Wednesday, 24 April 2013

A Writer is someone who writes...

A blogger on my reading list has thrown down a challenge which chimes with a decision I had already arrived at, namely that I must write more and set myself some specific challenges. Over on "Off go the Panties", Panty Parade has posted the "The Stop Whining Twelve Step, Twelve Week Challenge" to all recalcitrant writers claiming to be blocked, too busy yada, yada, yada. 

I'm in!

I started or rather re-started writing creatively a few years back when I lived in Co. Sligo, Ireland - a place steepedin the likes of WB Yeats and soused with a barful of contemporary writers. The vissicitudes of schooling had meant giving up anything but criticising other people's writing at an early age and I had forgotten the pleasure of setting sail down an open page...

I progressed from short pieces generated in a writing group to a novel which now stands at some 40 thousand words and which I have added to in the last few years in a desultory fashion - but now the time has come to knuckle down and finish it. So below I will list some goals and seek a mentor as per the challenge but first let me share an insight.

On Sunday mornings my parents, and by custom, us children too, had a lie in. My father would switch on a small radio on the landing and we would all hear "Songs form the Little Chapel in the Valley", "The Archers" Omnibus edition and Alastair Cooke's "Letter from America" and it came to me suddenly the other day that my blogging style owes much to Mr Cooke's wonderful rambles that would start and return to some key observation on American life by way of several other fascinating stories. Blogs are like a diary and all diaries are addressed to some future audience whatever anyone says and Alastair Cooke was definitely and directly addressing the British audience with his observations softly dropped into our Sunday morning ears. So perhaps he was the prototypical blogger from before the internet was born. I wonder how many others had their writing sensibilities subtle shaped by the wonderful Mr Cooke.

Back to the challenge...


1. What kind of writer am I (and what programme of writing will suit me)?
I am a morning person by choice and I can get out of bed and write before I have even had a cup of tea and if I can do this regularly it suits me and I will steadily increase the words in my novel. I have thought enough about the novel I have plenty that just needs to get out. 

2. I also like blogging and besides this one which takes me when I feel inspired, I also started a new one dealing with my relationship to photography. This is partly an excuse to get my brain in gear in another way so although it might seem counter-productive to finishing the novel. I also commit to posting at least once a week both here and there.

3. I am going to seek a mentor for the novel writing and by way of a fishing trip, I include a fragment below and to anyone who cares to read more I will send 2 chapters of what is a sub-plot of the book. As a result of any comments I receive back, I may request a mentor.

There are other goals to the challenge but I will return to them in later posts.
Any other stalled writers out there? Take the challenge...

The novel - a fragment...

As the Dublin coach made it ‘s way along the banks of the Liffey, through the evening rush hour traffic, a pedestrian with more than a little “drink taken”, lurched off the pavement. The jolt of brakes applied suddenly together with the driver’s curses brought Margaret out of the trance she had been in for the whole journey. The same song had been going round and round in her head without registering but now she realised with a certain amount of chagrin, it was The Beatles “She’s Leaving Home”. Before the words could unfold their story again, at this moment too painfully close to her own home, Margaret switched her attention to the river running alongside The Quays. In the Margaret of all previous journeys heading into Dublin along the Liffey had always produced a barely suppressed excitement. A teacher had once told her class how every breath you take contains a molecule of air expelled by Julius Caesar in his dying breath. Peering down into the green walled channel, the water always at a different height depending on the state of the tide, Margaret had thenceforth imagined the Liffey as a lung for Dublin – breathing it’s slow, twice daily intake of water that might have come from anywhere in the world. What foreign ports had breathed in this water before and where would it waft to next? Further down The Quays, you could see the ships moored that went to other countries and as a child she had pictured herself on board some vessel, swimming out the river, through the sea and up some other river in “foreign parts. Tonight, the dream would become reality, she would change at Bus Aras an head out to the North Wall and board the night ferry to Holyhead, not the most exotic destination possible but a gateway to a new life nevertheless. She would take the train to London and do a little sight seeing but she wouldn’t stay there in case she was followed – no, she would move on somewhere else, somewhere less obvious, somewhere special. Exactly where she wasn’t sure, but it would come to her, or rather she would come to it.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Zombies and Suicide

Twice today suicide has raised its head - not for me personally I hasten to add but it got me thinking enough to reach for the blog...
In the aggregate blog on religious issues that I follow, Ann Neumann conflates the campaigns for and against
euthanasia and reflections on the philosophical and ethical musings prompted by zombie movies and in particular, The Walking Dead series.
She makes a point which I had not previously considered, that the very improvement in general health care which has us living longer - has us dying of more exotic and unpleasant diseases than previous generations were subject to and which have prompted the increased desire for euthanasia or assisted dying, or decriminalised assisting of suicide. So the general improvement in our quality of life leads to the quality of life argument in our final years. This was an issue my ex and I could never agree on, she firmly for the right to exit in the face of say, oncoming dementia and I convinced that no amount of safeguards would prevent some people being, however subtly, pressured into it or of their own accord, not wishing to be a burden to a fault. In any case, for myself, from teenage years onwards when I first envisaged such scenarios, I thought that you must wring every last drop of experience from life, even the frustration of diminished capacity. I feel I could never commit suicide - even if I had done some terrible and shameful act then the experience of remorse and if possible, amends would be the experience that must be gone through. I was reminded of this by a programme on BBC Radio 4 about Dr John Watson founder of Behaviourism who even when heartbroken after the death of his second wife and love of his life, wrote a pamphlet on "Why I didn't commit suicide" - in essence "that however bad your current fate is, something may turn up and if you have the willpower, you will conquer it..."
I reserve the right to change my mind but so far it has been my experience that these moral markers set out in youth have remained true for me and I have faith that they will continue to do so. I hope I don't have any of the really testing conditions such as those that reduce one to a zombie,and that if I envisage dying in my sleep at a right old age, it may come to pass...

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Alas Poor Yorick!

Passing through a Leeds shopping mall on my way to work the other morning, my eye was drawn by this blinging handbag! I have observed that the skull motif is everywhere at the moment but this one seemed to me to be referencing Damien Hirst's "For the Love of God" a diamond encrusted skull sculpture. This sculpture and perhaps unknowingly, all the current skull imagery are in the nature of a Memento Mori a reminder of our mortality. I say unconscious because I wonder whether the majority of the age group with whom the skull fashion is popular are not still at an age when life seems endless or rather is lived so much in the moment and well before intimations of mortality impinge. My generation grew up with the threat of "The Bomb" hanging over us like the sword of Damocles and our parents went through a world war whence I am sure they needed no memento mori - Death was all too possible and frequent for you and your loved ones. So perhaps it is this generation for whom even the threat of AIDS seems to have receded, that are embracing the skull and unconsciously saying "Ask not for whom the bell tolls..."

Friday, 18 January 2013

Fairy dust

The world is so full of wonders that even after fifty-seven years they can surprise and delight you most unexpectedly. The other night I got off my bus in Headingley into a slightly foggy and very cold night - so cold in fact that as I walked beneath the first street lamp, I saw that the air was full of glitter swirling gently about. This was freezing fog, not snow, the ice crystals were so tiny that I could not catch one on the sleeve of my coat and they were continuously aerialized. Imagine that they must have been flat though to give the size of glitter that they produced and there are of course snow flakes that take that form rather than the classic "snowflake" branching shape.
Despite these scientific speculations, the experience was one of wonder and delight and like so many things in life it was brief and transient - by the time I got home and called my friend out to look, it was no longer apparent.

From the sublime to the ridiculous...

Other sights that have entertained me on my way home include watching the bouncers outside the Leeds city centre bars teaching each other dance moves and the falling down drunken young people. Nothing wonderful there though one may speculate that it is only the alcohol content of their bloodstream that  keeps some young women alive in such skimpy clothes - they could die of exposure - indecent exposure at that!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Handbags at Dawn!

Not that I am being competitive but my friend  in Ireland has just started a blog and her most recent post was on the subject of handbags which prompted me to reveal what fills my odd moments at dawn or any other time that idleness strikes - no more couch potato  - every minute must be productive! Watching TV is strictly out of one corner of the eye and the matter in hand is knitting - or rather knitting and crochet.
To begin with, whilst my sister was visiting a few months ago, we went to the inestimable Texere Yarns in Bradford and I bought some "extreme" knitting needles - 25mm of fabricating power!
I feel like Crocodile Dundee threatened with an NY mugger's puny flick knife - I want to go to Stitch and Bitch groups and say "Call that a knitting needle?" as I pull out my monster "Now that's a knitting needle!" Seriously - I had long wanted to try knitting with strips of fabric and this was my chance. Jersey t-shirts are ideal and handbags were the article of choice. It takes about five boy's t-shirts to make one of the larger handbags below and that's quite a weight of stretchy bag. It needs lining as the holes are big (25mm) and the handles have ribbon plaited in to stop the stretching. You can cut backwards and forwards in the fabric which results in a strip with square tabs every now and then or start at the bottom of the shirt and spiral up as far as the arms pits. This gives a continuous yarn with slight blips where the seams were.  I'm thinking of trying the first method cutting from narrow bands to produce more frequent tabs giving a deliberately furry feel to the knitting.
You can embellish the bags by weaving strands of bright silk strips through them as well as interesting choice of fabric for the liners and using varied buttons to attach them. Cue arty picture of some of my button collection!
Sadly my mother died some months ago and whilst sorting out her many knitting needles and crochet hooks, my sister and I came across one large wooden needle which was clearly a crochet hook but we couldn't figure out why it was so long as you usually only work one stitch (or group of stitches) at a time in Crochet. Anyway, due to the wonders of the WWW, I discovered that it was for Tunisian crochet during which, the stitches are all first worked onto the needle and then worked off until only one remains. You don't turn the work round at the end of the row - just keep working left then right. In the photo below, the cream handbag is Tunisian Single Stitch and you can see the needle I used whilst the other incomplete bag is a conventional , if large crochet needle working three strands of wool together in Single Stitch and alternating two black and two white yarns together with a multi-coloured flecked yarn. The handles are crocheted directly into the bags - joining the sides of the strip together - Simples!
You can find a very good guide to all forms of crochet including Tunisian here
Perhaps knitting is like the Catholic faith, you can lapse but if learned as a child, its always there to reclaim you! Crochet however was totally new to me and perhaps it is as a newbie that I can make the following observation. I was under the impression that crochet was only used for making squares to sew up into giant bedspreads  but I discover from a plethora of  modern books that it can be trendy and has many design possibilities yet it seems to remain as a separate craft to knitting sharing only the yarn, but when you look back to older books such as the beautiful 1930's example below, you find knitting and crochet stitches cheek by jowl - not just in the section on technique, but in garments themselves. Crochet is not just a finishing technique, but an alternative to knitting which can generate the whole or just a part of it. Maybe I was just ignorant - but perhaps it is time that these two branches of Woolcraft were more closely intertwined again...
And YES I have joined a Stitch and Bitch group or perhaps they should be more properly designated as guerilla knitters - The Knit a Bear Face group which meets every other Wednesday 5.30pm. in The Victoria Pub at the back of Leeds Town Hall!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Ghost Is More Important Than The Machine: Norman Corwin (1910-2011) | (A)theologies | Religion Dispatches

The Ghost Is More Important Than The Machine: Norman Corwin (1910-2011) | (A)theologies | Religion Dispatches

I had never heard of Norman Corwin but"On a Note of Triumph" sounds like a radio piece worth listening to - I for one will try and locate it. Despite the references to God, this sounds like a great humanistic work.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

An Open Letter to My MP

The very excellent enhancement of our democracy allows you to see every time your MP asks a question in Parliament and it also allws you to send emails direct to your MP. In the last election, my constituency of Keighley lost the long standing and excellent Labour MP - Ann Cryer to retirement and instead got Kris Hopkins, Conservative. This is a letter I have sent to him.

Dear Kris Hopkins,
As an ex-army officer I am hoping you will agree that the Trident missile system is a colossal waste of money and that the conventional forces are in much greater need of this financing. At this time of economic crisis it is particularly foolish to pursue funding for a weapon system wholly at odds with the reality of the UK's latter-day position in the world. Against whom would we conceivably use these weapons notwithstanding the premise of all nuclear deterrents since Their first and only use against Japan - M.A.D. Were Britain ever threatened by an enemy would not our American allies (who are even less likely to get rid of all their nuclear arsenal), defend us? Will we threaten the Russians for hiking the price of gas? Are they of any use against Al Quaeda, wherever they may be? Can they be used as part of wars such as those in Iraq or Afghanistan? Can they contribute to peace keeping interventions such as in Bosnia or our role in Northern Ireland? The answer to all these actual dispositions of our military in recent years is no.
Those dispositions and the issue of Trident raise the whole question of what role the UK and its military have in the world today as well as what we can afford to be. I lived in Ireland (the Republic) for ten years and was most impressed by the steadfast use of the Irish Army purely for peacekeeping roles - something for which they are held in high regard, indeed sought after.This role of neutrality and amed forces only for peacekeeping is so much endorsed by the people of Ireland that it was an important part of the No votes in referendum for the new European treaty.  I am aware that Britain still has "interests" around the world that need defending from time to time, but has the time not come when we could drop our memories of worldwide imperial power and adopt a role similar to that of Ireland but bigger and better provided for and with all the excellence of which our forces are capable of?

Yours sincerely,
Andrew Wilson