Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Post-Coital Tristesse

Not that I have had a coital for ages and certainly not one through the post (would it fit through the letter box) but in place of deserved joyeux, I feel tristesse.

My book is complete. My final critic, Richard, a retired English tutor, has read and approved, with a few digs at some of my malapropisms, like grizzly instead of grisly, and is, at this moment, re-reading it for a final check before returning it for me to correct.

So I should be feeling good. Except I am not. If anything I feel deflated. It is a familiar sensation after any creative effort on my part. Is that it, is my interior response; after the intense concentration, application, worry and tension, is that it? Seems so.

Things, I know, will pick up once I start on the next stage, which is to get it published. Also, I need to start on my next book. I have been in a limbo for the past five or six weeks as each of my critics have kindly devoted their time to reading my work and delivering their judgment.

So it is finished - practically perfect as it is possible to be.

We had, that is Richard, Sue and myself, an interesting discussion about the title. Their view is it doesn't work. So we spent some time thinking of a replacement, an exercise that soon descended into a series of appalling puns on the word gull. Prior to the collapse of our collective dignity, we also discussed how best to classify the book. The best we could agree on were literary, contemporary, blackly comedic, and Kafkaesque - the last I am unsure of as it is usually a term employed when writers attempt to inflate the worth of their work, or wish to imply it is something other than it is - badly written and illogical.

My book adheres strictly to its own logic and for that reason we considered and rejected magic realism as it does not repeatedly present you with the fact you are now entering a time or logic warp. (Besides, Richard is not a fan of magic realism.) He promised to apply his considerable intellect in the search of the most appropriate word to categorise it.

I broke the bad news to Rebecca, re: the title, she having thought of it. She was stoic. Having spent the afternoon browsing the titles of books in Borders, I decided we were all trying too hard to find an intriguing title. Let the book intrigue and the title describe. For the time being I have decided to re-title it Thursday to Thursday. Rebecca approves.

Richard mentioned my book reminded him of The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien, not a book I have read. I have just looked it up on Amazon and discover this product description:

A masterpiece of black humour from the renown comic and acclaimed author of 'At Swim-Two-Birds' -- Flann O'Brien. A thriller, a hilarious comic satire about an archetypal village police force, a surrealistic vision of eternity, the story of a tender, brief, unrequited love affair between a man and his bicycle, and a chilling fable of unending guilt, 'The Third Policeman' is comparable only to 'Alice in Wonderland' as an allegory of the absurd. Distinguished by endless comic invention and its delicate balancing of logic and fantasy, 'The Third Policeman' is unique in the English language.

I don't think Richard had been drinking - he gave up some time ago.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Cut, Paste & Copy - A Polemic

Is Copying Others Always Plagiarism?

Good old Jane Smith has designated today* as Anti-Plagiarism day. (This sentence was stolen from Nichola Morgan by the use of copy & paste. How easy it is to lift words out of the pages of others these days.) *Today, as in two weeks ago.

Let me state my point of view at the outset, which is I do not condone theft in any form, and intentionally passing off the work of others as one's own is theft. It is the intentionality of the act that in most respects defines it.


There have been times when individuals have unintentionally copied another; musically, the most famous case I can think of is George Harrison's song, My Sweet Lord, which proved to be practically a note for note copy of a minor hit some years earlier of He's So Fine, composed by Ronald Mack, recorded by the Chiffons. In 1976, the case went to court and Harrison lost. A detailed account of the case may be read here.

Though he lost the case, Harrison preserved his reputation because no one could credit a man of his ability and integrity would deliberately rip off another.


In the world of painting, artists constantly copy others, either in homage or in parody. My favourite is Manet’s Olympia. His is a comment on the nude as typified by Titian's Venus of Urbino where the female is essentially anonymous and on display for the male gaze; whereas in Olympia, Manet personalises the naked woman – note the difference in connotation of the word ‘naked’ compared to ‘nude’ – she is definitively a recognisable individual. His model, far from being coy, stares at the viewer challengingly, and the hand that covers her pudenda does so in a gesture of ownership not promise.

Today, the subtlety of Manet's critique may escape us but not so his contemporaries: "A yellow-bellied courtesan", "A female gorilla made of india-rubber outlined in black", “the Queen of Spades after her bath", were some of the comments made after its first exposition at the Salon des Refusées exhibition, the last, needless to say, being a racist comment.


Writers have similarly parodied the work of others, but some have gone so far as to take the words off the page of others in a deliberate effort to create a new work: William Burroughs is one such writer who immediately comes to mind.

I have done the same. I wrote a 5,000-word short story as an exercise in existentialism where I took passages from the works of Henry Miller, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. In effect, it was a collage and, indeed, the main character, who inhabits the skin of his mentors, would insist on being called Henry, Bill or Jack depending on his whim. If it were ever to be published, I would, of course, acknowledge the action I have taken and reference the passages I lifted – though not directly, as half the fun in reading it is to identify what has come from where.

Shakespeare Baffled

Playwrights of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would be puzzled by the fuss; they constantly took wholesale earlier works of others to rewrite and pass off as their own.

T. S. Eliot in his critique of Hamlet, ‘Hamlet and His Problems’, from The Sacred Wood, ascribes the problem of the leading character, as he sees it, arising from the manner in which the play had passed from hand to hand until it arrives at the quill of Shakespeare. By now, what started life as a simple story of revenge, becomes ‘a play dealing with a mother’s guilt upon her son’, [p83] with the effect ‘Hamlet (the man) is dominated by an emotion that is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear’. [p86]

Do we own our ideas?

My favourite aphorism of earlier days would be to say, God had the original idea and man has copied ever since. And I stick by the sentiment. We are all consciously or unconsciously influenced by the world through which we wander, and, inevitably, these thoughts pass into our own works.

The Statute of Anne, 1710, was the first law to establish the notion of copyright. It is, of course, a determinedly capitalistic concept, and this idea of ownership, to my mind, is the textual equivalent to the enclosure, or inclosure, of the common land in the Tudor period.

Anyone who has read The Golden Ass, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and Boccaccio’s Decameron will recognise the common thread to many of the stories told. Before Claxton first established his press, when the oral tradition persisted, and which still does so in Africa and elsewhere no doubt, tales were passed on to be elaborated by the individual storyteller, the most famous being Shahrazād in The Thousand Nights and One Night: there was a common ownership of plot and character. Even now I believe this to be true, for, in a sense, plot and character arise out of the actions and personality of common humanity, and sometimes I find it difficult to understand how any individual can claim possession.

But I suppose we all need to earn our bread.

(Damn - I have read this several times and still find typos!)

Saturday, 18 July 2009

This Week

I am abused by some most villainous knave, some base, notorious knave, some scurvy fellow and it is doing my head in. So I am heading to Lewes to calm down.

I promised to comment on the issue of plagiarism and will do so later.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

A Small Big Ben Boast

My direct ancestor - great, great, great grandfather, or something - was Benjamin Hall after whom Big Ben is named. Today is its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary. Hurrah!

(He would have despaired at the thought of the Big Brother camera. And, by the way, the name Big Ben applies to the bell, not the tower.)

Friday, 3 July 2009


The gaps between my posts are lengthening, my excuse is I am becoming overwhelmed by social networks of one kind or another. For instance, I spent this morning catching up on sixty plus posts on blogs I follow in between reading Tweets and glancing at Facebook.

I am sure it is all very necessary and will stop me from becoming the fossil of a social outcast in the twenty-first century, but it is time consuming.


Last Tuesday I went with Rebecca and a couple of friends to the J. W. Waterhouse exhibition at the Royal Academy. Waterhouse is the Pre-Raphaelite who was never one of the Brotherhood. He would not feature on my list of preferred artists of the period - Whistler tops the bill as far as I am concerned - but I am very pleased I went.

(This is entitled, Circe Invidiosa: Circe Poisoning the Sea. I prefer the title, Circe Tests New Fairy Liquid.)

Apart from being an unbelievable draughtsman and colourist, he is interesting in that he stuck, more or less, to his theme throughout his life. At various times he is influenced by contemporary developments and interests, like Japonisme, female sexuality, and Impressionism, but his love for Neoclassicism and Romanticism remains with him up until the end.

If you have a heart of stone, the cure is at the RA.

On Monday, I visited Emily, Amy and Katie-the-trainee-police-siren. I have never heard a one-year old with such a loud voice. They are all coming to Brighton for the weekend, so you have been warned.


I have shortlisted the agents I am interested in and have been working on my query letter and synopsis. Meanwhile I am waiting for feedback on the book.

Exciting News

I blogged some time ago about the topic for my next book. Close your eyes little ones, it will be about sex. On the way to work a week or two ago, I had a J. K. Rowling moment - the whole book came to me in its entirety. I even have a working title: Eyes Across a Canvas.

Not being one to take the easy route, it will require an enormous amount of research; however, the thought of that alone excites me.

I am also working on a children's story in conjunction with a work colleague who is an illustrator. This is more a project for both of us rather than something we envisage being published - though you never know. It will be Katie's story to follow the one I have written for Amy.