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
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…….