Wicked used to be the highest compliment a young person could pay to anything or any person. We fiction-readers, of all ages, are also attracted to evil, aren’t we?
One of the most popular films of all time, The Godfather, concerns one of the most violent and evil organisations of all time, the Mafia. (Don’t ask me for statistics – too late, and I’ve just arrived back, this evening, from a short break in Romania.) Saddam Hussein watched The Godfather repeatedly.
Yesterday, we were shown around the Parliament Building in Bucharest. The original destiny of this massive edifice, the second-largest administrative building in the world, constructed almost solely of marble, was to be a palace for the Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu. Begun in 1978, he planned every minute detail, even the echo of the deputies’ applause for the room in which he intended to sign documents. He included two grand staircases from which he and his wife, Elena, could descend when greeting dignitaries. Meanwhile, the Romanian people queued for their miserable food rations.
We tourists hung on to our guide’s every word, begging him for more detail lapping up the wickedness, savouring the story of Ceausescu’s come-uppance in 1989, which involved helicopters and betrayal by his pilot, a two-hour show-trial and shooting, and his and his wife’s bodies being displayed on television.
You can’t write fiction about liberal democracy, can you? Too boring.
By the way, I’m hoping to write more about Romania on my travel blog, Travel On, in the next few days.
Spring is not a good time for writing. There are too many distractions, the lure of sunshine, warm weather and the great outside. As I sit at my computer, I see the weeds rising up through the window and, eventually, feel compelled to ‘do something about the garden’ or, on seeing cobwebs, spring cleaning.
Two weeks ago, we had a short, premature burst of summer, but winter has resumed at full blast. I started writing this post on the last day of April, wearing my thick winter trousers and two t-shirts and a jumper. Outside, a gale was howling and rain coming down in buckets. That evening, we lit a log fire. Aah! That’s writing weather.
Over the winter I have made slow progress on The Novel, but at least I’ve made some progress. When I start writing – anything – I’m very excited, quite certain that this must surely be a great work of literature, even though there may be… just one or two things to be ironed out. Unfortunately, though, the more I write and edit my novel, the more insecure I become about it, the more glitches I can see, even though I’ve fixed many, many inconsistencies, plot-holes and character holes. The story itself and the characters seemed great, until I started writing. I could never compare myself and my writing to Michelangelo (the sculptor, not the Mutant Hero Turtle) but I love the quote below (thanks to Brainy Quote).
I have to write a 500-750 word piece invoking all five senses, for my writing group next month. Actually, I suggested this task. Was I mad?
It is considered good practice to reference all five senses in most pieces of writing, but it’s not easy. Consider, for instance, the primroses in my garden. I can wax lyrical about pale yellow and pale pink petals, but how do I get you to visualise them, Dear Reader? Giving you the photo is cheating on my part. Whoever said a picture is worth a thousand words was all too right. I could liken them to rhubarb and custard perhaps? No, no, you’re laughing now. Clearly, I haven’t struck the right note.
Let’s start again. Take my cup of tea. I can do all five senses with my cup of tea:
Sight – The mid-brown colour shows that it’s a nice strong brew. When I poured the milk into the cup, for a moment, it circled around in white swirls. Also, do you see the bubbles around the edge of the mug?
Sound – Gurgling of the kettle, the clink-clink of crockery, welcome and reassuring sounds. Tea, in particular, has emotional connotations. Tea and sympathy. Everything stops for tea. There’s nothing that can’t be solved with a cup of tea.
Feel – Hot, cold or luke-warm. Wet.
Taste – Bitter, lingering on my tongue, or milky and insipid.
Smell – Although finer varieties of tea do have an aroma, bog-standard, red label, tea has hardly any fragrance, although the drinker will feel steam rising up around his/her face.
Not much to say about tea, then? Actually, in my opinion, there’s enough – for a mere cup of tea.
I find it easier to describe something that’s been done badly, or inappropriately. I could rant about tea made with not-quite-boiling water, drawing attention to its grey colour, and likening its feel to a dirty dishcloth. Or make you sweat by making you read about tea being served on a beach during a heat wave.
For me, the terrible describer, a mental senses checklist is a helpful prompt. The point of descriptions is to bring a scene, a setting or an object to life for the reader, so it makes sense to address all his/her faculties.
Have a good week. Term starts tomorrow and I’m exhausted just thinking about it. I could attempt to describe tiredness but I haven’t got the energy to do it.
Tomorrow is the first Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers’ Support Group day, where we members bring out all the insecurities we have been trying to suppress since the first Wednesday of last month. Forgive me for being early; I’ve got a moment now, so I’m getting on with it.
This month we are asked what we do to keep writing when our writing life is cloudy and filled with rain.
If I’m trying to write a piece and it’s just not working, I don’t keep writing. I stop. I go and do something else. When I want to sort out a knotty plot hole or dialogue which won’t go right, I do a job in the house – and after a while fresh perspectives pop into my mind. Even making a cup of tea or even going to the loo helps.
If the cloudiness and rain is due to lack of time… I don’t know. The obvious thing would be to give up other activities so as to make more time for writing – but what? Give up work and starve? Many writers have. Stop spending time with family? Most writers get pretty grumpy when they are trying to write and husbands/wives/children insist of talking to them or, worse, want them to do things. What is it?… Oh. You’ve made me a cup of tea. Er… thanks.
If I’m getting rejections… well, of course, I’m totally professional, set the rejection aside and sub elsewhere immediately. Yeah, right. If I’m getting a lot of rejections, or more than I anticipate, yes, my life is indeed filled with rain and I do become depressed. One way I deal with it is to comfort write, that is, write the piece I enjoy most, probably my novel.
Some authors write best when they’re in the throes of depression. Some even write themselves out of depression. If my (real) life becomes cloudy and filled with rain, I can’t write at all.
I should’ve gone to finishing school and walked around with books on my head, rather than going to university. Seriously, if I had learned good posture in my late teens, I would not have the health problems I have now.
I have been plagued by RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) for almost two decades, ever since I started using a computer seriously. I have also suffered from headaches on waking for almost a decade. Only in the last few weeks have I entertained the possibility that the two are connected.
I have consulted more medical practitioners than you can shake a stick at for both conditions, and, apart from temporary relief from RSI when given cortisone injections (not a particularly safe procedure), neither have been resolved. I have seen neurologists, ENT specialists and allergists, as well as my very helpful (and long suffering) GP. I have had tests including CAT scan and MRI scan and lumbar puncture. I have been prescribed all manner of drugs, with all manner of nasty contraindications, and the inevitable anti-depressants. (‘Silly little menopausal woman. What’s she wasting my time for?’)
A few weeks ago, I resolved to put up with it, because none of the treatments I was being offered did me one iota of good. The headaches just go on and on, virtually every morning, clearing mid-morning but sometimes returning in the evening. The evening ones are the worst because they prevent me sleeping. My headaches are definitely not migraines because I encounter no nausea or disturbances of vision.
However, a few weeks later, in desperation, I consulted a physiotherapist, who says that my headaches may be caused by the strain and stiffness in my shoulders, upper back and chest affecting my neck and head. My posture is all wrong, as is my position when using a computer. I looking downwards too far, with the result that my chest muscles have become tense and shortened. I have only seen her twice, and I’m going again next week, so it’s early days. I hope and pray she’s right. Whether or not physio relieves the headaches, it will certainly help the RSI and treatment will not involve nasty drugs.
In the meantime, I’m using my laptop on the dining table as much as possible, and, when I do use it on my lap, I’m balancing it on two cushions to raise the screen. Previously, I had always believed that looking down wasn’t so bad but that looking upwards was deadly. I’m also considering buying a lapdesk, to raise the laptop on my knee in a better way than using cushions. I’m trying also to improve my posture, by thrusting my shoulders back and pointing my boobs in the air.
I have removed the advice about using laptops and tablets on theDreaded Lurgypage on this blog, because, as I now realise, it’s wrong.
I’m suffering for my art.
Btw, for those of you who love a bit of crime, I’ve reviewed three crime novels on my sister blog Dear Reader (by Claire Douglas, Joy Ellis and Lucy Brazier.)
Some people blame all the world’s problems on oil and oil companies. Right now, I’m some people.
Maybe it’s an East Anglian thing. There are many things that the rest of you take for granted that we can’t. We live near Waitrose. We can get deliveries from most supermarkets, Amazon and most other delivery companies. I can walk to the station in the next village and catch a train which will get me to London Liverpool Street in just over an hour. However, we have no mains drainage; every time it rains more than a little, our septic tank fills up and we can’t use our toilets. We had no gas supply when we moved into our house thirty years ago.. We now do have a gas main in our street but, as we have a oil-fired boiler, we don’t use it. Such is country life.
On Thursday, 1 March (over a fortnight ago), my husband noted that our oil tank was running a bit low, so he rang the oil company, who told him that they would make a delivery within twelve working days. As they normally produce the goods in two or three days, we went on as normal, but, last weekend, my husband realised our oil was very low indeed, so we had to stop using the central heating. “It’s not cold anymore,” said my husband. Right.
On Monday we rang the oil company again, only to be told that they didn’t know when we would get heating oil. In fact, as their deliveries are outsourced, they had no idea which of their customers was getting oil when. “The delivery companies keep their schedules close to their chest,” the oil company call centre told my husband who pays them by standing order every month. Meanwhile, we were hearing of other people, including the elderly, in our part of north Essex, having no oil for their heating for two weeks or more. We’ve heard of other people going to oil depots with plastic containers.
We rang the oil company again this afternoon. Still no idea.
My son suggested opening windows, as “It’s warmer outside.” Again, right. My son lives in London.
So, here we are, shivering, dependent upon a log-burner and two convection heaters, and anticipating the return of the Beast from the East, with snow, tomorrow. It takes me back to my childhood in Leicester. My grandmother used to swear that a coal fire “Heats the whole house, me duck”. I didn’t believe her even then. I remember feeling that blast of icy air as you opened the living room door, the chill as you got out of bed. It’s all coming back to me, in graphic detail, right now.
It’s the first Wednesday of the month, so it’s Insecure Writers Support Group day, where we writers write about those things which undermine our confidence as writers.
This month we’re asked to write about how we celebrate when we achieve a writing goal or finish a story. This is a difficult one for we novelists. It’s not unusual for a novel to take ten years to write (will be much longer in my case). I have completed novels before, a long time ago, but I was writing them in my own time and in my own way and, although I went through the motions of submitting them to publishers, I didn’t realistically expect anyone else to read them. I’m very self-conscious about my writing. The idea of publicising a book I’ve written is just mind-bogglingly appalling.
Last January, at the Association of Christian Writers retreat, we were each of us asked to talk about our wip. I was determined to keep it cool, along the lines of ‘Nothing much’, but, maybe, I said too little because, when somebody asked me a question, something burst inside me. Annie Try, our wonderful chair, had to stop me speaking, because otherwise everybody would’ve missed their coffee break. I followed them to the coffee servery, shaking. I felt like I’d been stripped naked amongst them. But, afterwards, several people came up to me and said they would be happy to do a preliminary read. I haven’t given it to any of them yet, because the novel’s still not finished, but I’m very grateful for all the offers. It’s taken me some time to realise that being able to take myself out of my writing closet and talk about my novel has been my greatest success so far.
Let’s skip the news boy (I’ll go and make some tea)
They get me confused boy (puts me off to sleep)
And the thing I hate–Oh Lord!
Is staying up late, to watch some debate, on some nation’s fate.
So sang Genesis in Blood on the Rooftops, in the album Wind and Wuthering in 1976.The dots hide the racist bit. (Well, it isn’t that racist, but it isn’t especially politically correct either.)
I believe it’s important to know what’s going on in The News. I can get quite pompous about it and snooty with people who say things like ‘Politics is boring’ and ‘They’re all crooks, aren’t they?’ For years, since about 1980, actually, I’ve read The Daily Telegraph. Ooh… I’ve just outed myself as a Torygraph reader. I must anticipate being unfollowed and unfriended.
Now, having got that out of everybody’s system… even the most devout Leftie has to admit that there has to be a newspaper representing the views of moderate Conservatives. The Telegraph is a well-researched and well-written paper, and, over the thirty-eight years I have flapped through its broadsheet pages, I know that sometimes it follows the Conservative Party line and at other times is very critical of it. For the last few years, the Telegraph has been very pro-Brexit, which has infuriated my husband, and taken to sensationalist headlines, which annoyed him even further. We found we were reading it less and less. Some days, the poor newspaper lay unfurled and unloved in the living room.
So, Dear Reader, we cancelled it. We received our last edition on Christmas Eve.
You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone (Joni Mitchell). Instantly, I missed it. It’s the sitting-down moment. ‘I’ll just read the paper,’ you say, instantly justifying the sitting-down. Of course, there are other news sources, which don’t involve flapping broadsheet pages about. Broadsheet is a very inconvenient medium, impossible to peruse in a train or plane because of the acreage, or even in an armchair, and definitely not outside, in the garden or on the beach, or anywhere where there’s the breath of wind. (Telegraph readers are the first to become aware of the slightest breeze.)
For a couple of months, I wasn’t following news at all, just popping into the BBC News in the evening, sometimes, but not always. It doesn’t suit me. I prefer to read. I downloaded the BBC News app on my iPad ages ago, and, recently, I have started to use it, clicking on links which interest me. I have found the range limited, just a handful of new news stories, whereas in a broadsheet there are hundreds. Moreover, the articles are not all fresh, especially the features, which linger for days, even weeks. Some features are very long indeed, providing far more detail than I need, for instance, on non-registered schools. I’ve also obtained several other apps, which provide me with news bulletins, including Politico which sends me shock-horror stories about President Trump several times a day. But I’m persevering. I need a change.
Then the snow came. On what am I supposed to put a pair of wet, snowy welly boots? Or clean my shoes? I can’t polish my shoes on Politico, now can I?
About a year ago, Theresa May, when discussing domestic arrangements at Number 10 Downing Street, mentioned that Philip (her husband) did the boys’ jobs, like taking out the rubbish. In these emancipated times, there should be no boys’ jobs and girls’ jobs, but, as we all know, the reality is different.
My husband is currently away from home, visiting his mother, so, at midnight last night, I found out about one particular boys’ job I’ve always evaded. I was on my way to bed. I’m switching off the hall light downstairs and flicking the switch for the landing light, but, Dear Reader, upstairs remains in darkness, however many times I press the switch up and down. I grope my way up to the bedroom, where I observe the mains-powered alarm clock functioning normally.
Oh, I think. Oh.
I can diagnose the problem, but my normal solution is to get my husband to deal with it. The job involves a trip out into the Arctic (otherwise known as the garage), a stepladder and peering into a fuse box, with a torch. A little girl like me can’t be expected to tackle such things.
But there’s no one but me.
I consider leaving the job until morning…
But, Dear Reader, if something’s got to be done, it might as well be done now. I take a deep breath. I pick up the big torch in the hall and press the button. Nothing. (Thank you, Grandson. I suspect that’s you. Switching on Grandpa’s torch and aiming the light face downwards on the desk seems to amuse you. You forget about it and leave it like that.) What sort of batteries do I need? Where are the spare batteries? I sort of know, but I can’t be bothered to start searching at twelve o five. Hang on, he’s got another torch, on top of his hifi. (Where else?) It’s not as big, but it will do.
I unlock the garage door. The blast of icy air can’t be good for me; I’m nursing a chest infection. I switch on the light. Silly me! Why all that bother over torches? I can see perfectly well with the normal electric light. I do have to find the stepladder and climb up it though. I look into the fuse box.
One switch down…
Well, that’s one switch up now. Suddenly the upstairs landing is bathed in yellow light. Alleluia. Anything you can do, dear, I can do too.
Put out the rubbish as well as any PM’s husband (black bin and recycling).
Prepare a log fire and even light it.
Hoover, even the bits which involve moving furniture.
I can do most of what I need to do on computers, iPads, iPhones or whatever, but I can’t manage television or DVD player. This is not a problem for me, as I don’t watch television, although it can be when grandchildren are demanding Milkshake and we’ve got CeeBeebies on.
But, I must confess, I can’t change a wheel, or do any maintenance on my car. For that, I have to go to the local garage and ask the GIRL who works there.