Grumbles on the Sofa and Other Public Posts

It occurs to me as I read some of the nastier comments on last Friday’s Comic Relief that what we’re doing on these sites is basically overhearing people’s comments on the sofa.  It’s like The Royle Family or, going further back, Till Death us do Part, only in real life (if you don’t know what TDUDP is you can probably find it on wikipedia but they’ll never show any episodes on TV again.  Here’s a few clips which I hope don’t include some of his worst excesses; it seems like there’s a reference to Jimmy Savile in the first one.  Oh, and you might recognise Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson.  But I digress.  The point is that Twitter et al is like listening to everyone’s sofa comments,  stuff that before the internet would have been private.

It beats me how people can be nasty about Comic Relief anyway.  It seems to me an intelligent and entirely worthwhile effort to raise money while producing entertainment.  I particularly enjoyed the ‘Four Weddings’ reunion; the ‘Only Fools and Horses’ bit was excellent and the University Challenge episode entertaining.  The comedy sits comfortably beside the films and the whole thing avoids the schmaltz which would otherwise make it unbearable.  And besides, they raised a phenomenal amount – more than 63 MILLION.  It’s unreal.

Here’s  the whole programme

And here’s the Four Weddings thing.  See how many characters you can spot.

Kirk out

…repeating endlessly in a loop…

Yesterday was a bitty kind of day; I faffed around and didn’t start work till eleven, and then at two I went off to a blogging workshop at radio Leicester (I’ll tell you about that in a minute) after which it was back to the laptop-face to see what I needed to write.  I saw all right, but I did not conquer – in short, I didn’t get much done.  But I did make a start on a poem about the Bedroom Tax, so that was something.

After which I had quite a disastrous night, not getting to sleep until after two and listening to the thump of the neighbours’ music. And! Lo and behold, I had a complete idea for a blog post right then and there. And what was it?



I should always write these things down.  But then a dialogue starts up in my mind which goes like this:

I should write this down.  I’ll forget it in the morning.

I’m trying to get to sleep.

You’ll regret it when morning comes!

If I sit up now I won’t get back to sleep.

Yes, you will.  Just write it down!


Or rather, not ‘zzzzz’ since this interminable dialogue repeats endlessly in a loop…

As does the other thing that kept me awake, which was the neighbours’ music.  These neighbours are the most annoying you can get: not because they are horrible or drug dealers or incredibly noisy: no.  It’s because they play music at the exact volume calculated to be annoying enough to keep you awake if you can’t sleep; but not annoying enough to actually go and complain about.  Normally they turn it off about 10, but last night it was 1.30, and every time I put my head on the pillow I felt the distant thump, thump, thump of jungle drums *; but then every time I lifted my head from the pillow and listened it seemed fairly quiet.

But! Yesterday I did something useful at last: I went to a blogging workshop.  An organisation called ‘Citizen’s Eye’ runs workshops every week at Radio Leicester which are free to attend, and yesterday’s (or one of them) was about blogging.

Two things came out of the workshop for me: one of them was that, despite my reluctance, I probably should be on Twitter; the other was to make use of (now don’t groan) questionnaires on here.  These would be short, simple questionnaires which people can fill in and send to me.  Only I see the answers and then I can post what opinions people have expressed on any given topic.  Oh, and I learned that there’s no particular science to tagging – that you should just put whatever the post is about.

So that was good.  I did keep an eye out for John Sinclair, but didn’t spot him:

After that I fiddled around with this and that, failed to get stuck into anything and then slept badly.

Which is where we came in.

What the hell was that other blog post about?

Kirk out

*just so you know, they’re Polish, not Afro-Caribbean, so there’s no reference here.  Not that you would suspect me of such outright racism anyway…

Is this the Five-Minute Fiction or the Full Half-hour?

Yes, we in the twenty-first century are the anti-Victorians in so many ways; and not the least of these is in our inability to sit through anything longer than about 4 minutes (or a thousand words) – or to give a novel an even break.  You cannot afford, these days, a leisurely, scene-setting start to a novel: you must plunge right into the action.  All hell must break loose within first few pages or else the reader will simply give up.  You can give us a page or so of scene-setting if you must, but no more – and in a short story it’d better be at most a paragraph before you cut to the chase.  Even that expression, cut to the chase, has gained a currency in almost every situation.  Leave out the waffle! people cry all over the world.  Cut the crap!  Elbow the descriptions and just tell us what happens!

The result of this is that literature has become very plot-based.  Now, I know that the most popular of Victorian writers, Charles Dickens, was nothing if not plot-based – and yet he had the time and space for a leisurely walk around Chatham Docks or the London slums; he could spend time painting a room or delineating a character or eavesdropping on a conversation.

But nowadays?  Nowadays we can’t do any of that.  And why? – because at our back we always hear/ time’s winged chariot hurrying near.


Consider two of the most popular writers of the last decade or so: Ian Rankin and J K Rowling.  Neither of them are slouches when it comes to character or description or dialogue – and yet the outstanding, the leading feature in their work is plot.  Plot, plot, plot, you can almost hear them saying – in the same way as Blair once said Education, education, education.  The result is that a plot-wimp like me has to read each of their books several times before I even know what’s happened.  This is especially true of Rankin.  Reading a Rebus novel is like having very sudden sex in the morning before you’re properly awake: loads of fun but you don’t quite know what hit you.

But there’s another phenomenon, too, in modern fiction – one which is particularly relevant to writers – and that is the prevalence of ever-shorter forms.  So, from the short story (most outlets want 3000 words or less, which is about 7 or 8 pages) we progress to flash fiction (1,000 at most and sometimes as few words as 300) and then the ‘short-short’ story which is barely more than a paragraph – and now in the age of Twitter we have the story told in tweet-form.  And barely a week goes by without the Facebook forum ‘’ urging me ‘Quick!  give us 2 words to describe how an astronaut feels on re-entry!’ – or something similar.  I could give them two words to describe how I feel about their ideas – but I doubt they’d publish them.

Yes, I know there’s a lot of skill in telling a story in just a few words, but there are limits; and to ask for a story in a paragraph suggests a readership that just can’t be bothered.

So there we are: and here I am, an ideas-driven writer stuck in an age of plot.  I should have been born in 19th century France, then like Proust I could have written 600 pages describing that moment between sleeping and waking….


Au revoir, mes petits.  A demain.

Kirk out