Thursday, 24 April 2008

HB B 2B 3B 4B 5B 6B

Does anyone else enjoy drawing? If so do they find it a struggle to know when to leave well alone?

I completed two more pictures for Amy's Story last night (see my last blog), which, incidentally, still has no title. I then looked again at the drawing I posted last time.

Oh fateful!

Hmm! I thought, Mum's hair looks like a bad hair day. More like a badly fitting helmet day. So… rub, rub rub… fiddle, fiddle, fiddle. And I am still not sure whether it is improved or not.
I shall have to leave it to stew for a time and come back to it to see what I have achieved. Or not.

In the interest of objectivity, I post my two latest drawings. (Or should that be vanity? No, OBJECTIVITY. It does help to remove the subject from oneself to see it clearly. IT DOES. IT DOES. IT DOES.)

One is of granddad, i.e. me, meeting Mum and Amy, the other of Mum and Amy swimming underwater. As before, no background detail has been added.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Happy Birthday Amy!

It's my first granddaughter's third birthday today. Amy. Dear, round-headed, Amy.

For her present I wrote her a short story, least it started off as a short story but gradually extended itself to 6,000 words.

It was an interesting exercise.

A very particular audience. A story that I had in my head from start to finish. So it was simply a matter of describing what I could see in an appropriate way governed by a desire not to talk down or even at Amy.

So I included words that she might not understand.

I remember being read Peter Rabbit as a young child and adoring the word 'soporific' which appeared on the first page, as far as I remember. I had no idea what soporific meant but it sounded wonderful, then, once explained, sounded onomatopoeic.

I have never forgotten soporific.

I feel sleepy just repeating it.

My big problem has being to illustrate it. Children are difficult to characterise. I made many false starts. But yesterday, at lunch break, I walked past a gallery and saw a big crude, forceful painting of a child and thought "Ah ha!'.

I had found my style. OK, someone else's style. But now mine.

For I intensely dislike the simple reductionist style of Disney. Again, from my childhood, I remember the illustrations of Beatrix Potter, E. H. Shepard and John Tenniel.

They were illustrations that illustrated. For the function of an illustration, to my mind, is to add to, and not just act as literal translations of, the text.

What they heighten is the dark side of the story. They create an atmosphere, which, though inspired by the words, create a setting for the words.

They are pictures you can visit and revisit and always find something new.

My drawing is just of Mum and Amy, Amy peering up at the dizzying height of Brighton's Victorian station, without the background detail yet added. (I ought to add that Mum is very pregnant. Her second is due in mid-June. Otherwise she would, of course, be slim as a very slim pencil that has recently been on a diet.)

The problem I now face is colour. I am not a brilliant colourist. I might have to call on the talents of, Sue, a dear friend who has recently discovered she has a talent, a real talent, for watercolours.

Of course,some, the cruel among you, might say I am not a brilliant illustrator. But I like it.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

A Rose by Any Other Name is … Plagiarism?

I was discussing art with a work colleague who is an artist. Most of my colleagues are artists of one form or another; painters, writers, musicians or singers. It's the kind of job that attracts artists. It is very flexible. All you have to do is commit to a minimum of 21 hours a week. There are three shifts a day; morning, afternoon and evening. Each shift is three hours with a 15 minute break after the first hour and a half.

The fifteen minute break is very important. We smokers all assemble outside, to one end of the revoltingly ugly building we occupy. It was opened in 1963 by Mayor Toopompoustobetrue and Chairman of the Planning Committee, Councillor Backhander. We smokers are not allowed to place ourselves in front of the building, not even on the pavement. This despite the fact that we pay to maintain this public thoroughfare with our local taxes. Perhaps we are perceived as raising the tone of the place.

We smokers are now the healthiest individuals on the workforce. Every break, no matter the weather, we troop outside to face the elements. Come rain, snow, blizzard, or gale with a chill factor of 20 below freezing, you will find us huddled around warming our fingers on our glowing cigarette butts. And, unlike our prissy non-smoking colleagues, who remained glued to their computers throughout their break, wasting their precious eyesight in order to see who has posted yet another anonymous picture of another nonentity on their Facebook, we converse.

So, as I said, I was discussing art with a work colleague who is an artist. He was telling me that he had been commissioned to paint one of the Stations of the Cross for a vicar friend of the family. The Stations of the Cross, for those who are not Catholic or High Anglican, are fourteen pictures depicting events in the Passion of Christ from His condemnation to the placing of His body in the tomb. Of the fourteen, only eight events are referred to directly in the Gospels, the others being accrued or mythologised over time. Paul, my painter friend, has decided to paint the Resurrection, not a conventional scene in this context, which got us into a discussion of the role of the Stations. I, having been raised a Catholic, thought his idea excellent for, if you are a believer, the death of Christ is the necessary presage to His Resurrection. And it is His Resurrection that is His final triumph, indeed, one can argue it is the whole purpose of His life. I ruminated on my belief that the traditional role of the Stations, i.e. the depiction of Christ's death, was a means of subjugating the faithful by weighing them down with guilt. (We sinners, of course, being responsible for His death, or He would have… er… lived to a great age and passed peacefully away in a hospice?) Hence the absence of the Resurrection. It offers hope to all and no ruler can possibly allow his subjects to live in hope. Fear, imaginary or real, as we know from current times, is the proper way to keep people in their place. (As an unnecessary postscript to this paragraph, I am no longer a believer, neither is Paul.)

However, I am drifting from the point on which I want to expound.

I was discussing art with Paul, the artist, as I might have mentioned, when we got onto the subject of content, style, Carravagio, and plagiarism. The latter topic particularly interested me. Paul quoted some well known artist, whose name temporarily escapes me, as saying something along the lines of 'Steal everything'. This, of course, is now totally acceptable in most arts. It is called sampling in the music business and irony in art. But it seems still to remain taboo in writing. The only author I can think of who openly nicked others' work was William S. Burroughs of Naked Lunch fame. (As part of a writing exercise, I wrote an existential piece that stole brazenly from Burroughs, Miller and Kerouac. It leaves you breathless but was fun to write.)

So, during the course of this conversation on art, and, in particular, on plagiarism, it occurred to me that I might have found the solution to a block against which I have been head-banging with one of my books. It concerns death. As already intimated, I do not believe in an afterlife, least not the way I was taught, however, I find myself with two subjects who have died yet insist on haunting my novel. I give nothing away. The book is not of horror, Goths, spirituality or the like; in fact, it is hard to say what my book is of. Much sweat mostly. I can say it is not a totally serious book. That said, I do not want it to be frivolous so have been searching for a way to underpin it with a thoughtful theme.

Death seems appropriately grave. But how to approach the subject in these secular times bookended by fundamentalists of one belief or another? It becomes more difficult if one's belief is, at worst, vague and, at best, lost in very complex philosophical ideas. The last thing I want to inflict on the world is a didactic work masquerading as a novel, Sartre's Nausea being a case in point. So, I thought, why not nick the ideas of other novelists, past, present and dead, and play around with them? I accept, of course, this is not a novel idea. However, as one thought inevitably followed another, I pondered on the idea of lifting lines on the subject wholesale from other writers. Why not? Context is all. Placing lines written in another time, of a different place, inhabited by other characters, into my novel will create a new interpretation, a new elucidation on the topic.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Tolling The Bell Jar*

There is much one hears of depression but, interesting in itself, very little on blogs or when in conversation with friends. It is a taboo topic. People will employ every form of euphemism to avoid the word. Two people famously spring to mind who were brave enough to admit to the condition; Winston Churchill with his black dog days, (note the euphemism) and Stephen Fry, who was brave enough to call his black dog by its correct name, bipolar, and explore it in detail.

I have been pondering on this question; why is the topic so forbidden? I believe that, in the first instance, it is seen by both parties, confest and confessor, as an admission of failure, a sin of omission; the weaker party having failed to live up to the current maxim of the necessity, in all circumstances, to be positive, to look on the bright side, to get a grip, to pull oneself together, et cetera ad nauseam.

Such circumlocutions, I believe, are haunted by fear. In the way that depression itself is irrational, the inability of people to discuss it is equally so. One may discuss any physical affliction without embarrassment but not the mental equivalent. The difference being, perhaps, that while a condition such as measles is recognised as being contagious and, therefore, comprehensible and so containable, the fear is that depression maybe similarly catching though in a totally incomprehensible fashion which is, hence, uncontrollable. Of the former, one can be objective, scientific even, of the latter, being as it is of the mind, one relapses into being subjective.

This attitude is reinforced by the experience of attending a gathering where one individual may lift the whole mood by the force of their personality. Or, the reverse, where a group can be cast into gloom by the presence of a single morose individual.

However, one must differentiate. A morose individual is precisely that; someone whose general cast leans towards the pessimistic, whereas a depressed individual is one who is suffering temporary, or chronic, acne of the intellect.

I mentioned in my last post that I have a dear friend who suffers from clinical depression, the fact is I have two. Both are wonderful individuals but you as a friend must accept there will be days when they will be overcome by their illness. All one can do is wait. They may or may not want your attention. They often do not want your solicitude. So you attend, remotely if needs be. They are invariably grateful, post the attack, that they you were hovering, so to speak, somewhere in the background. It gives them the freedom to speak, if they wish, of the place where they have just been. Their depression becomes a concrete object that can be discussed objectively, often humorously, which helps place their illness in the context of being an aberration, as any illness, and not a definition of them as individuals.

* A reference to Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar