Last night I watched Panorama documentary about people in the West Midlands who voted for Brexit. (Incidentally, I voted ‘shake it all about’ – where are my views represented?) Anyway, it was a really interesting watch. He interviewed a dozen or so people about why they voted for Out: they were all white and working-class and although not overtly racist there was a persistent perception that immigrants and refugees get houses and services ‘ahead of’ them. So far, so predictable. But there was a strain in their thinking which I hadn’t been aware of. A lot of Brexiteers seem to want to turn the clock back to some kind of golden age; and whereas for many this is a time when Britain was ‘great’ – 1966, perhaps, or when we had an empire – others (and these were the ones represented in the documentary) simply want a time when there…
Beetleypete has an interesting post today where he’s interviewed by another blogger about his life on wordpress. Fair warning: I’ll be picking up this idea in the autumn and pouncing on my followers to interrogate them about their writing lives. In the meantime I’ll be asking myself some pretty searching questions:
How would I describe my blog? Hm, that’s a hard one. The go-to description is ‘a writer’s life’ and that’ll do for a start, but basically this blog goes in any direction it damn well pleases and I just tag along (pun intended, ho ho).
What is my writing process like and do I have any rituals? My process nowadays is that I just get to the computer and see what comes up. If nothing comes I’ll look at my diary, news headlines or Facebook for ideas and in the end something usually comes together. As for rituals, a cup of tea always helps.
What’s one of your blogging pet peeves? I guess it’s rudeness or trolling. Fortunately I haven’t had much of this in recent years but I’ve had a few in the past. They always get blocked – and interestingly when you look at their blogs they’ve produced little or no content. Actually that’s another pet peeve – people calling your writing ‘content’ (slaps wrist.)
What are some of your biggest aspirations? I’d like to have more followers and views than I do; then again if I did my whole life could be taken up with responding to comments. I guess as long as I’m enjoying it, that’s enough.
What are some of your biggest blogging mistakes? I’d have to say arguing with trolls. There are some people I should have blocked straight away.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting a blog? Do it. Write about what interests you, blog often and don’t go on too long. I aim for around 500 words, Beetleypete goes for 900 but more than a thousand is too much for most readers.
So that’s it. Pretty soon these and other questions will be dropping on your doormat. In the meantime, thanks to Beetleypete and to Confessions of a random blogger and I hope you don’t mind me swiping some of your ideas.
I was just wondering what to write about when my eye lit on a notebook with an Escher drawing on the front. Twiddliness! I thought. So that’s where I’ll begin. OH has a book called ‘Godel, Escher, Bach‘ which is on this very subject. Godel was a mathematician and there are similarities between him, Escher and Bach, all of them being inclined to turn things upside down, inside out and round and round. Bach can take a simple piece of music, play it a few times, turn it upside down and sideways and then chop it up; Escher does the same thing with images, producing optical illusions where fish turn into birds and staircases, like share prices, go up as well as down. I’m not sure what Godel does because I skipped the section on him (shame!) but there you are. Maybe if it wasn’t so hot I’d be able to say something more coherent on the subject…
Yesterday turned out to be not such a bad day in the end; after a depressing morning I went for a walk (always a good plan) and sat in my easy chair for the afternoon. I use my easy chair – in reality a garden chair because an armchair won’t fit in my study – for periods of reflective writing, or perhaps no writing at all, just staring at clouds and daydreaming. I don’t actually do enough of this – I suspect most of us don’t – and it’s very valuable. Just to sit and allow thoughts to emerge as they will – or not – is one of the best ways a writer can spend her/his time, provided that the rest of the time you actually get some work done. And lo! while I was sitting in reflection I decided to check my phone for emails and there sat my weekly update on freelance writing jobs. I subscribe to this just on the offchance even though most of the jobs are not suitable for me, and there I found a novel-writing competition. I sort of have a novel – well, I have one in development, and since they only required the first 5000 words I sent them off. If they’re interested they want another 5000 in September – which I have – and after that I’ll have to work pretty damn fast if they want the whole thing. But that’s how I rock.
So you see, twiddling your thumbs can be highly productive. The joys of twiddliness!
I’m wondering if it’s a universal rule that after every good day a crappy day must follow. We had a brilliant time with our daughter and granddaughter yesterday; she did not stop talking from the moment we got there till the moment we left. She is truly a marvel of nature – all children are, of course, but this one can hold conversations like a four-year-old and has only to hear a word in order to know it. She knows colours, letters, numbers up to ten, parts of the body and can hold a conversation better than some adults I know. She was much more confident with us this time and even let me change her nappy, which I discovered is like riding a bike, ie a skill you don’t lose.
Speaking of riding bikes, I’ve not been out yet this week, though I plan to go later today. I did 17.5 miles last week in total, which is not too bad, and during August I plan to have some proper days out. But! is it a universal rule that after every great day a crappy day must follow? Sometimes it seems like it. I woke this morning feeling headachy, depressed and poorly rested and with an overwhelming sense of the pointlessness of my existence. Sartre would be proud of me… it is hard to counteract a sense of the pointlessness of one’s own existence because any activity at all seems – well, pointless. Which is why I think on the whole I’d rather have pain than depression. Pain is awful, it can be agonising and debilitating, but it is something to fight against whereas depression is like a cloud that covers everything – and how can you fight a cloud?To add to my woes this morning the curtain rail broke, the toilet seat needed adjusting and then I had an alert from the bank saying I’ve gone over my overdraft limit. Again.
Mornings when I’m feeling like this I do yoga laughter breath. Basically you just breathe out in short bursts saying ‘hahahahahahaha, hehehehehe, hihihi’ and so on, going through the vowels. It really does help; I didn’t feel like laughing AT ALL this morning but once you start you find yourself laughing for real – and then you can’t help but feel better.
That’s what I’m doing today, like Dory I’m just keeping on until something happens or I get where I’m going. Wherever that is… in the meantime I am getting seriously twitchy about the lack of holiday plans. I’m not even sure it’s sensible to go away and by the look of the travel websites millions of people will be doing just that, which makes it even less sensible. I long for a lonely beach, a quiet cottage somewhere tucked away where nobody goes, but I don’t think I’m going to find it. The trouble with lonely cottages where nobody goes is that sooner or later someone goes there – and they tell their friends about it, and their friends go there and before you know it the lonely cottage is a major destination and costs a thousand pounds a week. It’s a bit like this Dire Straits song:
Plus, everything’s expensive this year. People are desperate to go away – and I can’t blame them – and holiday companies are desperate to recoup losses from last year, and I can’t blame them either. So what to do? I’m not as hardy as Brian so cycling and wild camping appeals as much as an enema. All I want is a little self-catering place in the middle of not-quite-nowhere, one which doesn’t cost the earth. And can I find it? Can I buffalo!
Little Victoria Wood reference there for fans. Of course I have other plans; I can visit my sister in Wales and my daughter in Doncaster, I can have days out on the bike and I can do some decorating. Yesterday on freecycle I got a couple of match pots and the day before I got a pair of curtains for the living room. They fit perfectly and look great, so now I really want to decorate the living room to match. I also have to do some decorating for a friend, which has been on hold while I sort out my fatigue issues. But maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about a holiday at all – I think the government’s ‘opening up’ plans are insane and I will not be leaving off mask-wearing and social distancing any time soon. Sometimes I think they just don’t give a damn if thousands die.
Now I’ve gone and depressed myself.
After this week I shall be having a break from work so I will schedule some golden oldies for your delectation. Happy Monday and please, guys, be careful out there. Your mask could save not only your life but others’ lives as well.
Oh, and I cycled 17.5 miles last week. Not much to some people I know, but it’s good for me.
Utopiary is a word I coined a few years back to describe the kind of leaf-perfect tree-moulding that goes on in some gardens. In fact you can usually measure the wealth of a household by the amount of topiary because most of us are too busy just trying to get the hedge trimmed and the lawn cut (while also respecting no-mow May) to be remotely interested in sculpting our trees. Anyway, I don’t like topiary very much; I think trees and bushes should find their own shape rather than having one imposed on them.
None of which is what I was going to write about today. I’m in a real short story phase right now and I’ve started another one which tells the story of a stoning from the point of view of a man waiting to take part in one. I was shocked to discover that this barbaric practice is still legal in fifteen countries of the world, even if it doesn’t always take place. Sometimes there is no legal process whatsoever; the poor woman (it’s usually a woman) is simply sentenced to death for some alleged crime and in Pakistan since adultery is hard to prove the courts are able to ‘use their instincts’. In a deeply misogynistic society you can just imagine how that’s going to play out.
The story was inspired by an article in the latest Granta magazine which plopped onto my doormat this morning and was eagerly snatched up. Wimbledon being over, we’re back to doing the digital detox thing from Friday night to Saturday dinnertime, so I really needed something new to read. The theme of the issue is Interiors and it begins with A Series of Rooms Occupied by Ghislaine Maxwell who, in the absence of Jeffrey Epstein, is waiting in a detention centre to be tried for the crime of supplying young women to be raped by him and other men. I’m not saying we should go easy on Ghislaine if she’s guilty of these crimes, but growing up with a father like Maxwell can’t have been a picnic, and according to this article the place where she’s detained, the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn, is ‘the largest and most dysfunctional’ in the US. I’m not saying our prisons are exemplary but they seem so much worse in the States.
Anyway, I’ve sent off a couple more stories this week, keeping the momentum going, and another one or two will be ready in the next couple of weeks. I’m finding that the momentum is more important than the results, in a way. I’m going to sit in the sun now – for once we have a hot sunny day here. Yay!
Had a rather early start this morning to make a 7.50 appointment for blood tests. They’re being thorough; several phials of my essence are now whizzing off to be tested for vitamin D3, vitamin B12, coeliac, immunoglobulin and something else relating to the liver. So we wait to see if I have any or all of these problems. I can’t fault the staff at the surgery – they’re unfailingly pleasant and helpful when you get through to them. The problem is getting through. Anyway, here’s hoping something will come of this lot because I’m really sick of being tired all the time. On the way back I bought some mini-ciabattas and Abergavenny goat’s cheese for breakfast, but what I really wanted was to be in France, to have gone out for a walk and come back via a small patisserie where I could get some croissants and pain au chocolat.
The lack of a holiday is starting to get to me. It’s been nearly two years since I had a proper break and I realise I’m not alone in this regard but there’s no real prospect of getting away this summer either, and that’s starting to depress me. I would love to have a week by the sea somewhere quiet, just to walk and swim and cycle and read and chill out – it’d be great. But the best I’m likely to do is a weekend in Wales and some days out on the bike. Oh well, better than nothing I suppose.
I sent off another short story yesterday and I’m preparing another to send soon. It’s all about keeping the momentum going; I found this when I was unemployed in the ’80s and applying for jobs – it’s much better just to keep applying without worrying too much about the outcome. So as soon as a story comes back, I’ll send it somewhere else and, just as I did eventually get a job, so I will get more stuff published. I made a list of publications yesterday as I keep forgetting, and it’s more than I thought. Did no-one read Mem Mat yesterday? I didn’t get any comments on it.
Mind you, the job I eventually did get was problematic. I’d been going to a Job Club – these could either be good or useless depending on who was running them and fortunately this one was run by a pair who knew what they were doing. They encouraged me to apply for a job with an arts organisation; the post was for a manager and even though I didn’t have management experience they thought my teaching skills would come in useful. What they didn’t tell me was that the guy running the Job Club had also worked there and had the most awful time with the other manager. I don’t totally blame them for not telling me about this guy, who I shall call Kevin, but he turned out to be worse than David Brent. He was incompetent, devious and manipulative and he drove me round the bend. I ended up making a complaint to his manager and after that he went around with a wounded expression as if he couldn’t quite believe I’d done that to him. Anyone who’s ever worked in a toxic environment will know how demoralising and debilitating that is. But as it was still the 80’s and I was in a management position I was earning a good salary, even if the job was a bit like this one in Black Books:
Anyway, it paid for a holiday in Spain which eventually led to me living there. So that was all good.
The new mattress is by and large a success, though it does have the bad habit of tipping us towards the centre, so we’re having to retrain it by lying towards the edges to flatten it out a bit. I once wrote a story about a mattress; called ‘Mem Mat’ it was about a sign I’d seen in a shop window which puzzled me greatly. What could ‘Mem Mat’ mean? Some sort of doormat? Finally the penny dropped and I realised it was a mattress made out of so-called memory foam.
I’ve never liked the idea of these. I don’t want a mattress that remembers my shape; I want to be free to assume any shape I damn well please. I want a forgetting mattress, a mattress with dementia, if you will. So I was never tempted to buy one. But the sign ‘Mem Mat’ stayed with me and sprouted into a short story in which – no, if I told you that I’d have to kill you. But happily, the story is published here and you can read it.
Everyday Fiction, god bless them, were the first people to publish me with a short story DIVORK (also available on the website). I’ll never forget the feeling when that email came back with the comment ‘this is almost perfectly publishable.’ They are quite an exacting website and wanted a couple of minor alterations but that was fine, and they went on to publish two more of mine, Mem Mat and Olympic Summer. It’s been a while since I’ve sent them anything, mostly because the stuff I write is longer than 1000 words nowadays, but maybe it’s time I di.
Speaking of Science Fiction (and with a quick nod to Chris Conway whose song Science Fiction Eyes is one of my favourites) it is quite shameful how it is disregarded in more literary circles. As OH never tires of pointing out, the concept in Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife is exactly the same as Asimov’s much earlier Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and you can pretty much bet that any speculative idea you come up with has been done, and most likely done to death, in the world of SF. So a little humility in that regard is called for, I think.
I will never forget though, the difference it made to me to be published, to be able to answer with a ‘yes’ the inescapable question, the question Monty asks Marwood in Withnail and I – ‘are you published?’
Yes! Yes, I am published.Have to leave you now to send off some more stories. Toodle pip.
I bought this Booker Prize-winning novel a couple of years ago and read it in the space of a few days. Nothing I’ve ever read has given me a clearer idea of what it was like – particularly for a young woman – to live through the Troubles in 1970’s Northern Ireland. Not that Ireland is named, for in this book nothing and no-one is named. The central character associates with many people in the community; Third Brother in law, Oldest Sister, Wee Sisters, Somebody McSomebody, Longest Friend and Real Milkman, so-called to differentiate him from the Milkman of the title, who as it turns out is no milkman at all.
Nor are neighbourhoods named. There are the ‘people over the street’ (Unionists), the Nation over the Water (mainland Britain) and dangerous spots like the Ten Minute Area, so-called because it takes ten minutes to cross. The main character – whose name we do not know – is stalked by an IRA fighter who without saying anything at all definite, appropriates her as his girlfriend. This is a very gossippy neighbourhood where you have only to be seen talking to a man to be practically engaged to him; before long she is supposed to be this guy’s girlfriend and is approached by a gaggle of other such girlfriends in the toilets and given lessons on how to dress (always skirts, never trousers. It’s your duty to look nice for him, etc – but again, nothing is really said, only hinted.) There is no help from the authorities in this society; if you are injured you don’t go to hospital because the police hang around hospitals, and if you are in trouble the last people you go to are the police.
Milkman shows us how an innocent person with no interest in the Troubles can nevertheless be sucked in to assisting one side or the other. The will of the community – and by extension, the paramilitaries – is paramount, and in the end she is only released from the appalling grip of the so-called ‘Milkman’ by his death.