Archive | November 2013

Word soldiers at 5.00 a.m!

People who write, must surely – now and then – have visits in the night or early morning from whatever form their muses take. Don’t they? I have written before about my ‘word soldiers’ (don’t mind if you think me weird…) Sergeant Parkin suggested: “An article about the insidious Chinese and Russian tentacles slowly snaking their way around the world, despite their dire disregard for Human Rights.”…“A bit heavy! Involves lots of research,” I said, although tempted. However, the thought of being stalked by a member of the KGB or one of the Tong gang, eventually put me right off the subject…“So, any more bright ideas?” I asked hopefully. But Reveille hadn’t sounded and they went back to sleep. Now it was just down to me. (Heavy sigh.) Just then a quotation from Leonardo da Vinci: ‘Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication’ popped into my head. Only yesterday, I read an uplifting story about a young woman who has received humungous attention for her books in the USA (although Welsh, from Newport): with ‘TIME’ magazine exposure. That sent me on a completely different train of thought. So, my subject is ’Ageism’. (A huge issue really, but simpler than the former!)

Ageism

First, I must applaud 18 year-old Beth Reekles for writing and having two books published – with another nearly finished – and finding herself in a list of ‘The World’s most Influential Teenagers’! Although she writes ‘Romantic fiction’ she is no air-head – attending Exeter University and studying Physics. What a role model for young women everywhere! From my aged perspective, there are so many ‘wannabee famous’ youngsters around with little talent but big boobs (not that the boys mind…), she is like a breath of fresh air. You can read about her and her books here on the Guardian website. While Beth’s books are, obviously, not aimed at my age group, I shall nevertheless read one. For any youngsters reading this, her first book is called ‘The Kissing Booth’, and the second ‘Rolling Dice’ available from Amazon.

At the other end of the age scale – me… I would like to encourage anyone interested in writing, who feel – because they are retired, that they are ‘past it…’ – to think again. P.D. James is still writing at 91! Mary Wesley had her first book published at 73; attended University at the age of 80 and had a few of her books televised. She lived into her 90s. There are dozens of other writers in their late seventies and eighties. As long as your mind is sound; you are curious about people; the world at large, and have a modicum of ability, imagination and the desire to write, YOU CAN! It is a joyful pastime for anyone with ‘art’ in their soul, for I find that music, painting, singing, dancing, writing, reading et al, intermingle in mysterious ways – for me anyway – for they are all wonderful aspects of life itself.

To sum up, a message to anyone who has a hang-up with people either being ‘too young’ for anything, or ‘too old’- you are so wrong!

PS. Why not let Michael Barton, our bright ‘Boss-man,’ head of WordPlay Publishing, guide you – whatever your age – in the right direction. WordPlay meet every second Monday in the month at 11.a.m. at The Emerald Isle restaurant/bar, near La Florida, Orihuela Costa, Spain. So, if your particular muse is prodding you, or even if you are awaiting a ‘prod’, why not come along!

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One of the many pluses of reading novels

There is nothing original in saying that reading broadens our imaginations and heightens our sensitivities towards understanding the human condition, but never was there a better time than now in repeating it. Unless you have been on another planet or in a coma for a while, you surely must have noticed the decline in good manners and the habit of many modern parents being unable to say ‘no’ to their offspring (rearing little monsters in the process). It is asking for trouble if society ignores the increase in general aggression and a growing, more violent culture. But what to do about it, there’s the rub.

Subtle changes

Those who care, are aware of ignorance, indifference, under-education, poverty and broken homes, and it would be totally naive to think that the action of reading fictional novels en masse would or could, overnight, solve such huge issues, but the much over-worked ‘little acorn’ story shouldn’t be over-looked. I’m all for change, moving on and re-adjusting, for nothing stays constant (except, hopefully, love) but the old, tried and tested true values should be encouraged and held dear, otherwise society will suffer.

Encouraging children to read

Capturing young, malleable minds is vital – even though some active children kick against the habit (as did one of my sons – although as an adult he now reads). Sad is the person, young or old, who misses out on the joys of the written word. Libraries and book-shops are filled to overflowing with suitable reading matter – there’s something for everyone’s taste. Add Kindle and Amazon and we are all spoilt for choice.

Reading fiction

The Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz ‘The Value of reading Novels’

In his October blog, the above gentleman writes about the value of reading fiction and how lessons were and are being learnt about empathy with and understanding of the human condition through reading such novels as Harriet Beecher Stow’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ Going further back in literary history, no-one surely covered the ‘human condition’ with better feeling and in-sight than the great Charles Dickens himself.

Spoon-feeding some of the violence, torture and murder common-place in DVDs and many novels today can only de-sensitive the very young and we should all protect and police what they read. Saying that, I can recall reading ‘No Orchids for Miss Blandish’ as a teenager, but I very much doubt that it reached the debasing, sometimes horrific, low standards of some of the trash around today. I am all for free speech and bending rules to a point but we, as adults, should always be aware of our responsibilities to the young. There are some fabulous, entertaining, educational and humorous books for both adults and children ‘out there’: well written and imaginative, waiting to take you and your young on incredible journeys, so go and find them! 

 

Changing fashions and rules

Writing has come a long way since the venerable Dickens scratched his meaty words out with a quill pen, and admirable though he was, hurray for that. Every aspect of life changes as time passes – if it didn’t, we’d either be set like flies in aspic or bored silly, for variety in all its forms is the spice of life. Take some of the former rules and regulations appertaining to writing English…Who would dared to have started a sentence with ‘and’ or ’but’ years ago? Any upstarts who did, were struck across the palms of their hands with a ruler if they had tried! Now it is common-place, even though it upsets some pedants. Then there is the humble comma – “Eats shoots and leaves” being an excellent example of not using them; many newspapers and magazines also rigidly ration them too. (I admit to having a liking for the ‘Oxford’ comma put before ‘and’ – old lessons sometimes die hard.) Spaces before the start of a new sentence used to be two, now it’s one, and so it goes on.

SHOWING  NOT TELLING

However, when it comes to the eternal advice to “Show and not tell” this has been turned on its head so many times of late (if my reading matter is anything to go by), I ask myself does this still apply? As a writer, it frees one a little to realise that rules and regulations are more relaxed in today’s world and they can be bent or massaged as long as the writing itself remains coherent and worthy. Styles vary and it all comes down to taste; wordy tomes versus minimalist or subconscious writing; clipped short sentences versus rambling ones. A lot hinges on the genre and the penchant, and talent…of the author, for a sloppy one wouldn’t, usually, get away with it (although some do…)whatever style they  use.

EXAMPLES OF SOME TELLING BOOKS

Catherine O’Flynn’s “What was Lost”This book received almost rave reviews by Kate Mosse, The Observer and the Independent and has won two top awards and been long-listed for another. There is no doubt that the author writes excellent prose and has an original mind, but she prefers very long, ‘telling’ paragraphs and not too much dialogue. My present book: “Capital” by John Lanchester is written in a similar fashion, with huge chunks of wordy ‘telling’ and long paragraphs– but it is a super read; funny, interesting and very intelligently  written.  The fact that it’s a ‘Top Ten Bestseller’ with high praise from both The Times and the Spectator speaks for itself. Personally, ideally, I like a healthy mix of dialogue and ‘telling’ – otherwise verbal constipation can set in! I suppose, when it comes down to it, it really depends on the skills of the author, and the taste of the reader..