Writing


Photo of Paula’s letter and the envelope it came inYesterday was a real ‘red letter day‘ for me, though the letter was blue – blue paper, blue ink.

One of the highlights of my usual summer trip to Romania last year was meeting two of my former students, from around a quarter of a century ago. Since then I’ve kept in touch, a little via internet but, more importantly, by handwritten letters, in line with my rediscovered love of the fountain pen.

A letter in the post

Yesterday I received a 13 page letter from Paula, now a teacher of English in the beautiful Bistrița valley in Romania; she graciously tells all that her present career is due to my teaching in the 1990s.

Paula is a busy lady, a full-time teacher in high school, supplementing her income with private tuition as many Romanian teachers have to do. Her husband is now working abroad as many Romanians find necessary so with a young son, it’s not surprising that she began her letter to me in early December last year and finished it in early February this year.

A poet remembered – Labiș

I was delighted to see she’d remembered that I’d said it was good to receive something in Romanian so she’d written a paragraph in her own language (which I had no problem reading). However, she also remembered I had said that one of my favourite Romanian poets was Nicolae Labiș and had written out two of his poems for me: Moartea căprioarei (The death of the deer) and Meșterul (The master {craftsman}). They will take me rather longer to fully understand but I’ll enjoy the exercise. I read the first many years ago on a visit to the village of Mălini (in my beloved Bucovina) where Labiș was born, when my Romanian was much less good than now; I remember that even then it brought tears. It was probably what first created my love for the poetry of this poet, who died tragically young in strange, controversial, circumstances. Meșterul I do not know.

I’ve already begun a letter back to her which I’ll complete over a little time in the future; I’ve also begun one to my Latvian blogger friend Ilze, which I’ll complete in a rather shorter time.

The pen is mightier than the keyboard

I’ve said it before, I now write all my stories and poems on paper with a fountain pen, and am even trying to expand my single attempt at a novella into a novel using the pen not the computer; I find the creative juices flow more freely with the ink. But hand writing letters seems to be a powerful medicine when the stresses of daily life are trying to take over.

 

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Silouttes of small spider and web with witchI rarely come across British English words in my everyday reading which I do not know, I suppose not surprising as I’ve been an avid reader for much of my life since I was three years old. However, looking up a word – which I’d come across recently – in the on-line Oxford dictionary I found myself subscribing to its ‘word a day‘ service. Fascinating!

So far it seems I’m given a word I do not know, or the meaning of which I cannot deduce, about once every five to ten days; sometimes that the word can also be heard spoken is helpful when the pronunciation is not obvious (to me).

Spiderlings and carlins

A recent word the meaning of which could be easily deduced was ‘spiderling‘ – a baby spider – though I’d never heard it before. Today’s word, ‘carlin‘, I’d never met and I hadn’t any idea what it could mean. It means ‘witch‘, deriving from Middle English, in turn from Old Norse – ‘kerling’ meaning an old woman. What I find particularly interesting is that the Old Norse word means ‘old woman’, even just ‘woman’ without the supernatural powers. However, so often have old women, especially those bent and wizened, been regarded as witches!

Most popular words

Looking at the five words said to be the most popular in the world at the moment, I was surprised to see ‘POV‘ given as the most popular: surely it’s an acronym – ‘point of view’ – which I do not regard as a ‘word’, but maybe I’m out of step here. No surprise to see ‘retweet‘ in second place (one reason I’ve abandoned twitter). Other surprises are ‘lughole‘ though its meaning is well known to tykes like me – ear – though we’d pronounce it “lug’ole”.  ‘Alguacil‘ in third place is surprising until you remember that Spanish is becoming the most used language on the planet; I can think of no explanation for ‘cytopenia‘ being in fourth place unless it’s because of frequent use in medical journals as a result of discussions about cancer.

For those of you who do not know the Oxford Dictionary service, if you subscribe to it you get an email each day with the ‘word of the day’ and clicking on the word takes you to the definition(s) and pronunciation.

It’s not really surprising I had not come across ‘carlin’ as it’s Scottish, not English, but the two words – spiderling and carlin – prompted me to dash off the following bit of doggerel.

There once was a spiderling spinning his web
But just when his keeness was starting to ebb
Along came a carlin with her sharp besom broom
Intent on a rare cleaning of her dark, dingy room
Cruelly dashing our spiderling’s hope of ever being a web-spin celeb.

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.

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?

◊◊◊

I’ve never aimed to post every day so none of my blogs were intended to be a daily journal of my life. In fact, reading other bloggers and perhaps (usually) commenting on them was always more important to me.

Maintaining three WordPress blogs

The little Sony delivers amazing quality for its size, acquired mainly for ‘blipfoto’, with one of my favourite classic camera marques but with the tools of my first love, pen and paper for writing

The little Sony delivers amazing quality for its size, acquired mainly for ‘blipfoto’, with one of my favourite classic camera marques but with the tools of my first love

For those of you who do not know, at one time I maintained three personal blogs: this one, one for my interest in photography (particularly about classic cameras and film photography) and an ‘alternative’ site for the village in which I live.

Having decided some time ago not to maintain posting on the village blog and circumstances dictating rare posting on the photography blog, coupled with missing some bloggers I used to enjoy a lot, today I decided to see what the situation with the bloggers I ‘follow’ is.

Missing ‘followed’ bloggers

49 have not posted for 2 years or more. I wonder what happened to them. There was not a final post saying “I’m stopping posting on the blog, because ….”, as far as I know, not one; of course I did do a ‘final’ post on the village site announcing my intention to stop posting and giving the reasons.

So most of those I followed who have not posted for two years I have now  ‘unfollowed’ but a few I particularly liked I’ve continued to follow in the hope they may reappear.

For myself, my first love being writing, I’ll continue to post on this blog, which is more suitable for longer posts, including those about my short stories or ‘poems’.

But, more suitable for a photo with a short text, or even no text, blipfoto has a wonderful supportive community and having met a challenge from a blogger friend, to reach 300 ‘blips’ by Christmas Day, I’m going to make a big effort to ‘blip’ more frequently – my target is at least once a week.

And, I might just try to post now and then on my photo blog – grumpytykepix – particularly as I’ll now allow more digital pix among any on film which I’m now able to do.

 

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.

Photo of the book “Christmas books”, open in Chapter 1, with the two volumes of ‘Christmas Stories’Yesterday I retrieved my copy of the Christmas books of Charles Dickens, the five of them in a single volume, from the bookshelf where they usually reside with his complete works (the only books on view in our living room). It is a facsimile of the 1876 edition. It was a day late as I usually begin ‘A Christmas Carol‘ on St Nicholas’s Day.

I always finish ‘A Christmas Carol‘ but I have been known to finish all five books by Christmas Day but that was probably before I began blogging. Even further back I might have started on the other ‘Christmas stories’, 15 of them, in two volumes on my bookshelf, but I don’t think I ever finished them by 25th December.

My favourite author?

Christmas simply would not be Christmas for me without ‘A Christmas Carol‘. Dickens has been anyway one of my favourite authors since a very early age, perhaps even the favourite (though Emily Brontë is a strong contender). I am constantly astounded by his power of description, particularly of his characters, and I have him to thank first for my extensive vocabulary. I wish I could say the same about my powers of description in my stories.

I particularly like the preface to the Christmas books, a kind of apology that his characters are not drawn in the detail he usually expects of himself:

“The narrow space within which it was necessary to confine these Christmas Stories, when they were originally published, rendered their construction a matter of some difficulty, and almost necessitated what is peculiar in their machinery.

“I have never attempted great elaboration of detail in the working out of character within such limits, believing that it could not succeed. My purpose was, in a whimsical kind of masque which the good-humour of the season justified, to awaken some loving and forbearing thoughts, never out of season in a Christian land.”

It works for me.

I also particularly like the opening sentence:

“Marley was dead, to begin with.”

How could I not continue to read after that (“to begin with” is a masterstroke), even if I know very well what follows?

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