Writing


A picture of The famous Roman acrostic (and palindrome) or word square in Cirencester in the UK.

The famous Roman acrostic (and palindrome) or word square in Cirencester in UK.

I so love this blogging world. Over the years I have made blogging friends (friends in the true sense) from several countries; I have learnt so much about things of which I would not even have been aware were I not an avid reader of other blogs; and recently, the day before yesterday, I added a new word to my vocabulary, a rare occurrence having been an insatiable reader of books of many kinds for around three quarters of a century. I’m as excited as I would be finding a rare piece of ancient Chinese porcelain for 10p at a car boot or flea market. The word is: Rambunctious

As an aspiring writer (of fiction – I had a successful career in what you might call ‘documentary writing’), reading something with excellent use of the vast English vocabulary thrills me; lazy writing, with restricted vocabulary, makes me despair, the overwhelming example now being the liberal sprinkling of ‘the f… word’ throughout a piece. I’m no prude; it used to be a good word to use when riled; now, it having been made meaningless, we have been left without such a word.

Rambunctious – an 19th century north American word

Back to rambunctious; a little research found that it was was a north American word coined in the early to mid 19th century and, surprise, used in the Financial Times in 2011.  I was so excited at its discovery I just had to use it; I’m no poet but I decided to rush off an acrostic poem for today’s meeting of our writers’ club, ‘Writing on the Wharfe’. Here it is:

Rare is the day when
After years of devouring books –
Many times, when young, with a torch,
Blankets over my head
Until the battery failed –
New words, or even just one, are added to my vocabulary.
Came a blogger new to me,
Tasted, drawn by, my comments to another blogger friend,
Introducing her young grandsons as ‘rambunctious’.
Oh what a word to savour!
Uncontrollably exuberant, wildly boisterous,
Such am I today – rambunctious

Thanks are due to ‘atticsister’, an antique dealer and blogger from Illinois who was brought to my blog by my comments on the blog of my good blogger friend Ilze from Latvia. She described her grandsons as rambunctious. What is more, she also described them as ‘tikes’, calling to mind my own grandmother who often called me and my younger brothers that when we were being unruly.

 

 

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The author, pointing to the window in the picture 'And interesting paragraph'Today was the second stage of the ‘Evocation’ project but this time I was one of the four writers, not the photographer. So unfortunately I don’t have a picture with all five performers as I did with the first stage – only of the four paintings and one of me with the painting which ‘evoked’ my story.

David, with a picture of a Norwegian ffiord gave us a wonderful mixture of myth and fact spanning from Viking times to the present day; Jo, with a drummer boy and his fife-playing companion on the battlefield, had us shedding a tear; James, given the unlikely subject of a couple of horses in a snow storm, had us in stitches. Sam (Samuel Moore) surpassed his usual brilliant self with astounding virtuoso performances of his flamenco compositions ‘evoked’ by a combination of the picture and the writer’s interpretation of it.

Unfortunately I cannot give you the three other stories as the authors may wish to enter in some competition and previous publication would prevent this. So, sadly, you have only my ‘Evocation’, as follows.

An interesting paragraph

Haynes King, who painted this picture called ‘An interesting paragraph’, was born in Barbados but came to England in his 20s. The two female figures are typical of many of his paintings but what has struck me more is the window, which also appears in several of his works. As I am a keen photographer it was his use of natural light, reflected from the newspaper to illuminate the reader’s face, which particularly appealed to me. I think the light and the newspaper are clues to the time of day: quite early in the morning.

The painting 'An interesting paragraph' by Haynes King.

Haynes King’s ‘An interesting paragraph’. Apologies for the reflections; it’s behind glass

When I first saw this picture I immediately thought of the Brontë sisters, though the environment is wrong – a quite humble cottage rather than a vicarage. Nevertheless, I chose to think of two young spinster sisters, relatively well educated so they can read and are quite well informed of world events. Research failed to uncover the date of the painting, only the date it came to this Gallery. So I chose to date the scene as 1865 and believed these sisters would have read Wuthering Heights and something from Charlotte and would have been aware that the male pen names of Currer Bell and Ellis Bell hid two talented women authors. Intelligent, well-read, they surely have dreams of meeting their own heroes and taking at least a small step up in society.

So, we might imagine the following conversation:

Here’s an interesting paragraph Emm. It says that slavery has been abolished in the United States of America. What do you think of that?” Sitting in the window reading a newspaper by the morning light, Lucy enjoyed scanning the paper and calling her sister’s attention to things she found interesting. Although she could read herself, Emily was happy with this usual arrangement.

Emily thought deeply before she replied: “It seems strange to me that a nation which fought so hard to win independence, freedom, from Britain, could retain slavery for so long. But of course there’s effectively been no slavery there for a while. How long ago was it abolished in the British Empire, thirty years or more?

Yes, something like that,” Lucy paused, then continued, “But I think we still have some kinds of slavery here, in particular for women. Because we can’t vote for members of parliament it’s very difficult to change that. It seems sad to me that the Brontë sisters felt it necessary to publish their wonderful stories with men’s names for the authors. Otherwise no one would have taken them seriously.”

Emily, always the more proactive of the two sisters, said thoughtfully, “Maybe we should try to do something about it. It’s all very well leaving it to a few ‘posh’ women in London but maybe we could push from the bottom of the pile. I kept the story about those women in London who set up a society; we could write to them. What did they call themselves? I can’t remember.”

Oh, I think it was something like ‘The Chelsea Society’, but that’s not right. It was ‘the something society’, a place in London but I can’t remember exactly,” Lucy replied.

After a minute’s silence, Emily shouted “I’ve got it, ‘The Kensington Society’, that was it! Please see if you can find that story I cut out.”

Yes that was it, and I cut another from the newspaper about some movement in Manchester. Maybe it would be better to write to the women in Manchester; we could ask about forming a group here, even go to one of their meetings. We could get a train from Leeds”. While speaking, Lucy jumped down from her window seat, shuffled through a drawer, then, “Here they are”, waving the cuttings.

What does it say about Manchester?” Emily asked.

Lucy quickly scanned the cutting: “Oh, only that some women were thinking of setting up a society, not that they’d done it. But there is a name of a woman who was interviewed about the idea – Lydia Becker. There’s no address, but we could write to the paper I suppose.”

Yes, let’s do that Lu. Meanwhile we can make a poster proposing setting up some kind of group locally and see what response we get. We might even get some more free-thinking men, our own Mr Rochesters!” Emily paused. “Even a Heathcliffe would be interesting,” she added, with a mischevious glint in her eye.

So, there we’ll leave our sisters, busy with paper and pen, with the hope that they did find their heroes though they would not get the vote in their lifetimes.

It was not until 1918 that women got the vote in the UK, and they had to wait another ten years before all women over 21 got the vote on the same terms as men. But the slavery continues even today, for example by women frequently being paid far less than men for the same job. Can you believe that, more than 150 years after my fictional conversation evoked by Haynes King’s painting?

You’ll find more information about our club, ‘Writing on the Wharfe’, on a recently created public Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/writingonthewharfe/

The five ‘performers’ – Kayla, Ruxandra, Martin. John and Samuel Moore in front of the four paintings they evoked so well

Saturday was quite a day for me. Some pain I had throughout Friday carried over into Saturday and worsened but not only was I scheduled to support my writers’ club colleagues in a unique event, entitled ‘Evocation’, in Leeds Art Gallery, being also no less than ‘official photographer’, but later Petronela had booked into my favourite restaurant for my annual ‘birthday treat’. I was determined to enjoy both so employed mind over matter, helped by a few paracetamols, and had a wonderful day. I suffered on Sunday, matter overcoming mind with a vengeance, but I was happy.

I’m pretty sure the Leeds Art Gallery event was unique. Each writer first read a story or poem – about 5 to 6 minutes – which one of four pictures, very different, but in close proximity, had evoked for them. Each reading was followed by an interpretation, of not only the picture but also the ‘story’ from the writer, by a wonderful flamenco guitarist Samuel Moore.

There had been a rehearsal in the club but I studiously avoided this so the experience was absolutely fresh for me. What an experience it was too: the stories from the writers were little short of brilliant and Sam’s musical evocation was not only brilliant but emotionally moving. Perhaps because I have several copies of Sutcliffe’s famous (notorious ?) photograph of naked boys enjoying the sea at Whitby, I was particularly taken by the painting with a similar theme and when the music came I was bathing in sunshine, hot Spanish sun brought to an English scene through some astounding flamenco guitar.

The story doesn’t end here; in June stage 2 of ‘Evocation’ will take place with another four paintings in the gallery. For this event I will not be ‘official photographer’ but one of the writers, attempting to relate what a painting, Haynes King’s ‘An interesting paragraph’, evokes for me. I might need more than a fistfull of paracetamols.

Birthday treat at Emporio Italiana

This was the third time my ‘birthday treat’ has been dinner at Emporio Italia in Ilkley. This tiny restaurant, far from Ilkley ‘posh’, transports you straight to Italy. It’s not only the superb food but the atmosphere, complete with ‘waiters’ who know their food, explain each dish in detail and sing, adding to the hussle bussle you’d expect in their home country. There is no ‘menu’ as such, just what proprietor chef Luigi feels like cooking on the day, written on a large blackboard carried from table to table as required. I love it!

For the record, I had an extraordinary ‘tartino di pesce’ as a starter, salmon and prawns in a cream sauce under a cover of amazing potato mash with pork; my main was rabbit ‘coniglio alla cacciotora‘ – superb; finishing with delicious coffee and walnut tart. Petronela and I shared a bottle of house red, excellent.

Comical aside: to ensure we could get into this small restaurant Petronela booked the table way back, maybe February, and neither of us could remember what date we had booked – the Saturday before, the Saturday after or the day itself, Tuesday 15th. A panic telephone call on Friday established it was booked for the Saturday before.

Haiku (translation):
an ancient pond
a frog jumps in
the splash of water
Matsuo Basho, 1686

Anyone who has been following my blog for a while will know I like to write ‘short’ and have sometimes written so-called ‘English haiku’ following the format: three lines of 5,7,5 syllables or, more correctly, sounds. In fact recently I collected together my scribblings in this format and put them under a menu heading of ‘Haiku’

However, recently I have come to the conclusion, after reading hundreds of them from other writers/bloggers, that although they are often beautiful, sometimes moving, short poems, haiku they are not – for me. The same applies to tanka, which add another two ‘lines’ of seven syllables to a haiku (or rather, the haiku resulted from removing the last two ‘lines’ of tanka).

I have to assume that Japanese haiku are just that but as I don’t read Japanese I cannot make any judgement. I read translations of them but I’m certain they lose something. I know Romanian poetry, which I can read in the original, certainly does. I sometimes wonder whether I, as a native English speaker who speaks Romanian pretty well, could do better.

Few of the English ones I’ve read come close to a true haiku, in my opinion, but I haven’t read even one that I now consider to be a haiku – there’s an indefinable ‘something’ missing: Japanese culture perhaps? I certainly haven’t written one.

I find my little 5,7,5 poems easy to write when the moment grabs me, the same with poems that rhyme – haiku do not of course (most people I know say that it’s the rhyming they find difficult). I think I’ve become better over time with my ‘haiku’ attempts but I’m still a long way from being satisfied.

Despite these doubts, I will not stop writing them as I enjoy the discipline of writing to the 5,7,5 format and trying to get closer to a haiku; I think I’ve said before I always enjoyed writing headlines as a journalist and there are similarities. Also, the tanka, and so haiku, goes back 11 centuries and there is something satisfying for me to try to create something with this long a history. In the past one of these short poetic forms was often sent to a friend or family member who added to it and sent it back. It might go back and forth like this for years.

Capturing the ‘decisive moment’

Silhouettes of couple kissing and figure of person with umbrella jumping, with Eiffel Tower in the backgrounc

‘A decisive moment’ captured by Henri Cartier-Bresson

An essential characteristic of a true haiku is that it captures a brief moment of time, and as a keen photographer I cannot help but compare that with the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson, who said: “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” Substitute ‘haiku’ for ‘photography’ and ‘words’ for ‘forms’ and you have, I believe, the essence of a haiku.

So, here’s a challenge: add two seven syllable lines to the following attempt at an ‘English haiku’ I’ve just written, to make a ‘tanka’, and put it in comments. I’ll attempt to respond to each one with another ‘haiku’.

bluetit … food in beak

pauses outside hole in wall

cat waits patiently

Formatting as a book motivated me to work again on my ‘long’ (for me) story – shelved before last summer. That was the subject of my previous post. But it’s still not that easy.

What is slowing me down now is research, though internet makes that easier than it was in the past. I am firmly of the belief that setting a story in a location you do not know well is to invite scorn from readers who do know it well. I remember reading a much-followed blogger’s self-published novel set in Paris and it rapidly became clear to me that he had never been there or if he had only on a brief superficial visit (I have been several times but not enough to set a novel there). You might get away with it for a small anonymous town but Paris, never. Of course writers of fantasy might not have this problem but it is not a genre I enjoy so never read it.

(As an aside, if you do intend to make a visit to Paris in the near future be sure to read a post from Charlotte Hoather, a young soprano whose blog I have been following for a few years. She’s not a travel writer but it’s the best bit of travel writing I have read! I was tempted to jump on the next plane to the French capital.

1960s/70s London

Back to my story, working title ‘Miranda’. It is set in 1960s/70s London, when and where I not only lived and worked but became caught up in the several cultures rife at the time. So why do I need to research?

I’ll give two examples. Even with internet researching just these two things are taking a lot of time.

An important event in the story is when Miranda is taken to Covent Garden to see Nureyev dance with Margot Fonteyn. It was an actual, special, historic performance. I was at it (alone!) but I couldn’t remember the exact date; important for the sequence of the story to make sense.

What is more, for the occasion I wanted Miranda to wear a dress based on one designed I think maybe by Givenchy for Audrey Hepburn, a dress I could ‘see’ even after about 60 years. I had to be sure that the dress appeared before the Covent Garden event. I’ve not yet nailed this one so if any fashion buffs recognise the dress let me know please. It was gold, long with a short train and had little ‘droplets’ decorating the front.

Of course I, as a former journalist, enjoy the research and it leads me to many ‘unnecessary’ (from the point of view my story) but fascinating discoveries. It’s easy to lose a day, or more. And I have.

Temporary cover and the start of ‘Chapter 5’.

Stuck on your ‘big story’ in progress? I may have found the answer to get you going again.

Don’t leave it formatted as a manuscript, format it as a book. The motivation to finish it is difficult to resist.

It’s not difficult to do: to get it near enough to a paperback just set an A4 page as landscape and make it two columns. Choose a book-suitable typeface, though Times (default for many people) will be fine. Start each chapter on a new column, about 1/3 down the page, and put a centred chapter heading over it,

et voilá

If you can make a front cover then the motivation becomes even stronger, but it’s not necessary. I did, as in picture, as it’s not difficult for me after many years formatting magazines, newspapers and brochures, though never books.

Novella or novel?

I cannot guarantee it will work for you of course but it has certainly worked for me. The characters are just clammering to be heard. They are suggesting perhaps a further six to eight ‘chapters’ which, with completing a few of the current 14 ‘chapters’ as yet unfinished will, I reckon, take the word count from the current 21,800 to around 40,000, so more novella than novel. But who knows?

If you want to submit to a publisher then you’ll have to go back to industry standard manuscript but that’s no problem of course.

If I do finish it I’ll decide then whether I think I can ‘sell it’ to a publisher and maybe have a shot; multiple rejections wouldn’t bother me. Self publishing doesn’t interest me. At least, not for now


The few words, related in ‘Chapter 5’ by the male protagonist, with the fairly appropriate photo for the female protagonist, Miranda, perhaps give a flavour of the story (tap the image to enlarge enough to read the words). I’ve avoided the ‘spicier’ passages. You’ll also see part of one of several observations from a narrator who butts in from time to time.

The picture I ‘borrowed’ from The Daily Mirror’s 1969 campaign ‘Save the mini’. The model’s real name was Julie I believe.

No children today (children’s film next door) but an attentive older audience. ‘Props’ for one storyteller on the floor.

In my previous post I said that I was writing a story for children, to be read as my contribution to what is becoming a regular presentation by our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, in Ilkley public library – each autumn, winter and spring. Our latest ‘spring’ presentation was earlier today.

As with so many of my stories, this one was ‘inspired’ by a post on one of the blogs I follow; the recent post related how a Latvian family, with three young sisters, had been ‘puzzling’ over a weekend. This story was, as usual and as I explained in my previous post, related to me by the  characters; all I did was write it down.


The Magical Spring Garden

That’s part of a crocus,” Melanie said.

I don’t think so, I think it’s part of a daffodil, in fact I’m sure it’s from a daffodil,” Lizzie said firmly. Lizzie, Melanie’s elder sister, was always sure of everything.

Daffdill, daffdill,” shouted Jilly, at two and a bit the youngest of the three sisters and always willing to back up her oldest sister.

Well I think it’s a bit of a crocus,” Melanie muttered grumpily.

Please don’t argue about it, just try to do the puzzle nicely and quietly.” The girls’ mum was used to these squabbles when the girls did something together, often ending in a fight, especially if that something was a bit difficult. This jigsaw puzzle was certainly not easy; one thousand pieces and really intended for an adult – or was it? The older sisters were just five and four years old.

The puzzle was about half done, thanks to a lot of help from mum, with parts of it looking just like the beautiful picture on the box but a lot of pieces had no obvious place to go, some of them looking just like another.

Well, I bet you don’t know what this is,” shouted Melanie, holding up another piece which had a complete star-like flower, again bright yellow.

Easy, easy, it’s a buttercup,” cried Lizzie triumphantly, “isn’t it mum?” as she grabbed the piece and held it up.

No sweetheart, this is a Spring picture but buttercups don’t come till the summer. That bright, shiny yellow star is called a celandine. Now girls, please stop quarrelling; I have to go upstairs to do some cleaning and I don’t want to hear a lot of noise or have to come down to stop you fighting. And be careful with that table; it’s a bit rickety.”

Can you tell us again what the picture is called before you go upstairs, please?” asked Melanie.

It’s called ‘The Magical Spring Garden’ and it does look magical doesn’t it, with all those flowers, some trees with half-opened blossom buds and lots of birds. Now, be good while I’m upstairs.”

For a couple of minutes the girls worked quietly but when Melanie tried to fit a piece into somewhere it would not go Lizzie grabbed it from her hand and, as Melanie tried to grab it back, the table tipped and all the pieces were on the floor, most separate, some not the right way up.

Look what you’ve done Melanie!”. Lizzie’s voice, half angry, half sobbing, faded away before her sister could answer, and she pointed at the floor.

The girls watched in complete silence as the pieces began to move, slowly, round and round, slowly, slowly one joining to another. Soon, the puzzle was complete.

That’s why it’s called ‘magical’. I’m going to call mum.” Melanie’s voice was trembling as she spoke, partly wonder, partly fear.

Suddenly, a bluetit in one of the trees flew from a branch and landed on Melanie’s shoulder. “Don’t call your mum, she will come down soon to see why you are all so quiet but this puzzle is only magical for children; adults don’t believe in magic. You just watch.”

Just watch quietly,” a robin, which had flown onto Jilly’s shoulder, whispered in her ear.

Two goldfinches flew to Lizzie’s shoulders, one on each, singing the same beautiful song before saying, together, “We do everything together, we’re oh so sociable, and never quarrel. That’s what you and your sisters should do. It’s much more fun like that. Now watch.”

The sisters, totally silent, watched amazed as one after another the blossom on the cherry trees, white on some, pink on others, red on just one, opened fully to fill the magic garden with colour.

One after another, white, yellow and purple crocuses opened to cover the grass with a rainbow of colours. At the bottom of many trees, the little bright yellow stars of celandines turned their faces to the sun.

Oh I’m going to pick some of those,” shouted Jilly as she began to get down from her chair.

Oh no, you should never pick the flowers. Here you will break the magic; outside, the flowers you pick will die and the others will be very sad. Just enjoy them where they are,” said the robin on Jilly’s shoulder.

Upstairs, just a bit worried she had heard nothing for such a long time, mum moved towards the stairs. Trying to make no noise herself she began to go down.

Downstairs, the girls heard the stairs creak. All of a sudden, with a soft rustling sound like the fluttering of birds’ wings, all the jigsaw pieces flew onto the table, arranging themselves into an almost completed picture of the magic Spring garden, as the birds flew back into the trees. Just a few pieces were not in their places.

Mum stood still as she slowly opened the door to see the girls sitting quietly with an almost completed puzzle . “Good heavens, I’m amazed. See what you can do when you don’t squabble,” she said.

Mum, mum, you’ll never believe what happened,” the sisters shouted together.

And, of course, she didn’t!

Club members reading today: from left, Danish, Romanian, Canadian then – as far as I know – British till, partly Viking he says, at far right.

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