Grandpa

Wow. It’s been so long since I was last here that I mistyped the web address to my own blog. Er… oops.

But Good News, Everyone! My deadlines for my Masters program are UP. All (!) I have left to do now is my thesis, and the final deadline for THAT is February 2013.

That’s not to say I’m going to leave it to the last minute. I will try and get as much of that done as I can during the summer… which is roasting out here.

But it IS to say that my timetable just opened up, big style. And I plan to fill the time with some writing. I’ve got a proper formal writing group that I’m going to go to almost every Thursday. I’ve got at least four other friends who want to do some creative writing this summer who can encourage me and keep me going.

And… I haven’t written anything YET. So to kick myself off I’m going to post for you…. the first poem I ever read aloud at a poetry night. I re-read it this morning, and I still like it. I wrote it a couple of years after my grandfather died, and I like the… childish voice of it. I hope you’ll see what I mean. I also consider it a bit of a tribute to the man, as my grandfather was the man who introduced me to the beauty of poetry.

I should also say that, in an unfortunate way, this has kind of become a companion piece to Jigsaw, which I guess is a more mature version, so I recommend you check that one out afterwards.

Grandpa

You could tell he was up to something
By that naughty twinkle in his eye.
He cheated at football, moved the goalposts closer,
And took his ‘goal kick’ from our penalty line.
He’d send us to sleep with tales of talking sheep,
And wake us to chase us mid-morning-shave,
A grizzly foam monster in pressed brown pyjamas.

He wrote us poems about bunnies
Who loved to eat honey
Which we found very funny,
And he taught me chess.
And we could never do quite well enough to please him at school,
We could always do better, try harder, and we did,
To please him. I loved his smile.

You don’t smile. You look confused.
You don’t laugh, you talk gravelly and slowly,
You sit in bed, and Gran gets tired, and thin,
And the nurse whispers to my Mum,
And your eyes –
Staring, coldly, trying, oh how desperately trying,
To place me, to know me, to tell me –
“How are you getting on?”
I can’t answer.

No, you’re not my Grandpa anymore.

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Jigsaw

Hey guys.

Getting off to a good start this fine February. And it is a fine February – bless Barcelona’s weather. This time last year, we had 5 weeks of rain… but were coming out of a drought, so we grudgingly accepted it. This year, it’s mostly luvverly.

Personal news – booking my return flight to Japan – I plan to stay there for an extra two and a half weeks after this contract finishes. Something along the lines of:

Arrive – 29th April.

Finish work – 18th July.

Fly back – 4th August?

Anyway, here’s today’s poem. I’m quite satisfied with this one, having jotted the initial notes, turned into a loose poem, left to stew, massively rewritten, sought advice, made a few revisions…. final product. I was talking to my flatmate about it, and I think I’m finally starting to appreciate myself as a poet. I know some of you guys have been my fans for a while, but I’ve never really thought myself good enough to submit them to magazines or anything like that. I’m starting to get how my brain works and writes, now, so it’s getting easier to write… and maybe it’s time I started getting myself out there.

Jigsaw

Bought for your lonely hours,
it seems instead to be Our Project
Together. Piece by fractured piece,
we build my painting of your stroke,

a shattering of disparate particles,
rooting for edges in the box,
drawing you closer to the centre,
a slow rebuild to match the old lid.

Luckily for us, it’s true of your mind,
though your hand wilts in your lap
and your eye can’t match the shapes,
nor your former independence –

helped limping to the loo,
you hold court on “when I’m home,”
and “when I cook” and “in my car”
– “these old people here don’t talk”.

Though you don’t hear it,
it cuts us all to know;
some pieces lost
when this worn box was shaken.

Tomatoes

Arghblarg.

Blog. I owe you more things. It’s not that I’ve not been writing…. it’s more that I’ve not been posting. More things will appear. Presumably this weekend, we’ll have 3 (that’s right 3) little bits.

This is a flash fiction. A friend of mine wrote a flash fiction the other day about a woman making a cup of tea, and if he posts it to his blog, then I shall post a link to it and stuff. In the mean time, here’s a flash fiction I wrote the other day about a woman making a cup of tea. To clarify, this is a different story, not his story stolen and plagarised.

Tomatoes

mrs duckIt was a grey day out, and windy, but her daughter was insisting. Allison had always been demanding as a little girl, and though she was now a mother of two, she still had a way of carrying herself that made Margaret give up and go along with it. They would go down to the duck pond with the little ones and feed the ducks. Margaret was making tea, taking out three mugs, putting the kettle on the Aga, then turning back and putting one of the mugs back in the cupboard.

Allison was off somewhere with the baby, who was crying about something. Margaret supposed that meant she was in charge of little Steve, but then Steve seemed to consider himself quite capable these days.

He had, after all, spent half of his childhood running about the old farmhouse. He knew all the little corners, knew what he could touch and what he shouldn’t. Margaret found herself comparing his eager survey to hers on that day, when she’d first moved in. Back then, her father-in-law had put in that creaking black stove, especially for her. Coal burning, it had been, and a darn sight better than whatever had come before it. An accomplished cook, she had upgraded to the Aga when they could afford it, which now stood dusty. But both, she reflected, had kept them warm through the winters.

A young bride, she’d walked round the house with a mix of excited pride and despair at how much work there was to be done. She’d had to convert an upstairs room for the summer help, and she’d kept his bed and board. It was a big place, and it took a good long time to clean, especially without washing machines or dryers or dish washers. Lunch for her husband and all the workers at midday, when this kitchen, now so quiet, had buzzed with talk and heat. And Allison and her older brother and sister, eventually.

All of the things little Steve couldn’t touch were things that she’d bought, or at the very least approved, over the years. All of his hiding places, his mother had found in her turn. In that strange way that children and grandchildren mimic one another, both Allison then and Steve now held a certain reverenced awe for Margaret’s bedroom, with its neatly tucked sheet corners, not to be disturbed. She’d not told Allison, but for the last two days Margaret had taken to sleeping in the guest room. It was the other side of the house, and the air felt different in there.

Of course, there were things that needed talking about. Allison’s brother would be coming home from agricultural college, and so Margaret needed to spruce up the old bedrooms for him and his family. But mercifully, today was not that day.green toms

Today was a day with little wellingtons and anoraks by the door, and egg and cress sandwiches, and the leftover loaf for the ducks. She poured the now boiling water in the teapot, and turned to the window again, wondering if it would rain, like she felt. Sometimes a miserable day was just what you needed.

She realised she’d forgotten to put the tea bags in the pot, so put them in and stirred them with a spoon. The bang of a door told her that Steve had been in the little white conservatory by what was officially the front door, although of course everyone used the back door these days, which led out onto the farm.

The baby upstairs had stopped crying. That was one of the joys of being a grandmother, she reflected. You had the kids when they were good, and the parents dealt with them in their moods. The positives without the negatives. Whenever her grandchildren visited, Margaret was filled with a kind of warm glow, and although today was no exception, it somehow felt simultaneously weaker and stronger, as though the fire had grown stronger, but she was colder, distanced from it.

“Granny,” Steve had trotted solemnly into the room.

“Yes, dear?”

“I’ve watered Poppa’s tomato plants.”

“Thank you.”

“The tomatoes are still green, but he said they’d turn red soon.” This wasn’t a question; he was informing her. She nodded.There was a pause, and she turned back to the tea, but she knew by the way he was standing, he wasn’t done.

“Granny?” he said, fidgeting. “Is there a greenhouse in heaven?”

She looked down at him, and her eyes welled up again, only this time, she was smiling brightly, as brightly as she could muster.

“Yes, Steve. Yes, there is.”

“Oh, good,” he said, and she could hear the relief in his voice. Satisfied, he ran off, and Margaret looked out the window again, crying quietly and thinking of tomatoes.

Conciseness, Regardless

As a gift from a flatmate, I got this magazine called “First Edition”, with 18 amateur Short Stories, and some poems too. While some of the stories were awful in their own individual ways, it’s a real treat to read through something imperfect and see the flaws, and learn from them. That said, I have found one short story that totally surprised me (called “Time Line” by Peter Marshall), so I shouldn’t go into reading these stories with an automatic superior sneer.

I also found a poem that shall remain nameless, for fear of Google Searches. It was a poem about a river, and here is a sample verse:

Down I trickle softly and gently

Rippling and darting during my flow

On cold dark days I travel fast and wild

Shadows of trees cast by the glistening sun

In summer and spring stillness affects my current

Cold winds brush against my surface water.

a

brook

I may as well mention that the whole poem is 6 verses  of the same and similar, and that there’s no rhyme scheme, but it’s designed so the final word of each line, “gently, flow, wild, sun, current, water” is repeated in each verse in a different order.   No wonder it sounded repetitive.

This actually brings out what I consider one of my biggest weaknesses – piling adjective upon adjective (upon descriptive noun). Even in that extract I posted Mid-Week, the line I considered powerful was “your slow, tedious ascent” – two adjectives together, and the “slow” is pretty well explained in the “tedious” anyway.

So why do I do it? Partly so it fits some kind of internal rhythm known only to me. And partly because I believe that sometimes a piling up of adjectives is more powerful. In spoken conversation, it would be like thrnking of an adjective, then thinking of a better one, which multiplies the first. Which is usually how I come up with them.

Anyway, my writing task for my Midweek post is to take the complete and unwieldy poem above and trim it to something better.

In the meantime, here’s another river-related poem – and one of the first poems I wrote.

Regardless

The stream rolled on regardless

Bending, burbling on

Under the shelter of the bare sycamore.

It ran, full to the grassy banks

Glistening in the dying blush of day.

Even with that little light

You can still see cool pebbles at the bottom,

And the shadows dancing over them.

a

A score of yards upstream, its path is stark

And wedged tight by tall concrete pillars

Over which the motorway runs.

There, constant carbon wilts the brookside flower,

And it is never dark, for when sunlight fades,

Two new rivers appear each night

Crawling against each opposite course,

One blinding white, one warning red,

The streams roll on, regardless.

Regardless
Regardless

Clarity and My Own Voice

Today, I am sorry to say, I have no new work for you. But that’s okay, because I feel like I’ve learned a few things about writing this week anyway, and that’s kind of the point of this blog.

blue-carpet

My Voice

This week, I’ve been working on an old poem of mine, confusingly called “Shark”, about my Grandmother’s ocean-blue carpeted staircase. I’ve been updating it, taking that old poem and putting a twist on the end – that we are getting a stairlift put in after her stroke.

While this is progressing quite well, I came up with this image for the final lines –

“….. in the construction of your slow, tedious ascent.”

This is causing me problems, because I like the image, and think it’s powerful, but with the heavenly connotations of “ascent”, calling it “tedious” in respect to my own grandmother’s health is callous and not what I truly feel.

So what do I do? Do I sacrifice an image because it’s not my voice, or keep it for its strength and feel bad about the sentiment it portrays?

I’ve decided, for now, to keep it. Hopefully the controversial interpretation will shock people into a positive reaction from this poem, and learn from it. But your input is appreciated. I’m still wrestling with this one.

Clarity

Gathering dust on my computer is a novel that I started to write years and years ago, that I really need to settle down and GET DONE, just so I can go back through it and fix it. I don’t want to tinker and tinker with an unfinished work – it needs the plot, on the page, so it can get messed with. Every now and again, I get little ideas connected with it. This lesson is actualy one my mother tried to teach me years ago, and I partially disregarded it because I thought “she just doesn’t get Sci-Fi and Fantasy”.

A key ingredient of Fantasy, and to a lesser degree Sci-Fi, is escapism You are reading to enter another world, not your own. A key ingrediant of Sci-Fi, and to a lesser degree Fantasy, is to reflect our world, by providing a different one and making a point about our world through it.

Here is an extract from the start of a chapter of “Matter”, by Iain M. Banks, a gift from my brother. It’s four chapters in, but it-s a total swtich in scene, and style from everything to this point

“Utaltifuhl, the Grand Zamerin of Sursamen-Nariscene, in charge of all Nariscene interests on the planet and its accompanying solar systerm and therefore – by the terms of the mandate the Nariscene held under the auspices of the Galactic General Council – as close as one might get to overall ruler of both, was just beginning the long journey to the 3044th Great Spawning of the Everlasting Queen on the far-distant home planet of his kind when he met the director general of the Morthanveld Strategic Mission to the Tertiary Hulian Spine – paying a courtesy call to the modest but of course influential Morthanveld embassy on Sursamen – in the Third Equatorial Transit Facility high above Sursamen-s dark, green-blue pocked Surface.”

Holy moley, that’s one sentence. At this point of the story, none of these words meant anything to me. This is the kind of passage that would put off someone new to Modern Science Fiction – like me (I read H.G Wells and Jules Verne and utterly devour them). The whole chapter was a blur, but for those who are interested, let me explain:planet-plum

Sursamen – planet of the story (didn’t know it’s name before this)

Nariscene and Morthanveld – two freaky-deaky alien races that don’t much care about the planet, but are in charge.

I’m many chapters further into the story now, and that’s all the relevant information in that terrifying first sentence.

My mother’s lesson was this – “don’t overload on the names”. Names are thought to be the lifeblood of Sci-Fi and Fantasy and THAT IS TOTALLY WRONG. Sure, you might want it to sound official, but there’s no real need to. It almost made me put this book down, and Iain M. Banks is internationally recognised as an excellent storyteller with masses of well-known books. So why the total alienation of the reader?

So when I do go back to my story, I’m going to keep it simple. Sure, there’ll be titles and place names, but too many places and you’re lost (maps can almost fix this), too many names and you’re confused, and too much politican-speak, and the reader will lose interest.

If you want to see lots of names and places done well, I recommend you look at Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide”.

And that’s all from me for this Mid-Week post.