Photo of poet Poet KMHerbert - Kayla - at the launch

Poet KMHerbert – Kayla – at the launch

Writers and other artists talking about their works, graduates in English literature (even professors!), or critics, analysing novels and poetry, usually just irritate me; I long ago gave up going to ‘an evening with … ‘ at the Ilkley Literature Festival (or reading blog posts with a similar theme – though there are rare exceptions – just a couple of women blogging writers). Usually so much self-indulgent, pretentious claptrap from others!

This probably stems from my experience with Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. I first read it at seven years old and loved it. Eight or nine years later it was the set book for my English Literature GCE ‘O’ level; the analysis over a year ruined it for me and I have not been able to read it since. Of course I failed the exam. Fortunately I didn’t need it but ‘O’ level English Language was no problem and that was handy to have when I changed career course from science to journalism.

A surprise

Photo of Sussi Louise at the launch

Sussi Louise Smith – Sussi – at the launch

It was a delightful surprise when I attended the launch of a ‘collection’ of poems and illustrations by two members of our writers’ clubWriting on the Wharfe – this week. Far from irritating me, the ‘presentations’ had me enthralled – K.M.Herbert (Kayla) explaining some of the motivation behind her poems and Sussi Louise Smith (Sussi) showing clearly the emotions aroused by the poems and carried through into her illustrations.

Kayla is Canadian, Sussi is Danish, but both have lived in Yorkshire for a while.

Here’s what I wrote on our writers’ club Facebook page the following morning:

So glad I made it to Kayla’s and Sussi’s launch last night. A fascinating evening to have a little of the creative process of two of our ‘collective’ of talented artists explained and such openness about the emotions driving the writing of Kayla’s poems over a five year period and Sussi’s reaction to them, inspiring her wonderful illustrations.

Anyone who knows me will know that I generally don’t react well to writers and other artists explaining their thought processes – usually so much pretentious b……. – but Kayla and Sussi took us on a wonderful journey through the ‘collection’ of 12 poems and illustrations ‘Between the Spaces’.

The chosen medium, a set of postcards, Kayla’s poem on one side, Sussi’s illustration on the other, was inspired.

You can order a set at:  www.kmherbert.com

The setting for the launch was perfect too: surrounded by books in the intimacy of  Ilkley’s The Grove Bookshop.

Just one poem and illustration

I cannot choose a favourite poem nor illustration now, possibly never, it’s been difficult enough to separate out just one, but here is one of Kayla’s shortest fills of the spaces in her life over five years and Sussi’s illustration for it.

PS. If you see an advertisement in the middle of this post it has nothing to do with me. I do not, of course, object to WordPress putting an ad at the end of a post as I’m not willing to pay to get rid of them. But messing up a bloggers’ carefully constructed posts with advertisements in the middle is unacceptable. Much as I like most aspects of WordPress after using it for about a decade I’ll have to look for an alternative.

Worse, the ads are usually completely inappropriate; the latest is for a military video game. I object strongly to such a game being associated with my blog. I do not play video games, I don’t believe many of my followers will play video games either. 

It’s a long time since I bought paper copies of fiction books; it was more convenient to buy kindle editions and read them on the iPad. But my recent reversion to writing on paper with a fountain pen brought to mind the delight of turning real, physical pages.

Second edition of a “contemporary romance”

First a blogging writer I now regard as a distant friend launched the second edition of her “contemporary romance”, Equinox. This genre of novel is not my cup of tea (though it did appeal to my ‘feminist‘ side) but as she said that she’d made some changes (I read the first as a kindle edition) I wanted to read it to see what those changes were so I bought it on paper. I haven‘t had time to read this second edition yet; I don’t feel I can ‘review’ it as it’s not my kind of book.

From the cover notes: ‘But everything changes when they lay eyes on each other and their attraction takes them by storm. Soon, they find themselves in uncharted territory, their comfort and idea of selves threatened by needing what they’ve never wanted.’

Even if this genre of novel is not your cup of tea either I can recommend Kristina’s short short stories, published fairly regularly on her blog.

The Girl on the Train – ‘top notch’ thriller?

The second book recently added to my bookshelf is a novel I’ve wanted to read for some time: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I bought it for £1 in a charity shop. Said to be a ‘top notch thriller’, it should have been very much my cup of tea.

However, as the plot is interesting it should have been intriguing but I just found it confusing. I didn’t like the way the story is structured; I didn’t like the writing; there is very little about the characters so you never feel you are beginning to know them so try to work out what will happen next – surely one of the appeals of a ‘thriller’; it is for me.

It is highly recommended by Stephen King but that probably puts a nail in the coffin for me – I cannot stand his books, even being bored by each one I’ve tried to read so didn’t manage many pages.

 

Some time ago (10 February) I posted that I had ‘found’ and subscribed to the Oxford English Dictionary ‘Word a day’. A little later I completely ‘lost’ the urge to write – not only blog posts, but stories, poems, even trying to complete my first ever ‘novella’. There has been one exception: I’ve been writing letters, handwritten with a fountain pen, to distant friends and relatives, something I’ve not done for decades.

Not ‘writers’ block’

This loss is the first time it has happened to me in almost 60 years of writing, first earning my living at it as a journalist or copy-writer, later – much later – beginning to blog and write fiction, both for ‘fun’. It was not so-called ‘writers’ block’, the urge to write but losing inspiration; just no urge to write at all with the exception of the letters.

This morning, opening ‘Word a day’, I discovered a word I did not know – kakistocracy – and that jump-started me to write this post. I know only two countries well enough to apply this word to their Governments: the UK and Romania. The word means “government by the least suitable or competent citizens of a state”. Some of the recent utterances or actions of both Governments could hardly better prove the point.

Whether this reawakening of my muse extends beyond this post is yet to be seen but I have an idea tumbling about it my head, prompted by a member of our writers’ club – in turn prompted by my letter writing – who suggested each member should write a letter to someone. My idea is to write ‘a letter to a stranger’, someone who may not exist. If this gets me going I’ll surely post it here.

Word a day

I have been disappointed with the ‘word a day’ more than once recently, when the word was Indian or even Chinese. Oxford English Dictionary? And I do wish when a quotation is given, to illustrate use of the word, the source is given.

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.

 

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’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.