Writing on the Wharfe


WARNING! This is one of my ‘grumpy’ posts. Although I first set up this blog to have a grump about things which irritate me, hence the user name, I don’t do that often now.

What has irritated me recently? Bloggers who think they are psychologists, philosophers, even psychiatrists, and/or are competent to advise on writing fiction though either they have never had their writings, particularly a novel, published or only self published. I don’t mean to knock self publishing – I’ve read some great writing on blogs, which is after all a form of self publishing, but I think the test for any would-be novelist has to be the market – has the ‘advisor’ had a novel published by a commercial publisher?

I know there are some outstanding exceptions but even with that there seems to be only one bit of good advice: don’t be discouraged by rejections and keep submitting (after all, if I’d have received Harry Potter I’d have rejected it!). Having said that, do get it edited by a good native speaker of the language in which it’s written. (No. I don’t want the job.)

I know, I know – such blogged advice usually gets a lot of ‘likes’ and grateful comments – some people are even willing to pay for it – but I wonder how many would-be writers in fact go on to be successful writers based on such blogged advice.

Short story writers and poets have it easier; it is simpler to get into an anthology though I would not belittle that.

Blogging is different

Blogging is somewhat different; if you want thousands of followers (I do not) there are several things you can do in your writing to achieve this; most of them are ‘mechanical’ and could be done by a robot. In fact there are ‘digital robots’ out there which will analyse your writing and ‘advise’ how to increase readers and followers or even do it for you. And there are some really ‘successful’ blogs on which the writing is terrible.

One exception is of course bloggers writing in imperfect English, that not being their native tongue. I follow several blogs like this and have great admiration for these bloggers, quite apart from the enjoyment I have from what they post.

If your blog has a ‘theme’ then even if the writing is poor you may get followers who are interested in that subject. .

One of the blog things which most impresses me is a number of non-native English-speaking bloggers who post in two languages – both their own language and English – and in which the standard of English is excellent. I can only judge those published in Romanian and English as the only foreign language I speak pretty well is Romanian; in fact I usually only read the English if I get stuck with the Romanian, which is rare now.

Writers’ club

One of the things I really like about our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, is that advice is given only if asked for (and we do have several published writers); the same applies to ‘criticism’ (which I use in its positive sense: “The analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work“ – Oxford dictionary). Such criticism is anyway always kindly and supportive. There is never criticism in the other sense: “The expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes.”

Writing fiction or poetry is something pretty new for me though I earned my living from writing, sometimes a very good living, for most of my working life. But even in my field I’d be wary of giving advice.

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I don’t now often pick up on the writing prompt given in our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, but that for today – Poem in the Pocket – appealed. So, picking up my fountain pen I saw the words pouring out into my little primary school exercise book. For certain, as I had the day before read the latest offering from one of my preferred blogging poets,  Jenni Winterburn (a Yorkshire lass, the optimistic pessimist) – you might say my absolute favourite – I have to acknowledge that it’s been influenced very much by her poetry.

§

poem in the pocket
among the coins
screwed up tissues
words
and things better forgotten
a poem jostled by the little ones
1p, 2p, 5p, even 10p
which no longer buy anything
just wear holes in the pocket
so the poem slips out
word by word
lost for ever
unless you’re careful
longish beautiful words
like happenstance
which i’ve been trying to fit
into a poem for ages
slip out too
lost for ever
even floccinaucinihilipification
might escape
thus preventing sesquipedalian texts
or poems
and logomachies
disrupting our writers’ club meetings
somehow this little ‘poem’ did not get away

but those long words

better
lost for ever?

◊◊◊

As I’ve said before, I no longer consider the 5-7-5 ‘verses’ I write to be haiku but I think it’s as much a haiku as any in English I’ve seen on internet. It was written for a special friend, not a blogger.

Winter in her eyes
Its beauty shatters her gaze
In love yet again

The short story was written very quickly, maybe 1/2 hour, for the first 2019 meeting of our writers’ clubWriting on the Wharfe. It is completely unedited, just as it came pouring out of my fountain pen, with which I now write everything, only typing up later for internet. 

Short story

The New Year has never begun well for me, not for as far back as I can remember.

But, downing the glass of bubbly as Big Ben’s hand moved steadily past twelve, I really thought this year would be different. 

I’d arrived at the party late, too late for the hosts Kath and Mike to introduce me to everybody in their crowded sitting room, probably 30 people in all. I didn’t mind; I’m not at all good with people I don’t know.

But then, bubbles exploding on my tongue as the sixth chime struck, I saw her. Or rather, her eyes pulled at mine. Embarrassed, I tried to look away from that frank, open look inviting entrance to an enchanted world behind those wide, soft, brown circular doors. I could not.

I made the effort to slowly widen my field of view, noting that the eyes were not much less than six feet from the floor though, glancing lower, I saw that her feet were almost completely flat on the ground, no tall heels to add to her height.

Avoiding her eyes, I slowly allowed mine to travel up her perfectly sculptured ankles and calves, pausing a moment at the hem of her dress just a couple of inches above her knees.

Continuing upwards, the lightly pleated, gossamer skirt, which would sway provocatively when she walked, did not hide her softly curvaceous form, a hint of the mount of Venus, a comfortable inviting cushion above it suggesting a love for her food. 

I paused a moment, imagining my head resting just where the long bare fingers of her right hand now rested, the fingers ending in perfectly manicured nails with a hint of shine from the uncoloured varnish.

A quick glance to her left revealed index and second finger gracefully retaining the stem of the almost empty champagne glass.

“Damn!” Her third finger was hidden.

My secret, so I thought, journey upwards dipped into a gentle waist then hardly changed direction to cross the valley between her pubescent breasts, girl-like though her whole demeanour suggested an age well into her twenties, maybe even thirties.

Finally I summoned courage to look for those eyes again. They were still looking directly into mine; was that a smile in them? It was certainly not mockery, which I half expected to see. 

It was only ten paces to arrive directly in front of her, looking a little upwards into those eyes. 

Hello. May I get you another drink,” I heard myself saying.

That would be nice of you.” Still her eyes never left mine.

As I reached for her glass I felt a presence at my side. With difficulty I pulled my eyes away from hers to see a man a couple of inches taller than her, handsome, confident, superbly attired.

He smiled, a genuine warm, friendly smile.

Thank you for looking after my wife; I had to make an urgent call,” I heard over my thumping chest.

Damn again! Another New Year beginning disappointingly,” I thought.

Again you might blame my writers’ club colleague, Jo Campbell, for this story.

But not completely. The 17/18 years old students (at Liceul Tehnologic ‘Nicolae Nanu’, Broșteni, Neamț, Romania) of my former Romanian student, Paula, now herself a teacher of English, so liked my ‘dark’ 5th November story, which was prompted by Jo, I promised to write another for them. Unusually, I have written to the theme given for readings at today’s meeting of our club, Writing on the Wharfe.


Not in my diary

She had been meticulous as far as her diary was concerned. By ‘diary’ I mean journal, not a place to note appointments, meetings or other dates and times to be remembered.

The journal was completed over morning tea each day, relating the most important, to her, happenings of the previous day.

She had noted, on the page for 30th April, ‘St Walburger, witches’ sabbath!’. Born close to the Brocken in Germany, she had always observed this feast.

But, and it’s a big but, Richard, the name of the love of her life she has declared, has never appeared in the journal. ‘My love’, yes; ‘he’ or ‘him’, perhaps; but never the name – Richard.

Photo of the Cow&Calf

The Cow&Calf

It began one day when, as the sun was setting, she and Richard visited the famous Cow and Calf rocks on Ilkley Moor, in Yorkshire.

Not satisfied with standing on the larger ‘cow’ and admiring the superb view over the town of Ilkley and the Wharfe Valley, they descended with a mixture of runs and jumps to the ‘calf’ below. Giggling, they scrambled to the top of the smaller rock and lay out in the fading sun.

Let’s leave our names on the calf,” Richard suggested, “with today’s date. It’s a special day.”

I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Isn’t it better to leave the rocks as nature intended?” Heidi was a keen environmentalist.

One more won’t make much difference; there are so many on all the rocks,” Richard answered as he began to scratch the rock with a knife he always carried.

3, 0, A, P, R, 2, 0, 1, 5,  H, E, I, D, I,  A, N, D,  R, I, C, H, A, R … 

he hesitated as the knife met some resistance from an inclusion harder than the surrounding rock. Exasperated, he put his whole weight behind the blade, lost his balance and tumbled down to the ground.

Eventually the air ambulance arrived – two broken legs, a broken collar bone and a dislocated neck kept him in hospital for several weeks.

The following 30th of April, 2016, early evening, found the couple wandering through the New Forest hand-in-hand in the twilight. As trees began to assume fantastic shapes in the fading light, an impressive oak, its trunk of a girth which the two lovers could not encircle with their outstretched arms, made them stop and rest, backs against the rough but somehow comfortable majesty supporting the now leafy branches above.

I’m going to carve our names here so this tree will remember us,” Richard announced.

If you do, it will remember us with pain. Don’t do it, please.”

Oh, you’re too superstitious. Trees don’t feel and anyway it can’t do any harm to one so enormous!,” Richard retorted, the irritation clear in his voice as he took the knife from his pocket and began:

3, 0, A, P, R, 2, 0, 1, 6,  H, E, I, D, I,  A, N, D,  R, I, C, H, A, R …

a large gasp broke the concentrated silence as the knife slipped to make a deep gash in his left wrist.

Blood, so much blood, fountained from the cut, obliterating the carved letters before covering Heidi’s breast. Quick thinking, she ripped off her blood-soaked shirt and applied a tourniquet.

Nevertheless, Richard lapsed into unconsciousness and the paramedics, who arrived quickly following Heidi’s desperate phone call, told her he was lucky to be alive and would not be were it not for her prompt action.

One year later, 30th April 2017, found the couple on the Brocken, following a visit to Heidi’s parents. 

They didn’t take the steam train up to the highest peak in the Harz mountains but decided to walk, though there were vestiges of snow on the peak.

About half way up they left the road, found a clearing among the pines and sat to eat their picnic. Richard lit the tiny light-weight gas stove and poured bottled water into the small pan they had brought to make a warming tea.

Etching, St Walburger’s Night, Johann Heinrich Ramberg, 1829

Etching, St Walburger’s Night, Johann Heinrich Ramberg, 1829

This is a magical place my love; I’m so glad you brought me here.” Richard wasn’t usually so easily impressed.

You just be careful; it is a magical place but it’s witches’ magic, not fairies’ magic,” Heidi warned him.

Oh you and your superstitions. I don’t believe a word of it. Anyway, it’s beautiful. I’m going to carve our names in the dry turf here,” he finished, pulling out his knife.

Please don’t. Just leave it as nature intended,” Heidi pleaded.

But Richard had already completed her name and the first six letters of his own. Turning quickly, his elbow caught the little stove and it was on its side, setting the dry turf alight.

A forest ranger found them in a tight embrace. 

In his police report he wrote: “I don’t understand how the fire burned in a perfect circle with them at the centre, or how such a small fire could completely carbonise the two corpses. Even stranger in a way was that there was a diary lying there next to them, completely untouched by the fire. The last entry was for 30th April; it just read “This is not in my diary!”

§

My love affair with the fountain pen has continued and having written my first poem with it I’ve now hand written my first story with it and, what is more, read from the exercise book draft at our writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) meeting earlier today. I’m not sure I’ve finished with the story yet but I’m putting it below.

The result of my first couple of Japanese lessons, written in the same exercise book as the story posted here

The result of my first couple of Japanese lessons, written in the same exercise book as the story posted here

As I’ve also just begun to attempt to learn Japanese, having used the pen has given me an urge to write the Japanese characters with a calligraphic brush. Maybe later.

My writers’ club colleagues asked me why I’d suddenly decided to try to learn Japanese. Two motivations: a bit of new brain exercise; as followers of this blog will know I sometimes try to write haiku but recently came to the conclusion, as I posted at the time,  that they could only be written in Japanese so I don’t think any of the large numbers in English on internet are haiku, including my own.

I digress. Here’s my story:


The warm feeling flooded into his throat. He was surprised when it spread to his groin. He tried to see if the rather lovely young radiologist was touching him but he could not; the giant doughnut machine was in the way, just his head out on the side he could see.

“Are you feeling the warm sensation?” she asked.

“Yes, it’s rather pleasant,” he answered.

“Good. I’ll be back in a minute. Any problem just say; I can hear you.”

He strained to look to his right and could just see the cannula taped on the inside of his elbow, his blood making a pretty pattern under the transparent tape holding it in place.

“It’s just a dye,” she had said.

“Just!” he said to himself with a smile; “I reckon they’ve mixed it with Viagra.”

“Breathe in and hold your breath.” A different voice, female, gentle but with some authority.

A short time passed. “Breathe normally,” said the voice.

He slowly let the breath go and sank into a sleepy torpor as first his chest then, one by one, other parts of his body relaxed.

He sensed the table on which he was lying moving back through the doughnut until the whole of his body was outside the machine.

He felt someone lifting the flimsy surgical gown and sliding down his boxer shorts, which he’d been told to keep on.

“What’s going on,” he asked as that warm feeling began to return, not in his throat but in that place lower down. His throat was becoming dry . He swallowed hard as he felt something soft and warm cover first one of his thighs, then the other. Skin on skin he thought.

That gentle voice again.

“Don’t you move,” she said.

“My God, it must have been Viagra,” he thought.

“Hey, wake up, you’re not supposed to go to sleep in there.”

That gentle voice again, a little more urgent, penetrated his dream, just as it was getting interesting.

—–

My draft of my entry for the Ilkley Literature Festival, handwritten with the ‘new’ blue and black fountain pen. It was only copytyped on the iPad when finished, a couple of hours before the ‘performance’. I’ll hopefully grt the two ‘attic gems’ working soon.

My draft of my entry for the Ilkley Literature Festival, handwritten with the ‘new’ blue and black fountain pen. It was only copytyped on the iPad when finished, a couple of hours before the ‘performance’.
I’ll hopefully get the two ‘attic gems’ working soon.

I just made a breakthrough in my writing. I picked up a fountain pen.

I had not handwritten anything other than short notes since writing to my mother when I was first in Romania in 1993 and had no access to a computer; even then it was with a ballpoint. I found it very difficult, having been used to a computer for the previous ten years, and a typewriter before that, since becoming a journalist in the early ‘60s.

How welcome a handwritten ‘letter’ was

What prompted me to move to handwritten was the reaction of my former student Paula, now a Romanian high school teacher of English, to a handwritten note included in a packet I sent to her (one of my ‘attic gems’ – a special English course I wrote when teaching in Romania). She said it was wonderful to receive a handwritten ‘letter’. I promised to ‘keep in touch’ with handwritten letters from time to time (among brief encounters on Messenger) and as two more of my ‘attic gems’ were fountain pens I decided to go the whole hog and go to fountain pen. The two old ones were not working (I intend to fix them) so I acquired a new one.

Transformation

Having begun the first letter to Paula during the time I had to write my contribution to our writers’ club ‘performance’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival, I began to scribble my ‘poem’ in a primary school exercise book with the fountain pen. What a transformation!

Ideas tumbling out of the fountain pen

Firstly, the ideas tumbled out like never before. Secondly, I began to do something I’ve said I almost never do – edit what I’ve written, neither during nor after writing (this comes from journalism where I almost always had no time to edit – often writing as many as 60 stories a week including one or more long features). With the fountain pen I found myself crossing out, writing alternative lines, jotting down ideas as they came, making lists of rhyming words as I was following Lewis Carroll’s ABAAB rhyming scheme. All very strange to me.

Even stronger urge to write

Now, the urge to write ‘creatively’ is far stronger with a fountain pen in my hand. I wonder if this will bring my ‘novella’ out of it’s long hibernation. Or even extend it to be a novel.

This writing by hand doesn’t extend to what you might call ‘non-creative’ writing, like writing blog posts. Those are still written on the the iPad (more rarely on the MacBook). So this post is written on the iPad, as will be most future posts, but if they include some ‘creative writing’ you can be pretty sure that will have been written first on paper, with a fountain pen. The only disadvantage of writing by hand is that to include hand written pieces  in something ‘digital’ they have to be typed up on a digital device.

PS. My first, 10 page, letter to Paula, composed over a couple of weeks, was posted on Saturday morning.

I’d  be really interested to hear from others whether the medium with which they write influences their writing, particularly use of a fountain pen (or not).

You can read my finished ‘poem’ on a previous post, or hear me read it on the post of 5 October.

The inevitable 'group photo' after the performance - l to r: Jo, Sam, me, Kayla, Ruxandra, James, David, Bob, Johm, Martin and Sussi

The inevitable ‘group photo’ after the performance – l to r: Jo, Sam, me, Kayla, Ruxandra, James, David, Bob, Johm, Martin and Sussi

Youtube videos – over the past few days I’ve gained a lot of admiration for those who seem to roll them out regularly. Earlier I’d done a little editing of photos from our ‘performance’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival for my previous blog post. A doddle! But editing video is something else, for me.

Wanting to put titles, end credits, etc on the just over an hour of our writers’ club ‘performance’ at the Festival, I discovered I’d forgotten much of how to use my graphics program and video editor (2 years or more since I used them). An added complication was that one contribution to our ‘show’ (the first in order of appearance) had been entered into a competition for which rules state no previous publication or broadcast, so I had to take that out before making it ‘public’. Another cut had to be made for another reason so I had to work out how to make this not too ugly.

Superb flamenco guitar

If you appreciate superb guitar playing (Samuel Moore) it’s worth watching the video (our complete ‘performance’, with writers, lasted just about an hour).

Some good short stories

If you’re a writer you may enjoy our club writers reading their own pieces. If you want to avoid me reading mine (published in my previous post) I’m now ‘first up’ in the video as the first on the night has been cut at the writer’s request.

Of course I use only free programs, open source or those offering free basics but the possibility to pay for advanced facilities, which I do not. When in paid employment I used Adobe programs like Indesign, Photoshop and occasionally Illustrator, but I never needed to edit videos.

Scribus and NCH VideoPad

The graphics/publishing program I use now, Scribus, is excellent but rather quirky and with a steep learning (relearning) curve. Much the same can be said of the the video editor, NCH VideoPad. What I didn’t expect was the 2 hours 20 minutes to convert the VideoPad file (for a video of just over one hour) to something suitable for uploading to Youtube (.mp4). Maybe that’s down to my ancient MacBook. Even less expected was the 4+ hours to upload to Youtube (finally I went to bed and left it to it so it could have been much longer).

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