MOVE OVER. BOOK WITH SHARP ELBOWS

The Dangers of the Memoir

Move Over- Book Seeks Space for Indefinite Period. Period

I don’t suppose anybody has noticed my absence, but in case anyone has I must include you in some reasons. The minor medical scare was not a reason but a release. I may never have to write again! Marvellous. I’ll tidy out the cupboards, sell the beloved cello. Weed the garden and wait. Maybe I’ll need a crucifix? Shall I dig a trench next to all the dogs and make life easier for everyone all round?

Milly grave

Instead the ‘all clear’ verdict has re-locked my ball and chain, fastened me to the throne of myself, and re-filled the Parker pen. Metaphorically speaking. Get to work. You don’t escape that easily.

Now here’s the problem. Or some of them. What I write does not have commercial appeal. Never did, never will.

I know ‘page turning’ ( I do it myself) means plot, means tension, means the hero’s quest, means structure. But the only quest I can call on is to understand my extraordinary life.  I have been trying to puzzle it out since I had teeth to chew upon. Too much extra-ordinariness IS the PLOT. A wholly improbable life that implies something; orchestration, purpose, intention. Towards what? I still don’t know how it ends, though it is fairly imminent. Maybe time for one more book?

But, and here comes hell, there is simply too much of it, and a life is a whole. A book, any book must make a judicious selection and pull out threads from the tapestry, and weave a hair or wrist band and leave it at that.

Here have been some under consideration.

The veldt and Denys Reitz149979483_640

1.The view from the bridge over the chasm between Africa and England? End up offending both sides? Boer the reader with the Boer War, teach them to ride bareback over the koppies, and my grandmother’s views on Cecil Rhodes, Jock of the Bushveldt, Baden Powell et al. Then transport them to Mary Quant and sixties hip London for the blast-off, that fizzled out? You get the drift. Mandela followed by Zuma- no absolute heroes,  a fair few villains. Margaret Thatcher?  Over-cooked. Yet there are distinctive flavours.

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-Deneys_Reitz
Denys Reitz: A Boer Commander who inscribed his book ‘Commando’ to my grandmother after he was banished to Mozambique by the victors- les Brits! In the inscription he referred to their ‘unparalleled generosity’!

Denys Reitz 00341db61fe4ef5b4a623178ba6a8569--war-horses-days-in

 

 

 

 

2. The Search for love. Now that is a kinda quest. Literature as a kind of painting by numbers ( choose your own heroes) and all the seductions of wrong directions. Just William and Ginger would never have welcomed you in their gang. There is no John of Gaunt for you girl, and Rhett Butler? Nah, never.

Rhett-Butler-rhett-butler-27877846-500-452

Oxbridge and Virginia Woolf? Getting warmer but all that racism and preciousness? You don’t know about the overt racism? Just you wait! I took Harold Nicolson’s letters home personally since they were written while he was a guest of my Zulu speaking grandfather, who was forced to endure the company of a man who despised the people he loved. And said so. Explicitly.

But wait! There is a story and one with a literary bite. George Eliot picking up the odd stitch until I faced her full frontal at a graveside in Natal. That could make a novella for a discerning small publisher? But how I came to find her, and find the grave, weaves back into the fam-damily and the WHOLE narrative. Otherwise it looks flimsy, or contrived. It is neither.

So okay a memoir. Threads of all the above discerningly selected. I probably won’t have time to manage more than one.

Can you see why I have been silent? Six beginnings, all expiring at the third chapter.

Last night I had a rescuing dream. I had summoned my Daimon and appealed. ‘Give me a sign’.

In the dream I was contemplating the need to accommodate a guest I had never met. I was apprehensive because I knew it would be a long sojourn. I drifted through my beach shack house ( clapboard, glass, and sparsely furnished swept rooms with a lot of light but few creature comforts).

Lilwala

This small room at the back? Too dark. I want her to be able to read and entertain herself.

This large room I like? Where will I spend time? She’ll command the only bathroom.

Ah, this pillar that holds up the roof? With a well supported ledge? She could curl round it to sleep and would, in consequence make herself scarce during the day? A sort of Simeon Stylites guest?

CIS:E.445-1965

Imagine being looked down upon all day? I woke up.

On contemplating this signal dream, I understood my wrestling dilemma. I was trying to accommodate this book by avoiding her, as much as possible. Confining her to an isolation ward, that would not infect me, keep her distant; feed her scraps.

I have created the shack of myself over the years. I go there when I am overwhelmed. It sits above a cove of beach, and tidal plashing sea; its enfolding arms stretch to the horizon. The shack has a porch with a grass chair and a hammock. Below, through an arch of rock, where the tide leaves small pools, and crushed shell is the opening to the beach. Across the sands lies a moored boat with a single sail. The mariner never faces me but I know he waits to unfurl that sail when I have the courage to enter through the rock and walk towards him.

I realised that if she were to be welcomed she would have to occupy, (and be invited to occupy), the whole house, from foundations up. Wander from room to room, and interrupt. I will probably end up hating her.

Because it is the whole house of myself I seek to understand. Perhaps when I have finished, the mariner and I will depart

 

 

 

The Blindfold of Hope

 

The Blindfold of Hope.

Portuguese_Man-O-War_(Physalia_physalis)

My neglected followers need an apology: The silence over past months has been deafening. We writers are used to fallow periods of doubt, fatigue, burn-out, depression, which tend to express themselves in a whinge. This will not be another whinge but some kind of awl; puncturing the inflation of self-importance, which keeps us afloat, like a blue bottle bladder on the salt seas. To ensure another stinging, mettlesome incisive contribution. Another that will sink without trace.

I am here to prick out the air of hope that inflates this persistent bubble.

Hope is the real narcissistic betrayer. The less of it there is, the more irrational its high maintenance, the stronger it grows. Like the death throes, the final gasping is more laboured and more desperate than those earlier rhythmical currents of disappointment followed by resolve. Breathe out; breathe in. Take up your pen and scribble.

There I was thinking I had come to terms without hope, hope of readers, hope of publication, I had accepted the accelerating speed of ageing and sifted out a few ‘manageable’ tasks that might be squeezed in before dementia started clacking its teeth.

Out of the blue came a letter of fulsome praise for a work I had almost forgotten writing. A seeming blast of enthusiasm (in its original sense- or so I thought) re-inflated that wrinkled bladder and set it a-sail. ‘Surely you must have been inundated with requests of this kind but might we meet? So much I want to ask.’

The_English_balloon_and_appendages_in_which_Mr._Lunardi_ascended_into_the_atmosphere_from_the_artillery_ground,_Sepr._15,_1784_LCCN2002721993.tif

Instead of the rational response ‘Nice idea, but why?’ I took wing. Well, car. Travelled some distance, well, three hours one way. Was I discouraged by horizontal pelting rain? Not a bit. Was I afraid of winds strong enough to hurl cars across the lanes of the Severn Bridge, well, yes. But hell. A man liked my book. Was interested to know more. Death had no dominion.

So the funds that might have formatted the one that might come next, was spent on a dull hotel room in windswept Wales. We did encounter one another, a man reluctant to remove his hat and an old woman carried by hope like Mary Poppins, legs flailing.

I think maybe he really did initially like the book, but I think he liked the idea of being paid to ‘re-launch’ it a little more. That was the slow rising yeast within the monologues that assured me…err… of his estimable connections, his… err… family history of building err worthy stately houses. No mention of books. ‘Books are not really my field, though I do read a lot’. He would like ( you said you could spare it) a few hundred to read it for an audio, because he was a bit short, and ‘and by the way I need you to jump start my car to get home. It’s a tad unreliable’.

That was all the fault of hope. Bastard. What ignominy! How low will hope take one?

It puts a blindfold around judgement, and twirls you around, and pushes you towards every insane sweet smell of approbation. I have circled through five such hopeful proposals. Each thought I would pay handsomely for deeper disappointment, I would grant copyright for five years; I would print for reviews; I would pay to pulp; a disappointed author is a tree dripping plums. Hold up an apron and it will fill.

But this was the final gasping expiry of hope. I hope.

Advice? Avoid hope. Call it to heel, and grind it to ashes. You can recognise it whenever you start to breathe deeply. Instead like any woman in labour, just pant, and something might be born, or not. If it is, its appetite for attention will be modest, and it will not be a blue-bottle. It may be a sprat and swim. If it sinks you might plant a garden instead.

You will avoid humiliation. Promise.Hot_Air_Balloon_at_Baughton_-_geograph.org.uk_-_548819

Checkmate. A Reverie

Since I seem to be getting nowhere with anything I thought I would resurrect a creation that I prepared earlier. Still edible I think!

 

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Check Mate

‘Come at me from a new direction, find me by surprise’ I said to it, taking to my French box-bed and pulling the duvet under my chin. This is on a bank holiday and I’m not even tired, just tired of walking about with the same thuggish head on my shoulders, and tired of the options it monotonously offers. Bed is my way of saying no to all of them. It is my head I am talking to, or perhaps more accurately, my mind. I have after all, carried this same old mind about for over sixty years; it seems totally unappreciative, gives me no thanks. It never leaps up with a new idea or puts a posy on my pillow; those that appear new, on analysis, are simply re-assembled from older reclamation. I recognise all the components however painted over. I could do with a change. I’ll find a way to shut it up.

So I try to recover my old skill at meditation to put it in its place, imagining my muscles turning to stone like a weighty Henry Moore nude welded to a plinth and impervious to drifting leaves in some anonymous park.  Mind protests.

‘You think it’s that easy huh?’

It feels rather more like weighting a tablecloth with odd pebbles, so insistent is the flapping of windy thought. Ok then, I’ll conquer you with a book until sleep defeats you utterly. My mind gives me the two fingers.

The choice within reach is limited; the best thing on the locker this rainy noon is Virginia Woolf and her seductive solution; that all one needs is five hundred a year and a room of one’s own. I have both, but what she left out was the mind to go with it. If you were continually thinking her limpid, clear running-water thoughts which refresh every rock they flow over, you might even do without the five hundred. Anybody who can turn prunes and custard into a philosophy should be an alchemist.

‘I could do that, if I wanted to. It just never seemed worth it; I mean who cares?’ says Mind.

I pretend I cannot hear. I can’t quarrel with Virginia on any matter, not even her sly suggestions about George Eliot’s constraint and bitter social constipations- although George Eliot has always been hailed as our family’s most illustrious connection- the only orchid amongst our African daisies.

‘That’s why your pretentious Aunt decided to fly solo and give away that autographed first edition of Daniel Deronda, (destroying all the evidence just to collar all the glory.) I tell you something else; Daniel D was probably discreetly flogged to pay for a new catalogue for the smiling librarian, since Rhodes in the Eastern Cape is hardly on the George Eliot walkabout’.

This is the sort of monotony I’m talking about; tracking through arid claims without fresh water, hoping that some new succulent will sprout a flower. I already knew all that. I can’t forgive anything that hammers a point.

‘You’re a fine one to talk…Now no doubt we’ll get on to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’ says Mind yawning ostentatiously ‘can’t you leave it out?’

I could but I’m damned if I will. It’s their influences that have brought me to this point. The real reason I value whatever connection I have with George Eliot is the same as I derive from Elizabeth Barrett Browning-(Grandmama being a lesser Barrett, not that ‘lesser’ was a word she understood)- simply that they both ran off to do their own thing, in their metaphorically divided skirts. Wedlock was a serious one to pick in those days. Elizabeth, from her Italian roof-garden had it about right, but she probably started my rot of dreaming too insistently…‘What was he doing the great god Pan/ Down in the reeds by the river?’

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I know Mind will interrupt if I give it half a chance. It’ll say that originality never needs to quote, but that’s only because it can’t be bothered with the storage problem. Mind is an insubordinate secretary, who refuses an in-tray and prefers to clear the desk daily. It has never bothered to even file the archive that blows about in any gust under the cellar door. Going back to those two women; they were models not in the literary sense (that came later but never seemed to help), but in the ‘don’t expect to depend on a man’ sense, the mantra in a family consequently bereft of men. I took it much too literally; discounting the possibility that any man was any use at anything. You begin to see the difficulty. Mind, full of seductive rags, makes only heavy quilts in repetitive patterns, under which one takes refuge on a Bank holiday.

‘Nothing wrong with that. You need to remember Victorian thrift and candle light. What’s the hurry?’

Sod off.  I do want to make clear I start at the opposite end of Virginia’s arguments about women weighted down by the superior authority of men, and struggling to be born, shedding skins like snakes. Men were simply posturing fools playing at soldiers, in one sense or another. So it proved.

‘I could have persuaded you otherwise. You just never listened to logic or mastered statistics’

All the men I took up with or married… Continue reading “Checkmate. A Reverie”

Review of Go Set a Watchman- Harper Lee

Review of Go Set a Watchman- Harper Lee.

Hot words before the tears dry and the work is desiccated by analysis.

Imagine being kidnapped in the Tardis by Doctor Who ~Involution – An Odyssey reconciling Science to God by Philippa Rees.

Imagine being kidnapped in the Tardis by Doctor Who ~Involution – An Odyssey reconciling Science to God by Philippa Rees..

Over on the ‘other’ site  and reblogged from Vivienne Tuffnells post this Monday morning a most perceptive and generous review!

Hostile Author Refuses to Defend Own book!-Trial of ‘Odyssey’ Continues.

Hostile Author Refuses to Defend Own book!-Trial of ‘Odyssey’ Continues..

Need a Jury!! Your comments might count towards restoring belief in an Author, or offering respite…a win-win offering?

Involution-Odyssey. Second Prosecution Witness: Rev TG

Involution-Odyssey. Second Prosecution Witness: Rev TG.

The Observer to an academic Auto-de-Fe gives a witness statement. Involution spotlit in the academic jungle.

Review of Wood,Talc and Mr J by Chris Rose.

Wood,Talc, and MrJ by Chris Rose.

‘You weren’t supposed to be clever where I came from…’

Readers who are used to Walkers Crisps in portioned packets will find opening this unfamiliar shrink wrapped alternative challenging. I certainly did. The first taste is of something indefinable; salty and lime flavoured, with more than a hint of sea, of vinegar, of jellied eels and certainly bracing. This book takes a willingness to be persuaded, but becomes increasingly addictive, as you bite into separate scenes, and ride a great many buses in pursuit of Sheffield United, the possibility of ‘gear’ or a good dust up with Skin heads or Rockers, and those who fail to appreciate the finer distinctions in Motown and Soul. This is not a world I know anything about, yet something in the self-effacing and evocative staccato began to mesmerize. It got better and better, once the idiom lodged, and more compelling.

I am not sure I can analyse why, or even that I garnered half of what its sharp language referred to, for it is a new language, and describes a world as unfamiliar as Bangladesh, although it only asks me to travel as far as Sheffield, Ilkley, Barnsley, Skegness and environs. Names and words encircle. Well that’s not all: it asks me to take on trust Sheffield in the seventies, through the eyes ears and nostrils of Phillip, its narrator and interpreter of the author’s sardonic, nostalgic and dismissive memory. Into Phillip he pours his unstated affection for his home but like a shirt tail that should not escape but does. If a reader is tempted to sympathy, it quickly disappears.

I feel I begin to get a little closer to its hooking summons to travel with it: Phillip is disarmingly devil-may-care on the surface. He refuses any self indulgence; his affectionate love of Grom (his grandmother-Edith) is epitomized by his refusal not only to take the same bus with her to work, (in Hell’s Satanic Mill) but a different bus route entirely. Her habit of torturing him by eating pungent and unsavoury food with gusto (and without teeth) and in public is politely avoided without resentment on either side.

This family understands one another. They are diffident, tolerant, undemonstrative, and loyal, and the influence of Grom permeates, even when she is absent. His father’s moral rectitude about the obligations of work and discipline, however unrewarded (except in affording legitimacy to weekends letting rip) stem from Grom, almost everything retains integrity, below the surface of seeming chaos. Phillip is quintessentially English in his refusal to disclose more than is decent about his feelings, except about music and song titles for these are safe pegs on which to define himself. They were unfamiliar to me but that was unimportant in this rollicking ride through period, seaside arcades, scooter racing, police check points, imminent catastrophe dared to come out by jeering at it, and his friendship with Jed,JustAbout, Paul, Pete, Mick and Uncle James. His names are minimalist,(his girl friends loved and moving past and on) but as expressive of the time as they are of the character of Phillip, who takes all as it comes (and goes). As must the reader, for this is a ride through affectionate memory of those loved and lost and a world being unwrapped from its confines in maturity; from Batty with her purple hair and his brother Sam’s gradual growth, closely observed.

There is little of ‘story’ in any external sense unless a rite of passage from adolescent to adulthood is story, and for most of us writers until it is told, other stories cannot get top billing or full attention. But it is the poetic vernacular that springs the surprises; they allow dandelions to bloom between the paving stones, tossed over the shoulder prolifically and without stopping; those ‘wagged schooldays’, ‘Madame Shake ‘n’Vac’, ‘heart-splintering honesty’ and ‘prematurely ripened humbug’. This is an extraordinarily original writer seemingly with an endless ability to dislocate the image until the cartilage gleams in the joints of small agonies. Because Phillip pities himself not at all, you feel for him and want to steady him with a hand before he trips on his shoelaces or cuts his feet. Poor Phillip. He will remain with you long after the book is closed. Open it and stay with it, for it is rich, and new. Then read it a second time.