I Have Been Paged – or Rather, I Have Paged Myself

I had another little notification from WordPress yesterday.  They’re always changing things around here and for some reason they have seen fit to discontinue connections to people’s Facebook profiles.  Wait, now that I read the email it’s actually Facebook who are doing this, not WordPress, so let’s not blame them.  Whoever it is, it came as a bit of a blow because I get lots of readers via Facebook, and although it’s annoying when people don’t comment on here because they’ve done it on there, it does at least mean that you get dialogue; and dialogue is one of the main reasons for getting a blog in the first place.  Writing can be quite isolating, especially if you’re not yet at the stage where you get to do lots of performances, book signings, festivals and so on; so a blog is one of the main ways you can have dialogue with readers.  When I first set fingers to keyboard I was scared of getting negative comments, but I’ve had very few of those.  I’ve dealt with persistent offenders by blocking them, and I once got rid of a troll by asking him to send me some of his own poetry as it was obviously so much better than mine.  I’ve had radio silence ever since.

No, most comments are lovely.  They are interesting, stimulating and, if not always appreciative, at least never hostile.  I have come across points of view which I would never have encountered otherwise, and had conversations with people I would never have met.

But one of the main reasons for writing a blog is what OH calls a ‘brain dump’.  You have thoughts going round and round in your head and you want to do something with them, so you forge them into a blog post.  In so doing you are able to examine these thoughts and see where they lead.  You can evaluate them and judge whether they are worthwhile.  You can hone and refine them – and in so doing, hone and refine your own thought processes.

What’s not to like?

So please, if you’re on Facebook, check out my page and ‘like’ it:

https://www.facebook.com/saradagray/

Kirk out

Advertisements

Can I Be Novel?

From time to time I have what you might call a prosaic crisis, where I wonder if I’m actually cut out to write prose or whether I should stick to poetry.  Yes, I know that these blog posts are in prose, but writing an engaging post is a very different thing from constructing a novel; something which seems utterly to defeat me.

I don’t know where exactly the blockage lies; but maybe help is available, so when a special offer from Mslexia plonked into my inbox; a guide to novel-writing for only three quid, I felt a twinge of that old excitement.  I clicked on the link and read the blurb:

‘Starting with the early sifting of ideas, helping you decide what exactly your book will be about, it goes on to help you create engaging characters, to devise a plot and narrative voice that will keep your reader turning the pages, to work on description and dialogue (and the balance between them), on to editing your work: page by page, but also from a structural perspective.’

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.  It’s perfectly standard stuff – and yet it somehow filled my insides with lead, because once again I felt ‘this isn’t where I’m at.’  I don’t mean I’m above all that, nor that I don’t need to structure a novel or have interesting characters or whatever, just that…

I don’t even know how to explain it.  I don’t know what I want, I just know what I don’t want.  And that is it.

When I write poetry I feel I’m on the edge of a cliff.  Not always, but often: there’s a sense of pleasurable vertigo, of the wind whipping through your brain and flinging your hair in bundles this way and that.  To be engaged – fully engaged – in the writing of poetry is to be on the high peak of living, a place where words flow through you and are shaped and ordered by your hand.  I experience an amazing thrill in working with words, chopping them up and exploring their sound and their sense.

So why can’t I do this with prose?  Well, when it comes to turning a phrase, I can – but there’s more to writing a story than having an instinctive feel for phrases.  And this is where my heart begins to sink, when I think about things like plot and character and action.  Whenever I consider plot, I begin to die inside.  I bimble along with my writing and then a little voice perks up and says, ‘Surely something ought to happen round about now?’ and then I cry ‘Must something happen?  Can’t I just carry on like this?’

I’m not so bad at dialogue; I’m pretty good at description and I think I can convey character and internal thought.  But plot?  Dear god – kill me.  Kill me now.

My prose bores me at the moment: I need something to get the pulse racing; like when I was writing my first novel about a woman trapped in a nuclear bunker and wanted the novel to go right back to the beginnings of life on earth, 300 million years ago.  I was really excited about this, but the novel took years to complete and came out at barely the length of a novella; a form that’s increasingly difficult to publish.  What excited me, though, was to try to get some idea of what three hundred million years is like, to which end I began this doomed exercise:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/three-hundred-million-years/

Sometimes I think I’d give my eye teeth to have a normal sort of idea; to be able to say to people ‘I’m writing a novel about a Bulgarian taxi-driver who … ‘ see?  I can’t even take that idea any further.  Instead of which, I’m writing a novel based on a series of Tapestries and the Fibonnaci series.  See what I mean?

‘Doomed exercise’ pretty much sums up my life right now…

Kirk out

 

Whose Lion is it Anyway?

I always forget about Radio 4xtra (I think that’s how you spell it, though that looks as if it ought to be pronounced ‘fourkstra’) when I’m thinking about stuff to listen to.  I find myself longing for radio shows of yesterweek and forgetting that they are probably all there on Radio 4’s sister station.  Radio 4, for all its faults, is the best of speech radio and on long wave it has the best-loved programme of all, the shipping forecast (this makes it into one of my ‘Brexit Quartet’ of poems which I’ve written this week):

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qfvv

That’s a link to the shipping forecast, not to my poems – but I have to say, writing four poems in two days takes some beating.  Anyway, back to the title which came to me in the middle of the night.  I’ve learned from repeated experience that it’s important to write these things down when they come otherwise a) they will repeat in your mind for ages and b) you won’t remember them in the morning – which is the worst of both worlds.  So, whose lion is it anyway?

Of course I am in the same position as whoever-it-was who, when asked about a comment they’d written, said ‘when I wrote that only two people knew what it meant – God and me.  Now, only God knows.’ 

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7245194-when-i-wrote-this-only-god-and-i-understood-what

Well, perhaps god knows what the lion meant, because I sure as hell don’t: all I have are some associated thoughts.  Let’s see where they take us:

First, some bright yellow chevrons outside a primary school in Leicester with lots of signs saying ‘Don’t park on the yellow lions.’  I think this is a great idea and much more likely to succeed as seeming to come from the children rather than a remote and ineffectual authority.  A similar idea can be seen by the crossing outside Avenue School in a different part of the city where life-sized models of children are standing by the road, and it brings you up short – every time.  Because adults are guilty of forgetting what it’s like to be child-sized; and as Dumbledore said, ‘Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels, but old men are guilty if they forget what it is to be young.’  We have all been children, yet how easily we forget and park on the yellow lions!  So I think it’s clear – the lions belong to the children.

There!  That did take us somewhere.  I shall call it ‘taking a lion for a walk’:

Image result for paul klee taking a line for a walk ks2

Oh!  and, duh! the thing that started it all off was thinking about the show ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Whose_Line_Is_It_Anyway%3F_(radio_series)&_%28radio_series%29=

Kirk out

A Graphic Novel? Moi?

Yesterday the son suggested something so radical it stopped me in my tracks.  ‘Why don’t you and I write a graphic novel together?’ he said.

‘…….’ I said.

‘Well?’

‘…….?’

He was just walking away when my brain caught up with his words.  ‘Yes!’ I shouted at his retreating form.  ‘Yes, yes, yes!’

It is in fact a brilliant idea.  At first I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it because all the graphic novels I’ve read (apart from Asterix) have been strange and incomprehensible to me – but that’s because they’ve been Manga books with lots of weird action and bizarre dialogue.  But he gave me a novel he’s been reading about a young American boy brought up in a poor Christian household and being bullied at school – and I thought, ‘Yes!  I can totally see this.’  So that’s an idea we’re working on at the moment.

Meanwhile yesterday I was quite spectacularly busy as I wrote four (4!) poems about Brexit: A Rant for Leave, A Lament for Remain, A Cry for Both Sides and Am I Patriotic?, an alternative view of patriotism which flips away the flag-waving and xenophobia to focus on what I love about Britain – things like Kew Gardens and the Shipping Forecast.  It’s very eclectic.

So that’s what I’ll be working on today.

Happy Tuesday

Kirk out

There Must Be Dialogue

Sunday viewing in our house is always catching up on ‘Casualty’ (unless we watched it the night before) plus the unmissable ‘Handmaid’s Tale’.  I shall hold off on a review until the end of the series; all I’ll say right now is that its reputation for tense, unpredictable and thrilling drama is by no means exaggerated.  It’s a tribute to the makers that they’ve managed not only to maintain the level of drama of the original story but to build on it and ramp up the tension to an almost unbearable degree.

Meanwhile, since it’s impossible in our house to watch programmes without talking, here’s a smattering of recent conversations.  Incidentally, in my view there’s an optimal level of talking while watching TV: not so much as to interrupt the drama but enough so as not to feel silenced (this level of course varies with the programme: the bar is set quite high with ‘Casualty’ but low with ‘Handmaid’s Tale.’)

So it was that during an outbreak of cystic fibrosis in Holby ED, OH happened to mention, ‘I always think of cystic fibrosis whenever I use our yeast extract.’

Pausing only to grab my phone and record the utterance on Facebook, I continued with the drama, but later saw this ‘explanation’:

‘It’s low-salt and not as spready as Marmite. Reminds me of the higher viscosity of mucus caused by the poor transport of chloride ions across membranes in cystic fibrosis because salt includes chloride ions too.’

Yeah, we’ve all had that thought… he followed it up with this little gem:

‘Why do you think they replaced voiced consonants with the glottal stop? I mean, how did that happen?’

Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up – unlike ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’; or so we hope, since a defining feature of the drama is that no-one is free to voice their thoughts.  Offred/June has to show her reactions rather than telling them (Elisabeth Moss does this brilliantly) and the wives can no more voice their feelings than the handmaids, being just as much victims in this gruesome drama.  Even the Commander is playing a role and has to indulge any deviant desires in secret: the architects of this hell are in it just as much as its victims.  And unlike ‘Casualty’ where as soon as you see a car you know it’s going to crash, you have absolutely no idea what will happen next.

Three more episodes.  Sunday nights will never be the same…

Oh, and since I haven’t mentioned this before I’ll mention now that I was mentioned in dispatches (ie the Loughborough Echo) along with Baroness Chakrabarti.

Kirk out

Two Men in a Lifeboat: Two Close Shaves

thumbnail

It happened just a couple of months ago in the seas off the coast of Mexico – and now the story can be told.  There was a boat sailing to England and in the boat were two men, one an experienced sailor, the other a novice.  It should have been a fairly uneventful voyage (apart from the fact that the Novice is a martyr to seasickness.)  Don’t ask me anything technical like how big the yacht was – but what I do know is that it was between the coast of Mexico and that long spit of land dripping down which is called Baja California – a distance of about 200 miles – that disaster struck.

About 100 miles off shore they ran into a storm.  That would have been OK but it soon transpired that one of the bilges was rusting and letting in water, causing the boat to list (whether to port or starboard I don’t know; possibly both).  Anyway, as fast as they pumped water out it flooded in again (all this time the Novice was being sick) and there came a point where it was clear that they would have to abandon ship.  With great presence of mind they gathered together passports, money, credit cards and supplies and put them in a waterproof bag before sending out a distress call to the coastguard (or what passes for a coastguard in those parts).  Then they launched the lifeboat.  This should have been quite straightforward: it’s one of those blow-up lifeboats which inflates as you fling it at the water; unfortunately having inflated to full strength it had a wobble on the journey and landed upside down, making it quite good as a shelter but not much cop as a lifeboat.  Help!  A vomiting Novice is called from below deck to lash the Old Hand to the yacht so that the Old Hand can lean forward to try and grab the lifeboat and flip it the right way up; all this in a heavy and unceasing swell.  When the lifeboat is finally righted they grab their stuff, say a last farewell to the yacht and disembark.  They barely see their beloved boat slip beneath the waves…

Time goes by.  They make a call on their satellite phone to update folks at home.  Then the long night begins.

It was a long wait.  I guess the sailors, being practical, down-to-earth sort of folk, didn’t spend much time in panicking.  Luckily they weren’t too far (in nautical terms) from the shore: if it’d happened in the middle of the Atlantic god only knows how it would have ended.  Finally the call came at 6 am to say that they were safe and on board a Navy vessel.  Unfortunately, as we afterwards discovered, the vessel shortly afterwards ran out of fuel and had to be refuelled by another Navy vessel which was called out for the purpose.  Pausing only to run out of fuel once more (WTF?) they made it to dry land and to the blessed surroundings of a hotel bedroom.

There is no coastguard in those parts – but here we have the RNLI, run by volunteers who leap out of their bed at a moment’s notice and take to the frozen waters in order to rescue those in peril on the seas.  The RNLI rely on donations and in an act of gratitude both sister and brother-in-law have had their heads shaved, not as a mark of penitence but as a dramatic event to raise money.  The scalping happened in the local pub and you can read about it here:

https://grosmont.wales/2018/07/17/rnli-charity-head-shave/

And if you’d like to donate, here’s the justgiving page:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/M-Moore7

Kirk out

Taking a LEAP: Alternatives to Money

FB-share-whale

As I said yesterday, I’ve just finished reading ‘No is Not Enough’ (actually I have yet to read the end bit, which is the LEAP manifesto pictured above, an alternative manifesto with a number of broad-ranging suggestions to tackle climate change and deal with the excesses of global capitalism.  It refers to Canada but is applicable anywhere and everywhere.)

https://leapmanifesto.org/en/the-leap-manifesto/

Klein hits the nail on the head, as always, by pointing out that attachment to money is at the root of this; and without coming over all biblical manages to say the same thing as the New Testament:

http://biblehub.com/1_timothy/6-10.htm

Money itself, as I have pointed out before, is neither real nor evil in itself.  It is morally neutral since money is a concept we have agreed to treat as if it were real for the purposes of exchanging goods and services.  So it strikes me that the way to destroy global capitalism (which god knows we need to do before it destroys us) is to undermine this attachment to money.  We can do this in any number of ways: by freecycling, by refusing to buy what we are sold, by helping each other out without asking for financial rewards and above all by refusing to regard money as the be-all and end-all of our existence.

For ten years now I have put my money where my mouth is by giving up paid employment in order to do what I love.  I have taken a leap off the cliff and tried to do the impossible – namely, to make money from writing – and I can’t claim to have succeeded yet.  But – and here’s the astonishing point – I have survived.  My health has not gone down the tubes; I haven’t starved, gone without adequate clothing, frozen to death or been homeless.  Whenever disaster has threatened to strike something has always come along: I’ve even managed some luxuries such as holidays, the odd bottle of wine and, in the last year, a car.  Much of this is due to the generosity of friends (and Friends) and family, but I hope those (F)friends and relatives would agree that there has been some kind of exchange here: in that I may not have money but I have time and energy to do things for others.

This is a phenomenon I’ve observed in other people who put their lives on the line to do what they love; that something always turns up.  I don’t even think you need to have some kind of religious faith for this to work; just the faith that comes from taking that leap off the cliff.  Every artist (unless they are born into money) has this same dilemma: how do I make a living and practise my art?  My view is that if you wait until you can afford it you’ll probably wait forever.  Take a leap of faith.

Living without money has taught me a lot.  In some ways it’s been a very hand-to-mouth existence but I think that central to survival is to think only of what you need today, here and now, and let tomorrow take care of itself. It has also brought a certain kind of freedom: an immunity to advertising.  There is no chance whatsoever of any advertising affecting me or tempting me to buy something I don’t need, because I don’t have the money.

At the same time I refuse to allow lack of money to limit my imagination.  I never tell myself ‘I can’t’ when an opportunity comes up, because maybe there’s a way that ‘I can.’  For example I can go to the Labour Party Conference in September because I’m going as a delegate and this will be paid for by the local party; and in the same way I’ve managed to go to lots of things for free because I’ve managed to access funding or because I’ve offered to do something in return.

It’s amazing what can happen when you look beyond the limitations of mere money and take a LEAP.

Kirk out