Isn't this amazing? It's an actual sculpture they've put on the beach in Dorset as a Game of Thrones promotion.
Monday, 29 July 2013
This wonderful picture is taken from an amusing blog I discovered whilst searching for pictures of naked writers. I wonder whether I'll still be able to find any after David Cameron has finished his dirty work? (With chilling echos of PayPal's censorship bid on Smashwords).
This post is brought about by a combination of the sweltering heatwave we've been having in the UK, and this delightful article in The Guardian:
Here, in the world of books – an awkward, secret society, sometimes lacking physical confidence – we might consider taking inspiration from Lady Gaga who has, apparently, recorded her latest album stark naked. Nor is she the first, by the way. Olivia Newton-John, Robbie Williams, Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) and the Canadian rock band Barenaked Ladies have all performed in the nude, some of them regularly.
Authors generally get no more daring than bedclothes. Writers who have at one time or another worked in bed include Winston Churchill, Walter Scott and (suffering from TB) George Orwell.
Wow! Wow! Wow!
Hold it right there.
I have no idea which writers you've been hanging about with at your literary soirees, but obviously the wrong crowd. I'll have you know we writers are often bloody adventurous. We have to do adventurous things to be able to write about them. I, for one, went running naked into the North Sea on May Day... unfortunately I was too cold when I got out to be able to write about it. I may keep it for my memoirs.
Actually, I come from a long line of skinny dippers. My dad and his partner helped break the world record for the largest skinny dip, in Swansea in 2011.
Anyway, I digress. All I'm saying is that, as an author, even my bed clothes (when I can be bothered with them) are generally quite daring.
The article ends with this rather anticlimactic line:
But no one, so far as I know, has ever described writing in the nude. Perhaps you can help?
How sad, and yes, I can. Let it be known that I am not someone who copes with heat very well. I generally go bright red, sweat a lot, and look for the nearest refrigerator to stick my face in. As such, most of the summer I am reluctant to get dressed, so I take a lukewarm shower when I get up, wrap a towel round by head, and place myself - sans apparel - in front of the computer to drip dry.
And, no. If you thought that was a filthy euphemism, you are one of those people David Cameron was sent to punish the rest of us for, so shush.
It just so happens that last Friday I had a short story to write for a competition. I've been meaning to write it for months. I can't say whether being naked was the deciding factor on why I chose Friday to write it, I'm sure I've been naked before and not done so, but, on the whole, it did make it a more comfortable experience.
I'm on retreat in the countryside at the moment, in a cosy attic room, where I can open the skylight and allow the sun to embrace me. No neighbours, so no danger of surprising anyone.
Perhaps nobody has written about the experience of writing naked before because there isn't much to write? It's exactly the same as writing with clothes on, only cooler. Which, in this heat, is an absolute blessing.
I think it might be a more stressful experience if you didn't have the luxury of total privacy. Most of us (myself included) suffer fairly low self-esteem when it comes to our bodies, even when they're fully clothed. I wonder whether my podge is showing when I sit down for coffee in a public place. Inevitably it is, and I should get over it. But we all have those niggling inhibitions.
Funnily enough, when I'm on my own, I never sit down naked in front of the computer and wonder whether that exact same podge (because it really hasn't gone anywhere) is showing. The reason? I honestly don't care. It doesn't even cross my mind.
So, perhaps that's the key for many writers. Whereas rock stars tend to be exhibitionists (there's nothing like live music), we writers are more commonly isolationists (if social media doesn't count). The end conclusion is probably not that dissimilar, though. Being naked is only liberating if you are already liberated from the fact that you are naked. If you can sit down and write, or stand up and perform, naked, without feeling self-conscious, then you are liberated enough to channel all of your energy fully into creating art. If you're not - well, just put some clothes on.
Thursday, 25 July 2013
Just booked to go to the cinema next week with the delectable Ms. Bailey, author of the hugely popular Morgen Bailey's Writing Blog. I'm currently halfway through her novel at the moment.
After giving Paul a shout out yesterday for his fiction doctoring, I thought I'd also give Morgen a mention for her proofreading and manuscript services. She offers a wide range of literary assistance, including audio recordings, blog content, and editing.
Tuesday, 23 July 2013
The lovely Paul Magrs, blogger of Life on Magrs, creator of the Doctor Who spin-off Iris Wildthyme (and, of course, Art Critic Panda), and, more recently, author of an open letter that had many writers standing to applaud, has turned his hand to mentoring.
In his mission statement, he writes:
Only you can write your stories. There's no one else can make them up, or remember them, or tell them like you can. No one can do it for you. But sometimes life gets in the way and formal education lets you down and experience takes away your confidence to write the way you would like to.
I think anyone can be tutored in developing their voice and creating work they can be proud of. The rules aren't the same for everyone, and much of writing is about learning which rules to break. It's a huge challenge - trying to write something that other people will want to read. But through constructive criticism and feedback I can help people to get there.
Monday, 22 July 2013
And so, after a month's absence, my Novel Idea is back in bloom.
After four weeks of a 1k a day regime, I lost the urge to write completely. One month to the day after making that last post, I suddenly felt the sap begin to stir.
You really can't control these things. One moment you would rather superglue your fingers to the insides of your pockets than type another sentence, the next, you can't sleep, eat, or think about anything other than the plot and how much it needs to be on paper.
It's a testament to alternate reality. The story hasn't changed. It's still the exact same object you fell out of love with, so it's you - you've changed. If we writers could figure out the key to exactly what it is that changes within us, we'd all be knocking out a novel a month.
Instead, as mere mortals, we simply have to surf the wave when it rises, for however long the tide remains turned.
When you put a story down, you do so whilst assuring yourself 'I will come back to it later,' as though it's no big deal.
The first thing you then have to do when you 'come back to it later,' is remember where you left off. This may sounds simple, but at 43,000 words there's a whole lot of plot to reacquaint yourself with. Especially with Historical Fiction, where you previously spent weeks, even months, immersing yourself in the geographical and cultural world of your characters.
Putting things down is easy. Picking them up - not so.
It's like untangling the strings of a complex marionette that has been discarded in the corner of the room. Each thread connects to an important function in the story, and you need to be in possession of each of those threads before you can make your characters walk and talk.
In all of my previous novels, I've achieved this by re-reading the entire novel before continuing to add to it.
The problem being that I can't help editing as I go.
I have one half-completed novel that is the most polished manuscript you'll ever clap eyes on, because every time I come back to it, I re-read it and edit it. By the time I've done all that, I add perhaps two more chapters before putting it down again.
Immaculately edited, but the likelihood of it ever being completed - slim.
For this reason, I refuse to read back through the manuscript for Blood Rose. I know that I could all too easily lose myself in it without ever progressing. I'm going to have to give myself a few pages lead-in, and review all of the research material. This should be enough, and leaves me with the wonderful surprise of getting to read it all afresh when I finally do come to edit.
Whilst preparing to start this process the other day, I opened a file with a forgotten scene I had removed. Perhaps I saved it with a view to working it back in somewhere. I probably won't, but I hate to dispose of things, so I'll blog it instead.
It's from fairly early on, when Afsar, the protagonistic princess, has been shunned by her grandmother and decides to take out her disappointment on her long-suffering maid, Şelale.
It was to be another month before my father returned, and things did not go well in his absence. In particular, my young sister, Fakhr, had taken quite literally the words of our grandmother and found herself someone else to love in her brother’s stead.
That someone, was me.
There could be no escape. If I shut my door on her, she would curl up on the other side and cry until I could stand it no more. I would invite her in to my room just to make the noise stop, and she would perch at the end of my bed, staring at me.
Whilst she did this, I could not risk writing. I did not know Fakhr well enough to know whether she would tell anyone else. Perhaps she would be so impressed by my ink magic that she would slip a sample of verse into her pocket and run to show my grandmother.
For as long as she sat in my room, I could do nothing.
I tried to send her on walks with Şelale, but she refused to go unless I went with her. Sometimes she would remain with me the entire day, falling asleep on the sheets next to me. Only then would she leave with Şelale, for she did not know that she was leaving.
After almost two weeks of this, I felt as though I were losing my mind. My chambers had always been my own, because I was the eldest daughter. Privacy was mine by right, as Arezoo had her own quarters on the opposite side of the palace.
Fakhr’s mother, Oldooz, was a half-witted woman larger than Arezoo and Ezat stood together. Either time had been exceedingly cruel, and she had once been very beautiful, or my father enjoyed her as he enjoyed his clowns, as a novelty. How she had become pregnant, nobody was entirely sure, for she could barely dress herself. Within the harem, the only theory that persisted was that she spent so much time lying on her back that my father must have fallen on top of her by accident one night.
As amusing as this was, it did not help me, for I could not appeal to Oldooz to keep her daughter entertained.
“I am going out of my mind,” I confided to Şelale on one of the rare occasions my sister had fallen asleep elsewhere.
“For the sake of a little girl?”
She smiled as she brushed out my hair.
“She is not a little girl, she is a div,” I snorted, using the worst word I knew for a creature from hell.
Şelale laughed at this and I winced as my hair snagged in her comb.
“Be careful,” I snapped, cutting her laughter short.
“Sultana, she is only a child, as you once were. She loves you, can you not love her back?”
“Love is a silly word.”
“That is a terrible thing to say.”
“Is it? My father loves me, but he does not spend every day by my side.”
“He is an important man. He has many things to do to make sure you are safe in this world.”
“I have many things to do of my own. How can I write when she is always here?”
“It won’t be long now until Mahmoud returns, then she will be his problem again.”
I liked the way she used the word ‘problem’ to describe my sister, but she did not feel the urgency I felt. She did not truly know the torment it was to be denied my only pleasures: my privacy and my poems. How could she? Simple Şelale, who slept in a room full of other women, who could not write more than two words. She thought my frustration amusing.
“Here,” I said, offering my hand for the comb. “It is my turn.”
She knelt before me, on the floor. Her hair was thicker than mine, and curly like swine tails. I felt her relax as I fingered it, teasing out strands that snaked in on themselves.
Eventually, I placed the comb by the roots, right up by her scalp.
I yanked down as hard as I could.
She shot backwards as though I had whipped her, one hand clasped to the delicate skin that had ripped, the other to her mouth. As she looked up at me, I could see her eyes welling with tears from the shock.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Perhaps it is better you brush your own hair in future.”
I held the comb out to her. She reached shakily forward and took it, slowly rising to her feet before making her way to the door.
I did not move for a long time after she left. It is the memory of pain, rather than pain itself, which is the important thing. Not what we feel, but what we learn from feeling it. If you kick a dog, it knows not to bark at you again. If you hit a servant, he know not to drop the plate. If you smack a child, it knows not to cry.
Pain was a teacher, of that much I was sure. This is why I did not understand why my father had shot the Babí, or why Allah had stolen Sarvar, with her child still inside her. What can anybody learn when they are dead?
Or perhaps that was the lesson. Perhaps it was only worth teaching those who were capable of learning. Perhaps Allah had decided that Sarvar had been a poor student. Perhaps my father felt that, no matter how hard he hit the Babí, they would never understand the right way to behave.
Soon, I came to realise my own mistake as a teacher.
I should have explained to Şelale why I was hurting her. How would she ever learn if I did not explain my actions? She would remember the pain, but not the lesson.
Perhaps I already knew in my heart of hearts that Şelale could not be taught.
Sunday, 21 July 2013
The concluding part of The Mystery of Gordon Bottomley. After reviewing his collection of plays, I saved the important one until last. Of all of his works, Ardvorlich's Wife was the one mentioned on his gravestone.
Why, I wondered?
Well, thanks to Colin Proudfoot, Studies Assistant for the area, it's to do with the local connection.
Bottomley is buried in the ruined chapel at the foot of Dundurn, and this particularly gory story is set there:
By the crags of Dundurn,
In the heart of Glen Gonan
We have seen the night burn.
I tell you it is the ghost.
Between Dundurn and Ben Our, above the glens,
It goes. It nests in the heart of Meall nan Uamh,
the alarmed spirit of Lady of Ardvorlich,
For ever fleeing, unwilling to haunt mankind.
The Legend of Montrose was written chiefly with a view to place before the reader the melancholy fate of John Lord Kilpont, eldest son of William Earl of Airth and Menteith, and the singular circumstances attending the birth and history of James Stewart of Ardvoirlich, by whose hand the unfortunate nobleman fell.
Our subject leads us to talk of deadly feuds, and we must begin with one still more ancient than that to which our story relates. During the reign of James IV., a great feud between the powerful families of Drummond and Murray divided Perthshire. The former, being the most numerous and powerful, cooped up eight score of the Murrays in the kirk of Monivaird, and set fire to it. The wives and the children of the ill-fated men, who had also found shelter in the church, perished by the same conflagration. One man, named David Murray, escaped by the humanity of one of the Drummonds, who received him in his arms as he leaped from amongst the flames. As King James IV. ruled with more activity than most of his predecessors, this cruel deed was severely revenged, and several of the perpetrators were beheaded at Stirling. In consequence of the prosecution against his clan, the Drummond by whose assistance David Murray had escaped, fled to Ireland, until, by means of the person whose life he had saved, he was permitted to return to Scotland, where he and his descendants were distinguished by the name of Drummond-Eirinich, or Ernoch, that is, Drummond of Ireland; and the same title was bestowed on their estate.
The Drummond-ernoch of James the Sixth's time was a king's forester in the forest of Glenartney, and chanced to be employed there in search of venison about the year 1588, or early in 1589. This forest was adjacent to the chief haunts of the MacGregors, or a particular race of them, known by the title of MacEagh, or Children of the Mist. They considered the forester's hunting in their vicinity as an aggression, or perhaps they had him at feud, for the apprehension or slaughter of some of their own name, or for some similar reason. This tribe of MacGregors were outlawed and persecuted, as the reader may see in the Introduction to ROB ROY; and every man's hand being against them, their hand was of course directed against every man. In short, they surprised and slew Drummond-ernoch, cut off his head, and carried it with them, wrapt in the corner of one of their plaids.
In the full exultation of vengeance, they stopped at the house of Ardvoirlich and demanded refreshment, which the lady, a sister of the murdered Drummond-ernoch (her husband being absent), was afraid or unwilling to refuse. She caused bread and cheese to be placed before them, and gave directions for more substantial refreshments to be prepared. While she was absent with this hospitable intention, the barbarians placed the head of her brother on the table, filling the mouth with bread and cheese, and bidding him eat, for many a merry meal he had eaten in that house.
The poor woman returning, and beholding this dreadful sight, shrieked aloud, and fled into the woods, where, as described in the romance, she roamed a raving maniac, and for some time secreted herself from all living society. Some remaining instinctive feeling brought her at length to steal a glance from a distance at the maidens while they milked the cows, which being observed, her husband, Ardvoirlich, had her conveyed back to her home, and detained her there till she gave birth to a child, of whom she had been pregnant; after which she was observed gradually to recover her mental faculties.
Colin provided a map from their collection which shows the area, and I've tried to transpose it onto a Google image.
|(click to enlarge)|
|Red - Dundurn, Orange - Ardvorlich, Purple - Ben Our|
Green - Derry Wood, Blue - Craigich
So, she roamed between Dundurn and Ben Our, on the South bank of Loch Earn. The MacGregors of this story are referred to as "MacEagh, or Children of the Mist," but in the play she calls them Gregarach, or The Red Children, who "cannot be cut or burned."
There's a little continuity issue in that she's said to have disappeared for quite some time. In the play she's supposed to have been 'heavy with child' when she left, yet they find her in time to give birth at home, so she couldn't have been gone that long.
Best not to analyse too much with folk tales. Never let tiresome logic stand in the way of a good story.
I wouldn't say this was actually one of his best, but the local connection is undeniable. The area must have held a special place in his heart to be interred there. Perhaps it was Ardvorlich's wife I met on the slopes of Dundurn?
Saturday, 20 July 2013
Following on from The Mystery of Gordon Bottomley, I can announce that Percy and I have taken possession of Scenes and Plays, 1929.
This particular edition was dedicated in 1938.
Very excited. Here's a quick rundown on each piece as I work my way through...
Extremely short scene of a daughter being sent away by her dying mother to her lover in a far off land.
Written in a style characteristic of theatre at that time. The line: But we must feel, or never truly live sounds familiar from somewhere?
The mother bequeaths her bed to the daughter, which - combined with the fact he writes in verse - reminded me of Shakespeare, in that his bed was the most controversial item in his will.
The story of a man taken by a faëry [sic] Queen and returned to his family seven years later. Based on the story of Thomas the Rhymer. Here, she comes to reclaim him for the final time.
This immediately caught my attention. Very similar stories throughout Irish and Scots folklore. Reminiscent of Michael Scott's retelling of the legend of Bridget in his Irish Folk & Fary Tales Omnibus. Also mentioned pathways that were there and then not, as featured in Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Paul told me a story he heard in the lowlands once of a similar incident, where a man was reputed to have disappeared one night and returned years later, still the same age as when he left.
There is also frequent mention of the Eildon Tree, which relates to a hill where another Michael Scot [sic], a 'famous Wizard', split the peak into three. Apparently:
The location of the Eildon tree is marked by the Eildon Stone which was put in place by the Melrose Literacy Society in 1929, and is just off the Eildon Way...
Oddly, the same year that Bottomley's collection was published.
Slightly zen reconciliation of two sisters, the younger having swiped the elder's fiance, married him, and had a child, only for him to leave them both.
Interesting to note that to-day is hyphenated throughout, but spelled today, today.
A widow in famined Egypt throws herself on the mercy of the Pharaoh's chief officer, her former lover. He grants her asylum but not his love. A few nice lines, a huge back-story hinted at between the pages.
Enjoyed this one. One act play about a lord returning to Towie Castle years after burning the occupants down in the 1571-1572 Marian civil war. He goes there with his daughter, and they bump into the ghost of a woman he stabbed with his spear. I think she forgives him a little too easily, though.
There's a couple of scores included.
|(click to enlarge)|
Gordon Bottomley was clearly a man who enjoyed curtain folding.
Short scene about Merlin being imprisoned in a tree in Upper Tweed. Not entirely sure I know Arthurian legend well enough to entirely get what's going on here.
The Singing Sands
Another creepy ghostie story along similar lines to Towie Castle. Two people rock up on the Isle of Eigg, where the McDonalds' daughter married a MacLeod son of Sky, the enemy clan. The McDonalds lads, in high spirits, chase the wedding boat, kill the men, set the son adrift in a boat without food, water or oars, then take the daughter back to Eigg.
MacLeod survives and grooves on back to Eigg with his men, where they chase everyone into a cave, light a fire, and suffocate them with smoke. In scenes reminiscent of an episode of Game of Thrones, the daughter decides to burn with her kinspeople rather than watch them burn from the arms of her lover.
Flash forward, present day, two people on a boat outside the cave having a chat with her ghost.
All interesting stuff.
Bottomley clearly had a sense of the dramatic, and a love of Scottish history - especially the gory bits. What else would you expect from a pisces?
That's a brief overview of all of the plays in the book, except the most important one of all: Ardvorlich's Wife.
Friday, 19 July 2013
Haven't had much time for reading of late, but the sun is shining and the in-tray has been mercifully empty today, so I took the opportunity to finish this in the garden with a glass of elderflower cordial and an orange ice lolly.
Picked it up in a charity shop in Alloa a couple of months back. I didn't intend to be in the shop, or to buy anything, but the cover caught my eye and, as is the way with charity shops, I couldn't resist.
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The black sign, painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, reads:
Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn
As the sun disappears beyond the horizon, all over the tents small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.
Le Cirque des Rêves
The Circus of Dreams.
Now the circus is open.
Now you may enter.
As with the last story I read about a circus, I came away in love with one of the secondary characters. Should I ever have a black cat again, I think I shall call her Tsukiko, and her world will smell of ginger and cream. Beautiful little twist.
I believe there's even a game you can play online.
Monday, 15 July 2013
Sunday, 14 July 2013
Wonderful day out at Puzzlewood yesterday. The location features heavily in my first novel, Lucid. In a strange quirk, I went there with Cas, Sean and Ryanman, who I dedicated to the book to. Incredibly mysterious and magical woodland maze, which has been used as a film location for Merlin and Doctor Who. Perfect on a scorching summer's day, as the mossy woods always remain cool.
Friday, 12 July 2013
Wednesday, 10 July 2013
Another shout-out to a talented friend. Richard makes the most beautiful handcrafted guitars and ukeleles from 100% British wood. He brought one down to the Hollowell show, made entirely from sycamore, holly, and other white woods. It practically shimmered in the sun.
Tuesday, 9 July 2013
It's been a while since we had a literary related post on this literary themed blog of mine.
So, today I'd like to share with you a story of ancient landscapes and dead authors. Well, only one dead author actually: Gordon Bottomley.
A lifelong tuberculosis sufferer (interesting Angorichina connection there), nobody appeared to be quite sure where he was buried, until a chance photograph I took a couple of months back. Intrigued that somebody would have the name of their book inscribed on their headstone, I set about trying to source a copy.
The fact that I couldn't surprised me almost as much as realising that we shared the same birthday!
Monday, 8 July 2013
Had a lovely weekend with my brother at the Hollowell Steam Rally in Northamptonshire. Lots of fun had by all, reliving my youth in the beer tent, which has been taken over by Nobby, our local publican and master brewer. The festival is on every year, so get down there if you can: classic cars, steam engines and heavy horses galore.
Saturday, 6 July 2013
Oh, gosh. Remember when you recorded something rather embarrassing and forgot about it, then someone reminded you?
I used to have a section on my website for music, especially tin whistles. I took it down a while back, though most of it's still on YouTube. I don't play that much any more. Then, two days ago, I received this really sweet comment out of the blue:
Wow I was really impressed with your playing. I just started watching your video because your name is Woolley, (I am a Woolley also), but I stayed because of flute playing. Great job!
Ever so kind, thank you.
May get back to it as it's a wonderful way to relax. For now, here's my fumbled attempts at Sliabh Geal gCua, Inisheer, Diana's Hunting Call & Samhain Song (improvised tootles), and, err, playing a drainpipe. I've since discovered that wasn't piper's hold at all. Piper's hold is far more uncomfortable.
Friday, 5 July 2013
|Moody by chandrika221|
Really interesting day yesterday. I went to an AGM at a refugee and asylum organisation and they started off with an incredible theatre company called Ice and Fire (Facebook/Twitter).
ice&fire explores human rights stories through performance. We are a company with a distinct, contemporary voice creating work of excellence across our four work strands: production, outreach, education and participation. Founded in 2003 by Sonja Linden, the company sees theatre as the natural medium to communicate stories that make real and relevant the impact of human rights issues on our everyday lives: a dedicated space to explore and understand stories that are often passed over or ignored. Through active involvement with human rights themes we creatively respond to key issues affecting our society and the world beyond.
They told the true stories of two women seeking asylum in the UK, one from the Cameroon and the other from Uganda. No props, no distractions. It was absolutely brilliant and hugely thought provoking.
If you get the chance to see them, do. Also, if you work in schools or colleges, a Council office, a community centre, or with asylum seekers, book them to come and deliver a performance or run a workshop.
Thursday, 4 July 2013
|Image by nfreem|
A beautiful Scarlet Tiger Moth flew into the house the other day. Whilst looking it up on Butterflies UK I noticed this. It's a Comma Butterfly. How wonderful. There's also a Question Mark Butterfly in America, and a female swan is apparently called a pen. Wonder whether there are any other creatures with writing related names?
Wednesday, 3 July 2013
My exceedingly talented friend Dan Ben Matthews, illustrator and cartoonist, has just set up a Facebook page. Please pop over and give him a thumbs-up.
He's even put one of my favourites online: The Mountain and Cloud. Beautiful little love story. If you follow that link, you should be able to click on the image to flick through it. There's also My Friend Dave.
He's happy to consider commissions, so please do drop him a line if you have a project you'd like to collaborate on.