CULTURAL HIGHLIGHTS

One of the things keeping me sane during lock down was the watching of CALL MY AGENT on a loop. Have you watched it? It’s fantastic! If you haven’t, go and watch it immediately. It’s on Netflix and once you’ve done that we can have a discussion about which agent you’d want to represent you. Personally, I favour far left. He’s the only sane one there is and he’s good at nipping at ankles.

Is Call My Agent!: Season 3 (2018) on Netflix Spain?

Another thing I saw was COUP 53. This is a film about the coup which took place in Iran in 1953 in which MI6 and the CIA ousted Iran’s democratic PM Mossadegh and replaced him with the Shah. Ten years in the making, it’s excellent and informed me of something I knew next to nothing about. You can find out more about it and how to watch it here.

I am currently reading SWAN SONG by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott. It’s about what happened when writer Truman Capote published a story in Esquire magazine which spilled the beans on a whole load of his closest female friends. Capote is a writer I love and he’s a fascinating personality, so if you like his writing this will probably interest you. The Esquire story, La Cote Basque 1965, can be found in Answered Prayers. One of the enjoyable tit-bits from the book is that Jackie Kennedy and then Onassis produced a number of drag queens one of which was named Jackie Uh-oh.

Love Capote, love this.

Finally, I listened to some Katherine Mansfield short stories on BBC Radio 4 a while ago. They were excellent. I’ve not read her before but these really got me hooked. You’ll find them here on BBC Sounds.

What are you reading? What are you watching? What do you recommend?Spill the beans below.

HISTORICAL SLANG#3

Before lock down I did a few blogs on historical slang, so here we go again. This one is mid 17th century to mid 19th century.

To put a ….

beige and black hat near swimming pool

Photo by Jude Stevens on Pexels.com

Upon a …

Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

To put a swimming pool on a chicken? No, fool. To put a hat upon a hen: To attempt the impossible. I have to say this hen looks full of mischief and definitely not hatable or should that be hattable?

Since we’re on the subject have you ever tried returning a phone to Vodaphone? I had the misfortune to buy a Nokia 2.3 from them and it had the interesting foible of being fine when it came to calls to and from and fine when it came to texts out but would it receive a text? Oh, no it wouldn’t. The only text it received during a 72 hour period was regrettably the first time I entered a Vodaphone shop saying it wouldn’t receive them. So when I went back the following day, I had to throw a full raging fit, when I was told I had to speak to science and tech. ‘No, I said, I won’t. I have spoken to your virtual assistant the whole of yesterday afternoon.’ Then I went the full Italian, (no disrespect meant to Italians only admiration), I threw my hands in the air and pretty much shrieked, ‘I’m not moving until you sort this out for me. There’s something the matter with it. Give me another phone.’

At that point another Vodaphone employee looked across and said ‘What phone?’ and I said ‘Nokia 2.3,’ and he said ‘I had a man in here with that problem yesterday.’ And had he managed to sort it out? No, he hadn’t but there was something on their forum about it.So then I knew they could not fob me off with science and tech. So at this point the hat was almost on the hen’s head. It then took about two hours to get everything resolved because Tobi, the virtual assistant had done something he shouldn’t and the system wouldn’t refund me, until it did.

When it was all over the man who had been dealing with me looked at his boss and said he wanted a day working from home which made me feel slightly guilty even though none of it was my fault but he definitely had the look of a man who had been trying to put a hat on a hen, as did I, and as did the very long queue of people who were waiting outside the shop and giving me the evil eye as I left.

How about you? Have you been attempting the impossible recently? Tell me all about it.

HELLO, AGAIN.

I’ve been away from the blog for a while (ahem, five months) and thought I’d dip my toe back in with some book recommendations etc. Those of you who read a certain newspaper will recognise the questions. Also I want to see if I can get to grips with the new wordpress editor which is, let’s be honest, highly unlikely. So off we go with some questions I am asking myself and my apologies if <code;’*&^%$£”> happens.

Q.The book I am currently reading:

The Ashes of London: The first book in the brilliant historical crime mystery series from the No. 1 Sunday Times bestselling author (James Marwood & Cat Lovett, Book 1) by [Andrew Taylor]

 

Andrew Taylor’s THE ASHES OF LONDON. Historical fiction about the fire of London. He’s very readable. This starts when the fire has already been raging for a few days which is interesting. I was expecting a more disaster movie framework but it works well and I’m enjoying it.

Q. The book that changed your life.

Bit of a grandiose question. Probably ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT by Jeanette Winterson. Daring, funny, original – and she was so young when she wrote it.

Q. The book I wish I’d written.

 

Little: A Times and Sunday Times Book of the Year

LITTLE by Edward Carey, writer and illustrator. It’s about Madame Tussaud but so much more than that. It’s brilliant – a story of magnificent, triumphant, survival which given what we are all living through seems timely. Since Covid-19 struck, Edward has been doing a drawing a day on twitter. Well, worth checking out. @EdwardCarey70. His next book is THE SWALLOWED MAN out in November.

The Swallowed Man by [Edward Carey]

Q. A book you’ve read recently that you think is underrated.

Ash before Oak

ASH BEFORE OAK by Jeremy Cooper is described as fiction. Part nature diary and part chronicle of mental health crisis. Beautiful writing about the natural world. I loved it.

Q. Book I’m ashamed not to have read.

Well, probably everything by George Eliot.

Q. What book do you give as a gift?

LITTLE recently but to be honest I tend to ask people what they want.

Q. The last book that made you laugh?

A Rising Man: Sam Wyndham Book 1

Abir Mukherjee’s A RISING MAN. Historical crime set in 1920s India. I can’t recommend this series highly enough. This is the first in a series, the fourth, DEATH IN THE EAST, has recently paperbacked. Abir does everything effortlessly – character, dialogue, plot. He’s the real deal. Read him and enjoy.

Q. What’s your earliest reading memory?

9781840246131: Janet and John: Here we Go (Janet and John Books)

 

That would be Janet and John. There was also the Ladybird Book of Trees and Sam Pig by Alison Uttley.

Q. So what happened with the blogging?

Oh, you know, life … but I’m glad to be back. And could someone tell me how to caption photos now? And could someone tell wordpress to stop telling me I can’t edit my own b****y blog, thanks.

 

HISTORICAL SLANG: BADGER-LEGGED

BADGER-LEGGED: To have one leg shorter than the other. Colloquial from about 1700. Coming from the erroneous belief that a badger has legs of unequal length. So here is a picture of a badger showing a bit of leg.

Badger, Animal, Forest, Mammal

In other news the washing machine is banjaxed. You know you are doomed when the repair man says he’s never heard a machine make that kind of noise before. It was like a deranged metallic cricket. The replacing of a circuit board was mentioned but it’s 15 years old. Then he broke open the door and I got my laundry out. I hope they don’t shut down London before next Thursday, when the new one is due, because if they do I’ll be washing my pants in the sink for the next 3 months.

An attempt at normality was foiled by the absence of croissants in the Co-Op. I knew I was doomed when I saw a substantial woman coming out of the shop cramming a croissant in her mouth. Incidentally, I know the feeling both the substantial part and the cramming part, although I usually wait to get home before eating them. All gone and not a can of sardines to be seen.

On the badger front I have started following a twitter account called Mr Lumpy and Friends. It consists of films of badgers eating things and also an excellent one of a baby badger having its ears scratched. Very soothing. I highly recommend it, especially for those moments when you return home and tell your partner you haven’t got the croissants.

http://www.twitter.com/LumpyandFriends

HISTORICAL SLANG: HOG IN A SQUALL

 

white and gray bird on the bag of brown and black pig swimming on the beach during daytime

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Hog in a squall: to be beside oneself, out of one’s senses (-1887, nautical colloquial). Obviously the above pig is not in a squall but this morning I was. I had adapted to the joys of the cherry picker, beep, beeping past the window (it’s like a bad case of tinnitus) and the loud arguments of the two men using it and the apocalyptic drilling next door and the social distancing and all the rest of it and even the fact that the washing machine had picked the perfect moment to breakdown. But this morning there was a power cut. Yes, that’s right no electricity so the shops could not open and if it wasn’t bad enough round here with people panic buying, the power cut doubled that. And then the guys next door said that they would have to cut the water off at some point and I thought, Oh, fine no electricity, no water, no washing machine. How lovely is that? So yes, Hog in a squall, that was me. And then the power came back on and I felt a whole lot better. I’m trying to write my fiction but unfortunately it’s a plague scene. Can I just say in my defense, it was a plague scene before COVID-19 hit, a historical plague scene. Oxford 1644 in the middle of the English Civil War. They had typhus, something called campus morbidus and plague. But it feels immoral to be writing it and anyway who is going to want to read about plague once this is over? Time to think again.

HISTORICAL SLANG: HODDY-DODDY

A squat person. Generally in the 17-18th century in the form of a rude rhyme:  Hoddy-Doddy, All arse and no body. Apparently it was applied to the Rump Parliament in 1648 and no doubt it will probably apply to me when this is all over given the amount of 85% chocolate I seem to be consuming.

And in other news I have never felt less socially isolated. Yesterday a cherry picker arrived outside the block I live in to look at the gutters. Did it look at the gutters? No it did not. Did it beep a great deal while trying to, a foot from the window I was working in? Yes it did. At the same time they are doing up the flat next door and they are making the kind of noises that make you feel they will come bursting through the walls with a big drill in their hands. And then someone came and cleaned the carpets in the communal part of the block. Social isolation? Oh and then the washing machine broke. It was obviously waiting for the perfect moment and it chose yesterday. Still no cackling farts in the Co-Op [see previous post].

HISTORICAL SLANG: CACKLING FART

Today’s word is: CACKLING FART – An egg, late 17th-18th century. A cackler is a fowl so it should really be CACKLER’S FART but it isn’t. Incidentally a CACKLER was also a blabber (18th-20th century). A CACKLING-COVE was an actor and a CACKLE-MERCHANT was a dramatic author (1860). A CACKLE-CHUCKER was a prompter in the theatre. Hence CUT THE CACKLE! to shut up. Which I am not going to do because although I am not a dramatic author, I am a historical fiction writer in London which is in shut down because of COVID-19, so expect more cackling for your entertainment tomorrow. After all what is a gal to do when she has time on her hands but read her Dictionary of Historical Slang from cover to cover and visit her local Co-Op and discover that there is not a cackling fart to be had for love nor money.

BOOK REVIEW: The Story of #LittleWomen by @AnneBoydRioux

This is a fantastic book. Perfect to read if you’ve been to see the recent film and want to find out more about the author and her famous work. The full title (a bit cumbersome for a blog post title!) is Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and why it still matters. Anne Boyd Rioux, a professor in English at the University of New Orleans, is a great writer, informative and entertaining and with an enjoyably light touch. The book is packed with fascinating details about Louisa May Alcott and her famous book.

Here are some to amuse you:

  • Readers as varied as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Patti Smith, Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, JK Rowling and Caitlin Moran have all been inspired by it.
  • In My Brilliant Friend  by Elena Ferrante, Lila and Lenú meet every day for months to read chapters of Little Women together.
  • Ironically given the readership of her book, Alcott wrote in her diary that she, “never liked girls or knew many except my sisters.”
  • Her first title for the book was My Pathetic Family, a name she used for her own family!
  • Her father, Bronson, was, depending on your point of view – a philosopher with his head in the air, a religious fanatic or a manic depressive. He seems to have felt under no obligation to financially support his wife and four children. He was friends with Thoreau, Hawthorne and Emerson. On the plus side he was a transcendentalist who thought that genius was innate in each child, male or female. On her 14th birthday he gave Louisa a journal into which he had copied her own original poetry, showing he took her writing seriously. He built her a desk. He told her: “You have the genius to write a book that would reach the wider circle of readers.”
  • Bronson did not go away and fight in the American Civil War. Louisa was the one who went away to nurse wounded soldiers in Washington. It was she who came down with typhoid fever, which was treated with mercury, which badly affected her health and contributed towards her death.
  • Marriage? She did not marry and she did not want  Jo to marry but was pressurized by her publisher: “They insist on having people married off in a wholesale way which much afflicts me.”
  • She wrote the book when she was 35. It was published in 1868 and sold 2000 copies in 2 weeks.
  • By the mid 1870s the book had been translated into Russian, Swedish, Danish, Greek and Japanese. The Dutch title was Under Mother’s Wings, the French title, The Four Daughters of Dr Marsch [sic]. The father was turned into a doctor for the French version because being a catholic country it was thought that his profession as a pseudo-minister would not go down well. The Japanese title was A Story of Young Grass – young grass representing adolescence.
  • She did not like being famous: “This sight seeing fiend is a new torment to us.”
  • She died in 1888 of a stroke, two days after her father. They both shared the same birthday, November 29th.
  • The first sound film to be made of the book was directed by George Cukor in 1933 and had Katherine Hepburn playing Jo. When the film opened it broke box office records. 3000 people turned up at the theatre with 1000 gathered outside. 30 mounted policemen were called to manage the crowd. It was nominated for three Academy Awards and won for Best Adapted Screenplay.
  • The book has been turned into a play, radio plays, films, TV series, a musical and opera [1998 Mark Adamo] and it’s been translated into a huge number of different languages.

Finally, a question to entice you to the book:

1.What connects actors William Shatner [of Star Trek fame] and Gabriel Byrne [The Usual Suspects/ In Treatment] in the context of Little Women.

Read the book to find out!

Here are the links:

 

Twitter: http://twitter.com/AnneBoydRioux

Website: http://www.anneboydrioux.com

SO YOU’RE EDITING aka TAMING THE TIGER.

I’m going to concentrate on self-criticism because in my experience the most tricky part of editing is managing your mind. In this context it’s good to remember that we have two sides of the brain. Right hand side: emotional, imaginative, creative and intuitive. The left hand side: logical, analyzing, language processor, critic. If the right hand side has been largely in charge during the creative side of writing, during the editing process, the left hand side comes to the fore.

And you want it to.

You want it to see structural problems, examine patterns, assess the believability of characters, and you want it to pick up on spelling and grammar mistakes etc.

So you want to utilize it but you do not want it to destroy you.

If the left hand side of the brain is a tiger, we want it to be The Tiger Who Came to Tea, (at the beginning of the story) an urbane polite beast that will point out difficulties and illogicalities in what we’ve written and present solutions. We do not want it to be Sheer Khan in the Jungle Book. We do not want it to  look like this one below, as if it is going to pounce on us and eat us alive. We want the the tiger on our side; we do not want to be its tasty snack. Excuse me, I hear you cry, How the hell do you tame a tiger?

angry animal big carnivore

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The only answer to that is with practice.

A sign that the left hand side of the brain is snacking on us is if you have some of the following thoughts going through your head when you consider your book:

  • it’s rubbish
  • I’ve no idea where to begin
  • what was I thinking of
  • I’m ashamed of it
  • I’m stupid
  • no one will be interested in this stupid story
  • I’ve wasted so  much time on this rubbish
  • am I completely nuts
  • it will never be published
  • I will die in poverty

These kinds of thoughts which can have a certain taunting playground quality are I would guess very common to all writers at some time or other. Writing them down helps because it brings perspective and stops them rolling around unaddressed in your brain. So write them down, tear them up and crack on.

However, there are likely to be times when the tiger gets you and you stop and simply don’t know how to proceed. It might be helpful at this point to remind yourself that writing a novel is an incredibly difficult thing to do.  Most writers have been at this point. There’s a reason why people give up. It’s now a question of whether you are going to be one of them.

Related image

V &A’s Tipu’s Tiger

If the tiger has its jaws at your throat there are a few things you can do:

  • go for a walk. I know, I know but there’s all kinds of evidence out there that suggests this is a very good idea. For example a 2014 Stamford study suggested that walking increased a person’s creative output by an average of 60%. Twenty minutes of walking increases cerebral blood flow. etc, etc. Look at it this way, it’s free and it’s unlikely to do you any harm so why not give it a go.
  • talk to someone you trust. This is a bit like writing down the criticisms. Getting things out in the air helps reduce their power over you.
  • get someone you trust to read it. A proviso to this is that you are clear what you want and clear about time frame. For example I might say: ‘Would you mind reading through it for me. I’m not quite sure if it’s holding together and I know it’s not quite there yet. Could you tell me if my plot seems OK and if there any points where you get bored or feel it’s losing it’s way. Also if there are any things in it which are irritating/cliched/ unbelievable/repetitive… Be clear on the time frame because if you’re hoping someone will read it in a fortnight and they end up reading it in a month you might be pissed off.

Finally, a few random thoughts. At some point or other you will be confronted with the question of why you’re doing it. Why write? Why put yourself through it? Only you can answer that for yourself. It seems to me that one of the reasons is that we are story telling beings – homo fabula and stories are one way we make sense of the world.

I love this quote from Ben Okri:

“Nations and people are largely the stories they feed themselves. If they tell themselves lies they will suffer the future consequences of those lies. If they tell themselves stories that face their own truths they will free their histories for future flowerings.”

Good luck with the tiger. Mine is currently looking a bit like this because it views this post as relatively acceptable. Not tamed just resting. Now I’m going to take my own advice and go for a walk.

tiger lying on ground

Photo by Tuesday Temptation on Pexels.com

 

So now you’ve got a first draft …

A very common piece of advice for writers is to put their first draft in a drawer and wait. I’ve seen a month suggested as a good length of time. The thinking is that after that time has passed you will see it with fresh eyes and the editing will be easier.

Ha, ha, ha …

Now this is all very well but what the hell are you supposed to do in this month? In my case probably a week…

Here are a few ideas for you if you are facing this challenging period of time:

paperclips

Pointless pointy things and paperclips

  • buy paperclips [What? Well, it’s something to do, isn’t it?]
  • buy coloured clips [ditto]
  • buy coloured pointy things [double ditto]
  • colour coordinate your books [no, don’t actually, people will think you are disturbed]
  • dead head and water your … oh, good lord they’re actually dead so instead …
  • throw out your dead geraniums
  • phone your friends – oh, you haven’t got any
  • think about cleaning the kitchen floor [but under no circumstances actually do it]
  • pick up a passing poetry book and try and convince yourself that you are more poetic than you are currently feeling [being acutely aware that you want to inject a sense of poetry into certain parts of your book]
  • if all this fails to do the trick place a cat in a deck chair on the printed out draft along with spider man [you will require super powers to edit it] a glass eye [it happened to come to hand] a red heart and the oldest book you own, a 1799 history of the tower of London volume 1 price sixpence [No, I have absolutely no idea where it came from but here it is].

spiderman

Bonkers alchemy

  • take all your loose change [if your knees can take the strain] to one of those machines where it swallows it all up and gives you a voucher to spend. Feel the weirdness of not having one 1 pence piece in the flat apart from the one the machine rejected. Enjoy the weightlessness that goes with having no coppers anywhere near you.
  • consider the fact that with all your other 8 books you had that phase when you hated them and thought they were rubbish, hated yourself, thought you were… This is just another of those times so aren’t we maturing and isn’t this fun?
  • consider therapy
  • play this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARt9HV9T0w8
  • no, no, no if you’re thinking of rollerskating
  • drink
  • do not under any circumstances start following the news because the toxicity of the national debate [UK/Brexit/October/2019. One month to go etc] will bleed into the toxicity of your relationship with your book and you will want to set fire to your hat [if you have one] or your head if you haven’t
  • don’t read quotes like this because Calvin was obviously feeling exactly like you are now

“The shelf life of the modern hardback writer is somewhere between the milk and the yoghurt.”

CALVIN TRILLIN – THE NEW YORK TIMES 14 JUNE 1987

  • iron everything you can find including the cat and the hamster
  • try to ignore the 147 random pains that may have sprung into your body at the moment you typed the words THE END
  • under no circumstances dwell on that weird dream you had about Boris Johnson wrecking your car and denying it, the one where you woke yourself up shouting in a rage OR-DAHHHHH, OR-DAHHHHHH…
  • do not practice mindfulness because you will sink into the existential nothingness that is your life without writing and it won’t be pretty
  • don’t open that drawer which contains packets of old strepsils, a torch, batteries which may or may not be flat, an ancient camera, a belt that you once put round your waist but which now fits the top of your thigh, many odd gloves and your great aunt’s handkerchief holder, currently containing no handkerchiefs, three old conkers and miscellaneous christmas cracker gifts including a tiny green frog which is supposed to hop but … Wheeeeeeeeeee…oh my god that’s brilliant I’m never throwing that out. DO NOT OPEN THE DRAWER because it will make you feel like falling asleep for 100 years.
  • on the other hand that’s the best idea you’ve had so far. If you can, sleep for a week, it’ll save your liver and  it’ll prevent you buying paperclips and then you can get up and start editing. Good luck and don’t forget to use the pointy things but don’t worry if you don’t there’s always that drawer to put them in where they can point pointlessly at the pointless things in there which you have just discovered include two f*****g bags of coppers [coins not policemen] and that tiny green frog.

THE END (although unfortunately as any fule kno, it probably isn’t).