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

 

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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

Good in Parts? Is There a Cure?

The latest in a loooooooooong line of pretentious verbs all got up to make ordinary tasks seem like something special, is to curate.  This may have been a verb in museum circles where people quite legitimately curate exhibitions, though publicly I recall the usual form was to state that ‘the curator of the exhibition was so-and-so’ rather than ‘so-and-so curated this exhibition.’  I think there’s a sort of ramping-up of importance going on here, an attempt to make things sound much more thingish, as Pooh bear would say; things which are otherwise quite ordinary.  So you have a person who puts a few things together and, hey presto, you’ve curated something.

Viz: this thing that came through my door this morning.  Now like many people I get little enough post these days and what I do get is generally unwelcome.  So when an envelope with my name on it came through the door, even though I knew it was probably junk, I bore it upstairs and ceremoniously prised it open.

It was a nice maroon envelope containing a piece of thick card.  An invitation, it said.  Do they really think that works on anyone any more?  I opened the card and read:

Invitation to join our exclusive membership programme that brings you a host of members-only ballots, incredible events and great offers.  We’ll also bring you guides, interviews and features…

Now like me you will not only have noticed the cliched ‘host’ but spotted that this is long on verbiage and short on information.  What are the ballots about?  What exactly are these incredible events?  Will I even want the offers?

It’s all irrelevant to me anyway because no matter how tempting the offers or how incredible the events I won’t be able to afford them.  That’s one thing about having no money – you can make your mind up pretty quickly on things.  Life’s too short to bother about special offers unless it’s for something you really need.  But here’s the killer blow:

… all specially curated for our members.

There it is – that word again.  Basically someone has put together a few things and called it curating.  There’s a word for this ‘bumping-up’ of importance, and the word is ‘reification’ – making a thing out of something that really isn’t anything:

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

Oh but wait!  Down the bottom there are some examples: I can win tickets to see Tony Hadley (who he?) or go on a cruise to the continent (no thanks.)

So all in all I think it’s a no.  But it was the misuse of the word curate that clinched the deal – in my day curate was a trainee vicar with a dodgy egg…

Kirk out

PS – Tony Hadley is apparently ex-Spandau Ballet.  So that’s a definite no then…

Nice Shell Suit. Was it Designed by Fibonacci?

Who or what is a Fibonacci?  Can you eat it?  Do you listen to it?  Is it a bird or a plane?  Is it a fashion designer?

Whatever the truth of this, although I am as ignorant of fashion as to be fashion-comatose, I am in fact aware that Versace was a designer.  I also have the impression that he was a nice guy.  I don’t know why – maybe because he was friends with Elton John and Princess Diana; maybe because I saw him interviewed at some point.  Anyway, I was curious enough about his death, which was eerily close to that of Diana, to click on to the first episode of a new BBC drama, ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’.  Assassination might seem a little over the top, but ‘over the top’ is something of a theme here as is evident from the first scene where Versace is shown waking up and going through his morning routine in a Miami house decorated like a tackier version of Versailles.  So far it’s a highly compelling drama with some similarities with The Talented Mr Ripley:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0134119/

A serial killer meets and murders Versace because – well, we don’t quite know why, and that’s the intrigue.  With murder there must always be one element of mystery: either we don’t know who has been killed, or (more commonly) we don’t know who killed them.  But far more interesting are the why mysteries: why on earth did a guy who’d had a casual fling with Versace then go to his house and shoot him in cold blood?  Will he be caught?  And if so, will the police discover why he did it?  Will the courts?  Will we?  Therein lies the intrigue: I can’t believe I have to wait till Wednesday for the next episode.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/b09trdxr?suggid=b09trdxr

Now, as I’m sure you all know, a Fibonacci is None of the Above – neither a fashion designer nor an Italian dish nor an opera singer: it’s a sequence of numbers, sort of like Pi, which seems to be present in nature as well as geometry and architecture.

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

Like Pi it is a never-ending sequence: I’m not sure to how many decimal places Pi has been calculated now but the Fibonacci sequence goes on forever and is much easier to calculate, being a mere matter of addition.  It goes like this:

Starting with one, each number is the sum of the previous two.

Er…

That’s it.

So, starting with one, you get one again because you’re adding one and zero, and then it goes:

2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89,144… and so on.  Add infinitum (lol).

What’s the point of it?  Well, it occurs in many natural objects: spiral shells, for one; cauliflowers, for another.

https://www.slideshare.net/lmrio/fibonacci-sequence

It also has applications in geometry and architecture: this slide sequence also covers the Golden Ratio which has applications in both classical architecture and in the proportions of the human body, and uses the number Phi (I said it was like Pi):

And in an exciting new development I have decided to use the Fibonacci series in my latest novel ‘Tapestry (a picture of modern Britain’.)  This means that the first two chapters will have 1000 words each and the last chapter about 48,000.  I have no idea if it’ll work, but it’ll be interesting to see.

Kirk out

 

Nobody Understands Thee. What Tu Du?

I am happy to report that depression is lifting; this is thanks in no small part to actually writing about it.  I am all too prone to interacting with people only when I feel good and hiding away when I’m depressed, thinking that no-one will want to know me in this state and that all I’ll accomplish is to bring everyone down.  But to write about it honestly has been very therapeutic and has allowed lots of other people to open up about their depression: I’ve had many messages of support as well as testimonies from others about what they are going through.  People have offered to visit or meet with me; people have said they miss me and one friend even said I was fantastic.  This has given me a real lift.

I guess you could say in these situations you find out who your friends are: it used to be that one would distinguish between intimates and strangers by the use of pronouns.  A lot of languages still do this, such as French, Spanish, German and Italian, using the informal ‘tu/du’ to distinguish intimates from more formal contacts.  Of course it can also be a way of indicating status, which is why the equivalent probably died out in British English.

Interestingly, when Quakers began, one of their distinguishing characteristics was that they addressed everyone as ‘thou’, this being the informal pronoun (the equivalent of ‘tu/du’) and thus putting everyone on the same level.  The odd thing is that, thanks to ‘thou’ surviving in religion, nowadays it sounds formal rather than informal.

The trouble is, no-one knows how to use ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ any more.  So here’s my handy guide.

  1.  ‘Thou’ is equivalent to ‘I’ and ‘thee’ is equivalent to ‘me’.  Examples: ‘what dids’t thou say?  I gave it thee.’
  2. the verb form usually ends in ‘est’ contracted to ‘st’, as in ‘did’st, could’st, hast (the ‘d’ is forgotten)
  3. the possessive is ‘thy’ with a noun following and ‘thine’ without: ‘thy socks be wet’; ‘these socks be thine.’

Here’s a fuller guide to using ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ correctly, so you’re not caught out.

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

Don’t be like the person who posted this joke on Facebook:

A 19th century Quaker farmer woke up in the middle of the night hearing noises downstairs. He crept down the stairs, cap-lock rifle in hand to discover a burglar in his living room. He took aim and announced in a loud clear voice, “Excuse me, friend, but would thee please move? I am about to shoot where thee is standing.”

The correct version should of course be: ‘Excuse me friend, but could’st thou please move?  I am about to shoot where thou art standing.’

Oh, and if you want an archaic plural of ‘you’, try ‘ye.’

Kirk out

The Thought Police Dismisseth Us

There is much debate at the moment about policing our thoughts; in fact we are probably only a whisker away from yet another compound verb: to thought-police.  But this is nothing new: people were policing thoughts about sex for hundreds of years, especially during Victorian times when even the legs of chairs would get covered up lest men get lustful thoughts about a shapely calf.

People didn’t only police thoughts about sex.  Where certain forms of expression are taboo, thought-policing (there, I’ve done it myself now) cannot be far behind.  Hence servants, for example, would likely censor rebellious thoughts about their employers – or women about their husbands.*  When I was a child you couldn’t swear in public, and when a show-jumper called Harvey Smith raised two fingers at the cameras, he was hauled over the coals for it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_Smith_(equestrian)

In the age of deference the Royal Family never needed to worry about policing the press, because they policed themselves.  After all, it’s not that long since the offence of sedition was abolished (2009) though in practice it was defunct long before that.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedition#United_Kingdom

Nowadays nobody is hanged, drawn and quartered for treason; nor are they imprisoned, as poor old William Blake was (probably falsely) for sedition.  But careers can be ruined and lives made impossible by a reckless tweet or a drunken misdemeanour; and last year an MP accused of sexual harassment killed himself:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/08/family-welsh-politician-killed-claim-labour-party-warned-mental/

So I reckon we have about the same level of self-policing; it’s just that the areas and the punishments have shifted.  But there’s a problem: whereas in the past it was pretty clear what was taboo and what wasn’t, nowadays it can get a little confusing.  Some things are obvious, such rape and molestation; but some aren’t.  Is it OK for a boss to ask out a female subordinate?  Is it OK if I tell a black guy his dreadlocks are amazing?

As it happens I did offend a guy recently by not realising he was Jewish.  I was looking for a beanie-type hat (I have to say his skull-cap didn’t look very traditional) and when I asked him where he’d got it he said frostily he’d bought it online.  When I said I was looking for something similar he said, in tones of ice, ‘you could try some Jewish websites.’

Then again, how was I to know?  The guy wasn’t dressed in traditional Jewish gear, he didn’t have a beard or long hair; he was just standing in line at the supermarket in a t-shirt and jeans.  He could have just said, ‘I’m Jewish and it’s a skull-cap,’ whereupon I would have apologised, instead of spending the rest of the day feeling foolish.

I guess we’re still working these things out.  But complaints about self-policing are not new: I remember people back in the ’70’s moaning about not being able to use the word ‘gay’ any more.  Gay people retorted that it was a fair swap, since they’d given back the word ‘queer.’  (Mind you, they’ve taken it back since and amended it…)

Yep, it’s a minefield out there.  But just because it’s complicated doesn’t mean we can get away with being an arse…

Kirk out

* in fact the killing of a husband by his wife was until 1826 a form of ‘petty treason’ as distinct from ‘high treason’.

 

 

The Indifference Engine

As you probably know, the Difference Engine is a proto-computer designed by Charles Babbage to do something called polynomial calculations (polynomial being the sort of word you hear bandied about and just nod as though you understand, after which it’s too late to ask.)  But the Indifference Engine is something else entirely, and has to do with public debate.

The point of debate used to be to enlarge on topics, to test out arguments against counter-arguments and maybe arrive at some sort of conclusion, and along the way to learn something and even to change people’s minds.  But nowadays public debate is becoming more and more gladiatorial: a contest where the only interest is in the outcome.  Who won?  Who lost?  Who was ‘shut down’?  Whose arguments ‘killed’?  We cheer for one side and boo the other and rejoice or fume at the end, depending on the outcome.  It’s basically a boxing match.

As far as the actual arguments go, they are not tools for debate or food for thought but weapons – and the upshot of all this, for many, is indifference to whole swathes of reality.  Forget your nuanced arguments – sock it to us with a slogan.  You can keep your if’s and but’s – what we want is a knockout punch.  Nobody cares about the grey areas.  If a politician is accused of sexual assault he’s probably guilty (or probably innocent, depending on which side you’re on.)  There’s no examination of the evidence; no ‘wait and see’ – we want a judgment and we want it now.

Tragically this may have led to someone taking his own life.  Yesterday Carl Sergeant, a Welsh Labour MP who had been accused of sexual assault by three women, committed suicide.  We don’t know – and may never know – whether he did so because he was guilty or because he couldn’t cope with the burden of accusation.  Nothing can be inferred from his death – though you can bet your life that the media (social and otherwise) are inferring it left, right and centre as we speak.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/nov/07/suspended-welsh-labour-politician-carl-sargeant-has-died

Whereas it seems to me highly likely that Harvey Weinstein was a predatory creep, since so many women have come out and told similar stories about him, it does not follow that every man accused of such crimes is guilty.  There needs to be a process.  Evidence needs to be gathered and assessed.  And not by us, that’s the point.  We don’t know who’s guilty and who isn’t – and we don’t like not knowing.  We must have a judgment and we want it now.

This indifference to evidence, fact and nuanced argument greatly depresses me.  I think I need to play around a bit on my difference engine…

Kirk out