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Loosening up our creative writing ‘muscles’ is made easy through a dalliance with the second person ‘you’ narrator. For when you write as ‘you’ the pen feels liberated and can find immediate direction and story.   Just try it and see. Give yourself some sort of setting or context in order to frame your ‘you’ and then off ‘you’ go. So try an age, or place or state of mind etc…   And if you need brilliant inspiration here is a marvellous extract by one of the most versatile and humane short story writers of the twentieth century, Ray Bradbury.    The night – Ray Bradbury    YOU are a child in a small town. You are, to be exact, eight years old, and it is growing late at night. Late, for you, accustomed to bedding in at nine or nine-thirty; once in a while perhaps begging Mom or Dad to let you stay up later to hear Sam and Henry on that strange radio that is popular in this year of 1927. But most of the time you are in bed and snug at this time of night. It is a warm summer evening. You live in a small house on a small street in the outer part of town where there are few street lights. There is only one store open, about a block away; Mrs. Singer’s. In the hot evening Mother has been ironing the Monday wash and you have been intermittently begging for ice-cream and staring into the dark. You and your mother are all alone at home in the warm darkness of summer. Finally, just before it is time for Mrs. Singer to close her store, Mother relents and tells you: ‘Run get a pint of ice-cream and be sure she packs it tight.’ You ask if you can get a scoop of chocolate ice-cream on top, because you don’t like vanilla, and mother agrees. You clutch the money and run barefooted over the warm evening cement pavement, under the apple trees and oak trees, towards the store. The town is so quiet and far off, you can only hear the crickets sounding in the spaces beyond the hot indigo trees that hold back the stars. Your bare feet slap the pavement, you cross the street and find Mrs. Singer moving ponderously about her store, singing Yiddish melodies. ‘Pint ice-cream?’ she says. ‘Chocolate on top? Yes!’ You watch her fumble the metal top off the ice-cream freezer and manipulate the scoop, packing the cardboard pint chock full with ‘chocolate on top, yes!’ You give the money, receive the chill, icy pack, and rubbing it across your brow and cheek, laughing, you thump barefootedly homeward. Behind you, the lights of the lonely little store blink out and there is only a street light shimmering on the corner, and the whole city seems to be going to sleep… Opening the screen door you find Mom still ironing. She looks hot and irritated, but she smiles just the same. ‘When will Dad be home from lodge-meeting?’ you ask. ‘About eleven-thirty or twelve,’ Mother replies. She takes the ice-cream to the kitchen, divides it. Giving you your special portion of chocolate, she dishes out some for herself and the rest is put away, ‘For Skipper and your father when they come.’    

A few weeks ago I walked around Barrow Bridge Village in Bolton. The village is beautiful and wherever you walk you can hear running water. Moss hangs luxuriantly over the stone walls and seems to be the scent holder of all the olfactory goings on in the village! So here in tribute to my walk is a fifty word story.

 

Beware moss. I settled my nose into its sun warmed texture and found oaky smoke.

Fresh vetiver. Wet earth.

Moss, you ostensible friend to all that goes on in a village: witness to every virtue and misdemeanor.

Your sensual gift, a subtle testimony.  

You natural Poirot, perched hungrily on that wall.

 

 

Little Momma left them in June.

Most days they dropped by, concerned she might miss them. 

They quit work. 

They listened hard; softly too. 

”Hold to thy faith,” intoned Pastor  Paul.

Clarence stared at the new earth and gave thanks. 

He returned to her car and took out a spade. 

curioustalesinkblot

 

 

Once again, I find that text tales are easy on a smartphone! I enjoyed this one, deciding to make it  ever so slightly ‘Southern Gothic’ thus changing ‘Reverend Paul to ‘Pastor Paul’ to keep the Southern spirit in mind! 

I also  ‘borrowed’ the verb ‘intoned’ from Mansfield’s Daughters of the Late Colonel as there is something piously assured about such a verb!  The debate between whether it should be ‘miss’ or ‘cold’ in the second line reflected my concern with clues and when to release them. If the line had read: ‘concerned she might be cold’ then perhaps death would have been too apparent to the reader and I preferred ‘stared’ to ‘gazed’ because  the alliterative echo of ‘gazed’ and gave’ seemed a little overcooked. Once again, the ‘thrift’ of the short tale proved great fun and a challenge.  ‘His’ car or ‘hers’..decisions go on! 

strange shit

The  Horwich Carnival may soon be upon us and this short 50 word tale came to me in tribute to all those poor goldfish trapped in bowls,  yearning for something better: some other richer life?

 

 It was the teeth that worried her. The long eyelashes too. 

”But he’ll only grow as big as his bowl,” promised Tim. 

Hoping for the best, we  named him Gabriel.  

He grew at night and lacked discretion. 

‘I’ve outgrown water, ‘ he said and left  in my car.  

Pathos lurking about the edges? 

curioustalesinkblot

 

I could smell chilli pesto.

‘Search in my small bag.’’

Your voice carried smiles in it. Sunshine lit up the room.

There was a brown bag over a chair. Beside it sat another-cream,

like wool.

Macramé.

‘’You find what you needed?’’

‘’Oh yes!’’ smiled my voice. ‘’ I think so.’’

 

 

These tales are fun to try anywhere. Just go with the image or first line and ‘see’ what happens. As I said before, thrift is all. Short tales work well with ambiguity and give our pens the chance to ‘distill’ our experience! 

curioustalesinkblot

As you like it.

She pretended to be myopic and it suited her.                                                  

‘’We can picnic here and you can tell me all about your origins ‘’

A laugh that shook my vertebrae.

 My night’s dream stalkers were nothing compared to Ms Orange coat.

 Lithe irony at loose in nature.

Sometimes, Serpents love ardently too…

the lamia

 

This short tale  jokes a little with As You like it and the forest of Arden, with a hint of KeatsLamia too. Synthesis is all! 

curioustalesinkblot

 

 

Cleaning

 

That was the summer I changed to thin bleach.

 I could be brave about stains.

It was the other that unsettled me .  

But bleach offered gentle purity, a sort of slow healing unlike everything outside.

There lurked the truly impure.

So here I am watching,

waiting for you.

 

Another 50 word short story! They are quite addictive and such fun! 

curioustalesinkblot

strange shitBats.

‘They’re all swooping about again.”

‘Harriet, your eyes are closed.”

‘I know.’’ Then she fell asleep.

Apparently it was my turn to create dinner.

In her kitchen such colourful piles of ingredients; easy to add yet another spice.

Later she ate, very slowly.

For some reason, I just wasn’t hungry.

Fifty word tales are easy to create and strangely relaxing. I enjoy the concentration- it feels like colouring in, except with words rather than pencils. Words do carry lightness and weight. Playing with them, even texting them as ‘text tales’ makes you aware of connotation and irony! 

And so the house came to be haunted by the unspoken phrase: There must be more money! There must be more money! The children could hear it all the time though nobody said it aloud. They heard it at Christmas, when the expensive and splendid toys filled the nursery. Behind the shining modern rocking-horse, behind the smart doll’s house, a voice would start whispering: “There must be more money! There must be more money!” And the children would stop playing, to listen for a moment. They would look into each other’s eyes, to see if they had all heard. And each one saw in the eyes of the other two that they too had heard. “There must be more money! There must be more money!” 



It came whispering from the springs of the still-swaying rocking-horse, and even the horse, bending his wooden, champing head, heard it. The big doll, sitting so pink and smirking in her new pram, could hear it quite plainly, and seemed to be smirking all the more self-consciously because of it. The foolish puppy, too, that took the place of the teddy-bear, he was looking so extraordinarily foolish for no other reason but that he heard the secret whisper all over the house: “There must be more money!” 

Yet nobody ever said it aloud. The whisper was everywhere, and therefore no one spoke it. Just as no one ever says: “We are breathing!” in spite of the fact that breath is coming and going all the time. 

Greed animates every corridor of this feverishly sensitive house house and Lawrence’s allegorical tone and use of omniscient third person narrator communicates  a palpable sense of ill fated destiny. Even the children’s toys seem contaminated by the adults’ greed.

 

Innocence has become swallowed up by the near neurasthenic chanting of the whispering house! The children’s susceptibility to the greedy dynamic of their parents, becomes supernaturally imprinted upon the daily reality and very fabric  of their home.

 

 If avarice drives all the adult behaviors in the narrative, then the children, and in particular the protagonist Paul, seek to re-stabilise the unsettling voices in the house through material placation. This placation comes through Paul’s attempt to reverse the ‘bad luck’ of Hester his mother, through his winnings on the horses.

 

Thus Paul ‘rides’ his rocking horse to ‘find’ the winner of horse races before they take place. Such a dalliance with the supernatural intentions of the horse,  leads to tragedy as the horse and child frantically ‘possess’ each other, and Lawrence decisively blames the adult world for Paul’s collapse. 

 The child’s absent father, permanently dissatisfied mother and boy child’s frantic desire to please his restless mother, show the influence of Freud upon D H Lawrence. 

A tale as unsettling as Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and just as slippery as a ghost tale , a psychological thriller..or both! 

Writing a 50 word short story is great fun and an excellent way to discipline your writing and recognize the value and effect of word choice. Short stories, like poetry, involve a pronounced degree of selectivity,as short stories require thrift!

They also require a particular form of attention or curiosity. 

anticlockwisesmall

Last week, I dozed in my chair beside the fire and woke to the peculiar ‘vision’ of a blue bus apparently stationary in my garden. Of course this was an optical illusion brought on by a privet hedge and my drowsiness, but I ‘wrote’ the following as a text tale in 5 minutes and really enjoyed the spontaneity and focus! 

‘Through my living room I can see a huge blue bus. Would it sound remarkable if I was to add that two of the passengers are not human, yet are singing something about the sea?

Now the kindest is inviting me to join them.

”My dear, should I go? ‘

pITURE

 We were looking at objects the other week and I was still on my DH Lawrence binge! So this owes an obvious debt to Lawrence’s story, The Rocking Horse Winner and something to Duffy”s Demeter too, and my beloved dog Harry.  I couldn’t resist the brass horse and I certainly didn’t try!  

So here’s a short monologue about love. 

I like him better the wrong way round. Nothing brassy about our boy. We called him Percival after the Grail, my  purest Knight of all.

It was Jim who rode him that first time. Our Glory days they were.  In the winner’s enclosure  I wept. Hadn’t cried since my Dad haemorrhaged in Buxton’s Devonshire Hospital. As I cried , I looked up and there was no God,  just a big dome. Funny how you  know things sometimes. I just walked around and around looking up. Hoping. 

No one came though.  Nobody ever does.

But Percival knew. I touched his neck after that race and he looked at me. Really stared, one of those once in a life time looks; for keeps you might say.

I liked him better than my wife .   No surprise there  then. 

We kept on winning: me , Percival, Jim. After Chester, there was Aintree, Epsom, the Derby.

”I tell you the air hushed about my boy.”  When all that steam came up off him, and we had won yet again, it felt like a miracle. I was truly alive, you see. 

My best of times was Percival. I swear even his  hooves were winged! And those  eyes!

I sang to him in the mornings: Bassey, Sinatra, Dusty. Even Elvis. We were a team. Inseparable. 

”You don’t have to say you love me.” But he did. I did, each and every day.

Even now. 

Percival the Invincible they called him- I simply called him my miracle boy. 

My worst of times too.

 Percival. 

No one else came near. 

 

 

 

FrankieSirensRome

Our experience of life is often thwarted by our inability to express what we feel through our words. It is as if language is always apart from us, apart from our experience, so that our words may  feel like ill fitting approximations, straining after ‘truth’ yet never quite getting there. 

Yet without language, how can we make our experiences known- how can we communicate not only with others, but perhaps more importantly, with ourselves? Can we even experience our experience without resorting to the ‘salvation’ of language? 

‘These fragments I shall shore against my ruins’ said T S Eliot at the end of The Wasteland, one of the most honest and powerful declarations about language and its innate insufficiency,  I have ever read. 

For writers language is always a challenge, and the skill of a writer is to find the ‘right words’ in order to reach the reader, so that an experience can be translated and re -experienced in a meaningful and resonant way.

anticlockwisesmall

Katherine Mansfield as a short story writer was well aware of the ‘thriftiness’ of her chosen genre. A successful story is hard work,  as like poetry, there is very little room for redemption in a short story. The language of a short story is highly selective, standing in place of many alternative words, which then place considerable responsibility  on the words present to communicate to the reader.

Little wonder Mansfield in her Journal and letters, worried about how ‘near’ her writing was to the experience she wished to communicate. She worried her stories seemed a little ‘made up’ and below in one of her final, most poignant letters, she told her cousin that she was ‘tired of my little stories, like birds bred in cages.’

A recent study of her work takes a phrase from one of her final tales, encapsulating perhaps the truly ‘wonderful’ job of the writer to find the right words for the experience. ‘Ah-what is it? -That I heard? ‘ Look how KM’s senses are STRIVING after authenticity, for the ‘right’ effect even. She wonders and she wanders, playing with her sensory experience and impressions. 

For writing is a quest for the identity of ‘things’ ; for words of whatever genre, to be ‘REAL’- whatever that momentary reality may happen to be!

All the same, without being morbid, and giving way to—to memories and so on, I must confess that there does seem to me something sad in life. It is hard to say what it is. I don’t mean the sorrow that we all know, like illness and poverty and death. No, it is something different. It is there, deep down, deep down, part of one, like one’s breathing. However hard I work and tire myself I have only to stop to know it is there, waiting. I often wonder if everybody feels the same. One can never know. But isn’t it extraordinary that under his sweet, joyful little singing it was just this—sadness ?—Ah, what is it ?—that I heard. ( Katherine Mansfield, The Canary) 

You see Bogey if I were allowed one single cry to God that cry would be I want to be REAL

 

You see, my love, the question is always ‘Who am I’ and until that is discovered I don’t see how one can really direct anything in ones self ‘Is there a Me.’ …

I see no hope of escape except by learning to live in our emotional & instinctive being as well and to balance all three. 

 But I cannot tell you what a joy it is to me to be in contact with living people who are strange and quick and not ashamed to be themselves. It’s a kind of supreme airing to be among them….

(Letters to John Middleton Murry)


   But what nonsense this all sounds. That is the worst of letters; they are fumbling things.
   I haven’t written a word since October and I don’t mean to until the spring. I want much more material, I am tired of my little stories like birds bred in cages.

   Do you see John, I wonder? He sounds very happy and serene – Life is a mysterious affair!
   Goodbye, my dearest Cousin. I shall never know anyone like you; I shall remember every little thing about you for ever.
                       Lovingly yours,
                           Katherine

(Letter to Countess Russell)

But then the diary is so private and so instinctive that it 
allows another self to break off from the self that writes and 
to stand a little apart watching it write. The writing self was 
a queer self; sometimes nothing would induce it to write. 
'There is so much to do and I do so little. Life would be 
almost perfect here if only when I was pretending to work I 
always was working. Look at the stories that wait and wait 
iust at the threshold. . . . Next day. Yet take this morning, for 
instance. I don't want to write anything. It's gray; it's heavy 
and dull. And short stories seem unreal and not worth doing. 
I don't want to write; I want to live. What does she mean 
by that? It's not easy to say. But there you are!' 
(Woolf 'A Terribly Sensitive Mind'- Review of Katherine Mansfield's Journal) )

Saki is a sardonic, frequently brilliant writer whose stories are often surreal and always witty: his style embraces Wilde, Carroll and even Austen herself. If many of the tales are rather ‘through the looking glass’ of social satire,  then their comedy tends to keep emotional risk at bay. Thus we enjoy Saki  and laugh at the wonderfully surreal  ‘excursions’ he explores, without necessarily feeling the pull of emotional investment.

In Sredni Vashtar however, something feels rather different. This difference I admit I missed when I first read the tale.However my colleague Mark Wrigley always held the story in high regard and the other week I read the  tale again and found it more involving than say the satire of Esme or Tobermory (though being an animal lover I do mourn the passing of the eponymous hero in the latter tale) !

Sredni Vashtar  was a surprise. The ‘stakes’ as Mark assured me, were very high. ‘Life or death’ he said.’It’s a duel.’

So where might  this involvement emanate from I wondered,  and how does this sympathy govern its effect?

Let’s look at the opening of Sredni Vashtar and explore how it draws us in….

Conradin was ten years old, and the doctor had pronounced his professional opinion that the boy would not live another five years. The doctor was silky and effete, and counted for little, but his opinion was endorsed by Mrs. De Ropp, who counted for nearly everything. Mrs. De Ropp was Conradin’s cousin and guardian, and in his eyes she represented those three-fifths of the world that are necessary and disagreeable and real; the other two-fifths, in perpetual antagonism to the foregoing, were summed up in himself and his imagination. One of these days Conradin supposed he would succumb to the mastering pressure of wearisome necessary things—such as illnesses and coddling restrictions and drawn-out dulness. Without his imagination, which was rampant under the spur of loneliness, he would have succumbed long ago.

Mrs. De Ropp would never, in her honestest moments, have confessed to herself that she disliked Conradin, though she might have been dimly aware that thwarting him “for his good” was a duty which she did not find particularly irksome. Conradin hated her with a desperate sincerity which he was perfectly able to mask. Such few pleasures as he could contrive for himself gained an added relish from the likelihood that they would be displeasing to his guardian, and from the realm of his imagination she was locked out—an unclean thing, which should find no entrance.

In the dull, cheerless garden, overlooked by so many windows that were ready to open with a message not to do this or that, or a reminder that medicines were due, he found little attraction. The few fruit-trees that it contained were set jealously apart from his plucking, as though they were rare specimens of their kind blooming in an arid waste; it would probably have been difficult to find a market-gardener who would have offered ten shillings for their entire yearly produce. In a forgotten corner, however, almost hidden behind a dismal shrubbery, was a disused tool-shed of respectable proportions, and within its walls Conradin found a haven, something that took on the varying aspects of a playroom and a cathedral. He had peopled it with a legion of familiar phantoms, evoked partly from fragments of history and partly from his own brain, but it also boasted two inmates of flesh and blood. In one corner lived a ragged-plumaged Houdan hen, on which the boy lavished an affection that had scarcely another outlet. Further back in the gloom stood a large hutch, divided into two compartments, one of which was fronted with close iron bars. This was the abode of a large polecat-ferret, which a friendly butcher-boy had once smuggled, cage and all, into its present quarters, in exchange for a long-secreted hoard of small silver. Conradin was dreadfully afraid of the lithe, sharp-fanged beast, but it was his most treasured possession.

Conradin is declared just ‘TEN’ years old. in the opening line. His age immediately positions us as ‘protective/guardian’ readers and immediately moulds our response to the text.This information (being a lonely child and 10) is immediately emotive (like Oliver Twist) and is intensified by  his subjugation to his Aunt’s stultifying, oppressive government.

She is a totalitarian dictator in a long dress! (See Mrs Reed in Jane Eyre) 

 The numerical quantifiers (‘two fifths’) surrounding the intentions of Mrs De Ropp give terrible authority to her despotic ways. Conradin’s  count down ‘death sentence’ seems as much due to his life  with his rigidly controlled life with his  Aunt , as to any dubiously announced medical diagnosis/ prognosis. Indeed the ill health of Conradin is succinctly associated with Mrs De Ropp’s restrictions.

She is Freud’s death drive- Mrs Thanatos! 

For the Aunt  is without playfulness:a tyrant whose controlling ways seem pathologically  arid – the very antithesis of childhood’s unruly ‘wonderment.’

Mrs De Ropp gives terrible representation to Blake’s ‘mind forg’d manacles’ as  she attempts to ‘rope’ in her world, so that she can inflict total authority upon it- to the point of utter suffocation.

How can anyone or anything GROW in this environment ? Note how the  ‘ Dull cheerless garden’ has connotations of Miss Havisham’s garden at ‘Satis House’ in Dickens’ Great Expectations, where the protagonist Pip cannot ‘grow’ safely.

Conradin’s only escape from his blighted circumstances is through his imagination, through his secret play, where in a ‘forgotten corner’ (therefore liberating because free of his Aunt’s taint) of the garden, a ‘haven’ aka the ‘tool- shed’  becomes a ‘cathedral’ to his imagination; a den for an untrammeled mind!

Interestingly one creature(the hen)  is the receptacle of nurturing ‘affection’ whilst the other (the ferret) induces a terrible fear, yet ironically ‘was his most treasured possession.’  So, when Mrs De Ropp removes the hen from the shed out of spite, nurture is defeated and only  primitive nature remains. Dramatically and ironically, she has signed her death warrant without knowing it!

Conradin’s secret,  lonely worship of  the ferret Sredni Vashatr,  seems an urgent form of idolatry which culminates in the necessary sacrifice of the Aunt, by the demi ‘god’ pole  cat,  after the fervently oblique ‘prayers of the young boy for salvation.

It’s a desperate duel! SOUL STUFF! Keeps us guessing right until the end. 

As I mentioned in my introduction, this story is different because so much is at stake.

 We fear for Conradin. We do not even know what he  prays for, and whatever it is , we fear his prayers may not work. It is a life or death tale.The soul’s desperate choice – and we are relieved that Saki’s child hero defeats the wicked oppressor, through imagination taking the form of fervent  faith.

As a writer could Saki allow anything else?  How could he allow the Aunt/book burner  to live ?!

”If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” Hemingwway ( Ice Berg Theory)

 

Now read the extract below and see the difference between Hemingway’s ideas and Lawrence’s narrative delivery.

I  know we are told to ‘show don’t tell’ in Creative Writing, but in Lawrence sometimes a good bit of ‘telling’ works most effectively!

 The tone seems almost biblical in its rhythm, in its sense of inescapable, relentless inevitability.  The Vicar’s wife below is trapped by her choices and by the emotions she feels as a reaction to these choices, thus the ‘telling’ narrative incarcerates her within her own self inflicted existential cul de sac. 

 “I am more like L than anybody. We are unthinkably alike in fact.” Katherine Mansfield

At first his wife raged with mortification. She took on airs and used a high hand. But her income was too small, the wrestling with tradesmen’s bills was too pitiful, she only met with general, callous ridicule when she tried to be impressive.

Wounded to the quick of her pride, she found herself isolated in an indifferent, callous population. She raged indoors and out. But soon she learned that she must pay too heavily for her outdoor rages, and then she only raged within the walls of the rectory. There her feeling was so strong, that she frightened herself. She saw herself hating her husband, and she knew that, unless she were careful, she would smash her form of life and bring catastrophe upon him and upon herself. So in very fear, she went quiet. She hid, bitter and beaten by fear, behind the only shelter she had in the world, her gloomy, poor parsonage.

Children were born one every year; almost mechanically, she continued to perform her maternal duty, which was forced upon her. Gradually, broken by the suppressing of her violent anger and misery and disgust, she became an invalid and took to her couch.

 

DHLawrence is brilliant at giving representation to  small spaces- literal small spaces and the small spaces that live on within minds, within relationships where claustrophobia often reigns on, festering away lives.

And linked to these small spaces is rage, an emotion with variegated colours that may destroy,  but ironically may also sustain human beings for years, as they rage on, wallowing  in the ‘dis-ease’ that is their existence.

Lawrence in the extract above, describes the progress of the Vicar’s wife’s rage. He delineates her rage’s journey as she seeks final refuge in ‘her couch’ inside the death driven ‘poor parsonage’ where hope is suffocated by raging, stultifying despair.

Look how sexual relationships are rendered inhuman and robotic by the word ‘mechanically.’ The word is an adverb, modifying the verb ‘born’, though  the hiatus/delayed gap  between the verb and the adverb reveals the extent of the physical disassociation;  the chasm between sex and emotion;  between maternity and love.

Once again, I detect a peculiar hearkening to Jane Austen , maybe to a character like Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park who spends much of her life resting on a chaise longue! Yet in Lawrence, the irony is absent. This is no comedy, he shows us the utter absence of the Vicar’s wife from daily life and leaves no space for self mockery. Indeed the characters take them selves so seriously that they are dangerous even to themselves, whilst in Austen we do recognize that Lady Bertram’s fatigue, her affectation of ennui, has more than a little irony concerning the endless leisure of the privileged classes, where females in particular are like Lady Dedlock in Dickens’ Bleak House, nearly literally ‘bored to death’!

Here’s a devastating example of character assassination by  DH Lawrence ! It  is somewhat suggestive of the playful opening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but without the irony which defines Austen’s writing. In Lawrence the concerns are explicitly desperate and barely conceal loathing and hatred. Relationships are cynically pragmatic, awkwardly  underpinned by fear.

This description of the new vicar, in DH Lawrence’s claustrophobic early story The Daughters of the Vicar, dissects the ostensible ‘man of God’ through a relentless, scalpel like description which renders the new vicar,  both physically and spiritually repulsive:  casually  summarized in the creepily evocative verb  ‘padded.’ Vitriol is here muted into the inferred softness of the ‘padded’ movement of the new vicar, which augurs not so much care as  unmanly stealth.

DHLawrence loathed effete males, rather ironically perhaps, considering his own intellectualism and comparative ‘weakness’  in terms of masculinity. The males whom Lawrence enjoyed were strong working men, possessed of a primitive natural sexuality which challenged the emasculated diluted males of modern civilization.

The description also captures the unreality of the vicar, his disassociation, even his superciliousness which attempt to ‘defend’ him against his ‘insufficiency’.  Each reflection exposes yet another ‘slice’ of the Vicar’s temperament, as Lawrence’s scalpel goes to the core of his character’s cold rigid heart.

Reminds me of George Eliot’s Casaubon in Middlemarch and just as repulsive! Both the vicar and Casaubon are arid human beings with zero erotic appeal and no warmth; marital quagmires!

Lawrence returned to this early story later in his writing career and produced one of his greatest works, The Virgin and the Gypsy whose origins can be detected in this earlier tale. 

 

Still, at the back of her mind, she remembered that he was an unattached gentleman, who would shortly have an income altogether of six or seven hundred a year. What did the man matter, if there were pecuniary ease! The man was a trifle thrown in. After twenty-two years her sentimentality was ground away, and only the millstone of poverty mattered to her. So she supported the little man as a representative of a decent income.

His most irritating habit was that of a sneering little giggle, all on his own, which came when he perceived or related some illogical absurdity on the part of another person. It was the only form of humour he had. Stupidity in thinking seemed to him exquisitely funny. But any novel was unintelligibly meaningless and dull, and to an Irish sort of humour he listened curiously, examining it like mathematics, or else simply not hearing. In normal human relationship he was not there. Quite unable to take part in simple everyday talk, he padded silently round the house, or sat in the dining-room looking nervously from side to side, always apart in a cold, rarefied little world of his own. Sometimes he made an ironic remark, that did not seem humanly relevant, or he gave his little laugh, like a sneer. He had to defend himself and his own insufficiency. And he answered questions grudgingly, with a yes or no, because he did not see their import and was nervous. It seemed to Miss Louisa he scarcely distinguished one person from another, but that he liked to be near her, or to Miss Mary, for some sort of contact which stimulated him unknown.

Later she heard her children playing in the garden. Lottie’s stolid, compact little voice cried: “Ke—zia. Isa—bel.” She was always getting lost or losing people only to find them again, to her great surprise, round the next tree or the next corner. “Oh, there you are after all.” They had been turned out after breakfast and told not to come back to the house until they were called. Isabel wheeled a neat pramload of prim dolls and Lottie was allowed for a great treat to walk beside her holding the doll’s parasol over the face of the wax one.

“Where are you going to, Kezia?” asked Isabel, who longed to find some light and menial duty that Kezia might perform and so be roped in under her government.

“Oh, just away,” said Kezia. . . .

Here, in Mansfield’s Prelude, the mother Linda, overhears the conversations of her children in their new  garden which in this description seems part innocence, part experience in terms of indoctrination. (See Blake for ‘fallen’ places and think of Eden too!)

Perhaps the fact that the family have recently moved,  accentuates the need for their roles to be reestablished after  their relocation/dislocation? Lottie’s fears of being lost and of ‘losing people’ emanates perhaps from this dislocation and from her  mother’s unconcern at her whereabouts . Futhermore,   being ‘at home’ or not at home seems a major theme of Mansfield whose own experience of exile was both self chosen and to some extent imposed upon her by her ‘frontier’ status in London as well for her (at that time) unconventional sexuality. 

The accidental aspect of this scene is essential to its meaning as both private and public identities are explored, in a seemingly natural way, through the symbolic incident of the ‘neat pramload of prim dolls’:  surely something which anticipates both the final New Zealand story about the Burnells(The Doll’s House) and recalls Ibsen’s famous play about gender roles and oppression, ‘A Doll’s House.’

 Dolls are lifeless: these dolls even look conventional and ‘prim’; they accept their social role and condemn females to waxen purgatory beneath a toy parasol! 

Conventionality is the norm and only Kezia has the imagination to  behave in an individual and spirited manner. ‘Oh , just away.’ The resting mother Linda, needs space from her children finding them too draining of her energies and being too much a reminder of her fertility which she fears may kill her literally as well as metaphorically through  fatigue and possible depression. ‘They had been turned out after breakfast..’

The three children’s identities are seemingly ‘naturally’ differentiated through a seamless intermingling of third person narrator with direct speech so that as Linda ‘hears’ the children, so do we. The children come alive before us as they speak; indeed the resonance of what each child says even becomes symbolic of their individual identity.Thus the controlling Isabel esquires of Kezia ‘Where are you going to, Kezia?’ in her best quasi adult, tone of reprimand, whilst Kezia’s vague, elusive response shows she is too free a spirit to be governed:’ ‘Oh, just away,” said Kezia…” note too  the telling use of ellipsis suggestive of mystery , abstraction and even creativity.

For Kezia is a character who wishes to write herself, rather than to be scripted by the conventions and expectations  of her gender that time.  Like Mansfield she grows into a reflective yet defiant figure, willing to think differently and to write her role anew. Remember it is Kezia who notices the singular lamp in the final New Zealand story, ‘The Doll’s House and it is Kezia who breaks the class rules  and shows compassion to the socially inferior Kelveys who are snubbed by the rest of the Burnells for being too poor. Kezia like KM will not be ‘roped in’ by debilitating social convention.  

The Kelveys came nearer, and beside them walked their shadows, very long, stretching right across the road with their heads in the buttercups. Kezia clambered back on the gate; she had made up her mind; she swung out.

Notice the telling clause  following the semi colon, ‘she swung out.’ A choice has been made and rather than keeping ‘within’ the gated, regulated world of the Burnells with their oppressive class values, Kezia chooses kindness instead. She imagines another person with compassion. Once again in Mansfield, thresholds are crossed, ‘moments of being’ or epiphanies experienced, and changes suggested through  the simplest of metaphors. And the semi colon gives narrative space to the defiant decision. The first semi colon after the noun ‘gate’  anticipates the second. Choice is a process, it takes physical as well as mental time. We can almost hear Kezia’s breath as she chooses to behave ‘otherwise’ .

I also love the Impressionist image of the approaching Kelveys through ‘their shadows…with their heads in the buttercups’- beautifully ‘painted’, evoking surely the spirit of Monet and his contemporaries? Innocence is communicated through the simple allegiances of nature- in this case buttercups!  

Woolf’s reading of Jane Austen’s characterization of Mr Woodhouse, seamlessly explores Austen’s  deployment  of narrative ‘point of view’.

For Woolf  is a brilliant reader. She recognizes here that Austen makes her characterization seem natural, as if  we are merely overhearing Mr Woodhouse’s conversations and making up our own minds about him as we go about our business. He seems to ‘evolve’ as in life! 

Thus once  the original ‘seed’ about Mr Woodhouse’s character  is planted  by Austen’s declarative  third person narrator, the rest of his ‘character’ seems to evolve naturally, proving the orginal idea, ever growing before us as we encounter and re-encounter him amidst Highbury’s community.

Reading Woolf years ago as an undergraduate changed my life: she was a revelation both in her fiction and her critical essays/reviews. 

I still find her writing wonderful and she makes me cry. 

To the Lighthouse is perhaps the most perfect elegy  in English prose.

This brief exploration of Austen’s Emma is delivered with the understated  ease of a most beautiful mind!

“Matrimony as the origin of
change was always disagreeable” to Mr. Woodhouse, she 
says. Almost immediately, she thinks it well to let us see that 
her words are corroborated by Mr. Woodhouse himself. 
We hear him talking. “Poor Miss Taylor!—I wish she were
here again. What a pity it is that Mr. Weston ever thought
of her.” And when Mr. Woodhouse has talked enough to 
reveal himself from the inside, she then thinks it time to let
us see him through his daughter’s eyes. “You got Hannah
that good place. Nobody thought of Hannah till you men-
tioned her.” Thus she shows us Emma flattering him and 
humoring him. Finally then, we have Mr. Woodhouse’s
character seen from three different points of view at once;
as he seems himself; as his daughter sees him; and as he is seen

by the marvellous eye of that invisible lady Jane Austen
herself. All three meet in one, and thus we can pass round her
characters free, apparently, from any guidance but our own.

 

Bonus Austen: ‘I will not say that your mulberry-trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.’
Jane Austen, Letter to Cassandra, 31st May 1811

 

A few months ago when it was warm enough to sit outside in Turton Tower’s beautiful garden and drink tea, I took a notebook and made a few notes.

Yesterday I came across the notes again and this formed the beginning. Setting is crucial as it gives a birth place to writing. Once a setting is established, even if vaguely, then the momentum of writing is generated. 

Gardens are fascinating places and always have an effect. I never forget Jane Austen’s flawed but brilliant heroine Emma escaping to her shrubbery from the melancholy of home after she thinks she has lost Knightley forever.(Chapter 28). 

The weather continued much the same all the following morning; and the same loneliness, and the same melancholy, seemed to reign at Hartfield—but in the afternoon it cleared; the wind changed into a softer quarter; the clouds were carried off; the sun appeared; it was summer again. With all the eagerness which such a transition gives, Emma resolved to be out of doors as soon as possible. Never had the exquisite sight, smell, sensation of nature, tranquil, warm, and brilliant after a storm, been more attractive to her. She longed for the serenity they might gradually introduce; and on Mr. Perry’s coming in soon after dinner, with a disengaged hour to give her father, she lost no time in hurrying into the shrubbery

 The setting here reflects the controlled yet  sensual turmoil of Emma, and the way in which society at that time provided little escape for women from the oppression of their daily circumstances. Here  nature (though enclosed) offers respite from loneliness and self recrimination. It reconnects her to the natural physical world and indeed her natural physical self. 

Their garden always felt better empty. Everyone had gone away, and the cafe plates were cleared. For some reason these things  cheered her. She felt that their  place relaxed into itself again. She watched the sinking light and in her head dared to repeat the word which haunted her.

For in this garden once upon a time, a woman had made a promise to her favourite son who could only smile from one side of his mouth. His smile stopped her from crying because he still knew her well enough to love her, even though she was now all he had left of his previous life. It was part of their perfect trust that she called him a new name each day,  as the old gave him pain: and maybe  names were such fluid imaginings after all.

Her son used to go by the name Roger; but after the accident he became someone else and buried Roger right back there in the past,with its sharp smell of fever and disinfectant, edged with low voices murmuring about illness and care.

”Roger isn’t a strong name mother, it will not endure you know” said her son.

So they buried Roger(who lacked the skills to survive) and this other young man, slightly broken,  but so, so brave had been born.

JumblesJanet

 

The Stone Hare

Think of it waiting three hundred million years, 
not a hare hiding in the last stand of wheat, 
but a premonition of stone, a moonlit reef 
where corals reach for the light through clear 
waters of warm Palaeozoic seas. 
In its limbs lies the story of the earth, 
the living ocean, then the slow birth 
of limestone from the long trajectories 
of starfish, feather stars, crinoids and crushed shells 
that fill with calcite, harden, wait for the quarryman, 
the timed explosion and the sculptor’s hand. 
Then the hare, its eye a planet, springs from the chisel 
to stand in the grass, moonlight’s muscle and bone, 
the stems of sea lilies slowly turned to stone.

Gillian Clarke

 What a example of a wondering, wandering, time travelling mind at work! Clarke is a magician, a conjuror of the ancient past, using words like a linguistic trapeze artist, transporting us through the ‘faith’ of her imagination. to places where everything began and where everything will end! 

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.

 

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” 

(Michelangelo)

 

I only came across this poem the other day. I was looking through Google for examples of ‘Unseen Poems for GCSE’ and stumbled upon this wonderful poem by Gillian Clarke. I admire her writing immensely and her ‘Cold Knap Lake’ is now one of my favourite poems- discussed here too.

‘Cold Knap Lake’ was included in the original AQA Anthology which   provided GCSE  students with a wonderful selection of poems, as besides Clarke’s poem , I also encountered  Heaney’s Mid-Term Break’ and Duffy’s Havisham which was the first poem I ever taught as an Independent English tutor! (see here).

The casually contemplative wonder of ‘Think of it waiting..’   transports us from one state of mind and time frame to another,  in a mind boggling hare leap of ‘three hundred million years.’  Clarke’s response to the hare is anchored to its stillness, as it is haloed in moonlight,rendering the hare an ancient sculpture about to spring to life. And in its sculptured stone self, the hare contains knowledge of the earth’s origins, a testament to how life began.The intricacies of the lexis all relating to ancient time,’warm Palaeozoic seas,’engender a sense of palpable wonder at the hare as  a ‘premonition of stone’ so that chronologically and yet intrigued,’ its eye a planet,’ we follow the poet’s wondering, wandering speculative narrative about the hare’ s past.

Michelangelo’s famous insights about stone and sculpture seem pertinent here, as Clarke’s imaginatively ‘excavates’ her vision of the night time hare, weaving the hare’s voyage through time, so that it springs back into life right before us as we read the poem:’ springs from the chisel’.

 The hare is thus Michelangelo’s ‘angel’ trapped in the stone until freed by the faith and imagination of the artists’s chisel or pen.

Here is another wonderful example of young Jane Austen’s writing,  of her natural genius for the surreal, where her  earnest letter writer’ Elizabeth Johnson’,  reveals her mother’s proclivities for a ‘fast’  moving ‘poney’ and the difficulties this poses for achieving any  artistic ‘resemblances’– not to mention the ensuing ‘fine perspiration’!

 Maybe mother was endeavoring to escape her maternal duties.Maybe mother had a secret desire for the  turf. Maybe mother was a covert highway man! At any rate the ‘blue sattin slippers’ were a truly generous gift…

…and what a beautifully arch  use of the word ‘contiguous’ by the way! 

Dear Clara

I have been so long on the ramble that I have not till now had it in my power to thank you for your Letter–. We left our dear home on last Monday month; and proceeded on our tour through Wales, which is a principality contiguous to England and gives the title to the Prince of Wales. We travelled on horseback by preference. My Mother rode upon our little poney and Fanny and I walked by her side or rather ran, for my Mother is so fond of riding fast that she galloped all the way. You may be sure that we were in a fine perspiration when we came to our place of resting. Fanny has taken a great many Drawings of the Country, which are very beautiful, tho’ perhaps not such exact resemblances as might be wished, from their being taken as she ran along. It would astonish you to see all the Shoes we wore out in our Tour. We determined to take a good Stock with us and therefore each took a pair of our own besides those we set off in. However we were obliged to have them both capped and heelpeiced at Carmarthen, and at last when they were quite gone, Mama was so kind as to lend us a pair of blue Sattin Slippers, of which we each took one and hopped home from Hereford delightfully—

I am your ever affectionate

Elizabeth Johnson.

 

This short piece of writing records a dream about Katherine Mansfield in 2007!

She did have wet hair and was very hungry, being perhaps marooned in another dimension where breakfast is unnecessary and relegated to memory! Dreams are a great source of fascination and often prove more lively than real life!

FrankieSirensRome

Having read and ‘studied’ Katherine Mansfield for years for my PhD (and even before I embarked upon any research ), the short tale does communicate a fondness for the headstrong, witty, brilliant writer whose life was tragically curtailed  by tuberculosis.

I still  find  Mansfield fascinating, do wonder about her voice. Woolf was envious of her writing and found  even her  ‘scent’ disturbing. She gave many people short shrift and feigned a sardonic, ‘cat like’  exterior, whilst inside suffering profound self doubt. Contradiction was her middle name.

What do you give a ghost for breakfast? 

She’d always arrive with damp hair  begging for the top of the milk.

Slight Kiwi accent too. How weird after all these years. Nice smile though. Cute if you like that sort of thing.

That scent. 

No air kisses though.

Call me Kezia.

”I murdered my father at a very early period of my Life, I have since murdered my Mother, and I am now going to murder my Sister. I have changed my religion so often that at present I have not an idea of any left. I have been a perjured witness in every public tryal for these last twelve years; and I have forged my own Will. In short there is scarcely a crime that I have not committed–But I am now going to reform. Colonel Martin of the Horse guards has paid his Addresses to me, and we are to be married in a few days.”

I read this to my mother yesterday after reading Fay Weldon’s article in the  Saturday paper.

‘Guess who wrote this?’ I asked her.

‘Jane Austen of course’ said my mother without missing a beat.

For who else could write such a perfectly cadenced  litany of destruction without a hint of heavy labour or regret? One clause chases another to the finishing line,  where a new start is perfectly  possible through romantic love  enjoyed with  a fine, most   military man.

A morally  reformed soul is thus easily within reach, certainly within reach of Austen’s droll wit and succinct syntax! Our tainted characters  can be redeemed without a trace of the dishevelling,  ‘ugliness’   of guilt! 

In Austen’s mature novels, monsters lurk around in most drawing rooms,  and young girls are metaphorically imprisoned by social mores and economic strictures. Yet here, in an example of her early writing,  Austen reveals  her zest for anarchy, with this  subversively witty ‘confessional’,  which   restores happiness to a’ lost soul’ through the healing powers of an  excellently executed  marriage to a Horse Guard! 

(I wonder what became of the Colonel….)

Ps here is another wickedly witty extract from Austen’s earlier  self, this time from Love and Freindship (her spelling)! 

“She is probably by this time as tired of me, as I am of her; but as she is too Polite and I am too civil to say so, our letters are still as frequent and affectionate as ever, and our Attachment as firm and sincere as when it first commenced.”

 

What a devastating woman she was! I do wonder at the extent of her cynicism or whether her exuberant wit just took over and took off ? And why  did her sister Cassandra burn the letters?!

Synthesis brings together separate elements to make a new and coherent whole.   Our  ability to synthesize different ‘readings’ or experiences help us make sense of our world. Synthesis helps our sense of orientation as in literary analysis, synthesis helps us find our way around a text and offer a reading that is compelling. 

 

Synthesis helps us to  coalesce our understanding.

It makes it real!

Today I have been exploring the different readings of the Minotaur, who like Medusa seems to be one of the most vilified, grotesque figures in mythical history.

The Minotaur’s terrible incarceration in the labyrinth, a place where he seems as ‘lost’ as his sacrificial victims themselves,  appears a metaphor for our hidden selves, our repressed secrets, our ‘buried’ mourning. His status as prowling, ‘buried’ monster preserved in time as if he was trapped  in amber! 

 

And as I was examining paintings by Picasso, Maggie Hambling and even a contemporary opera dedicated to the Minotaur, I was aware of the underlying rage of this mythical creature forever condemned by history to be a monster, just awaiting’justified’ slaughter by the’ courageous’ hero Theseus. Beneath the Minotaur’s rage however , there lurks despair and this despair and impotency perhaps I think filters on throughout culture metamorphosing into other narratives and texts.

For can’t  we all recognize the loneliness and  despondent otherness  of the Minotaur’s incarceration in the labyrinth; Lost, consigned to his underground prison, ‘fed’ sacrificial victims by those who fear and despise him?

I think   his monumental rage is our own.He is deprived of speech too-his monstruousness therefore a spectacle rather than an inwardly experienced characterization.  Hence his persistent fascination for us all. 

The Minotaur leads the way to  Frankenstein’s unnamed creature, rejected by his parent,  condemned to violence except in Shelley’s version- tragically informed by  language which makes his despair all the more real as Frankenstein’s creature can articulate how miserable he is and like Caliban in The Tempest can use language to inflict verbal rage.

So here below we have a marvellous quotation by Jeanette Winterson from her novel Oranges are not the only Fruit, my fictional review of the remake of King Kong and two brief analyses of one of my favourite poems by Dylan Thomas, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.’ The Minotaur’s rage and barely disguised despair underpins them all.

His rage is  a metaphor for our own buried emotion and palpable ‘lostness’- Freud’s id perhaps! 

 

“There are many forms of love and affection, some people can spend their whole lives together without knowing each other’s names. Naming is a difficult and time-consuming process; it concerns essences, and it means power. But on the wild nights who can call you home? Only the one who knows your name.” (Winterson, Oranges are not the only fruit) 

Kong was being taunted in the theatre. God the arrogance of man. And yet, his love had not betrayed him. There was Anne  dancing in some cheap revue. The hollowness of the fake blonde though. No wonder poor Kong raged in his manacles. Demeter took out her pocket book and made a note. She loved her hooded nibbed pen. Deep black ink.  No flourish either which was a good thing. Crucifixion she wrote. She underlined the word very very clearly.

Meanwhile   Kong was rampaging on Broadway throwing away blondes like flies. Not this one. Not that one. He wanted his baby. Imagine that,  mother told herself. Nothing compares to you. Nothing.  Oh the passion of the guy. That rage.   

And then there she was. Floodlit with sheer love of Kong coming towards  him out of time. Mother wept loud and Callum looked over hoping his friend wouldn’t notice,  but proud too in a way. The girl climbed in to Kong’s hand. The cinema melted. Woman I can hardly express my feelings of tenderness.

Now they were in the park. The ice rink. Kong was waltzing his girl. Snow blessing their most perfect love.  Mother preferred his out and out rage. Now that mother could understand.  Mother looked into his haunted eyes and saw the loneliness of love. Was love worth the risk? (She adjusted Clara’s nappied bottom on her knee. Nothing wet yet). She decided it must be. yes, it was. 

I have an affinity with rage on this blog! Medusa gets lots of attention and so does Miss Havisham and even David Almond’s  The Savage. Perhaps it is the most Janus faced  of all of our emotions: rage the disorderly dancing partner of despair.

Perhaps rage is about trying to externalize despair in a deflecting,  non submissive way. I don’t know. But this a a great poem. It reminds me of my father and of my own fears about  acquiescence and non attachment. I think it is one of my most personal readings on this blog and although I am sure Dylan Thomas was often unbearable personally , his Welsh fury moves me deeply. We can all sympathise with his sense of helplessness as his father dwindles away his hold on life.Gentleness seems too much like a farewell to the living, an acquiescence that induces railing panic on the part of the still alive. 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

http://i189.photobucket.com/ 

Sometimes only rage will do.

My father was Welsh and his favourite listening was Richard Burton reading Under Milk Wood on an LP that has long been lost. My father was a wanderer in so many ways and on Sunday I found a letter I had written to him nearly 28 years ago when he was again living somewhere else, trying to build once again another new life, having no knowledge whatsoever, that within two years he would be dead. Reading the poem this morning to my son as he ate his cereal for school, I was suddenly aware of my father and  aware of his own profound sorrow about his tragically early death; his wrongful attachments to careless people whose sincerity proved unenduring and illusory and whom he loved because he didn’t dare to love himself at all.

In the poem the sense of visceral despair at the father’s impending mortality is spat out in this villanelle, where the poet tries to order his father’s life force to resist his illness and fight back for life.How ironic the ‘good night’ might be when what it represents is desertion, the abject loneliness of being the one left behind. The final stanza declares the desolate desperation of the poet for any communication from his father, be it savage or sane enough to save him from the dying light. 

Dylan Thomas was a poet who got so many things wrong in his life and perhaps even in his Art. Yet here he is absolutely right.

Sometimes only rage will do.

Reading Dylan Thomas for A Level and never encountered before except for Richard Burton”s Under Milk Wood which my dad adored.

What monumental  rage! Like King Kong when he is on Broadway and looking for his girl throwing away all the fake blonde pretenders to his soulmate…

 Find the poem very gritty and distinctly awkward. Muscular poetry I suppose and passionate grief which knocks me over.  

I don’t necessarily  want this to be the death of anyone I love as it is so resistant to leaving life,to letting go. It lacks peace. Yet its lack of peace yields up its grandeur too. For it is passionately attached to life. It affirms our uniqueness and our intimacies.  It communicates ‘don’t leave  me’ over and over again. Bravely, loudly and vulnerably.

Relentless tenderness that burns…

Not a lukewarm writer in any way and intensely  captures the flattening, abject rage of watching someone you love leave you too ****** soon.

Makes you think about your emotional contribution to this planet!

Mesmerising.

peel view

Walking inspires your writing because it liberates our heads from our daily ‘mind forg’d manacles’ as Blake would say!  We get into ‘flow’ and words and ideas become loosened up  from our over-thinking…our curiosity is restored! 

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English Tuition can help you with the practicalities of writing and offer support. English Tuition can give you space to ask questions and to learn how to develop your ideas. Indeed perhaps the best thing about English tuition is the way it can encourage you to ask questions and to value the quality of your own questions. 

But a lovely walk can inspire ideas as walking is a natural form of Creative tuition!   If you are revising, or feel ‘blocked’ in any way, then the fresh air rejuvenates your mind and literally can take you outside of yourself.

Like a form  of ‘free writing’ with the feet! 

This Creative tuition through walking works because the rhythm of walking liberates you  from your over  busy head/mind and brings in fresh perspectives.  You can try out ideas as you walk and discarding or enjoying them becomes spontaneous and easeful….

Each step ‘tries’ out different thoughts and the physical awareness supplants over-thinking naturally.

I climbed up to Peel Tower the other weekend and was buzzing with ideas despite the wintry hail. Creative exertion feeds the imagination which can grow stagnant in our daily lives. 

The following ‘scene’ just appeared because the walk reminded me of Hardy, Lawrence and even Chatwin…you can’t beat a bit of tension around the family table! And an interloper is always a catalyst to change!  Think Inspector Calls, Of Mice and MenMiller’s View from the Bridge! 

 

‘Look up my girl. Keep your eyes steady and clear. Be proud, not cowed. ‘Said Grandfather.

Tabitha watched her grandfather’s mouth as he chewed his meat. Gravy and fat. Her plate was empty. Clean. She liked animals. ‘Why did Aunty Caroline go away?’

Grandmother slowly removed the plates without answering. Grandfather lit a cigarette and watched his granddaughter through the smoke.

‘You should eat more’ he said.

‘I know she was beautiful’ continued Tabitha.’ But where has her photograph gone?’

No one spoke. The room did look empty, as if a clearance sale had taken place. A long table remained and they were eating at it.

‘Go on outside and check on your brother’ said her grandmother.

Tabitha remained in her chair.

‘Stop mithering woman. Callum’s a capable lad.’ Said her grandfather.

‘I worry about Callum. He’s small for his age Daniel.  Quiet mostly.’

‘I’m not quiet am I?’ Tabitha stared at them both. She waited. Grandmother broke the silence.

‘Aunt Caroline read too much. Too many ideas about …daft things. She got restless .She left. ‘

‘Daft things! Worse than daft Gertrude. All that bloody time at the tower too. I know she was meeting someone. Why be so secretive if you don’t  have something-someone to hide eh?’

‘Strange place to meet anyone Daniel. Wild up there. She always liked to dress up. ‘ Said Getrude touching her own grey hair.

peel view

‘Thoughts above her station since she did that course and met that Sydney creature.’ Granddad examined his cigarette.

The name hung in the air. Tabitha mentally painted the letters in her head ‘SYDNEY ‘

Gertrude placed her hands on Tabitha’s shoulders. Tabitha felt their weight. She touched her grandmother’s left hand.

‘I like Sydney. She draws clouds as if they are alive.’ Said Tabitha. ‘When is she visiting again?’

Grandfather lit another cigarette, this time with the old one. He looked reflective, as if in pain.

‘Dresses too proud that woman.  Messy on the eye. Like oil paint everywhere.  ‘

‘Not oil paint Daniel. I think….she is unusual … ‘said his wife.

Her husband glanced at her but said nothing.

‘You used to like her Granddad.’ Tabitha reminded him.  She took you to the exhibition last year. We didn’t even know you liked pictures.’

‘He doesn’t’ said Gertrude. He just liked Sydney’s ways. We all did. ‘Grandfather shifted in his chair.

Tabitha watched her grandparents waiting again.  But then she reminded them, ‘Sydney looked at everything differently didn’t she? Sometimes I find I am using a word and wonder where it came through and then I remember.’

‘Stick to your own words girl Why do you need to borrow new ones? You are here, at home- not some bloody college in London.’

‘Propinquity’ said Tabitha ignoring him laughed. ‘She gave me that word. I wonder which word she gave Caroline.’

Peel Tower

Peel Tower

English tuition helps with confidence …..
 
Our confidence is not fixed, it fluctuates. One day we can feel bold ,  witty and interesting, on another we can feel dull as a grey dishcloth on the back step.
 
One day we can put up our hands and speak, or  we can easily volunteer an opinion,  on another day we find talking in front of people deeply embarrassing. We feel uncomfortable inside and out. 

Shynesspositive
So Confidence sometimes seems a strange elusive creature….we need to be in rapport inside ourselves and out…

Rapport is key to confidence. Rapport with ourselves and rapport with others…rapport with our writing and words….
English tutoring involves encouraging confidence so we can express ourselves comfortably…

 

Frankiesolo

 

Writing and speaking do require self belief. For there is something very brave in writing, in creating something on paper that didn’t exist before, particularly when that writing draws upon ‘you’ in some way.

Looking at a blank screen or piece of blank paper and then trying to create something requires confidence, it requires a first step, then a second, then a third…..
And part of the ‘make up’ of confidence involves our ability to feel comfortable and in rapport, even when we are in a new or relatively unfamiliar situation

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  •  
  • Here’s any easy way of helping yourself or someone else soar in confidence and get into rapport:  just get think about or get them to start   talking about one of their passions, about something or someone they love.
  • THIS IS MOST IMPORTANT- Ask them HOW they do what they love…the HOW takes them into their experience and thus ANCHORS them into the passion positively and directly.
  • HOW is the key….RAPPORT is the outcome…

anticlockwisesmall
Here’s a wonderful example from Dickens , my favourite writer who recognized that doing something you love animates even the most beleaguered, down trodden  human spirit…

Swiveller  loves the cards and wishes to help the ‘small servant’  so he models a way of playing the cards and behaving whilst they play the cards with a new name too…

…the name ‘marchioness’ gives the small servant confidence, puts her in a special rapport with herself  and her new circumstances…

‘Now,’ said Mr Swiveller, putting two sixpences into a saucer, and trimming the wretched candle, when the cards had been cut and dealt, ‘those are the stakes. If you win, you get ‘em all. If I win, I get ‘em. To make it seem more real and pleasant, I shall call you the Marchioness, do you hear?’

The small servant nodded.

‘Then, Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller, ‘fire away!’

The Marchioness, holding her cards very tight in both hands, considered which to play, and Mr Swiveller, assuming the gay and fashionable air which such society required, took another pull at the tankard, and waited for her lead.

The ‘small servant’ becomes the ‘Marchioness’ in the ‘real and pleasant’ game of cards and MAGIC happens…TRANSFORMATION! 

 

Sometimes our words are like our gardens and sat navs, they take strange routes/roots!

For Words take us places, they govern us because they transport us in directions and encourage feelings that root us elsewhere….they have the power!  They enjoy connotation!

A few weeks ago a student suggested this to me and it’s such a beautifully evocative idea that it has stayed on in my mind. So let’s have a quick look at the idea when it is applied to a poem in the AQA Anthology.

Here is the second stanza from Brendon Gallacher by Jackie Kay.

 

 

He would hold my hand and take me by the river
where we’d talk all about his family being poor.
He’d get his mum out of Glasgow when he got older.
A wee holiday some place nice. Some place far.
I’d tell my mum about my Brendon Gallacher

Look at the poetic simplicity of the first line of this stanza; it suggests tenderness and escape. It connotes connection and yearning; a desire to be understood in the privacy of some special , liberating  place/ space.

Al Green’s song comes to mind too. Soulful dreaming of another  life or another way to navigate being human and young and hopeful…

I think it is the leap from the simplicity of the held hand to the abstract expansiveness of ‘take me to the river’  which gives this stanza its intimate ‘route and root.’ We are rooted to the safety of the held hand and then feel safe enough to take the leap to what the ‘river’with its flow and mysterious direction might connote.

The rest of the stanza appears a displacement of all the young speaker might secretly desire to achieve.She speaks through the safety of the river and the held hand and of course through the persona of Brendon Gallacher.

Maybe this is what we all desire in friendships: to feel ‘rooted’ and safe and to feel we have a ‘route’ to follow so we are not lost but found?

A beautiful, very understated poem

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I am still in the process of trawling through old bits and pieces of writing and seeing if there are any elements  with any potential for transformation. As I noted before, sometimes it does feel as if the writing is utterly ‘foreign’ and ‘not me’ and that says a great deal about the effects of time…

I do like the idea of the watchfulness of the Face in the wall and the plaster becoming something reassuring and even tender. The Plasticine figures seem more dangerous yet comic too. Perhaps they sit on that precarious ledge between the childlike and the grotesque?

Someone famous  had once turned their face to the wall and died because they had run out of the words they cared about.  The face couldn’t recall who they were and perhaps they hadn’t remembered either.  When words turn your heart to dust, your who or why  crumbles too.

He wondered if they had smelt the deep coldness of old plaster ,  or just let go anyway before they got there.  Everything was only a breath away, even death. Especially death. How easy to close down our will over the chill of plaster. Plaster held its buried temperature, held together all these particles of the past, held him together so that he could watch and see. What was he thinking about just before? The plaster drew him again. His  mouth smiled. It was the small matter of the last breath.  He was not breathing nowadays anyway. Yet he was still here, watching those faces feeding on this air that kept their careless hearts beating. He watched how their  their greed crawled about them, like Medusa’s snakes, slithering about their smiles, their scaly, glittering talk littered with  snares.

face003

Gulpers. Each word they uttered was painted in secret  spite. Sometimes they hid their spite behind  sweetly coated adjectives, but  the spite always lurked about their edges if you listened and waited. People do have edges. You have to listen and then  the trick was to watch out of the corner of your eye; for  when you are  not looking, you see. You learn and know.  The face knew this  watching his uncle’s pet hawks as a child. The hawks had taught him to wait and then  when the prey felt safe, to punish without mercy.

George was different, awkwardly innocent. Innocence was awkward to live with. You had to clamber inside it and then everything hung off you and even your way of  talking had a slouch to it.  But the boy got angry with the metallic laughter of the visitors, crowding in on his Aunt’s forgotten fortune, seeking to judge her paintings, to sell them to  H. R. Emerson of Lincoln.

That afternoon George  had leant against the wall and wept. The world had gone from his eyes and he was crying out that he was  lost. The face felt the boy’s hot grief wash all over the wall.He felt alive again, more than this echo of a person.  The boy warmed him with his own face, smashed his forehead into his hair and then without knowing why,  took a step back and saw him for the first time, trapped within the silent wall. The face felt the boys interest. They watched each other gently.

‘You need more air. More light. This place is too dark for you.’ George wiped his eyes and  went over to the French windows  taking  the key from his Aunt’s smallest table.

It was the  first time the face had seen a garden for years . It felt like  he had stepped out of a ‘plane in some  hot country. The plaster drew his head slightly to the left. The late afternoon air was dancing and the tall trees at the edge of the lawn seemed stood in coloured lights and the plaster started to lose the coolness and grow warm.

This was George’s first gift to him.

the lamia

Once upon a time there was a woman who needed a change. She felt the need between her eyes. It was  a heat, burning aside her all her cliches in her head. There was a  burning outside too, singeing away at the facade, the camouflage that was her life. So she began her change  in a careful way, attempting new things, making adjustments, replacing  the careful apparatus of her days. Some days it helped,  she felt more stretched out, more pleasingly unsettled. Maybe she could even bask a little in the fresh air of change. But it was not enough, it didn’t dig deep.

‘Just abrasions- gentle bruising and then back to that  flat pool again. ‘ wrote Ella to her oldest friend Terry.’ I would like to know my own power.

Terry read her letters without surprise. His heart wrote back, ‘be bold my friend. Stretch out that head of yours but please chose your allies carefully. Ella, I never burn. I survive because I keep my  dreams small. Like Cereal grains for hope.’

‘We are different’ wrote Ella.’ I feel this uncoiling.  Unleashing.  I want my name back again.’

‘Your name is Ella. I gave it to you,  when you needed to hide. Be content.The other must not beckon you.’ 

But it did. Torn, Ella took up the cards. No one at home approved, but she sat in her window  seat overlooking the back garden and told her visitors stories about their past and future.

‘Five of cups. You feel an attraction but hold yourself close, waiting for a sign that will never come unless you grow bolder. The Chariot. Step into your life. ‘

‘Ten of Wands. I feel as if my shoulders are weighted down by life. Such sadness too. Do you see, you are far more than you allow yourself to be. Strength. Work is a place of mistrust. Dark corridors. You feel a woman is between you and a lighter future. You have the Sun! ‘

Sometimes the burning did manage  more and then Ella  would find curled up evidence of her gradual change. Her metamorphosis.  Shedding they called it back there where she came from. Shedding skin. It could happen anywhere.

It feels like poetry Terry. I leave a trail.

The bits of her old skin didn’t shrivel as she hoped though. They lay about until she buried them and even then it felt as if they were muttering about reminding her of their existence. We are only temporarily indisposed. Which part of her life was temporary and which permanent?

‘I long for  magic.’ 

I feel the twists and turns of my head.

Be more mindful said her husband Timothy whom she had forgotten about.

‘You look different’ said Emily as they collided trolleys.

‘ I am different ‘ said Ella. There was a sweet scent about her too, part cedar, part lime.

Pleasant thought Emily but…’It’s your colouring, you look …’

‘Bolder ? ‘ said Ella.

‘Bolder. Yes. Like you are all lit up within . In love.’ she gushed.   On fire.’

Ella smiled at the small woman and her mouth widened at Emily’s last word.

‘Perhaps I am’ she replied showing neat white teeth and a dark crimson tongue. For  some reason she couldn’t fathom,  Emily was glad to arrive at the checkout without any more conversation.

Creatures of instinct aren’t we all murmured Ella as she her.

She remembered Terry’s early lesson about human survival. Emotions stink. We radiate who we are and how we feel. Our scent communicates.  We just need to remember that. You don’t though. Just pretend for a while until you know what you want to do. They’ll never find you with your camouflage.

Terry was only partially right. It took them 5 years to track her and 5 years of camouflaged living to feel suffocated. 

Fighting was more fun.

the lamia

Peel Tower

Peel Tower

Over the weekend, during the wind, sleet and hail, I climbed up to Peel Tower near Ramsbottom, with Moira Eribenne who captured the extraordinary aliveness of the place with her camera, and who took   the two images above and below. The afternoon light kept altering which brought a timelessness to our walk, as well as a quiet sense of awe. We felt blessed. 

 Our walk was magically bleak and beautiful. The cloud formations and the extraordinary solitude of the simple Tower reminded me again of the following moment in chapter one of Hardy’s  novel Two on a Tower when the fated couple meet for the first time. I have always loved Hardy perhaps because as a child I saw the film of Far from the Madding Crowd with Julie Christie, Peter Finch and Alan Bates  and thought it the most gorgeously passionate story in the world! 

peel view

Here, in the Hardy extract below, I love the metaphysical wonder (almost Blakean) of the ‘maelstrom of fire ‘  where humans are forever excluded and yet Hardy allows us to ‘peep’- (voyeuristic as ever-see Far From a Madding Crowd when Oak spies on Bathsheba for example or in Tess when Angel watches the innocent Tess  at Talbothay’s Dairy) ! 

The wonder is also shared, so that the couple’s first meeting involves the exceptional; a sharing which seems immediately intimate and encourages a certain mood of ‘fatefulness’ to surround the encounter.  Courtship is set in the stars! 

 

‘What do you see?—something happening somewhere?’

‘Yes, quite a catastrophe!’ he automatically murmured, without moving round.

‘What?’

‘A cyclone in the sun.’

The lady paused, as if to consider the weight of that event in the scale of terrene life.

‘Will it make any difference to us here?’ she asked.

………..

‘But would you like to see it?’ he recommenced.  ‘It is an event that is witnessed only about once in two or three years, though it may occur often enough.’

She assented, and looked through the shaded eyepiece, and saw a whirling mass, in the centre of which the blazing globe seemed to be laid bare to its core.  It was a peep into a maelstrom of fire, taking place where nobody had ever been or ever would be.

‘It is the strangest thing I ever beheld,’ she said.  Then he looked again; till wondering who her companion could be she asked, ‘Are you often here?’

‘Every night when it is not cloudy, and often in the day.’

‘Ah, night, of course.  The heavens must be beautiful from this point.’

‘They are rather more than that.’

Thomas Hardy, Two on a Tower, Chapter One.

If the past is a ‘foreign country’ and we do things ‘differently there’ ( L.P.Hartley) then reading this old piece about young George and his pen confirmed It!

For even after three years ‘George’ seemed a stranger  to me  and yet I found his need to reconnect with his dead Aunt through his pen poignant and moving.

Tensions within families seem a recurring theme, as does hypocrisy. Think a bit of excavation of old writing may be in order to ‘see’ what I can find!  

George stood on the door step and smelt the sea. He took one of his famous long breaths and tasted salt on his tongue. Shutting his eyes he started to sway as the sea scent became airy and lifted his hair. More than anything today he wanted to write again with her pen and wait for what she had to say. He had faith. He had always been a faithful child, even when his family divided themselves into parts, spending Christmases in different houses, cultivating conversations where strange silences strayed into code words and he was asked  to read a book in his room so as not to be involved in their bitter murmurs and namings.

pantry paintings,

Of course the face in the wall knew this, knew it all. All with a drawl, with  drawn out  vowel sounds that would one day shake the heads of this petty household into regret. But would they regret anything or would they just blame chance, fate perhaps with a large unwieldy ‘F’. George had seen the face as soon as he returned for the funeral party. His family assembled like dark suited crows, devouring the huge buffet spread of meat, eyeing at each other, listening for weakness, hoping for something revealed.  He had walked into the hall and lifted his head hoping to see her again waiting for him on the stair. But she could not appear yet and then he had seen the face and even though the face frowned, George knew the frown was not for him.

face003

So there he was, once again at the kitchen table, filling a large tortoiseshell pen with ink and waiting to see what she would begin to tell him. Perhaps the sea was a hint. She had loved the sea. She had read Treasure Island  with him when he had come to stay and had that long cough which filled the house but didn’t hurt and made her find honey and lemon from the pantry she had called her special place.

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