Longer fiction


I finished the Costa first novel award book. Not an easy read.

In my previous post I said that the writing seemed to have become better and I was beginning to enjoy it. Then, suddenly, it was back to forcing myself to read. The similes began to jump out at me again.

(One of the advantages of reading a Kindle version – despite my love of real books – apart from taking no space in our small flat, is that some analysis is easy. The word ‘like’, the majority as part of a simile, occurs no fewer that 600 times. I’m surprised that none of the editors picked that up.)

The author seems to have had difficulty writing some chapters. Apart from the early chapters, the most obvious is when she introduces S&M. At the time I couldn’t see why it had been introduced but that becomes clear as you approach the end, though I’m still not convinced it was necessary.

Slavery

What I did like is that I learned quite a bit about slavery and that the ending was hidden well, at least from me. However, parts of the story were not believable for me, eg the court scenes.

Maybe my first novella/novel will not sound believable (if I ever finish it); though it’s fictional, most of it did happen, though not quite in the way I relate it.

Mermaid and bear

It was a relief to escape into my current reading, also a first novel, by a blogger I’ve followed for quite a while: Ailish Sinclair. I’ve got only about half way into it but already I can say that it has all the charm and magic of a good children’s story, wrapped up (so far) in an adult fairy tale.

I’ve always enjoyed her posts having learned a lot from them, which I why I bought her novel. Also the promise of some real history of witches, which I’ve yet to get to. Another draw was that she is/was a ballet dancer. I’ve been a lover of ballet since I was seven years old and some time ago I wrote a short story around a visit to Covent Garden and another visit there plays an important part in my unfinished novella/novel.

Ailish’s blog posts, especially about stone circles and castles, determined me to spend some of last summer in Aberdeenshire. It has been no surprise to find stone circles occurring in the book, momentous events happening within them (I don’t want to give too much away). Unfortunately, ill health prevented my visit. Maybe next summer.

A big surprise is that, halfway through the story I’ve been confronted with how I thought it would end. So I’m intrigued by where it will go now.

So, if you want a relaxing read, with all the ups and downs of a Catherine Cookson tale, this might be a book for you. But I’m only half way through so who knows what is in store.

Ailish’s novel is called The Mermaid and the Bear, published by GWL Publishing and available on Amazon and in some book shops.


Front cover of ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’.My current reading, The Confessions of Frannie Langton, winner of the Costa Book Award for a first novel, has suddenly improved. That is, the writing has improved or, perhaps better said, I am finding it easier to read.

Now on Chaper 29, I’m enjoying it. The writing flows and those interminable similes have mostly disappeared, though when the word ‘like’ does appear it resonates and irritates. Nevertheless, now enjoyable. It’s almost as though I’m reading a different author.

What brought about this change?

Although things did improve a little after the first five chapters, the big change occurred immediately after the author, Sara Collins, introduced the beginning of the lesbian relationship between Frannie and her ‘mistress’.

A lesson?

What really interests me is the lesson I might learn for attempting to finish my first novella/novel. Sara Collins said in the radio interview which introduced her to me (Scala Radio), that she disliked all the research she had to do into anti-slavery campaigns and London at that time. There was for sure a lot of research behind those first five chapters.

I said in a previous post that I was finding research tiresome. Is that affecting my writing? The words are not flowing as freely for me as I am used to.

A lesson: that the necessary research to ensure authenticity should not be allowed to ‘take over’ the main point of the story?

I’m beginning to understand why critics have rated the novel highly (including those from The Times and Guardian and, of course, why it might have merited the Costa award). I could, however, have done without the first few chapters which, had I not heard the radio interview, would have made me give up reading.


I said some time ago that I was changing the basis of my grumpytyke blog. From a general “view from Yorkshire, about anything” to concentrate on my writing, But not only of my writing, that of others too, be it from my reading of commercially published authors, self published authors, or unpublished works from people I know, including lessons learned from reading them. It will include an archive of my stories and ‘poems’ (this in still in progress). 

However, my previous favourite subjects – discrimination of any kind and food/cooking – in fact anything, might creep in from time to time.

Managed to scribble this short story for today’s meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. The theme given to us was ‘radiation’; that’s the title of my story.

Working cover; photo of girl in mini dress holding a ‘Save the mini’ campaign poster

Photo: Daily Mirror

I say “managed” as I’m endeavouring to spend what writing time I have on completing the novella/novel in progress, subtitled ‘A tale of unlikely love in 1960s-1970s London‘ which was put on the back burner at least a year ago. Now I’ve set myself a target of at least half an hour a day working on it and have managed that for, so far, over a week. I intend to post something here sometime soon on this unusual, for me, way of getting me writing something. As I’ve often said, I usually write only when the muse prompts me.


Short story

Radiation

It all began well, except no breakfast allowed.

Later, I should have been forewarned as it took five attempts to get in a canula for a dose of vitamin k.

Screen please.” A kind of click somewhere beyond the glass screen between surgeon (and me) and the two young ladies who had been introduced as the radiology team. There were another four young women grouped around the operating table on which I was laying, on my stomach, head back, uncomfortable with a tube fed down my throat.

Interesting that the radiology team had to be protected from the radiation but not the six people on this side of the screen, I thought. Of course I couldn’t be, being the subject of the surgery.

Screen please”. Another click. I realised that it was the surgeon speaking, though I could see him only with difficulty, lowering my eyes as far as I could.

I saw the surgeon feeding something down the tube in my mouth, but also the nurse next to him holding something else.

Screen please.” Another click. I realised what was happening; the radiation was turned on for only a short time when the surgeon needed to see what was happening at the end of the tube down in my stomach.

Screen please.” Click. Then “One centimetre please.” The second instruction seemed to be directed at the nurse who I now saw was moving a black and white striped ‘cord’. “Ah, they must be centimetre markings,” I deduced.

Screen please.” Click.

The feeling in my throat was getting more and more uncomfortable. I expected to feel nothing as a result of a foul tasting spray into my throat before the procedure began. The pre-op letter had not prepared me for this. The spray had me gagging though, as I had been told not to eat for at least six hours before, I was not actually sick.

Screen please.” Click.

It was becoming more and more difficult to remain still. I had an almost irresistable urge to pull the tube from my mouth. Fortunately, my position on the table would have made it extremely difficult for me to do it. “This is far worse than open surgery with a general anaesthetic,” I thought.

Screen please”. No click? Then a rushing sound, getting louder and louder followed by a loud bang and the sound of breaking glass.

A scream, cut off sharply as shards of glass began to radiate above me from a point somewhere behind me. The surgeon grabbed at his chest as a red stain spread over his green surgical overalls then he collapsed to the floor.

A second shard hit the assisting nurse in the throat. A stream of red covered my face as I forced my arms upwards to grab the end of the tube coming out of my mouth and pulled, ignoring the pain as the long tube was withdrawn.

The other three, observers including a student nurse, fared better than the surgeon and his assistant; the radiating shards hitting them being small they were just covered with tiny cuts.

I woke up in recovery, two days later I understood.

Why am I here,” I asked.

I had been subjected to a high dose of radiation, they told me, as had been the five staff who survived. The surgeon did not.

Nor did the assisting nurse.

Months later, I’m still enjoying the lingering sweet salty taste of her in my mouth.

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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

A screen shot of a preview screen showing the menu structure of my reorganised blog.

I still use the editor with which I began 11 years ago; in my opinion few, if any, of WordPress’s changes have been an improvement, rather the reverse. I disliked the ‘app’ from the start and I haven’t changed my mind.

Recently I decided to restructure this blog, in particular to highlight things which interest me more than when I began to post on it seven years ago (though it was created four years before that!). I didn’t want to change the overall look of it, with which I’ve always been happy; in particular, I now want it to be principally a ‘library’ of my fictional prose and ‘poetry’, grouped under menu headings. So I’ve changed the tag line in the header a little too to reflect that.

What has amazed me during this exercise is not only the number of short stories and ‘poems’ I have written but the different genres I have tackled. My first attempt at a short story was almost seven years ago; the ‘poems’ began about a month after that, prompted by a haiku from a blogger ‘five reflections‘, who I believe posts no more.

However, the greatest influence has been our local writers’ club, Writing of the Wharfe, formed by our lovely Romanian ‘leader’ Ruxandra Moore. I was a founder member.

A change of emphasis only

I continue to ignore the desperate attempts by WordPress to change my way of editing: “There’s an easier way to edit posts …”, it insists at the top of every editing screen. Not for me there’s not!.

Although I’m changing the emphasis, I do not want it to be a blog only as somewhere to publish my fictional writings, as many writers’ blogs are. I still want grumpytyke to feel free to have a grump about something from time to time and, when appropriate, give some background to the ‘creative writing’.

Until now all my so-called ‘creative writing’ appearing on this blog has been within a post giving some background, eg, this piece was what I wrote to read at a meeting of my local writers’ club, that piece was what I presented at the Ilkley Literature Festival, this work was inspired by something written (link) by this blogger, etc. So I wanted to separate the story or ‘poem’ from the post originally including it. Eventually there will be a link to the original post including it. I did this with my ‘haiku’ (I don’t now believe they are haiku – just 5-7-5  verses) and ‘tanka’ some time ago, collecting them together on a single page.

A work in progress

It’s a work in progress at the moment. It’s not too difficult to extract pieces from a post, put them on a page and put them under the appropriate menu or sub-menu heading, though I’m no IT expert so it’s far from perfect. Another problem is that I have quite a bit of writing which has never appeared on this blog.

’Poetry’ not Poetry

You may notice that I usually put inverted commas round the words ‘poem’ or ‘poetry’ when referring to my own creations. After reading and listening to poetry for more than seven decades I’m still not sure what poetry is so I am reluctant to call any little piece of mine a poem. Of course I have to tag them as such.

One of my favourite poets, David Machin, a member of our writers’ club, insists on calling his creations ‘verse’,  not poetry. Another, Matt Abbott told me during an hour spent with him on a barge on the Leeds-Liverpool canal, “If it makes the audience cry it is poetry” (see my ‘poem’ A Lesson in Restriction). The poetry of another, Iulia Halatz, which I ‘lost’, I’ve just unearthed hiding in an interesting writers’ collective, Sudden Denouement

An added difficulty is that for the past few months I’ve produced so-called ‘creative writing’ only with a fountain pen. So, unless I’ve typed it up to put in a post, it has now to be typed up to add to this archive.

A novella/novel in progress

Finally, I wanted this library to include pieces I’m working on so I have a sub-heading ‘Writing in Progress’. At the moment this is mainly chapters of a novella?/novel? I pick up from time to time (it began as a 5,000 word short story; now it’s reached about 30,000 words). Even this list gives something away: I don’t write by starting at the beginning and proceeding to the end. Nor do I ‘work’ at it; I write only when I feel the urge to write and may pick up a story, or ‘poem’, at any point. (Recently I read a blogging ‘guru’ saying that writing was hard work and there was no such thing as an innate ability to write. That may be so for him but in my view it is nonsense, even arrogant, to apply it to all writers.)

The work in progress is password protected.

For me, the only art form to compete with writing is music but as I do not create music I do not have a menu heading for that, any more than for my reading, though I may occasionally have posts about either. I’ll rely on the search facility to find those.

Food and Romania

I used to blog a lot about cooking/food and Romania so I decided to leave a menu heading for each of those categories, to display posts which fall into that category. At some point I’ll sort those out too.

As I said above, this reorganisation is a work in progress. If a particular story or ‘poem’ is clicked, you should be taken to that story or poem. If you click on a menu heading or sub-heading it should take you to all the posts in that category, as usual, but it doesn’t always do that. I’m working on it!