Sunday, 24 April 2016

From A to B (Arundel to Brighton)

We spent a night at Arundel, in a boutique hotel. We weren't quite the oldest people there. At our table for the evening meal an ice bucket and fizzy wine was awaiting us. I could get used to being middle aged.

I've been blasting away writing prose, following on from last year's burst of activity. I've been giving rein to my Kundera/Julian Barnes tendencies, trying to get the story/essay balance right, trying not let the past take over. Few new poems, but I've been sending old ones off - I've 30 things in the post, including over 70 pounds-worth of competition entries. I'm not counting my chickens, I'm making hay - in writing and more generally. That said, I'm burnt out writing-wise just at the moment, so the Arun break was timely.

On the way back we stopped at Brighton. Straight and tattooless I could have felt out of place there, even on a Sunday, but it's easy to enjoy the scene - like Camden? Like Berlin with a beach? Not really, but it's fun. I picked up the programmes of festivals and learnt a lot of jargon - ghetto funk, lo-fi, dubstep, riot grrrl. The tattoo convention has a new venue this year with natural lighting and beautiful views. At the Brighton Fringe there's

  • Naked Boys Reading (£9.50 for a 1hr show) - "Five naked men deliver readings on, by and about 'women'".
  • Naked Girls Reading (£10 for a 1hr 30m show) - "an intimate show where beautiful women read naked. It's a witty, pretty, grown-up bedtime story for lovers of fine words and fine women".

I hadn't realised that the Royal Pavilion had been a hospital for Indian soldiers. It's a strange story of image management. In Brighton, names and image matter. Shop names include "Barber Blacksheep", "Wooden It Be Nice", "Abra Kebabra" etc. My favourite is "Brighton Wok". Beware - "Singles Bar" sells records.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Snapshots in "The Forge"

I have a story in "The Forge" today - Snapshots - and an old story that I've always liked will be in "Jellyfish review" in a few months.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Mobile phones

They're a pain. In "I just called to say I loved you", Jonathan Franzen wrote "The technological development that has done lasting harm of real significance - the development that, despite the continuing harm it does, you risk ridicule if you publicly complain about today - is the cell phone". They've made several of my stories into period pieces. People no longer get lost in cities or fail to meet people at the right time, unless their mobile goes flat, or they've lost it. Many of the stories I write nowadays begin with characters losing (or forgetting to recharge) their phone.

In the Guardian's Have 40 years of mobile phones given literature bad lines? article, JM Coetzee's quoted - "The telephone is about as far as I will go in a book, and then reluctantly. If people ("characters") are continually going to be speaking to one another at a distance, then a whole gamut of interpersonal signs and signals, verbal and non-verbal, voluntary and involuntary, has to be given up. Dialogue ... just isn't possible."

That said, they make some new plots possible. See

While videoing with his phone in the snow, my son dropped the phone, which became buried, lens up. It continued recording my son's panic until he uncovers it. See the two minute video

There are Cell phone novels, though I'm not convinced.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Munich, Innsbruck and holiday reading

In March we went to Innsbruck and Munich. Here's how we left our kitchen blackboard (C++ is the computing language that I'll no longer be teaching to first years).

On the plane I read "Will You Take Me As I Am" by Michelle Mercer. It's about Joni Mitchell. I read that she got her "Both Sides Now" idea from "Henderson the Rain King" by Saul Bellow. I've since done some research. In chapter V it says "sitting above the clouds, I felt like an airborne seed ... And I dreamed down at the clouds, and I thought that when I was a kid I had dreamed up at them, and having dreamed at the clouds from both sides as no other generation of men has done, one should be able to accept his death very easily"

I hadn't skied for 3 years, and I'm not much of a skier anyway, but I enjoy the journeys up (highest was 2,250m). Here's the selfie-shadow of me on a chairlift. I read "Plenty-fish" by Sarah James, and "Arc" by David Clarke (both published by Nine Arches Press). I find poetry easier than prose when on skiing holidays. Jeffrey Archer (one of our local authors back in Cambridge) was 14th in the Austrian charts with "Das Vermachtnis des Vaters".

Years ago at a local car boot sale I found this globe of Bavaria. We've visited Munich before, but there's still much that I've forgotten or haven't seen. Overall, there seemed to be more pride about being Bavarian nowadays. We went to a beer event (brass bands, "strongest man" and beauty competitions) and sang the Bavarian anthem. I'm not used to drinking beer by the litre, and it was strong stuff. "craft beer" is in fashion.

The Michael Jackson tribute is still in Munich (where he appeared on a hotel balcony holding his child), and seems well looked after.

We noticed inscriptions like this (bottom right) on door frames in Innsbruck and Munich. According to Ritten Renon These are the symbols of a Christmas tradition originally carried out mostly on the Twelfth Night, when carol singers go from door to door, perform a song and raise money for a charity. After their performance they will write, let’s say “20 C+M+B 15”, on the doorframes with sacred chalk. The numbers represent the respective year. The three letters, C, M, and B don’t stand for the names of the three wise men Caspar, Melchior und Balthasar, as one would expect, but for the blessing “Christus Mansionem Benedicat“, which means „May Christ bless this house” in Latin.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

CB1, March 2016

It was standing space only at the CB1 event (held in CB2), and I was at the back, hence the fuzzy photos. Two locals headed the line-up. Adam Crothers ("Several Deer", Carcanet 2016) has a default style that's well worth investigating, rhyme holding together content that has wit and abrupt tonal variety.

Ilse Pedler was making her first appearance following the publication of her prize-winning Seren pamphlet "The Dogs That Chase Bicycle Wheels". She also uses forms (sonnet, sestina, etc). As the emcee Lindsey Fursland pointed out, her day-job as a vet interacts with her poetry in several ways.

They both gave interesting introductions to their pieces. They both used sonic effects, so hearing the poems added to their effect on the page.

I contributed to the open mic. One of my problems this time was that the font was too small for me to read in the atmospheric gloom of the venue. Maybe one day I'll get it right.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Archives of articles

Here are some useful archives of articles about writing -

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Influences

A podcast by the Australian Broadcast Corporation has several authors listing their influences. It's an interesting mix. "MiddleMarch" is mentioned, but so is the TV series "Skippy", the 70s band "Sweet" and the "BladeRunner" film. Here's my list.

  • "Thunderbirds" - I fear that many of my narrative templates derive from the original TV series.
  • "The Golden Cobbler" (Enid Blyton) - As a child I read some books repeatedly. This is the only title I recall. But though she wrote hundreds of books, there's no book of that name. I think I've mixed titles up.
  • Pink Floyd - "Wish You Were Here" mostly. I think my templates may have been affected by the end of "Echoes" or the arrival of the Sax in WYWH.
  • "Cinema Paradiso" (the original version - not the director's cut) - charming and sad - what more can one ask for?
  • "So many ways to begin" - a novel by Jon McGregor. On the ABC program someone said that they were scared to re-read certain books in case they weren't as good the second time around. I felt like that about this novel, but my fears were unfounded - I've read it twice