Playing catch-up

Hours, not, day, enough, the, in.

Rearrange these words in to a well-known phrase or saying.

Work is annoying. Things come in productivity cycles – peaks and troughs.

For the last eight working days I’ve been riding a massive peak; polished off the last thing this morning which – I hope – puts the lid on a big thing. The rest of the day is going to be spent on things of a boring but necessary administrative nature.

Work has also been massively frustrating for the last 3-4 weeks. I’m hoping it’s nothing terminal.

Coursework has also been on the up.

Tomorrow is submission day for TMA02 – the four-parter (art history, poetry, music, philosophy).

I’ve re-written parts 1, 2 and 3 so many times I could now re-write each one without reference to my (way too copious) notes.

Part 4 is as subjective as a dressage test and therefore has little reference to anything of a substantial nature.

The tutor is stunned at my admission that once I’ve finished a piece of writing I go in to serial re-edit mode and I’ll pore over something for as many hours/days/weeks/months as are available (a kind of literary slant on Parkinson’s Law).

She is of the ‘do it once and leave it alone’ school of writing. I sometimes wish I was.

My ‘really must read this’ pile is about seven books tall. Three of these are Uni texts, two are books to review. I’ll polish the latter off before Christmas but the former…?

Christmas.

Christmas may – just may – be a foreign affair this year.

Pending a variety of factors that include prices being right, flights being available, accommodation ditto and the appropriate level of liquidity in the current account, Christmas could conceivably be a Californian affair.

You know; take advantage of the economic situation while the dollar sinks slowly in the west…

And it’s been, frankly, a hell of a year, The Lovely S and I deserve a holiday (our last being Iceland back in January).

Of course there are other calls on the account but sometimes common sense isn’t the strongest of my suits.

Because it would be warm.

And sunny.

And not grey.

Or frosty.

Hmmm…

Received an email from K this morning wanting to know if I’m interested in a contract for a minimum of six months in south London.

I feel like Vicky Pollard.

(Yeah but no but yeah but no but yeah but no but…)

Horses… I have still not got the vet back to give Beech a second inspection. Next week, maybe.

I’ve not ridden Vin since last Saturday’s ride through the Wyre Forest – spending yesterday evening working instead.

Here’s a thing; Facebook.

I’ve had a friend request from someone I don’t know. Is this normal? I need to ask because I think my Facebook profile is the lowest, least inactive there is.

Not a bad thing really.

See earlier statement at the top of the post begining with the word ‘Hours’!

A quick conversational loop back towards the course…

My webstats show me that my daily average of hits referred from google and answers.com with search terms directly related to TMA02 have just climbed past 250.

Which raises all sorts of questions.

Speaking of questions…

I have received an email at an ‘old’ but active email account – the one associated with my old (and occasionally active) blog.

The writer of the email has spent some time going through some of the – shall I say ‘more frank’ – writings and, for some reason or other, has pinged an email at me asking my view.

It’s interesting, funny and a little bit saucy. I might reproduce it here when I have time.

But it won’t be today, for now my lunchtime has expired and I have to sweep crumbs from my keyboard and get on with my paperwork.

B.

Headline news

There is a story in today’s Daily Mail online that gives us – in length at least – a most un-tabloid headline: eighteen words long.

It is:

Lesbian foot specialist struck off after posing in bondage gear, and saying ‘f*** Easter’ in front of nun

Brilliant.

One’s sense of irony is heightened further by the first paragraph of the story:

A lesbian foot specialist has been struck off for showing colleagues images of her and two other women in bondage gear and exclaiming “f*** Easter” in front of a nun.”

Well yes, in content, almost the headline with a couple of words added but doesn’t it also imply that there’s a register for lesbian foot specialists?

Perhaps there is.

You can get the full story here.

B.

Quiet but not idle

Yeah, sorry.

I’ve been busy as hell lately.

Work and horses and reading and writing – chiefly those – have meant I’ve been remiss in other areas and, I can see, have neglected looking after The Lovely S to the degree of care, attention and all-round nurturing that one as lovely as she deserves.

I’ll try and fix these things but time ebbs away from me as I reach for it.

And to complicate things further…

My OU course is hotting up.

This week’s mailing comprises two DVD’s, 18 CD’s and a stack of text books large enough to make Tom Cruise look tall (if he stood on them. Which he won’t because they’re my text books and I treat them better than that!). And the study calendar which seems to be dictating a punishing pace even for an avid Art-fiend like wot I am (to paraphrase the immortal Ernie Wise).

I’m supposed to hand assignment one in by next weekend but I’ve set myself the target of getting it off in the next two days instead. It’s an essay – an observational crit of excerpts of a work published in the early 1900s.

The trouble is – because the output is literary-focussed I can’t get out of author mode. I’ve edited the flippin’ thing about 32 times this week alone. I’ve now removed the smart comments about the author’s near-terminal use of aliteration. There remains a comment that includes the words ‘Disneyesque idealism’ but they’re germaine and valid so stuff ’em, I’m leaving them in!

I’m supposed to be taking Vinnie cross-country schooling tomorrow afternoon – Bissell Wood again; Christine and Arthur have volunteered to accompany us. But we said, earlier in the week, that if the weather was too wet we wouldn’t go. Guess what? It’s going to be too wet. Probably.

Anyway, if Vinnie goes nicely tomorrow (if we go, that is), there’s a Hunter Trial at Bissell Wood a week Sunday that looks nice. If he doesn’t go nicely tomorrow I don’t have anything else lined up for next weekend. Saturday 13th there’s an unaffiliated dressage competition at Hartpury in Gloucestershire – that looks interesting.

The following day The Lovely S is off gliding again.

The Sunday after – 21st – there’s another dressage competition at Allenshill, on 28th there’s a Combined Training back at Allenshill and on 3rd there’s another dressage competition at Hartpury.

Around these weekend events I have to fit reading, writing, OU-work, The Lovely S and whatever else we decide to do (which may well include a small amount of time working on 9-5 stuff at home too).

It’s busy.

And my guest blogger (yes, I’m looking at you!) after submitting her very interesting view on life has now emailed to tell me she’s too busy to contribute any more right now.

She’s too busy?!

Ha! 🙂

B.

Two hour short story (update)

I recently wrote this piece about a short story that I’ve been working on – for some time – in my head.

The story is transcribed and sits on my laptop’s hard disk waiting for me to do something with it (‘something’ being an action like: edit it once more -for the 26th time; tinker with punctuation yet again – for the 33rd time… stuff like that).

Despite the state of being ‘almost complete’ it continues to probe at my mind – but now with questions.

Where would it fit in?

It’s strongly written but, if I’m honest, it isn’t quite robust enough to stand as a work in its own right; it leaves too many unanswered questions and to answer those questions would turn the work in to a ‘not very short story’. This would miss the point somewhat!

How can I turn it in to something useful?

I don’t want to spend forever re-editing or continually touching it up. It’s really not bad and because it’s not bad it deserves a life, deserves some kind of readership.

What can I do with it?

What can I do? Hmmm… I could always parcel it up and mail to the troops in the Falkland Islands, or send to to a research station in the Antartic where – hopefully! – it would at least get read by an almost captive readership (hey, who said I was fair about this?).

But then…

Last night the penny dropped.

This short story is the perfect opening chapter for ‘Helicopter’.

Well yes, obviously ‘Helicopter’ already has an opening chapter (and several other chapters too!).

But this short would make the version I’ve written – which is a sharp, fast, punchy entry to the world of conspiracy seem…

Drab.

That’s how good this short story is.

With just a little re-engineering it’s the perfect leading edge/bleeding edge start that ‘Helicopter’ deserves.

So the old one has to go – and I agonised over the look and feel of it for months!

The excellent news is that I don’t need to change anything in the rest of the book; with a new heading to each chapter they’ll follow behind the new chapter one – in a retrospective way (apart from the last chapter of course – which now has a brilliant ending framed in my head, that closes the timeline and concludes the novel at the same pace with which it began).

I’m tremendously excited by this one.

Well… to be honest I’m excited by everything I write, but this one…?

Yeah, it’s gripping.

B.

Not good writing by not good writers

I’ve been dipping – on an irregular basis – in to a blog that describes itself as ‘The ramblings of a procrastinating writer’.

Yeah, I know€¦ but speaking as someone who took several years to climb over the procrastination wall, I thought I could help her.

In her ‘ramblings’ she mentions she’s a member of another blog – one called Novel Racers.

The title intrigued, so I’ve occasionally dipped.

But my questions haven’t been answered by what I’ve read so I recently stepped in and put them directly, viz:
‘Who is racing what, where, how and (most importantly)… why?

And having raced, what are the quality measures, and where is the evidence that the race produced quality output?’

The response worried me.

Hi Brennig. Way back a january a fairly small group us set out to see who was first to finish the first draft of a novel. No one checked…..we relied on honesty. Quality wasn’t important wither. in fact racing was important – it was the taking part 🙂

OK, please try to look past the lack of capitalisation, the atrocious grammar and the lack of coherence. Look at the issue.

I saw it straight away.

Quality in writing being unimportant?

Really?

I went back with a statement that quality in writing was an issue that any reader – and honest writer – really would think was important.

Her response ground me to a halt.

And for all the wrong reasons.

Brennig, quality is important but it’s not for other racers to judge other racers, if you get my point. The Novel racers is a motivational support group, we don’t critque etc we support 🙂 So the race is a moticational tool and nothing more……..

Firstly, try to get past the awful grammar again.

Secondly I think she meant critique rather than critque and motivational not moticational.

Thirdly she clearly fails to understand that a good critique is the ultimate motivational tool.

Fourthly (from the point of a reader) what is the point of nurturing and supporting people who have no ability to write? How can this be more cruel than telling them right up front ‘you’re not good enough to write for anyone’?

Fifthly (from the point of an author) where is the point in encouraging people to generate even more dire trash to take the ever growing mountain of slush to even taller heights – and trash that isn’t ever going to get published at that?

Sixthly her responses are precisely the reason why quality in writing is important. Anyone who makes so many errors in so few sentences shouldn’t be in charge of a crayon – let alone a document producing device.

So I’ve stopped going there as of this evening.

I’ve stopped going to the novel racers and I’ve also stopped going to the website of the writer I wanted to help.

I’m sorry about the latter but frankly unless she moves away from the novel racers she’s never going to have an open mind that will value real ‘nurturing’.

B.

Two hour short story

I’ve been playing with a scene that fits in to an early sequence of novel No 3 (Hard Drives).

Over the last fortnight I’ve given it a lot of mental energy, examined it from different  perspectives, changed the narrators ‘voice’ as well as shifting narration from first to third person (and back again).

At last, happy that it’s ready for paper (albeit electronic paper) on the drive home this evening I started outlining the scene syopsis.

Two hours later I pulled up to the house – with a brand new short story almost completely dictated.

I got so caught up in the mentally-refined version that as I dictated the scene I realised that with a few minor tweaks it could stand alone as a short.

And so it will.

I don’t know if it’s good enough for publication – I’ll have to look at the finished article to make that decision.

But it’s not bad.

All I need is a title…

B.

Where there’s a Will? X-Factor syndrome?

There has recently been a lot of speculation around the old chestnut of whether or not William Shakespeare wrote ‘his’ work.

Certainly one has to wonder how a Stratford-upon-Avon-based writer would know so much about Italy, the workings of Noble Houses and conversational style of noblemen and ladies.

But that’s not where I’m going; I’ve been thinking about the qualities of writing and perhaps Master S is a good place to start.

Shakespeare wasn’t a ‘correct’ writer but he (if indeed ‘his’ work was written by ‘him’) had the ability to translate concepts down to a series of images that his audience could deal with.

This made him a clever writer… but not a correct one.

A large majority of Shakespearean text deals with metaphysical concepts.

He routinely used the allegorical to emphasise (and to even over-emphasise) the situations his characters faced.

Think of a strong piece of Shakespearean prose and it’ll be an odds-on certainty that the dramatic moment will be emblematically embellished with overstated imagery.

‘Now is the winter of our discontent’.
An incorrect metaphor but to the poorly clad underbelly of the England of Shakespeare’s time, badly insulated from the cold and largely at the mercy of the elements, this phrase would have enormous meaning.

‘Sea of troubles’.
Another incorrect metaphor … but again, to the proud people of the Elizabethan age, arrogant in their self-belief of Britain as a nation of nautical explorers and conquerors, this phrase would have massive impact.

‘If music be the food of love, play on’.
Shakespeare didn’t even allow the people the simple illusion that love is a comfortable and just place.

‘This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night follows day, thou canst not then be false to any man.’
I love this. What a tremendous statement of moral and ethical value. It’s a little ‘preaching’ in its style, but nevertheless this is a valuable lecture on self-worth and moral esteem; a lesson that the Shakespearean audience could instantly identify with.

Shakespeare’s work had the gift of capturing the imagination; he was a writer of the time for the people of the time.

A little populist maybe, but nonetheless very effective at reaching down and communicating with his audience.

He used his turn of the allegorical to bring depth to the meaning of his scenes. Not an easy task given the patchy literacy of his audience … and hence the incorrect metaphors; they added weight where a correct metaphor wouldn’t have.

Today’s audiences are immeasurably better educated.

They can read and write, they are widely travelled, well experienced in life and they are also immensely well read.

So today’s public need something different.

They need an intelligent style of writing … otherwise they won’t become engaged by the piece they’re reading.

They would still need the imagery, but now it needs to be presented more intellectually.

The books of the 1950s and 1960s where cardboard characters spouted dire dialogue from scenes of terrifying tediousness are no longer good enough.

If a setting isn’t up to our standards of readership then the whole work becomes unacceptable; even Mills and Boon have moved away from the morbidly mundane.

Let me put it another way…

If you were a professional chef cooking a five-course meal for a group of paying customers, would you allow your food to be put in front of your public if even one ingredient of just one course, e.g. the potatoes … were substandard?

No, of course you wouldn’t.

Therefore a writer shouldn’t put a piece of work into the public domain knowing that the dialogue (for example) doesn’t sparkle.

If the writer were you and you were just the tiniest bit dissatisfied with a characterisation … or even with the nuance behind just one scene … would you really ask the public to put their collective hands in their pockets and hand over their hard-earned money to read your work? Would you really want your name on it?

No, no honest writer would.

The reason for this long-winded introspection on the world of writey stuff is Saturday evening’s ‘X-Factor’.

On Saturday a large number of people put themselves in to the public spotlight to be judged; despite being visibly (and, unfortunately, aurally) as talentless as a few hundred of the most talentless people in the country could possibly be.

Which makes me wonder what the collective noun for a few hundred talentless, deluded people might be?

A bridge of trolls?

Anyway, back at the ranch.

You could, on watching The X-Factor, be forgiven for thinking that surely these tuneless, rhythmless, talentless (not to mention criminally deluded) folk know that they are endowed with no ability whatsoever?

Sadly, no.

They have no idea that they are beyond help.

The proud father who said of his daughter’s forthcoming performance, ‘She’ll make you cry’ was, unfortunately all too prophetic.

But not in a good way.

These folk are unaware that the gulf between them and any measure of talent is in the region of 10 to the power of Mexico’s National Debt.

Which (to get back to the point) is why there are a significant number of people out there labouring under the misapprehension that they have a natural ability to write.

Which sounds pissy and snobbish of me.

But the truth is that I recognise I’m crap.

But…

Last night I finished critiquing a piece by an unpublished author.

In her notes to me it is clear that she is angry she has managed to remain unpublished.

She’s remarkably similar to the scarily untalented ‘singer’ on ‘X-Factor’ a couple of weeks ago who, when asked how long she’d been studying singing replied, ;I haven’t been studying it, I just do it.’

The authoress in question has admitted she doesn’t read and has no interest in reading … neither as an educative nor as a recreational tool.

‘Reading?’ she declared, ‘that’s something my mother does. I’m a writer.’

Aye.

And I’ll be a baboon’s arse.

I’ve asked myself how Shakespeare might write for today’s (comparatively) up-market readership. I think he’d go for the jugular … straight for the lowest common denominator.

He’d probably pick one topic that unites different sectors of his target demographic and he’d shamefully write for that appeal.

So we’d probably get a very human piece; emotion knitted together with strands of geekery set against a family backdrop.

Perhaps a little revenge motivation thrown in too … and some dry, wry wit?

Shocks would come aplenty; twists, turns, diversions and developments would pop out of nowhere to keep the reader engaged.

The good characters would be, well, good-ish; the bad ones would be detestable … but all kinds would be so well constructed as to be instantly believable.

The observations would be witty … light, yet not lightweight.

The dialogue would sparkle and shine.

The pace would be breathless.

I believe these are the ingredients that any well-constructed novel would … and should … have.

The trouble is… I find I’ve just described a certain Scottish author.

Damn!

B.

Writing news at the speed of light

An email flutters in.

It tells me that ‘Horse of a Different Colour‘ has won another award: ‘el mejor cuento extranjero‘ (best foreign short story) as voted for by the readers of ‘Tiempo‘, a literary magazine published in Mexico Distrito Federal.

I have been invited to attend the award ceremony in December in Mexico City.

Sadly I shall have to decline but I have offered the publisher a webcam chat or – if the time zones work against us – a recorded interview.

The amusing point about the prize is that the piece was put forward not as an English work but was presented to the publisher in Spanish.

But it is, if you’ve read it, clearly set in Spain, not in Mexico – hence the award.

I hope they opt for the recorded interview; a live web-conference in the version of Spanish they speak in Mexico could, in retrospect, be way over my head.

Of note: I entered California Dreamin’ at the same time but at 3,500 votes it polled at less than half the number the winning piece attained – and was so far down the list of places as to be embarrassing.

Shame; I thought it California Dreamin’ was the stronger piece of writing – much better descriptive narrative.

Perhaps my translation was less good.

Hmm…

B.

I went out with a member of the Sealed Knot once

The reason for exposing this hitherto undeclared piece of information is entirely due to having just watched the funny/infuriating period/modern day film ‘Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story’ of which more later; maybe.

The subtitle for this piece should be ‘Infuriation‘.

Insert parental advisory warning about possible strong language here.

I am bloody infuriated.

I’m reading ‘All Fun and Games until Someone Loses an Eye’ by Christopher Brookmyre.

And it’s infuriating.

How – no, go on, answer the bloody question f’crissake – how on bloody hell’s earth is it possible for Mr Brookmyre (a Scotsman, by all that is wholly! And yes, I deliberately used the ‘W’ word!) to be such a bloody good bloody good (I know I said it twice!) bloody writer?

Huh?

How is it possible?

Driving back from today’s combined training competition (of which perhaps more another time) I find my head full of Brookmyre-esque catch-phrases.

The trouble is he’s already bloody thought of them.

B’stard!

But the thing is…

He’s such a bloody clever writer.

Not in a devious, manipulative way (though he is a devious and manipulative writer, but just not on the same level of cleverness that his authorship inhabits because his authorship is on a whole higher level).

I mean an intelligently clever writer.

He has the gift of capturing the zeitgeist in effortless prose.

Anyway, as we drove back The Lovely S looked at me and said ‘Brookmyre’s really inspiring you isn’t he?’

Yes.

I don’t know why he’s inspiring me (I know I could never even get close to sharpening his pencils) but yes, yes, yes, yes, yes – he is.

So I declared, ‘What we need to do is come up with some Brookmyreish turns of phrase.’

Time passed – not much, but a little.

And we spoke similar thoughts aloud at the same time about – strangely – the same previously undiscussed topics.

I giggled and announced ‘We’re having a Bluetooth moment’.

Really zeitgeisty, eh?

I love that phrase – but you can’t have it.

I’ve copyrighted it, registered it and trademarked it – not the word Bluetooth, I mean the whole phrase, ok?

It’s mine.

Anyway since the groundbreakingly historical moment of me coining a phrase to sum up the here and now that our early 21st Century zeitgeist truly is…

Since then.

We did lots of things at the yard.

We stopped off at McDonalds drive-through for a milkshake and McFlurry each (what can I say? It’s hot and we were both very dehydrated).

Then we retired wickedly to bed (it was 18.00) where various things occurred – including the watching of the aforementioned ‘Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story’.

OK, now for that film.

I’m not going to do a full crit of it.

But it was funny.

And also infuriating.

But there was a scene in it in which a gang of period-costumed extras (led by the side-achingly funny Rob Brydon) charge across an open field in the dead of night while the dark is lit by coloured flares.

Flip back a number of years to the time I went out with a member of the Sealed Knot.

Should I add at this point that it was a girl? Or that we went out once before – at the end of the evening – we agreed upon a divorce based on historical incompatibilities?

I’ve only just realised that I’m wittering on about period pieces and the current photo in the header of this blog contains an image of me in a different kind of period costume!

Anyway, knowing just a little about the period I asked what activities the re-enactment females got up to while the re-enactment chaps all ran around pretending to be musketeers or pikemen or poachers or NCP car-park attendants or whatever.

‘Oh, we girls just stand around and gossip or sit around and knit and gather leaves and wood for fires. The more adventurous skin rabbits.’

Wow.

I wonder what the infuriatingly clever Christopher Brookmyre would have to say about such oddball behaviour?

He’d probably think about it for 2.48383325954 nanoseconds before making an acidly burning observation that compared yesteryear’s domestic drudgery with today’s slogging up and down aisles in Sainsbury looking for the right kind of toilet cleaner.

Infuriating.

B.