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.