Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Ho! Ho! Hic!

I have been incommunicado of recent courtesy of an uncommunicative computer. The damn thing decided it was 1892 or some such year, so got its knickers in a twist when it tried to open my start-up programmes that took strong exception to being told they were all over a century old.

I am not sure I have totally resolved the issue; but while it is functioning I will take the opportunity to wish you all a Very Happy Christmas and Prosperous New Year. (I don't know what Father Christmas is whispering in my ear: it is obviously not funny.)

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Happy Birthday Emily

It is my baby's birthday today. Emily is twenty-nine years old. Twenty-nine years old! What happened? Happy Birthday Emily and go to your room immediately or no presents for you. xxx

Friday, 5 December 2008

Meshugeners and Goys Need Not Apply

Are you a young, single, female and a Jew? Are you sick to death already of your mother constantly asking when you are going to find a nice Jewish boy? could be your salvation - zol zayn mit mazel!

A friend of Rebecca made this promotional film for a Jewish online dating site. Fun lyrics.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Out of the Mouths of Babes

It was my birthday yesterday and I had surprisingly lovely day.

Sue and myself were invited to lunch by a mutual friend, Sue's ex-access lecturer who helped her secure her place at Sussex Uni, a man of exceptionally dry wit and an expert on strange movies by the name of Richard. So we had a very funny afternoon - mostly at Sue's expense but she took it in good spirit, (more accurately, in good Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc).

I returned home to two calls from people I haven't heard from for ages. The first was from an old friend. Toby, whom I am very fond of, and who I last saw when he flew me out to Beijing six years ago to introduce me to an advertising agency he had invested in; he wanted me to write their international brochure, so it proved a well-paid freebie, (which sounds an oxymoron).

The second call was from my younger brother, Simon. (Coincidentally, Sue had earlier being upbraiding me for my lack of contact with my brothers and I had been defending myself by trying to explain our upbringing which, by today's standards, may be regarded as strange but at the time were not unusual; i.e. the fact my elder brother, Christopher, was flown half way around the world to attend school when I was four and I didn't see him again for the next three years; the fact I was sent off to boarding school at the age of seven and so only saw my younger brother during the school holidays for the next five years; the fact that, when we were finally all at the same college, we were only permitted to see each for a couple of hours at the weekend for the rest of our school careers. Small wonder we are strangers to each other.)

So Simon and I caught up on each others news; I learned of all the scrapes my nephews have been involved in and he learned he is a great-uncle for the second time. We are, indeed, strangers to each other but it was wonderful to hear from him again and I resolve to keep in touch.

Finally, Amy starred in her first Nativity Play yesterday morning. Her solo part came at the end, when, as her mum reports, she had to stand up in front of everyone and thank them for coming - from such small parts did Keira Knightley begin. Her mum reports having a tear in her eye.

However, what particularly surprised mum was to learn that Jesus was a beautiful baby who was born in a bar - the refrain to one of the more popular songs sung by the children.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Have I Got News for You.

For those of you who watched Have I Got News for You this week and so may remember a reference to an Australian, David Thorne, who attempted to pay a utility bill with a drawing of a spider, I offer a link to the complete correspondence that my daughter, Rebecca, sent me a couple of weeks ago. It is here and well worth a look.

For those who don't know Have I Got News for You, it is a weekly satirical swipe at the news that has been running on BBC TV since 1990.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could pay your bills with drawings, songs or poems? I'd be so rich.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Contrary to Popular Belief, Writing is NOT a Solitary Pursuit

I have so many critics peeping over my shoulder when I write, I am never alone. They line up like birds on a telegraph wire to make their comments, which are always positive, of course.

There is Character Critic: "For goodness sake, he is supposed to be dour as Inspector Rebus with a hangover yet you've written he is delighted to have rescued the victim? He would have found it more amusing to discover the vicitm chopped to pieces and stuffed into Christmas crackers to be distributed at the local orphanage.

The Dialogue Critic: "' Ah dunnae kinn whit ye ur talkin' abit.' Where on earth did you dig that out from, The Sassenach Schoolboy's Book of Scottish Phrases?"

The Adjectival Critic: "In the name of all that is beautiful, exquisite, fragrant and precious, leave it out."

The Adverbial Critic: dittoly

The Semicolon Critic: "Nooooo!"

The Colon Critic: ditto

The Plot Critic: "Stephen Hawking would be most interested in the black holes you have managed to create."

The Structural Critic: "Only Isambard Kingdom Brunel could construct something more complicated. Have you ever considered a career as a scaffolder?"

The Bridging Critic: "Next time employ Nicholas Parsons to create the links. He might be as useless but at least he takes just a minute. Boom! Boom!"

The Humour Critic: "Ha! Ha! Ha! Don't make me laugh."

The Personal Development Critic: "Have you ever considered a career as a scaffolder?"

Ad infinitum: Tweet! Tweet!

It's a wonder I am getting anything written but the book progresses despite the odds. I also now understand where Daphne du Maurier found her inspiration for The Birds.

PS The picture of the birds remind me of my childhood in Malaysia. Every evening birds would line up on the telegraph wires to chatter away though what they had to say I never learnt. At five years old, I could only speak pigeon English, pigeon Malay and pigeon Chinese, so I don't think they were pigeons. Boom! Boom!

PPS The Quit Smoking Campaign is stuttering but will happen. When I have positive news, i.e. one week without a cigarette, I will post.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Ninety Years Ago

I had two great uncles who were killed in WWI, both were Jesuits. Apparently the mortality rate of Catholic priests was disproportionately high.

These photographs are of the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge. They were taken on a field trip when I was studying Literature of WWI at Sussex University The memorial is spectacular. That said I found the regimented ranks of graves in the many cemeteries scattered across Normandy and Belgium, be they a small group of five or six, or thousands as at Tyne Cot, more poignant. Read Girl on The Run's wonderful poem about her recent visit to Ypres here

Boys' Toys

Eager readers will note that I have not blogged recently. This is because I have acquired a new toy, an Acer Aspire One Mini Laptop. It is brilliant. It boots up in seconds, has all the software you need ready installed, includes wifi. And though tiny, it is perfectly useable.

What more could you want? Well, being a boy I have spent four days fiddling with it to download new software and update some of the existing. Its operating system is a stripped version of Linux, Linpus, so fiddling did mean fiddling in the root directory with a system I have not encountered before. However I did find some very useful sites which I list in case anyone else is tempted.

Ten Tweaks for a new Acer Aspire One is the most useful.
This FTP site has lots of software to download.
And the Acer Aspire One Forum is generally helpful - all possible questions are answered in it somewhere though they do take a lot of hunting to find.

Smoking and Drinking

After 20 days without alcohol I had a couple of bottles of wine with Sue over the past two days because she has been staying and it would have been rude not to. But as the no smoking is starting from tomorrow I shall have to return to the wagon till Christmas.

Saturday, 1 November 2008


As reported in my last post, I am currently reading Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, and this morning I find that archaeologists have discovered evidence of Alexander Selkirk, the marooned sailor who originally inspired the story - here.

Must be Halloween.

There is also an interesting article on Defoe here
(PS I love the naff illustration for the cover of this edition.)

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Tea & Typing

I am currently reading a number of classics:
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë, Penguin Classics, 1995, ISBN 0-14-043418-6
Robinson Crusoe
, Daniel Defoe, Penguin Classis, 1985, ISBN 0-14-043007-5
The Turn of the Screw & The Aspern Papers
, Henry James, Wordsworth Classics, 2000, ISBN 1-85326-069-X

The no drinking is going well and tomorrow I am expecting a call from the Quit Smoking Nurse to give me an appointment.

I am feeling the benefits of not drinking already. I sleep so well now I could compete with my granddaughter in a sleeping like a baby competition and win. I know alcohol interferes with the body's thermostat but had no idea the degree to which it mucked up your sleep.

The second benefit is that I much clearer headed - which may seem like stating the obvious but is still surprising when you have got used to living in a muss.

The third, I have more energy.

And the best is that I have been writing reams. I am now on Chapter Six of my re-write, re-structure. I understand you shouldn't beginning re-writing until you've finished the first draft but in my case it has helped enormously. My maiden draft was heading towards an iceberg and only a mutiny could force the captain to change course.

The only disadvantage is I am turning into Tea Bag Man. Does anyone have a suggestion for a palatable drink that isn't laden with sugar and doesn't cost more than sixpence?

Friday, 24 October 2008

New November Resolutions - Part II

"The man who will not execute his resolutions when they are fresh upon him can have no hope from them afterwards; they will be dissipated, lost and perish in the hurry and scurry of the world, or sunk in the slough of indolence” Marie Edgeworth (who she,ed?)

In the hope that I will not perish in the hurry and scurry of the world I shall keep you up to date with the progress of my resolutions each time I post with these symbols - they will be smaller.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

New November Resolutions

I have been on arm wrestling with my depression recently. I drink and smoke far too much, the former in a bid to self-medicate, I think. So my resolution is to stop both. One encourages the other and neither actually helps my state of mind.

I read of Jon’s exertions in his blog with envy. I too used to run regularly before I developed osteoarthritis in the joint of my big toe. I used also to swim on a regular basis till I came to Brighton which has only a couple of crap, over-crowded pools. I had more choice when I lived in London.

Exercise, in Pulp Fiction parlance, is good.

I didn’t realised how fragile I have become. I used to be reasonably resilent to life’s knocks but it seems recently have become vulnerable to any little setback.

I do feel ashamed. I read Lisa’s blog and marvel at her fortitude in the face of cancer. Yesterday, she was seeing her oncologist for the verdict on which treatment would be prescribed for her latest tumours. Neither alternative, chemo or tablet, will be pleasant but she writes with determination and humour of her attendance. I wish her well – that is too weak – I will her well. If only a collective will could rid the world of its ills.

(I wrote this yesterday, Wednesday. Lisa’s news is bad in that another shadow has been found. If you wish to read a truly inspiring post, read this.)

So if I stop drinking and smoking I will have enough cash to join a gym. Perhaps yoga would better at my age though I have never done it. However, there is a health place with a lovely swimming pool only used once a week by a little old lady on her way to church. But it is not exactly local. So… yoga?

More positively, my book is picking up a head of steam. Gary came back with positive comments that have helped me tighten my prose and given me the motivation to progress with a degree of confidence. I have since been re-writing existing material, and have also divided the text into chapters. The latter alone has helped with the rhythm and pace.

(Did I say I would stop drinking and smoking? Publicly? Really? Guess I will have to now.)

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Cows and Bubbles

I'm forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.
They fly so high,

Nearly reach the sky,

Then like my dreams,

They fade and die.

Fortune's always hiding,

I've looked everywhere,

I'm forever blowing bubbles,

Pretty bubbles in the air.

It may be my unfortunate imagination, but isn't this very rude?

I looked up the lyrics because I was wondering why Caroline chose BubbleCow as the name for her exciting new venture, of which more later, but first I discover from Wikipedia that I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles (who she?) was written the year after the end of WWI.

Coincidentally, I wrote an extended essay during my BA on the music hall songs of the Great War to see if they kept in step with the general attitudes of the soldiers in the trenches. The belief among the soldiers was that the civilians had no comprehension of what they endured.

To illustrate: these are the words the soldiers of the Royal Sussex Regiment sang to their regimental march Sussex by the Sea on the retreat from Mons in 1914. It is early on in the war when national fervour for the cause at home was still high:

Good old Sussex by the sea, I've shit 'em.
Dear old Sussex by the sea, I've shit 'em.
You can tell them all that they know fuck all
In Sussex by the sea.’

A later example of the soldiers' aspirations still make me laugh/cry given their circumstances:

I don’t want to be a soldier,
I don’t want to go to war.
I’d rather stay at home,
Around the streets to roam,
And live on the earnings of a well-paid whore.

I remember spending many a happy day in the reading room at the Imperial War Museum leafing through endless song sheets in my research for the essay.

So why BubbleCow?

The answer is blindingly obvious. The Smaile family evidently spent their holidays in Denver, Colorado.

Cow Bubble Tower at the Peoples Fair, Denver, CO 2007

For the benefit of those who still don't know of BubbleCow, it is a company whose aim is to help fresh, writerly talent open the publisher's door. They offer a number of services from helping you perfect your synopsis to improving your manuscript to a complete mentoring/hand holding and neck massage service. The only qualification is, I should imagine, knowing their standards, you do have to be able to write. You cannot blow bubbles without some Fairy Liquid in the mix.

I am very excited for her. Truly, deeply. There is nothing more exciting than starting a new business and Caroline deserves great success.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Roars of Anger

Interesting interview with Aravind Adiga by the Guardian's Stuart Jeffries here.

The heading itself is enlightening:

Roars of anger

Aravind Adiga's debut novel, The White Tiger, won the Booker prize this week. But its unflattering portrait of India as a society racked by corruption and servitude has caused a storm in his homeland.

Wonder what's upset them?

Adiaga also shows solidarity with all us anxiety-ridden hopefuls by explaining why he doesn't want to talk about his already completed second novel with the comment, "It might be complete crap, so there's no point".


Yesterday was Blog Action Day. To quote: Today thousands of bloggers will unite to discuss a single issue - poverty. We aim to raise awareness, initiate action and to shake the web.

I found my way there through a post on Lane's blog where she offers an interesting idea twinning towns here with villages in poor regions.

Having done work for World AIDS Day and UNAIDS, the slight difficulty I see is one of patronisation. The Global South, as underdeveloped countries are now described, is naturally very sensitive to any inference from their ex-colonialists that they are incapable of looking after their own. It may be frustrating to those whose honourable intention is only to help but nevertheless understandable. Charities dealing with poverty in any country have to be as sensitive, if not more so, to the historical, social and cultural context in which they operate as any political body.

I fear that the only real solution to the poverty is a radical reorganisation of the way in which capitalism works. The gap between the rich and poor within countries and between countries is growing exponentially. I can see future unrest on an unprecedented scale.

Aravind Adiga, this year's winner of the Man Booker Prize, has hoisted a weather cone warning of impending storms with his book
The White Tiger

The banks, who in their greed for greater profit skirted the few remaining regulations left after the Reagan, Thatcher era, have precipitated the current credit crisis. We, the citizens of the world through our taxes, have rescued them - somewhere I saw the rescue package equated to a figure of £280 for every man, woman and child on the planet.

This morning I hear on the news the collapse of confidence in the money markets has crossed to other markets, so banks are now unwilling to lend money for fear that their loans for housing or investment will not be repaid as the markets they first caused to sink carry on sinking. Fortunately, bankers will be able to ride out the impending recession because we have now secured their jobs.

No one in the right senses can say the present system is working. Till now it has been maintained because it has been in the interest of those who have most power to influence governments to keep the status quo. The laissez-faire attitude that if the system ain't broke, don't fix it. Well the system is now all but broke. National governments should grab this opportunity to break the supra-national power of global corporations to reassert their own authority.

They won't of course because there is no Plan B.

But the fact is capitalism is amoral; at heart, it is just a system of exchange and cares not who benefits and who loses. It could, if someone was so minded, behave in a fairer, more equable manner that would be of benefit to the many and not the few. However, it will require a new John Maynard Keynes or Adam Smith, a man or woman with a radical insight into how the system may be shifted to a more democratic system of wealth creation and especially distribution.

This might not end poverty, Christ was right on that point, the poor will always be with us, but it would go much further than any amount of charity in helping relieve abject poverty.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Not for the Faint Hearted

I wonder how many people know Jake and Dinos Chapman who I referred to in my last post.

They are brothers, both conceptual artists, who work in tandem and are patronised by Charles Saatchi. I love their work. It is never comfortable, always challenging, inventive, thoughtful and sometimes witty.

They have been accused of been pornographic, even pedophiliac, because of some of their early sculptures represent pre-pubescent girls whose bodies are merged and melted into a single undulating whole, with the noses of some being replaced with penises.

On paper these images do not sound particularly edifying neither are they in reality; they are extremely shocking. However, to my mind, they are very moral. They take the lie of the pedophile and turn it on its head; the lie being the self -justifying rationalisation that his or her perverted desire is justified because children, being small sexual beings, can therefore consent to sexual activity. The amorphous nature of the sculptures depersonalises the individual child and so signifies and dramatises the anonymous insignificance of the individual for the sexual predator. Equally they admit to the fact that children are sexual beings, and I know in writing this I am on thin ice. Children cannot, by definition, be sexual beings insofar as they are not sexually mature. However, children are extremely curious about their genitalia, not with the imperative desire of an adult, but with the same innocence that they enquire of the rest of the world. It is as unhealthy to suppress this natural interest as it is to exploit it, though, of course, the latter is on a completely different order of magnitude of damage. In both cases the damage arises when adults conflate and muddle their own sexual complications in terms of desire and repression with those blameless explorations of the child. So, to me, this melding of one child into another also symbolises this mutual, generally guileless, voyage of discovery.

I hope you now understand why I find the brothers so powerful.

One of the first of their pieces I saw was called After Goya. It is a sculpture using contemporary materials that takes its inspiration and execution directly from one of a series of Goya etchings called The Disasters of War, itself titled Great deeds! Against the dead!. (These too I have seen and, indeed, own a small ancient book of.)

Francisco Goya is another artist I greatly admire. He was, in recent contemporary British terms, the Don McCullin of the Peninsular War in the sense that he uses his art and observation to report on the atrocities of the Napoleonic War in that country. They again are not edifying. The Chapman brothers' recreation of his work use sanitised, high-gloss materials to make an ironic comment on our, the public's, remote-controlled, remote TV relationship with the violence that is currently happening in Darfur, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. We keen briefly before settling back to the reassurance of the high production values of the commercial break.

So now for the images:

Which is more shocking? Is either glib? Are you moved? Is this art?

On the subject of the Peninsular War, the one poem I remember from my early youth was The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna, the first verse goes thus:

Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,
As his corpse to the rampart we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
O'er the grave where our hero we buried.

The coincidence is that in 1803 he was in England commanding a brigade in Shorncliffe camp, near Folkestone. It is where I was born.

Friday, 10 October 2008

The Found Art Gallery

I find the camera on my mobile phone extremely useful as every so often I stumble across an image created courtesy of happenstance that strikes me as being reminiscent of one artist or another. See what you think. (Click to enlarge.)

This last is obviously not accidental but was found hidden away above the stairs leading to some offices.

I added the mouse and while doing so wondered what a mouse would use for a mouse. A human?

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The "Did I really say that?" School of Interview Techniques

From an article, entitled The Ex Files, published in Observer Woman magazine, October, 2008 in which, to quote, 'Each month two former lovers explain what went wrong'. The article gives both sides of a lesbian relationship that collapsed. (Needless to say the women live in Brighton.)

Sex was important to our dynamic, we were incredibly sexually compatible so obviously we explored this from the start and the physical side was good right up until the cracks in our relationship started appearing.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Tech Talk

I have found a very useful toy for bloggers who like to illuminate their posts with images. It is called Skitch and is the quickest means I know to capture, re-size, title, doodle and post images. The only down side is you need a Mac. But, hey, everyone uses a Mac, non?

My trial examples:

(A sketch of a character I play around with occasionally, executed on Skitch - took me about 5 minutes.)

A screen grab captured with Skitch to show the software palette on my desktop.

Skitch is a breeze to use, very intuitive and takes minutes to find your way around. Every review I've read of it has been very complimentary. The software is free and available here. You just have to sign up for an account (again free) and away you go.

Happy posting.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Re: Research

I have currently just finished reading: Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote, Penguin, 1993: ISBN 0 14 018702 2

I have been reading Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's and this morning woke early, 4.30 or so, to find myself thinking about Capote. So I wiki'd him - here.

Capote is one of those authors I was vaguely aware of when I was growing up; the murder of the Clutter family, which inspired In Cold Blood, happened in my second year at preparatory school and the story was seralised in the New Yorker in my penultimate year at college when I was seventeen. However, I never read him till recently.

Capote claimed somewhere that he had 94% memory retention. After reading his reported diction of Holly Golightly, I can believe it. It is dispiriting for clumsy a writer as myself to find oneself in front of a master who can define a character so precisely merely through the manner in which they speak. It is also a lesson.

The lesson is research.

Some time ago there was an excellent documentary on Annie Prouix that followed her for a year as she researched and wrote what was to become The Old Ace in the Hole (which I have yet to read). Her original idea was to write of the men who maintain the wind sail water pumps in Texas, itinerant individuals as needs be and, consequently, people she never actually caught up with. However she spent a useful six months commuting from Vermont to Texas and the result of her researches proved to be a commentary on the industrialisation of pig farming. (I may not have the exact facts, memory being false.) The scene I remember is of her assembling the mass of material she had accumulated as a result of her investigations on her desk preparatory to her writing. (For a wittily damning review of the book, go here.)

I hadn't realised till I read the Wikipedia information - unreliable I accept though the piece on Capote seems very full - the extent to which Capote had travelled. It brought to mind Greene's life, another writer with itchy feet. And, of course, Capote famously spent four years researching In Cold Blood.

I have spent four minutes researching my current project and I am beginning to see it for what it is, a typical first novel. In other words, I have relied heavily on local knowledge, local geography, plus personal circumstance mixed with what I fondly think of as a hyper-active imagination. Capote was criticised for being less than objective in his writing of the slaughter of the Clutter family, criticisms I personally believe naïve despite the fact the author claimed it to be an accurate report, but he did what an author should do; he distanced himself from his story and attempted to write his account objectively.

I am not going to dismiss my tale out of hand. I will complete it but I can now put it into perspective so if it fails, it fails.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Nail Biting Wait

As I mentioned in my last post, Gary kindly agreed to read something of what I have written. So yesterday I spent all day, and I mean all day, from 6.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m., re-writing the opening to my book.

I hadn't revisited this section for ages. Indeed, when I originally wrote it, my ideas for the plot were a long way from that to which I am working now. As usual, the process resulted in dramatic cuts. I am beginning to think that writing a book is akin to playing the accordion; the text seems alternatively to expand and shrink every time you work on it.

I have sent Gary the edited section and now await his comments.

Fingers crossed.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Family, Friends, Caroline and Gary

Well I finally met the wonderful Caroline and family. Unfortunately I missed the reading because Rebecca had arranged to meet a friend for a drink. (Glare) That said I have to take some of the blame as I thought the signing would be first and the reading later. (Glare muted)

Neither did I spend as much time chatting with Caroline as I would have wished. She was working so had to spread her favours around - in the best possible taste. Rebecca and I did, however, have a long, interesting chat with Gary. (The mad idiot promised he would read my MS in its present unfinished, chaotic form if I e-mailed it to him.)

I do miss London. Allow me to list what happened in the space of that evening.

At the pub, when we should have been listening to Caroline's reading, I met Rebecca's friend Carl, (or Karl), who I had met before. Rebecca mentioned that I had written the original AIDS campaign, 'Don't Die of Ignorance'.

Carl says, "But it is in the bible of advertising", or some such.

I nod sagely. Carl insists it is the air that he breathed, the oxygen that nurtured him as a young, aspirant writer. I again nod sagely.

Rebecca, budding agent, says, "Do you use freelancers?"

Carl, "Sure, the one we have at the moment is crap."

Rebecca, super-agent, "My Dad could use the work."

"Sounds great, perhaps, with his reputation, he could pull in work."

I nod sagely, now knowing the poor boy is completely deluded. As Rebecca says, "Perhaps people won't remember him." I barely remember where my bottom is, though I do know the clue is within the word.

Later, at the launch, Gary suddenly calls me over, "Meet Ms so-and-so, she is a publisher."

I meet Ms So-and-so, publisher, my first. I explain, utilising my best rehearsed repertoire pulled from the drawer marked Modest, my book will sell millions, she will be so rich she will grow tired of deciding which pool to swim in before breakfast and, by the way, my initials were, in truth, J. K.

She nods sagely.

I could tell I had made the right impression.

Such potent opportunities don't drip from casual conversations in Brighton. Drugs, yes, opportunities, no.

The joy of my sojourn in t'smoke, as Gary, being as a northerner might express (ha! ha!), was seeing Emily and family. I spent three nights with them, I use the word night lightly, young Katie had a cold so most nights consisted of 45 minutes sleep interrupted by three hours of attempts to soothe the poor, snot-ridden little bundle. But she is a joy and inklings of character are peeping through the sneezes.

Dear Amy, dear, new schoolgirl Amy, has so much character she could lease 90% of it out to the American banks in a successful rescue bid and still retain her individuality.

One example: on the bus going to the Tube from where I will leave to go back to Rebecca in North London, Mum starts chatting to another young mum. Amy's Mum, towards the end of the journey, repeats a confidence made by Amy in the car the last time the family came to visit me here in Brighton.

Amy in confidence then, "Mummy, I do love Granddad."

Amy now, "SHUT UP, Mummy!"

Bless her hot, embarrassed, little cotton socks.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Trials, Tribulations and other Things

It's not been a good week in terms of the number of words I have written on Only the Gulls are Content.

I felt I had written myself in to a cul de sac. Because of a particularly difficult and bewildering phase for the main character, I'd decided to switch from an objective to a subjective point of view as it was the only way I believed I could most accurately describe his state of mind. I also, for reasons of immediacy, decided to switch from the past to the present tense.

You can see the dangers.

Though I am generally pleased with the outcome, it does mean that I have been describing every second of my protagonist's life. My concern has been for just how long can I maintain this stance and keep the reader interested? Is it in danger of becoming boringly one dimensional?

So I took advantage of the sun yesterday afternoon to sit on the beach and think through the issues. I haven't fully resolved everything but decided to continue as I am. The advantage of my present position is I do know precisely what will happen so it is only a matter of writing it to the best of my ability. Also, being aware of the problem, I trust I will be able to sustain the tension. In cinematic terms, I think of it as writing the master shot, then, when it comes to the re-write, I have already had thoughts on how to cut the material.

That said, my problems don't even bear comparison to those being faced so courageously by the Hesitant Scribe and my thoughts are with her.

Finally, I will be away for almost a week seeing Rebecca and her new flat, and Danny, Emily, Amy and young Katie. And Caroline, of course.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

On the Unfathomable Philanthropy of Financial Institutions

Wasn't it our admirably black eye-browed Chancellor of the Exchequer who, a year or so ago, stated, at the start of the present financial crisis, that the UK was in a better position than either the US or the rest of Europe to withstand an economic downturn?

What happened? I listen eagerly for Ministers to admit their failure but all seem to now say it was caused by events beyond their control and it's not our fault, Governor.

I only ask because their deft ability to pass the buck has directly affected a dear friend of mine.

She had her property repossessed at the beginning of the crisis by a mortgage company that, in their benevolent wisdom, decided the following facts were not to be considered; a) she already had an offer that was being processed; b) she was in a women's refuge at the recommendation of the police because an extremely dangerous individual was stalking her; c) she was on medication for depression; d) she had a far higher percentage of equity in the property than she owed the mortgage company.

The munificent mortgage company put the property on the market at a higher price than had been agreed with the individual/s who were then in negotiation. Needless to say, the kindly mortgage company rapidly had to reduce the price in order to find a buyer, which they eventually did.

Six months later, because of the urgency and concern with which the charitable mortgage company addressed the sale, it fell through.

The wonderfully humane mortgage company, who do not deign to address my friend directly but through a third party, have informed her that her property, originally on the market for £210,000, is now worth only £120,000. However, she shouldn't be concerned because they will still be able to recover the money they are owed.

She, my dear friend, writes of her story here.

The reason I report this, apart from the fact I cannot think of this episode without wishing for something extremely slow and painful to happen to the entire board of this wholly saintly mortgage company, is that I stayed with my friend over the weekend.

She has, at last, been able to move out of the refuge into a tiny but bijou residence in the middle of a very venerable town not far from Brighton. I am being circumspect about precisely where as she is still not safe from the individual stalking her.

It was lovely to see her looking so positive and happy - though that might have been the gin. Her new location certainly helps. I have visited the town before but never raised my eyes to its surroundings. It is beautifully situated and should be banned as being too similar to the cliché of an illustration that used to grace the top of a box of chocolates.

So here's to you, dear friend, and may all your troubles just be me.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

A Hotchpotch

I am currently reading: The Playmaker, Thomas Keneally, Sceptre, 1993. ISBN0 340 42263 7

I thought I might share my thoughts on Incidents in the Rue Laugier by Anita Brookner. I reached for this book at a recent 2 for 1 offer at my local Shelter charity shop, (I like to spread my book purchasing largesse among the charity shops and not rely exclusively on Oxfam), as I remember reading her Hotel du Lac some years ago.

Brookner writes in an elegant, if somewhat dated, hand in  that her language seems to offer the formality of another generation.

Incidents in the Rue Laugier is a framed story, the conceit being that the daughter finds among her deceased mother's belongings a notebook with but a few enigmatic French notations. From these, the daughter constructs the story of her parents' life.

Her mother, Maud, was born in a provincial French town and raised from an early age by her mother alone, her father having died prematurely. Her mother is weighed down by her lose of both husband and status, and wishes only to see her daughter suitably married.

On their annual visit to the chateau of her well-to-do aunt, Maud meets an Englishman, who is rich, handsome, witty, very much the roué, and a catch beyond the dreams of her mother. They have a brief affair - doubly daring as it against all manners to sleep with someone under the roof of a relative.

She, the Englishman and his male friend, Edward, adjourn, with her mother's consent, to an apartment in Paris. Very quickly, the Englishman tires of her. However, Edward, ever overshadowed by his companion, comes to her rescue. He has fallen in love with Maud. He guesses Maud is pregnant and offers his hand.

Edward is from Eastbourne so equally as provincial as Maud. On the back of an unexpected inheritance and wanting to be single and free of all encumbrances, he has set out on a grand adventure to travel the world. However, his courage deserts him at his first stop.

So the two return to England, to the book shop that Edward has inherited in Pimlico, both  as failures, but both dependent on the other. (Maud is not, in fact, pregnant at the time; it is question of mistaken timing.)

It is an extremely, I am tempted to use the word, agreeable story, if melancholic; a sense of duty and obligation seeps from every page. However, if it has one fault, it is that it is ahistoric. Brookner provides a date for the gathering at the chateau, it is 1971, and Maud is just nineteen.

This is a revolutionary time for youth. It is the era of the Beatles, the Stones, and just three years after the student riots in Paris; events that made their effects known on every teenager no matter how distant their town of origin. To ignore them seems wilful, or simply forgetful.

The filial sense of duty and obligation, I describe, seems to me to belong to that of the immediate post-war period, and more post-WWI than WWII.

The sharp eyed among you might have spotted a new widget on my side panel. It is a wondrous gadget created by Stray to help promote Caroline Smailes' new book, Black Boxes.

To quote, it is:
based on how 'different choices can effect your path in life' theme of Carolines book Black Boxes, and we hope you'll join in by taking part, you must make a series of choices and then you will be taken to a mystery blog of another person taking part who picked similar answers to you.... who knows where your answers may lead!
The old advertising person in me is much impressed.

And last but not least, I am going to the launch of Caroline's book at Borders in Oxford Street on Thursday week. I am really, really looking forward to it.

A book launch, my first. And the opportunity to meet Caroline. Can't wait.

Don't you think I look like Terry Pratchett - 
without the beard ? But with the talent? 
(We shall see.)

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

"As I was saying to Terry…"

I have this suspicion that Terry Pratchett, no less, has been reading my blog.

In this interview with Mariella Frostrup, on The Book Show on Sky Arts, he confirms some of the conclusions about the writing process that I have arrived at in the course of working on my novel, i.e. that the very process itself is generative, and that an internal logic is established which necessarily dictates the course of events.

As the interview, at just under eight minutes. is longish, I have not included it, (go here), instead I have transcribed the episode where Pratchett talks about his work. (Errors and omissions accepted.)

Mariella: 'I wonder how much they've [the DiscWorld novels] become an opportunity for you to channel all the things you were thinking seriously about into a different world where they take on a different aspect? You are credited now with being this fantastic satirical writer.'

Terry: 'It just happens […] Asking an author like me is like asking an artist why that bit of the picture is blue. The artist is pretty certain that that bit of the picture should be there and that it should be blue.'

'When I start the books I have a few disjointed ideas, maybe a few prejudices, and they're stirred together, and a plot turns up out of them. A lot of the other things happen by what I call emergence - what scientists call emergence.'

'In the process of writing a book, it starts to write itself. Logical things happen one after the other. What I have to do is lots and lots of editing. The first draft is a terrible mess but stuff turns up, important stuff of value to the plot and to help me in my thinking, happily turns up during the writing process.'

Friday, 5 September 2008

Someone's been Spying on Me.

Found this inspirational piece of stop-action animation courtesy of Hypercompendia. If only!

In NovelRacers, Helen Shearer talks about writing competitions. I have only ever entered two: the first, was when I was twelve or so, for a Women's Own competition, which somewhat dates me; the second, for an on-line flash competition, which cost me a fiver. I have mixed feelings about competitions. On the one hand, they motivate you to write, on the other, the chances of you winning are so remote that when you fail, inevitably, you compound your feelings of uselessness and feel less motivated than ever. So I avoid.

However, I still have a fondness for my flash fiction story and will leave it to you to judge its worth:

Everything has its place

“Now where the hell did I put it?” he complained. “I know it was here last night. The bloody thing’s just disappeared.”

With mounting irritation, exacerbated by a hangover of magnum proportions, he wandered from one room to another ineffectually peering behind sofas, into cupboards and around doors. In the sitting room he tripped over a number of empty wine bottles left standing on the floor and sent them spinning across the carpet.

“F**k! Just how much did I have to drink?” he thought.

He looked at the mess in the room. It did nothing to improve his feelings of nausea. He was a meticulous individual who drove his wife to distraction with his fastidious ritual of aligning every object on every shelf every time he set foot in the room. 'Everything has its place and there’s a place for everything,' was his mantra. But now the ashtrays were overflowing, the carpet was stained, there were marks on the coffee table and, most inexplicably, the hammer was lying in the middle of the floor amid the now upturned bottles. He thought briefly about clearing up but then glanced at his watch. It was almost eight o’clock and he had to leave if he was to catch his train.

He went to the hall, pulled on his coat, grabbed his briefcase and, with one last glance back in the vain hope that he’d find what he was missing, left.

It was a bright morning. The air was so crisp it crackled, and, on the pavement, the frost was just beginning to retreat before the sun. Three doors down from his house he passed a skip. Something in it caught his eye and for a mere fraction of a second he paused – he had discovered the object he had been searching for.

"Good God, so that’s where I put it,” he muttered, as he continued on towards the station. “Tidy in thought, tidy in mind.”

It was only as he was feeding his ticket into the barrier did he wonder whether his neighbour would have any objections to him throwing his wife’s body on the skip.

“Well it’s not like I’ve dumped an old mattress,” he reflected, “that would be really annoying.”

© David O'Connor Thompson

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Words as Weapons

I would like to introduce you to a blog I have been following for a few months now.

It is written by a Canadian, who goes under the name of Palinode and whose parents live in the wonderfully named university town of Saskatoon. - the intellectual equivalent of Looney Tunes in my paronomasia-obsessed imagination.

A palinode, which is not, by the way, a friend suffering from adenoids no matter how much it seems it should be, is defined as a poem in which the poet retracts a view or sentiment expressed in a former poem.

Palinode, the blogger, is best described as a crypto-sardonic anarchist with a distinct grasp on language and a forensic eye for human frailty. His observations are funny if somewhat paranoid. This post, in particular, I like.

I have been trying to think of a poem of retraction, the only one I can find is among Shakespeare's sonnets. In Sonnet 71, he writes:

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world, with the vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
Or if (I say) you look upon this verse,
When I, perhaps, compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay;
Lest the wise world should look into your moan
And mock you with me after I am gone.

In Sonnet 74, he seemingly revises his opinion:

But be contented when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away;
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee;
The earth can have but earth, which is his due,
My spirit is thine, the better part of me;
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead,
The coward conquest of a wretch's knife,
Too base of thee to be remembered:
The worth of that, is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains.

I am sure there are better, probably famous, examples of palinodes but poetry is not my forte. If anyone knows of better, please direct.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

There ain't no flies on Amy

At three years and four months, young Amy is displaying all the sharpness of a very sharp thing that has recently been sharpened.

As reported by her mother, my daughter, Emily:

Amy: Mummy, I want to go to the loo.

Emily: Well off you go then.

Amy: But I don't like going up the stairs by myself.

Emily: Why not?

Amy: Well come with me and I'll tell you on the way.


Thursday, 28 August 2008

Follow Your Heart - Keep to the Logic

I am currently reading: Incidents in the Rue Laugier, Anita Brookner. Penguin, 1996, ISBN 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Oh blessed serendipity when two posts collide in the outer blogsphere to produce a Gestalt outcome.

Calistro has posted on Writing Fear and the difficulty of choice she has to make concerning a character who, in her words, is a tiny bit 'out there'.

As I have blogged elsewhere, (half way down here to be precise), I find the creative spark is ignited by the process of writing. Events, remarks, even characters seemingly emerge on screen without so much as a by your leave, without invitation.

However, I reason, they have not emerged just to make mischief. They have a purpose, not always immediately apparent granted, but somewhere in my fecund subconscious their presence makes sense.

Let me clarify. A novel has its own internal logic, its own set of rules, and, so long as everything that happens within the novel fits to that logic, it matters not how crazy it may appear in the wider world. Think of Terry Pratchet's Disc World, think of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, think of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, think of any great novel.

Indeed, one can argue, that one purpose of a novel is to produce an alternative universe where life is not quite as we know it, Jim. A universe that informs us of our own by focusing on it through a distorting lens.

This internal logic of which I talk can be dictated by the view of the world presented by one character, by an individual event or series of events, by the whole world in which the book is set, or by its premise.

So long as a story is faithful to its own logic, so long as its characters remain true to themselves, then I am more than willing to believe that someone can wake up and believe themselves to be a beetle.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

A Little Carp

I am currently reading: Elizabeth Costello, J. M. Coetzee, Vintage, 2004, ISBN 0 099 461927

I keep up to date with a number of blogs via my RSS reader, many of who are fellow writers struggling, as I do, with their work.

Writing is a lonely job, as J.M. Coetzee so beautifully illustrates in the book I am currently reading, Elizabeth Costello, so it is heartening to read of others' highs and lows. In those frequent moments when you lose confidence in your ability, it is comforting to know it is only part of the process; that you are not alone; that other writers experience the same.

Of course, the greatest joy is to read of another's ultimate triumph, which is to get his or her novel published. It is the carrot that keeps one going. I take genuine pleasure in some one else's success.

There is a however, however. My carp, and it is a very small one swimming around in a tiny fish bowl, is that once a person is published, their blog becomes less about writing, which is what I am interested in, and more about the whirl of reviews, readings, and other machinations of the marketing process.

I do understand the excitement, especially if it is one's first novel to be published. After the solipsistic exercise of writing, to discover that other people want to hear what you have created must be thrilling.

However, as I said, it is the journey that most interests me.

Having released my little carp into the wild, I am sure it will come back to bite me in the nether regions should I ever get published. I must beware that I don't get too carried away should that excitement ever come to pass.