Wednesday, 6 January 2021

PREVARICATE - word of the day

 Word of the Day, and of the year so far - Prevaricate - to behave indecisively and avoid important decisions, is from the Latin ‘praevaricari’, to ‘plough crookedly or haphazardly’.  

Thank you to Susie Dent for the etymology

Sunday, 3 January 2021

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan - book review


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really liked it
bookshelves: might-read-againfavourite-authors

Almost a five star. Stories like this are why Ian McEwan is one of my favourite authors, I read it almost at one sitting. On Chesil Beach is not a long book and its 166 pages are full of beautiful characterisation, detailed yet uncluttered description and sparse, telling dialogue.

Edward and Florence are innocent, just married and in love. But it's 1962 and even though they are intelligent, educated young people they are stuck with the almost Victorian codes and mores of previous generations. Sadly for them, the summer of love is still a few years away, although their emotional and, in Florence's case physical reserve seems so deeply ingrained, they may have been unable to take advantage of so much liberation.

Intensely moving and intimate story of how love can go so easily wrong, when people won't/can't talk about sex.

Monday, 30 November 2020

Monty the Osprey - a true story for children by Susan Gilbert

     Monty was an osprey. He was a clever, strong bird with dark feathers on his back and wings, white feathers on his front and dark stripes across his chestnut brown eyes. When he lifted his neck feathers into a crest at the back, he looked like an eagle in a fairy story. In spring and summer he lived in Wales, in a beautiful valley with hills, trees and green meadows and the River Dyfi flowed through the valley. 

Now, there are three things that all ospreys need and the most important of these three things is fish. Monty only ate fish, he didn’t like anything else. He was a very good fisher-bird, with long, strong legs and sharp, curved claws to grab a fish. He would dive feet first into the River Dyfi to catch trout, sometimes he even went right under water but he didn’t mind getting wet. He flew up from the river and with his powerful wings he could carry a fish almost as heavy as he was. Sometimes for a change Monty flew to the sea to catch different kinds of fish.

The second thing that ospreys need is a nest, and Monty had a good one. There was a high-up platform which some nice people had made for him when he was a young osprey and Monty had built his nest there. Every year the people watched the nest to make sure it was safe.  In April, Monty arrived from Africa, where he spent the winter, and he tidied his nest. He brought big branches and sticks to make the sides strong and plenty of moss and grass to make the centre comfy.

The third thing that every osprey needs is a mate. That’s why Monty made his nest look so comfy, he wanted it to be nice for his mate who was called Glesni.  They had  both been away in Africa and Monty came home first to make the nest ready. He made the nest look splendid, and he waited. He was a very tidy osprey. 

 Monty waited a long time, he was very patient, he knew he had made the nest really nice, but still Glesni didn’t arrive.  She had died in Africa, only Monty didn’t know that, which was very sad. She had been his mate for five years and they’d had lots of lovely chicks, so he really missed her. 

The Nutshell and the Oyster, or Why I Won't keep a Dream Diary

  When it's been suggested that, as a writer I really ought to keep a dream diary, I make excuses.  I'm told that writing down my dreams, just after I wake, can help my creativity, open up new horizons, instil a sense of discipline, routine etc.  I just know that I can't.  All I can do with the dream diary idea is try and explain, to myself, why it won't happen.

     The opposite of 'putting it in a nutshell' could be to 'have the world as my oyster', but for all its pearly sheen, an oyster is just another container. Another shell to cut me off from the universe outside. Dreams are like this, maybe they contain a kernel of truth or a pearl of wisdom (though I seriously doubt that) but they don't connect me to reality, they cut me off from it. 

      Since I was tiny, my imagination has been my constant familiar. I love it dearly, it has almost always been the most important thing in my life.  Maybe this makes me borderline certifiable, but I usually feel I am in charge of it. I began controlling and experimenting with my imagination from before I can remember and it mostly does what I want. It has carried me through stormy days and sleepless nights. But when I can sleep, dreaming is seldom helpful.

      In my dreams, my imagination is not merely beyond my control, it's out of synch with where I need it to take me. Sometimes the intensity of a dream, even though I've almost forgotten the subject, can invade a whole day, making me useless. I know that there are accepted reasons for people to believe that dreams are a way out of the nutshell or the oyster or the cave with shadows on the wall, I just don’t happen to believe them. For me, it feels like the opposite.

      When I was a child, for a time I became petrified at the prospect of sleep, because my worst nightmare was waiting for me. This dream, recurring time after time, was of walking down a dark stairwell, down almost endless staircases, descending into catacombs or cellars or dungeons, spiralling out of my control and I knew there was something terrible and nameless at the bottom, waiting just for me. I would have welcomed Esher’s staircases, they make complete circuits, therefore there is no end. That would have been preferable to the knowledge that there was indeed an end.

       I finally invented a way to escape from the horror of this nightmare. When my fear reached a certain pitch, I learned to very deliberately tell myself, this is a dream and now I am going to wake up. It worked, I did wake up. And a mere shadow behind the door was just my dressing gown hanging there, and the creak of the tree branches outside held no fear for me. And after a while the dream became less frequent. It has left me with an abiding horror of enclosed spaces, and a suspicion of staircases.

      I have no desire to analyse this dream. I’m not interested in Freudian or spiritual interpretations of it. Dream imagery is bound to differ not just according to culture but also personal experience and associations. My nightmare is simply about an uncontrollable fear, which must be a pretty universal emotion. This is what I get from memorable dreams, emotion, not imagery.

      I know that I do have pleasant dreams, but they seldom last into daylight, beyond a certain feeling of well being or satisfaction. Memorable dreams are of frustration, or fear, or exhausted anxiety because I have to perform some mundane task which is nevertheless so enormous as to be impossible. I often wake with a clear memory of sobbing my heart out from anxiety and frustration, so maybe I am still telling myself to wake up.

       Such are my excuses for not writing a dream diary. So as a writer how do I go about “making the darkness conscious,” without this apparently invaluable tool?  When writing fiction I find it comparatively easy, I make my characters suffer, putting myself into their heads, their minds, so that I can feel how they respond to the suffering. Perhaps this is where my dreams come in, enabling me to heighten the emotional intensity that my characters feel, but I don't need a dream diary to remind me of this. 

Thursday, 19 November 2020

St Leonards Writers Survives Lockdown and Bears Fruit.

Our small writer's group has, after a hiatus in the Spring, sprung up again. Even before lockdown began a few members were becoming anxious and avoiding meetings. Then 26th March and lockdown, for a few weeks none of us knew what to do. Luckily an email conversation began, eventually leading to an agreement that at least some of us wanted to have a go at Zoom meetings, which we began in May. 

A major fruit of lockdown is our new anthology, 'Forty Stories High'. Most members had submitted before our self-imposed deadline in February, and April-May was spent collating and proofreading the stories and poetry.  Editorial rigour may have been a bit lacking, the group not meeting up meant that in the end the production of the book was down to just two members, David and me, we felt we needed to just get on with it, for everybody else's sake. I proofread, he did everything else. Proofreading is not the same as editing.

So the now book exists, it looks great and contains a lot of excellent stuff.  It was published in October and though it's not completely perfect, I'm pretty pleased. It's the first time any of my stories and poetry have appeared in print. £7.99, please contact me or for a copy. We're also now on Facebook, please like us and message us.  

Despite a few hiccups, meeting via Zoom seems to be working for most of us. A few members haven't yet been able to join us on Zoom, but nine or ten have managed at least one meeting and most of these have become regulars. We have had up to eight per meeting which is more than we often had when meeting in person at St Ethelburga's Church, especially in the winter!  We did manage one social gathering, socially distanced of course, during the summer; a group picnic was enjoyed by members and partners the in the gardens by West St Leonards beach.  

Friday, 23 October 2020

Worst Fears by Fay Weldon - book review

    This cynical saga of Alexandra Ludd's slow awakening to her dead husband's perfidy isn't particularly easy reading. The style of writing in the book is deceptively simple, almost like a folk tale or maybe an Aga saga at the beginning, clipped sentences and characters with vaguely ludicrous names give a distancing effect.  However a lot is going on inside the covers, as well as under them.

      It is a very middle class tale which dates it, 1980's or early 90's in feel, nobody seems obsessed with mobiles and computers. I was determined to finish it, the story line was engaging and the character of Alexandra (nobody calls her Alex) is deeply drawn. I needed to know if she survived the traumas, the tension was gripping . It's riddled with black humour, I just wish I'd been able to enjoy it more.     

   Fay Weldon's genre is bleakly humorous stories of individual women trapped in oppressive situations caused by the patriarchal structure of British society. She does it very well, within a small social spectrum, and Worst Fears fits right in.


Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin - book review


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it was amazing
bookshelves: favourite-authorsmight-read-againmysterywhodunnit

A brilliantly told story. Tense, engrossing and unputdownable, is that a word? Spellcheck seems to think so. Anyway I finished all 422 pages in 52 hours while still getting on with a lot of other stuff, and having a few hours sleep.
So much I could say about this 18th incarnation of Rebus, but I won't do spoilers.
I will just say Rebus is on the road, not much of the story takes place in Edinburgh. The litany of the roads travelled and the places visited may be music to the ears of anyone who feels that a part of their past is in Scotland. Almost lyrical descriptions in places, plus some very believable, tense and humorous dialogue between Rebus and other investigators.
So yes, I enjoyed this one! Thank you Mr Rankin.