Sunday, 24 May 2009

Mind Massage Music Please.

I cannot write in the absence of sound. It would be an impossibility, anyhow, given that I live over a main shopping street. However, that is not the point.

If I do attempt to compose in silence I cannot concentrate. My mind wanders away to chase one butterfly after another until it is over the hill and faraway. It needs a background noise to fight against, and it is only in this contest does it succeed in focusing on the matter in hand.

The sound I choose varies according to my purpose. If I am creating the story, in other words, in the process of developing a passage where there is a need for lateral thought, I like the sound of the human voice, so I will listen to a radio drama. I find the voices in the background promote associated thoughts and ideas for my own work.

If I know precisely what is happening on paper and it is only a question of setting it down, or if I am redrafting my work, as now, voices are too diverting - their words clash with mine - so I listen to music.

The music I find the best aid to concentration in these circumstances was discovered after much experimentation while writing my MA dissertation.

It cannot involve the human voice for aforementioned reasons. Neither, must it be too strident or explosive for similar reasons. Rock music is out.

Step forward Joseph Haydn with his violin and cello concertos. They are gentle, soothing and upbeat, subtle and intelligent. They massage the grey cells.

I would love to find more music with similar qualities. Unfortunately, I am something of a dunce when it comes to music. At the moment, I am listening to Handel's last opera, Admeto, on BBC Radio 3. It's not doing the job. Too much emotion.

Any music buffs out there have any suggestions?


Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Saints & Sinners

I had a long conversation with my ex earlier - dear Sue. We were discussing elder daughter, Rebecca, who has a very exciting project to participate as a film researcher in what sounds to me a complex production where, as Rebecca says, her ideas and her creativity are valued.

Her boss, with whom she has worked for a couple of years now, is a man I would love to meet. He is, according to Rebecca, a workaholic who has always encouraged and helped her. He did his best to help her to take on this temporary job - even to the extent of negotiating a very respectful daily fee for her.

As I said, I have never met him but I would dearly love to.

(Like me, he is a fan of Manchester United, though, unlike me, has the money to follow them wherever they travel in search of silver. But that is by the by. And in case I hear sighs, the reason why I follow the fortunes of Manchester United is because I went to a Jesuit boarding school in Lancashire from the age of seven, and most of the boys were from Manchester, so supported what was, in those days, the predominantly Catholic United team as opposed to the Protestant City team.)

As I said to Sue, the creative world seems divided into the those whose egos are so big they cannot look beyond searching for their own image on any reflective surface. And those who will make every effort to promote and encourage others.

Rebecca, as she recognises, is very fortunate. Also, very excited. Fingers crossed the project works out. It is only for three weeks.

On a different matter, yesterday was a brick wall in terms of editing my book. Not a word written or revised. Today, will be different as I think I have a resolution to the block.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

William Caxton, Where Are You Now That I Need You?

On this gloomy and wet morning when even the gulls look miserable, I am feeling very positive.

I have restructured my MS, printed out the first chapter, gone through it word by word and identified the holes.

It has been an interesting process. First I read the whole in one go to get a feel of how it held together, marking any obvious weakness with a cross. Next I read it page by page with the eye of a critic. I have edited others' work before and found it easier than I thought. I just pretended someone else had written it. I patched and repaired as I went along in longhand.

Today I will be transferring my notes to screen. And that will be Chapter One.

My only gripe is the speed and cost of printing. It took an hour for my appallingly slow printer to spit ink on fifty-four pages. Eventually, I want to make three copies of my finished MS to send to three carefully selected individuals who have kindly agreed to critique it before I give the book its final polish. That means printing one thousand plus pages. Even as I type this, my printer looks faint.

How do others manage to produce hard copies of their work? I am hoping I can do a deal at the place where I work. Tuppence a page if I supply the paper sounds fair. Doesn't it?

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Heavy Breathing

I love words. I am a writer, now an author, so I would do. I love their history, their origins, how their meaning has developed over the centuries, sometimes to come to represent the very opposite of that which was their original intention. Wicked!

Henry Miller, whose works I swallowed in huge indigestible lumps, hungry for their flavour, envious of their energy, prior to my entry to Sussex University, famously used to visit his local library in New York on a daily basis (I forget which, it is probably the equivalent of the British Museum) to look through a dictionary to find a word unknown to him at the time that he would then employ the next time he set pen to paper. He lived on words.

I love Miller; he helped me get my pass into Sussex. His works are full of bombast, lies and, occasionally, truth but, as earlier stated, spark and sizzle with energy. He must have been an exhausting individual to have been associated with, one that sucked all the oxygen from the room.

I met his equivalent when living in Paris. Not his equivalent, but an American disciple. He had been a director of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago, world-renowned, cutting edge and stuff like that, who was doing his Henry Miller thing in Paris.

He directed an am/dram version of Pinter’s The Homecoming. It was staged in a tiny, ancient and venerable lecture room of a Parisian university, I forget which, with a minute balcony. You could well have been back in the days of tricorn hats and Madame Guillotine. The lighting consisted of one naked bulb shaded with a piece of greaseproof paper. The actors were on stage when sitting down, off stage when standing behind their chairs.

I had never seen a staging of or read The Homecoming and, essentially, this was a glorified reading, but I remember to this day the power of that dramatisation.

This quote is lifted from Wikipedia:

Considering the play while surveying Pinter's career on the occasion of its 40-anniversary production at the Cort Theatre, in The New Yorker, the critic John Lahr writes: "'The Homecoming' changed my life. Before the play, I thought words were just vessels of meaning; after it, I saw them as weapons of defense. Before, I thought theatre was about the spoken; after, I understood the eloquence of the unspoken. The position of a chair, the length of a pause, the choice of a gesture, I realized, could convey volumes.” [sic]

I love words. But I am wary of their power. We are strange creatures insofar as we are unique in our ability to employ abstract sounds to convey meaning. I accept every creature uses sound to declare a territory or invitation to breed – a terrorcity, a fuck-off-out-of-here-you-are-on-my-land-unless-you-can-have-babies declaration – yet are we so different? Isn’t that what The Homecoming is about?

Words are circumcised, they land in our ear gentle and pleasing, disguised of the outrage of the act of circumcision. Words are brutal as an act of rape, overreactions to the act of circumcision. And what do I mean by this concept of circumcision other than circumscription. It may strike you merely as a play on words, but one function of words is to play one on the other.

Out of a misguided politesse, we employ words to disguise what we mean though we will, with tone and tenor, do our utmost to insinuate our venom.

[I can hear the tut-tuts of those who believe themselves to be totally altruistic in their every utterance. Or, those who forgive themselves for wilful thoughts because they believe they are absolutely justified. Hey-ho.]

No utterance is innocent. Every one is fully laden with e-numbers. It is for this reason we find the written and spoken word so fascinating. Words betray us. Words allow us to peer through the physical presence to the insecurities of the person we believe we identify with. I can hear tuts. My interpretation of others’ words is moulded by my own psyche. But that is the truth of words. We, we alone, listen to what we hear; we alone interpret what the words mean. Our interpretations are pebbles in a pond of our own making, ripples that disrupt, or are disrupted by, the surface of our own consciousness.

My understanding is a dangerous view of this most fundamental intercourse; yet history, in a collective sense, bears me out.

It is not so much words, their classification, categorisation, annexation, seclusion, and exclusion of true communication that I love, but their failure in what they, or we believe, they achieve.

We tell stories – all of the time. Truth, as Geoffrey Bennington locuted in his inaugural professorial lecture, is the sight of a fish flashing in the water: to capture is to kill: to glimpse is sufficient.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Remember to Take a Big Breath Before Diving from the High Board

On Novel Racers, LeatherDyke UK has posted on the difficulty of completing a novel. The loss of ‘oomph’ as you come into the final straight.

Coincidentally, mon pote, Stuart and I were discussing this very issue recently. As he pointed out, it is a familiar problem for artists and artisans of every hue and, as I commented on Novel Racers, it is the equivalent of la petite mort, the apt French description for an orgasm and a death, the ending that is both desired and feared for the very fact it is the end. (If you are wondering why all the Froggy references, Stuart lives in Brittany.)

Ma grande mort couramment is stage two of my book, the edit. I have read enough and know enough to recognise this is where the hard work is done. All I have achieved so far is to string together an outline story. Now, it needs crafting.

The assembly, the chipping away at the marble block to release the shape within, has taken over a year – yes, far too long – and has been completed in three hundred words here, five hundred there, at different times and in different moods. So the whole needs to be buffed to arrive at a consistency of style and tone. Holes need to be filled. The structure requires careful surveying to ensure the end product is sure footed.

The temptation is to celebrate the final sentence of the work as is and declare it finished. It would be a fatal mistake. Yet, the thought of delving back in is frightening. Re-writing one sentence leads to more of the same, as changing one statement will have a Newton Cradle’s knock-on effect. It won’t affect the storyline – that is firmly established – but…

It has to be done. I want this novel to be as good as I can possibly make it.

My dearest wish is to have four weeks locked away somewhere tranquil and scenic, with no distractions, in order to give my full attention to the edit. And pigs might fly. And have flu.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Exhausted or Triumphant?

At 1.00 p.m. yesterday - Monday, 4th May - a book was born. Author is tired but well. Book needs some TLE - tender, loving, editing.

Monday, 4 May 2009

A Little About a Lot

You don’t have much to report when writing every spare minute.

I am sprinting for the finish, much in the manner of Jon last weekend at the London marathon though without his style.(Congratulations, Jon. Don’t do it again. It exhausts me just to think of it.)

I have written 6,500 words since Wednesday.

I can comment on my computer screen. I have been staring at it for hours. It needs a wipe. Also, it has developed a worrying flicker. Do computers suffer from palsy in their old age?