A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR
Sometimes work comes in to me anonymously, this seemed to speak to the experience of so many writers I felt it deserved a home. I have spoken to the writer, anonymously, and he, or she, or they will provide a new piece monthly. So, if you are an experienced writer, or someone looking to start out on the path there will hopefully be some wisdom, some truth or at least some commonality to be found within.
Steve Cawte, Editor, Impspired.com
This is a follow on to last months sorry account and carries on from the moment I took my seat. Like frequenting coffee chains, word searches, and charity fun runs (chucking the odd coin into a bucket is participation enough thank you), I don’t do recaps either, and so you will have to visit last months sorry account to see why I’m sat, where I’m sat and why I am referring to a woman introduced to me as Vesta, as Brenda.
So, as I sat there with Alan at one end of a table, surrounded by about six other writers/ heathens/ stroke fanatical Christian types, (it doesn’t mean much nowadays what you are… except for those people who are so intent on it not mattering that it matters immensely enough for those people to tell everyone who they are and therefore making those of us who feel it doesn’t matter… to feel as if we do not matter who they are enough…), thinking that at least none of them are Maureen.
Not that when encountering a group of people, I immediately measure my relief that none of said group are Maureen, but in this situation, where the similarities between this group of writers and those who grace the Quills, (back columns, do keep up people), is hard to ignore, a little Maureen relief is justified…
And, I don’t know if it was that particular smell church halls all seem to possess, or the posters for sing-alongs with Brian and the Faith is Wonderful get-togethers which resemble recruitment posters for a jihad against beards, or the motley crew of scribblers chomping at their bits, or the sense that we are being watched, but I was feeling slightly guilty for being here.
Not like having an affair guilt, but like you’ve gone to the pictures with all your friends, without none of you inviting Christine because Christine, though friend to all of you, is really only tolerable for a half hour sitcom, and not nearly three and a half hours watching blue aliens sticking their tendrils into other creatures tendrils. Christine is that friend that no one admits bringing into the group, but I am digressing, and the guilt I felt was like that.
Alan has no such worries, and proceeded to introduce me to the group, while Brenda/Vesta smiled Vesta-like, beaming her calm beneficence to one and all. Names bounced off me like fat children on a trampoline landing in a heap waiting to have another go later, where some would stick and some would never land again, but for your benefit, I will give you the skinny…
- Alicia….I think people called Alicia have no stomach for church halls, and yet here was one right here, sat as if it was just the place where one does find an Alicia. She was willow and twig, a bit knobbly round the old joints (in her sixties I thought), and spoke like how I I imagined Alicia’s speak, slightly too posh for her blouse, and a bit oily on the vowels, and no doubt she would be a writer of ethereal puffballs concerning larks in meadows and dandelions and the odd squirrel. Having never actually met an Alicia before, I silently congratulated myself on my accuracy.
2. Jim ….Retired. Sturdy. Likes cricket on the radio and football on the television. Drinks real ale when in the local, but port and lemon in the privacy of his own semi-detached bungalow he shares with Doreen, who has just realised now the kids have left that if it wasn’t for the fact she can’t be arsed, she would like to flee the nest for pastures new too. Jim reads poetry like a manual for a Honda motorbike’s electrical circuitry, enjoying the intricacies and yet not the nuances. His poems will have big rarely used words, but they will be dry and exact.
3. Jenny. Jenny is in her thirties, dresses like she’s in her teens, talks like she’s in her forties and probably dances like she’s in a borrowed pair of stilettos and grimaces everytime she takes a step anywhere. Sour faced, with one of those mouths that are permanently facing down, so she looks like she’s smiling through major dental work. Nice though, in that way strangers nod to each other in lifts or doctor’s waiting rooms… a lot of cleavage for a church hall on a Tuesday night, which makes me smile, not for the fleshy hillocks, but for her brazen need to expose God as a breast lover… Faith is Wonderful indeed… and her poems will be a sixth formers splurge of angst and unrequited love involving moors, lace, bosoms heaved, shafts glistening… and pedicures…
4. Suzie…with a “z” she immediately made clear… I’m guessing Suzie works for the council.
She has that look, that double glazed window eyed please let me out of this shithole look, that attempts to hide her pain and disappointment with her life. She doesn’t work for the council but owns a florist. Pretty face, but maybe she thinks it’s not, early forties perhaps, but not caring about it, not in a pass another cream horn neglect kinda way, but in a hey, its what happens at the end of your thirties so lets just get on with it shall we ? kinda kinder way. Her poems will be wistful and sad, because florists cover the whole spectrum of human need and nothing says flowers like the last unpicked rose in the shop. I think I could like Suzie, despite the insistence of the use of the “z” and all.
And Brenda/Vesta of course. The shining light. Her workshop was unlike Maureen’s. Worse in many ways and yet better in many other ways, which means I had used up nearly all the ways I could weigh it up… and I felt if I was going to dislike Brenda/Vesta (which I did), then out of loyalty, it would only be proper if I disliked her more than Maureen, but feared her less.
There was no reading of pre-prepared work like at the Quills, but collaboration and tasks and , oh my god… interaction… and because of Alan, I was quietish and didn’t roll my eyes to the point where anybody slips on them as if they were marbles… but, yet again, the end has been reached as I have run out of garden… so yes a trilogy… and next month will reveal the results of my one and only visit to a workshop… which ever god is willing.
BRENDA’S FRONT GARDEN.
I usually write these things without any type of foresight. Shocking I know. I can feel the breeze of your collective aghastness wash over me in its tsunami of sarcasm, for I of course, fear not the winds of change when I put my empty shell to my ear, but fear the silent echo… look, I just write where it leads…and yes, I know you have worked that out, but I can’t hear you because I have got shells covering my ears…
Anyway, I usually write without the hindrance of a plan, neither cunning nor masterly and therefore end up with something resembling somebody else’s crossing out, and I find this lack of hindrance, actually serendipitously well thought out and immaculately planned. Alan, (I like Alan, we should all like Alan by now), says I am an idiot and a moron but in that way that is acceptable when friends, or people you want as friends, say it, and he only thinks I have a point up to a certain point, but that my lack of knowledge about anything makes me either an ideal person to run the country, or at the very least, be responsible for the lumpy bits found in a so called column loosely based on writing.
Alan, like you, is well aware of my shortcomings, especially my skewed view of rules and regs.
It amuses him as well as infuriates, which is quite humbling because it means he likes my stuff if not my style. But then he invited me to accompany him to a workshop, which means he can’t possibly like me at all.
Of course, when I say workshop, I mean a writer’s workshop, and before you have visions (okay, it may have just been me who had them), of say, Salman Rushdie getting stuck in to the gearbox of his Audi Satanic Reverses, or J.K.Rowling wrestling with a piece of Trans-mission from a Ford Anglia, I mean a writer’s workshop where the only mechanics to be found are of the grammatical.
Now, Alan, knowing my aversion to other writers, or polite company, or well observed silences for the pursuit of the clever use of the old English talky talk, must, I assume, wants to either disrupt said workshop for his own amusement and entertainment, or wants me to behave for everybody else’s.. He can’t have both, or maybe even either.. Don’t get the wrong impression of me just because you have read the right impression of myself as intended… but I can be respectful and I am most of the time. But Alan, and he knows I know this, knows there is a good chance I will put my foot in it somewhere…followed by its leg….and then the rest of me, leading the marching band of my literary hooliganism to stomp over Brenda’s, (there’s always a Brenda at these type of things), poem about her garden… (there’s always a poem about some buggers garden, usually belonging to a Brenda).
Said workshop is something Alan attends on a casual basis. I don’t mean he wears a cardigan in an insouciant supercilious French way, walking around in slippers flicking cigarette ash onto the heads of passing children, but casual in that he is an infrequent attendee, but that’s because of his dog. I shan’t explain, as dog stories bore me. They’re always just a lot of tosh about how clever the hound is, how he saved a small boy from a well, or how cute the doggy looks in its rain poncho, and then it either gets run over by a postman or needs an operation on its genitals.
Anyway, Alan goes infrequently but thought he would go to this one, and thought I would like to join… and I did go as he had caught me in a moment of weakness , for when answering the landline nowadays to a real person is quite a surprise, and instead of slamming the receiver down on the automated oracle on the other end, while shouting I do not have an Amazon account, and so couldn’t have spent 250 pound on walrus placenta face cream, I had agreed to go with him before really thinking it through.
It takes place at a church hall. Not sure of the denomination, Christian undoubtedly, probably one of them new agey ones where the audience jump about a lot in crocs and have vegan coffee mornings , but I saw the hard chairs and unsmiling Jesus statuary and realised thank God, it was a Methodist training camp and so felt relieved there would be no evangelical gymnastics… silly really to worry at all, it was a Tuesday evening and I’m pretty sure Tuesday evenings exist solely for heathens, who like to attend non churchy things in churches just for the hell of it, sort of like licking batteries while stood in a puddle, just to see if He has the juice turned up…
Sorry, always get a bit unevangelical when church is mentioned.
Anyway, said workshop. Its Brenda, was a lady who introduced herself to me as Vesta.
Hello I replied, I’m Chicken Vindaloo, except I didn’t because even though Vesta is a famous brand of curry, a Brenda calling herself Vesta on the pretence of it being representative of some celestial wattage, and not boxed curry meals designed for one for the microwave, must be prepared for some light hearted bantering from the likes of me. I should have out of principle and though I saw Alan smile in relief when I hadn’t, I was disappointed in myself, a little, as I nodded my greeting and walked to a seat in the satisfaction that the night was young.
It was also at that point, that I realised this shaggy dog story, like Brenda’s inevitable front garden was in danger of over growing its boundary, and that a judicious trim would be in order, to whit, this is, it appears, to be a two parter… maybe even a trilogy, depending on Alan’s dog’s genitals of course, but before I go… no… nothing, as I’ve gone to look for whoever whit is, and hopefully, I don’t find it stuck down a well.
ALAN (I like Alan).
Alan. You may have noticed I mention Alan a lot. I do, not because of alphabetical reasons, (I have a friend called Brian, who comes first alphabetically because his nickname is Abba as he has a stutter), but because I do, like him. I don’t have to say it’s not in a sexual way, I hope, because it’s not. Though in all honesty, maybe I do, because in all honesty, I have not liked most of the women I have had sex with… and honestly, I’m not sure they liked me either. But no, purely platonic is our friendship, thank God. The gay community has enough to contend with, without me joining their throng.
Alan, yes, I was talking about Alan. We met at writing group, run by Maureen, at her tea shop, The Tranquillity Tea and Cake shop to be precise, where we call ourselves the Quills. Maureen was mad for about six, maybe seven years about that, as it had been Alan who had came up with the name. We call ourselves the Quills then, but shiver in embarrassment (I do at least) when anyone actually does call us that. Being as its a cake shop slash tea room run by a viciously passive aggressive tyrant, Maureen, Alan likes to call her Atilla the Bun, and sometimes other slices of cake themed punnery and is one reason I like Alan a lot.
He has sort of mentored me. Cajoled me. Encouraged me. Chastised me, critqued, praised, nudged, pushed, restrained and fed me (I sound like I’m a poodle). He has even made me sick, literally, after giving me a glass of parsnip champagne made by his neighbour in his shed, though it tasted like it had been made in a farmer’s wellington boot, and though I have never had parsnip champagne before, I also know that somehow, I have, and it was better than that.
Writer friends don’t always become friend friends because out of writing hours, writers are still writers and do not like to share time that they could be talking about thinking about listening about or generally just being about their own writing… and we become opposing ends of magnets when drawn together. Usually.
Usually, writer friends are based on agenda.
Either your agenda or the other friend’s agenda.
You can deny it
But its usually true.
And though Alan and I, friends that we are OUTSIDE of writing we are still wrapped up INSIDE our own relationships we have with ourselves, only our agendas allowing others close.
Alan, also would tell me here that capitals should never be used, and if so, then sparingly. Alan says capitals should be like the visits to the capitals of communist countries. Visited rarely and the escape routes mapped out beforehand.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I do everything Alan asks. I don’t. Far from it, and I like to think that Alan likes me as much as I like him, and that we get a mutual benefit from our friendship, and I am aware, that if I keep on, all I will be doing is explaining what friendship is, and people, especially writers hate being told stuff they know.
Agendas. Yes, writer friendships are all about agendas. Tell me one writer who pals around, after hours, with a fellow writer who does not like their work, and I will point at him like that perspicacious little boy who pointed at the emperors nakedness and decry “liar liar, your imaginary pants are on fire”…
There is nothing wrong with agendas. Not today when they have became more fluid. So there should be no shame in wanting to be surrounded (smothered?) by people (hostages?) who you know will praise you and sit quietly and listen to whatever drivel (masterpiece?) you have conjured from the ether. Sometimes it is the other person’s agenda that has them prostate at your feet, because it suits them, in some strange parasitical remora fish kind of thing, to nibble away the dead flesh of your less successful offerings, without you feeling less of a genius. Alan, though, is a friend whose agendas are based on no other dietary requirement than having someone along to try his neighbours parsnip champagne while singing in his back garden at 2 a.m, that someone somewhere does indeed have a lovely bunch of coconuts, and that yes, it’s coming home, football is finally coming home.
Of course, me and Alan, are not exempt from the affliction entirely, because, we are still writers, and writers are empty wine bottles when drunk alone.
Writers need sycophants and grovellers in their inner circle. We want enablers and a Greek chorus of verbal fanfare every time we get up to read at open mics, where the 56th rendition of our poem about a sparrow in a raven world is met as if its the first rendition of our poem about a sparrow in a raven world and we want applause and crescendos of delight when we read at the Quills our poem about a sparrow in a raven world as if it’s the first time and not the 88th time Maureen has reluctantly called it “quite adequate”, which, while not making her an inner circle friend it at least makes her an outer ring friend and like some Moebius Strip thrown up, yet down an Escher staircase, our friendships are reciprocated and bounced back so that the shoe is on the other hand and we are all osmosis, parting the Red Seas for each other……..just enough so only we reach the other side before the waves of our selfishness crush all others to death…..horribly.
Yes well, Alan and I are part of that obviously, but at the same time, our friendship is above and beyond that because we watch the football together, know the names of our dead pets, talk about getting hair in our ears and metaphorically hold each others hair back, in a non sexual way, while we vomit in his garden after having drunk his neighbours parsnip champagne…again. (I never said writers were clever)..(EVER). And I now realise I have to write a poem about a sparrow in a raven world..in case any writer friends do before I do. And write it better…. Or have better hostages nibbling at their toes.
LADY CHATTERLEY’S PENIS
If I have any ambitions as a writer, then I suppose it is to be able to write stories so well, that no one is bothered that nothing actually happens in them.
Obviously, things would happen, but I wish I could write well enough that the plot would be incidental almost, and that it was the writing that impressed.
Of course, the plot would be important, as in a clothes horse, to hang my wet and dripping genius, but still the writing is what the reader will remember…
Well, yes, of course, obviously, it has to be about something, or all you, dear readers, would have, is words… and no reader in the world likes just words… you can’t criticise words or dictionary’s would need a thicker skin/dermis/layer, you can’t rate words, only the books they appear in, as words are about the team effort and the company they keep.
Which brings me nicely and seamlessly to the unclothed horse of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It doesn’t really, but I’ve taken a shortcut so as not to drag you there kicking and screaming through a mess of words that you would criticise, in any frame that they were clinging to.
Yes, Chatterley, a book so smutty apparently, it would sizzle the lace gloves of young ladies, or render them sightless and swooning at the mere glimpse of a copy, and make the young chaps think the next time they passed a bag of chops over the counter to a lady customer, she would immediately like to see the young butchers sausage. (obviously, of course, I have hundreds of likewise analogies for whatever occupations young chaps had, it wasn’t just butchers… and actually in the book, not a butcher at all)…
Let us skip to the present day… as that’s where we are presently present.
Chatterley, is one of those classics that people (like me), think they have either read and forgotten they have read, or seen it on film, so many times that that also makes them (people like me), think they have read it, so they can talk about it with people like you, as if they had in fact, read it.
Now… from the first time I saw an adaptation, my talk with friends and family, and other people who pretend to like me, has not centred around Lawrence’s use of the carrot as a metaphor of Bolshevism, or the working class vernacular or the motif of struggles found everywhere in just trying to get by in a world of war and salt spoons… lives all struggly and class consciously vernaculary, but has centred on how much nudity there is on the screen.
It is all about the nudity.
You maybe wont admit it, what with being clothed in your literary finery…
but it is…
no one, I believe, has ever read Chatterley in the last twenty years or more, and not pictured a particular actress in the role, imagining her being bent over in the potting shed while admiring Mellors’ handiwork as he gives the flowerbeds a good forking. No one. It’s like trying to read Kipling’s Jungle Book without humming The Bare Necessities every time Baloo appears.
And that’s fine, because times change, and original words in a book don’t. Of course, film makers can make adaptations, or films based on original content, or re-imagined, except Chatterley is pretty much just some chuff about a horny young wife seeking a bit of planting in the greenhouse.
Now, as time rushes by, each filmed adaptation of said book has upped the nudity ante. I am sure you want accurate sources and examples of how it has gone from a suggestion of ankle observed emerging from behind the aspidistra, to a male full frontal lady frolicking in a woody glade, (Alan, ((I like Alan)), if reading this, will be so disappointed I did not go with a reference to bush, that I will have to apologise profusely to him), to where we are today, to full frontals of both m’lady and gardener. Unfortunately, you want evidence but yet again, you have vastly underestimated my laziness and indifference to both facts and the looking up of facts, so feel free to google away, but be careful, and do not type into your search engine the words “gardener” and “dick”, as a picture of Alan Titchmarsh appears, and nobody wants to see that pop up over their hedge.
It is interesting on a social studies kinda way, how our attitudes to nudity in our viewing has changed. Also, literary wise, as in people watching a version of it on their telly, wont understand the fuss it caused their forefathers or foremothers, though anyone who had fore parents must question their own family’s fourplay. It is an enlightened family indeed, who can sit together and watch as some young English rosy apple of an actress disrobes without an awkward comment or too, like for example, father saying “she best not turn round too quickly, those are nettles her vest is pointing at”, or mother, saying,”ooh I have the same gardening gloves except mine are blue”, or the eldest girl pointing out the inequality of young women because of inequality and class and being ignored when pointing out the inequality, and grandma declaring it wouldn’t have happened in her day, all this naked mowing, even though it was happening in her day, and then silence as the youngest asks why its a problem as Donald Duck doesn’t wear underpants either… Chatterley has never been family viewing whether or not it shows body parts imprinted in the mulch.
I am being a little smutty myself now, but only to prove that its not the offering of smut, but the quality of the writing of smut that matters to a reader. No one, not even me, will read this offering here in the future… and by future, I imagine this drivel will be a wilted stem and out of future by Tuesday next, but it does exist. Not a classic, no, but words on a clothes horse, damp and dripping in places, to be criticised at the very least, and not left to dry without the heat of opinion.
Nobody will read Chatterley any more I don’t think. Because of the nudity made flesh. I’m not sure the book can, or any book can, be as provocative on the page, when film and television display its nakedness without us having to imagine two lost souls getting jiggy in a greenhouse.
The film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, was awful, not because it was soft porn and only one or two short steps above what can be seen on a perfume advert perhaps, but awful because the book’s written word was awful, and neither incarnation will stand the test of time… Lawrence could write though, so well, that the plot was almost incidental, and though dated in its daring perhaps, a rich woman romping with a flat capped weed whacking rose pruning hairy armed oik is a theme that will be universal, as long as we realise that sooner or later our young adults will recognize it as a classic, yes, and maybe not have to read it at all, because in their version of televisual delight, the garden will be organic, and its legs hairy and naked, and until they both disrobe amongst the magnolia, no one will know for sure who will have, or not have a penis.
And obviously, of course, the ownership of such appendages will matter not, if the writing is good enough that it doesn’t even matter. The story is often what thrusts, but it should never be mightier than the pen is.
You can’t please some people. Even when you give them what they want, some people are just not happy. Ironically, being unhappy, is what makes some people happy… so you are in fact, giving them people what they want, even though they don’t actually know what they want, because whatever you do is just the same to some people, as what you don’t do…
So, I have decided not to deal with these some people and in future only deal with some other people.
This of course, will make some some unhappy people, very unhappy, that I have made them very happy on purpose….
Not the end, of course, otherwise I could churn 65 of these sorts of nonsense out every other day… but it is in fact the end of that bit.
Now, to this months monkey chatter, of which there isn’t any.
Yes, nothing, which of course means there is something because nothing is something and…
Right, yes,… you know that moment when you have an epi-peniphany, and jab yourself into realising, that your inner conversations with yourself, should, perhaps, be left inner… and, perhaps, less comma-ed… yes that. I just had that… which sort of brings up the thorny issue of just what I should write… awkward really, in a column that purports to be about how to write, or how to be a writer, or my experiences of failing at both… a salutary lesson indeed (though I did imagine until having one, that that was a lesson teaching soldiers how to salute, straight after Home Economics, and before Double Genocide.
No Tranquillity to draw from, as the tea and cake shop mosh pit doesn’t convene until three days hence… hence… not used it before, tried it… won’t use it again, and so can’t write about that… and can’t make one up because, well, I can’t imagine my imagination being imaginative enough to make up something about our little writing group that would be more interestingly imaginative than a real account… and I think I have used that hence line before, or it may have been henceforth. which actually looks like a made up word but then all words are, made up…
OOH… I sold a book this week. Yes one of mine… god, some people…
Bloke on this book site I’m on asked me if I had any books for sale… naturally I imagined he meant ones I had written and not ones I hadn’t written, or for that matter, ones he had written, and I said yes and he said lets do this!! and I thought oh no an American but I said yes and he said are they on Amazon and I said yes and he said wow and I then moved onto another thread because I won’t be wowed at by a stranger…
I sold a book to my mum.
Now, my mum’s mainly a consumer of books published by Mills and Boon.
Romance novels mainly churned out by middle aged woman who are overweight and swoon at the sight of a man’s bare wrist.
Not all of them are, obviously, and I am not a statistician but I think that that applies to probably about 96% of these authors. I saw some at mum’s house the other afternoon when I went round to shout at the paperboy for her (her throat was sore after shouting at a traffic bollard for half an hour the previous day), and… (books, I saw books, not the authors, because some people of the some people I mentioned earlier will have snuck in with some of the new some other people and being those some people I no longer encourage to be some people with, would have been enjoyed over that error nugget and been facetious about it…) … and the books I saw had titles like…
“The Doctor and his Mistress”
“The Doctor and His Pregnant Mistress”
“The Doctor’s Wife and the Millionaire Oil Executive”
“The Millionaire Oil Executive and The Doctor’s Pregnant Wife Invite The Mistress to
Chapel St Leonard’s .”…and
“ Careful Gordon, You’ll Have Someone’s Eye Out with That”….
to name but too many… and I thought for a horrible horrible second that I could write one. I am not an overweight middle aged woman. I am a middle aged overweight man though, and I don’t think that matters nowadays, your gender, or genre. Or your inability not to be rude, as long as you are rude to all, including a whole swathe of authors you know deep down, are more talented and harder working than yourself… but in that horrible second I imagined myself elevating a whole genre… even though it doesn’t want elevating… well not all of it just the parts that, well… look, writing these sort of books are a skillset I don’t have, and they are anatomically popular, and rarely flop.
One of my inner voices, (the one that convinced me to try tofu once, I think, has just told me that I am writing in a stream of consciousness kinda way… yes I replied, if that stream is run by the water companies and is full of sewerage, and I silenced it before it started on about how scrumptious chick peas are)… I don’t mind inner voices if they get to the meat of the matter… but some of mine seem to have gone militant vegetarian recently… anyhoooo… yes, that American, that lets do it dude… I returned and told him all the titles I have managed to put words under and formed books to… and told him they are all wonderful and I am currently writing several more and maybe branching into a series about a doctor who runs away with a millionaire oil executive from Texas (know your audience), and also a book about some new other people and not the old some people and he said wow and I allowed it and said wow back but then it felt really dirty like watching porn with your second cousin and so I turned off the computer and ran my head under a tap for 6 minutes and looked in the fridge to see if we had any hummus… whatever that is.
Now… as a writer of a writing column in a rather splendid and anatomically successful literary magazine as this… I think it not unfair if the editor, on reading this muckswallow, does not enquire just what the actual monkeynuts of an inksplodge this is…
what this is… is ego.
Beware, when sat before an empty page, (look, truth be told, the internet was down)…
Don’t let your guard down… all that discipline with which you have so masterfully and artfully gained, should be maintained… don’t let ego fool you into thinking any old nonsense will be gratefully received… it won’t.
Not for public consumption that is. Be harsh, be strict, be resolute.
Don’t let unwary bathers paddle in your stream of effluence, don’t let them dip as much as a toe into the sewerage of your unfiltered consciousness… be disciplined, just like the lovely people who write their romances, follow their conviction, follow their dedication to their craft… I am nothing more than a leaky dinghy bobbing up and down on the currants I can’t digest.
Write with joy and with purpose and with no fear and if joy is out, write with the doctor’s pregnant mistress or whoever it is who inspires…
I write because I can’t be stopped… and also because my ego even demands I fill an empty page with this… because my friend is the editor, yes, possibly, but because like all writers, we have egos, and those egos need massaging constantly, even if some people don’t always appreciate that some people appreciate reading about some other peoples’ happy endings, and instead, just get rubbed up the wrong way.
Next months column will be about something or most likely nothing… but probably not how I’ve just discovered that hummus smells like a wet Wednesday in Shrewsbury.
THE ART OF ONE UP-MANSHIP
Now, I’m not saying that my friend the Editor of this fine magazine is competitive. But, I shall have no real entry this month as he has gone and got COVID-19. A terrible thing I am sure you will agree… but, following last months lack of entry from myself due to flu, I can’t help but feel there could be something more going on.
THE BIG TISSUES
I had flu…
deal with it.
THE COMFORT OF CRUMBS
I came to writing through therapy at age forty-eight, and, nearly ten years later, I still need it. Writing I mean. We find things in life, that are not so bad sometimes and in that discovery, we find ourselves a little, and another jigsaw piece is slotted home. Writing has also proved to me, that its the pieces that are lost that complete the picture of who we really are. There is a little bit of me in everything I write, not blood, not flesh maybe, but the bit that accepts that just because a piece of sky is missing, it doesn’t mean the rest will collapse around me.
I find writing easy. I say it often enough for it to be annoying, but the barest essence of it, is easy. Because I don’t worry about how to do it, other than the way I do it. Because I know that having to learn how to do so successfully, with all the grammar present and correct, is beyond me. Beyond my patience, beyond my ability or concentration, and so when you write with only a piece of the whole puzzle, it is only when looking at the bigger picture, that people see what’s missing from mine, is all the painstaking work that they are prepared, and rightly so, to put in to their own.
There are a lot of justifications a writer can make for his output. All of them valid, at least to themselves, and though I am elastic with pronouns, I am at least rigid with the belief that if I am read at all, then it will be on my terms and that if I want to spell stubornness with only one “b”, I will. Of course, this is pure pig headed obbstinacy , as I know which words have two b’s… and which don’t.
I don’t ignore mistakes if I catch them in their hatching, but I won’t go back on a piece and add commas, or remove commas, or embarrass a colon by shouting at it and make it deflate into a semi… I like to let whoever reads something of mine to feel as if they are getting that moment, that sense of standing over my shoulder, or if you like, as if they are a child waiting by the oven, drawn by hot buttery, and oaty aromas of the cookies it hopes to enjoy.
Of course, this all sounds slightly pretentious but so what?. A writer cannot afford too much false modesty in case he believes it himself, in case he doubts his own balancing act, in case he realises his cookies are just cheap props and not at all like mother used to buy. So sometimes what we write is missing something, or only has half the amount of an ingredient, but sometimes this is still better than nothing at all, is still nourishing and memorable and leaves crumbs of comfort down your hair shirt.
I do not care about mixed metaphors as much as perhaps you hope I should. Or about the overabundance of analogies, you maybe find wilfully arrogant, but that is because I too, care about writing, I care for the appearance of words that form in the mind’s flesh however clumsy and, like magic, appear from the electronic ether onto the screen. The appearance on paper is even more thrilling to me, when through a simple pencil or cheap biro, I make my scratches into something almost beyond their meaning, almost beautiful, where even a shopping list could be a legacy.
Yes, writing is a skill and an art and rules exist for very good reasons… but, there is a dependency on credentials that can sometimes be unpalatable to me… of course I’m glad you have a degree, but does that make you a better writer than someone who doesn’t, because you understand gerunds and enjambment, because you have corralled the mechanics of creative writing into a pen?
A craftsman who makes the finest cricket bat, so beautifully formed you can hear the willow sing, does not necessarily become any good with it, though I’m sure his score of zero was beautifully and technically crafted.
If I use their when I meant there, then that’s on me for self editing, don’t make it your burden. Read on, see the whole, pretend I am malleable and willing to avenge my heinous malformations and that next time I will be better. I wont, unless by accident, but at least you may have returned to have a second bite as you realised that, actually, there is sometimes just a currant in the wrong place of actually, a rather tasty cookie.
Writing is collecting around you all your loss, all your love, and all your dreams, and trying to get them to behave for just five minutes in the same room as one another. So, writing is easy, when they’re your cookies in the oven, your recipe, when you know they will at least taste how you thought they would, with less currants perhaps, than people are used to, but then maybe the extra pinch of cinnamon will surprise them into asking for more. The hardest thing about writing is finding someone to bring the milk, and share them with you. Now that’s where writing brings even old, curmudgeons like me, a crumb of comfort.
(P.S… A sombre offering this week as I have wasted all my pantry full of humorous bits and bobs on a post about the Conservatives and how they continue to find new levels of utter… normal nonsense will resume next month)…
(P.P.S….there isn’t one, I just like how it looks like peepees)
I touched on veracity in last month’s monthly rant. In fact last month I touched a lot of things, but they are not shareable for various reasons, not all of which are injunctions. Truth is… elastic, stretchy, occasionally to the point of invisibility, as in the size of the fish you nearly caught and are demonstrating its enormousness with open arms, and though not all of us are fishermen casting our net, we are all guilty of exaggerating the truth especially on the ‘net.
Putting that particular ocean of lies with its abyssal depths of inexactitude to one side, lets look at the truths I have told you.
I don’t lie.
I don’t .
Yes, it is what a liar would say.
But a writer, especially one with a thesaurus, a full thermos, and a favourite cushion, will sit and write not lies, no, no , no, but will create. You can’t be a liar you see, if it’s art.
I don’t use a thesaurus ever. I don’t. (Alan says a writer who doesn’t use a thesaurus is like a chef who looks at a potato and only sees a chip… I like Alan, even when he says stuff like that), and it’s preposterous, ludicrous, absurd, risible, and quite frankly, doubly absurd, you should think I do. If you did. Its a choice. I’m not dyslexic, but probably a bit of a dick, and so be it.
Truth… I have told you some in this column as truth pertains to me. Some of them hold up, but others are like those trousers that thin people get photographed holding up after losing the fat person that they had eaten… so some of my truths have room for a pudding, and others need a belt. I don’t lie to fool you so much as to fool myself, and being as I am basically an idiot, I believe them. I don’t lie for the purpose of making myself look clever, this column obviously proves that, but because I am a creator, a weaver, and lots of other things I would mention, but unfortunately I don’t have a thesaurus at my beck and call.
This months writers group at the Tranquillity Tea and Cake, was rammed with liars, wall to wall liars, fifteen liars in fact, in fact so many of us were there, that Maureen had to order somebody to fetch more chairs. Fifteen liars in one room is like… damn, if only I had a book with words in it… (okay that’s enough with the I don’t use a thesaurus schtick)… is like a lot.
Now, Maureen doesn’t like this many liars… sorry, poets, together at once. Oh she lies like a fallen slavers statue and says its marvellous, but she’s lying through her pointy fangs. Maureen is always worried that with so many in attendance, there will be more chance that someone decent will have turned up. Competition, is alive and well whenever and wherever creative people congregate. Oh we lie and lie and lie and say there’s not… but there is, and Maureen hates it. The competition that is.
The majority of those who sat around the back room, were all old faces except for two. Maureen somehow managed to sit them with me and Alan, and Francesca, a plasterer for the council who is married to Jeff who used to come but doesn’t any more. He fell out with Maureen, not over creative differences but the price of Maureen’s almond slices compared to the bakers on the precinct. Nobody died, but as Alan pointed out, numerous episodes of Midsomer Murders have involved deaths happening over less… (I like Alan… we should all like Alan)…
For some reason, I told the two new faces, both of whom were called Iris, which was odd, as I didn’t even realise they were in season, that I was new to writing myself and adored poetry.
I am not new, and I don’t adore poetry.
But I lied. Now… it’s not a lie that I could possibly gain from, and not a lie that was at their expense and would not affect them in any way, but I lied. I wasn’t desperate for them to like me, but I lied. And this lie bothered me more than any other lie I have ever told, even though I have told you I don’t lie… but out of all the lies I have never told this one felt the worst. I think, looking back now on yesterday, that I felt so bad because it was petty, pointless, and yes, slightly pathetic. If I was trying to make them feel comfortable as newcomers then I could forgive it, as they had looked slightly embarrassed when the others laughed about the coincidence of their names… but I hadn’t done it for that. In fact one Iris smelled of Ovaltine and the other Iris had a pen with a ridiculous feathered top that looked like she was checking a parrot’s prostate every time she wrote something. I won’t lie though and say it wasn’t a relief that her poetry was of a standard that Maureen herself could compete with.
Maureen likes eight people at the Quills ideally. In fact every week , eight chairs are neatly arranged around small tables in the back room. We don’t use the front room which is the tea and cake room even though for some reason neither Alan nor I have uncovered, is never open on a Sunday.
Maureen did the introductions as we went round clockwise, as that made our table first to read. This is because people tend to remember the end of group stuff rather than the beginning, and so Maureen always reads last. Also I think, it’s because I write just well enough to annoy her out of principle, Alan writes well enough to be in a league or two above nearly all of us, and Francesca writes well enough so that Maureen doesn’t include her on the mailing list for the newsletter she posts every month. Which I have only just found out… and also that there is a newsletter.
Alan reads one about a wood pigeon. Maureen is moving things along quickly because there is fifteen of us, but there is polite applause and Graham with the dandruff asks if wood pigeons are usually so melodramatic.
Ovaltine Iris declines as she hasn’t brought anything to read as she thought this was a Zumba class (it isn’t, apparently that’s next door in the upstairs room of the wedding hire shop… and is on Thursdays…) and leaves with her spandexed thighs squeaking their disappointment.
Francesca reads one about her dad who has dementia and it’s tender and lovely and Maureen allows one question but cuts into the genuinely warm applause and nods at me.
I read one about a writer who is unsure about what he writes, and who begins to slide down a slippery slope of self doubt and insecurity, to the point where he thinks his pen is writing the words and not himself… not trusting anything he now writes as he spirals into despair… Maureen smiles… it isn’t a very good poem, I know that, after hearing it aloud. There is polite applause, for effort, and as a regular, I know the sound level of it translates to (thesaurus or not), shoddy, wishy-washy, shabby, low quality, second rate inadequateness.
Iris, parrot prostate Iris, meekly raises a hand and asks if its based on myself, and before I can answer, Maureen says, gleefully, “Oh I should think so, after all, R……….. always writes with such honesty, its what I love about his pieces…”
Liar, liar pants on fire.
Well that’s it… we lie, either creatively, shamefacedly or even honestly… we lie… its what we do and call it art… see you all next month, I must dash, as this months Quills starts in an hour and I’m going to read one about a writer who is unsure about what he writes and begins to slide down a slippery…..
Yesterday, online, I was told off for not being a lesbian. Now, I realise you realise that most of the denizens of the internet, and Facebook especially, are not the most balanced, teetering as they are, on the tightrope of sanity, and so you may be forgiven for thinking that this telling off was either a non-sequitur, or a wrong end of the stick situation. You may also think that actually it was probably a quite fair and erudite telling off, when you consider the facts that I haven’t divulged yet, and also the fact that the person telling me off, was not doing so because she was disappointed that I am not a lesbian, but because I was, and am, a straight white male… who wrote a poem from a lesbian’s point of view.
Now… I know I am not a lesbian. I have no desire to be one. I am not in the slightest bit troubled by their existence (big of me), nor do I discriminate, lambast, ridicule nor snigger about lesbians… unless deserved of course, but that doesn’t mean my lack of lesbianism means I can’t write a character of the Sapphic persuasion.
I had posted a poem, online, about first love, and that first love was a forbidden first love and that forbidden first love was about a young woman who discovered her sexuality during a Cornish summer holiday and I wasn’t trying to speak for all lesbians, just my character.
Of course, not being a young woman who discovers herself drawn to the female sex, (yes, I am drawn to them too, but even I know that’s not at all the same), I found myself enjoying this role. In a writerly way, in the exercising of whatever skill I have managed to acquire as said writer, and reasonably imagined fiction was just that, the making up of stuff.
I have experience of lesbianism in that way a straight man does. Porn. Except, I was never that aroused by two women making love as I always felt more left out than excited….and threesomes are either one man too many, or there’s an extra woman to criticize performance and as someone who relishes comfort, there seems to be too many elbows flying about.
Porn, of course, is not the only way a straight man may encounter women with another reason they won’t sleep with you. I have seen them on television, in books, in fact, everywhere, because they are not that rare, or different, and I suppose her, her name is Jane, I suppose her point was, that there are enough of them already, so that they can write their own poetry.
Jane, who had a couple of good points once she had tired herself out screaming for my expulsion from the world wide tangled web, asked me if I was a gammon. I thought about it for a while, then googled to see if gammon meant something other than ham, and was incredibly insulted. I couldn’t though, shout at her, because that would have seemed very gammonish and I’m not.
Look. This shouldn’t even be about lesbianism. This month’s rant should be about, and we have touched on this before, veracity and the faking of it. Not faking it on an emotional, literary way, but faking it as a fictional construct kinda thing, after all, what was I meant to do, draft in an actual , bona fide lesbian to write it for me, or perhaps light some scented candles, bang on a K.D. Lang C.D, and look wistfully into that Cornish summer as if it was autobiographical?… and Jane saying I shouldn’t even try to write this character is miles worse than me doing so. Even if I get it wrong.
Even when defending yourself because you know your intentions have come from a good place , you will offend some people. And sometimes it’s hard to tell whether that’s because you have been offensive, or because the offended person needs to be offended and that sort of person also gets offended when they are defended so any debate you have with Jane, she will make sure she comes out of the other end the victim… I know I know, I am at times an unreconstructed dinosaur, and filter less… but I do reserve the right to call out people for being entitled.
Those people who also commented on my poem, where either thumbs up kinda people, or thumbs down kinda people, and judged the poem, that was on a poetry site, for its poetical merit, and not because of where characters thumbs were potentially being employed.
John thought it good but lacked a decent ending.
SallyPurple43 thought it was trite and relied on stereotype.
Anne-Marie pointed out a missing comma,
and Norman liked the dog.
You can’t please everyone, but you want to . But comfort zones exist to retreat in to, not to reach out from, to try and push yourself into areas where you try and rely on creative writing skill alone. And yes, I do write about gender and race mockingly at times, but never the actual gender or race, but other people’s attitudes about them, or their behaviour, or their sense of victimhood when used as a full stop.
My use of character informs my poetry, don’t assume it gives you information about me. Not to any extent that it could be called successful, but I have written characters from all walk of life, from all proclivities and viewpoints, firemen and Nigerian warlords and single women and married women and schoolboys and forest rangers and ghosts and animals and even once a Romanian chiropodist. I have written adult fiction science fiction and children’s fiction, plays and novels, and even a tour of a place I had never been to, except on the internet, and though this last one was written with a co-writer, I never need help in making shit up.
Now , I will end with a gay stereotype as Jane the Lesbian really got beneath my crackling, (joking, calm down )
and so this month’s oddly sliced meat of the matter, is not gammon, but trotters, not chauvinist trotters, but like this little piggy went to market and this little piggy got all bent out of shape…because it is okay to walk in other people’s shoes as a writer, but don’t expect that everyone is comfortable or rational, or that in fact their little piggies are snug and cosy, when you slip on their comfortable and sensible looking shoes.
The Quills has just finished, and a few of us have gathered in the nearest local pub, which while it is not exactly our local, it is our most local geographically, as well as tautologically.
We are here not just to extend our once monthly meeting, but to do a full Quincy. For those of us old enough to understand the reference… well, nothing… we understand, but for those who don’t let me explain a couple of things.
Quincy was an old American crime drama about a busybody and nosy, functioning alcoholic (or that’s just me fleshing out his character) coroner, who not content with finding out how people died, just had to find out why as well. The second thing to know is that all we are bothered about here is the coroner bit, as in a full forensic of what just happened.
It is almost punditry, almost critical review board minutes, almost Solomon-like wisdom (although a lot of the infinitives come already split in half), and it’s almost nice.
We pick over people’s poems and the people they belong to, and I am ashamed, a little, that I feel no shame in my lack of shame on judging both by the one or by the other, because we all do it, to some degree. And some people even have a degree in the appropriate areas to justify themselves for not liking Anthea’s odes academically, and not just because she has an odour of sour cream about her person.
Most of us only need a pint of rough cider and a pickled egg in front of us to consider ourselves as qualified poetical coroners. Last month, for example, we had unanimously agreed that the fairly new Linda’s poems were wonderfully written, with an economy of words that fit together without the unmelodic clunk that is heard coming from our own poor efforts. Unfortunately, this was a silent agreement, as all we could actually say out loud, was how we all had seen that massive hole in her cardigan, and that someone who used the word “carbolic” to describe the whole of the 19th century, should perhaps, wear better knitwear in public.
Linda has been to the Tranquillity Tea and Cake writing group, or the Quills as we are known, twice, and is therefore not a regular. Three times is required for that privilege, it is not written down, or mandated by our leader the Dark Lord, Maureen, (not Lady, it doesn’t seem quite right to call Maureen a lady with a capital L), it is just one of those stipulations that evolves from the communal sense of entitlement and the human desire to be part of something. We are usually kinder to those not yet one of us, and yes that was meant to sound cultish, but Linda is nearly one of us and because she was particularly good and nice, holey cardigan or not, she is getting it in the proverbials, as we wear our jealousy so much more uglier than well ventilated knitwear. And yes, that was meant to make us sound very cultish indeed. Derek, a dour man who writes about the bypass a lot, is adamant that Linda is the sort of liberal woman who wants a job. He is all for that he says, as otherwise, Linda is also the type of woman who would use all that non-job free time to chain herself to bulldozers in an attempt to stop by-passes being built. He finishes by saying that some women can’t have it both ways and uses a bite of his pickled egg as a full stop. I look at Alan, (I like Alan), and I can see he is thinking like myself, and that we can’t see how that means that a woman is having it anyway at all, and we roll our eyes. Derek does too, but that’s only because the pickled egg is very vinegary.
And so it goes. Of course, we only talk about those poets who haven’t joined us. That’s not totally from cowardice, but mainly so we can get a word in without being interrupted.
This also means no one likes to leave before anyone else. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, but people have been known to bring camping gear in their car boots just in case, and have booked Monday’s off work, and maybe pencilled in their absence for Tuesday too. This is of course exaggeration, though until we implement a rule that all car boots are inspected before the Quills begins, it is is not as improbable as I am trying to make you imagine it isn’t. Just like people judging other people, neither jealously nor pickled eggs will ever go out of date. Its all about the long game as well as expiry…
Maureen, our esteemed mustard gas cloud of mild racism and Daily Mail subscription, never accompanies us to the inquests. We are both relieved and really really relieved about this, and I honestly can’t imagine how it would be to have her attend. Alan, says its because she wants to be talked about, and that Maureen is the centre of attention even in rooms she wouldn’t be seen dead in, because of that very reason. He says she’s the equivalent of an elephant in the room, except this one knows it isn’t there… which, I have to admit, from someone who makes a lot of fart jokes, that is a real thinker… and why I like Alan.
Alan read a poem about death in the undergrowth, a metaphorical piece, and I liked it, not because he was Alan but because Alan had just bought a round and ergo, was still here. But I did like it as well… it wasn’t quite like Ted Hughes, but then not many people quite liked Ted Hughes so that was okay… but it was red of tooth and claw just enough to be interesting. But we had passed the “loved your poem Sandra”, and the “wonderful enjambment Clive”, part of proceedings… this part of the inquest is over quickly as the interesting bit is sticking the scalpel into the soft bellies of those who are no longer with us.
Of course, no one has died, and I do realise that calling us coroners and using words like inquest and forensics and embalming, (yes I know, I never said embalming, but I had meant to earlier in reference to pickled eggs but forgot), does imply death.
You are not dead.
It may feel like it sometimes,
but you’re not dead, and neither is poetry, or writing, or words or language. Language is a living beast, ever evolving, ever surviving, and sometimes we make wakes out of beginnings but we are just the living hosts our languages take nourishment and sustenance from.
We are at times midwife’s. At other times, we are miracle workers, coroners, grave robbers, soothsayers, Frankensteins, archaeologists and archivists, skywriters, petty children with crayons or just consumers of pickled eggs, and some of us are old nags or actual thoroughbreds… but what some, if not most of us are guilty of at times, is flogging people like dead horses, even as they live and are running free, especially when they are living freer and more like poetry in motion than we can ever be.
Alan goes to the toilet and Derek leans into the group conspiratorially and whispers,
“what did you think about his poem about them dead hedgehogs? .”
“Not much to be honest, there was no point to it, not like your poem about the bypass. It’s your round I think Derek..”, I replied, passing him my glass….
One of the phrases I love, in whatever context it is applied, is this.
“He knows just enough to be dangerous”.
Of course, the “he” bit can be substituted by “she”, or by “fridge”, I don’t care, the important bit is the rest of it. I personally identify as a supermarket, but have done so since I was Lidl, but that’s a whole other bad, dad joke.
The phrase is many things to many people. I like it when used as a put down, as it has enough subtlety to be a thinker, but then, the person it is applied to, knows just enough to have understood it as the insult it is.
I am the sort of person this quote is recalled upon to sum me up, and it fits. I am equipped with just enough of enough, to be considered a threat, a pandemic, a holocaust, or a proposed Lidl’s in the Cotswolds.
Dangerous, is a relative term.
And people who laugh in the face of danger are usually dead members of your family,
or that one dodgy uncle who says he knows a man who knows a man that can get you either free cable or an Uzi. Or, in my case, that uncle is/was, both.
Knowledge does not set you free.
But free enough to make a twonk of yourself.
I am now going to write a few longer sentences, as I feel there are a few too many staccato lines, which though short for emphasis, make my particular knowledge on this matter look like I have Tourettes of which I have very little monkey plasticine bugger bugger put that down Valerie knowledge of at all. Knowledge is of course, wonderful, and obviously can be dangerous in the wrong hands, for example when my wife learnt there was such a thing on computers as “browser history”.
I am not sure why that needed rabbit ears. Maybe it’s because I had told her “That wasn’t me, those sites were on there when we bought it”. There are millions of examples of how knowledge is dangerous, millions and millions, and knowing enough to be dangerous, in this context isn’t anything else but a fact. If Booth hadn’t known which end the bullets came out, he would have shot himself and not Lincoln, but he didn’t have to know about ballistics or metallurgy or the brains reluctance to find room for a projectile.
And dropping a knowledge bomb is also fraught with danger…usually to one’s self… Gary Lineker found out the name of the capital of Fiji and dropped it on his toe, which cost him his place in a Chinese football team…so being armed with knowledge can be very dangerous indeed. Mainly to yourself.
Librarians are nothing more than arms dealers.
Nice concept, yes. I like that. Must tell Alan that one. Dealers not only on knowledge about firearms for wannabe presidential assassins, but they can provide whole battalions of books and weaponise readers on subjects as diverse as butterflies and Mussolini and jam and turtles and milk floats and famous stranglers and 70’s Bulgarian disco (okay, not a book, but a pamphlet, not a thick pamphlet, but a pamphlet), Blackpool and cooking with lard and tennis and famous dogs and turnips and the history of corduoroy and books on how to spell words like courduroy, and gastro-enteritis and sponges, and like sponges, you will absorb this knowledge and be that little bit more cleverer. And possibly dangerer.
Or of course, you will now know just enough to be dangerous.
But that’s not what that really means is it. If someone says that to you, then you are basically being called a moron, or an idiot, or any other synonym for an imbecile, which by the way, with your just enough knowledge to be dangerous, you will have mistaken synonym for metaphor, which it isn’t, and then, three days later, you will have realised it was an insult. Which it was.
And yes, okay the “you”,in this scenario is actually me, and the person who said this to me was Maureen, our esteemed Gestapo head of the Tranquillity Tea and Cake writers’ group called The Quills. (Hello Quills, old friend, nice to see you getting a mention).
It has been established, that I am not one of her favourites.
Established by those of you who read this column, and by those who actually go there, and have no idea they are also here. Alan, (I like Alan), says I should wear her scorn like a badge of honour. An M.B.E, he suggested, for “Maureen’s Bloody Eejit”, which while not being one of his best efforts, was I think funny and apt enough to include here. It wasn’t actually said to me at the group however, but, and this makes it worse, I think, she said it to me at the fish counter in Morrison’s.
I had been a little surprised to see her. Can you remember the awkwardness on seeing a teacher out of school?..that odd unsettling feeling of them doing something normal like normal non-teacher people?. Well, it felt like that. The surprise was not so much that she was in Morrison’s, or that she was buying a rather sorry looking halibut, or that she wasn’t beside Putin helping him come up with a plan to defeat tractors and kids with milk bottles full of petrol so the real genocide could begin….no, I was surprised she spoke to me.
Not spoke to me, but how she spoke to me.
“oh, …hello… (unnecessary pause for my name…she knows my name…that’s one-nil to her),
are you well?”
“yes, thanks Maureen…hope you are too… (followed by not an awkward silence exactly, just an awkward encounter which the awkward silence was only hanging around for with its muted phone so it could see how things went and put it on TikTok)…
“The flounder looks…fresh…” I said, pointing at a mackerel.
“yes, if you look over here”..she said, pointing at a different fish”. (bugger, two-nil down).
“Interesting thing about flounders… they can change colours… like a chameleon…”, I knowledged.
Maureen put her wrapped fish in her basket and smiled that passive aggressive smile she does so well, the smug alligator, Alan calls it, (yes, yes, I like Alan), and replied,
“…that’s good to know thank you, (unnecessary pause again before saying my name…this pause felt like she was shaking something off the heel of her shoe ((maybe Ukraine)))… of course”, she continued, “ a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”….and there we had it, I’m knocked out, and we didn’t even get to penalties.
Of course, what she said wasn’t exactly the quote I was referring to, but it means the same. She meant the same. And if it’s all the same to you, I heard it as myself knowing just enough to be dangerous…okay, pointing at the wrong fish didn’t help, but Maureen had meant I was a moron, and when she recounts this at the next get together of world despots, she will of course tell them that I know just enough to be dangerous.
Writer’s group is tomorrow.
I will go, and hold my head up high, and like Maureen, will pretend we haven’t seen each other since the last Quills, a month ago.
I have a poem to read out about fish. A very fact laden poem about fish, because I am weak and eager to prove I am not a complete and utter prawn., and Maureen will know why but say nothing, because we both know enough to be dangerous, and that though writer’s may not always be able to tell a mackerel from a flounder, we all recognize a fellow shark when we see one.
Now, because you are now reading number 22, I assume you are either a regular visitor to my little corner of this fine poetry journal, or a first-time stumbler over the rough terrain of this little corner of this fine poetry journal, which in fact means I don’t really know why you are reading this at all. I also assume, one question, (whether a regular or not), is forefront, balancing on the tip of your tongues like a politician swaying on the thin line between a lie and a bigger lie, and that is why do I even get a corner at all.
The answer brings us nicely to this month’s compost, and that is the subject of thanks.
Some of us have written a book.
Some of us have written two books.
Some of us have even written three… and some of us have forgotten just how many we have written because we are terrible at sums.
One thing that connects us, and those who haven’t yet written a book, but will, is the bit near the front where we dedicate the book to someone, and give a line, maybe two, of thanks to someone or something.
Dedications are easier than thanks.
Because let’s say, I dedicate this book to John. John, who didn’t perhaps expect this honour, cannot question this honour, because this honour isn’t really his its mine. Now John, who may or may not be aware of how I thought of him, now can’t very well turn round and let me know how he really feels about me, and has to take the honour I have bestowed, whether wanted or not. He can’t say, for example, that he was just doing his job, and that it wasn’t his fault I felt inspired by his teaching, as I was just one of hundreds he taught, and that teaching was a better job at the time than say being a miner or a shoe salesman. And, also, he can’t exactly remember me.
It doesn’t even matter if John is dead.
Dedications are all about the author. I have dedicated books to dead people, living people, chips and Guinness. And none of them have probably realised they have had such an honour foisted on them.
Mr Middlebrough, or John, was my first English teacher that I can remember…I think his name was John, but dedicating a book to an inspirational teacher is sort of a cliché, yes, but also, and this is important to most authors, denotes a lifelong passion for the art, and not that they’re just running out of people to dedicate a book to.
Of course, I hate pomposity and other such malarkey, but I am still at times, too scared of being found out as an impostor, that I do adhere to such tropes, as I am still new to all this, and even writers like me who think they know better must still learn the tropes, before they can unravel the tangled weaves and tell a story without the reader tripping over the ineptitude what is swept beneath the carpet.
Also, dedications do not need explaining. A reader will assume the relationship between dedicator and dedicatee is none of that reader’s business… and doesn’t need to be said, and the fact it is said in a pithy, sometimes (most times), enigmatic way, says it all really. People who you dedicate books to don’t have to justify their worthiness. You have already done it for them.
Thanks, are a different animal altogether.
Vague thanks is vague praise.
And yet… in my case, none, and I mean none, of my works would exist anywhere but on my screen, or even on good old fashioned paper, if there wasn’t somebody who I need to thank, and I think it’s as good a time as any to now tell you that you are being hijacked along with this entry.
In all the books I have written, at the front, there squats a single line of thanks… and on every line sits one name… Steve Cawte… yes, that’s right, the editor of this fine journal… writer, playwright, actor, etc etc, and excellent at all, but most importantly, he is why I write, and why I am proud to be his mate. He is quite simply the only reason that my works exist in a way other people can read them. And if I am honest, it’s about time I thanked him with more than the meagre lines attributed to the attribution of thanks.
Was that a bit too much…?
Probably, but true nonetheless.
I shall not bore you too much I hope, with his qualities, or his personal situation which involves concentrating on not being stabbed in the heart by his own heart, as though it consumes his time, it doesn’t define him, and he still finds the time to publish and encourage poets from all the corners of his journal.
He will be mortified I am writing this, and to be honest, that does amuse me slightly, but at least I’m not dedicating anything to him, he’s too important to me to hand him that white elephant.
I wrote a play a couple of years ago.
Steve is a main actor
We are producing it together
Last night he said he is going to publish it and would I send him a couple of lines for the dedication bit… and the thanks bit…
And I thought, why is it, that the thanks we need to give, is confined to a measly line?
I am presuming that the frequency of this brevity is either mandated by publishers or is an unwritten etiquette shared by all authors… but written down, almost as if it’s become a requirement, if not actual thanks.
Of course, who as a reader, would want to trawl through several paragraphs of a books thank you’s. I would skip along with the next skipper and think it a little self-indulgent, a little bit icky… but then of course, I, and you, have often skipped a thank you, whether one line or not, entirely. But I will be self-indulgent just this once.
Ironically, there are no words sufficient enough to draw from to properly convey thanks to Steve, no vast pool of adjectives deep enough to scoop from, no well of verbs or other examples of grammar I am woefully allergic to, to which I could pull a bucketful to quench my debt of gratitude… there is a lot of nonsense that accompanies me behind the scenes of my peculiar brand of shitshow and Steve is the masterly ringmaster to this one trick pony show… never complains, never closes the tent flaps and pretends I am not flogging the analogy of dead horses to death but faces me head on.
I could go on, but I think that would only prove why thanks are given so briefly… but, you know, it’s not really for the reader to decide is it? …no, it’s probably not, so, … thanks.
The play, which Steve has brought to life, was written by me. Until you see a play that you have written taken by others and have life breathed into it, you are unaware that all you have done is fell against a keyboard and pressed words in some kind of order.
Obviously, that is so ridiculously untrue, but my point is that a play is a seed, and will languish within the cold dark page until people water it and nurture it into a flower.
So, thanks Steve for being so flexible and bending over backwards to accommodate me, taking my seed and… okay, okay, I heard that… maybe that’s why one line or maybe two is usually thought sufficient…
So… Thanks to Steve Cawte, for everything, and Mr Collins… my woodwork teacher who taught me that a circular table saw is not a toy and not to eat the glue…
As all this pertains to Tranquillity Tea and Cake, I don’t, as usual care too much if it does or it doesn’t, for as usual I have Steve to thank for just letting me waffle on… but if you want something to take away from this, it’s this. It’s the thanks that count that make you who you are, so don’t waste a dedication, on someone who you really, really, need to thank.
If you are an avid reader, there will have been a point in your life, when you realised what it is you like to read, as in genre. You may not always stick to the same one, but you will return to the comfort found in tales of wizards, or haunted private eyes, or young girls finding out boys are beastly and not worth washing their hair for. Whatever it is that you prefer, you read without any other considerations then self-enjoyment, and why not, as reading is mainly a solitary pursuit and does not care if you have forgotten to put on your pyjama bottoms.
However, at about the same time as this awakening, you will also come across one of the great dilemmas, or obstacles, or, according to some, a rite of passage, which is of course, the book of which you will be measured by. I make no apology if this is still an open wound, or not, we all have to go through it, so to speak, or at least try to get through it, both literally and metaphorically… Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you the problem experienced readers like to call,
The War and Peace Treaty.
You haven’t read it.
Oh, you own a copy perhaps,
A Penguin Classic edition, probably,
But you haven’t read it
tried once, maybe twice,
but you haven’t read it.
Okay, maybe you have actually read it, but there are no medals to wear other than those you make for yourself, but can’t wear. You see, anyone seeing such a gaudy thing around your neck would immediately think liar, liar, your pants are on fire, and burning along with the medals that proclaim you read and understood Faulkners Sound and the Fury, or you read Finnegans Wake without chewing your foot off. People will resent you, but paradoxically, will respect you too, if they think you are lying about reading it, just like they do.
Let’s face it, it’s not the lure of slightly grubby genius bestowed upon the Russian writers, or the story that draws you to War and Peace, but its thickness. There comes a point in time, around the same point of time as your genre awakening, that this book, in particular, drops into your conscience like the brick it is. Its thickness screams to you worthiness, a step up, literally, a step up, from the thinner volumes you have climbed over to get to this one. Genre goes out the window, subject matter thrown away like a good intention, instead you are assailed with words like, classic, world literature, noteworthy, iconic, repetitive strain injury, words that beckon you on and in and you are mesmerized, hypnotised by its thickness, by its bullying self-confidence squat upon the bookshelves of already zombified readers or high street bookshops or second hand bookshops with carpeted steps and a cat (carpet not essential, but a cat has become non-negotiable), and it begins to taunt you, to test you, to challenge you, to make you feel like Dan Brown waiting for the Nobel people to ring, and so you buy a copy, (borrowing a copy of a friend just seems cocky), and you feel its thickness as a weight of the wonders to come…
Sixteen pages later, you wedge it into your bookshelf between Nicholas Nickleby, and a book about Pilates.
I got about two centimetres in. Veterans of War and Peace never refer to how many pages there are. We count in degrees of thickness, we non-readers that is. It’s like comparing war wounds, my two centimetres equates to a missing finger, or a collapsed lung perhaps, while four centimetres is a missing limb, or even two. Beyond that, is no man’s land. You either crawl forwards to the end, or die where your bookmark was last seen alive. Past four centimetres, and you’re a dead man to us, and though dead men tell no lies, we still don’t believe you came out the other end, intact.
I tried watching the film. But that’s too long as well. Too many characters, not enough war, and no one watches a film for the boring bits about peace. Even the BBC adaptation felt a bit warless and to be fair, a bit peaceless too, almost as if it wasn’t thick enough…
Thick books are not for thick people, but then diet books are. Yes, okay, poor joke, but the point if there is one is that thickness of book should not relate to one’s thickness. Poems are hard because they are shorter, and you have to fit a thick book length point into lot less lines. Of course, there are thick poems too, but hardly no one reads them either, in fact a thick poem is more daunting than a thick novel… it’s like, come on, just write a bloody novel, you’re only a centimetre away from a novella anyway, fluff out the milkman’s character and voila, a thick novel people will feel comfortable with, as long as they don’t read it.
Of course, other thick books exist. Mainly in genres such as science fiction or horror. And others of course, whose genre is irrelevant if their thickness has caught our eye, and we get drawn to these as well, and some of us begin to seek them out, not as challenges but as badges of honour, and yes, they may be a bit cumbersome on the bus, but people notice and assume you are the sort of person who takes such lengthy journeys in a single stride. Or notice you because you have forgot to put your trousers on.
And yes, without counting pages as us veterans don’t, I am sure Stephen King’s It is thicker than War and Peace, the Bible definitely is probably, what with all those pages of begatting, and maybe one of the Harry Potters, but War and Peace will always be the Mother of all of them, thick, Russian, and a handful, a bit like how some Hollywood actors like their nannies, but in this case, along with thickness, especially the thickness, War and Peace appears to have it all.
And it probably does.
Maureen, our esteemed leader at the Tranquillity Tea and Cake, is proud never to have even attempted to have read it. Too foreign, apparently, too vulgar, too thick. Way, way too thick. Maureen has no time for thick foreigners. Literally. Mentioning our little writing groups fuhrer reminds me shamefully of my lack of mentioning us more, as I had promised to write more about the group, and the open mic night I attend once monthly. And I will, I will, I promise. Unfortunately, this column already has reached about the length where it borders on thick… as it does every month and though I am in no way comparable to Tolstoy’s writing abilities, or indeed stamina, he would surely turn in his grave if he ever thought people considered himself to be as thick as me…
MAKING THE CONNECTION BUT MISSING THE TRAIN
There is a lot of noise made about connections.
Well, not a lot of noise.
But some noise.
There is some noise made about connections. Between what, you may well ask, and as that is a fair question, I will attempt a fair approximation of an answer.
You. And me.
Yes, you and me, based on the assumption that you are the reader and I am the writer, which in this instance is correct, as if it was the other way around, I wouldn’t be reading this as I wouldn’t have written it… but yes, connections between reader and writer is what I am referring to here. Of course, as soon as your (and by your, I am now referring to your as a universal you ), eyes have alighted on the page, there is a connection, optical as well as expectational borne from hopeful comprehension. A common language is best obviously, and a subject matter conducive to one’s interests. There are layers to connection, but anyone who buys a ticket for station A, and arrives at station P, rarely enjoys the journey.
A contract is made, simply by a reader reading. As a person who registers pretty highly on the psychopath scale, (apparently I am one snapped shoelace short of a killing spree), I lack a certain connection, emotionally, from connection as any thing more than an abstract, as in I understand it, but don’t care enough to worry about it. Ironically, I am on safer ground when I write about stuff that is not personal and so can connect to people who think I am writing from personal experience when in fact, I am writing empathetically by accident and not by empathy… but against all rules of physics, that proves connections can be found with only one end…
Your end is where connection matters.
Contracts made, become more important to the end user. What’s the point in really hating a book when other people are saying how great that book was? You feel alone, betrayed by the writer, by fellow readers, by your own unwillingness to like what your peers like… and yet a connection has still been made, okay, your trying to get to Brussels via Brasilia but you still bought a ticket for that train, and so not unreasonably, you expect the destination you wished for…
I think connections are things that happen more by the reader than the writer.
That sounds obvious, because its true. My friend at the Quills, Alan, (I like Alan), has a large collection of books about British mammals and their habitat (Britain obviously), but unless I have woken up and found a badger in my kitchen, I have very little interest or connection in that subject.
He connects, I don’t, but the writer of those books, hasn’t written them for people like me, but for people like Alan. Fiction is different. Slightly. I would be more interested, and therefore connected, if I read a book I wasn’t too hopeful about, and it turned out to be a Japanese bullet train and not the Engine That Shouldn’t Have Bothered as it Couldn’t, than I would be by picking up a book about Weasels and finding out Weasel stuff that I didn’t need to know, because I was told weasels would be figuring quite prominently… there’s no room for surprise .
There is therefore, for connections to work, an unwritten (see what I did there), oath between reader and writer, that directs you to the destination you want. The writer, likes weasels. He writes a book about weasels. The writer then expects that book, to be read by people who like weasels, or who think they might like weasels more if they read a book about weasels, and does not want to hear from readers who read his book about weasels hoping it would be about something else, he doesn’t want to hear from them about the lack of car chases, or wizardy goings on, or no one getting their bottoms spanked by a spatula, as they are the sort of reader he wasn’t trying to connect with in the first place.
Of course, you can’t not worry, as a writer, that you are not connecting with anyone. Know your audience is a phrase that is both helpful and limiting. For instance, a book about the history of needles, will probably only be interesting for someone who likes needles, but if you wrote about a character in a thriller who is a professor specialising in the history of needles who is brought in by the FBI and Interpol to help them solve who is killing world leaders with twelfth century Inuit seal skin needles then your niche has expanded slightly and more connections are possible.
There are innumerable writers out there, the famous ones, who have summed this up better than I. Innumerable quotes, I imagine, about their relationships with their readers exist, and I suggest you find them. I know this is my column but I can’t be arsed in truth. Too much bother, and all you have to do is google, because I’m sure you and the internet are connected, whether you like all of that cesspool or not. I do want connection, but more in the way that if you see me, passing in the street, you don’t bump into me, or we nod at each other on the train station platform, in polite acknowledgement, and then proceed to sit at opposite ends of the train.
Like most my columns, I managed to find the journeys end even if I was going somewhere else initially. Connections are the bridges and tunnels, but you can zip by them without noticing them at all, sometimes you can look out the window and see unending fields leading nowhere, while someone else sees only weasels… so, as a writer, you can not connect with everyone, and that’s okay, it is, it really is, as all you can hope for is that if you ever write a book about weasels, and then someone who really likes weasels reads it, they don’t then say that it was rubbish… making the connection doesn’t mean you will always catch the train.
We don’t have a rich history of people telling stories where I herald from. Not unless you count people giving alibis or evidence… we have them, storytellers, of course we do. It’s just that they’re not that good. Maybe it’s to do with the material. Every county has the same stories. Every county claims to be the originator, or at least the instigator, or, if originator and instigator in this case, are the same thing, then each county at least claims to be the first to have repeated the story over a garden wall or in a queue for a kebab. Or, even written it down somewhere.
I’m being unkind, on the place of my birth, maybe, but the quality of story has perhaps shaped the landscape of our oral tradition. Perhaps, our local lore and legend is poor in comparison to our neighbours, perhaps their tales are made for rich baritones and candle lit taverns, that tell of hellhounds on the moors… and ours are just a squeaky complaint about a dog that got loose from the flats behind the bookies. We have our fair share of ghouls and graveyard goings on, and lovestruck maidens topping themselves in a myriad of ways that lovesick maidens would, and goatmen and headless horsemen and cloven hoofed jumpy little fellers and imps and gimps and witches with potions and lotions and sightings of big cats which are just ordinary cats next to very small bushes but you get the point. We are not, in my flat and uninteresting corner of the world, bereft of such lore. Its just that it’s a version of the same lore as every county possesses, but we also have the disadvantage of our flat expressionless dialect to contend with too, hence, why storytellers, oral storytellers, are few and far between. It would be different if we were Irish… even their most disinterested and illiterate citizen can make a story about going to the back fence to see if its still there sound wonderfully engaging, or make the opening of a jar of peanut butter sound like the Odyssey, and hold you in its derring-do… but we are not so blessed, and it’s Murphy’s lore, that one of our county’s many inept storytellers’ is not Irish and is now telling the story of just how unIrish we are.
Orally, we have nothing much to say. But of course, you can’t shut people up merely by asking them. Not when they are giving you history. Your own history. And I will confess that it is a bit churlish of me to dismiss these efforts as poor… but I am not mything their point , just pointing out what’s mything from their myths. Of course books and books and books have been written about my county’s lore, and they are interesting if not rich in revelation, or thought prime source material enough for Hollywood to come calling. And I think this is perhaps a reason why open mic spoken word nights are struggling in my neck of the woods to be more popular. Or that could just be because it’s poetry.
I am asking too much, I know, and I am probably being totally unfair, and completely wrong, but as you may well know by now, I am a legend of my own making, and therefore above the lore. And if bad puns can’t stop me, then Trevor is not going to make me mend my ways.
Trevor is a regular visitor at the Tranquillity Tea and Cake, and also at open mic nights, either poetry or music or in shops that have an intercom system. There is a rumour that he was ejected from the Bingo once because there was a mic, an audience, and Speckled Hen on draught, and where that triumvirate appears, so does Trevor, with his books in his hand and is more than ready to grab the mic and delve into one of them and regale the captive audience with the story of The Pink Handed Lady of St Marigolds, or The Witches Pussycat and the Very Small Bush…
Trevor’s affect on our local history is like what the Luftwaffe’s was during the war. A few heavy hits but mainly duds that even then, failed to make much of a dent in our landscape.
Alan (I like Alan), calls him the Flouncing Bomb. He is not gay, but flamboyant in that old thespian way, like those old actors who sip their half pints and tell you about doing Hamlet with Dickie and Johnny, dear dear Johnny, even though all you’ve seen them in is an advert for crunchy nut cornflakes. But Trevor is at least likeable, and is incredibly generous to other poets and writers with his time and advice. He can write, very well in fact… but… you know… it’s just so… look, I’m not good enough to be a great writer of ghost stories, not even good enough to be a ghost writer for Katie Price, but as we all know, you don’t need to be competent to give criticism.
Trevor is dead.
Just found out.
Alan rang me, was very upset actually. As I am. Because you get that camaraderie of being in the trenches, you get that three musketeers mentality of all for one and all that, but you also get, no earn, the right to slag each other’s efforts off, (slag, very local slang, look it up, it may go some way to proving my point about our areas lack of a rich storyteller’s tradition), as long as that person isn’t there, otherwise you have to frame it as constructive criticism and no one needs that white elephant… but of course, if an outsider were to sandblast one of our own, well, that person will be soon shot down, and as Alan had said in the past, Trevor was first over the top in defence of his fellow troop members… and no one wanted the flouncing bomb dropping on them, believe me.
We all want to be remembered. Some of us by loved ones obviously, but writers need the love of strangers, need our works to be read so we can live on… we need to be legends not myths, but unique and singular lore… not just made different by placenames, or names, or by mode of death, but we need to be original… we all need to be Trevors’…
You may think it bad taste to use Trevor so heinously. To use his sad passing as a hook to have pun my coat on and you would be right. But ask yourselves this. Did Trevor, actually exist at all. Is he just a device, or a shaggy hellhound. Or is he just another storyteller from a county that is just telling the same old stories that other storytellers tell from other counties better than this one? We don’t have Robin Hood, true, but we do have Molly Green Nose and her Bottomless Pinny, we may not have the romantic aura of a possible site for Camelot, but we do have a new Lidl’s coming just off the bypass which will be open all knight, but that’s okay, it is, really, because if Trevor exists or not, he would appreciate that the writers he left behind in the trenches, are making up their own legends and myths, and he is now a story that at least will make a dent in the landscape.
R.I.P Trevor P. Anscombe.
Father, Friend and Stroyteller,
Oct 5th 1956- Dec 21st 2021…
P.S… Sorry about the mythspelling…
What a legend…
that man who may or may not have been.
THE TWO WELDERS OF VERONA
Wouldn’t it be funny, if it turned out, that in fact, I was a literary professor and not an incompetent buffoon, a prize plum, and I have been having you on all this time.
This is a plausible scenario, as you must wonder that my level of nonsense could not be anything short of manufactured, that no one could actually be this far out of his depth, and yet know some big words, and occasionally use them correctly.
I am unfortunately, what you see. Or read in this case. Which, and I may be on my own here, is funnier, I think, than actually being a professor who was having you on… The nearest I ever get to being a professor are the times I have played Cluedo, and though I usually end up being the reverend, I am always a prize plum.
Some of my advice is nonsense. Some of my advice is not nonsense. And some of my advice has had enough and walked off to get away from all the nonsense which brings me nicely to the nonsense which will be the nonsense of this months nonsense.
Who is, actually qualified to give advice about writing?
Well yes, okay, I suppose all of those do have a modicum of common sense and experience and so do have valuable contributions to make, but lets face it , if we don’t like what we hear, we don’t hear it. It doesn’t matter who it comes from, if its not the right kind of advice. Or advice that is actually really a soft, and kindly way to say that perhaps you should stop writing altogether and take up welding, because you have more chance of mending the hole in the Titanic than you do of fabricating a coherent sentence.
But who says a welder can’t write?
Okay, I may have been suggesting that, but writing and advice on writing, does not necessarily have to come from those who have studied it, or mastered it. A welder, may go home and write the night away, and be good at it, and yet not have one single clue about Oxford commas or tautology or overusing Oxford commas even though he doesn’t know he is, but he may have fantastic advice about exclamation marks or biros or tautology, even though, he doesn’t know,
he is describing, tautology…!
It is difficult to make my point about advice, because I know I am wrong And that we, you, should listen to those who have studied it, taught it, and those who have understood it and produced successful work, or at least worked successfully.
Would you listen to your doctor about your bad foot less than you would from the spotty youth trying to sell you a pair of six inch heels?… would you take driving lessons with your neighbours five year old because he has a remote controlled Batmobile, would you take cooking lessons off Brenda who works in the canteen at work even though she has a permanently dripping nose that threatens to drip into the gravy every time she tells you they don’t do chips on a Thursday?…no, you probably wouldn’t, but you would take writing advice off any one wouldn’t you… yes you would, if it was the advice you wanted more than you needed.
Advice to most, is really just smugger criticism. Where people with degrees or publishing agents or a huge pile of 27 essays on Wuthering Heights about why Heathcliff is well, Heathcliff, to mark, even though its curry night at Wetherspoons, will tell you that until you have mastered syntax, then you can’t possibly even begin to offer work that is being even close to coherent. And you take this advice even if they are not just helping you but justifying their own advice that was passed down by people who made past participles and indefinite clauses just so some people will never write stuff that meets that advice, because those giving that advice are either smug because they know the names for these things that other people don’t, even if those people write grammatically correctly while doing these things they don’t know they are doing correctly… or have editors cleverer than they are. As you can see, I am a lost cause, but I am not bitter, because I don’t even want to know what I am doing wrong (or correctly), grammatically if I can at least use grammar correctly enough to be understood, which is true… But I also would like a gold star as well… not to be one of “them”, but to be like one of “us”.
Of course, I can’t see you, or read you, so I don’t know what level you are. I always assume my advice is not taken, so I don’t really have an us and them, in rabbit ears or not, but then I worry that it is… taken… and that that person may have been writing their opus and three pages short of completion, they build a bonfire and burn their manuscript all because I said that all writers are basically baby birds with flapping feed me feed me beaks and that sentences that just go on and on without any punctuation are fine only once you are famous and successful and that people like us and not people like them should learn about commas at the same time hating those who hate us for not knowing our past tenses from our sandwich toasters… but then the kettle boils and everything is much better when I have a cup of tea in my hand… My best bit of advice, therefore, about writing, at whatever level you are, is never run out of milk.
I am very hard on the grammar police, but I do not wish them gone. Just for them to be more like Canadian police and not like Detroit police… less keen to shoot us down, less likely to taser us for things like not finding out if taser should be capitalised, or if its even a verb…
I am, I admit, having not attended higher educational establishments, (though my school was built on a slight incline, noticeable at lunchtimes when the custard used to slide towards the woodworking block), mostly influenced by internet grammar police… yes, I realise the folly there, but not all of the internet is populated by puddles of primordial ooze that have learnt to type.
But yes, its mostly exactly those people who I take advice from, or ignore advice from, or, much more dangerous, give advice to.
But then, you even take advice off me, and as we have established, I am a plum.
A prize plum.
So, I have decided to dial it back, and from now on concentrate on what this monthly column, (all pretence of it being anything else has gone after some great writing advice from the woman who comes to cut my grandma’s toenails the second Tuesday of every month), was supposed to be about, and that is the writing group, The Tranquillity Tea and Cake Writing Group to be precise, and also the spoken word open mic night I go to, which has begun again after that awful business with the funky bat and whatnot. I will still give advice, nonsense or not, because as you well know, as a demographic, writers, regardless of success or ability or knowledge or a working vacuum, we can’t go five minutes without advising somebody about something…..
As a great welder once wrote,
“some of us are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have the dust of greatness all about them…”
THE GIFT OF THE MAGI WHO’S BEEN A VERY NAUGHTY BOY
Last Christmas, a friend of mine bought me a present. We are good friends, it has to be said, and I like him… But not usually enough to buy him a Christmas present without it feeling… weird. Like kissing your auntie on the lips, or trying vegan veal weird.
Just before christmas last year, I had done him a favour. Not a massive favour, for me, but one which had meant a lot to him, and so he was feeling grateful. He had asked me for an alibi.
Not for anything criminal, per se, but an alibi concerning his whereabouts on a certain day between the hours of 3, and 4 and 30 of the clock… an hour and a half which his wife was eager for him to account for as he was supposed to have picked up their cherubs from school. Now, I do not like people who are unfaithful, but I like his wife even less, so in this particular instance, I happily obliged.
This is a writers and poetry magazine I hear you say, what has this got to do with anything?… and I agree, but as I know the editor and that editor owes me three pounds and twelve pence, I will get my money’s worth…
So… see, you didn’t have to wait long!… in the process of coming round to see if our friendship was at the alibi giving level, he noticed a book on the bookshelf… it was a Jeffery Deaver novel… I thought it was going to be a bit rich of him if he asked to borrow it (I don’t lend books, they’re like my children), what with wanting the alibi and all, but he just said that he had a copy of that book too. Next to it, were several of mine, well, all of mine, all eight of them. He noticed them and tried to look away before I had noticed he had noticed them, but he noticed I had noticed him noticing them and so said something like wow, I never knew you wrote books… he did know, he had just hoped I hadn’t noticed he’d known.
He was obviously feeling very grateful about the alibi I had promised, in fact I would go as far to say, extremely grateful, as he asked if he could borrow a couple. No, he had said, when I said he didn’t have to do that, no, I insist, he had said, it would be an honour, a privilege… and so I lent him two of my books (I do lend MY books, not everyone likes all their children the same, surely), and a week later he returned them along with a Christmas present.
Mmmmmm… a Christmas present. Of course, I had felt slightly bad for not having a present for him… even though in all the time I’ve known him, I’ve never felt any level of bad, except for zero level, for never having a present for him, for anything. And you can’t refuse a Christmas present can you? Especially not on the grounds of somebody’s kindness, of thoughtfulness, or as a thank you for an alibi, and the later confirmation of said alibi, to the wife who rang you to check said alibi, and, let’s be fair, she was whom the alibi was for…
I had panicked a little when he handed me it, almost forgetting (I said almost) to ask what he had thought of my books, and as we went through the whole “oh you shouldn’t have”, “its nothing”, but I haven’t got you anything…” “forget it, I didn’t expect one, its a thankyou” ( NO ITS NOT ITS A DEBT YOU KIND AND THOUGHTFUL GAMEPLAYING ARSEHOLE)… ”please, its nothing, merry xmas and thanks. You’re a real mate”… my mind was racing, thinking, looking round for whatever I could give him, pondering over a souvenir from Malta on the window sill, a sailboat made of cork, or perhaps the pack of pork chops I had defrosting… and then I looked down at my books in his hand…
He noticed me noticing my books, looked down at them, hoping I hadn’t noticed him noticing I had noticed them, and as our eyes slowly rose up and made contact, we both noticed that we were both in trouble.
I didn’t want to give him my books. It would mean me having to buy two more. To replace them. He didn’t want me to give him my two books either. He was giving them back… permanently. Probably wanted to return them more than I wanted to give them, but neither of us wanting to admit that. I felt myself mentally making a price list , as in, surely an alibi to your wife to hide the fact you’ve been bonking the woman from Specsavers, is worth me breaking my morals, but not worth two of my books, perhaps he’s abusing mates rates as well as his marriage…
He must have sensed what I was thinking because he thrust them at me, and despite not being a writer himself, he came up with the most apt sentence you could say to someone who is, and that was…
“Thanks mate, I really enjoyed them, really good, really. No, really”…
We are a simple single celled species, us writers. It does not take much for us to sheath our swords, or still our tongues. Mere praise, and this was in fact, mere praise, was enough for me to almost forget his lovely thoughtful Christmas gift (I WILL HAVE MY REVENGE YOU LIBERTINE, YOU FOUL AND VERY KIND JUDAS YOU…) and so I bathed in his adulation and wouldn’t have been surprised if I had prostrated myself on the carpet and displayed my special offers, just like his floozy from Specsavers… (to be fair, I had just had some eggnog).
Christmas morning… living alone, I usually don’t feel that excited morning rush, that need to hurtle down the stairs to see what Santa has left beneath my tree. Unless I am in a relationship, I don’t get much in the way of presents… okay, none, as my parents are deceased, and my family are somewhere where we can’t fall out, and just far away enough to use distance as an excuse not to post shit to each other. My cousin did once post a pile of dog crap through my door, but, that’s another Christmas story for another time… Dickensian almost… except for the dog crap… anyway…
Yes, so…. on this particular Christmas, last year in fact, I was single, and had no presents to open. Except I did. I had my friends gift. Neatly wrapped, not beneath my tree… sideboard was beneath my tree, but his gift was waiting beside my tree, and yes, I had awoken a little earlier, and had taken the stairs a little faster… full of anticipation, light headed with excitement. I also realised at this moment, that I was also full of about nine pints of Stella, three Snowballs, and the brandy I was supposed to be pouring on my pudding, and so nearly vomited my Christmas spirit all over the proceedings.
I knew he had bought me books. It was bookshaped, and felt like books and even sounded like books when I had shaken it. It had even smelled like wrapping paper wrapped around books which, I now realise, proves just how over excited I had been.
I made a cup of tea, and sat with the gift in front of me. Feeling like Charlie Bucket when he uncovered the last Golden Ticket, I had slowly torn a corner, saw what it was, and ripped the remaining paper away like a lunatic. Yes… three books, three marvellous gifts, much better than I could have hoped for, and I thought, if he wants alibis so he can make sweet sensual unfaithful love to all the women who work in the precinct, and yes, even Brenda from the butchers with the lazy eye and the hands of Bruce Grobbelaar, then I will give him those alibis, for surely… three books is worth that, at the very least.
The books were face down, and I turned each over as if I was James Bond showing the villain my hand, slowly, deliberately, smugly, confusingly, weirdly, disappointedly, angrily, very angrily….for each of my friends books, now my books, were books on writing, and not any old books, oh nooooooooooooo, but ..”How To Write Books Successfully”, one screamed at me… the second, “ Writing For Beginners”, and the third… the third one’s title was, “How To Write Proficiently If English Is Not Your First Language.”…
We are still friends. We will not be exchanging gifts, nor alibis this year however… and I have never mentioned my books again, the trouble is, not everyone is a writer, but everyone is a critic, especially his ex-wife, who now is of the unshakeable belief, that my books are as bad as my alibis. She had caught him at it in a storeroom, beside a rack of unwanted sunglasses, which means I too was caught, and though he was upset I had been branded a liar, I was more upset he had branded me no better at writing than an unsuccessful foreign child. I had had nightmares for weeks in case he bought me more “helpful “ writing hints books as a sorry. Or his wife would, out of spite.
I am not a religious person, my Christmases are just the right level of agnosticism so I can sing carols and photocopy my backside at the xmas party with the same level of joy abounding, but I do wish my fellow man peace and goodwill, for as long as Last Christmas is on the radio, and there is eggnog still in the house.
My three books from my friend, are on my shelves. Slightly pushed back, slightly unread, and slightly unloved, but a gift is a gift and my friend does pop around occasionally, where he makes sure I have noticed he has noticed them, and is probably relieved, they are not shelved in the vicinity of my own poor efforts. Those three books are from the Christmas a wise man came visiting, they are my gold, my frankincense and my myrrh… but if he thought he could ever see me reading them, then he should have gone to Specsavers… though perhaps not on the same day his wife had.
The advice I have therefore is that even foolish men can be wise men when it comes to critique, and sometimes Christmas cracker wisdom is as wise as the wisest philosophers who ever wised… Mostly, this column is not about anything, and that is my gift, which I give all year round… You can thank me later.
Next week is the Tranquillity Tea and Cake’s writing group’s Christmas do, but that’s a crap through the letterbox story for next month…
IN SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU DREAM
A pun on a film quote.
Let me sort of explain. I live on Earth. Earth, is in space. Space is a vacuum. There is no sound in a vacuum. So why do people insist on invading my own piece of space, and start relating to me, (not everyone I meet, obviously… I wouldn’t have time to write this drivel, if it was everyone), their dreams. Other people’s dreams are not interesting. Neither as much as you pretend they are out of politeness, or either as an actual fact.
Because the fact is, a dream related, either your own, or somebody else’s, is tedious, and not a delightful insight into the inner unfettered sanctum of a mind. Yes, admittedly, a dream will throw up something interesting, but as soon as you tell someone else, it becomes a badly written plot to a badly made and badly edited movie, that has a lot of noise but no substance. Or a Transformers movie, if you will.
In literature, I absolutely hate chapters where a characters’ dreams are related. Hate it, even in books by author’s I don’t dislike… and, isn’t it funny how a character will dream a dream that is full of exposition, or foreshadowing, or foreboding, or forewarning, (that’s three fores, can’t think of four fores), that just happens to coincide with what’s going on….last night, I dreamt I was in a cottage with Annie Lennox and we were supposed to be painting the bathroom but every time we tried to enter a squirrel bit one of us and so we played backgammon except the pieces were made of cake and I couldn’t touch them because they were magnetic and zapped my fingers and… see… absolute tedium, and the point is, none of that helps with this, other than as an example of something that doesn’t help.
Writers are lazy.
Most of us.
Really lazy. And I see dreams in books as a product of that. Someone said to me that dreams enable a writer, and therefore the reader, to explore further into the psyche of a character, to unearth hidden fears and anxieties, and okay, I concede that point, but only up to a point. But do you know what else does that? Writing more lines. Clever lines. Unlazy lines. Lines in the awake part of the book. I cannot be shaken from my belief that dreams in literature are lazy devices. Tricks, almost. Dreams tire me out.
Next time you come across a dream section in a book, just ask yourself if it was necessary. As I am sure, some times it works. Sometimes it is not a waste of space and not lazy. This is how my mum used to describe my dad till he left us on the ferry alone after saying he was just nipping to buy a paper, and I am sure when he pops up in my mum’s dreams now, she does the decent thing, and does not tell anyone about it.
Poems about dreams are even worse.
A poem that says its about a dream, has already lost.
Dreamlike poems, are dream like, and therefore are inherently dreamlike, without, like, an explanation that its a dream. If you have to say a dreamlike poem is in fact, a dreamlike poem, then you have failed yourself, your parents, your country, and the four or five people who actually read it. Ethereal. Sublime. Empyrean. Gossamer… not Gwyneth Paltrows children, but words that could be used to describe dreamlike poems. But then, dreamlike poems, are not the same as poems about dreams. And if your poem has to say that, then you have failed again.
Martin Luther King had a dream, and that was good. Stephen King writes about a dream, and I am not so good, and he uses dreams a lot, even in his book Insomnia, and sometimes he gets it right, I suppose, but I still feel short changed. Its like, “oh, I need to let the reader know about what happened in October, ten years ago, with the axe and the eyes in the woods and the man with odd shoulders… what about a recurring dream?… yes, a couple of pages of detail, while he’s asleep, he’s not busy doing plot things then is he?, so I will slip it in the next time he goes to sleep… and then maybe, just keep mentioning the recurring dream, a recurring mention of a recurring dream… I’m a genius”…
Of course, he did write the Dead Zone, a whole novel about dreams, so at least Mr Stephen King does at least have conviction. I am sure, there are people who actually disagree with me. I am sure these idiots, ( harsh… dont care), relish this device in their literature.
Of course, a lot of the above applies to nightmares as well, but nightmares are a whole chapter unto themselves. Nightmares are dreams, but with more chasing and German porn music, (though that may be just me). Though a dream related is its own nightmare, just with more running, and I take a dim view of running in my own dreams never mind somebody else’s.
I have never understood dream journals.. it’s like somebody saving their toe nail clippings, or keeping their urine in jam jars… just let it go already. Why would you think its useful in your waking hours… when will that dream about landing on Mars on a purple unicorn in a spangly leotard (you, not the unicorn) and leading the Martian mole people who all have yellow afros and three legs into a rebellion against an army of coffee cups and horsemonkeys ever be useful in real life other than as a suggestion that you should maybe cut down on your marijuana intake… do you honestly think that writers like Lear and Carroll and others who wrote surreal fairy tales dreamt of crap like this?… they didn’t, and if they did, they didn’t keep dream journals… they wrote books. So please, don’t inflict your dreams on people, unless you arrange them into sentences, that a publisher may be interested in… or at least into a poem I can pretend I’ve read all the way through.
Alan (I like Alan) rang me up last night, to tell me he can’t make writer’s group at the Tranquillity Tea and Cake…. “Covid?”, I had asked..
“No”, he had replied, “England are playing footie, against Scotland… three nil to us I reckon, we have a really good chance this year, I think we will win the whole thing.”
Yeah, I thought. Dream on.
PUTTING A HAT ON MONA
Sometimes, the hardest bit about writing, is knowing when to stop.
We don’t always edit ourselves to the standard of editing that editors would, and even if we could, most of us wouldn’t. I don’t edit at all, as you can probably tell, but that’s a whole other story, which when edited, boils down to the fact that I’m probably an idiot.
A skill unto itself.
Because I’m sure you have all been guilty of over egging the custard. And we don’t always see it do we ? No, because like new mum’s, we don’t think our new creation is ugly, in fact, we think it the most beautiful baby ever squeezed out, because we have squeezed it out of us alone, and there is no such thing as a limit on how many baby pictures you post to prove just how beautiful your creation is.. And so, at the end of the day, if you don’t think so too, then you are an idiot.
So people can ruin stuff. By adding stuff. They could have created a literary equivalent of the Mona Lisa, paused to admire it, and then gone back and added several more lines or paragraphs, which is the painterly equivalent of putting a hat on her, and have her holding a Cornetto.
Some writers can’t help themselves, always drowning in their streams of consciousness, and that’s not a bad thing… necessarily. Some very fine writing can be found by just unleashing the beast within, unfiltered and unfettered, writing can expose the parts of you that even you thought you never had. A bit like seven pints of Stella.
Of course, editing can kill something just as much as not stopping, that’s why it’s not always a good idea to edit yourself. Spelling and grammar if you must, yes, but removing?, shortening?, rearranging?, correct use of punctuation?… big decisions.
I know editing is essential… I know because I don’t edit, or use an editor, at all. And that’s why I have sold two books, and lost about another eight down the back of the sofa, and I can live with that. My decision. But I have a friend who edits everything. Rewrites sentences to the point where they are a completely new sentence, painstakingly examining every word, every line, and that’s even before we get to the punctuation!. Dave, I will call him Dave, because that’s his name, will not mind me revealing this. Firstly because he will never read it (he doesn’t have time to read anything)((like the instructions on a Fray Bentos pie even, hence why he blew his oven door off and his kitchen always smells of steak and kidney)), and secondly because he is immensely proud of his commitment to his craft.
Dave finds me to be a talented-ish writer, but an arse.
I think my lack of due care and attention to writing annoys him more than words can say, however many times you rewrite it, and this lack of commitment in me makes him so angry he once told me I insult all those who bother to learn how to properly use ellipsis or a semi-colon….
I am sure that in between myself, and Dave, you will find where you are. The trick is finding that which suits you, no one else, you. Write for yourself, even if you publish for others, which we do, write for yourself always… there is no wrong way.
There is a wrong way,
when it comes to publishing,
otherwise books would just be one big anagram,
but if you write to a close approximation of the correct grammar and punctuation, that is expected, then, in the words of Stephen King, (I might be paraphrasing), that’s close enough for council work. But yeah, stopping. Stopping and walking away from a piece is hard, be it a poem or something longer. Which is difficult for me as I don’t know what I am aiming for from the first line. My first pad bought especially to write poems in was A4, so I would always stop before I had to turn the page over, thinking that anything longer would be too long… and therefore a lot of my early stuff are poems where I stopped before the poem did. It wasn’t so much as running out of words, but space.
I hate counting though. Maths has no place with letters, unless its algebra, or Countdown, and counting counts as math. I hate it when people ask, (been asked once, didn’t not hate it), how many words do you write a day. I never knew, because I used pen and paper, and didn’t care. Sides. If anything, I could tell them how many sides of A4 I had done… three sides, Dave (yes, same Dave… yes , it is a common name, I just don’t have a lot of friends), I said, and Dave said, sides don’t count, what counts is word count, on account of that’s how writer’s count… I told Dave he was a count, and we agreed to disagree, except he then showed me how to use the computer to write on… OpenOffice, that is… and I am now obsessed with the word count, but not in a way that counts.
More often than not, not stopping when you should comes from insecurity about one’s level, or perceived level of craftsmanship. I am a level just below the craftsmanship of a school pottery class ash tray, which, lets be honest, was meant to be a coffee mug, and I can cope with that, because I am secure in my own insecurity. But adding isn’t as much of a problem as not subtracting, as not pruning the overgrowth. Dave, cannot, it seems to me, have a character open a door, without it being an event. Because despite of his obsessive use of edit, he still has really looooongg sentences. And yet he agonises over everything. For example, let’s take what happens when a door is knocked upon in one of our respective books. I have written another four books before his character answers the door, and I am quite sure a weather report and the stickiness of carpets are not needed to be mentioned every time someone knocks. My characters hear a knock, answer the knock, done. Over. So who’s correct ?… (as quick as my characters always answer the door, the delivery driver has always managed to disappear round the corner).
I am all over the place on this point. Ironically, or perhaps I mean obviously, editing is what is needed here, and stopping. About a couple of paragraphs ago probably, and moving the fourth paragraph before the third and the second to the end… because if everybody was like me, there would have been Four Men In A Boat, Two Hundred Years of Solitude, and the Wasteland would have student accommodation built on it…
Write first. For yourself, and though I wont take my own advice, always edit or use an editor if publishing. Please, please please, do that. Because though you are publishing so other people can see your ugly babies, it’s you who has to love them most in the daylight.
(A short one this month… I stopped)
POET FOR HIRE
Prince Philip has died.
I am genuinely upset. I am a royalist and don’t care if people think less of me, I am proud we can piss off the Americans for one, but my patriotism is genuine. Nationalism, a whole different beast, can suck my Rule Britannias, but I love my country warts and all, and will be a wreck when her Maj joins her husband once more. I am aware you may take my tone for mocking, but that’s just my default tone, I am genuinely upset, and though I am not a fan of every member of the firm, he was one of my favourites.
What I won’t be doing however, is writing a poem about it.
I am not a fan of “event” poetry, even if it is a time for the poet laureate to actually do some bloody work and write a poem about it, instead of poncing around inner city comprehensives telling kids Stormzy is the Byron of today… I mean I won’t ever read it, but it’s what a poet laureate is supposed to do… and I think he or she should be the only poet who does so.
Royal deaths, royal births, royal marriages, royals who don’t want to be royals or royals who don’t have the ability to sweat no matter how high the thermostat is set in the pizza restaurant, nearly all of these royal occasions are expected to come with accompanying poetry. Now, I realise that wishing for a whole genre of poetry to disappear is pointless and childish, and so I don’t, but I do wish it was done in secret, or in mime without the lights on.
It’s not just royal occasions either, any event really, it’s all just so mercenary and though I am not a poetry statistician, (just to clear matters, I am not any sort of statistician) I am pretty sure the amount of poetry written after the event of an event, that is halfway to being decent, is somewhere between 5 and 12 percent.
You have written event poetry.
You know you have,
and that’s fair enough, because I haven’t had to read it, but you have, statistically (I think I could get into statistics). You are bound to have penned a ditty or two. Most of us, not me, but most of us, have written a comical ode onto a birthday card or a get-well card, or any card really, and preferably early on in its being passed around if it’s a card from work, so everyone can read it and think how clever and funny you are. I say not me, but that’s because I wasn’t a writer when I did my one and only attempt. One of my work colleagues had been run over on his way to work and a card had been passed around, I was young and cocky and so I wrote ‘Dear Jeff, I hope you bounce back soon, just like you bounced off the bonnet of that saloon’… not exactly Tennyson, and not amusing said the boss, and a new card was passed around. My boss watched me as I signed it, and then gave me a written warning for my so-called wit… so I have never ever penned a card ode again.
But yes, I have read other peoples and they traumatise me much more than my chastening experience. I wonder if, when a poet laureate gets hit by a Ford Fiesta, or any other mid-range saloon, or falls out a tree, a get-well card is passed around poets who are so far removed from me, and are so good and successful, that I don’t know their names. I would expect, poets of that ilk, have pithy one liners by the dozen, just waiting for a fellow poet to have an accident, or a big birthday, or to marry their research assistant or even better die. All the best and pithiest one liners are about death, and though the attendance has been reduced by one, all poets love a quietly respectful live audience.
I think the worst example of event poetry I have come across, is that which is performed by a poet for hire. I never even knew these existed until I met one in the flesh. This poet for hire, was, he assured me, in high demand. Birthdays mainly he told me, though funerals too, he told me, only more sombrely, and also… well anything, anything at all, he said starting to sound like an advert. I was dismayed by the whole concept. It’s like funerals, like my mum’s funeral in particular, when a vicar who didn’t know me, a vicar who had never met my mum, a vicar of a religion I didn’t care for or believe in, had spoken “poetically”, or at least lyrically about her love of life. We all fucking love life (statistically I was going to swear at some point), but that was his template… loved life… loved playing with her kids… loved her husband, exactly what you could have said about Rose West… not his fault, the vicar’s doing his job, but it still was preferable to actually hiring a poet to speak at a funeral, or to even read a stranger’s words yourself…
His poetry, the poet for hire, was that pedantic rhyming stuff that can get stuffed. He would even sacrifice the rhythm for a tortured rhyme, shoehorning it over the bunion of his ineptitude… but people would like it, did like it, because some people like this sort of thing, find comfort in the almost school yard games chant simplicity… except it was laboured and not good, not fun, not even if you threw a stone at it and hopscotched your way across its misnumbered syllables. At the Quills, I had heard enough to be mildly astounded that people would pay for him to write poems about people he had never met… ‘a poem about Uncle Dave for his fiftieth, no problem, any family stories I can use, any embarrassing scrapes, any children, a wife… does he have all his limbs?’
Alan from the “Quills”, (I like Alan), calls him Spam Ayres, and though Pam Ayres has been unjustly brought into this, I get it… this poet who I won’t name, (Just in case you want to hire him) does however earn a modicum of respect, because if you ignore his awful poetry, if you take away his belief in his own genius, if you remove the fact that he has templates that are obviously in play (insert name of the deceased, birthday boy/ girl here), then you are left with the fact he does this all without a trace of shame.
It’s not jealousy, certainly not, and not the fact he gets paid a surprisingly okay amount, that makes me so mad at the thought of him. I do feel though somewhat angry that writers, and poets in general, in our area, are being “represented” by him, as if he is the standard bearer, the gold mark, the best we have to offer. “Happy birthday, Jason, can you remember your sister’s wedding and you stole a bottle of champagne and was sick into a basin”… and even though people will laugh and think it’s great, it’s not, it’s not poetry, it’s poetry for hire and I am sure some of you lovely people out there are poets for hire who are hating me right now, and maybe with justification, because some of you are capable enough to write some decent stuff with what you are given, but he isn’t, and yet I have a modicum of respect for him because he does it all without a trace of shame.
I have decided I have no respect for him. I have thought about it between paragraphs and having no shame actually makes him worse at verse… however much it fills his purse. (Statistically I was about 87 percent likely to change my opinion… it’s a curse). (Like my hypocritical use of bad rhyming)
Disasters. Poetry does not beat jokes to the punch, but a good disaster is guaranteed to swiftly bring out bad poetry. You will have to read a previous entry for my berating of a poet for her Grenfell fire poem, for bad taste does not hide good intentions, and though I know the heart is in the right place, I know where in some cases, the right place is for my foot. There are some wonderful poems “inspired “by natural, or manmade disasters or atrocity. Wonderful pieces. It only takes a dozen Chilean miners to be trapped below the surface for a flock of batshit crazy haikus and sonnets to be let loose. Or a tornado to whip up some tongue twister about flying cows, because the joy that keeps on giving, the poetry sites on Facebook, are awash with atrocities of the written kind, so bad, so wonderfully bad, that you almost wish for a disaster daily…
I am not sure if it was the death of the Prince that inspired this month’s rather tepid rant… because when you think about it, when you put your pen down for a moment, or pause your fingers on the keyboard and really think about it, aren’t we all poets for hire?
A POET’S MOVEMENTS
I am not usually moved by poetry.
Though to be honest, I have removed myself from it many times, not exactly leaving open mic nights as such, but spending a considerable amount of time in the outside smoking area, especially when you consider that I don’t actually smoke. But obviously I am referring to being moved emotionally, rather than physically.
It just doesn’t do it for me.
I am not immune to having my heartstrings plucked and can cry at a commercial of a single dad manfully making a bowl of soup for his churlish teenager like the best of us, but poetry… not so much. Either on the page or spoken in person by the poet, it has already been sort of diluted, in the sense that it has been delivered as a poem to pluck on my heartstrings… I know that makes not a lot of sense, I rarely do, but I know what I mean, because I am fully aware that by investing in the concept, I have entered into an emotional bargain of some sort, and it should be then, about how emotional the poem is, and not how emotional I am. It’s not like I am so befuddled by other forms of entertainment, I don’t, for instance, sit and watch a comedian and don’t laugh when he turns out to be funny, so why does hearing or reading a poem I know is going to be an emotional one, stop me from getting emotional?
I will admit to lacking a large amount of empathy. Not psychopath lacking, but still lacking. I have some. And, I don’t really want to waste it on poetry… not when I know it has been designed to elicit sympathy and empathy and not apathy…
Not all pathys lead to Rome of course, and some poetry, however wrought and raw, does not lead to any of these feelings, as badly written emotional poetry is just badly written poetry. But is the final destination that important? Is it not the journey that counts? No. No it isn’t.
What’s important is knowing not everything affects people the same way. I am not alone in my small pond, for others at the Tranquillity Tea and Cake writing group have difficulty being sad at everything. For instance, there is a woman called Von who cries whenever small birds are in peril, or there’s Trish who gets teary eyed over poems about dead grandmas, and John who wipes a tear away when old soldiers get a mention… but not one of them gets emotional as much as Derek does over his poems about the bypass.
It’s just that I hate being told how to feel. I think. Though out of all my spurious theories, I think I am on rocky ground on this one, as you can’t expect people to empathise with a lack of empathy if you are expecting them to have the same lack of empathy as yourself… and if truth be told, I don’t care as much as I should. I think I am annoyed by emotion trumping the quality… especially noticeable at open mic nights. You can’t judge a poem, or have your judgement appreciated, if it’s a poem about how their cat died of leukaemia, and the very next day they saw a cloud that looked like their beloved Smittens, when that poem’s being read by someone with snot coming out their nose. You just look heartless. Especially when they have overheard you say that considering the poem was an elegy, the cat got off lightly.
Again, there would be people there who were generally moved. Emotionally and empathetically, and what right have I to diminish their feelings? None, obviously, and they will get upset that I do, and that would be genuine enough for me to empathise with their anger over my lack of empathy. I am not a monster.
However, when confronted with sad poetry, it needs to be good poetry, just as all poetry should be. We can all fake a laugh at bad jokes, and some of us can fake orgasms during bad sex even if someone had thought the sex more than adequate, but it is hard to fake a good cry. A fake cry, or the wipe of a dry cheek, can be spotted a mile off, it takes real skill to pull off, by ironically, people who can empathise the most, and so I respect those who can fake cry more than those who invest. Yes, invest, that’s the word, invest. Because all poetry is a contract, willingly taken. There are very few examples of poetry being forced upon others, unless you count school… and The Vogons from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, funerals, television adverts for Banks… okay, more than a few examples, but those who invest purposefully want their sad poetry to make them sad, they want to feel the poet’s pain, and there is nothing wrong with that, absolutely nothing. In people other than me.
I think one of the saddest experiences I had, was over a poem of my own. I read a poem at the ‘Quills, a sad one about losing a brother through cancer. Two of the women came up to me afterwards, one in tears, thanking me for reading it, as they too had lost someone with the disease, and a few lines had resonated. I thanked them, telling them I was glad they liked it, we hugged. Nice. Respectful… Until I told them that I had never had a brother, and it was a work of pure fiction, not telling them that I had only read it because I thought it was quite good, and certainly hadn’t implied that it was indeed written from personal experience… their response? It was like I had put a small bird in peril, or had kicked a leukemic cat across the tea room, I honestly thought they were going to slap me… and that had truly upset me, that they thought I had tried to mislead them perhaps. But I wasn’t looking for their empathy for myself, but for the story I told, and I think that that is what this month’s scribble has been about, that poetry moves us all, just not always in the same direction, and that’s not a bad thing at all… it’s just that what moves me the most, is shit poetry, sad or not.
The ‘Quills is back, the last Tuesday of every month.
Apparently, despite Covid, it has been back several months,
Maureen, our esteemed Gaddafi, hadn’t informed me.
I can empathise with that.
THUMBS UP FOR HITLER…
No… really… wow…
If you have been reading these journal entries, you will by now, realise I am a writer, even if I have to tell you so… but a writer I be. Mostly a poet, but that’s by circumstance and not knowing any better. I have, at local spoken word events, locally, which is the best place for local spoken word events, acquired a reputation. Some call me versatile. Some call me funny. And some call me the Anti-poet. And some call me names, but they are idiots. Those that call me the anti-poet do so not because my “poetry” is so far removed from that description it needs sarcasm marks around the word, (I hope), but because I hate poetry.
Not as much as when I started.
But I do… too much so, to be quiet when I see bad poetry, or hear bad poetry, or know bad poetry is in the vicinity. I’m all for clapping effort. I am. And it’s not like I like my own that much, I don’t, but I can’t clap crap.
Who am I?… you may be thinking,
Who am I to pass such judgements, who am I to decide what’s bad and what’s not quite so bad?… it doesn’t matter who I am, it doesn’t matter at all because I have discovered a world outside of The Quills writing group, a world beyond spoken word in back street pubs or back rooms in back street pubs, or dusty village halls, or god forbid, coffee houses, a world where all of these places only exist virtually and do not close at closing time.
Wow… no really… wow… I have discovered Facebook has poetry sites.
There are loads of them. And they are all quagmires.
Not all, but enough for that to stick and suck you in. The quicksand is waiting and its… joyous. Come, don’t be a snob about it, wade in.
There are so many sites that I shall continue as if I am talking about them all by talking about one, a sweeping generalisation perhaps, though evidence would point to it not being so, as the same poets seem to pop up everywhere. So yes, joyous. But bad. Joyous but bad.. like Hudson Hawk, the Bruce Willis movie that is so bad its joyous, and a favourite film of mine… that kind of joyous…
There are moments of good.
because there lies hope, and hope is the most hurtful and devious of emotions. But yes, some good poets do post some good poetry and some poets post extremely good poetry.
But most don’t.
I’m not naming names. You know who you are.
There are also the non poetry arguments, mainly about American politics, but not always… I got into a major conflict with a whole group because I use ellipsis as pauses and don’t care about dot count… and was called some very interesting names. But its other people’s arguments that are wonderful and so full of rancour and pettiness and zealousness that I just can’t help myself, and I troll… just a little… not nasty, but mischievous… I never knew people could get as angry over Trump’s general awfulness as they do over a misplaced comma or a spelling mistake… and it’s all fine and dandy until someone loses an eye before e except after c…
Poetry occasionally breaks out, and I try to read it, I do… but there is so much crap, it’s not funny anymore… and I post mine, not in response but because I can… we all can… and I post my “A” game…
Now, this is how it works.
I post a poem that I know is good. I know its good because people who don’t like me have said it’s good… not great, but good… three likes it gets. And Tommy from Alabama comments I have a misplaced comma on line three.
Thank you Tommy.
Andrea posts a poem.
It is bad.
It however has been posted on a picture of Andrea with a vest on… bit of side boob, a flirtatious smile, but mostly side boob.
Jealous? . I think I probably am… and that both perplexes me and disappoints me, but also reassures me, because it shows I care.
I don’t care.
Not about her getting more likes and loves and wows but I do care that she is getting them for her side boob, without acknowledging the side boob, so that it looks like she is getting them for her bad, really bad poetry… I don’t want to copy the poem here, I probably would be breaking copyright or whatever, but I can quote or at least paraphrase I think as my criticism belongs to me… I think. (don’t write that down or we will never get out of the loop alive)…
Andrea’s poem was about a boy who she loved but who buggered off. She rhymed love with glove, as in her estranged love had a glove, and I was left wondering if he only had one hand… but no, for a few lines further on, he has two hands and two legs, on which he stands even though he hasn’t a leg to stand on because he’s wrong even though the line before told us how he had walked away one day…..
I could go on… but I won’t, because some reading this may like it, and want to seek Andrea out and check her side boobs for themselves. But yes, it annoyed me she got so many likes for crap.
Andrea is one of many, and Jack is another Andrea, except he is from the next town over from mine.
Small world the internet. Jack writes poetry in every style but his own, which I suppose becomes a style, in time. Jack describes himself as a comedy poet… its part of his name… Jack the Comedy Poet… so everybody has to do the same… except in my experience, people who add comedy poet to their name, are usually not funny. And when its capitalised, you know it’s owner is not as funny as he wants us to imagine he is.
Jack writes comedy poetry in the same way that Milli Vanilli sang a capella… badly, or non existent if you didn’t get it… and if anyone ever comments on his poetry being not funny, he accuses the reader of not having a sense of humour… and mimes that they are an idiot.
Jack is bad.
He does not so much as graze my funny bone.
His last poem got 146 likes.
He had posted his funny poem, that was so funny I am not laughing, not even inside, superimposed over a lingerie model modelling lingerie with side boob and front boob and down boob and boob boob and when someone typed asking if he had a book available to buy, I lost my shit…
I cannot leave these sites.
I am addicted, not posting for ego, but posting to bait, or to enjoy feeling annoyed and frustrated. It’s like when you like being scared by horror films… you can’t look away, you have to walk down those cellar steps, or watch the video, or take a midnight swim in Lake Dead Backpacker… I invite all of these monsters to dance on my dead corpse. And they do, badly.
So… moving on… no Quills again this month.
I will write about Covid, even though I wont actually be writing any fiction or poems about Covid (hopefully). I am going to pretend it never happened, and I hope when spoken word returns, my local compere will ban any Covid related work, like he did with Brexit… and poems about dead grandmas, everyone is fed up with both.
( That was the end of this months entry, but I have just noticed that ShaunRedDog44 has posted a poem over a picture of Princess Leia from Star Wars, in that metal bikini… It already has 97 likes, 43 loves and 12 wows. The poem is about the Holocaust, but that just goes to show that on these sites, side boobs will always come out on top, and will even earn Hitler a thumbs up or two.
LEAKING ROOF AND EURO 2020…
There was a leak at the Quill’s regular meeting place and everyone was swept up with Euro fever. Not to be confused with the fever we’ve been swept up with for the previous 18-months. I know this would normally be the start of some anecdotal tale to warn writers of the perils and pitfalls of our craft, some witty quip to spark your interest…
That simple. There was an actual leak and there was actual football. See you back here in July!
OUT OF OFFICE HOURS…
Firstly, when you are a writer, regardless of ability, or success, or level, or choice of biscuit, there are no such things as office hours. Sitting in your “writing chair”, in your favourite “space” in the hours designated for your “craft” using a favourite “pen” and drinking “mommy’s special tea”, or “dad’s…”or just “special tea”, or just foregoing all pretence and just drinking, does not mean your “office hours” are confined to these conditions… or between these quotation marks.
(Also, and I slip it in here as it fits, please realise that I do have a habit of writing the opposite opinion or variation of opinion or in my opinion, a different opinion utilising old opinions, from the opinion I wrote about in previous entries. Also, also, which I personally think is a nifty trick, even opinions different from those opinions that I haven’t written in entries yet… and so… back to this one…)
Being a writer, even a hobbyist, (aren’t we all?) is a 24/7, all consuming, invading, invasive beast of a hobby, that beggars the question of whether or not it is in fact, a hobby.
It may seem as such…
but it isn’t.
It really isn’t.
I’m sure if you don’t yourself, you know a writer who never leaves the house without a piece of paper in some form, and a pen. You know, for that flash of inspiration, or snippet of overheard conversation, or remembering you need a small granary… which to be fair, is poetry itself.
You can have strict writing times, yes.
You can have a chair that is so comfortable, your mind does not have to worry about comfort.
You can have a favourite pen.
You can have a favourite biscuit you must eat, helps with memory apparently. Or that might be cakes…, “Madelaine… Madelaine, what’s them cakes called?”… oh yeah, I forgot, she’s gone out…
You can have as many of these totems as you require or think you require and confine them all within certain hours only, or until you hit your word count, (no one likes accountants), but there are no restrictions that can prevent you from thinking, about writing, the rest of the time.
This revelation crept up on me. Not like a ninja per se, but more like Marley’s ghost, in that I could hear this odd clanking in the distance of my conscious thoughts, until finally I realised the chains of freedom that writing brings you, are of my, and my fellow writers’ own forging.
It’s not a bad thing.
I don’t mean it to sound like I think it’s a bad thing.
It’s just that I thought hobbies were meant to be more relaxing.
But here’s the thing about hobbies, hobbies are not relaxing. Hobbies are insidious. Hobbies are control freaks. Hobbies are like pop stars needing constant validation and attention. We are merely reduced to being Justin Bieber’s arse wiper, or Ed Sheeran’s purse carrier or Adele’s cushion fluffer, or whatever, you get my point hopefully. And that is that we are all, whether we collect matchboxes or banana labels or hang glide or abseil or become serial killers, or worse, a writer, (there is really no such thing as a hobbyist writer), we are all slaves to what we have found to do that matches our psyche.
We don’t pick our hobby so much as a hobby picks us. I am sure that like me, your past is a dark and crumbly facade that hides a plethora of failed hobbies. A battleground strewn with dead, half dead, as good as dead, or just those you wish were dead, hobbies.
A few of mine include in no particular order…
Autograph hunting… I was given an autograph book by my grandma. After about 40 years of hunting, the book has three signatures… John Inman, an actor. Keith Hargreaves, who’s whole professional football career consisted of playing 15 minutes for Rotherham in the Freight Rover Trophy, first round second leg, and was my postman, and finally, or firstly, as its on the first page, my grandma, who thought she would start me off.
Surfing… living in Lincolnshire, our coastal repertoire does not include waves. The sea at Skegness doesn’t crash against the coast so much as trudges in, a bit like a schoolboy that has been sent to the headmaster’s office. Hawaii we are not, we are not even a knee high Cornwall. Plus, I can’t swim, so that hobby never got off the ground, or wet.
I could go on… I usually do, but I think you get the picture.
Writing found me accidentally, except that should be the other way around. Whichever perspective, the fact is it shapes me, it forms and informs me, it harasses and cajoles and bullies and shapeshifts and creeps and… overtakes my life in ways I never thought it could.
Writing never sleeps.
How many times have you nearly been asleep, and thought of a wonderful line, a line more wonderful than all your other wonderful lines and promised yourself, promised promised promised, yourself, that you wont forget it when you wake up, and then you lay awake knowing you should get up and write it down, except its really cold outside and you’re really warm and before you know it another masterpiece has been snored away. A poet friend, in fact the editor of a magazine called Impspired (I know, edgy stuff, this is meta meta stuff) recently wrote a poem on this very matter and put it brilliantly, and also something about cat videos distracting the creative urge. Read it… it explains better than I can, but we all can relate, because he is a writer, and though we think we are different we are not so different underneath the Tippex.
Writing never sleeps then. Nor does it catnap, or snooze , because somewhere, it is fiddling with your subconscious, and as I have touched upon in previous entries, I defy any writer to look up into the sky without their mind refusing to call a cloud a cloud… it is like a phillumenist looking at a limited edition box of matches from the Titanic and merely calling it soggy, hobbyists do not have the willpower not to effuse on their chosen full time pastime.
For instance, this is what happens when you are minding your own business, and someone you know spots you in the street, and asks if you are well…
“Yes thank you, are you ?”… but they’re merely your outside words, your camouflage, for inside you are thinking, “I am the last bluebell in the wood, waiting for the snows to melt”, and though you know its pretentious and you will never make it fit into your latest “novel” about football hooliganism in Norwich, you automatically reach into your coat looking for a scrap of paper or a notebook and a pen, and don’t even register your fellow pedestrian’s answer because you are thinking of the next line and the next line… etc… it never bloody ends…
Like all my entries, I have forgotten the point of what I had to say by line three… but it doesn’t matter, because it still counts as hobbying, and most hobbies are selfish beasts. And to be fair, at least writing is a hobby where ability or success is irrelevant. Even if writing is not a hobby. It isn’t a hobby.
It’s like a hobby.
But it’s not a hobby.
Would I have been a good surfer if I could swim? Or a better autograph hunter if I had gotten a Beckham or a Rowling, in my book, or if my grandma had done something to make her famous?… probably not, but not knowing, or knowing what a dipthong is or how to even spell diphthong does not impede the trying, the doing, or in fact, the not doing. Very Yoda.
Writing is exhausting at times, but being a writer is exhausting all the time.
There is no Quills at the moment, what with Covid, and though I have promised myself I will not write Covid related poems or prose, it can’t be ignored… so in the future I will perhaps write an entry about it… but for now, ignorance is bliss, whether I realise I am the last bluebell in the woods or not, for life is a dying flower in the arms of mother nature and she rocks us all to sleep eventually… No. Office hours or not, I’m not ever going to write that nonsense down.
NO, BUT I’VE WATCHED THE BOOK
Recently, for my birthday, a friend gave me a copy of David Copperfield. A well-meaning gift from a well-meaning friend, although I would have preferred socks, but then you never get bought socks when you actually need socks. …or perhaps sex, as I like her, but her idea of friends with benefits involves Charles Dickens and mine doesn’t, but still, I suppose it’s the thought that counts.
I thought I had read David Copperfield.
It turns out I haven’t
I have seen a film version,
and to be honest, I think that’s the same. Almost. You can’t say that about every book, as it would make you seem like an oaf, but not everyone has read every classic book they say they have, but have read bits, or read quotes, or most likely watched an adaptation…
It’s fine, honestly. I don’t think less of you. I don’t think that necessarily makes you a liar, an uncultured impostor, or an imbecilic buffoon. Look at Boris, he reads Greek poetry, In its original Greek, and he’s well, he’s Boris, but I don’t use the fact whether or not you have read Tess of the d’Urbevilles as an indication of your high or low level of culture.
Some books, classic books are not meant to be read. They exist solely to embarrass people like me, and dare me to at least learn their titles and their authors primarily to help me win a free pint in pub quizzes, or a voucher for a free pudding if you spend over fifteen pounds though is inexplicably not redeemable on a two meals for the price of one deal is it Dave!….anyway, annoying landlords aside, some classic books exist in different ways for different people.
I have read classic literature, of course I have. We had to read 1984 for ‘O’ level English Lit, and I did, except for the Newspeak boring bit in the middle, and scraped a pass, but that was mostly because in the months before the exam, the film version with John Hurt came out and I watched that instead of revising… scraped a pass, yes, but passed. I wouldn’t have read that by choice back then, as my reading matter included football magazines and war books by a chap called Sven Hassel, which were sweary and gory and fun. 1984…not so much.
It makes me think that people don’t read classics, or as many as they pretend to, because they are forced on us… and yes, I understand the educational side of the argument as that is really, if I’m honest, the only side of the argument, but I do think if my teacher had used Shoot magazine as part of my syllabus, I would have got an ‘A’, and still come away with how literature works… sort of. And who is to say that actually, when it comes to football magazines, Shoot isn’t a classic of its genre.
I digress. But don’t worry. I always do. The point, if any, is that people lie about what books they have read.
They do .
We all do, and if that’s not true, then I will eat my copy of The Great Gatsby. May as well do something with it. That brings up another point. Not all classic literature is dry, and wheezy and unreadable and hard. Most isn’t. But I still don’t feel I need to read Wuthering Heights, because there have been numerous film or TV adaptations. I am not denying myself the joy of reading, of self-discovery, because I can get that wonderful pleasure from reading a good paperback, but I don’t need to read all the classics… I just need to know what classics I should have read.
There is paradox here, as usual with my theories. Either because they are bad theories or because they are theories that sit on the fence, because I don’t know where I am going with the point, which is classic me, I suppose, and like the classics, my poems, or books, are poems and books that people only pretend to have read (though for very different reasons).
I find there is something pernicious, something a little sinister in those lists that get bandied about, Those “100 books You Must Read Before You Die”, lists. It’s as if you are nothing if you do not read every single book, it isn’t recommendation so much as having a double glazing salesman embedded on your couch, unwilling to leave until you have signed up for new windows and doors. There is an element of coercion, of making you feel your neighbours will sneer at your inferior frontage… these lists are nothing more than intellectual bullying (I haven’t any more windows analogies).
When someone asks me, “what is the best book you have ever read?”, I like to take a moment, as if I’m thinking. As if I am giving the matter a great deal of thought. I look the person in the eye, and with great solemnity reply,,, “I would like to think, that that will be the next book I read… or the one after that…. or the…”. To which they either nod in respect for my great wisdom, or nod, hiding their jealousy because I came up with that nonsense, and they didn’t.
Of course, a rookie mistake is to say a book, a classic book, that you haven’t read, as questions may be asked. So, my non answer is born from experience gleaned from hours of not actually reading any classics at all, and so far, it has worked like a charm…
My friend, who gave me David Copperfield for my birthday, came to see me yesterday.
She asked me if I had read the book yet.
I lied of course, and said yes, and thank you very much, it was wonderful etc etc… vague but sufficient I thought, and tried to veer the conversation to the benefits of our friendship that I thought would benefit me most. She was not finished however, and maybe it was my preoccupation with her body and not her mind that caused me, of all people, to make that rookie mistake, for when she asked my opinion on David’s childhood, I responded with confidence, replying that it was very well written and I thought Magwitch the escaped felon was indeed a masterly creation of a character…
She had made excuses shortly after that and left, and has I think, no intention of further friendship, as that is what I think she has decided would benefit her best. Because a little later, I realised that I had confused David Copperfield which I haven’t read, for Great Expectations, which I haven’t read either, but I have watched a film version of both, and mixed one of those books characters, with that from the other and so as punishment I have decided to read David Copperfield.
I have read two chapters, and it’s hard. Classics are hard. I don’t think anybody reading this will condemn me too much for picking up the remote control, and seeing if there is a version of it on Netflix… because it’s a lot easier to watch most classic literature, than to read it.
BEND OVER, AND TAKE IT LIKE A WRITER
A writer needs discipline.
S & M…
Simile and metaphor,
sentence and meter,
synonyms and metonyms….
a writer needs self discipline, structure and motive,
Smarties and Maltesers…
I think that’s enough. You see though? No discipline, for like the vicars you used to read about in the News of the World, I do not practice what I preach.
Discipline when used in reference to writers and writing has, well, it has a lot of disciplines, sub genres of them actually, and one needs discipline of discipline to be able to adapt and adhere to the discipline you choose, while all the time, administering self discipline so as not to deviate from said discipline…..
As you can see, I have none.
Not any. Zero discipline.
I think it makes me the writer I am, but what it actually makes me is unqualified to write about discipline… and as such, that means I do not have the discipline not to say, isn’t that ironic?
Of course, facetious use of double meanings of words like discipline, is perhaps a discipline in itself, and as writers are wont to do, I shall beat myself up over this. I will scour myself with the Brillo pad of self doubt and whip my back with a celica like the albino monk from The DaVinci Code, in penance, for my faithless lack of self belief, because all writers gravitate to self mutilation in the end.
Harsh, or not. It is a mute point because discipline is its own harsh mistress, and yet at the same time can be a steadying hand, caressing you gently into meeting your target or deadline, or just giving you a hand…( I have just realised a celica is a brand of Toyota, and so the albino monk probably didn’t use that to flail his own back)…
Some writers will wake into a world of routine, where every second of their day is accounted for, well, at least the writing part. Some writers will treat it like a job, like a shift, like a day down the mine, hacking their way through the fog of poor ideas, until, hopefully, a nugget is unearthed.
I hate those writers, because they never say their best work was buried beneath the slag, dug from out a huge pile of wasted hours where the only other useful thing they wrote was a reminder to themselves that it’s Thursday tomorrow and so the bins need putting out.
They have discipline. And that works like that for some. It is the joy, maybe, of writing that we can accommodate such vagaries of method, and what works for those pompous, arrogant, supercilious know-it-alls, doesn’t work for some of us, and I have no ill feelings for those who can rise and shine in the glow from their own halos.
I like my method, but only because it has found me, as other methods have found me wanting, and so I can’t actually take credit for my, or for my lack of, discipline. A method should not be forced, it should be organic, it should be an osmosis, it should come with wiggle room.
I would like to think that William Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night after waking up in the middle of the night with indigestion, or that Alan Bennett wrote down the outline for a play on the back of a cigarette packet while on the number 6 bus on the way to the chiropodists, or that Jeffery Archer wrote at least one novel on toilet paper in his cell between slopping out times , rather than imagining them clocking on and off . I don’t know Shakespeare’s methods or Bennett’s or Archer’s, and they maybe in fact as undisciplined as mine, and that’s great, because end product rules, it did in Will’s time, as it does now, and discipline is just another discipline within the discipline of finished work, and we will always beat ourselves up, no matter what our preferences.
At the Quills, Maureen conflates discipline with obedience and therefore she doesn’t care how you got to where you are, just that she gets the credit and can dictate to whoever comes within her clutches, the discipline she requires for compliance.
This weeks Quills, contained only old faces, and we sat like veteran soldiers who thought a reunion would help the night tremors go away. Maureen made you feel like that, like you were comrades in arms, that sense of taking a bullet for the man next to you, while all the time secretly waiting to use each other like human shields.
Maureen, had shared with us once, how she writes. It turned out that it wasn’t with the blood of young children, inked into the stretched skin of dead immigrants like Alan had thought, I like Alan, but was worse in a way. She wrote, she informed us, in her conservatory. But only, she informed us again, when the light was just so. Just so what? I had thought… but didn’t ask as I didn’t want to sound not informed, but she went on to tell us. In detail. There was a lot that had to be just so, and I thought at one point someone would just ask if she had heard of electricity, but no one did. Maureen was shedding light anyway, imparting the secret of her genius as if we had come to suckle on her mighty bosom (metaphorical bosom… I once saw one of her nipples poking out her blouse and still have trouble turning on switches), and when she had finished, I had to ask… I didn’t but couldn’t not, and said,
“ Thanks Maureen, it’s interesting ( !!! ) isn’t it, how people have different disciplines..”
“Not a discipline R…….”
“No, I mean, how you have the discipline to not write unless..”
“Not a discipline. Please stop saying my writing is a discipline, it is not a discipline, it is so much more”
“ No, obviously, but no, yes, but I mean how you will only write if the light is just so, if your tea is just the right temperature, if your neighbours are out, if the cushion is just so, if the birds chirping in the Leylandii are the correct sort of birds chirping in the Leylandii… that’s what I meant, the discipline to do that, that sort of discipline”
Maureen had leant over and smiled at me like she had been a shopkeeper and I was a child caught with a pocketful of unpaid for Smarties and Maltesers, knowing what punishments she had in store for thieves and ingrates like me, and said,
“My writing is not a discipline R… my writing is a gift”
Sometimes, all one can do, is bend over and take it like a writer.
Now that’s discipline.
TURNED OUT NICE AGAIN IVY
Sorry about last month’s entry. Lost the plot a bit. Oh well. Writer’s and drama, who knew ?
As you can tell, I occasionally have a very poor opinion of writers. As people I mean. Now, I’m sure you, whoever you may be, are a lovely person, a kind person, the sort of person who is good to animals and not too suspicious of small children… I have no way of knowing if you are nice or not.
Except… if you are reading this, then you are probably a writer, and that probably means that no, you are not as nice as you would like people to think. But I write about gardens, you might say, or, butterflies, or you write one act plays about spinsters finding love in the meals for one aisle in their local supermarket, and so you automatically assume that because you write about nice things, that means you are nice.
Statistically, you’re not.
And please don’t feel bad.
Not being as nice as what you write is no hindrance at all. It is in fact, one of those essential tools that How To Write Good books don’t tell you that you need. I don’t mean you are necessarily an evil person, not actively, but not being nice is not something you should worry about. I honestly believe not being nice in real life, enables you to be nicer on the page.
I don’t know if you remember that woman who put the cat in her wheelie bin on her way to work one morning? She was quite the news item at the time. Well, what you may not know, is that she also writes beautiful stories about a wee girl who lives in a Scottish lighthouse with her grandpa and has a special gift when it comes to healing all the local wildlife… so you see, it is almost essential not to be nice in real life…
Rudyard Kipling was a racist.
JK Rowling apparently hates trans gender people.
Winston Churchill is either hated or loved depending on whether it’s drizzling or not, despite being a Nobel Prize winner for literature… and Harold Shipman was a serial killer, in fact the worst one who has ever been caught… so you see, being good at writing has nothing to do with being nice in real life.
Okay, to be fair, Shipman probably only wrote prescriptions… and the woman who put the cat in a wheelie bin does not to my knowledge, write anything, but I couldn’t think of more example without googling and that smacks too much like research… it’s just that if I am going to be mean about fellow writers in this column on occasion, then I needed some facts, even false ones.
This month at the Tranquillity Tea and Cake, writing group was a very interesting affair.
The subject of authenticity popped up, after Sheila with the timeshare in Sarajevo and a milky eye, read her poem to the group, which involved her at one point, imitating an elderly Jewish grandparent whose only contribution to the poem was to utter an “Oy,Vey”… I think that’s close enough, not being Jewish myself, I don’t really care as long as it means what it’s meant to mean.
Maureen, had squirmed in her seat, obviously uncomfortable. I don’t know if that was because she had Jewish Grandparents, or because of the unhealthy interest in political correctness that has befallen people who tend to wear a lot of cardigans.
Undeterred, Sheila had looked around the group when she had finished. Her one good eye bright in anticipation for all the praise that she thought was due, and I did indeed clap a little too vigorously, because inside I thought her poem had been awful, but I knew Maureen was still coming to terms with the OY Vey.
“Are you Jewish, Sheila?” Maureen had enquired… nicely,
“No,” She had replied… “Me and Arthur are Methodists.”
Maureen had leant forward, then, in what she thought was victory and said,
“Well then dear, I don’t think it is appropriate to speak as an elderly Jewish man, a poets voice must be authentic…”
You would have thought that by now, I would have learnt my lesson, in fact my many lessons, and kept quiet….”Excuse me Maureen, “, I interrupted, “ but isn’t having your elderly Jewish character say oyyy vehy mean that you are being authentic. As that is what, I believe, an elderly Jewish man would say”
“But Sheila is a Methodist, and I believe that Methodists, elderly Methodists or not, do not say oy vey”
“But,” I continued, “ the person in the poem isn’t an elderly Methodist is he?…if he was and he said oYYY veY, then that wouldn’t be authentic… but he’s Jewish…”
And here came, what to Maureen was irrefutable logic, and that was,
“Yes, and the fact that he isn’t an elderly Methodist just proves how unauthentic the poets voice is, doesn’t it, because Sheila is not Jewish, and therefore, her voice is not her own”…
Now, my responses organizing themselves, no, fighting over each other to be released from out my head were thus… for a start, Maureen is hardly ever right about authenticity as she has not had an original thought in her own head since she picked up a pen… then there was the fact that Sheila was visibly upset and being told her voice was unauthentic and had withdrawn into her chair so much her milky eye now resembled one of the fabric buttons… but mostly, and the reason that had won the fight to stand on the tip of my tongue was that it was bullshit… completely and utterly.
Did Tolkien ever meet an Orc.
Did Lewis ever fall through the back of a wardrobe.
Did Dr Seuss follow the clues and read the news and put red fish blue fish in his shoes… look, the point is, that was the most stupid thing I had ever heard Maureen say, and, truth be told, by the time all the infighting inside my head had subsided, we had moved on, and Derek was half way through yet another poem about the Bypass…
Sheila had glanced over in my direction, and, I think, winked at me, though it’s hard to tell with Sheila, she may have just been blinking, but I took it as thanks anyway.
Alan, I like Alan, had said afterwards, that if I hadn’t said something he would have, but being as I did such a good job, he thought there was no need to wade in. It wasn’t till later that night while watching Aston Villa lose yet again on Match of the Day, that I realised Alan was actually taking the mickey, and that I had actually cocked it up…
Oh well, as my Episcopalian granddad said when the Nazis burnt down his mosque in Tibet,
“ Ivy, did you put next door’s cat in the wheelie bin again?
JOHN HURT’S CHEST
Recently, I compared writers who regularly come together, to troops of feral rutting monkeys. This is not an apology, but more of a recap, for if anyone does ever read these journals, I want them to know I am a man of my word, and that I stand by my cynicism.
Of course, not everything I write can be held to such scrutiny, as writing gives you the freedom to lie, to mislead, and best of all, the tacit permission to be an arse.
Of course it is.
But for those who find themselves beneath my carpet where I have swept them, let them find comfort in the fact the pile is huge.
Writers strive to be interesting in real life which I find exhausting. I also think it is wasted energy, as surely such efforts should be concentrated on their work. It is not mutually inclusive that an interesting person is an interesting writer… if I met Mr King, or Mr Pratchett and they were dull as dishwater, I would be less disappointed than I would be if their latest book was a brick.
I see that there is a conflict here. In that should I then judge a person only as a writer? Should I ignore the fact that they are just like everyone, and are just living their lives as best they can, that it is their interesting lives that make them writers, and not the other way around?
I should judge them by their work.
I do judge them by their work.
Its what every writer wants.
And if a writer is interesting in their own right, then I see that as a bonus, and not as exhausting as a writer who is desperate to be taken as more than the sum of their output, and yes, I see the paradox. In one breath I am saying I only judge a writer by his works, at the same time as I am judging a writer for being their self, or trying to be a more interesting version of their self. It is a paradox because writing is a paradox, it is, and as an example, I will bet that out of all the fellow writers you know, the most humble is the one who receives the most praise.
Write about what you know.
No… yes, but only to a certain point. What you know should inform your writing, not become the main, and in most cases, the only arrow in your quiver. Otherwise my stuff would be the same, and I would churn endless pieces about knowing how not to do things very well, how to cook a pot noodle, and how I knew my wife was having an affair with Colin.
Tolkien never actually met a Hobbit, Atwood never was a handmaiden, Dahl didn’t work at a chocolate factory and yet they wrote as if they had, because they added little bits of this and that to an already active imagination and that is what informed their writing.
Spoken word, is quite often abused by writers. They seem to save their most personal experiences as badges of honour, honing the correct delivery so that we will feel with them what they feel, so we may empathise, but at the same time, feel jealous that their heartache has better flow, and a more interesting and more erudite vocabulary.
After my first few spoken word events where I was merely a spectator, I honestly thought that every poet who put their name down to perform, had, by law, to have a poem in their repertoire about their dead grandma, preferably one who raised them single handedly while finding the time to teach them to cook, to love animals, to love humans, to love oneself goddamnit, and other geriatric nuggets of wisdom. Too many see spoken word nights as free therapy and forget they are supposed to entertain the audience, and not to just elicit sympathy just by talking about something that elicits sympathy… Look, I’m not writing a how to guide, just a journal with monthly rants that swerve at everything in their path, not caring whether I miss or hit the point I started with… and that’s okay, because being confused and inattentive is what I know best.
This is what writing does to me,
Probably, because we are all interesting in our own ways, and being a writer doesn’t stop me from seeing that. It’s me that stops me from seeing that. Me. And I can live with that.
I often think about being interesting, but it just seems so time consuming. Not worth the effort really. And to be honest, I have set my bar pretty low, and if ever I do break free and do say anything interesting, my fellow writers look at me with surprise, and react like the other actors did, when that alien burst out from John Hurt’s chest, because none of us really know what a writer has inside them… least of all the writer.
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR – ‘I know I dropped the ball’
THE TAMING OF THE SHOE.
Puns don’t kill people, but people kill puns.
They either roll their eyes at the thought of them, or dismiss them as cheap or childish, or wont even read on after encountering them, and that’s just those people who can tolerate the odd one. Such is their unpalatable nature to some, that a writer who uses them regularly is looked down upon with such disgust, it’s a punder that they don’t topple over.
I like the odd one, but do not get as upset as some when they are prevalent, my only stipulation for puns is quality, they must be quality puns. And as such, I wont be writing any more in this entry.
I love Terry Pratchett’s books, which are pun laden to the max, but he hits the quality button so many times that you are prepared to gloss over the odd dud. His books often have a quite serious undercurrent to them and he dissects the inequalities of society with a light but scathing touch. They make me laugh, and I like that in a book, more so than I like comedy in the flesh, and I find his writing has more depth than most. Of course, people will say he wasn’t Saul Bellow… but Saul Bellow wasn’t really Saul Bellow in the end was he?… no, and a few puns may have even helped his later output. Puns are the Schrodingers cat of the menagerie of creatures a writer has at their disposal. They can be both apt and funny and on the money as they can simultaneously to others be unfunny, inappropriate, and so not on the money that they are claiming benefits.
I don’t use puns very often, because I’m not usually amusing when I try to be amusing, I am mostly amusing when I am trying to write seriously, and often when reading my pieces at the Quills, I am surprised when someone laughs at a line I have written, I’m not a moron, I know it was amusing, just not amusing enough for someone else. So puns are usually a stretch in the wrong direction, but I do have them in my back catalogue.
I know people who wont read Pratchett because of all the puns, and I feel they are missing out, but each to their own. Although I feel not reading him at all for that particular reason would be like not listening to Mozart because you don’t like bassoons.
So… puns don’t do any real harm.
You may think they do… but they don’t.
Bad puns should be treated like a bad analogy, or a sentence that seems clumsy, just read on and hope it was an author’s slight mis-step, a literary hiccough , a ………….
…………….(pun removed for the reason of it not being required, nor welcome)… and therefore no harm has really been done at all. But I think it is equally as wrong to praise them too highly, just as it is to deride them too sneeringly. They should be allowed to breathe for themselves, to exist in an almost vacuum… you can’t actually breathe in a vacuum can you?… but my point is that they should be left to just exist as much as the author intended.
Maureen, our esteemed leader at the Quills, hates them…
She does possess a sense of humour, and has been known to smile once or twice Alan calls it her John Wayne Gacy clown smile (I like Alan), and she has a laugh that resembles gravel falling into a saucepan. Regular readers at our monthly writers group therefore, avoid puns like the plague, and are mortified if one slips into their poems by accident. Which is a shame as accidental puns are sometimes the best ones… or that may be Freudian nips, Sue would know, I will ask Sue.
This afternoon at the Tranquillity Tea and Cake, a new guy had shown up. Thomas, a nice guy in his fifties , a semi retired radiologist and widower who lost his wife whale watching.
That last piece of brief biography, that all newcomers are asked to provide to the room, seemed as if it was waiting for questions, but Maureen had been in a hurry to start and Thomas had left at the interval because of his indifference to us all, and so no questions were asked… I don’t even think Maureen had been listening.
Thomas had brought a piece that he had written recently, about how looking at X-rays does not reveal what’s really inside a person. I counted five eye rolls, from three people, heard one cough, and saw Maureen stiffen slightly in her chair. Maureen was expecting puns, everybody was expecting puns, and Thomas had expected puns, because he knew for damn sure there would be puns. And there were. He had written them.
Big fat ones about transparency.
Huge chubby ones about wearing ones feelings on your sleeve
Plump and juicy ones about flesh and bones….
It was a punfight a … (final warning)… it was carnage.
Maureen sat there stoically.
Seething inside. But like all good hosts, she let Thomas finish, applauded with the equal amount of enthusiasm bestowed on everyone, and then gave her critique… she said it was fine.
The whole room gasped inwardly and silently for to have Maureen describe your poetry as fine was the kiss of death, and deep down, I think even Thomas realised he had crossed some invisible line, hence his early departure.
This is the thing about puns though isn’t it. If you are to either defend or attack them, you must first try them on for size, master them enough so you don’t topple over, and then walk a mile in them, for then you can truly say that you tried, and that if all puns are not exactly Shakespearean, they are at least someone’s Taming of the……………….……………….. right , that’s it , you were warned, … its time you buggered off… and found a real hobby.
… Right About… There… No… There… That’ll Do.
Before I started writing seriously, (or should that be seriously writing.?), I knew I was either bad, good, or adequate at stuff. For instance, I knew I was bad at keeping in touch with friends, good at making excuses for not keeping in touch with friends, and lucky enough to have friends who thought my level of friendship merely adequate, and therefore I was not worth all the chasing.
Writing friends are different.
You may say that they are not.
But you would be wrong.
Firstly, writing friends are not like “real life “friends in that writing friends are always concerned with your opinions. The fact that those opinions are about their writing, is okay with you, as you may need their opinions about your own writing and therefore, you keep in touch with your writing friends in some weird parasitical communal love-in, with all the other writer friends you know.
On a spoken word night, groups of writing friends will mingle with other groups of writing friends, but as soon as the compere steps to the microphone in his cardigan with the blackcurrant stain down the front to begin proceedings, the groups clump together in their own simian funk, the continuous pats on the back and the knee making them seem like monkeys at grooming happy hour.
If we were bonobos, we would probably be full of wilder abandonment, and probably each other, such is the feral need within us for the carnality of validation from one’s peers, such is the animalistic joy of throwing your work out like faeces and knowing at least it will stick on to the blanket of brown nosing you take comfort under….and…
Sorry… that got a little weird, I was just going to go with an analogy about putting shelves up in the back bedroom but this is what writing does to us, you, some of us…me.
And it’s nice
It is. It really is.
If I made it seem these friendships are fake, I apologise. Not all of them are, and I have a couple of friends from writing that I consider the best friends I have ever had, but I am talking here about the friendships that are defined by our mutual interests. And there is nothing wrong with them, at all, in fact they are, indeed, nice. But they are also based on parameters that only exist in the paragraphs and the meters we write in, as in if it wasn’t for this shared interest, there are certain people in the Quills that if I were to knock them down in my car, I would probably call an ambulance, after I had first found reverse.
There is camaraderie between writers, of course there is. That feeling of being in it together, that clapping good stuff is the same as clapping bad stuff, that it is effort that is being applauded, that it is the guts to do it that is being applauded. Equality. It is all about equality.
Now we have all stopped laughing, let us return to the clapping. Maureen at the Quills, will not tolerate a lot of things (immigrants, beggars, jaffa cakes, customers in shorts, immigrant beggars, to name a few), but she will under no circumstances, tolerate finger clicking. Maureen has perfected, over the years, a gentle art of clapping equally, Alan calls it her Crapometer of clap. (I like Alan),
Equality of clap, however, bears no relation to the critique. It is as if one exists without the other, which is, I think, applaudable. I do, and I know that will surprise you after my diatribe but I do. I am all for applauding effort. I however struggle to applaud the bravery aspect of it as some of the most timid writers I know, if put in front of a microphone, become harder to dislodge than a Tory MP at a free bar. But I do applaud bravery when it is obvious somebody has not reached the limpet level grip, on minutes or mic stands.
And this is my problem. When everyone claps my efforts equally, I cannot gauge where I am in the hierarchy of our little troop of monkeys. Of course, in the Quills, we employ the read and critique method of writing group, and that gives me a little more to go on. But at open mic nights when other monkey troops are there, and they are clapping each poem equally, as is the etiquette for spoken word nights, I am lost, for rarely do strange monkeys come over and start checking your fur for lice in fear of upsetting their own troop’s monkeys, and as each monkey in each troop is equal and therefore equally the alpha, praise is almost irrelevant, and seeking it can get you bitten
I paint a bad picture of lovely people; I know I do. But before I started writing seriously (definitely not seriously writing), I was content with just calling someone a moron under my breath and walking away. And I know some of you have friends like this, but more friends that are not like this at all, but I also know I have hit a sore spot. And like my overuse of the word and to start my sentences, I will not change, because I know where I am now, I know where I stand, I know my place and it’s probably where yours is in your little troop,
which is about there… there… no… there… that’ll do.
TWEE MEN IN A BOAT. …with apologies to Mr Jerome.
I learnt at The Quills, (do keep up), pretty early that to describe somebody’s poetry as a bit twee, maybe not as complimentary as I may, or may not, have meant it to be.
And yes, that does seem vague as whether I was being mean intentionally or not, because I wanted to show you an example of critiquing poetry based on what you like personally. It is fraught with disagreements from those who disagree, and you find yourself defending yourself instead of defending your critique… it’s best to just keep your mouth shut.
Twee. I have to admit that I had to google it when I got home, but was pleased to find that I had used it correctly, and that gave me a little bit of satisfaction which was enough to assuage any lingering guilt I may have had, after calling Alice’s poetry twee, which had led to Alice crying on Maureen’s reading time which didn’t go down well at all.
Alice is a bit horrible, so I didn’t care if I had upset her. She has a lovely turn of phrase at times. ‘A path at night a moonlit scar’ or, ‘the pink threads in a shredded blanket sky’, being two examples I liked this week but when you hear the whole poem… it’s just a bit… twee.
As a human being she is horrible, yes, but she does have talent and I so want to like her, but I can’t, I just can’t. I won’t go into the long list of horrible things she has done, but let’s just say that at least one member of the Quills has been deported and another has had their benefits stopped for being reported for moonlighting at a mini market.
Alan (I like Alan), calls her the Poisoned Alice, or Stalin in mittens, and he won’t even speak to her, and not just because he had a Christmas grope with Mia who is now, thanks to the “anonymous “ tip to the immigration people, presumably back in Kazakhstan..
So, back to my critique. I wasn’t sure if I was surprised or not, that some people actively seek to be twee… that that is the style they wish to write and read, and so what if they do? Exactly.
People can’t like everything.
They really really can’t.
And the ones who say they do… are lying.
And twee is an opinion, and not a genre of poetry at all, according to Sue. And Sue, who is occasionally twee-ish, but a talented writer in any style, is clued up, and so I usually listen to Sue.
Maureen doesn’t like Sue either, so we kind of bonded over that.
In all fairness, we only really respect critique when its given by people who we respect, or who we think we should respect. Or who we want to impress. I am as guilty as anyone on that score, and so bring several poems to choose from to read aloud, and depending on who is present, read the ones I think they will like the best. Everyone filters in their own way… of course some assume everything they write is awesome and their filter is turned off, unlabeled, hidden, tucked in the waistband of their egos’.
But we all want critique to be good… and we all prefer good to constructive. Of course people seek advice and instruction, but that’s more in composing skills, formatting, counting syllables, etc… constructive criticism is not welcome when you have read a piece to a group of your peers (who you think you are better than)…
I think its okay to be twee if you are not trying to write a homage to the Wasteland, or trying to out beat the Beats. Maureen once said that a style finds you and she is right. It does, and if you only churn out three hundred poems about your garden and robins that visit your garden and flowers that grow in your garden and the circle of life that circles in your garden, then so what?… and even if I don’t like them, they have still made the world slightly less unpalatable.
People love Pam Ayres. They do. Thousands do. Because she delivers what they want, and not all are twee, but they are gentle and only occasionally a little naughty. I like a couple, but I do admire her resolve and her commitment… its a bit like how Katy Price thinks she’s still famous… except Pam has written her own books…
I am not twee. I am a lot of things, and can be twee if I wanted to be… but I am not twee.
Maureen said the style comment when asked how she would describe my writing. It was a pregnant pause that seemed to last quite a lot longer than it actually did, and I was surprised when what she had replied with was a considered, well thought out and erudite response…
“Maureen,”, asked Alice, “ how would you describe R……..’s writing style, as it seems to be different with each poem he reads”…….
“ Well”, Maureen considered, “ I would have to say that style and R……. are a long way from each other at the moment.”
Well I took it as considered and well thought and erudite answer, but then that’s what critique really is. Its a boat on the waves that your ego rows down your ear canal into your brain where you only really hear the bits that you want to… and style is just the helmsman, your passion the cabin boy (that sounds wrong now but I’m committed), and your ability the salty old sea dog of a skipper, and whether or not you call your boat the Beatnik, the Pam Ayres or The Wasteland, it will only be as seaworthy, as any twee men in a boat.
Poets like to say, that there is no such thing as competition. Between their work, nor themselves. Obviously, one has to ask therefore, why is there so many competitions for poets to enter, where they compete with other poets who don’t believe in competition… to win a competition. It is a lie. It is a lie so badly told and so badly does it stand up to scrutiny, it is as if Boris Johnson is our poet laureate, and has sworn on a copy of The Complete Idiots Guide to Making Stuff Up, that it is in fact… a fact.
I do not enter writing competitions for a couple of reasons. The first of those reasons is that I am terrible with technology. What may seem a simple task to somebody else, leaves me in a cold panic, and I convince myself that at any minute, I will press the wrong key and send nuclear missiles to South Korea. I do not e-mail. I do not Skype. I do not play Space Invaders. I do not bank online; I do not cut and paste or tweet or instagram or spotify or anything much really. I do not even own a mobile phone. I think this is a valid reason, as most if not all competitions expect some form of electronic interaction, mostly the submitted work and the entry fee.
The second reason why, and this one is the one we suspect but don’t like to admit, and that is that 98 percent of the time, competitions are fixed. They are, deep down, you know this is true, and though my estimate of the percentage may be out, a little high maybe, I stand by the statement.
Most poetry competitions are fixed.
This is not sour grapes. I do not enter them, for the reasons stated and also because I am not a good loser, but that’s not really the point here. How many times have you looked at the winners of a competition, whether it’s one you have entered or not and thought…
“They’re not very good… surely there were better ones to choose from?”, I know I have. And of course, there are honest competitions out there, there are. It’s just that they are the minority.
If you look at a winners list, as in first, second, third etc, and do a little digging, you will see that they all know each other, that they are known to the judges, or that they have all submitted to the same poetry journals, or been on writing courses given by a judge or someone in his circle, and in a lot of cases, are sleeping with each other. (Okay, the last one isn’t probably true… but it’s nice to pretend poets have an edge to them now and again).
This isn’t all gossip and supposition. This is a popular view amongst… and this may shock you, amongst poetry journal editors. They have known this exists for years, and it is only the fact that the internet has afforded poets who don’t think poetry is competitive, a vast and multitudinous amount of poetry competitions, that this isn’t so glaringly obviously happening.
You may disagree. That was a statement, not permission, and so you will probably be a little angry with me… so angry, in fact, you will probably write in to complain and write that this is a horrible and libellous accusation and that the fourteen poetry competitions that you have won in your brother-in-law’s poetry journal were won fair and square.
On a positive note, because this has been brought to light recently in a number of articles written by more intelligent and less bitter poets than myself, steps are being taken to clean up the voting and award giving procedures… but like in cricket… you can only see an Australian sandpaper a ball after he’s done it… I know that makes no sense, but I always like to remind myself of when Steve Smith cried on television because he got caught cheating…
The monthly session of the Quills was yesterday, and as usual, my post mortem was sat there waiting for me when I woke up this morning, perched on the memory part of my brain like an Australian cricketer (again, I’m really sorry)… There was the usual attendees, I won’t name them all, as some I have mentioned in previous entries, and the rest will, I am sure, be mentioned in the future. Bob was there. And Bob, smug pretentious cardigan real ale bag of bread in his coat pocket to feed the pigeons outside Marks and Spencer’s, is a competition winner. I won’t go over old ground, and whether or not he won a fair competition or not… a competition winner Bob is. Bob has been known to go a whole session without mentioning it once, but very rarely. Alan calls him Bob by name Bob by talent, (I like Alan), and it is true… his poetry is terrible… but a competition winner he still be.
Bob won the Goole and District Chamber of Commerce Poetry Award of the Year For All Ages and Gender Currently Living in a Fifteen Mile Radius as Counted from Pickerstaff’s Water Tower… or the GDCCPAYFAAGCLFMRCPWT for short. And though this was in 1970 something, Bob has never risen above the heights of such an illustrious beginning. He has read the winning poem several times, mostly when Maureen says there is enough time to go round the room again. It is… and one must remember that I have my opinion, and you have the wrong one if it’s different to mine, it is… Bob’s poetry is… it’s… but then he won a competition so it can’t be… bad… can it?
Really really bad. So bad in fact, here’s an example from a poem he read out a few days after the Grenfell disaster, when countless people lost their lives in that block of flats.
‘and I could feel the children crying, could feel the heat they felt as their skin was melting’
‘all because of substandard building regulations for insulation and felting’
Horrendous, and it would be even more so if it were not so heartfelt, or if he truly did not believe it was a sincere and appropriate tribute to the victims… because if he had done it as a joke, I think I would have punched him.
He is one of those poets that think they are needed. That his poems are little pools of heaven that we might float on above and beyond the flames of the hell that is affordable housing in half derelict concrete egg boxes .He thinks he can heal the world, and God bless him, he isn’t a bad guy, just a bad poet, and I am pleased he won something, once.
Competition is alive and well. It is in all of us, and cannot be dismissed by the virtuous, or by the non-participants like myself. It is there every time we hear a rivals work, there every time we open a poetry book, every time we finish a line, for doesn’t the biggest competition of all occur right in the heart of us… it does.
A famous stone mason once chiseled above a door about it not being about the winning , but about taking part, and though I am paraphrasing, it also said in smaller chiseled letters, that competition is how you spin it , and that not all of us will get caught rubbing sandpaper on the ball.
THE POETS PROBLEM WITH STICKS.
Maureen doesn’t like me very much.
I added the very much bit… what I really meant was Maureen doesn’t like me at all.
She is our leader, our founder and our resident red pencil grammar Nazi. Even when we read out loud, she can hear the mistakes as if she is reading them over your shoulder, it is an amazing talent, honestly, it is. But then Hitler could paint a bit, and apparently remember whole conversations from years back… maybe dictatorship and being artistically mediocre go hand in hand. Perhaps genocides only happen because some general was told his macrame was not up to scratch.
Anyway, as usual when talking about Maureen, I have ended up with Hitler so I will move swiftly on… except it’s difficult to move on from Maureen. Maureen is present. And when I say present I mean present as in she is everywhere… as owner also, of The Tranquillity Tea and Cake, she has been imprinted over her twelve years of ownership into every floorboard, into every seat and cushion and is a singular entity spread into the very space the teashop inhabits.
Maureen is also not very good at writing. Harsh perhaps. I myself am no Terry Pratchett, nor Wilfred Owen, nor… other writers that have actually sold something, but it is true nonetheless. Maureen is bad. Really, really bad.
At the Quills, we always review what one of us has read out, and as you well know, critique is only welcome if it comes in the same shape of gushing praise, and a wow or two. Now, if you happened to read last month’s issue, you will have read that I said writing is easy, and it is, apart from all the hard bits I also mentioned, writing is very easy indeed. Critique, is not. Easy. To give or to take. That, is, if the critique is not in the same shape as gushing praise, and the wows are more of a… ”oh”, then it is crushing, disheartening, suffocating and, as we all will not admit, smugly funny when aimed at somebody else.
I won’t be discussing critique today, as I don’t want to.
Maureen is bad at writing and has the boundless lack of self-awareness on the matter that all bad writers share. What Maureen does have though, is the self-awareness that her name is lacking in the poetical department, that her name does not quite match her poetry, her ethereal, fey poetry she seems drawn to and relishes in, or as Alan likes to call it, her Malice in Blunderland stuff. (I like Alan). Maureen Spittle she realised, does not cut the mustard, and so she sought a name more suited to bosky glades or meandering streams.
Delphine. That is her pen name. Just … Delphine.
People are drawn to Maureen. Much how a black hole will eventually suck the very life out of the universe… and I get it, I do. She is passionate about writers and writing, she puts on open mic nights for spoken word, (everyone gets ten minutes, Delphine gets what Delphine wants), she founded the Quills, helps us all self-publish, (a subject I will return to in future entries), she attends everything artistically related in our grubby little town and will help anyone with their grammar, if they want it or not. But she doesn’t like me… at all.
Why you ask.? Yes, you did, one of you at the back asked, and I will be glad to tell you.
The reason she doesn’t like me… at all, is clouds.
A few years back in what must have been in the early days of my appearances at the Quills, Maureen, (I refuse to call her Delphine in my own sanctuary of righteous indignation), and I had an argument about clouds.
Now, I am no meteorologist, to the extent that I just had to look up how to spell it, but I know two things about clouds as they pertain to a writer. The first thing is, clouds already have names. They do. You know they do, you may not know all of them and you might misname them, but you know some, like cirrhus and cumulus, etc… no… no etc, that’s it, I know two, but what I do know is that there isn’t a type of cloud in the sky that doesn’t have a name. There are sub genres of clouds within subgenres of clouds, named for height and depth and colour and speed and mass and shape and time and longevity… a cloud is and never is, just a cloud.
Number two, is that writer’s and particularly poets, spend waaaaaaaaaaaaay too long and waaaaaaaaaay too much effort, in trying to describe clouds, by not using the names that already exist for clouds. And yes, I know that that is our job, to present the world through the prisms of a kaleidoscopic eye, but come on…..I just can’t get excited about clouds, but here came the problem with Maureen, for as lazy as I am in the describing a cloud department, even I know it is lame to call a cloud a ball of cotton wool… and had to say so…
“Thank you, thank you, now if… yes R…
“I liked it in principle Maureen… but”
“Delphine, it’s Delphine”
“Yes, sorry… I like the bit with the meandering stream… but the cloud “
“What about the cloud”
“You said it was like a ball of cotton wool…”
“Because it was… it was like a ball of cotton wool”
“But don’t you think that’s a bit cliche”
“No, R… I don’t… that’s what it looked like…
“Yes, okay I get that, but couldn’t you have found a better way of saying that”
“Why would I? When that is what it looked like”
“You might as well have said the cloud looked like a cloud then…”
“That’s what I did do… I wrote that the cloud. looked like a cloud that looked like a ball of cotton wool”
And if it wasn’t for Brenda jumping in and saying she thought the poem was marvellous, especially the bosky glade bit, I think we would still be in that cotton wool loop now.
I will leave you with this, because Derek is about to read his poem… it will be about the bypass, but hey ho. We mustn’t sweat the small stuff so much, a cloud mustn’t be a cotton wool ball, EVER, but it can on occasion, be honoured by simply calling it a cloud., despite saying earlier a cloud is never just a cloud., that was science… It is much the same with sticks. Sticks cannot be much else, when its being a stick, because when it’s not a stick, but a machine gun or a pirate’s sword in a young boy’s hand, it is still a stick, at heart. And as any writer, and especially poets will tell you, these are the very sticks we flog ourselves to death with…
yep… it’s about the bypass.
TWAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT .
Writing is easy.
There, I’ve said it.
It’s only the bits that you don’t like that are hard. Like grammar, and spelling, and finding the time and a pen that works or a computer that’s free. Those bits make writing hard. There are lots of other stuff that is hard too, as the more you get into writing, the more you find out that you are not doing it right, and, or, doing it well.
Every line you write is a skipping rope waiting to trip you up……with bad analogies most likely….or was that a metaphor ?……you see, the more you write, and the more you read about writing, you realise that everything has a name. Metaphor, analogy, scansion, conjugation, elision percussive, metre, pentameter, assonance, simile and prosody to name but a fraction… and do you know what? You don’t need to know what things are called… you don’t. You really don’t.
So, writing is easy and unless you are taking a Creative Writing course where they demand you do know the name of things, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know your assonance from your elision…all that matters is that you have got your words down, in an order that you are happy with.
For example… you may have written…. ‘Billy’s boyhood bully is now a builder’…it isn’t necessary for you to know that that is alliteration… of course you have noticed the preponderance of “b” words, of course you have, you are not alliterate, but knowing its name doesn’t make it more “b” does it…and likewise , you don’t need to know that when you wrote “Billy’s boyhood bully is now a builder, and when he turned up to give him a quote on a new conservatory, Billy told him to bugger off”, you were employing both repetition and colloquialism…it is enough that your point was made.
There are perfectionists.
Of course there are.
And they are easy to wind up. For instance, having typed the above, I can hear a mob forming, sharpening their red pencils and lighting torches, smiling maniacally and salivating over the thought of burning me at the steak…sorry. But, I find it fun…..except, knowingly messing with the grammar police, is actually hypocritical in a way, as I need to know grammar and the names of things to actually take the mickey…….my only redemption is that there will be mistakes in here that I had no control over, and the name for that is hubris.
Which brings me to a very good point.
Do I actually believe in what I have just written.
It doesn’t seem likely, as I am after all, a writer, and writer’s lie. This isn’t a textbook, it’s a journal entry, it’s an inky whinge and at its very best, a salutary tale of what happens to failed novelists.
Not all poets are failed novelists, I will grant you that, but I think the percentage is high enough that even now, you may have wandered off in your head to that cardboard box beneath the bed, or for your finger perhaps, to direct the mouse to waver over that file marked NOVEL NUMBER ONE….and though I have never attempted a novel myself…I feel your pain..I really really really do because we are all in this together.
Writers who tell you we are all in this together are talking out their backsides.
We are not.
And yet we seek the company of others like ourselves, for writers can convey empathy as well as any estate agent., and though its not the comfort of strangers exactly, it is close, as in we just want to be in the company of others who are as equally frustrated, delusional, and as miserable as
we are, for we are all just empty castles with great potential and excellent views.
Every Tuesday nearest to the last of the month, I could have said that better but I don’t care, I attend the Tranquility Tea and Cake shop, where at three in the afternoon, along with several other amateur ( is amateur fair?….yes….very fair), writers for two hours of gaudy show and tell. We all sit there, sometimes six of us, mostly nine or ten, and read out the reams of genius we have prepared.
We are known as The Quills, and though not exactly a gang, we are formidable, in the way that I can’t actually think of… and….oh, I have to go now, Maureen is staring at me, I think we are about to start…….