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.