Thursday, 6 December 2012

Día de la Calamity!

This housewifery malarkey is full of hazards.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Don't Panic!

I can't help it, I am panicking. One day to go and I need to write like a demon in order to hit my NaNo target.

I have disobeyed all my self-imposed rules including getting caught up in research instead of leaving it to the last minute - and worst of all I've been playing games on FB instead of writing!!!

So with 34 hours to go, and a wake to attend, I think I am likely to forgo sleep tonight and write myself into a stupor.

I have also just realised I have not been updating my NaNo total on the website either. Off to do that now.



Thursday, 22 November 2012


It isn't so much the peaceful passing of those now gone as the quiet agony of those left behind that hurts.


RIP Mary.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

All Hallows Eve

't'was the night before All Saints, when all through the house
All ghosties and ghoulies tried to frighten the mouse.
With masks and capes, dripping fangs and hard glare,
The children set out to menace, with flair.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Days of Procrastination are Soon to End

I am a top-notch procrastinator, no extra training required, I am certified, fully qualified, up there amongst the best. As a result things tend to take a while to come to fruition, unless there's a deadline. Deadlines I like, they do not afford me time to procrastinate. Well that's not exactly true, a deadline allows me a certain period of procrastination but when I know that the time has come for me to complete the task in hand, to meet that deadline, I stop procrastinating and get on with it.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Old Witch's House


Generations of townsfolk had avoided the spooky house at the end of the long drive, where the shutters were always closed against the sun and the rain, where the chimney stack smoked even in ninety degree heat and the rocking chair creaked on the rotting veranda though no-one ever sat in it. “A witch lives there,” the children would say and even the bravest dare-devil drew well short of the veranda steps. Every year on Hallowe’en the porch lights would be turned on and the ghoulish faces of meticulously carved pumpkins would glow from within whilst apples bobbed in a barrel out front. The kids were definitely not going there on Hallowe’en, “What when her powers are at their greatest?” even though it looked far more inviting than at any other time of the year. Parents and children would walk past the end of the drive with hurried steps and throw only the briefest of glances along the drive.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

I Ask Myself

In the blogosphere there are lots of groups of writers who have joined together and hold Q&A sessions to help promote each other's work. There aren't many for travel writers, well not that I've found. Maybe I haven't really searched that hard but at the moment I am out here on my lonesome. That is not going to stop me having a Q&A session though, oh no! I have decided to ask myself...

Today I'd like to welcome Deborah Cater to my blog and to talk to her about her work. Deborah has published two books in her City Chronicles trilogy, A Tale of Nine Cities and A Little Bit of Italy, and maintains several blogs relating to travel, food and literature.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

A Quiet Library and the Universality of Books



We made a pit-stop in the library in Fuengirola (Costa del Sol, Spain) two days ago to look for books on the derivation of specialist linguistics such as economics, medical, legal etc. We were not successful in this search just as we have been unsuccessful in Venice, Pescara and Rovigo in Italy, but that does not stop us trying.

As Stefano made enquiries at the desk as to the whereabouts of such books I noticed the display under the banner of ‘Londres 2012’ and wandered over for a perusal. In celebration of the Olympics and Paralympics in London this year the library had selected a number of books by British (and Irish) writers. The selection was an eclectic mix of classic and modern and I was taken with some of the translated titles. Dickens’ Bleak House became ‘casa desolada’ which sounds far more romantic than the English title and A Tale of Two Cities is translated as ‘Historia de dos ciudades’ which is a bit more of a mouthful. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen remained just that whilst Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray translated as ‘El Retrato de Dorian Gray’ which gives me, with my limited Spanish, a feel for the story much more than the English title does. Defoe, Hornby and others were there for the choosing and I was rather pleased to see a library make an effort to tie reading in with other pursuits (and for the record it worked as nearly everyone who walked in to the library approached the display even if not all selected a book from it).

The library is new, clean and with lots of desks in the reference area upstairs. The rule of silence is strictly enforced within the library confines. An old-fashioned stare, the likes of which I have not seen since my teenage years in Maidenhead library, was thrown in the direction of a middle-aged woman whose phone rang. When she answered it I was convinced the librarian was going to wrestle her to the ground and snatch the phone. The woman had the good sense to whisper her whereabouts into the phone before leaving the building post-haste before continuing her call. I do wish municipal libraries in the UK were more like this, instead they now seem to be a cross between a crèche, coffee house and general meeting point with barely a desk to be had and silence more than lacking.

In the reference area a display of translated English language authors marched across the top of one of the shelving units. It was interesting to see the mix of styles – Patricia Cornwell, Salman Rushdie (who had not made it into the celebrating London section), John Grisham, Barbara Wood and Wilbur Smith to name a few – and pleasing that language is no longer a barrier. I am going through a phase of reading Spanish language writers, translated as my Spanish is not yet good enough to do them justice in their own tongue. It shows that literature, good, bad or indifferent, is universal regardless of the language it is originally written in. Books traverse boundaries, cultural and linguistic, bringing enjoyment, learning and escapism to all that open the covers and dive in.

Reading should be encouraged in every way possible to all generations (it is never too late to come to the joy of books). Books are a truly universal path to understanding and shared experiences.





Saturday, 25 August 2012

Going Short, then Long

Everything is ready for the novel to be written but I thought I would hone my skills, albeit it to a slightly different plot method, by writing a short story first. The story is a back story to one of the characters in the novel and I have found it incredibly useful. It has become a summary of the more intricate character involvement that will be evident in the novel and I have managed to iron out some crinkles that could have turned into whopping great creases in the full-blown work. It is so useful that I am going to apply the same method to other main characters.

The exercise has reminded me of some key points in constructing a work of fiction and I hope to remember to carry them with me into the novel.

Get the Plot Moving and Introduce Key Characters Early On

There is less time for character and plot development in a short story so the way in which they are introduced, developed and brought to their denouement has to be tightly controlled. Still, the lessons are the same for both the short and longer style of writing: do not prevaricate or you will lose your reader. I introduced the main character from the very beginning - he is the action - and as the storyline progresses more information about him as a person and his history is fed in without slowing down or stopping the flow of the plot. I did not leave introducing any characters until the end of the story - it's not a badly written who-done-it where the long lost brother rocks up with the murder weapon in his hand in the last scene - they are introduced in a timely and fitting manner.

Do not go Overboard with Description

Description in a short story has to be limited to a few well-chosen words so that the scene is set without taking up precious space for the story. Scene setting is important in all lengths of writing and allowing the reader to enter your fictional world is crucial in getting them to believe in your characters and their situation. But Writer Beware! Today's readers are not as eager to be submerged in pages of decriptive prose as readers of yesteryear were.  A few well-chosen phrases will suffice and remember the old adage - SHOW DON'T TELL.

Introduce and Resolve Conflict - Do not Leave the Reader Hanging

A new scene requires some advancement of the plot and creating conflict is the way to do it. In a way it is as if each scene has its own mini-plot which relates back to the main plot. If one scene has introduced conflict then it must be resolved in another scene at some point. It is unfair on the reader to leave them with an unresolved issue, this is fiction not real life!

Let Your Voice Ring Out Loud and Clear

Your writing is your voice. Do not try and speak/write with someone else's voice because unless you are a first class mimic you are only going to come across as a fraud. When you have discovered your voice make sure it is clear, not muffled with unneccessary adjectives or cliches (this relates back to the description point). I started writing as I thought I ought to, only to realise after many wasted hours that the voice that best suits me is my own.


I referred at the beginning to a slight difference in plot methodology between novels and short stories and it would be rather remiss of me, considering my point about not leaving the reader hanging,  not to mention a little more on this point.

Plot demands that the different parts of your story relate to the main event. Chekhov had his gun principle - that if you bring a gun into the first act you'd better have used it before the curtain falls -  and this still holds true. Whilst a novel usually contains a series of events that link back to one coherence, hence the gun must have some link to the overall plot and storyline, a short story concentrates on one event and its background. So my short story, focusing as it does on one character and his history to another, revolves around that character. In the novel this character is one of many and his story in just one of a number of events and revelations that make up a rather more involved plot.

I am enjoying writing fiction seriously for the first time not only because I am allowing my imagination to run free but because I am learning the art. To my mind there is little more enjoyable in life than learning.


Thursday, 9 August 2012

Reading Inspires Writing

My book plan, my characters, the ethos of the book it is all ready, but with my first serious attempt at fiction writing about to get underway I got cold feet. I am just a teensy bit afraid of failure; so instead of going forth with confident step I found myself shuffling from one foot to the other, glancing around nervously. To calm my nerves I picked up a book and started to read.

My choice of book was Jean Anouilh's Antigone, not your standard fare by any means but a necessary piece of reading for my forthcoming Masters. As I read, and compared it to the Sophocles version, I relaxed and inspiration followed. I read Antigone's speech about how she only wanted to live and be married if her fiancé continued to love her the way he did then. I recognised the emotions she described. I studied the language more closely. This was not highfalutin language designed to demonstrate the author's grasp of poly-syllabic words, it was plain language which put across the desired feelings in a way which would grab the reader (or audience as this is the text for a play). In short, it was everyday language. I was reassured, beautiful literature does not need to be difficult langauge.

I read on. Antigone's fiancé, Haemon, spoke about quarrels and happiness, and inspiration hit again. I heard one of my characters referring to Haemon's speech in an internal dialogue. It would work. My character is an artist, he is cultured, it would not be out of character for him to refer to literary works when conversing with himself. I scribbled the speech down in the back of the book - I did not have time to go in search of my notebook, the speech was fully and perfectly formed, it needed to be recorded immediately. And so, with a book in my hand I had become inspired and found the confidence to write.

I truly believe that a good or brilliant writer can only be born from a prolific reader. It is from reading that a writer can hone their art, learn the skills necessary to evoke the right sort of emotion in the right place and successfully convey meaning to the reader. When reading a writer absorbs, whether consciously or not, nuances of language and technique and can use them in their own works. I read voraciously, I only hope I have learned enough to make my writing good; though I shall strive for brilliance.

Young Woman Reading by Mary Cassatt. 1876

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Character Building

My fiction journey continues, I have my plot and storylines mapped out, I know where I am going. However, to make the journey worthwhile my travel companions need to be characters of interest, humour, allure - in a word, captivating. If I end up with a bore, someone one-dimensional with nothing to say of note, I in turn will become bored and we will never make it to our final destination. With this in mind I have become very choosy about the characters I take with me.

I decided to start with my characters' physical appearance - a pinched nose, full lips, glasses, tumbling wavy hair - their looks will help me determine their personality. Of course, there is quite a bit of input from my sub-conscious. Tucked away in the recesses of my mind are embryonic characters, with some of the mental and physical characteristics already in place; so, one influences the other. I decided that I need to be able to see them in more than my mind's eye. Not being able to create anything with a pencil and paper that resembles a human being (though if you need a new look alien, ask me to draw a child and you may have what you are looking for) I found a free photo-fit software to create them. I now have pictures of my main characters and when I need a little inspiration I look at the eyes of the character, and then see through them. 

Seeing through the eyes of the character requires more than their physicality, I need to know how they think and feel. In order that I do not contradict my characters later on, and to dig into their psyche, I have made a list of their likes and dislikes, their marital status, their education, their parents and so on. When I completed the 'checklist' I was more expansive than 'fave colour is blue'. Why is it blue? Does it evoke emotions in the character? Do they like a particular shade? 

Now I feel as if I know my characters, inside and out. They are not going to spring a surprise on me by suddenly reacting against type when in a certain situation (well I certainly hope not). Every day I look at their faces and try to see them through the eyes of the other characters and vice versa. One of my characters is physically beautiful, I have developed a crush on her...I am not the only one.

Wordle: Untitled

Monday, 16 July 2012

Some Book Reviews

The Masters looms ever closer and I am having to read like a madwoman (not in the attic) to ensure I have the set book list completed before the course starts.

Here are some of the review of the books I have read so far:

Jane EyreJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


With my Masters looming I am rapidly reading my way through the set book list, and this is one of them. I first read Jane Eyre when a teenager and was irritated by the stubbornness of Jane (much as I was by Elizabeth Bennett in 'Pride & Prejudice'), possibly because they too closely resembled the person I saw in the mirror on a daily basis.
A generation later I am able to look on Jane in a more favourable light. I can understand her qualms, her reasons for behaving in such a manner, and I respect her for them. Jane's character is well-developed, believable and likeable. Bronte's prose skips along at a suitable pace, I did not find myself wallowing in overly descriptive passages. There were of course descriptive passages but they were seamlessly incorporated into the plot, not a lengthy distraction as could be found with other Victorian writers (Dickens particularly).
If you read 'Jane Eyre' as a teenager, I suggest you read it again. I have read it filtered through adult eyes and experiences and found it to be much more enjoyable second time around.



View all my reviews

Antigone (Translations from Greek Drama)Antigone by Sophocles

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Nobody does tragedy like the Ancient Greeks. Love, honour, kingship and religion form the basis for the tale of a headstrong girl and her king, her brother and her lover (and the last 3 are not all the same person albeit that she is the daughter of Oedipus!).

This edition, suitable for students of all levels, is a modern translation with side by side commentaries to help the reader overcome any gaps in the mythology or classical history knowledge. The language is contemporary and there are pointers to help the reader consider hhow the play could be performed.

It really is a student version, but if you want an introduction to the Ancient Greek plays then this is a good place to start.



View all my reviews

And a sneaky one that isn't on the list!!

History of a Pleasure SeekerHistory of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


When you consider the current furore (summer 2012) around the appallingly badly written 50 Shades of Grey, it was a pleasure to read a book that contains a modicum of the erotic yet is so well written.

It is a book of love, desire, money, ambition and class divides. Mason brings the Amsterdam of 1907 to life through the tale of Piet Barol, the aforementioned 'pleasure seeker'. The sex is written in such a way that it does not stand out, screaming 'sexy part', but blends into the whole narrative.
It is a fast-paced book, with developed characters, humour and rich in period detail.
I recommend this read highly.



View all my reviews

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Novel Beginnings

I am putting my most intrepid foot forward and am about to step into a world I have only read about - I am going to write a novel. To date my writing has been of the non-fiction variety, charting my travels from one European city to the next. Now I am preparing for my biggest adventure yet - to the centre of the land of make-believe.

It is a journey much travelled. Millions have made their way in and many have returned with gems of literature that are almost priceless to those who have enjoyed them. Some have taken a wrong turn or two, meandered aimlessly from metaphor to adverb, but still emerged with shiny pebbles that enhance a reader's collection. And some, some remain, unsure of their whereabouts, stuck between a rock and a dodgy plot device, always looking for the perfect diamond, not realising that the rough, ugly stone they hold could be polished to brilliance with the help of a skilled editor.

I hope that my foray into the fictional interior is not too fraught with unexpected pitfalls: no quicksand patches of plot that threaten to swamp me, suck my anticipated denouement beneath the sludge of obviousness and mediocrity; that no echoing caverns entice my characters in so their voices are heard only faintly, and monotonously, as they disappear into the darkness. Of course, I do not expect an easy trip no matter how detailed my road-map; I have to cross the shifting sands of language, that cover and uncover seemingly at will towers of Babel. I dream of emerging with a priceless gem, but I am realistic enough to know that a shiny pebble would be a  souvenir worthy of returning with.

My luggage is packed. I will try to keep to the weight limit, not cram in too much, so that I can close it with ease without a plethora of adverbs and adjectives spilling forth. No embarrassing scenes at check-in as I have to discard some unruly paragraphs. I am ready. My journey starts now.



Wordle: Untitled

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Style and Edit

I am neither Hemingway nor Dickens. I don't mean this in a conceited  way, I would not be so brave as to put my standard of writing on a par with them, let alone above (nor is it false modesty). I am talking about style -  the way in which I construct my sentences and the words I use. Stylistically I fall between these two literary pillars. My writing is far from the sparse, adjective and adverb light style of Hemingway. Neither is my writing style as dense, and quite frankly verbose, as Dickens'. I do like a comma or a semi-colon but I do not go to the lengths of Charles. I will happily populate a page with adverbs and adjectives (see what I did there?); indeed my first drafts are invariably crammed with them. However, and here I take solace from Hemingway's quote, 'The first draft of everything is shit', subsequent drafts are revised to remove superfluous words. If I can dispense with an adverb or two because the following sentences make the position clear, I will.

My latest book, currently out with an editor, saw me describe just about everything as either beautiful, gorgeous, awe-inspiring or other such adjectives, in the first draft. The second draft saw a lot of red ink through what are unnecessary and quite bland adjectives. I still expect my editor to return the manuscript with a number of suggested corrections despite my notes to self, dotted all over the house, beseeching, nay ordering, SHOW DON'T TELL.

There is a current editorial tendency to cut out the majority of adverbs and adjectives from works, and any number of articles exhorting writers to avoid them like the plague. It makes sense, to a degree. But by showing, not telling, you need to have enough pointers in the work for the reader to pick up your message without you literally spelling it out for them: 'He was sad.' Good for him; next! You can describe that sadness through the character's actions, reactions, emotions, thoughts, and responses, and those of other characters or the surroundings. That does not mean that every now and again you cannot slot in a simple sentence complete with an adjective, but you need to follow it up with some pretty good stuff.

I am not suggesting that all writers change to a Hemingway style for one minute; I, for one, would fail dismally. Adverbs and adjectives do have their place and Hemingway did use them, albeit sparingly. I would, without a shadow of doubt, be resigned to reading only my own works if the style of Dickens was de rigeur. There really is a middle way. Other writing devices can be used in conjunction with, or in isolation to, adverbs and adjectives to show the reader the author's message. A change in sentence length and style can impart so much - slow down or speed up the pace, create tension or a sense of relief.

There is a lot to think about when writing and it can be daunting, irritating, confusing and at times soul-sapping; but then we wouldn't write if it didn't challenge us in some way. There is a process I would rcommend. The first draft should flow freely. It may be 'shit' from an editor's point of view, but it is the skeleton upon which you can build your creature. Write it, re-visit it, self-edit and when you are relatively happy with it, pass it to a professional. The very best authors have editors. Your work my be your 'baby' but even the most coddled child has to go to school and undergo professional tuition in order to become a grown-up version of itself.

Choose your style, work with it, perfect it, but don't be too upset when an editor returns it with more corrections than you ever thought possible. We can't all be Hemingways or Dickenses, but we can give it a damn good try.

Style and Edit

I am neither Hemingway nor Dickens. I don't mean this in a conceited  way, I would not be so brave as to put my standard of writing on a par with them, let alone above (nor is it false modesty). I am talking about style -  the way in which I construct my sentences and the words I use. Stylistically I fall between these two literary pillars. My writing is far from the sparse, adjective and adverb light style of Hemingway. Neither is my writing style as dense, and quite frankly verbose, as Dickens'. I do like a comma or a semi-colon but I do not go to the lengths of Charles. I will happily populate a page with adverbs and adjectives (see what I did there?); indeed my first drafts are invariably crammed with them. However, and here I take solace from Hemingway's quote, 'The first draft of everything is shit', subsequent drafts are revised to remove superfluous words. If I can dispense with an adverb or two because the following sentences make the position clear, I will.

My latest book, currently out with an editor, saw me describe just about everything as either beautiful, gorgeous, awe-inspiring or other such adjectives, in the first draft. The second draft saw a lot of red ink through what are unnecessary and quite bland adjectives. I still expect my editor to return the manuscript with a number of suggested corrections despite my notes to self, dotted all over the house, beseeching, nay ordering, SHOW DON'T TELL.

There is a current editorial tendency to cut out the majority of adverbs and adjectives from works, and any number of articles exhorting writers to avoid them like the plague. It makes sense, to a degree. But by showing, not telling, you need to have enough pointers in the work for the reader to pick up your message without you literally spelling it out for them: 'He was sad.' Good for him; next! You can describe that sadness through the character's actions, reactions, emotions, thoughts, and responses, and those of other characters or the surroundings. That does not mean that every now and again you cannot slot in a simple sentence complete with an adjective, but you need to follow it up with some pretty good stuff.

I am not suggesting that all writers change to a Hemingway style for one minute; I, for one, would fail dismally. Adverbs and adjectives do have their place and Hemingway did use them, albeit sparingly. I would, without a shadow of doubt, be resigned to reading only my own works if the style of Dickens was de rigeur. There really is a middle way. Other writing devices can be used in conjunction with, or in isolation to, adverbs and adjectives to show the reader the author's message. A change in sentence length and style can impart so much - slow down or speed up the pace, create tension or a sense of relief.

There is a lot to think about when writing and it can be daunting, irritating, confusing and at times soul-sapping; but then we wouldn't write if it didn't challenge us in some way. There is a process I would rcommend. The first draft should flow freely. It may be 'shit' from an editor's point of view, but it is the skeleton upon which you can build your creature. Write it, re-visit it, self-edit and when you are relatively happy with it, pass it to a professional. The very best authors have editors. Your work my be your 'baby' but even the most coddled child has to go to school and undergo professional tuition in order to become a grown-up version of itself.

Choose your style, work with it, perfect it, but don't be too upset when an editor returns it with more corrections than you ever thought possible. We can't all be Hemingways or Dickenses, but we can give it a damn good try.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Re-assessing Picasso

I am having to re-assess my rather jaded view of Picasso's works from the 1930s. Up until today I had only been exposed to Guernica and the works that adorn the walls of the Picasso Museum in Malaga, then I saw an article in The Guardian. There is a showing at the British Museum of all of the etchings from the Vollard Suite, produced between 1930 and 1937 for the art dealer Ambroise Vollard. Of the 10 that were reproduced for the article there was not one that I did not like; if the other 90 are of an ilk then this is a display it would be worth returning to England for.

You can quite clearly see that this is Picasso's hand, and mind, at work. There are chimerical beasts, the minotaur in all his glory, but there are also faces of men and women that I have seen on Ancient Greek urns and Renaissance ceilings.  I have a desire for the minotaur. That mix of beastial and masculine strength, which is occasionally vanquished in bullfights...this is sex talking to me loud and clear from the artist's pen.

I feel I am getting to know Picasso through these etchings, and to know someone is to at least understand them, if not love them. These etchings have aroused an interest in me, not yet passion, but perhaps that will come with time.

The British Museum - Vollard Suite drawings

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Samantha Brick, of whom I had never heard until her articles in the Daily Mail were tweeted about, has carried out a marvellous piece of marketing. Thousands of people now know her name. As a writer she has achieved the amount of publicity that the majority of us can only dream about – no such thing as bad publicity apparently. Putting the publicity angle to one side, it will have made people think about the concept of beauty. Samantha claims that her ‘beauty’ has both opened and closed doors for her, that she is frequently offered drinks, helped with carrying shopping or parking her car and all because her ‘pretty smile’ has made someone’s day. That may be so, but what is beauty?

There are numerous quotes about beauty but two that I think are most appropriate in this case are, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and ‘Beauty is only skin-deep.’ Considering the first - when Samantha Brick looks in the mirror she must see a beautiful woman who is slim, wears her clothes well and takes care in her appearance, otherwise we would not have been subjected to her article. She is confident. Confidence, where people hold their head high and walk tall, makes them more attractive to others – it is body language that we sub-consciously read, you cannot get that from a photograph. I was always told to be more confident about myself but found it difficult, still do sometimes. When I walk into a bar either I am completely oblivious to people taking note of me, or if I do I immediately assume I must have my skirt tucked in my knickers or something mad has happened to my hair – I do not think, these people are looking at me because I am attractive; Samantha probably would. I do not have the confidence of Samantha, she would see glances as admiring whereas I panic about a wardrobe malfunction, but I have improved. And with the growing confidence that comes with age, the acceptance of the body I inhabit and the person I am, I have become more attractive to others. More strangers will talk to me in a bar, though I am yet to be inundated with bottles of bubbly – which is a shame as I rather like the stuff.

The number of harsh, and in some cases downright nasty, comments that Samantha received – from both men and women, though in her second article she seemed only to have noticed those from women – comes from people comparing their ideals of beauty with the pictures of Samantha. From my viewpoint she is moderately attractive, not stunningly beautiful, but she will be seen as attractive or thought beautiful by some. That is the beauty of mankind; we all like different things, find beauty in different forms – Vive la difference!

As for beauty only being skin-deep that is true to a degree, but beauty can come from within. Someone with a good heart, kind words to say, who is not conceited, who makes time for others, will be considered a beautiful person. No-one wants to be thought of as ugly but beauty fades (and with the ‘help’ of a surgeon’s knife often becomes a distorted mask) and it is the person within that is going to attract friends and admiration. Yesterday I was told repeatedly by a 74 year-old shepherd that I was ‘guapa’ (Spanish for pretty). As I was walking the dogs, make-up free, hair scraped back and in far from stylish clothes, I assumed that this was either due to failing eyesight on his part OR because I made time to stop to talk to him. Whatever the reason it made me smile – everybody likes a bit of flattery regardless of the quarter it comes from. One of the comments posted in response to Samantha’s second article mentioned Mother Theresa as a beautiful person for the reasons I have mentioned above – someone who gives their time and cares for others. Samantha claimed that she had helped many of her friends with both emotional and financial support so if that was the case why did so many turn against her as she claims? Perhaps they were particularly shallow people whom she will be better off without. Perhaps their turning against Samantha was misinterpreted by her, after all we do not have sight of these conversations between friends on Facebook. If a friend asked ‘What is Deborah on?’ or ‘Where did these stupid ideas come from?’ following the publishing of a daft article I’d written, after a night of cooling down I would give time to their questions. Is this an attack on me by friends, or is it genuine concern or confusion as to my motives – was the article a radical departure from my normal persona? Samantha needs time to consider her actions before slating her friends again – but of course there isn’t time for reflection in the publicity maelstrom.

I have made assumptions about the type of person Samantha Brick is, as anybody who reads an article will do about the author. I have looked for physical beauty and found neither ugliness nor stunning beauty; I have looked for a beautiful character but one is not readily apparent, though I should not expect to find it in an article written to grab attention. All one can say is Good Luck Samantha, may your article reap the rewards you desire and that your friends remain true.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Watching Men at Work

Sitting in the car outside a petrol station, waiting for a call before picking up my neighbour from the airport, I had nothing better to look at than the men renewing an area of concrete. I watched for forty minutes. This is what I learned.

Division of Labour – Two men making concrete
You make the concrete and pour it onto the frame. Until such time as the foreman arrives to see how we’re doing I won’t interfere. My job is to make a smooth, even surface. That is my job. In between loads of concrete I’ll stand and stare at the girl in the car.

Doing the deal – Industrial Painter and Foreman
I want the work you’re offering so I’ll nod my head a lot and agree with you unless I think I can wangle more money out of you somehow. When that case arises I’ll look serious, shake my head, point at things and write on my clipboard.

Measuring Up - Industrial Painter and Foreman
I want to look professional so we will measure the area you want me to paint once the old, rotund hombres have finished their concreting. I would not want you to think that I am just picking numbers out of the ether. In the act of measuring I will tread on the as yet unset concrete and wrap my tape measure around the men’s implements whilst you dither around deciding where best to stand with one end of the measuring tape.

Managing the Project – Foreman
I’ll walk around talking into my mobile. I will talk to one of the concrete men, listening with the air of one who knows the answer anyway but wants to be seen to be consulting the staff. I will even help with the measuring up. I am proof that using a mobile phone on a garage forecourt will not result in an explosion.

Monday, 27 February 2012

When a book hits the spot

There are times when a book comes along and it slides into your life without a hiccup, without causing abrasions, without any jarring whatsoever; it just sits down beside you, takes your hand, slips between the sheets. I've just had that pleasurable experience. Rendezvous in Venice by Philippe Beaussant hit the spot. At a time when I have been writing about Italy and the art found within it I bought Rendezvous at a charity book stall; the timing was just perfect.

It is written perfectly, each sentence is thought out, there is not a word out of place. Sometimes perfectly constructed prose can be boring, tedious, send you crawling for the nearest piece of trash 'lit' or even the television. It is possible that if I had read this book at any other time I would have found myself slumped in front of an episode of Eastenders, or god forbid one of the Spanish soaps (you cannot get deeper in the barrel of poor TV than Spanish soaps). As it was I was swept along on the rush of words, through the swirling rapids and into the dead calm of the lagoon where language and I both drew breath.

Rendezvous struck a chord. As I read I highlighted four passages that hit home for purely personal reasons. The first because I am an author:
I pray you, Miss. See for yourself. I only have three pages left. I don't like to go to sleep without finishing my chapter. It is discourteous to the author who took pains to conclude it.
The second because I have been writing about Venice, about how it is not one thing nor the other, and had at times found it difficult to frame the words succinctly. Here they were, those words I had wanted to write.
The curve of the bridge and the inverted curve of its reflection, one real the other virtual, formed a perfect circle which was an illusion, but all the more pleasing for that knowledge.
The romantic me was stimulated by the third of the episodes. It captures the essence of the looks of love that one has either been lucky enough to be a part of or has spent many an idle hour dreaming of.
I thought it was only in the paintings of the great masters that lovers could look at each other for eternity, without the night ever falling, without old age creeping in, without tiredness, fatigue or boredom ever appearing. I had just discovered that the stillness of eternal lovers[...] could give way to looks, fleeting smiles and momentary glances.
And the final sentence was totally personal. It was as if the author had overheard my boyfriend and I discussing the merits, or not as far as he was concerned, of card and board games. It made me smile, it had meaning to me that was probably far beyond the author's expectations.
What annoyed him about card games was their uselessness.
In all this small novel (and I like small we don't need 100,000 words to get a story across) came to me at exactly the right moment with just the right amount of each of the ingredients. It suits my current tastes and whilst I very much doubt I will re-read it, I will remember it with fondness.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Dickens...love him or hate him?

I admitted recently in a world-wide forum, as opposed to dinner party truth or dare moments, that I don't like Charles Dickens, or more precisely his work. And if we are talking about his novels I still don't, with the notable exception of A Tale of Two Cities. I particularly dislike the way in which characters almost miraculously transform themselves from the worst possible creature into a paragon of Christian virtue. It is irritating and very against human nature - people can change but not to that extreme. It also goes against the 'rules of good writing.' You should not con your reader this way. Dickens does and he gets away with it. How can readers put up with such cheating in a book? It's like a murder mystery where half the clues are kept from you. Of course you're not going to know that it was old Mother Hubbard if you did not know that she had a cupboard, let alone a dog. Anyway, I have discovered another side to Dickens and I quite like it.

As part of my research for City Chronicles: A Little Bit of Italy, I came across Dickens' Pictures of Italy, one of his travel writing pieces and I liked it. I liked the description of the places and people he came across. I have even quoted from it. That led me, through the wonderful Project Gutenberg, to American Notes and...I laughed. Out loud. American Notes was met with some rather barbed remarks from the American press when it was published. They took umbrage over Dickens' portrayal of American society, and if you read the book you could understand why. He was speaking as he found; he quite obviously did not have a very enjoyable trip. He summed up his desire to get home brilliantly in the first paragraph of the last chapter 'The Passage Home,'

I never had so much interest before, and very likely I shall never have so much interest again, in the state of the wind, as on the long-looked for morning of Tuesday, the Seventh of June. Some nautical authority had told me a day or two previous, 'anything with west in it will do;' so when I darted out of bed at daylight, and throwing up the window, was saluted by a lively breeze from the north-west which had sprung up in the night, it came upon me so freshly, rustling with so many happy associations, that I conceived upon the spot a special regard for all airs blowing from that quarter of the compass [...]'
Okay, he does go on a bit, but the sentiment cannot be missed. I've felt that way. Not to do with westerly winds necessarily, but for leaving certain shores, yes. Sometimes the urge to get home can be quite overwhelming. And because I've finally found something of the man that I like, can relate to, I don't mind him quite as much anymore. I just wish he hadn't written Dombey and Son, Great Expectations, David Copperfield...
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