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

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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

David and Goliath and Nicci French

I blogged about the previous (and last?) novel a few months back when I jumped up and down and shouted ‘you can’t!  You can’t!  You can’t!’ about the ending.  Here’s the post:

‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’

Once I’d finished reading I wanted to beard the authors in their house and beat their breasts, sobbing that they must, must, must write another novel: though I resisted that temptation my thoughts must have reached them because they have – ‘Day of the Dead’ is out now and I must, must, must have it!  I wonder if it’s in the library yet?  (Scrabbles at keyboard) yes – it’s in the library.  Unfortunately the library is in Oakham.  Still I can reserve it.

And now I have!  The joy of technology.

I said I wouldn’t reveal the ending of ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ but I think it’s OK now as it’s been out a while.  I wonder how long it’ll be before somebody makes a box set of the series?  I wouldn’t be surprised if negotiations were going on at this very moment – anyway, to summarise the series, Frieda Klein is a psychotherapist living alone in London.  She helps others and gets involved with police cases, causing hackles to rise and making enemies along the way, but she has many fiercely loyal friends who rally to her aid when she’s in trouble – which is always.  Her nemesis, Dean Reeve, is a serial killer who faked his own death by murdering his long-lost twin brother and assuming his identity before vanishing off the radar.  For most of the series police believed Dean Reeve to be dead, though Frieda knew differently, and finally when her old lover Sandy is found floating in the Thames with his throat cut, they start to believe her.  But Reeve is never caught and at the start of ‘Sunday’ he has murdered a policeman who was on his trail and buried the body under Frieda’s floorboards.  This is hard enough to deal with, but when he begins capturing and torturing each of her friends in turn she can only find one solution: she goes to a man called Levin who has mysterious connections (probably MI5) and says, ‘Make me disappear.’

And that is the end of the book.  Was it the end?  They had to write another, surely?

They did.

Here’s the series: 

https://www.deadgoodbooks.co.uk/frieda-klein-books-in-order/

In other news, the website is progressing.  If you have seen me perform would you please consider sending me a short testimonial?  Just a sentence would do – add it to comments below.  Thanks.

Kirk out

Poetry in the Grotto

One of the last places you might expect to see a grotto is on Alan Moss Rd in Loughborough.  I don’t know who Alan Moss is or was; I keep confusing him with Stirling Moss but Google says he’s a cricketer so let’s go with that.  There was a sort of sporting ‘Excuse Me’ theme to the evening as England’s football progress was marked by cheers and shouts punctuating the poetry (punctuated poetry is generally not a healthy phenomenon) but those gathered at Bill Brookman’s house for An Evening of Poetry and Chai merely brushed it off with a smile.  In another age Bill would probably have run a circus or established a theatre; he is a veritable impresario with a highly theatrical manner and a flamboyant style of dress.  As it is he runs musical and poetic evenings, and last night I and a few other poets gathered in Bill’s neighbour’s garden where the audience was sprinkled around under trees, between bushes and beside solar lights, to read (or not read, in my case) our poems.  I generally focussed on comedy, beginning with ‘What Larks’, a sort of grumpy Larkinesque whinge; then ‘The Ballad of the Bowstring Bridge’ followed, as it often is, by ‘The Ode to the Upperton Rd Bridge.’  In order to give people a flavour of the original William McGonagall piece on which this is based, Jan read a few verses of ‘The Tay Bridge Disaster’ (a piece of unintended comic genius) so that people could get the references.  Then we were straight into ‘Is Vic There?’ for Victoria Wood, and to finish we visited ‘The Lady in the Van.’  Other poets did haikus, more meditative poems (mostly free verse) and a couple of comic pieces.  There was also chai (after which I didn’t sleep) pakoras and some delicious strawberry tarts.

Here’s the William McGonagall:

http://www.mcgonagall-online.org.uk/gems/the-tay-bridge-disaster

Enjoy!

Kirk out

Negative Capability Brown

This phrase came to me as I was walking back from town with a Primark bag swinging from my hot and sweaty hand.  I don’t like shopping at Primark but I do it because a) I don’t like shopping on-line and b) I can’t afford anywhere else.  So I went in for a couple of vests and came out with an utterly delicious garment that I can’t find a name for.

Whilst whistling through the park and thinking how odd it was that the grass is so dry when a mere six weeks ago it was under water and the paths were so flooded they were indistinguishable from the streams, the thought came to me.  Negative Capability Brown.  I have no idea what it means but I’m damned well going to find out.

OK let’s start with negative capability.  Coined by Keats, it means in essence the ability to immerse yourself in someone or something to such an extent that you become it.  I take this to be equivalent to ‘absorption’ in meditation; a forgetting of self and an immersion in the other; whether that is another person, a song, a flower or a book.  So, putting that together with Capability Brown, what do we get?

I’m not sure.  A landscape gardener who becomes the garden, perhaps?  I’m not sure that it works because 18th century gardening was all about imposing order and vision on the landscape, whereas the Romantic idea was to immerse yourself in nature and become one with it.  So Negative Capability Brown would seem to be a bit of an oxymoron.

Anyway, enough of this banter and on to yesterday’s event, a sort of ‘pop-up’ memorial to Gaz Carnell of Fingerprints.  A dozen or so people met outside the cafe to remember him; I did a poem and Chris Conway did a song; both of which were called ‘Fingerprints.’  There are videos but I can’t upload them at the moment; in the meantime here’s a picture of the garment.  Is it a dress?  Is it culottes?  It ain’t dungarees…

No, I can’t do that either because the laptop and the phone have had a hissy fit and are refusing to communicate with each other.

Kirk out