er... it's a country, they used to have gods, wine that tastes like pine needles, disputes with Turkey..." "Greece?" "Greece. Right. So he was in Greece...", and I'd put chunks of plot together in my head and then they'd evaporate. I do it less and less now. Again, the wrung out and draggy and neckachy stuff does happen, but it has improved. Making sure I exercise helps significantly. So does reminding myself that I'm not simply wearing out early, that it's just the aftereffects of the meningitis, and it will pass.

I had an eight week period where I wrote almost nothing -- I think from February to April I finished three or four introductions, a Fermata rewrite, and a handful of 1602 pages. I've now got enough of a head to write again, but I was really worried there for a bit. It does get better. Hang in there, Georgiana...


Several people have written to remind me that I said I'd write about Jack Benny radio shows, and asking how to get them. is the list of American Radio Shows available in mp3 format. The site is of the opinion that the stuff it's selling is public domain, and it may well be. (I bought the Smithsonion CD collection of 20 Jack Benny shows to make up for having picked up about 900 shows in mp3 format a few months ago.)

My fondness for the Jack Benny Show was author Les Daniels' fault -- we got onto the subject of radio, and I started talking about the highs of UK radio. Les told me that the Jack Benny Show was as good as any of the things I was talking about (Round the Horne etc), and sent me a bunch of cassettes to convince me...

But my essay on why I was convinced will have to wait. Or, if I get a spare month, it may turn into a stage play...