Monday, 11 May 2015

Blanket - writing exercise


Pink, quilted, brushed nylon with thin polyester wadding inside – brushed nylon was all the rage, my grandmother bought brushed nylon sheets to use instead of flannelette.

This blanket is double size, although it was bought for my brother when he had asthma and couldn't tolerate the feathers in the eiderdown. The blanket had to be folded to fit a child’s bed. As my brother is now forty-seven, this blanket which nestles in the bottom of my airing cupboard has been around for a while.
My brother developed asthma when he was seven. He got lost, after leaving the swimming baths in Chichester. Mother couldn't find him, she arrived home in a complete panic. She’d been to the police, they’d asked her for a description of the missing child. That was easy.

What I can’t remember is why I hadn’t gone swimming that day. I’m certain I wouldn’t have let him get lost. I was used to having to keep an eye on him. I was his big sister, he was the baby. The small, delicate baby, with a heavy, dark birthmark. On his face. By the time he was seven he had had three operations, to remove the mark.

I’m sure they’d do it better today but plastic surgery was a bit more hit and miss then. They left him with scars, shining skin grafts on his forehead, cheek and eyelid. And a strange black tuft of an eyebrow.  I was used to it, we all were, this boy was just our little brother, he was okay. We didn’t even notice, but other people did, they stared in the street. Pointed. Whispered behind their hands.

So there he is, this small, timid boy, lost in a big town. Where’s Mum? Gone, without him. He’s cold, his hair is wet. All the strangers around, they won’t talk to him. Won’t ask him what’s wrong, why he’s crying, scared. Because he looks funny. And they’re English, it’s not done to notice people who look funny. No wonder he has a panic attack. Wheezing, fainting. The police are called when the funny looking child collapses. Nobody tries to help the child. They might catch something. Compassion, perhaps.
The blanket is almost an international symbol of compassion.
This is a writing exercise based on a particular household object.


Thursday, 7 May 2015

Why That Title?

What makes writers decide on a particular title?  What makes a big movie producer choose a particular title? In the latter case, it has as much to do with what won’t interfere with the visualisation of the movie poster. Unless the film is based on a well-known story, the title is seldom chosen by the script-writer.
This isn’t intended to be an academic discussion on the titles of the classics, it’s just my thoughts on what makes a good title. I’m interested in what makes writers choose their titles, but I wonder if some writers think about the important role the title serves. A title is the first thing the potential reader will see. If it doesn’t grab their attention, they will look at the next title in the bookshop, library, Goodreads, etc.. A freelance writer has a bit more freedom to use their imagination than a scriptwriting hack does.
Using the first line of a poem for the poem's title is fine, if that first line is good enough! If the first line isn’t good enough to be the title, it probably isn’t good enough to be the first line. Poems, unless they are epic length, need to be tightly wrought and a sloppy first line is the worst possible start – unless there’s a sloppy title too. It’s much the same with short stores, unless the writer has a very specific reason for a meandering title, they need a snappy one to draw the reader’s eye.

Finding the title for a novel or a full length play/film script is the hardest, some work brilliantly, others are more to do with era or current fashions. 'Persuasion' was fine for Jane Austen to use, it suited the slow, persuasive style of the writing and it hadn't been used before, but today it would just look lame on a book-jacket by anyone who isn't Jane Austen. I've heard that using the word 'love' in a title immediately reduces a book or film's chance of attracting a male audience, or conversely of increasing the female audience - I'd like to think this is untrue and just an idea based on outdated stereotyping. The novel 'Enduring Love' is a very un-typical book, by Ian McEwan, which is about a stalker and not what the stereotype would indicate.

To attract me as a reader, a title has to conjure an image in my mind, or it has to relate to the significant words and names in the story/poem. Hopefully the title has a ring to it as well – this ring is a difficult thing to define, I know it when I see it, the words sound in my head and I want to speak them aloud. My Cretan poem title, ‘Take the Road to Omalos,’ has that ring, looking at titles on many writing websites, some definitely don’t ring.  I’m not going to diss other people’s titles, I’ll stick to my own; my bit of Yorkshire Surrealism  called ‘Pie in the Sky,’ doesn’t ring, it’s just a cliché and clichés are unoriginal and usually worth avoiding, unless they perform a specific function or are used ironically. And every cliché you can think of has already been used as a title, often far too many times!

Personally I don’t like titles which generalise, to me they seem a cop-out and one word titles in particular are too often just generalisations. They seldom work unless they’re names; even then they probably aren’t original unless they are ‘Ozymandias’ and written by P.B.Shelley! Maybe that’s what I’m trying to get at, I have this idea that titles should be original. Probably impossible I know - as language has been written down since the Sumerians, most combinations of words have already been used somewhere along the line.
As I said, this is just my opinion.  Are there any actual rules? What do other people think?