Thursday, February 25, 2016

6: Well, What Is the Point?

Having been generated, along the lines I've set out over the last four posts, I return to the question - can Wilful Misunderstandings change the world?  Not overnight, as stated somewhere below, but as a seed that has the potential to grow into significance?

Naturally, I'd like to think so.  I've written the bloody thing.  There must be some sort of use to it, beyond the gratification of my ego by having a book to my name.  Will it entertain?  I reckon so. I've had to read, re-read and re-re-read these stories more than any of you will, and they still hold my interest.  I've read them to audiences who appear to have enjoyed and I've had some positive feedback on the published ones.  That's enough to convince me. If I wasn't convinced, it wouldn't be worth publishing it.

But as I grow older, I find increasingly that entertainment alone fails to satisfy.  Greedy me, I want to be left with something to think about too.  Something that adds at least some little chunk to my understanding of how all the wheels keep turning, why shit happens, and who put the benzedrine in Mrs Murphy's Ovaltine.  I want to be provoked by hitherto un-encountered trains of thought.  I want the rug to be pulled out from under my feet and my view of all that surrounds me shifted out of its habitual perspectives.  I like books that do this.  To pick a couple of randomly selected examples... Brian Catling's 'The Vorrh' showed me how fantasy could be written without falling back on a single one of the genre's standard trappings, how surrealism can be explored with no lack of strong characterisation, emotional engagement or sheer humanity.  Italo Calvino's 'If On a Winter's Night a Traveller...' blew my mind with its self-referential conundrums, its ceaseless exploration and exposure of how literature weaves into our consciousness whilst at the same time being literature that does exactly that.

These are the kind of books that change me.  I am not exactly the same person I was before I read them.  They propel me to try things that I wouldn't have considered trying before I read them.  Calvino's book certainly contributed to my approach in 'Wilful Misunderstandings'.  Catling's came to me too late for that, but will doubtless filter its influence into work I'll do in future.

Okay, but change the world?  What are any of these books going to do about global warming, random bombings and shootings, the pernicious grip of the mega-rich on most of the world's resources, fanaticism, domestic violence etc. etc.?

Let's turn that question round.  What is going to solve those problems?  Politics and politicians?  I don't think so.  Even the few that appear to retain some integrity (and like many of us in the UK I'm pretty sure that applies to Jeremy Corbyn) have little chance of overcoming the impediments that politics itself puts in their way.  People power has potential, I think, but it's a double-edged sword.  Misinformation and manipulation can too easily convert such positive energy into destructiveness and oppression.

To me, the crucial change we need if there's to be any hope for generations to come is a change of consciousness. As a species, we need to re-set our moral compass, and having done so question everything that we ever thought we knew.  Every premise that we build from needs to be examined holistically, and constantly re-examined for its appropriateness in the light of change and flux.

I'm skirting around the biggest issue we humans face, here, and I'll come back to some of this and explore it some more in a later post, but the point I want to make now is that mental flexibility will be crucial here.   We need to be able to drop concepts at a moment's notice if they're not working for the general benefit of us and our world.  And to adopt new ones with equal rapidity, if they show signs of standing up to questioning and proving beneficial.  Politics is too mired in its tribal theatricality to even begin to do this.  There have to be better ways than the ones we've so far tried or we've had it - and, this being the Anthropocene, so have vast swathes of other living species, possibly even the entire biosphere.

So my little games with words could just, if they're worth the paper they're written on, be agents of change.  They could, I'd like to think, change your consciousness - just as mine was changed by the mighty and far superior works I cited a few paragraphs back.  Whatever the scale, it does the job.  You might find my work more accessible than theirs.  You might not.  But if it connects for you as I hope it will, by the time you get to the end, you'll be seeing things just a little bit differently.

And that's a positive step.

Well, where do I go from here?  With still just over a month to go before my publication date, how do I keep this little pot bubbling?  Find out next post.  Til then may the road rise with you, but also descend when you get tired of walking uphill.


Monday, February 15, 2016

5: Chasing Stories

How did I get from this so far entertaining, if not overly challenging word play pursuit to the point of producing stories - 50 of them?  I described the process somewhere recently (not on this blog, I've just had a look!) as a process that is about equal parts inspiration and desperation.  Once in a while, the invented meaning came with a package of associated ideas.  I said: "Thank you very much," to the tutelary spirits of writing and got on with it.  On a good week, those ideas sustained me through a beginning and a middle, then propelled me to an end.  I did have at least one or two of those.

Mostly, though, I'd get something started and then think: "Where the hell do I take this?"  That would be when desperation began to encroach.  I think the majority of people who have tried to write fiction have probably experienced this.  That feeling that all your thoughts just degenerate into negativity, and you sit there - perhaps chewing the end of a biro until it has become some sort of gnarly, misshapen replica of its former self - thinking: "Whatever made me think I could pull this off?"  You work through all the techniques that have lodged in your brain for dealing with this hiatus of ideas.  Automatic writing.  Word associations.  Random idea generation (Brian Eno's 'Oblique Strategies' came into action more than once).  Et-bloody-cetera.

Sometimes you just have to wait.  Let's take an example. One of the stories that has made it into the book has been published by 'Confingo' magazine and can be read on my website ( ).  It's called 'Friendly Smiles and Calm Voices'.  It started with the word 'analgesia', which I'd already decided should be capitalised because it sounded like a country to me.  A country without pain!  So what was I going to do with that?

The answer came to me on a holiday with my then-partner to the Mediterranean island of Gozo.  If you don't know it, it's a relatively small island a short distance from Malta.  To get there you fly to Malta, drive to the relevant port and take a ferry.  By the time we arrived at our booked apartment it was after dark and we were exhausted.  We'd not found a supermarket where we'd intended to get supplies, and had nothing to eat or drink except a few bits we found there on arrival.  It was a pretty rough start.  Things got better, in some ways, but we discovered that the Euro money that has graced countries such as Spain with fine roads had not reached Gozo.  Apart from one slick central stretch, we found that virtually all the roads were pitted with potholes, and more than once became muddy tracks.  And that wasn't all that was buggered up there, but you get the picture.

I'm not complaining.  The place was an experience, it had its wonders and I'm glad I spent time there.  But it got me thinking that Analgesia should in every way be the opposite of what I was experiencing.  It should be the perfect holiday destination, where everything you read about in the brochures and the publicity turns out to be exactly as described.  And with perfectly surfaced roads, of course!  All this would be true to a magical degree.  Analgesia would be a place where it was simply impossible to find anything wrong at all.  And I could start the story as if I were writing the copy for one of those brochures - addressing the reader in the second person and inviting them to picture themselves in this exquisite environment.  "You breathe air scented with honeysuckle and a hint of some exotic spice."  Lay it on thick.

And in the course of a few hundred words, "you" starts to become a character, a character who is unsettled by this constant, undiminished perfection and craves to find a flaw, some hint of human error or failing...

After that, the story wrote itself, smoothly and - I hope - entertainingly.  Like I said, sometimes you just have to wait until the building blocks you need present themselves. Sometimes they never do. There are quite a few unfinished WM stories on my hard drive.  I'm still waiting for those blocks to turn up.

I'm winding toward the end of this little sortie into the process of generating 'Wilful Misunderstandings'.  Next time I'll wrap up these thoughts about the writing process and wind us back to the thoughts with which I opened.  After that there will be more. 'Til then, may your dreams be sweet and your days be fruitful.

Monday, February 8, 2016

4: More twisted words

Finding these words was not always easy.  I wish I could claim, harking back to my opening theme of mental flexibility (to which I shall return as I wind up this account), that I just sat there and thought of them - one after another - in a burst of inspiration.  Oh what fun that would have been.  Actually, what happened after the first handful was that I started to plow through the dictionary, making lists of words that seemed to have potential and then their possible new meanings.  I also looked at that invaluable publication Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which I recommend to all writers everywhere.

Here's a random few I picked out that never made it to storylines, but still amuse me:

escalope - noun for a rapid but dignified getaway
fable - an unreliable item of furniture with a tendency to disappear completely for periods of time
fingerprints - thumbnail sized works of fine art
investigate - help people to find suitable items of clothing to wear
jitters - people who can only be found in alleyways, passages etc.
kindred - a scary clan
poppycock - a rare and colourful condition affecting the male organ
novice - a person capable only of virtue
pillar - a vendor of dubious medicines
qualm - a period of time (often years) in which nothing eventful happens

You get the picture, I'm sure.

There are, I freely admit, one or two precedents for this at least.  One is certainly Douglas Adams' 'The Meaning of Liff' in which he lists place names and attributes often well-funny meanings to them.  Another is to be found in the Radio 4 programme 'I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue' and its 'Uxbridge English Dictionary' feature in which the esteemed panel find new meanings for words, almost invariably using the pun approach.  All good stuff, but - so far as I know - no one has ever used these definitions/re-definitions as a basis for stories.

So I'll get on to that part of the process next time I hit the 'post' button.  'Til then, walk tall, walk straight and look the whole world in the eye (except on bent, wiggly, astigmatic days).

Monday, February 1, 2016

3: Twisting the Words

A brief digression.  Serious learning curve involved in this blog writing business.  When I started, I thought my first entry would appear at the top of the page, the next would appear below, and so on. Instead they appear on separate pages, with a link listing that starts with the latest.  So - given that I set out to write, at least to begin with, a sequence of entries building up a picture of the genesis and development of 'Wilful Misunderstandings', with a side order of ramifications (mm, delish) - I will need to request that any readers who wish to follow my thread will need to go back to the earliest entry ('The Birth of an Idea') and continue from there in reverse order.  Or something.

Quiet and thoughtful I may be, bewildered and frazzled I often am.

Picking up where I left off in 'The Idea Unfolds', then...  How does one generate these misunderstandings?  There are a number of ways.  Here are mine:

One is to be very literal about something which is generally offered in a figurative sense.  Take the phrase: "I'm just going out to stretch my legs," for example.  Need I say more?  When you get your hands on a copy of the book (and I trust you will), check out the story 'Short' to see what I came up with.

Another is to glean a possible meaning in the word's potential for puns.  One of my favourites was 'parapet', which my dictionary defines as a 'low wall at the edge of a balcony or bridge' or 'a defence of earth or stone'.  I looked at the prefix 'para' and thought of the 'paranormal'.  The rest is 'pet' - which gave me a paranormal beast that is in some way attached to humans.  A familiar, perhaps, as you'll meet in 'Beast'.  Not a low wall in sight.

Another is to take something that is suggested by the word itself - its sound and/or its given meaning. The word 'accolade' suggested a drink to me, like 'lucosade', but instead of conferring dubious health benefits this was obviously a drink that made you feel good about yourself.  'The Drink That Gives You a Pat on the Back' in fact.

Then there were some that just came out of nowhere.  How a 'jig' got to be a magical drawer in which something different appears every time you open it, I'm not quite sure.  Nor am I how 'flagrant' came to be a noun, and the flagrants to be extra-dimensional beings who chose to run a rather extraordinary bar, on a street just a little way away from your regular town centre drinking holes.  It just felt right.

So there you go, that was how I started trying to get something right out of getting something wrong.  Where to next, eh?  Check out my fourth post in due course and you'll get more than an inkling.  (Hmm... 'inkling', I could do something with that...).  Til then, may all your paths be pleasant.