writing

Shorts, innit?

a flash-fiction piece

It had been the wettest Saturday since records began, they said, and football’s cancelled. The boys were disappointed. Still, it was May and I said, on with the shorts! Shorts are the best, in my opinion; you can’t go wrong. Well, except the young ‘un. He kicked up a stink, threw himself on the floor, big tantrum. I give in. Life’s too short.

She said, we’ll go to the park, it’s stopped raining. We put our waterproofs on, just the same. Life’s too short to muck about in a wet shirt. Good thing about shorts: your legs dry off quick.

(100 words)


written for Bikurgurl’s 100 Word Wednesday Writing Challenge: Week 120

image by Bikurgurl.

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Is it okay to be in love with your protagonist?

The idea occurred to me while walking the dogs this morning. Actually, no sooner was this idea given oxygen when it latched itself onto an old idea that all our protagonists are, in essence, autobiographical, just different versions of us. Combined, this asks, how much writing a central character is an act of narcissism?

I’ve just begun reading Montalbano’s First Case, a book of short stories by Andreas Camilleri, a kind of prequel to the Montalbano novels of which he has written many. It’s apparent that Camilleri emphasises Montalbano’s good character: his virtues, his compassion, his good judgement, his wisdom – even when his man goes against the grain, bends the rules and breaks the law, there is an apology and virtuous reasoning. I’d say he is in love with him. But whether Montalbano is secretly Camilleri, I have no way of telling.

Of course, there’s the other idea that our characters are our fictional children, or even that they are our Adams and Eves to which we play God. We simply love our children, whatever they may do.

The Abstract Truth

I had watched a clip featuring the late British art critic, Brian Sewell, in a discussion about abstract paintings. I got the impression he wasn’t overly impressed by abstract art but, after a pause in the conversation, he said something like,

“Well, any painting is an abstract, really.”

I can’t explain what he meant not having had, as he had, an education in the fine arts. While I can have a good guess at identifying an abstract work for what it is, I can’t tell you what makes any other work not an abstract, especially if the clues aren’t obvious.

But I was thinking, after writing a piece of flash fiction, whether, in a similar observation to abstract painting, all writing is fiction.

Or at least a version of it.


image: “Composition VIII” by Wassily Kandinsky

The Battered Hat #writephoto

a flash-fiction story.

The tradition dates back to yore, when a common man had no eye for words as written on a page, nor either a hand to make them. A symbol, an object he would recognise, was more helpful to him and so, in towns and cities, and any village large enough to accommodate them in number, the inns put up a sign by which they might be differentiated from another.

And so it was that Egfred Wattles, a person of nefarious means, instructed his companion, Gwent, to meet him in a certain named public house, three evenings following the second Sabbath of a month.

“I shall be at The Heart in Hand, Gwent”, he might say. To which Gwent might respond,

“The Heart in Hand. Oh. Right, right you are, Sir.”

Or,

“Gwent, we will try The Leaping Cow next.” To which Gwent would say,

“The Leaping Cow. Oh. Right, right you are, Sir.”

Or,

“It’s The Cat and The Custard Pot this time. Remember that if you will.”

“The Cat and The Custard Pot. Oh. Right, right you are, Sir.”

And so it was on a chill Wednesday night that Gwent found himself in an unfamiliar village, at The Battered Hat Tavern, cradling the sorry remains of half a pint of best ale and doing his utmost to avoid the suspicious glances of its overlarge landlord.

Every time the inn door opened and closed, Gwent would start and lurch across the table in hope of seeing his comrade. All too often it was just a local man, a stranger, and more times than he thought he could bear any more, just the wind rattling its timbers in the frame. In time he grew more afraid to cast his eyes down again, to take in the dwindling remnants of his drink, the tan brew slowly coming to resemble nothing more than a stain across its bottom.

“Can I restore that jug, matey?”

Gwent looked up and swallowed in surprise at the towering figure beside him. He had no coin for another, nor any sweet words of persuasion as was his associate’s trade, so he remained silent. It was the landlord who spoke again,

“I see you looking intently upon our door. Would you be waiting on someone?”

“Aye. If this be The Battered Hat for sure, then I am expecting to find my fellow traveller soon”, said Gwent.

“And who be this fellow traveller?”, asked the landlord with curiosity.

“A goodly gentleman, finely suited, and by the name of Mr. Egfred Wattles, esquire.” said Gwent with a sounding of pride.

The landlord crouched low so as to rest his knuckles firmly on the table, his great head coming close to one side of Gwent’s face.

“We hang that swindler on the morning of six days past”, he said in a low tone.

Gwent’s blood ran to ice and he felt the need to put down his empty pot for fear his trembling hands would betray his condition.

“Last week. Oh. Right you are”, he said at length. “Pray, how many weeks has this month seen?”

The landlord, rather confused, rose up at this apparent diversion, but he answered all the same,

“Well, almost four now, I reckon”, he said.

Gwent eased himself up from his seat. Smiling wanly, he offered the empty pot to the landlord who took it, but did not reciprocate the smile. Gwent left through the door he had entered three hours before and which he had watched keenly in all that time. Out in the cold night, the wind rocked the battered hat on its gibbet, to and fro, and the full moon, peeking out from the cloud, glinted off its many imperfections. The right place, the wrong time, he thought, and, turning up the collar of his coat, he set his feet for home.

(636 words)


inspired and written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Sign”

Are all my protagonists me (white, male, and vaguely English)?

Here’s an interesting essay from Lithub.com, a blog I’m following, about a writer’s difficulty in portraying a non-white character – Egyptian, in this case – without their ethnicity being explicitly relevant to the story.

I suppose the problem has a lot to do with the author being in America, a nation founded on worldwide immigration yet somewhat biased in favour of white, Anglo-Saxon ethnicity.

I googled “Egyptian novels” and, of course, they are many – I didn’t doubt it – and I doubt their readers visualise anything other than Egyptian characters in those stories. However, that doesn’t help an Egyptian author based in Brooklyn.

I’m still a novice at storytelling and I feel my characters usually stem naturally from some version of myself. I seem more than comfortable with this and see it as complying with the old writer’s tenet for writing only about what you know.

But it’s different for me. I’m not a professional, I’m amateur, I dabble. I’m not seeking success, financial reward, or even approval. To hell with tenets, I want to have fun, experiment, to stick my bare wet fingers into the live socket just to see what happens. What do I have to lose?

I was editing a story this morning which could be gender ambiguous. In my mind, however, it was a male, probably white, and English. There was no reason for the subject to be any of these things, so I changed it. Changing the sex filled me with a little anxiety. Cowardly, I substituted a few words so as not to be seen as overly presumptuous about how women thought. In the end, gender ambiguity became gender neutral. For now, that’s the best I can do.

I hope I made her vaguely American rather than vaguely English. As for implicit ethnicity, I have no idea how to do that yet. Maybe this is something left to the reader.

All thoughts welcome!


Waiting for the day that characters don’t default to White (Lithub.com)

Four Lessons for your consideration

This article in Artsy magazine on Willem de Kooning had me thinking whether there was an equivalent in painting and drawing to “writer’s block”. Why I should make this leap – more a sidestep in reality – when the article doesn’t mention anything like it, I don’t know but thinking does that sometimes. There probably are some similarities between the creative arts.

The article deals with de Kooning’s lessons in becoming an artist. I thought I might consider these in the wider perspective of creative work. There’s a link at the end to the actual article if you want to read that.

Lesson #1: Don’t be afraid to be influenced by fellow artists’ work.

This is funny because I’m often unashamedly, and sometimes unconsciously, mimicking the work of others I admire. Sometimes I might even play around with stuff I don’t particularly admire.

I remember reading a story about Jimi Hendrix when he was seen coming out of a back street dive having gone in to see some second rate band. “Why on earth would a player of Hendrix’s standing bother watching a bad act?” He explained that even a poor player can sometimes give you a great idea about performing or songwriting. He took the influence and improved on it.

Lesson #2: Seek out glimpses of inspiration in the world around you.

This is probably the writer’s block bit. I don’t know about you but there’s always moments when I notice something interesting or inspirational. It might be a small thing, or it might be significant. It’s important to just log it in your mind – or jot a note down (I admire note takers a lot even though I rarely do this for myself).

Lesson #3: Pay attention to your desires, not the critics.

What motivates us? Yes, I think we all like a little approval, we like a little praise. Constructive criticism would be good too, providing we can handle it, though it’s not very nice; it depends where we’re at, past the tipping point of having gained self-confidence enough to brush off the nonsense stuff.

I think you have to be faithful to your desires.

Lesson #4: Embrace imperfection—even failure.

Whatever you’re into to, there ought to come an important tipping point when you realise that a mistake, far from being annoying or an embarrassing set back, is actually a real progression in learning your art. Failures make better teachers than successes. Of course, you have to look it squarely in the eyes and know why, and how to avoid it a second time, but this isn’t something you’re more likely to do with a success.

As a perfectionist myself, this has arrived later than it could have. I see perfectionism as a disorder and it still cuts deep at times but it shouldn’t hold you back.


Article: Willem de Kooning: How to be an artist (Artsy magazine)

image: The Privileged (untitled XX), 1985 by Willem de Kooning

The Incomplete Angler

Thinking a little more about it, I wonder how similar writing is to angling for a fish.

You should know the fish, your quarry, its repose, what attracts it and what it likes to eat. You bait it appropriately and when it bites, rather than haul it in, care free and rather clumsily, you play it, carefully and craftily, until it is in the net and yours.

I prefer the British way of angling where the fish is set free again, to be tempted and teased by other fisher folk at another time.


I read a story once and now I can’t remember who it was attributed to or who its subject was other than the subject was an eminent thinker. This man would often be seen at a certain lake or riverside, sitting beside a rod and tackle box. Actually, I’m not sure about the tackle box, the absence of one may have drawn the narrator to enquire about his method.

When asked if he’d caught anything, he would reply “nothing”. Then when asked whether he ought to consider changing his bait, he said he never baited his hook to avoid any possible distraction of having to deal with a bite. He simply enjoyed sitting by water, hidden in plain sight amongst fellow anglers so not arousing suspicion, and he found this peace conducive to his true purpose: thinking.

This is probably closer to my relationship with writing and blogging; not so much fishing for readers but fishing for thoughts, amongst the company of fellow bloggers.

Thesaurus

Self-identifying serious writer, Martin Amis, uses a dictionary all the time. I’m delighted by his confession because so do I. Really it’s to improve my sparse vocabulary but, like him, I often find the meaning of the word isn’t what I had in mind.

It’s interesting what he to say about talent, finding rhythm, and avoiding accidental alliteration amongst other things. He talks about crafting a sentence. I’m not sure how much I put into crafting a sentence. While I think that poetry ought to be recited, I hadn’t thought that way about prose; I probably thought this was a fundamental distinction between the two forms. However, yesterday evening I was remembering all the times when a passage in a novel enthralled me. I decided it wasn’t the narrative but the pattern of the chosen words. They were crafted, I imagine, for such an effect.

I suppose I haven’t any high aspirations for my blog posts but I still maintain if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. I shall try to pay more attention to the rhythm in a sentence, resort habitually to the dictionary and thesaurus. All this will be time consuming, of course. I will make my mantra: shorter and better.


Learning the Language of Literature

I think this is an interesting post on Lit Hub, I blog I follow. It’s an excerpt from a book by copy editor, Benjamin Dreyer, an “utterly correct guide to clarity and style”. How many of the bad habits he cites do you make?

(Hey, I initially typed how many of his bad habits do you make?)

As bloggers, I don’t suppose we have to worry too much about correct style and grammar, though clarity is still important. Blogging is more about social media, less about literature. Yet I always maintain the old saw that if a thing is thought worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

I honestly don’t know how well I’m doing but I do try. Notwithstanding that I went to school – a grammar school, to boot – my confidence in my English is frail. I’m not in possession of an extensive vocabulary, my spelling can be atrocious and lessons in grammar have for the most part been informal.

One thing I tend to do now which I never did when I started writing is edit with intent. This can correct many of the silly mistakes and run a sanity check – or clarity check – on the piece, but also it makes me question what I’ve done with grammar, especially tense. Man, I have a real concern with tenses. It’s like operating a machine without a manual, it seems to work but is it working the way it’s intended to?

Also, I’m learning to tighten things up. My venture into flash fiction prompts with word count limits has made me aware of this. The irrelevances, the tautologies and repetition, the pointless adverbs, the inconsequential detail. A rose smells sweet but if there isn’t a nose to appreciate this, why mention it?

Catching the Light Again

“…it wastes my time like an old friend.”

A beautiful turn of phrase, I think.

Thanks to Edmark at Learn Fun Facts, a blog I follow, for posting a letter from William Dean Howells to his friend, Mark Twain, in 1875, concerning difficulties he had trying out a new type-writer.

Click on the link above for the full transcript and more goodies.


image from Pexels.com

And here’s my earlier post mentioning Catching the Light.