Friday, 16 September 2016

A post-modernist approach to literature

The literary world is riddled with heroes and men and women with super powers.  My books are not based on such privileged people.  I prefer the integrated perspective for both adult and children’s books.
Would it not be science fantasy if ‘fairy-dust’ from a distant star were to magically settle down onto the earth and build structures that would save the world from starvation?  Yet if we replace the distant star with our sun, the fairy-dust with photons and the structures with plants, do we not already have this magic?
Would it not be a mystical experience to write our own story of life; to invent the characters we meet and to become super-hero’s in our own rite?  But how much do we really know about the people we meet and how much is invented by our own minds?  How much of our life is spent inside our minds; a world in which we have total control; a world in which we can become that sporting or political hero.
Beauty is another magical phenomenon.  We decide what is beautiful, but how often do we compare beauty or ugliness with nature? fresh as a summer morning.... a face like thunder....  Does not nature provide that which our own twilight lives can only gaze at in awe?
Reading a book or watching a film about super heroes is a great form of escapism.  Reading a book about real people in real situations has a much deeper impact and tends to leave the reader with more to think about.  In my children’s books, the main character might spend time as a fish (for example), but he will not be a fish with super powers.

There is far more beauty, mystery and magic in the world already, without the need to invent any more.  I write books that examine what we have, rather than things that could never be.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Christmas 2012

Christmas 2012


It was such a lovely thought by my Darren and his wife Catherine to surprise me with a Christmas day visit.  There were hugs and kisses in the doorway and so much to say that I thought I would never get them inside.  Darren lit the fire for me and very soon its warmth brought a seasonal cheer to the previously icy room.  I made tea and the chatting began again.
The fire crackled, making my little grandson jump.  This brought back memories of his father doing the same thing one Christmas, many years ago.  I had a small gift waiting for young David and I watched as he eagerly tore at it to get to the prize, shredding the paper that I had so painstakingly folded.  I didn’t mind; only adults ‘unwrap’ gifts.
I had not approved of Catherine when Darren first introduced her.  My protests became even stronger when he announced that he was going to marry her, even telling him that I wouldn’t go to the wedding.  She was not good enough for my son!  I was shocked when he went through with it anyway.  This would never have happened had his father still been around!
Catherine was always so wrapped up in herself, far too selfish to look after a husband.  I knew what Darren liked to eat, what his moods meant and how to look after him when he was poorly.  How could she possibly know any of this?  She caused such a split between my son and I that I did not see him or my grandson for years.  But on this Christmas day, one long hug forgave everything and we were a family once again; or very nearly.....
There was a knock on the door and Darren jumped up to answer it.  A familiar voice brought a lump to my throat as Darren re-entered with his sister.
Tara smiled at Catherine and then crouched to receive a hug from David.  She looked up at me a little nervously.
“I can’t stay, mum.  I just popped in to wish you a merry Christmas.”
“You can at least have a cup of tea first,” I said hopefully, but Tara still looked nervous.  “What’s so urgent that you have to leave right away?”
“I’ve got Bella in the car,” she replied as her eyes dropped to the floor.
Tara was twenty-two when she told me she was gay.  At first I thought she was joking, but then I became angry.  What had I done wrong to have been repaid by having an abnormal child?  I asked my parish priest if there was anything he could do, but he told me that although it was against the laws of the church, it was not actually illegal.  An uneasy truce ensued for months between my daughter and I, until one day she arrived home with Bella at her side.  She tried to explain that they were happy together, but I saw how that freak looked at my daughter, and a fierce argument followed, culminating in my banning Bella from the house.  Shortly after that, Tara announced that she was leaving home and moving in with her girlfriend.  Another argument began in which each of us said things we didn’t mean.  I’m certain she understood I didn’t mean it when I told her never to return.
I looked into my daughter’s eyes.
“Are you two happy together?” I asked.
Tara nodded and once more her eyes dropped to the floor.  She didn’t want another argument, but neither did I.  I am an old woman but it has taken me this many years to realise that just because people have different ideas about lifestyles, it doesn’t make either of them wrong.
“Then you must bring her in,” I said.
Tara’s face lit up but she studied my expression for a moment to make sure I was serious.  Then she rushed up and threw her arms around me.  It was so good to hug my daughter again!
I put my arms around Bella as she entered, much to her surprise and we opened a bottle of wine I had been given some years previously.
As the young people chatted, I began to realise some of the things I had been missing throughout the years.  They talked about people within their circle of friends, and I was surprised that most of these were mutual friends.  I had thought that Catherine was too selfish to have gained many friends and that Tara and Bella were too far outside the norm.  Eventually I realised that it was I who was the outsider, by judging these people according to my own imperfect life.  I had missed out on seeing my grandson growing up and of being a part of my own children’s lives.  But it was not too late to admit my mistake.  As another bottle of wine was opened and another log thrown onto the fire, I made up for all those lost years and remembered once again what it was like to be a family.
The warm glow from the fire and the even warmer glow from the smiles of my family, promised to make this a Christmas to remember.
A knock on the door silenced the room.  At first I pretended that I hadn’t heard it.  Another knock, louder this time.  I was hoping one of the others would answer it, but I knew that it had to be me.
A smiling face greeted me as I opened the door.  Perhaps if I could just take the package and shut the door quickly, it wouldn’t be too late, but the man insisted on chatting.  He was only trying to be sociable; trying to make sure I was all right.  How could he have known?  He talked about everything from his family to the weather, and all the time he spoke, things were slipping away.
Eventually he handed me the package, wished me a merry Christmas and I closed the door.  Even as I carried the steaming meal into the icy room, I realised that it was too late; I was alone.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

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Friday, 3 August 2012

Please find me a title for this piece.


            My arm ached as I held it out in front of me.  The pain in my head, a demolition of memories from long ago, urged me on.  This would be the turning point in my life.  This would be the time when I took control.
            Who would have thought it?  Little Johnny who used to hide under his desk after school to save getting bullied.  Little Johnny who was always dressed in second-hand rags.  Little Johnny who wore the welts and bruises of the beatings at home, for being so useless.  Little Johnny who is now in the position to take control of his life, if he can remain strong.
            Even the sky looked different today.  It was steel grey and the distant buildings stood tall and strong against it, giving me strength.  Would I be able to follow through, or was I as useless as I had been brought up to believe?
            I stood up straight, gaining strength from the buildings, my arm stiffening once again.  Everything was surreal, the situation I was in, the trees, the buildings, the light.  Past memories began to turn in my mind.  Faster and faster they spun until they became a whirlpool of all the abuse and degradation of what had once been my life.  Would I accept this as my future as well, or would I now at last be able to hold my head high and have the respect of my peers?  No, I would not accept it as my future.  This no, was not the same as the one I used to whimper as a child.  This time I meant NO!
            At that point I knew that I could do it and as I pulled the trigger and saw him fall to the ground, I realized that I had at last become a man.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Fun with words

Let’s have some fun with words.  Have you ever thought of just how difficult the English language can be for anybody who has not spoken it from birth?  For instance when you get a cold you get hot and you must keep warm to get colder!  Very confusing!

“They’re over there.”

“Come here too and you’ll be able to hear.”

I’m sure you can think of numerous others.

When you look up words in a dictionary, you also get the pronunciation and the part of speech.  The word ‘and’ is termed as a conjunction: used for joining together two sentences.  Consider the following statement:

'And' is a conjunction.

There is only one sentence here and indeed ‘and’ is the subject noun.  That is how we get away with using five of them consecutively in a sentence.  Consider the following scenario:

A man owned a fish & chip shop (a kind of UK fast food outlet) and wanted a sign painted to hang outside the shop.  The sign painter duly did as he was asked and held it up for inspection.  The shop owner was not impressed with the work as he said the spacing was out. When asked to expand on this, he gave the following reply:

“”The spaces are not equal between fish and and and and and chips.”

Had’ is another interesting word.  The dictionary classes it as the past and past participle of the verb ‘to have’.  This allows us to have some fun with it.  Do you think we can manage five consecutive ‘had’s’ in a sentence?  Well, since ‘had’ is a verb, I think we can do much better than that!  Let’s try eleven!!!

John and Jack were taking an English exam when they came to a question about tenses.  Where Jack had used the simple past, John had used the past perfect of the verb.  The past perfect was the one approved by the examiners.  So, where Jack had used ‘had’,  John had used ‘had had’.  Since we’re having fun, let’s substitute the word ‘used’ for the word ‘had’ and make John the subject of the sentence.

John, where Jack had had ‘had’, had had ‘had had’; ‘had had’ had had the examiner’s approval.

Not good English but I think you’ll find that’s eleven!

That all for this time’s fun with words.  Unless anybody disapproves, I’m going to chat about ‘person’ (first, third or all seeing eye) next time.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Let's have some fun.

‘Have you heard that the easiest way to get into print is..............’
Ridiculous isn’t it?  We would never begin a sentence without knowing the ending.  Have you ever heard a bad joke-teller, who leaves out bits and has to stop in the middle to insert the parts he has forgotten?  He knows how it ends and indeed he knows all the component parts, but he has no structure.  These are the things we need to examine before we can even think about writing a novel.
Over the next few months I would like to help anybody who is interested, to enter the rewarding world of writing.  I must stress here that mine is not THE way to write; it is merely A way.  Whether you are tasked with writing an essay at school, are writing to a loved one or simply feel compelled to write something, but have difficulty knowing where to begin, I hope these blogs will help you.
So where do we begin with our novel?  How do you eat an elephant? – One bite at a time!  This is the way forward.  We begin with the sentence, which has a beginning, a middle and an end.  Every sentence is important; every one tells a story. 
OK then, let’s have some fun with sentences.  Let’s say we want to describe he/she/it travelling down a hill.  We might begin with:
John went down the hill.
Not really very interesting, is it?  How about:
John walked confidently down the hill, showing off his new clothes.
This tells us a little more about John.  He is confident and he has new clothes.  Let’s try again:
John swaggered down the hill, his gleaming new duds telling everyone that he was the man.
Is this the same John who ‘went down the hill?’  Now let’s try Jane.
Jane went down the hill.
Again not very interesting.  Let’s try:
Jane staggered down the hill through remains of burnt-out buildings, holding together her torn dress, peppered red by the crimson droplets spraying through her broken lips.
You can’t actually ‘break’ lips, but it doesn’t seem to matter here.  Think of a picture in all its detail before trying to describe it.
I’m sure you can think of countless scenario’s that could be told in a sentence and it is something I often practice in my head when out walking or engaged in something about which I don’t have to concentrate.  It is extremely useful and also helps me to keep the general theme of the story close at hand.  Here are a few more examples just for fun:
He flew down the hill faster than anyone or anything had ever done, wings rigid, talons outstretched, ready to pluck up the rabbit that would never see him coming.
Notice the fast pace of the writing.
He stood rigid with fear as the ghost floated towards him, moonlight making the path she took look like silk.
No, that’s a bit stumbly (please don’t try looking up the word; you know what I mean).  Let’s use metaphor:
His face was ashen as the moon painted a silken path, leading the ghostly apparition right to him, to steal his very soul.
Yes, that’s a bit better.  Now do you see what fun you can have choosing the best words to describe an event?
The first few sentences of a book or short story can be all it takes to cause a potential reader to either continue reading or put it down, never to pick it up again.  We have to capture readers immediately or risk losing them forever.  Consider the following:
With winter over, spring had arrived.  The snow had gone but there were still traces of frost around.  The air was cold and the sun reflected off the lake.
This tells you everything you need to know, but it doesn’t paint a picture.  How about:
Winter was over.  The snow had gone but the sun had not yet chased away the frost that froze time in the grassy shadows under the bushes.  The air was crisp with chill and anticipation as glints of sunlight flashed across the top of the lake, energising the water and promising the World its annual rebirth.
This tells the same story but it also paints a picture in the reader’s mind.  Incidentally, this is the preface to my YA book Beyond Dark Waters.  A book or a story might be interesting to the writer, but he/she knows that the interesting bits are balanced by necessary introductions and explanations.  The reader doesn’t and if the less interesting part is at the beginning, that is how it will be judged.
So what is the solution?  Why do we have to begin at the beginning?  Why not jump to an exciting time and then backtrack?  My first book The Diary of an Innocent began at the end because the actual beginning was me catching a tube to work.  Here is the start:

I have never thought of myself as a bad person.  I still don’t.  I have led an ordinary life with my wife and our two children.  I still lead that life.  I am not a religious person, only attending church at christenings, weddings and funerals, although I was raised as a Catholic.
The difference now is that I understand where I fit into the whole scheme of things.  I used to admire people who die for their faith, from the saints of old who were persecuted, to the latter-day martyrs who use explosives and die by their own hands, or by the hands of others.
I said the beginning was simply me going to work, but still I worked at it.  I wasn’t trudging to work.  In fact I was happy and wanted to reflect the fact in my description.  Did I succeed?  You tell me:
            The day began like any other warm August morning in London.  I was swept along by the crowds of commuters, down steps and escalators and onto the platform, finally squeezing myself into one of the silver tubes that streak around under the busy city streets.  I stood there, bodies pressed against mine, people with lifeless eyes and blank expressions, trying to detach themselves from this unnatural place. 
I think I gave it a fair shot.  Now let’s try a story we all know: Cinderella.  We could start at the beginning:
“Haven’t you lit that fire yet?” screamed Matilda, causing me to spin round on my already grazed knees.
That would work.  Now let’s try the middle:
I would not have believed that putting on one slipper could have been so life-changing, as the hushed crowd gazed in my direction, each girl wishing she was me.  Who could have foreseen this change in my life from my humble beginnings as the servant to my three horrid sisters?
Then of course we could revert to the beginning of the story.  Now let’s try the end:
Their fate was in my hands.  Should I forgive and forget, or should I think of a fitting punishment for the three who made my life so miserable?
A story can begin at any exciting place, so if we want to tempt people to read our works, we should really think long and hard about our beginnings, and try to give them a taste of some excitement.
I hope this has given you some food for thought.  Writing, even short descriptions, can be a lot of fun, as well as being the starting point for going on to greater things.  Practice is the greatest thing that will make us better writers and the amount we put in is far outweighed by the pleasure we can take out.
I’d love to hear from you whatever stage you’re at in your writing.  In my next blog we’ll delve a little further into this fascinating world.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

So you want to write?

Many people, at some time in their lives, will need to or want to write something from which somebody else can gain pleasure.  Whether we are at school or out in the world, sitting in front of a blank page can be daunting, but the sheer joy of having written something that another person enjoys, can be within the grasp of most of us.
I have never looked at a blank page, trying to think of something to write, because I follow a few simple rules that allow me to have fun with writing, even if I end up exhausted.  Learning to write, like learning to play a sport, firstly requires us to learn the rules.  You might think that you don’t need these rules as you already speak the language fluently.  Rules of a language are not static.  Language is a living thing that alters its form to fit in with society.  For those of us whose memories of school are very distant, we might find that some of the rules we learnt have now changed.  For instance, how many of us over 35 years old know what a determiner is?  (hint: they used to be called definite and indefinite articles).  Did you know that there are only 2 verbal tense forms in the English language?  We don’t have to know all the rules; just as many of the main ones as we can learn.  Once we get used to them, writing becomes much easier.
Over the following few months I would like to help people to enter this fascinating world where words can be a bandage or a sword; a declaration of war or a peace treaty.  It has been said that everybody has a book inside that is waiting  to escape.  I am not setting myself up as an expert, I simply want to pass on some of my experience to anyone who thinks he/she might need it.
So, what do you want to know?  Where to find ideas, first person v third person, How to write a plan etc.  Most authors would help new writers if they had the time.  Here I would like to invite questions from anybody from essays to a full length novel (I am not well versed in poetry so please direct poetic questions elsewhere (deliberate pun!)).
If you would like me to answer a writing problem, Just ask on this site and I will do my best to cover it.  What have you got to lose?  Just think what you have to gain.