Writing Tips – Make Friends with Serendipity

I’m going to tell you a story.  Actually I’m going to tell you two stories – a tale of two tales, if you will – and it goes like this.

A couple of years ago I wrote a short story about a jumper, in which I used knitting as a metaphor for writing.  You can see the idea: each stitch is a letter, every row a line of prose, every colour a plot-line, and so on.  The story touched on the themes of miscarriage and Greenham Common and I was quite pleased with it at the time, but when I found it again I felt dissatisfied with it.  Something was missing.  I rewrote and rewrote but it still wasn’t right.  But what happened next was pure serendipity…

Image result for serendipity

image removed on request

As you know, I’ve been getting daily writing prompts in my inbox.  I set a timer for five minutes and just write without planning or forethought until the timer goes off, when I stop.  I’m allowed to finish the word I’m writing but not the sentence, and I’m allowed to read it through once but no more.

So here’s the thing.  Today’s prompt was ‘Where Did They Find the Lost Doctors?’ by which they presumably meant the lost episodes of Dr Who.  Then again, how you interpret the prompt is up to you, so I chose instead to imagine all the previous incarnations of the Doctor and to wonder where they are now.  I decided – or rather, my subconscious decided, since there’s no time for conscious thought – that they are all gathered on Gallifrey; all except Tom Baker who is wandering Earth in search of enlightenment.  The older Doctors are teasing Peter Capaldi about being replaced by a woman, and it’s beginning to make him grumpy.  They spend their time reminsicing and playing uber-pool with models of various solar systems.  When I was finished I thought maybe OH would like to read it and so I typed it up. 

Now, when I type up new stories I use a story template so I don’t have to set the font, spacing and margins all over again.  And sometimes it happens that another story is still lurking on the template instead of having been deleted after saving to the Short Stories folder.  No problem, I thought, I’ll just delete it once I’m  finished.  But I forgot; so OH received what he thought was one story but which was in fact two.

This is where serendipity comes in – because he actually thought it worked!  He said the first ‘Doctors’ bit seemed to fit in perfectly with the second part.  So maybe I’ve found the missing bit of my knitting story.

Serendipity!  Learn to recognise it when it comes: just because something is a mistake, doesn’t mean it won’t work.  Some accidents are happy, after all.

Some, on the other hand, aren’t; like spilling water on my laptop.  So while it dries out I’m using OH’s model.

Kirk out

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What’s the Weather Like Last Night?

Like many people, I have a little weather app on my phone with which I check the forecast.  But, useful as that is, I often find myself checking the weather right now.  Sure, I can easily look out of the window and see what it’s doing but I like to know exactly what temperature it is and then I can see if it’s ‘really cold’ or if it’s just me thinking it’s cold.  What difference does that make? you may ask.  If I’m cold, I’m cold, right?  Well, I like to check my perceptions against what we are pleased to call reality.  Hence if I’m finding a crossword difficult I look at the comments and see if it’s just me: sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.  Call me a kook if you will, but I like to know if I ‘have a right’ to shiver; whether my feeling of coldness is justified.  Is it really as cold as I feel? is the question on my mind; and I suspect I’m not the only one.  Of such stuff are daily conversations made.  Mind you, nothing can surpass this one, overheard at a Yorkshire bus-stop:

Passenger 1:  They said it’s going to rain.

Passenger 2:  Ay, they did

Passenger 1:  It’s raining a bit now.

Passenger 2:  Ay, it is

Passenger 1:  ‘Course, this en’t the proper rain.  This is just condensation.

It’s much funnier if you read it in a Yorkshire accent.  And in case you’re not from these parts and don’t know what a Yorkshire accent is like, here’s a taste:

 

 

But back to the weather app, because the thing that really disturbs me about it is this: you can’t scroll back.  I expect you can on the computer (I’ll check in a minute) but you can’t on the phone – so if, for example, I want to see whether it was as cold as I thought it was last night, or how deep the frost was at about half-past four – I can’t.  It won’t go back, only forward.  And there’s something in that which deeply disturbs me.  It’s as if the weather app is like something in 1984, not merely editing the past but positively erasing it.  ‘The weather last night?’ it seems to say.  ‘There was no last night.  You merely imagined it.  There is only now – and the forecast for the next few weeks.  That’s all there is.’

My weather app erases the past!

I’ve just checked and you can’t scroll back on the computer either!

Scary.

While we’re on the theme of temperature I’ve been reading Fahrenheit 451 and being very impressed by Ray Bradbury’s ability to forecast the future.  He’s like a sort of literary Charlie Brooker in that he takes current trends and propels them into the future.  I’ll never forget a short story of his in which everyone had a hand-held communications device and used it to call people at home so they could say, ‘I’m on the bus!  I’ll be home in five minutes.  We’re just coming round the corner…’

Now that’s a forecast.

Kirk out

C S What?

I’ve been getting daily writing prompts for about three weeks now, and along with them I get other little titbits such as cartoons:

(image removed on request)

There are also quotes and advice from well-known writers, and today’s advice was in the form of five writing rules by C S Lewis.  But for some reason I found myself strangely resistant to clicking on the link.  Like most modern readers I love love love the Narnia books (oh, that I could go back and read them for the first time!) but am less keen on his particular brand of theological sci-fi:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/That_Hideous_Strength

and still less keen on his misogynistic views.  This last is a little unfair on him as he was no worse and perhaps better than most men of his time: however it remains a sticking point, and that constituted a scotch in the free movement of cursor to link and a reluctance to click.  Nevertheless I decided to give him a chance; and lo! his rules turned out to be eminently sensible.  They boil down to this:

Always be clear and unambiguous

Don’t use long words where short ones will do

Be concrete, not abstract

Show, don’t tell.

These are surely rules no-one could disagree with.  Lewis, though some modern feminists would attempt to consign him to the dustbin of patriarchy, was an interesting character; a dry academic with a Blakeian imagination, a confirmed bachelor until he fell in love, a romantic who wrote about palaces while lodging with his alcoholic brother in a freezing house (the heating broke down and they couldn’t be bothered to fix it) a man with strong, unflattering views on both women and divorce – until he fell in love with an American divorcee.  It was almost as though life was trying to teach him something…

It seems Lewis had to be pushed to the brink before he would allow himself to live.  He had a difficult relationship with his mother and only reluctantly allowed himself to be drawn into a liaison with Joy Davidman.  This, however, was short-lived as she died of cancer and he married her on her death-bed (having previously entered a civil marriage so that she could live in the UK: you wonder how much he was kidding himself there.)  His non-fiction works Surprised by Joy and The Problem of Pain seem almost anticipatory biographies, life following the blueprint of art. 

His Christianity is a mix of fear and joy, though his apprehensions of hell are somewhat prosaic: people sin the most not by living too much but by living too little; by being afraid of life.  But he did liven up what was a very dull theological epoch during the inter- and post-war years.  And to an extent I agree with him as my vision of hell is like this guy in the Channel 4 series Mimic, who longs for fame but when his big chance comes he hides in the toilets. 

Anyway, I guess if your worst nightmare is NOT taking the opportunity then you’ll take it.  Otherwise your worst nightmare would be – oh, I don’t know, farting on live TV or picking your nose or crying or losing your trousers or… or something that would be shared on social media and stay on youtube forever.

Come to think of it, those are my worst nightmares…

Kirk out

The Scold’s Bridle

I have recently signed up to receive a daily writing prompt from Writers Write:

https://writerswrite.co.za

These are designed to get you going in the morning – a sort of verbal laxative, if you will – and I’m finding them very useful.  The idea is, you set an alarm for five minutes and write without stopping until it goes off.  Today’s prompt was ‘Reading This Book Made Me Feel…’ so I decided to write about the novel which I’ve just returned unfinished to the library as I could take no more of it:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scold%27s_Bridle

This was puzzling, as I’d seen an adaptation of the novel years ago which both thrilled and horrified me:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0152307/

and so I expected the book to do the same.  It didn’t.  Here’s what I wrote:

Reading this book made me feel utterly bewildered.  So many people had eulogised this writer (though I’m not sure she was dead) that I expected to find… well, skill, deftness, a way with words.  Instead I found what I can only describe as acres of stodge.  The dialogue was like old treacle, the characters barely more than cardboard cut-outs (they all have names like Spede and Orloff; names you only find in crime novels) and the plot – well, I suppose the plot was good but I lost the will to discover it as the action was revealed not through narration (let alone exciting narration) nor description but yet more turgid, stilted and unnatural conversation.  It’s what Agatha Christie does – and I don’t understand why people rate her either.  I think she’s the most boring writer in Christendom.  But hey, ho – we live in an age of plot.  And that is why I find it so hard to get published.

Have you read ‘The Scold’s Bridle’?  Feel free to take issue with the above.

Kirk out

One Man and His God

Years ago, in the dead hours of Sunday afternoon before Songs of Praise and after the black-and-white film, you could watch One Man and His Dog.  This most spectacularly dull programme featured a farmer and his sheepdog performing such feats as getting a flock of sheep through a gate two at a time (zzzzzzzzzzz) arranging them in a quadrangle, a square, a tortoise and a wedge like a Roman army; getting them to leap over hedges and perform the double pike with arabesque, and having them pile one on top of the other like the sheep in Wallace and Gromit’s A Close Shave; all of this using just a whistle and some arcane words only the dog could understand.  (Incidentally one of the best jokes in the Aardman film comes when Gromit is up before the judge on a charge of sheep-rustling: the headline reads ‘Sheep Dog Trial.’)

I’ve been impressed with Aardman lately (not that I wasn’t impressed before, because I was.  Deeply.)  But just recently, determined not to fall foul of the artistic industry’s tendency to ‘pick it up, f*** it up and drop it,’ they have sold a number of shares to their workers, thus avoiding the danger of a takeover and subsequent Disney-fication:

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/nov/10/wallace-gromit-producers-hand-stake-in-business-to-staff

Anything that avoids Disneyfication and keeps things local is all right by me.  I shudder to think of what Disney might do to Wallace and Gromit: I still haven’t forgiven them for the outrages they committed on the work of A A Milne and by way of compensation I spend a long time looking at the wonderful illustrations to the books by E H Shephard:

https://bit.ly/2TubHzM

On Sundays when I was a child there were any number of church services: an eight o’clock, then family communion followed by Matins and then Evensong in the evening.  The church would be full for communion, less so for Matins and Evensong and very sparse at eight o’clock in the morning, but my poor father had to do them all even when no-one else was there.  Because after all God was there.  So it was one man and his God…

There!  I got there in the end…

Kirk out

 

 

Not Inside Number 9, Not Live: Alive? No

‘Inside No 9’ is a sporadic and eclectic TV series (is it comedy?  Is it farce?  is it just weird?) whose only thematic link is a connection to the number 9. 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bqn4g3/inside-no-9-live-dead-line

I’ve enjoyed many of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s previous efforts and was intrigued to see they had a live episode on.  Except that because I have a life * I missed it.  Not to worry, everything’s on catch-up these days, so on the jolly old i-player we jolly well went in order to catch it up.

Oh dear.  I don’t know if this was any better live but it started off weird and got weirder.  A scene about a lost mobile phone seemed to drift into several parallel universes which far from being explained were interrupted by the sort of thing that used to happen a lot when most TV was live; a screen saying ‘oops, we fucked up.  Sorry.  Back soon’ or words to that effect: the sort of thing you occasionally get when trying to open a broken link on your computer.  Well a wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey sort of screen came up and we thought, hang on, is this part of the programme? and carried on thinking it for several minutes.  I really can’t be bothered to describe the rest of the episode because it made no sense to me at all.  About fifteen minutes in I was bored and by twenty I’d lost the will to live: I only made it through because OH kept saying to me, ‘Come on!  Give it a chance!’  Well reader, I gave it that chance and I have to say it sucked.

Did any of you watch it live?  Was it any better?  The New Statesman seems to think so:

https://bit.ly/2CRwAiB

and so does the Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2018/oct/30/how-did-inside-no-9-spring-the-biggest-live-tv-surprise-of-the-year

Kirk out

 

* I don’t really

Three Wives, One Husband, One Viewer

I’ve been watching a Netflix series about Mormon polygamists in Utah and finding it very disturbing – though not for the reasons I expected.  I anticipated that I would disagree profoundly with their way of life, which I did; but I also anticipated that I would find them repressed, button-lipped, old-fashioned and rigidly patriarchal – which they were not.

First, the bad points:

Polygamy: I disagree with polygamy, not because it is a deviant way of life (I think we should at least explore deviant ways of life) but because it is structurally unequal.  As a Quaker I believe in the fundamental equality of all beings and marriage, being a relationship between equals, should reflect this.  Of course marriage between two people can be unequal, and often is in a patriarchal society, but polygamy is structurally so, and therefore cannot be equal.  Where one man’s attention is divided between three women, that is an unequal relationship.

Then there’s the patriarchy: though the series didn’t focus on this, there’s a council which makes decisions, and that council is composed only of men.  Men also seem to speak for the group in the wider world.

Then there’s the sheer number of children they have.  Each woman seems to have at least half a dozen (and to start quite young) and in an overpopulated world this is questionable, to say the least.  However that is offset to some extent by their aim of being self-sufficient as they believe some sort of apocalypse is imminent.

Having said all that, I found these people quite engaging.  They were frank and open both with the camera and with each other, and quite honest about their struggles with polygamy which they saw as something to be overcome on the path to a less selfish life.  It did seem – as far as anyone can tell – that the women entered into ‘plural marriage’ after a great deal of thought; and though there might be conformism there was no compulsion.  The women are far from silent; they speak their mind and some of them have jobs.  They don’t drink and their courtship habits are quite Victorian, but unlike fundamentalist Christians they both swear and do yoga!

I did find it quite creepy to watch though, especially the scenes where the man would embrace both wives at once.

At the end of the series they were fighting a proposed bill to outlaw plural marriage which in Utah is not legally recognised.  But up to that point they’ve generally been left alone.  I found myself reluctantly on their side because although I profoundly disagree with their way of life, I don’t see why they should be made criminals because of it.  As far as anyone can tell from a TV series, it seems to be a free choice, so why should it be outlawed just because the rest of the country behaves differently?

I wouldn’t want to see plural marriage adopted anywhere else (especially not where it might be forced or coerced) but I don’t see why these particular people shouldn’t be left alone.

Anyway, here’s the series:

https://bit.ly/2PXVfWp

Kirk out