Ben Nevis, Britain's "highest hill"Those of you who have followed me for some time (11th anniversary for grumptyke the other day) will know for my attempts at poetry and short stories I like to write short, often very short, and in a form for which there are strict rules.

Something I have never tried before is a pantoum, based on the Malay literary form of pantun, which has a rhyming structure and in each quatrain repeats lines from the previous quatrain.

Wanting to write something in praise of my friend Ruxandra’s (and founder/leader of our writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe) amazing hike of 120 miles in 3 days in the Scottish Highlands, in aid of a young persons’ mental health charity – Young Minds Trust – I chose to scribble a pantoum over my pre club meeting lunch.

Here it is:

Homage

She climbed Britain’s highest hill
In a trek of some 120 miles
Covering Scottish Highlands with only will
Yet her reports were filled with smiles

In a walk of some 120 miles
Some of us might give up before the end
Yet her reports were filled with smiles
Not a glum face wherever she might wend

Some of us might give up before the end
To return to the start by bus or train
Not a glum face wherever she might wend
But a walk for troubled youngsters has much to gain

To return to the start by bus or train
Never entered her crazy Romanian head
Not a glum face wherever she might wend
But I bet she welcomed at last the stay in bed

Struggles with longer writing

My battle to finish the one ‘long’ piece of fiction, working title Miranda, I’ve attempted continues. Starting as a 300 word short story, it’s now become a novella at about 30,000 words but my ambition is to grow it into a novel. The subtitle – ‘A tale of unlikely love in 60s-70s London‘ – tells me there’s enough material in my head from that exciting time, my time, in our capital to merit it. Dragging distant memories to the fore and turning it to fiction, easy for the first few chapters, is proving more difficult as  the journey through subsequent chapters continues. It is, after all, a period of my life between 47 and 52 years ago but draws somewhat on my experience a few years further back than that.

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A photo of the moon taken from my sitting room window

Moon from my sitting room window (photo on film, ‘legacy’ Zeiss Sonnar lens)

It is now unusual for me to pick up on the theme given for members of our local writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe – to write something for the following meeting. Our most recent meeting before today was on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing so the theme given, no surprise, was ‘moon’.

Why it appealed to me I don’t know, perhaps  because on a clear night I follow with wonder her travel across the sky from our sitting room window, perhaps because I covered the event (from an engineering point of view) as a journalist in 1969.

My ‘poem’, however, has nothing to do with engineering.

Moon
brightly watching me through my window
Venus at her shoulder
stirring thoughts of love
Mars more secretly telling of his presence
protecting the three of us
from what I do not know
i feel the trio watching over you too
so far away
can you see them?
i know you feel the stardust
always
even when you cannot see the stars

My ‘poem’ is dedicated to my female blogging friend(s) who feel the stardust.

A Yorkshire tea tin, a beer mat from a Yorkshire brewery, Timothy Taylors in Keighly, and a Royal Doulton ‘Yorkshire Rose’ cup and saucer.

Some might say the Yorkshire Rose china, from Royal Doulton, is too fine for Yorkshire tea, but we can be posh tha knows

This is the first Yorkshire Day (today) for several years for which I’ve been in Yorkshire. I and Petronela have been in Romania, specifically in or on the way to the Romanian Bucovina.  My ‘heart’ is divided between the two, so much so that I have said that when the time comes I want half of my ashes scattered in each place.

It’s odd to me that although quite a few of my short stories and ‘poems’ are set in or inspired by Yorkshire, my first attempt at a longer tale is set in London, but a London of over a half a century ago. My most recent visit to London was several years ago and the experience resolved me never to go again.

I’m in no way a patriot. I’ve never felt a strong urge to say I’m English, nor British, though I do have some satisfaction in being able to say I’m a tyke. I drink Yorkshire tea or Yorkshire beer and although I’m not a ‘city person’ I enjoy an occasional visit to its largest city – Leeds. I think the Yorkshire moors are heaven on earth and appreciate the dry humour of Yorkshire folk.

So , today, here’s a toast – to me, in true tyke fashion:

Eres t’ me ‘n my wife’s ‘usban’,
Not forgettin’ missen

and a motto

Eat all, sup all, pay nowt
‘ear all, see all, say nowt.
Un if tha iver does owt fo nowt
allus do it fo thissen

My spelling of the dialect.

I’ve written once or twice about my attempts at a novella or novel (I’m still not sure how it will end up – it began as a short story). About a week ago, reading a short bio of my blogger friend Iulia Halatz on the blog of the literary collective Sudden Denouement I saw she said she was much influenced by W Somerset Maugham, which tempted me to pick up his “masterpiece” – Of Human Bondage. It’s a long book for me; I’m about two thirds through now at about chapter 80.

Autobiographical?

Without reading anything about the novel it seemed to me to be largely autobiographical and seemed in many ways to be similar to my attempts at a longer story. I have said more than once that my fictional writing is not entirely fiction, my factual writing is not always strictly true. Somerset Maughan said “Fact and fiction are so intermingled in my work that now, looking back on it, I can hardly distinguish one from the other.”

That gave me some hope.

The necessity of personal experience

One of the things which has struck me forcibly is that his descriptions of his main character’s (Philip’s) times in London, around the turn of the century, indicate that it was not substantially different to ‘my’ London of around half a century later, despite two world wars. It is of course a lot different now. Perhaps the biggest difference between Somerset Maugham’s fictional London and mine is the attitude to the ‘gentleman’, the professional and the tradesman.

Initial boredom

As for his novel, I found the first 25-30 chapters – about Philip’s school days – boring. I think a chapter or two would have done. However, after that his times in London, Heidelberg and Paris, and the attempts at art, accountancy and medicine, I found fascinating and it is clear that the author was writing from experience. It reinforced my belief you should only write from experience, laying creativity over that; no amount of research can substitute in my opinion. I’ve been to both Heidelberg and Paris more than once but could never set a story in either; even my small reference to a visit to Paris in my tale wouldn’t be there if I had never been there and knew the event written about could have happened (it could not now).

What I have gained most from my reading of Somerset Maugham so far is an idea of where to go in my story and if it leads where I think it might lead it could well become a novel rather than a novella.

The nineteenth day of July in the nineteenth year of the millennium beginning in 2000, a special day – our nineteenth wedding anniversary.

A picture of me with the prawns with flames from the flambe with Pernod

The final stage for this excellent starter, flambe with Pernod or Ricard

We don’t usually celebrate our civil wedding as it doesn’t mean much to either Petronela or me (memorable mainly for the unusual happenings associated with it); we celebrate the anniversaries of our church wedding three months later, on 29th October.

Christmas dinner

It was not ‘all the 19s’ which made us make an exception this year but the fact that our 2018 Christmas dinner has been sitting in the freezer since December. Both of us were struck by ‘the bug’ rampant at the time and could handle neither cooking nor eating. We did intend to make it our Easter feast but unexpected guests put paid to that.

Prawns flambéed

The highlight of the feast was what we think is the best starter ever: giant prawns flamed in Pernod (or Ricard). The recipe comes from a much-missed blog – My French Heaven. The prawns had sat for a while in oil with chopped garlic ready for flambé when we were struck down so the whole thing was bunged in the freezer. It didn’t suffer for its 6 month plus freeze.

Nor did the venison steaks for Petronela and wild duck breasts for me – washed down with an excellent Romanian Murfatlar Feteasca Neagra wine: 3 Hectare.

 

A photo of the working cover showing a mini-skirted girl 'with attitude'

My first attempt at getting my story going again was to format it as a book (https://wp.me/pkm0h-1G9)

I’ve often said I cannot write (fiction) to order, only when my characters hassle me to be heard; getting up early, or staying up late, to write 1,000 words come what may, as so often advised, is a pointless activity for me. So my first novella/novel(?) – ‘A tale of unlikely love in 60s-70s London’ – has lain untouched for several months.

Yesterday morning my two protagonists demanded that I pick up my fountain pen and give them a voice again. Why, I do not know. They did not say much, half a chapter from only one of them before I had to leave home, but they were clear what they wanted to say, each demanding a new chapter to give more details of a close friend, a friend who had a major influence on our lovers’ relationship. More than that I do not know.

It’s not writers’ block

Some time ago I felt I had not let them say all they wished to say but their tale had stopped at around 30,000 words. I had the idea that they each wanted to say more about a friend mentioned in passing but they wouldn’t say more at that time. I put the idea of filling out two other characters to my blogging writer friend Kristina Steiner, who has just published the second novel in her trilogy; despite her support for the idea my characters wouldn’t say more. Until now.

Beginning as a short story

The tale began as a short story, prompted by a theme set in our writers’ club: ‘what if?’ The story resulting, no more than two or three hundred words, became a chapter as one character began to speak. Shortly after the other of the couple demanded to be heard, so another chapter flowed out of the pen. They each now seem to be settled on allowing one to speak to me without interruption, for a chapter, then keeping silent while the other speaks.

Initially, each chapter finished with ‘what if?’ but that became tiresome and was deleted. On the other hand, I am fascinated by the idea of a story having more than one ending – ever since reading ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ when it was published during the era in which my tale is set. So my complete story became a ‘what if?’

Will my protagonists continue to speak? I don’t know but I would like to learn what happens to them. Hopefully, so will you if they do continue to speak.

 

 

 

 

Several members of our local writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, took a break from writing on Saturday evening to take part in a ‘crime party’, organised by our founder/leader Ruxandra. I was not keen but went along to support Ruxandra.

I’m glad I did. I’ve never laughed so much at a ‘party’. The words spoken by each character were of course scripted but the cast being made up of writers there was a great deal of ad libbing, often hilarious.

If your club is getting rather ‘dry’ (ours was not) and needs an energising boot I can recommend the activity.

The ‘cast’: Pointing fingers accuse! Back row, l to r, gipsy fortune teller. grieving widow, retired army general, butler, victim’s lover, local PC and moonlighting stripper. On the sofa, the maid, academic and the murderer, French detective, chauffeur. At the front, the cook.

A ‘new’ word for my vocabulary

Ariana Savalas performing No Diggity with PMJ

Listening to PMJ (Postmodern Jukebox) today I was introduced to a new word, by somebody commenting on Ariana Savalas performing No Diggity. What a perfect word for a perfect performance.

The word? Eargasm

Another perfect performance giving me an eargasm, though I didn’t know the word then, was introduced to me the day before by my blogging friend Ilze. This was Miche Braden performing a blues cover of Prince‘s Purple Rain. Ilze had sometime earlier introduced me to PMJ.

PMJ’s pianist and founder of PMJ I believe is extraordinary – brilliant.

Anyone reading this blog for a while, or my ‘about’, will know me as a ‘classical music’ fan; in fact most of the day I have music from Classic FM playing. Until now my alternative has been Romanian ‘musica populara’. But I’ve now found another great alternative for when the Classic FM presenter (only a small number of the men, none of the women!) or programme irritates me.

Top of the list of irritating presenters is Alexander Armstrong with his unwitty, pointless  ‘wit’ and horrible presenting style. Thank heavens the station seems to have stopped playing his attempts to sing: he has a passable voice but he cannot sing.

One irritating programme is a kind of top of the pops (in which he figured for some time) which, based on the best  selling so called ‘classical music’ of the week, not surprisingly mixes some truly great music with a proportion of, to my ear, rubbish.

Definitely earache not eargasm!

PS. Ariana Savalas is Telly Savalas‘s daughter, so the fact I’d never heard of her shows how out of touch I’ve been. And the fact that I find most of PMJ’s covers better than the originals probably says much the same.