Slap-dash Writers Need not Apply…

When the majority of writers first test their new, literary writing wings like nervous fledglings, most are,

understandably, defensive about criticism. However (unless geniuses), if they refuse to accept that ‘constructive’ criticism is the key to improvement, they will continue to remain unpublished; or if they are… will forever receive a ‘semi-literate’ label.. And, surely, no-one worthy of the title ‘author’ wants to be labelled thus, do they? We all learn (or should) until the day we die, so should never be complacent or self-satisfied with what we write; and with this in mind, I introduce an obviously learned man, called Steve (Stephen) Moran is a writer, poet and the organiser/judge of the Willesden Herald International short story prize. A telling line of his is: “Writers are like taxi drivers. I want them to take me somewhere but wish they would shut up about it.” A succinct message to be sure! The list of his literary dislikes are as long as one’s arm and all worth taking on board. It seems that he dislikes British and American ‘mush’; dreary and morose stories; those which are under or overwritten; ‘skimpy’ writing; and questions uneven pace, style, etc., and much more. Some of his taste is personal; while most of it is valid and noteworthy. (Full list here)

It is all too easy when writing a novel, to get carried away with either the dialogue or action and forget the small, human touches and minute details relevant to everyday life and the characters themselves – unless you are writing pure fantasy, of course (and that needs to be well written too!) Great wads of bland writing don’t augur well for enjoyment. With this in mind, I re-evaluated a chapter I was recently writing and remembered to include mention of the weather (briefly); how the protagonist was feeling at that moment and a few quirky touches that brought it more to life and made it more natural. (I love it when I feel I really know one of my characters!) The new chapter may not be perfect yet, but I am happier with it!

So, use a nit-comb for the nits; feed it if it’s hungry; or prune it like you would an overgrown bush. Or put it on the back burner until tomorrow. It’s amazing what a fresh pair of eyes can spot.


The Five Senses

Sitting on our patio here in Playa Flamenca, Spain on a hot, sunny day, with a gentle breeze blowing, is a pleasant experience, as you can imagine…and I took to musing (as one does) about our five senses. Being a naturally sunny country, its vibrancy is accentuated by plants and flowers that are feasts for the eyes. Vivid purple and cerise Bougainvillea, yellow, pink and bronze Lantana, and plate-sized scarlet Hibiscus, to name but three. Arguably one of our most precious senses: our sight, is treated to a mind-boggling variety of shades, colours, shapes, sizes and sights from day one, wherever we live. And the colour of our parents/lovers/siblings et al’s eyes must be up there in the heights, as is watching the unfolding moods of nature; the aerial displays of the humble Swift, the emergence of a butterfly from a chrysalis, or a Turner-like sunset. Sound follows swiftly on sight’s heels for, what a loss it would be not to hear the sound of laughter or whatever music turns you on. And oh, how a description of whatever sound is needed brings a prosaic scene to auditory life! Touch and smell are nearly as important; as is taste. Anyone who saw the bawdy, entertaining film ‘Tom Jones,’ must recall a scene where the protagonists are eating a meal in such a sexually suggestive manner that the only word to describe it is salacious!

And yet some writers seem shy of making the most of these gifts. Less is sometimes more, but our five senses are part of our everyday existence. Using them to get the mood and scene right for any genre is a must (albeit subtly): be it a saga, a light-hearted romance, supernatural, mystery, or murder story. Regarding the latter, this is when sounds and weather conditions come into their own; although a bloody murder on a sunny day is not unusual and can come as more of a surprise! A thunderstorm or creaking door can suggest something sinister but can also be a bit of a cliche! We should all strive to be as original and creative as we can.

Remembering 9/11

Anyone who cares about humanity – and there are, fortunately, billions of people who do – couldn’t fail to be horrified by the terrible acts of terrorism which happened in New York on that dreadful September day in 2001. To all survivors, families and friends of those affected, take heart that many people really do care, and still remember. My own ‘unbelieving’ reaction was to write the following poem:-


Long after eulogies have been said;

guilt and recriminations have been put to bed –

cherished memories float on battered minds

that lift the spirit, and a kind

of healing process then begins.

Dry-eyed: the well is spent –

a limerick is found…

a loving note he meant to send.

A breeze-born waft of jasmine

and she is there…

A burnished copper leaf

reminds you of her hair.

A favourite walk, café, a tune…

memories held so dear.

You pray that time will not prune

too much and leave the futile fear

that one day, the memory of their

earthly presence will all but disappear.

A book review: ‘The Thread’ by Victoria Hislop

 ‘The Thread’ tells us of the violent periods in Greek history which were, by their nature, a catalyst for dramatic change. After the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-22, the Greeks had to later contend with warring Italians and Germans; and even after World War II ended, they suffered the torment of Civil War from 1946-49. Unrest continued with the establishment of the Greek Military Junta – a legacy of political polarization that lasted until the 1980s. But this is no dry history lesson on Victoria’a part – far from it- rather the backcloth to the riveting, enduring love story of Katerina and Dimitri, which triumphed against mounting odds. Set in Thessaloniki, it also tells of the pitiful plight of most of the Jews and Muslims, which saw only Christians remaining.

The author proves herself to be a painstakingly diligent researcher, giving meticulous attention to detail.

I likened the story to the Bayeaux tapestry, for Katerina, the heroine, literally stitches part of the thread of the title through the story with her talented hands. Embroidering exquisite dresses and other delicate items, proves a joy and balm to her which sees her through many difficult, low periods in her long life. Other characters who proved memorable, are the frail, troubled Olga, and her husband, the obsessed, cold Konstantinos Komninos. This third, skilfully written novel by the author often pulls at the heart strings – and is as equally enjoyable as her first two. 

Fifty word stories and poetry

How many writers, I wonder, started playing around with fifty word stories and light-hearted poetry, before taking the tentative plunge into writing poetry seriously, or maybe taking a different path and trying their hand at short stories, or even a novel?

Learning of the death of respected poet Seamus Heaney – RIP – I read his poem: ‘Digging’ on Do read it TWICE! Coincidence is a strange phenomenon, for when thinking of my own, late father – as I often do – I picture him in gum boots, either carrying a spade, fork or watering can, about to tend his pride and joy: his garden – a delight to behold with multi-hued roses cascading over fences, delphiniums competing with the summer sky and a variety of blooms too numerous to mention here. If and when I write one to ‘sort-of’ match Seamus’ I’ll let you know… Meanwhile, here are a few fifty word stories to – perhaps – get the juices flowing?

He was wheeled unconscious into the ether-pervading theatre. Everything was ready. The surgeon consulted his notes, then carefully amputated the patient’s right leg. It was an easy mistake to make. Right leg facing but patient’s left. Correct patient; wrong leg. “Nobody’s fault” they said, “It could happen to anyone.”

The operating theatre echoed with busy feet and the vasectomy patient’s courage began fading with each passing moment. “Just a little prick,” he heard the nurse say. “It’ll be over soon.” As she raised the syringe, all aspirations disappeared. He jumped off the trolley, escaped home intact, to tea and crumpets!”

Both by Jean Wilson (former U3A member)

”Geoffrey! Long time no see, old boy…How are you? Seen anything of Lionel? Those were the days, eh! America you say?”

“Haven’t heard in ages. Last time he wrote, he was off to have dinner with someone he’d just met. Hannibal Lector he said his name was. Unusual that!”

Yours truly