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?

Several of the blogs I follow add the strapline ‘author’, or mention that this is what they are in the ‘About’. I think I understand what this means.
 
However, some add ‘writer’ as a strap line or describe themselves as this. I’m not sure I understand what this means (I know the dictionary definitions of course).
My first writing professionally was on something pretty much like this

My first writing professionally was on something pretty much like this

 
Am I a ‘writer’? I don’t think so, or I don’t think many people would consider me to be one, but I have certainly written millions of words in my lifetime. I’m leaving aside personal letters (and, over the past 20 years or so, emails), reports and the like, which would account for many, many thousands of words. For around 10 years I wrote no less than 5,000 words a week, so a total of 2.5 million words would be a very conservative estimate during this time alone. In the remaining 40 or so years of my adult life I’ve probably averaged a weekly writing output of about a fifth of this, so around another 2 million in all. Let’s say around 5 million words in total. You might gather that I like to write. Does this make me a ‘writer’?
 
One response
  
Commenting on a recent post on a blog I follow, I said that from the post and the many comments it attracted: “Some of the responses, and even your post, seem to suggest that it (a ‘writer’) is someone who is urged to write by some distressing, or maybe happy, event. I’m sometimes prompted to write by such things, but that doesn’t seem to make me a ‘writer’ either”.
 
The blogger, who terms herself ‘author’, replied: “I don’t think a ‘writer’ is someone who is urged to write by some distressing, or maybe happy, event … We are all writers if we are ‘writing a book’ – but when that book is published we become the ‘author’ of the book. I see no reason why anyone who is writing a book (whether it be fiction, poetry or an autobiography) can’t call themselves a ‘writer’ – because basically they are”. This seems to suggest that – with the exception of an autobiography – you are only a ‘writer’ if you write something fictional. So what about, eg, a ‘travel writer’?
 
I have not written, nor am I writing, a ‘book’. I have attempted a short story – ‘published’ on this blog. And every one of those 2.5 million words over a 10 year period I mention above was published – on paper; what is more, they were not self-published – I was either commissioned to write them or they were accepted and paid for by a publisher. Probably around a quarter of the other 2 million I mentioned were published. But this still does not seem to make me a ‘writer’.
 
Some of the bloggers who say they are a ‘writer’ write, often very eloquently, about writing. These are usually very popular blogs, attracting hundreds, if not thousands, of followers and comments. Many of these writers on writing have not had anything published other than self-published, often then only on their blog. Does this make them a ‘writer’? I’m not sure. What is more, sometimes when I’ve been able to access something they have ‘written’ – a book or short story – I’ve not been anything like as impressed as with the quality when they are ‘writing about writing’.
Some of the many thousands of words written to my mother over several years in Romania. They don't make me a 'writer', but what if I transcribe them and publish as a book? Will this wave the magic wand?

Some of the many thousands of words written to my mother over several years in Romania. They don’t make me a ‘writer’, but what if I transcribe them and publish as a book? Will this wave the magic wand?

 
An urge to write?
 
Does it have something to do with an urge to write? I’m not sure about this either; I have had an urge to write since childhood but again this doesn’t seem to make me a ‘writer’. In fact, almost everything I find interesting, fascinating, distressing or joyful urges me to write, and sometimes I write about it, as now. Does this make me a ‘writer’?
 
Steinbeck, Dickens, and who?
 
I’ve been reading books, I am told, from the age of three. The most influential on me was read when a teenager – Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath‘. The grammar is often dreadful, some passages seemingly overlong and difficult to get through, but I have no doubt he was a ‘writer’. Why? Because what he wrote has had such an effect on the whole of what I became? I don’t think this is the answer either, because some authors who I have no doubt are ‘writers’ simply give me enjoyment, as does so much of Dickens (I’m ignoring here his wealth of social commentary, which has also done much to mould my social conscience).
 
I don’t have that many ‘writers’ and ‘authors’ as followers so perhaps I should ask those of you who have to broadcast the question out to their many ‘writer/author’ followers and feed back in some way.
 
Or is the question of interest only to me?

A day of ‘street photography’ debate (with myself only!)

Good intentions to write a blog a day died last week when work and other things took over. So Saturday, due to go to a village gala and subsequent barbecue at friends who live in the village, it seemed a good idea to take up the WordPress weekly photo challenge and attempt some ‘street photography’. Despite declaring a big interest in things photographic I’ve so far written almost nothing about it. Our contribution to the barbecue would give me an opportunity to talk about food.

So, what camera to take? Seemed clear to me I should take film, black and white film at that. Looking at all the street photography through links on the challenge post it was clear that, for me, that black and white provided the most powerful images and those on film appealed most to me.

Some of grumpytyke's film cameras

A lovely Exa with Tessar, a Super Ikonta also with Tessar, a Mamiya Press Super 23, Voigtlander Bessa-T with 35mm Color Skopar, Contax AX and Olympus XA. A few of my ‘little’ collection.

Which camera? The Olympus XA – pocketable, light, the ideal 35mm lens, excellent viewfinder, very unobtrusive. Unfortunately the shutter on mine is playing up so it had to be discounted, and the Minox 35EL with similar attributes is ‘in bits’ while I try to find a similar problem.

For me all the SLRs were ‘out’ – generally too bulky, too noisy, too intrusive.

So it had to be one of the rangefinders (though a Leica M4 exists, till now, only on my wish list). What film did I have?

Well I have a shelf-full of 120 B&W film but the Super Ikonta folder or Mamiya Super 23 are clearly not the tools for this job. I could find only four 35mm – a 36 exposure FP4 cassette, at 125 not really fast enough; a 20 exp Delta 400 – not as many exposures as I wanted; a couple of hundred exposures of XP2 in a bulk loader but couldn’t find any empty cassettes, and almost 50 metres of APX 400 in an unopened pack, which would have been my preferred choice but, again, no cassettes and even if I found some changing the film in the bulk-loader would be a helluva hassle.

So, maybe this time I have to settle for digital; the Lumix GF1 set to B&W, zoom set to 17.5mm (so 35mm equivalent) manual exposure and focus set to hyperfocal distance, provides some of the necessary attributes. I’d be more convinced if it had a conventional viewfinder.

However. I still wanted to go with film so chose the Bessa-T with optical viewfinder in the hotshoe, taking the Delta 400 with the FP4 as back-up (maybe it can be ‘pushed’?).

I took the GF1 as a back-up.

All to no avail. We arrived at the village as the heavens opened; it rained like a power shower for an hour so we sat in the VW camper till we could make it to the barbecue – no parking there so a long walk. Then it rained again so no barbecue – almost everything was cooked in the oven/grill inside.

So no ‘street photography’, at least not in time for this week’s challenge.

Barbecue food, Romanian ‘mici’

One brave soul, my Romanian wife, was determined to have the ‘mici’ she’d made taste authentic so braved the rain and got just enough cover to cook them on the charcoal. As always, these ‘simple’ Romanian barbecue delicacies went down a bomb (as they did when she made them for our Jubilee ‘Big Lunch’ a couple of weeks ago).

Simple? Minced meat mixed with a variety of flavourings – onion, garlic, thyme, coriander, cumin, black pepper and, of course, salt. Traditionally the mince is a mixture of lamb and beef, but my wife won’t eat lamb so she makes it with beef and pork – 60/40% seems to work well. Apart from the unusual spice mix, what makes the ‘mici’ special is they are mixed (hands of course) with some sparkling mineral water (or sodium bicarbonate mixed with ‘juice’ from the meat) which makes them more ‘airy’.

They are rolled into small sausage shapes (keeping hands wet to prevent the mixture sticking) and, when cooked, eaten with slices from a French stick and ‘French’ mustard. Cold beer, gassy continental type, is obligatory (I took the little bottles of French Brasserie Blonde from Aldi – cheap and ideal if you’re driving – low alcohol).

Not surprisingly, few if any Romanians mix up the spices themselves nowadays, they buy a packet. We do the same; we bring a few packets back on each visit or the family post them to us.

Bankers, lawyers and Dickens

Can’t resist a little politics. Did anyone else notice that the politicians in the ‘save the Euro’ discussions seemed more intent on saving, or not losing, face than coming up with any real solutions?

Banking? The latest banking scandal, fixing interest rates, incredibly seems yet again to be greeted with surprise by so many. Dickens was ranting about the financial ‘institutions’ of that day around a century and a half ago and I’ve been saying for about the past 50 years that little has changed.

Of course he was right about the legal professions too and much remains the same.

By any moral standard both remain corrupt.