Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Listen Again

It is rare to hear a radio programme that changes your view of both of the participants, but Andrew Marr interviewing Clive James (Start the Week, Radio 4 23 December) did it for me.
In the past I have found Andrew Marr to be an irritating know-it-all and I would not normally listen to him or watch him unless I knew he was talking to someone I was interested in. That's why I listened to this interview, well, that and the fact that I was driving up the M5 in horrible weather and needed something to lift the fog and rain.
I've always liked Clive James, though he too can be a supercilious know-it-all, it's just that he has always been funny too, and that buys a lot of forgiveness.
What emerged from the programme was that Andrew Marr is a better informed and deeper thinker than I had realised, though I should have guessed because you don't get on the way he has without some talent. Clive James, it turns out, is a wise and deeply intellectual poet as well as being an entertaining critic and funny too.
If you missed the programme then catch it on listen again.
I should make clear that some significant time in the programme is devoted to a discussion of Clive James translation of Dante’s Inferno, in which the relative merits of various verse forms are discussed. Dante apparently uses Terza Rima but Clive decided that this would not work in English because, he says, English is much harder to rhyme than Italian. How I got to my age without knowing that I do not know, but never mind, Clive used a Quatrain form instead. Let me make clear that until now I would not recognise a Quatrain or a Terza Rima if it bit me, but I still found the discussion fascinating. That, I think, says a lot about the quality of the two discussants.
Clive said a little about his illness, he has emphysema and leukaemia, though that was apparently was in remission at the time of the interview. The consequence of his illness is that he has to be very careful to manage what energy he has, so what better to do than translate Dante’s Inferno. Why didn’t he undertake such a monumental task when he was well? It appears that being ill has somehow forced him to concentrate his thoughts, which seems to have had a side effect in developing wisdom.

I  have now looked up the two rhyming forms and I think I understand Clive's point, both forms have pairs of lines that rhyme, but in the Terza Rima the pair in verse 1 rhyme with the middle line in verse 2 and the pair in verse 2 thyme with the middle line in verse three, and so on. In effect you have to keep finding three words that rhyme, whereas in a quatrain you only have to find pairs of rhymes. So a quatrain is easier if Clive is correct in thinking that English has less rhymes than Italian. I suspect that it's all down to those declensions that I struggled to learn for Latin O level. This may be the first time in about 50 years that I have found some particular use for doing Latin. Is that what the teachers had in mind I wonder? Unlikely - I suspect in that Clive James is only a year or two older than me and I don't think he had published much poetry when I was doing Latin. Were they thinking that I would wish to read Dante in the original? Had they read Dante? Who knows and now it doesn't matter because Clive has done it for us.
What about Dorothy L Sayers version I hear you cry, Clive says it is good but old fashioned, listen to the programme and you'll see what he means when Andrew reads a segment of the Sayers version and Clive reads the same part of his. Go on, go and listen to it, it will be on all over Christmas on listen again. You can even download it and put it on your iPod.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Do not tell a soul - Nanowrimo - again

For the last few months I’ve been in Cornwall, first in a motorhome and more recently in a self catering flat in a hotel complex in St Ives. Why this has somehow almost completely prevented me from blogging I have no idea.
For the month of November I have been doing the Nanowrimo thing and trying to write a novel in November. I did it last year, 53000 words later being tidied up into “Aimless Fear”. I spent some time earlier in the year persuading reading groups and various other to read it and give me comments. Since then it has some minor modifications, reacting to those comments, and an editor is currently removing the last of the typos and grammar idiocies.
Meanwhile, so far this November I am up to 44000 and counting, with a bit of luck I should make it to the end in time.
So that’s it then, when I had no excuse not to blog I didn’t, now while I have a good excuse, what do I do, blog of course.
The book is science fiction, though probably not what would usually be expected - no spaceships for a start. The central character is a time travelling granny with her teenage grand-daughter as a side kick. For reasons buried in granny’s past, they are looking for a vampire. Other interesting matters like pastry, highwaymen, black pudding and heavy metal music are woven in one way or another, so with a little luck it won’t be boring. There are some quasi serious bits, I can’t help delving into a little medicine, virology, genetics etc, trying to make sense of what a vampire might be and why they live for ever.
If anyone fancies reading a first draft, let me know.

It is called “Do not tell a soul”, which is the name of the heroine, Donattella Soul, the time travelling granny.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Summer rain

Last summer, it rained almost all the time, and the river Severn that flows by outside our window was over its banks and depositing mud everywhere for weeks on end. This summer we decided to put our motor-home on a site in Cornwall and go there whenever the weather was forecast to be good. The consequence of this strategy is that we have spent most of the last three months living in Cornwall.
Finally last night, it rained. After weeks of unbroken sunshine, I resisted the urge to run naked across the fields yelling strange incantations to the weather Gods, but it was a close run think. It being one in the morning might have had something to do with staying in bed, but maybe it was because there really wasn't very much rain, at least not at first.
Sleeping in a motor-home in a field in Cornwall does exaggerate the sound effects, every single drop of rain makes it's own individual sound, adding something to the impression created, so that a light sprinkling of a few drops sounds like a tropical storm. On the other hand, rain is rain, and we have not had any here since some time in May. This is possibly an exaggeration, but it feels very unusual for this pattering sound on the roof to go on, as it has now, for at least fifteen minutes. This constitutes a monsoon by comparison with the previous two months.
It could of course have been a dream but that seems unlikely because I appear to have been awake enough, some time in the night, to have gotten up and written the preceding paragraphs.
There is something soporific about the patter of rain on the roof. Paradoxically it wakes you up when it starts, and then sends you back to sleep if it goes on. The upshot of that is that I have no idea how long it continued.
This morning it is clear and sunny again. It is just possible to convince oneself that the grass is a shade greener. It was looking very parched and straw coloured yesterday; a hint of green makes the world seem fresher and the sunshine a little brighter, or maybe it is just that the rain has cleared the dust from the air and it really is clearer and the air does smell sweeter.
After the traumas of last year it is in some ways deeply satisfying to rediscover that summer rain has it's good points.
As I am about to post this a thought occurs to me, I don't seem to have written anything here since April, so let this be proof that living in a field in Cornwall is not incompatible with blogging, it just provides other distractions.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

As you read it.

It seems like a blog post is well overdue.
The last post was in January, what have I done since then, mostly got a book out and done some performance pieces.

There is a spoken word event at Malvern each year called “As you read it” As far as I can see anyone can submit a piece so long as it takes about 10 minutes to read and it is has never been published before. I entered a somewhat amusing piece called Cinderella and Goldilocks, a sort of imaginary  gossip between the two of them picking over their own careers and commenting on a few other fairy tale characters. I would print it here, except that it is going to be in an anthology shortly, so I’ll go on about it then.

I was lucky enough to be one of the final eight writers who were invited to read their piece. The event takes place in one of the big Malvern theatres, a room that could take several hundred in the audience, though nothing like that many turned up.
The event is done in a very theatrical way – you have to wait in a dressing room until your call, you have to rehearse the day before, and you end up on a stage bathed in a thousand watt super trouper so you can’t see the audience.
The nearest listeners were about 30 feet away and any sound from them was almost lost in the vast space of the theatre. I could just about make out polite titters in the right places.
I read the piece again, for a smaller and more intimate audience at 42,[ http://on.fb.me/ZxDCPr] an event in Worcester (named in honour of Douglas Adams’ answer to life the universe and everything)  They laughed a lot louder. The somewhat atmospheric picture, taken by Geoff Robinson, is me reading at 42. 

Sunday, 13 January 2013


This is a short piece I read at an event in Worcester earlier this week. It got a good laugh, so I thought I'd share it. It's an imaginary conversation with a child; I should add that my children are now very much older that the child imagined here.

'How deep is the Ocean?'
'That’s a trick question.'
'Because there is more than one ocean, if you don’t say which one, then no one could answer.'
'How deep is the biggest ocean?'
'That’s better, but it still won’t do.'
'Because you didn’t say what you mean by biggest. Do you mean the widest? Or the deepest? Or the one with the biggest volume of water? Or the one with the longest name?  There are many ways of being the biggest.'
'The deepest. How deep is the deepest ocean?'
'That’s not really a fair question either.'
'Because to answer it I’d have to know how deep all the oceans were, in order to know which one was deepest, so really you are asking five questions.'
'Because most people think there are five oceans'.
'When you look at a globe it looks like one ocean.'
'Yes but no one knew that when they got their names.'
'What are their names?'
'The Atlantic, The Pacific, The Indian, The Arctic and The Antarctic, but now they call that one The Southern Ocean.'
'Which is the biggest?'
'The Pacific.'
'And which is the deepest.'
'The Mariana Trench in the Pacific, is the deepest part, it's 35800 feet deep. If you stood mount Everst, the highest mountain in the world, in it, the whole thing would be so far underwater that you couldn't see any of it.'
'Why do you answer all my questions?'
'Because I’m your Dad.'
'Ask your Mother.'

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Feverishly boring

I spent New Year's Eve having the shaking chills; uncontrolled rigours, probably caused by Norovirus. Three duvets and an electric blanket brought some respite, but it’s no fun.
As a writer, I kept trying to tell myself that there must be some sort of inspiration lurking in the experience; but if your every muscle is shaking, and your teeth chatter when you don't keep your jaw clenched, it’s hard to concentrate on anything like that.
One thing I did notice was that time seemed to slow down. Apparently, I kept asking Lois the time. On each occasion, I thought that a couple of hours must have passed, but it only turned out to be 20 minutes. Unfortunately, what with one thing or another, I did not record the exact times. For a while, I had a theory that my brain must have speeded up because of the fever. I imagined it must work like a slow motion camera, where the frame speed is increased, so when you play it back at normal speed it creates slow motion. In order to make sense of that, my brain would have to be both recording events at a faster frame speed, and playing them back at normal speed, at the same time. It was a while before this struck me as rather unlikely.
 The other thing that didn't make much sense was the speed factor. I appeared to think that time was moving at about six times normal speed, so my brain must have been going at six times it's normal rate.
Chemical reactions roughly double their speed every ten degrees, so to go at six times normal my temperature would have to be something over 60C. At anything over 50C, the thermometer would have broken. As it is still intact, I am forced to abandon my feverish theories and conclude that it was just amazingly boring.
Somehow, feverish and boring don’t work together. If you put feverishly boring into Google, you get no hits, unless of course, it finds this blog.
The good news is, the rest of the year is almost bound to be better.