Drawing of a rose, with thornd

Drawing by blogger ‘mopana’, see below

Recently I began a story which currently stands at over 17,000 words. That’s a big jump from the maximum of around the 1,000, more usually a few hundred, I managed before. Even that number surprises me; I’m more likely to turn out a haiku or a 100 words, precisely. For some reason I like the discipline which those impose.

However, what I’ve found is that it is just the discipline which prevents me writing longer and for the first time I have understood why I’ve always been averse to attending any kind of creative writing course. Any kind of planning, or thinking too deeply about plot, characters or the like just makes me wrap up the whole thing quickly or abandon it. If nothing else, it just makes it boring, for me.

In our local writers’ club we are usually given a ‘theme’ on which to write for reading at the following meeting after two weeks. That has always resulted in something short from me, which is ideal as writing longer means there is time to read only an extract, which is never really satisfactory. However, one recent theme ‘What if …’ opened up so many possibilities that I found myself just writing and writing, with no plan, just waiting for the two characters (Miranda and Peter – M and P; where they came from I have no idea, or have I?) to ‘speak’ to me to tell me what was happening.

Blocked

I first became ‘blocked’ when they fell silent, at around 6,000 words. I’d written what I thought was the beginning and the end but felt the journey between the extremities was too short for my two characters. They had not enjoyed themselves, nor suffered enough, to satisfy me. They spoke to me no more but clearly wanted to carry on their journey. I decided to call on my fellow writers’ club members, though just a select few (I won’t say more other than that I’ve always had more empathy with women than men, as any regular reader of this blog may know), asking them to comment on a printed version. One responded almost immediately; with her suggestion in my head M and P began to speak to me again, telling me much more about themselves, so another 6,000 words was rapidly completed.

Stalled again at about 12,000. Then another club member gave me some notes handwritten on my script with some words of encouragement. Again, M and P began to speak, suggesting that they had a discussion about their star signs, so each would be able to see how the partner saw them and how they saw themselves. Another 5,500 words resulted, so now 17,500 in all.

Another suggestion was that an ‘observer’ who I’d introduced right at the end should have something to say earlier, now and then, to make the reader question whether they were in reality or fantasy. This fell into place quite readily and, I thought, much improved things.

No one has yet suggested the author/book from which I ‘nicked’ the idea of the outside observer but I know.

Anne Brontë

Throughout this process I did not know why I was compelled  to write the story or what the underlying theme was, though I had an idea that it was perhaps about the strength of women and the weakness of men. Throughout the writing, from the first idea, I had the feeling that the answer lay in a quotation which I could not recall though I spent long periods thinking about it. I had a vague feeling it was Emily Brontë but, having read her novel many times, could not think where it might be; in her poems perhaps? But no luck there either.

It came to me suddenly a couple of days ago. Not Emily, but Anne:

On all her breezes borne
Earth yields no scents like those;
But he, that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.

In a poem, The Narrow Way. I was rather annoyed that I had not been able to recall those last two lines earlier. They are the key, I think, to adding a few more thousand words, even perhaps finishing the story.

However, something even stranger, a remarkable coincidence (but I do not believe in coincidences!). A few hours later I was scrolling through the bloggers I follow and came across those same two lines in a post from a young Romanian woman, very young in comparison with me. What is more, she’d written a haiku to go with them (and her drawing of a rose, above). I find her blog refreshing, creative and entrepreneurial; you can go to it by clicking her user name: Mopana.

Music

Now, I cannot write in silence, so after hearing several authors interviewed on radio who felt the same, but many who did not, I was intrigued to find out what accompaniment my fellow club members used, if any, so tried to begin a discussion about it on the club Facebook (closed) page. So far only three have responded but of those two demand absolute silence, one is with me but the music, he says, is random. Mine is not.

Below is a picture of what has been keeping me company during my writing marathon. Some were there from the beginning. Some I added to jog my memory (one I even bought for this purpose) when I realised that I was writing about 1960s London. I have music mostly on LP, including many complete operas, but they are not really practical unless you just want to sit and listen.

It’s a motley collection you might think but it does reflect a part of my musical taste.

For the record, they are, left to right approx, Ella Fitzgerald with Count Basie; some operatic divas (as selected by Gok) – I posted about this recently; member of our writers’ club Emma Nabarro-Steel; Stephane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin; Schubert’s ‘Trout’ quintet; Sofia Vicoveanca (my favourite Romanian ‘popular music’ artiste, though she’s joined from time to time by a delightful young one I don’t yet have a CD of, so from internet, Andrea Chișăliță; the Brighouse and Rastrick brass band; one of several Beethoven string quartets, particularly the late ones, played by the Romanian quartet Voces; and Eric Clapton. There’s one missing in the photo as it’s on LP – Mozart’s clarinet concerto. If I had it I’d have Stephane Grappelli with Django Reinhardt in there too. What I select depends partly on mood, partly on what I’m writing about.

I’ve now realised I have a story in waiting behind every one of those music choices. Maybe I’ll write those stories sometime.

I’d be interested to hear about any other’s writing process, whether you like a music background or not and if so what and why or anything else about how you write. I am, of course, talking about writing fiction. Blogging is something quite different though, again, there’s no theme to mine; I just write about anything which takes my fancy as and when, the words spilling out like blood from a stuck pig rather than from a finger pierced by the thorn of a rose.

My second passion after music is writing, and a sudden urge to write longer fiction, rather than my usual 100 word stories and haiku, resulted in twelve and a half thousand words in an unfinished story. Attempts at fiction, or poetry, only began in earnest when, a couple of years ago, I was introduced to our then newly-formed local writers’ club. Set a theme at each fortnightly meeting I usually managed to come up with something.

Until that time my real passion had been to write journalistically, more recently mainly by blogging.

The English Patient book cover The detour into fiction may have been halted, hopefully temporarily, by recent events, including reading a novel; my previous experience of it had been only through the film based on it – The English Patient.

The last time I was stopped completely by a novel was when, at 17, I read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time. That time it was the final paragraph (above) which stopped me; I don’t think I spoke for a couple of days – literally.

The English Patient did not stop life in the same way, it just brought my attempts at fiction writing to a halt. I have not yet reached the end; I was towards the end of only the third chapter. Michael Ondaatje seeming to do so easily what I was really struggling with, that combined with another event – or rather non-event – I just lost the motivation to continue. One of the consequences has been a renewed urge to blog more frequently, hence inflicting this on you, my readers.

Cytotoxic

What has cytotoxic to do with this? Well it was just the single word which brought me to a halt when I first encountered it on newly prescribed medication. The word was followed by ‘handle carefully’ and entreaties not to handle at all if pregnant. Now, I don’t think I’m pregnant though nothing would surprise me, even a virgin birth! I knew vaguely that the word meant the contents could kill cells. Until now, far from killing me it seems to be giving me a new lease of life so in this case it’s a single word which brought about a change.

I could become a thoroughly bad girl.

Small Belleek vase with flowersI can’t let St Patrick’s Day pass without a small acknowledgement; Ireland and it’s people share the top spot in my favourites with Romania, though it’s a few years now since I visited. Must remedy that.

The little Belleek vase was bought on one of the most memorable of many memorable Press visits when I was working full time as a journalist. It was bought as a memento for my mother and came to me when she passed on at 91 years five years ago.

Alcoholism, divorce and Blarney

A guest of the Irish Export Board with two other journalists, we were ferried around for three days in a Mercedes limousine, a wonderful – quite crazy – trip around many bars with several factories between. I returned to England I swear with a tan, Guinness tan, a preference for Irish whisky which has never left me, and a lasting wonder of Irish food. Despite the ride in an alcoholic haze (in those days all true journalists worked better well over the limit – alcoholism and divorce were the main enemies), the export board got their money’s worth with a published feature on the working places with export potential which we visited. It must have been 1970 or thereabouts.

The itinerary certainly included Dublin, Limerick and Cork (near which the obligatory kissing of the Blarney Stone took place). We never went anywhere near the village of Belleek, which is just over the border in Northern Ireland, but I acquired the small piece somewhere. I’ve always considered Ireland to be one country anyway.

So today I’m green, with envy, for all those lucky enough to be there over the Irish sea.

 

Picture of CD cover 'Gok's Divas'Until recently I found Gok Wan irritating, possibly because I find the fashion scene irritating and he’s just a bit too ‘camp’ for me. It all changed when I heard him interviewed recently on Classic FM (UK of course). It was interesting to hear what I guess is the real person. It turned out that he loves opera, particularly the divas, and that he “likes, or needs, to be surrounded by strong women”. Perhaps not his exact words but whatever he said it could well have been me I thought. Moreover, I heard that he had curated an album of his choice of divas; so many would have been those I would have chosen, headed by the incomparable Maria Callas. The only amazing omission was Joan Sutherland – as Pavarroti said, “the voice of the century.”

When the interview finished I was on to Amazon and bought the album.

Back to the ’60s

Forgive any lapses of memory please – it is half a century ago and someone disposed of my record collection when I was in Romania. Several of his choices took me back to the 1950/60s; at that time I had several of the operas on LPs with divas he chose. Here are some:

Maria Callas did not have the greatest voice but she could stir the emotions like no other. “The Bible of opera” Leonard Bernstein called her. Like many thousands of others, I was stopped in my tracks when I first heard Casta Diva (Norma, Bellini). It still does it, as it did when it was played during the interview with Gok. Lucia di Lammermoor with Giuseppe di Stefano was among my LP sets in the ’60s.

Montserrat Caballe was just amazing when she sang pianissimo. Quite unlike any other. I had her 1967 recording of Lucrezia Borgia. Much more recent of course, she sang with Freddie Mercury.

Kiri Te Kanawa was quite a bit later. Always a delight to listen to, I can’t remember all the recordings of her I had but Die Fledermaus and Madame Butterfly were among them.

Elisabeth Schwarzcopf was an early favourite singing Wagner, having been taken by my grandmother to hear The Ring at an early age (not with Schwarzcopf unfortunately). The only opera I had been to before was Carmen at 7 years old, which began my love of opera though I had heard a lot before on radio and ‘gramophone’. I think Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg was an acquisition in the ’60s but a much earlier recording.

Victoria de los Angeles was rated no.3 in a BBC list of top twenty sopranos of all time (after Callas and Sutherland). I have two abiding memories of her: a recording of Carmen with Sir Thomas Beecham, from the ’50s I think, and a recording of Madame Butterfly with Jussi Bjoerling. Someone I shared a flat with had this latter recording on tape  (remember those? – 4 track stereo) but mine was on LPs.

Katherine Jenkins is much later of course and, as far as I know, has never taken a leading role in a staged opera. I’d have chosen her singing something Welsh.

Joan Sutherland is, for me, an inexplicable omission. I would have had at least a track of her singing the mad scene from Lucia de Lammermoor in place of one of the ‘musicals’, which I find out of place.

Interesting isn’t it that when we think of opera we think ‘Italian’ but there’s not an Italian among them – Greek, Spanish, New Zealand, Welsh and, with Sutherland, Australian? If we did a similar thing with the men I guess Italians might dominate, though I’d be torn between Jussi Bjoerling and Pavarotti to head my list.

Eclectic

That comment on musicals does not indicate a restricted taste in music, I doubt you’d find one much more eclectic. I just find the sudden change from grand opera to ‘musical’ too much. To make the point, last Friday evening, my first ‘night out’ for more than a couple of years (all down to the pills – I may become as camp as Gok!), I was with members of our writers’ club to hear a couple of indie bands and our own singer-songwriter in a superb smokey church venue (see pic – Left Bank Leeds). She can move me as much as Callas – almost. Click for her recently released CD, which is frequently in the player.

I have my own little tradition for 8 MarchInternational Women’s Day (but first encountered as simply ‘women’s day’ in Romania). I try to do a post about women, remarkable (aren’t they all?), undervalued or oppressed, on this day.

Remarkable

I have several in this first category close to home in our local writers’ club (see below), all with outstanding talent, and at least one in Romania who I’ll mention though there are far too many to mention individually – just look at the bloggers I follow, some of them as young as in their teens!

I’ll try to mention some remarkable women below. As a start I’ll just mention two most influential for me: my grandmother, an unmarried mother in the early years of the 20th century who managed to regain ‘respect’ and was the most influential adult in my early years; my mother who, as a war widow raised three young boys, I being the eldest, with very little money, despite being seriously ill much of the time.

Of course I have to mention my wife if only because she’s stuck with me for almost 17 years. However, one notable achievement was, arriving in the UK with her English limited to “Hello, I’m Petronela. I don’t speak English”, she obtained the GCSE C grade English, necessary to have her Romanian degree and teaching diploma recognised and gain ‘Qualified Teacher Status’, within a year and has been teaching in UK high schools ever since. Highly valued by her pupils and their parents, getting results from children labelled as under-achievers as well as those in ‘more able’ streams, she’s still undervalued by her current so-called ‘senior management team’. Despite this, while many colleagues have long and frequent absences for ‘stress’, many leaving the profession altogether, she has days absent – for genuine physical maladies – counted on no more than two hands in a decade or more.

I mentioned my grandmother above but I’ll add my ‘honorary grandmother’ (there’s only a year between our ages) who kept some traditions of the Romanian Bucovina alive when oppressed by the ‘Securitate’, secret police, in communist times. She still makes some of the best traditional food I’ve tasted. I’ve blogged about her more than once. Her name – Lucreția Hariuc.

Undervalued

I’ll mention just one group this time – nurses (of course I know there are male nurses), not undervalued I think by most patients but certainly by successive Governments in the UK.

Oppressed

I’ve had a go at two dreadful sources of female oppression in the past: female circumcision and forced marriage, both still rife even in Britain either directly or indirectly, especially in my locality.

I’d add every female in the USA, whether they know it or not, now that Trump is in the White House.

For this year I’ll add another group, just giving you the link here:

https://www.facebook.com/SheDecidesGFI/?pnref=story

Some of my local female heroes

I say ‘female heroes’ because giving them a different title already discriminates in my view. Just to list all the amazing females only in my village would make my post impossibly long so I’m going to mention only the female members  of our local writers’ club, founded and run by, of course, a woman. I cannot do them justice here nor would I wish to choose among them so here they are in alphabetical order (there are a few others in the members’ list but they rarely come to meetings so I don’t know them well enough to comment). Where the members listed have an example of their writing on my village website the name is a link to this.

Becky Bond

Becky, writing with unique humour, even on tragedy, recently threw in her job at the BBC because she was told she could not write anywhere else and went freelance. At the moment she’s my ‘muse’, being instrumental in extending my story-writing from a maximum few hundred words to, currently, over 10,000!

Have a look at her (non WordPress) blog. Often hilarious, always unique.

Ruxandra Busoiu

Certainly a remarkable young (mid 20s) Romanian woman who not only founded and runs our local writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) but over the past year has pushed us into involvement in the Ilkley Literature Festival (Fringe) and performing in a local (Ilkley) library. She’s served on a local youth offending team for a while now and is currently seeking to become a magistrate; will the white haired male wrinklies dominating our magistrates’ courts allow it?

Marjorie Hanbidge

Marjorie, before retirement, founded and ran a nursery school in the Wharfe valley. She’s another who usually makes us smile or laugh when she reads her poetry at club meetings. I call her our own Pam Ayres. Despite being very seriously ill just before Christmas and still not fully recovered, she was at the first meeting after Christmas to entertain us.

Kelly McCarthy-Wright

Kelly is a wonderful illustrator. I’ve said that in the unlikely event that I have a book published which requires illustrations, I’ll insist on her being the illustrator. She’s no mean writer either and is another who has the ability to make me laugh with her writing.

Emma Nabarro-Steel

Emma is our singer songwriter. A talented musician on both guitar and piano, she once regarded herself as a jazz singer. Now she says she doesn’t know what she is; all I know is that her songs – music and lyrics – delivered in a wonderfully soothing, soft voice, frequently have my hairs rising and sometimes bring a tear. You can explore, or buy, an album released late last year. She also delivers some super-crafted short stories and poetry, being eg instrumental in my attempt at writing a sonnet.

Catherine Turnbull

Catherine, when she joined the club, was editor of a local newspaper but, victim of the now familiar reorganisations in news media, she crossed the fence and now works in ‘PR’ for a large national organisation. She’s been widely published in the mainstream media and is instrumental in keeping us in touch with writing and learning about writing opportunities, some of which I’ve taken advantage of myself.

Does ‘promoting’ posts on Facebook and/or Twitter do more harm than good? It seems to me that readers often stick a ‘like’ on the FB/twit summary or photo without ever going to read the post.

As I said in a recent post, I’ve become more and more disillusioned with these other two ‘social media’, often superficial and frequently ‘nasty’, and have severely cut my use of them but until recently assumed ‘promoting’ WordPress posts on the other two platforms would be a useful way to reach a wider audience. I’m coming to the conclusion that it is, in fact, counter productive.

Anyone else think the same?

PS. Since writing the post referred to in the link above, sick of Trump’news’ and La La Land bull I now listen to BBC radio in the afternoons far less, and don’t watch BBC tv news at 6pm regularly. So I’m writing far more, including getting back into regular blogging and, more important, reading others’.

martisor2_edgSpring, the meteorological spring that is, came upon us with a beautiful dawn and a sunny morning which lasted until almost exactly noon. Also came symbols of one of the loveliest of Romanian traditions, mărțișor (see re my problems with Romanian grammar below).

Differing accounts

You will find many differing accounts of the tradition on the internet but in the part of the Romanian Bucovina where I say I was ‘brought up’ I learned that it is the males who receive symbols of spring from the females on this day, 1st March. The ladies have to wait until 8th March, long celebrated as ‘women’s day’ in Romania but in more recent years marked as International Women’s Day worldwide, to receive their tokens from the men. It was on 8th March that I first arrived in Romania, appropriate for me I think.

martisor1_edgIn its simplest form the symbol is just white and red silk threads twisted together which can be tied on the wrist, as one of mine received today (thank you Nectara) is shown here. However, now it is more usually tied in a bow and pinned on the breast, often with a small ‘talisman’ attached, as is the one received from my wife Petronela, pictured on the spoon above, which depicts another lovely tradition, dragobete (this year on 24th February) – I think the loveliest summary of this is ‘the day the birds fall in love’.

Basically they are given to bring the recipient prosperity and happiness for the coming year. They are worn (or should be) until the end of the month then tied in a fruit tree breaking into blossom.

I said in my immediately previous post that although speaking and reading Romanian is little problem for me, writing it is quite another matter so after several attempts I settled for the mix you see in the title. Just one of the problems is the Romanian ‘mărțișor’ is not just the name for the symbol but also for the tradition itself. On line translators, it seemed to me, were of little help. Is it:

Au venit mărțișoare/mărțișoarele/mărțișorii/mărțișoarelor, mărțișoare/mărțișoarele/mărțișorii/mărțișoarelor au venit, or none of those?
If you see this Corina, forgive me ?.