Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The First Cut's *Meant* To Be The Deepest

The press, ably abetted by the partisan left-wing hotbed that is the BBC, has been warning about 'pain' and 'irreparable damage to frontline services' (am I the only one to hate the phrase 'frontline'? What on earth does it mean? Are we living in a Bosnia-esque warzone, ducking beneath the stinging hornet-trails of bullets to dodge into our local A&E and have the odd foot or two reattached? No? I thought not). All because the Coalition is cutting away the rot *created* by thirteen years of spectacular mismanagement, the kind of drunken free-for-all spending spree more associated with Paris Hilton after a Ferragamo sighting or a stereotypical sailor on leave. The word 'gaffe' has been attributed by numerous newspapers to Danny Alexander, all because he happened to have open on his lap a document which was freely available on a governmental website to anyone who could be bothered to look. There have been screaming frenzies about the loss of half a million public sector jobs, despite the fact that civil service turnover is high and circa 400,000 people would have left or changed posts in the allotted timeframe. And Alan Johnson, who looks as though he would be more comfortable in an apron and a cap with a visor standing behind a counter and licking a pencil stub, has yet again trotted out the meaningless catch-all phrase 'unfair'. Unfair? It was kittenish.
There are a few unfair measures in the CSR. Firstly, it could have been much more comprehensive. The NHS can stand to lose several billion or so for providing the kinds of treatments that should be only available privately, including IVF on demand (particularly to those on benefits), plastic surgery and sex changes. There are charities who will raise the money for the latter, which is a noble cause; I for one can't imagine anything worse than being born, literally, in the wrong body. But it is not a life or death situation. Nor is having a wee phobia about the length of your nose and charging Mr Taxpayer for having the offending milimetres lopped off. The NHS should not be sending out leaflets to teach children how to masturbate, how to open your bowel correctly in twelve languages, or employing toothbrush monitors. Or Diversity Officers.
So many jobs in the public sector make no sense, either in real or economic terms. Many public sector jobs contribute little to the economy, so they're expensive to create and expensive to maintain. Hiring someone to be useless and expensive is a little like maintaining a mistress: looks good and is the envy of your friends (or Parliamentary opposition, from whom you've snatched the vote of the deadweight), but is financially ruinous in the long run. So let's get shot of 'em. Quietly empty posts and don't bother to refill them. Make people work for their salaries, rather than throwing 25k at someone you elevate to Project Manager because they've been given a brief on where to buy the best stapler or inkjet cartridge.
My sneaking suspicion is that the Conservatives, once they've secured a landslide majority based on a CSR that had many of the Opposition scratching their heads and looking foolish, will give these and many other freeloaders the boot. People 'on the sick' who are healthy enough to whizz around on motorbikes, for example. Hopefully, immigrants who rock up and expect handouts. Trade unions. Anyone who has 'multicultural' in their job title. When it comes down to it, today's CSR was positively anodyne; so anodyne that I could watch the cricket and the CSR simultaneously without losing the gist of either. And as ever Labour, the Party of the Opposition, was caught on the back foot without either a single comprehensive alternative or a word of apology for the damage they've done.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Chameleonic: Chapter I

With my humility, as I've blogged before, growing apace, I've been spending time on carefully rewriting "Chameleonic". Part of writing a decent narrative is being being honest with oneself; plumbing the depths of consciousness and memory, finding the sore spots in one's past and integrating them into the narrative, having the courage to allow others to read one's mind. Consigning sorrow to paper so that it becomes an indelible record of one's life rather than something secretly locked in the darkness. I know that I shall have to rewrite the work over and over again until I am satisfied, that as I grow so it will too; but the whole point of writing is that it is an occupation that never ceases to satisfy as long as one draws breath. In this way life becomes art. Any opinions - positive or negative - on the first chapter below would be most appreciated.


‘Where is it?’ Byron erupted into Gala’s study, quivering with rage, red tongue lolling between his jaws. Gala averted her gaze from the dreadful sight. A sea of tranquil Virgin Mary blue stretched out before her. It disappeared abruptly as the blue blanket that had been covering her during her afternoon rest was torn away. Byron’s strange yellow eyes bored into hers. Defiantly, Gala put up her chin.
‘Where is what?’
‘My short story, the story I am writing, you red-headed shrew,’ he said rapidly between his teeth, grabbing one coppery ringlet and giving it a ferocious tug. Gala shrieked and rubbed her maligned head.
‘I have no idea, Glyphon.’ She squirmed away from him and made for her cigarette box. ‘Why in God’s name did you ring up the ironmongers’ and pretend to be called ‘Glyphon’, you senile old fool?’
‘If you do not give me back my story I shall strike you,’ said Byron menacingly. Gala lit her cigarette and yawned with supreme indifference. She looked him up and down.
‘So what else is new? You strike me all the time. Coward. Only a coward would strike a defenceless woman. You brute.’
‘Gorgon. Medusa. You unspeakable harpy!’ shouted Byron, striking a tabletop with a clenched fist. Gala did not flinch. She drifted over to the window and gazed across the gardens of “La Belle Epoque” to the sea.
‘I think I might have seen a bundle of papers by the furnace. You might just be able to rescue them if Betty hasn’t burnt them already,’ she said without turning her head. Byron howled inarticulately and stamped, the floorboards trembling beneath his feet. He threw the door open with a tremendous crash and trampled noisily down the stairs. Gala closed the splintered door gently. She loosened the bodice of her capacious smock and extracted several sheets of foolscap. Byron had been using the typewriter with the misaligned ‘a’ again, she noted with a sigh. The paper was pale green. Byron claimed that no other colour felt right — a sentiment he had lifted straight from Proust, thought Gala sourly; Byron was entirely derivative, had never had an original thought in his life. She read through the prose, one cinnamon-red brow raised, her upper lip quivering with disgust.
‘Ha!’ The door flew open once more. Byron, his bundle of foolscap clasped to his chest, marched into the study and snatched the sheets of paper from her fingers. He shook them at her, yellow eyes gleaming. ‘Thought you could hide them, eh? Well, I have had my revenge on you.’ He folded his arms, careless of the mass of foolscap, and nodded triumphantly. Gala raised her brows questioningly.
‘I discovered where you’ve been hiding your chocolate ration. And I ate it. Every bit of it.
Gala darted up and slapped him. ‘How dare you!’ she shrieked. ‘How dare you!’
‘I thought you might not like that,’ said Byron, smiling complacently. ‘See you at dinner.’ He bowed and strolled out of the room, whistling cheerfully. Gala, face hot with fury, her chest rising and falling tumultuously, stared through the open door of the study opposite hers. Byron, in an excellent humour, was battering away at his typewriter. He perched a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles on the end of his nose and peered at the page in front of him.
‘Demented old fool doesn’t even need spectacles,’ muttered Gala. ‘Eat my chocolate ration, would he? Well I’ll show him.’ Hugging herself with savage glee she extracted Byron’s favourite smoking jacket, tailored for him just before the War, from beneath a cushion and crept down the red-carpeted stairs. She ran on tiptoe across the draughty hallway through the open side door into the garden. A barbecue, on of the few remnants of her antipodean heritage for which she had any fondness, stood squarely in the middle of the lawn. Whistling to herself, Gala lit the barbecue expertly, squinting up at Byron’s window. As the smoke began to billow and curl, the distant rattle of keys ceased abruptly. Smiling serenely, Gala dropped the smoking jacket atop the coals and poked at it with a pair of tongs. There was a howl of fury and Byron’s window-glass rattled. Unperturbed, Gala continued to sauté the crimson velvet until it had caught alight and the twisted gold cord had tarnished and disintegrated. Byron, leonine head topped incongruously with a yellow silk turban, leapt on to the lawn.
‘Why?’ he bellowed.
‘You ate my chocolate ration when you knew it was the only thing I had to look forward to all week,’ hissed Gala, brandishing the tongs at him. Byron eyed them uneasily. Gala was capable of doing him a serious mischief if she felt fiendish enough. Once she had presented him with a rose filled with pepper: he had broken a rib in the resultant sneezing fit. Gala could always out-beastly him — which was why he felt no compunction about hitting her. His eye fell on the smoking remains of the smoking jacket. He would like to beat her until she screamed, he thought grimly, fist clenched.
‘I wouldn’t if I were you,’ Gala advised: ‘the Vicar’s coming.’
‘Good afternoon, Vicar!’ called Byron with false cheer, trampling across the emerald grass. Gala gave the ashes a final poke and followed him.
‘Lovely day,’ said the Vicar mildly, doffing his hat to Gala. He was a tall, spare, bow-backed aesthete who was bullied mercilessly by his cook-general. From the faint stains on his lapel Gala deduced that he had been eating a cold collation of flaccid ham, wilted lettuce and bottled salad cream that that domestic tyrant ordained was quite good enough for a clergyman. She smiled sympathetically. The Vicar caught her look and sighed a little.
‘Would you like to come to dinner?’ asked Byron, who had also noticed the salad cream stains. The Vicar brightened.
‘I would be delighted,’ he said with alacrity; then his face fell. ‘Maundy Thursday, so much to do, and the Little Tadchester choir need me to play the organ for them this evening…’
‘Tomorrow?’ asked Gala doubtfully. The Vicar shook his head, took out his diary and thumbed through it hopelessly. ‘No, I am afraid that I do not have a free evening until three weeks on Tuesday.’
‘We’ll plan a proper dinner party. Four courses. And port.’
‘The best. Byron laid it down before the War. We’ve been saving it for special occasions.’ A gust of wind lifted the yellow silk turban from Byron’s head and bowled it across the garden. Gala shrieked with laughter. Casting her a look of immense dislike, Byron chased after it.
‘Wonderful,’ said the Vicar, writing Dinner at La Belle Epoque in his diary and beaming. He watched Byron sprint after his turban. ‘May I ask, my dear, if you are well?’
Gala looked at him quickly. For a moment her green eyes softened with misery. Then she folded her arms and straightened her back resolutely. ‘We rub along well enough. It’s not happy, precisely, but we’ve been married for over thirty years. I don’t know who I’d be without Byron. I just wish…’ She shrugged. ‘I wish he’d be a bit nicer sometimes. Do you know, after all these years he still only gets out one wineglass, makes one cup of tea?’ She hesitated. ‘I’ve said too much. I’m sorry.’
‘That is what I am here for, my dear.’ The Vicar pressed her hand quickly. ‘I was wondering if you might be interested in doing a little nursing at the convalescent home? You were so good during the War, and…’
‘And it would get me out of the house,’ Gala interjected wryly. ‘I don’t know. When I started nursing way back in 1907 I didn’t ever want to do anything else, and then of course I joined the FANY…’ She smiled. ‘I wanted to do something useful, something that had an actual purpose, where there was no quibbling about who wore the trousers — unlike the London Hospital where the doctors were God and we their unquestioning acolytes.’ She watched Byron who, turban in hand, was staring raptly at the patterns of sunlight falling through leaves. ‘I never saw war as a romantic idyll, I knew it would be bloody hard work, but I was used to death and deprivation. So why not? But now…’ She shook her head. ‘Something about the last War broke me. Twenty years of so-called peace and then the world was plunged into another senseless conflict. All those young men sent off to die, thinking they were doing their duty… Coming back broken, burnt, blinded. We couldn’t mend them, we couldn’t help them. The hardest thing about nursing people you know are never going to get better is that you become quite cynical, you wonder what the point is. I don’t like thinking that way, I don’t like myself when I think that way.’
‘Not all of them are hopeless cases,’ the Vicar pointed out. ‘They are on the road to recovery. It just takes time.’
‘I’ll think about it. I promise.’
‘Bless you, my dear. I must be off…’
‘I’ll say ‘goodbye’ to Byron for you. He’s likely to be there for quite some time.’ She watched the Vicar depart along the cliff path and went into the house, hugging herself against the chill. Tomorrow was Good Friday. Byron, a ferocious atheist, had banned all bibles from the house; but Gala had hidden away a cherished, battered little New Testament that had accompanied her through the mud of Flanders and the Somme and the Marne and which had, on one occasion, even saved her life. Sometimes, turning it over and over in her fingers, she reflected that it was her only consolation in life: its unchanging message of hope, its sense of purpose, its strong, stable characters. She opened it to the Gospel of Mark and read slowly, lips moving soundlessly. The door flew open. She jumped and flushed with annoyance.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’
‘Minding my own business,’ said Gala, marking her place with a finger.
Byron stared incredulously at the little book. ‘I said no bibles, no religion in this house. Give it to me.’
‘No.’ Gala looked at him steadily. ‘No, I won’t. Not this. It’s too—’
‘I said ‘give it to me’!’ Byron wrestled it from her and threw it out of the window. ‘Ha!’ he said triumphantly, grinning, inviting Gala to share the joke. She shook her head.
‘I shan’t forgive you for this,’ she said quietly and went down to rescue the little book. It had fallen into a pool of water, its pages crumpled and torn. She lifted it out carefully, smoothing the pages with trembling fingers. Byron ambled out the house, hand stuffed awkwardly in his pocket. He won’t say sorry, he never apologises: goes on the offensive instead. I wonder what he’ll do this time? thought Gala, unable to look at him.
‘When I think of scarlet women,’ Byron began dreamily, ‘I run through a Rolodex of beauties. Rita Hayworth with her red hair. Scarlett O’Hara. Marilyn Monroe in her skintight dress. But I had to end up with you.’ He grabbed a hank of hair and pulled it viciously. Gala swayed, mute, her eyes fixed on her New Testament. ‘You are vile and worthless,’ Byron told her, releasing her suddenly. He went into the library and slammed the door. ‘Damn her,’ he muttered. ‘Never could see the point of a joke.’ He poured himself a glass of brandy, noticing that the level had sunk significantly: their horrible charlady had been at it again. ‘Bloody woman. I’ll tell Gala to fire her.’ Fire Mrs Thing, he wrote on a sheet of paper in a neat square hand. He had no idea what the woman’s name was, menials never interested him: they were arms attached to mops and dusters, a crouched shape with a scrubbing brush in the middle of a shining sea of linoleum.
Women!’ Why, oh why, had he ever got married? He should have known it would be bloody miserable. Look at his own parents’ marriage. Mother bolted with her lover, father shot himself. Gala had deliberately set out to entrap him, Byron thought, draining his glass and slamming it on the desk. Got him when he was at his most vulnerable. Right after the Marne when he had been shot twice through the shoulder in the very first hour, left to fester on a jolting cart with all the other wounded bodies, partially paralysed by an inept surgeon and parcelled back to Blighty. He’d never had a chance! And he’d so been looking forward to a jolly good war, he’d reached that point in life where he felt he had nothing new left to experience.
Byron dashed an angry tear from his eye. Gala had been so dashing, an angel of mercy leaning over him as he lay on the filthy cart and murmuring ‘don’t worry, Captain Stanton: we’ll take good care of you.’ And larch-slim and beautiful in a leaf-green dress with a wide cream ribbon tied around her slender waist on one of her leaves, when she came to take tea with him and he ended up proposing. Just like that! She was brave, too: she delivered supplies and transported the wounded to and from the Front all throughout the War. In a strange way, their roles had been reversed: he languished at home while she faced death every day, never turning a hair as shells screamed overhead and mortars pounded unbearably. He resented her bitterly, even as he admired her. Her leaves were few and fleeting, a night here and there, a meeting of strangers who came together to slake their mutual need, he supposed; they rarely spoke, he had no idea what she was thinking. Initially it entranced him, later it made him fear and distrust her.
After the War she came home to the great flat-faced London house Byron shared with his bachelor uncles. Disaster struck. She repulsed him. Her flaming red hair, a primitive danger signal, terrified him. He could not look directly at her, his gaze slid across her as if she were an acquaintance whose name he could not remember. They had nothing in common save a growing dislike. She nursed the two bachelors, whom Byron referred to facetiously as the Maiden Uncles, through a series of illnesses and avoided him. They moved into separate bedrooms. She’d never really been much good in that department anyway, stiffened up halfway through: he supposed she was frigid. Treated him with contempt after their disastrous honeymoon — well, that was rather his fault, he supposed (Byron wriggled uneasily): communicated with him with a series of notes for five years, never speaking to him unless it was absolutely necessary. Put all her energies into nursing a load of broken crocks throughout the Second War, ignored him entirely. What did she expect? A medal? Coming home all weary with blood on her uniform. Disgusting. How could a chap be expected to put up with it?
Why had she got so upset about a wretched little book anyway? She knew it was all a load of codswallop, he had explained patiently to her why religion was the province of the naïve and that God-botherers should be avoided at all costs (save the Vicar, who knew his cricket and had never tried to convert him). And yet she still persisted, in her bloody-minded antipodean way, in believing that absolute twaddle. Byron scowled. Flinging the book out of the window had been a masterstroke, a well-deserved piece of retribution for the time that she had flung his favourite commode out of her window. Why couldn’t she see the joke? Uptight, stiff-necked, humourless harpy.
Byron fingered his upper lip, wondering if he should grow a moustache. Again. But the last time he had done so, hiding out in his quarters for a full fortnight with his pommel horse and regimental uniform at the ready so once his whiskers came through he could play at being a cavalry officer — Gala had laughed until she choked. Eyes watering, cheeks flushed, she had bent double and wheezed with mirth. He wish she had expired from it. Awful shrew! Byron kicked the leg of his desk viciously and hurt himself. He needed to be cheered up somehow. It was too late to buzz down to London and visit the lady with whom he had a discreet arrangement. He would play Roman Emperors instead.
Bounding up the stairs two at a time, useless arm clasped across his chest, he went to his Dressing Up Cupboard and hunted out the capacious white caftans Gala used to cover her bulges. Where was his laurel wreath? And his lyre? Aha! Somehow he had absentmindedly stowed them between his Country Squire costume (tweeds, shooting stick, monocle and a twelve bore) and his American Grandpa outfit (sagging cardigan, checked shirt, a canister of rabbit tobacco and a pair of steel-framed spectacles). Byron placed the laurel wreath on his head and declaimed to the looking glass, standing so that he could not see his partially paralysed arm. ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen…’ he murmured. Frowned. Put up his chin and stared into his own eyes: he wasn’t quite feeling like an Emperor. More like an Indian prince, a Maharajah. He changed rapidly into silk robes and turban, sat cross-legged on a Turkey carpet. Could he get away with smoking his opium pipe? Would he have to dress up as a Chinee instead? Yes: every detail must be accurate, he had to get into character. He exchanged his turban for a pigtailed wig, put on long robes fantastically embroidered, and nodded in satisfaction. A sticky ball of opium was worked between the fingers of the right hand, plugged into a long-stemmed pipe. He lit it, began to soar, to float, absolutely at peace.
Gala, smelling the sweet scent of opium wreathing beneath Byron’s door, ground her teeth in frustration. He would be useless for the rest of the day, when he did finally emerge from the cloud forests to which the drug transported him he would be dreamy and distracted, lost in a world of inner contemplation. Why did he have to be a Mandarin today? she wondered. In a rare moment of candour Byron had confessed that he has been masquerading as a series of characters since the age of eleven as a way to escape the misery and bullying at school. Gala suspected that others preferred Byron when he was in character rather than out of it, the real Byron, raw and vulnerable: the man who, when he thought no one was watching, looked at the world with the eyes of a child. She went down to the kitchen, disturbing her general factotum Betty who was sitting with her feet in the warm oven reading a lovely novel called “Miss Glamorna’s Passion”.
‘Don’t get up. I only came to dry this out.’ She held up the sodden New Testament.
‘I’ll pop it in the oven,’ said Betty, taking her feet out and replacing them with the book. ‘Should be dry in no time. Do you want a cup of tea? You look ever so tired.’
‘I rather think I need something stronger.’ Gala stared at the fat ginger cat which was lying on its back with its paws in the air, toasting itself on the hearth. ‘Dinner at eight if you can manage it.’
‘Got some lovely mackerel off the boat this morning. And Mr Purvis give me three tins of peaches from under the counter, so I thought a nice trifle?’
‘Splendid. Byron loves his trifle.’ She watched the cat’s ears flicker, its paws twitch as it dreamed.
‘Everything all right?’ asked Betty casually.
‘Oh, you know. Same as ever.’ The two women looked at one another. Betty nodded. Then, the natural hierarchy reasserting itself, Gala left the kitchen and went in search of the gin.
Byron was sleepy and abstracted at supper, toying with his grilled mackerel and picking all the peach out of his trifle and laying it end to end. Gala, who was determined not to let him vex her, read The Old Wives’ Tale which she had propped against the brandy decanter and ignored him.
‘You’re getting very fat,’ he announced suddenly.
Gala sent him a stony glare. ‘I can lose weight,’ she said evenly. ‘You, on the other hand, will never be anything other than a cloth-headed idiot.’ Byron gnashed his teeth. Gala returned to her book, serene in the knowledge that she had got one over on him.
Byron twiddled his thumbs, played with the saltcellar and finally burst out: ‘do you have to read at the table? It’s frightfully antisocial.’
‘Because you’re such wonderful company? Yes, I do.’ She got up and began to clear the plates.
‘Where’s Betty?’ demanded Byron aggressively.
‘Went to her mother’s; she’s not very well…’
Byron followed Gala to the kitchen, grumbling, and pursued her to the sink. ‘Why won’t you talk to me? It’s pretty childish of you, isn’t it?’
‘I am not talking to you because I have nothing to say.’ Gala rinsed the plates. Furious, a maddened bull, Byron trampled back and forth, head swinging from side to side. His choleric gaze fell on the New Testament which Betty had placed on top of the Aga.
‘Ha!’ He seized the book and shook it at her. ‘Ha!’
‘Put it down, Byron. Please.’
Byron stared at her for a long moment. Then turned with disconcerting speed and thrust the book into the fire.
‘No…’ The cry burst from Gala’s lips; ashen, she raised a hand to her mouth, trembling. ‘No…’ Her groping hand found the back of a chair; she lowered herself into it, staring at the book which was being consumed by a sheet of flame.
‘Say something!’ demanded Byron. Gala shook her head; enraged, Byron shook Gala. He finally released her, pressing his face into hers. She arose, drawing her cardigan around her, and stood for a moment staring at the fire.
‘I am so disgusted with you that I do not think I will ever want to look at you again,’ she said softly. Byron dashed after her into the hall, watched as she ascended through golden lamplight, her hair a gleaming mass of russet and sunset. He opened his lips to call out to her, to demand that she come down at once and speak to him, but the hard planes of her face silenced him. He had gone too far this time, finally, after all these years…
Disconsolate, Byron wandered into the drawing room, turned on the radiogramme, turned it off again, fiddled with the Meissen statuary on the chimneypiece, slammed the lid of the tantalus several times, flung himself into an armchair and out of it again, unable to settle. ‘Ga—!’ The house was silent, absolutely still; as still as if he were the only one living there, as if she had already left it. Damnable woman, thought Byron inconsolably, hugging himself with his one good arm. He perched on the edge of the sofa, swinging his foot violently. Why can’t she have more of a sense of humour? I wish I’d never met her. Horrible little redheaded creature, I wish she was dead. He put his face down on his knees and wept.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Dawn Herald - Chapter I

Am craning my head over the metaphorical parapet and putting the first chapter of my children's book, The Dawn Herald, online for your delectation. All comments/suggestions would be most appreciated. And of course, I'll acknowledge you once it's published!


There is a world just over the horizon which nestles in the topmost branches of a great tree.
If you pluck a hair from your head and look through it in bright sunlight, you might be able to catch a glimpse of this world. But you must be swift, for after you have seen it once it will not reappear again for seven years.
Woven into the gnarled roots of the great tree that cradles this world in its boughs is another world, all fire and ice; and beneath that world there is another tree. A strange shadow-world hovers around roots that grow deep into the foundations of the universe itself.
The world at the top of the trees is called the Third World. After twelve thousand years of argumentation and two serious wars, the philosophers could not come up with a more poetic name for the bowl-shaped world with its twin suns and great Sky Goddess whose nebulous body stretches from horizon to horizon.
On the edge of the Third World’s largest sea there is an angel-shaped city named Ellyra. Many years ago, in a time when dragons and two-headed men and talking Tygers roamed the land, it was home to a very unusual princess.
She was supposed to be a boy.
Her name was Isolde. She was the last of the Dîn dynasty which had ruled the Kingdom of Gerena for six thousand years; the last descendant of Belial, a fallen angel and Alnair, a fallen star. Alnair and Belial had thirteen children, all boys, who went out and conquered the lands of the Third World. Some kings were like their star-mother and were wise and just. Others were like their beautiful but wicked father and used dark magic to slay their enemies. All their descendents, only one in every generation, were male. Their fathers arranged marriages for them with beautiful girls whose families were happy to sell their daughters in exchange for wealth and power. There had never been a female descendant of the fallen angel and the fallen star. Until Isolde.
It was customary, while awaiting the birth of the Heir, for the King to divert his attention from his wife’s agonies by playing a game of chess with live pieces. At the moment of Isolde’s birth King Halliam dispatched his opponent’s screaming bishop to the afterlife. He turned, smiling widely, as an angel drifted across the giant chessboard and hovered before him. In the brilliant sunlight it looked grey and sombre. Its face was downcast and its wings drooped.
‘Your Majesty,’ it begun. King Halliam spread his arms wide.
‘Let me guess. My wife has given me… a boy!’ he announced. A ripple of laughter and a smatter of light applause ran through the crowd surrounding the monarch. The angel was silent. ‘A boy,’ King Halliam prompted. The angel looked at the ground. After a very, very long pause it shook its head. King Halliam stared at it incredulously. His eyes began to bulge and his face turned bright red with fury. ‘A GIRL!!!” he bellowed at the top of his lungs and evaporated the entire chessboard on the spot.
In a dreadful panic the King’s Sorcerors sent out envoys to every court in the Third World, from fire-bright Oriel on the Dawn Sea to dark and tricksy Trimmaeus in the Dragonspine Mountains, to find a star-born consort for the future queen. They slunk back to the angel-shaped city of Ellyra empty handed. All the little princelings had already been promised in marriage. The Lady Claire, lying exhausted in her ivory bed, watched helplessly as King Halliam raged back and forth.
‘Our royal line will come to an end!’ he stormed, his handsome face red with fury. ‘Six thousand years lost! All because you had to bring a wretched girl into the world! You are a disgrace!’
‘I am sorry,’ murmured the Lady Claire, rocking her newborn child. King Halliam snarled.
‘Had she been a boy she could have married anyone and their bloodline would have been cancelled out. But no. You had to spawn a wretched girl, a girl who will never be allowed to wed a commoner. Why in the Goddess’s name did I ever marry you? Damn you!’ he bellowed, great veins standing out on his neck, and bit his knuckle hard enough to draw blood.
‘Perhaps you could… change the law. If you allow her to marry a commoner she—’
‘The blood of stars does not pass on through the female line!’ bellowed Halliam. He slammed his fist on an ebony coffer, sending a tray of goblets flying. With a great effort he reined in his temper. ‘After Belial died in the First Great War,’ he said through clenched teeth, ‘Alnair wed again. Another fallen angel, even fairer than Belial. Alnair brought two girls into the world. They wed but never bore an heir. They were barren.’
‘Why would that be?’ asked the Lady Claire, tucking a fold of blanket carefully around the sleeping Isolde’s ears. King Halliam glared.
‘I do not know or care. Keep your theophysical questions for the Court Philosopher and tell me what is to be done! If we do not find a boy to wed your brat the entire kingdom will fall!’ he hissed.
‘We do not need to give up hope. A star-blooded boy may yet be born. I hear that Queen Mittuan of Gandolfia is increasing.’
‘Getting fat, more like,’ King Halliam sneered.
‘Uangnaq of the Seal Fishers—’
‘I will not merge my kingdom with the Ice-Realms!’ shouted King Halliam.
The Lady Claire winced. ‘Does not the law change,’ she pursued valiantly, though her lips were white with pain and fatigue, ‘if she is Chosen by the Sky Goddess to be her Dawn Herald? May not she then wed a commoner and continue the line?’
King Halliam snorted. ‘Chosen? She? I should like to see a child of yours Chosen to be the most powerful person on the Third World!’ he spat and slammed out of the room. The Lady Claire looked thoughtfully at the closed door. The elderly nurse who had been fussing over the infant’s crib bustled over at once, clucking with disapproval.
‘Give the little lamb to me now, there’s the poppet,’ she said, holding her hands out for the baby. The Lady Claire looked at her beseechingly.
‘Just one minute more, Nursie. After tonight I will have such little time alone with her,’ she coaxed. The nurse tutted.
‘Just one more minute, then. And mind it’s not a moment longer!’ she warned. ‘I’m going to make you a nice milky drink and when I come back, you’d better be ready for a good long sleep.’
‘Oh, I could sleep for a thousand years.’ The Lady Claire stretched lazily, watching the nurse bustle out of the room. ‘Perhaps you will be Dawn Herald one day,’ she whispered, kissing the little crescent birthmark on the baby’s ivory-fair brow. The baby sighed in her sleep, small hands flexing. ‘Perhaps you will. Indeed, why should you not? Any girl who is completely pure of heart may be Chosen.’ She smiled as the child awoke and looked up at her. ‘Behold your world, my little one,’ she murmured and held the baby up to the window. Outside little cascades of snow drifted from the darkening sky. The Lady Claire pointed to the Sky Goddess, just visible through the clouds, slumbering in her rainbow Arc of matter beneath her cape of stars. ‘There she is,’ she said to the tiny child. ‘There is your destiny.’ Her eyelids fluttered and she yawned. ‘You must make her love you so much that she wants you and only you to serve her.’ As she yawned again so hard that tears ran from her eyes a great snow goose swooped from the sky and hovered outside the window. A basket was securely tied to its back. The Princess Isolde, safe in her mother’s arms, awoke and reached out a small hand to the goose which tapped on the window with its beak, looking at the child with a dark, intelligent eye.
‘That’s quite enough of that,’ said the nurse, whisking into the room and drawing the curtains shut with a clatter. ‘Time for mother and baby to rest.’
‘Oh, Nursie, can’t I just… All right.’ The Lady Claire relinquished her daughter and snuggled down on the pillows. Outside in the dark the goose tapped on the window again. She frowned. ‘What’s that noise?’
‘Must be some nasty branches. Nothing for you to worry your pretty head about.’ The nurse bustled around damping down the fire and snuffing out candles, casting the Lady Claire a wary look every now and then from her sharp old eyes.
‘That’s funny… there aren’t any trees outside my window…’ sighed the Lady Claire as she fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. The nurse waited for a moment and tiptoed from the room, closing the door tightly behind her. She hurried along the corridor to a round chamber with a pointed glass roof that glittered in the light of the falling snow. There, waiting for her in a shaft of radiance, was an angel.
‘That wretched bird gave me quite a turn, tapping at the window like that. Has it gone?’
‘Yes. The snow goose is even now flying towards the Sea of Forgetfulness on its journey to the Witchlands. It pains me,’ said the angel who had come into being when Isolde was born, ‘to send a soul away from its mother.’ The nurse tutted.
‘One of them had to go. You know the law. The Queen can only have a single heir. If there was twins the King’d know my poor lady played him false and then where would we be? He’d send my poor lady to have her liver pecked out by the Carrion Crows on Traitor’s Rock. She doesn’t deserve to suffer any more, oh no: being married to him’s enough of a burden for anyone. The other baby’ll be safe in the Witchlands. She’ll have a good and happy life. It’s better this way.’
‘I am guardian to both the souls,’ said the angel.
‘Then you’re going to have to be in two places at once, aren’t you?’
‘How is it possible that the Lady Claire does not know she has a second child?’
The nurse looked a little ashamed. ‘When I felt there was two babies I had to put her into a deep sleep. She never knew a thing, bless her. I was afraid that this might happen, I did try to warn her—’ She looked into the distance, her face pensive, and gave herself a little shake. ‘When all’s said and done, least said, soonest mended and you can’t help who you love. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to see to Baby. You should be down in the Infinite Library. Life-books don’t write themselves, and you don’t want to be leaving out any of Baby’s story, do you?’ She glared at the angel and bustled off, forgetting the little lost girl at once. All that mattered now was the Princess Isolde.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Day In The Life Of...

Me. Since a very young age I've rather craved being the Luminary Of Note featured on the back page of the Sunday Times Magazine. All said luminaries, however, seem to have very organised lives; mine borders on the chaotic. After waking up at the unbearable and ungodly hour of 06.20 to the morning Market Report, without which The Chap cannot function (I can; and am planning to sabotage him with the Shipping Forecast. I find "Northeasterly 4 or 5, backing northerly 5 to 7 later" oddly soothing), I stagger in the general direction of the coffee pot and quaff a pint or two. After performing various Domestic Tasks (though sadly not in the bell-shaped skirts and heels considered indispensable by the 1950s Housewife: I suspect The Chap may approve of such a get-up) I get on with the day job and try not to let my characters intrude to too great an extent. Writing's a little like a form of schizophrenia; many different, insistent voices clamouring for attention.
At the moment I have not one, not two, but THREE books on the go. AND a play. The sequel to the Dawn Herald, the Shield Bearer, is laid out beyootifully in my imagination; just need to find the time to write it. It opens with A Quest. At the end of the Dawn Herald my bolshy heroine, Isolde, has had her memory stolen by the Faerie King, who intends to sell it off to the highest bidder. Isolde's loyal band of warriors have a month to find her before the Lady Lilith, queen of the Old Ones and a Jolly Bad Sort, obliterates the Third World and all the men and creatures on it. The Shield Bearer is Nat, who was one of few friends Isolde possessed during her turbulent youth (as a young Dawn Herald she was considered highly dangerous, as Heralds Shine brightly when confronted with evil and inadvertantly incinerate everyone and -thing in their immediate vicinity: not the best way to make friends and influence people). Isolde always had the sneaking suspicion that Nat might be vaguely personable if he were only taller, broader in the shoulder, tidier, had better hair, and didn't cut her down to size on every available opportunity.
By the time Isolde's memory is stolen, Nat has been trained in the arts of warfare and diplomacy, has filled out considerably in the shoulder region and has a excellent leg for a hunting boot. A natural leader of men, he is absolutely fearless. Some ten thousand words into The Shield Bearer, he and the warriors (including the Pirate King, an irrepressible rogue, Arielle, daughter of the Witch-Queen of Ira-Doon and Halliam, Isolde's father and deposed King of Gerena) have travelled into the Lands of Fire (which bear an uncanny resemblance to Istanbul, a place I know well, only considerably hotter) to seek out the lost Princess. They discover that she is being held captive by the Monster of the Depths, once the fairest bard in the whole of the Dawn Territories, now corrupt and hell-bent on destruction, and are about to have a jolly good battle with the Monster and his stone goblin minions. Unfortunately once they vanquish the Monster and invade his lair they find that the bird has flown... I'm really looking forward to writing the next part of the quest, in which Nat is imprisoned in Isolde's twin sister's imagination (she's gone doolally-tap or, as Terry Pratchett would have it, completely Bursar) and ages ten years overnight.
Obviously at some point Isolde will have to be rescued and her memory restored. But writing a Quest is jolly good fun. Reminds me of all the Arthurian tales I read in my youth.
Alas; must put creativity on one side. The washing up awaits....but at least I have the evening to look forward to, during which The Chap and I will probably read, argue gently about anything and everything, and sip contemplatively at a glass of fizz or three. Wonderful stuff.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Bores, Beowulf and the Like

I wrote a precis to Chameleonic not so long ago. My attempt at a Beowulfian (if that isn't a word, it should be) narrative:

“From the frame three faces stared down at him: man, man, woman sketched in sepia, age spotted. His ancestors, who fleeing from the wintered wastes of Tartary across the turbulent seas fell into the arms of pirates when their slim-stemmed boat, battered by a full-bellied wind drank water and sank into the darkness. They followed the sinking ship down, down into the black maw of the sea-mouth. And in the drowning darkness drifted. Then to the sky they turned swimming blindly up, up breaking through the icy sea-skin into the perilous night. Wrapped in the lace embrace of cresting waves they saw the firefly glint of lofted lanterns above the salt-trails. Arms raised like masts they called out to the light-bearers above the tempest’s roar. The skipper’s shout flew up into the icy air and the turning ship cut a combing arc through the tumbling sea. Two nets dipped deep and brought up man, man, woman from the wave-bowels. Man, man, woman lay on the deck dripping frozen beyond feeling. Pirate-men in silvered furs, eyebrows iced, surrounded them and swaddled them in seal skins. The Captain, black-giant frost-beard, pulled woman to her frozen feet and took her to the wooden ship’s warm heart. Gold boars bristled on his cheekpads: gold lions roared upon his fingers and his shadow was as big as a bear’s. He sat her in a rocking chair and from a flat flagon poured fiery fuel to melt her. At length the ice-white face flushed faintly and the ice-cold lips parted. With the first smile the Captain was lost in a love-web, his heart given to her through pulse-beating fingertips: beat, throb, beat. But her heart was given already to the land gods: not for her blue acres seeded with salt, wind-furrowed. Bowel-broken the crucified Captain left man, man, woman on a sea-arm flung into the Channel-mouth. Before them lay green hills crowned with coronals of wheat. A loveliness of larks soared—”

Which brings me on to bores. Because whatever merit this derivative foray into ancient literature may have, it breaks the boredom threshold of the average reader ten words in. In the spirit of trying to be modest, non-precious etc, I'm trying to keep my prose light. Buoyant. My characters winsome and interesting, rather than riddled by the kinds of Kenneth Williams-esque (if you haven't read his autobiography, approach it with the mental equivalent of cleansing wipes: the man was obsessed with his genitalia, which he managed to zip into his fly on a regular basis and then whinge about) problems we all try to escape by diving into the nearest work of literature. That being said, there are plenty of literary bores. Who has EVER finished The Famished Road? Or the Eye Of The Sun? Or War And Peace for that matter, the kind of brickish tome one takes virtuously on holiday and which subtly metamorphoses into a blockbuster with "Spy" in the title a few hours later?
Am also Trying To Be Good and not start scribbling down YET ANOTHER book whose plot has miraculously sprung up in my imagination. ('Wait until you get an advance,' noted The Chap austerely: all very well and good for HIM to say, but when inspiration strikes you can't really pen it behind a metaphorical door to liberate later. Like a hungry child, it needs to be fed and *now*). WWII. Young Russian soldier captured on the Eastern Front and sent to Dachau. Avoids being killed when he is befriended by the crippled wife of a German officer. After liberation, is interrogated as a collaborator back in Moscow. Anyone have a list of good resources whereby I can research what life was like for young Russians in the 30s/40s?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Another Day, Another Rejection...

This one, at least, was pleasant: a 'do-not-take-it-personally-and-your-writing-may-be-really-great-so-don't-think-there's-no-merit-in-it' etc. In fact, it was so pleasant that I can't even descend into nail-biting hair-tugging rage; it would be like slapping a kitten, kicking apart a dollhouse or similar. Nor did my lower lip wibble unbecomingly (I don't "do" crying). Still, there is a certain sense of inevitability when I receive an email from some agency or other. Not that I am in any way defeated by rejection; on the contrary, I adopt a do-or-die attitude (mantra: 'I *will* be a success, I *will*). And, of course, think of JK Rowling, Beatrix Potter and other literary luminaries who were rejected numerous times before anyone took more than a cursory look at their work.
This weekend, am going to get started on my chick lit. froth-book. Debating whether to set it in the Polo or Show Jumping world. A small prize to whomever can come up with a name for my heroine - the more improbable, the better.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Should I Bite The Bullet And...

write a chick lit. novel? Though I've registered my empathic disapproval of such non-literary endeavours, it would enable me to make a few necessary purchases: a manor house, a Steinway Grand, an Aston Martin Vanquish for The Chap, an oxygen tank for hangovers, etcetera. All one *really* needs to pen a frothy bestseller is an improbably-named heroine (Diamante, Taffeta, Chenille) who Works Her Way Up from a caravan park, Borstal or similar and wins the heart of a louche Argentinian polo player. Add diamonds, Pimms, champagne, a couple of arrests, Old Etonians, a lot of shopping, and - voila! It's a knotty dilemma: self respect or a hefty bank balance. It would also provide a little light relief, as writing about the clinically insane is beginning to make me foam at the mouth. Gah! Too many books to write, too little time in which to write them.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Preciousness, Petulance and So On

Humility is something that I am trying, slowly and painstakingly, to learn. It has been pointed out to me (quite forcefully) that when it comes to criticism of my writing, I am anything but humble. And this will be a great obstacle to my getting my books published, because if I can't accept it from The Chap, I'll have a hard time accepting it from those with zero tolerance for the hyper-artistic type. Well. (Deep breath.) I concede that on some points The Chap may well be right. The first of which is that I may, for the first time, actually have to plot a definite narrative trajectory to make my books' structure tight, coherent and engrossing. Difficult when one is accustomed (as I've mentioned before) to scribbling, as quickly as I can, a record of the events unfolding before my mind's eye.
So. At the moment I am charting, fairly painstakingly, a section that will be inserted into the middle of "Chameleonic". My beleaguered middle-class lady, Richenda, has done a bunk with her working-class lover Jack to the Continent. While there, she begins to descend into the madness which always threatens to engulf her, which she has spent a lifetime trying to conceal; blames her lover for all manner of ills both real and imagined, deserts him in the middle of France, and makes for home. On the way, she is picked up by the police for questioning about a murder committed before she did a bunk, the body that she and her lover discovered in the woods during one of their trysts. Terrified that she will be blamed for the murder of the woman attempting to blackmail her over incriminating photographs of Jack and her, Richenda betrays him in order to save her own skin. Yet in doing so, she is wracked with such overwhelming guilt that she loses her mind and is imprisoned behind sanatorium walls. And, in the meantime, her lover, accused of a murder he had not the capability to commit, has lost everything: the future he had planned with her, his past, his friends, his liberty and his livelihood. In the macrocosm of the wider world, the solitude of the village in which they lived has been shattered irrevocably by the elopment and the savage murder. Richenda's husband, Oliver, a cad who cannot bear to be cuckolded, does his best to see that Jack swings for his crime; her niece, Melanie, who has lived with them for years because her silly irresponsible mother is in the habit of decamping with her latest lover, has lost the love and affection of her aunt and all respect for her Uncle Oliver. Gala, crazed with jealousy after seeing Jack and Richenda together, takes to the bottle and shuts herself up in "La Belle Epoque", a virtual recluse; her sweet but weak little nephew, Carson, is obliged to take care of her.
The greatest difficulty in charting such emotional despair is not to descend into it myself, as I *am* my characters for as long as they persist. Must have plenty of Monty Python at the ready.
Thank you to those who have commented: I appreciate your support so very much.

Saturday, 10 July 2010


I'd like to tell you a little about my greatest achievement: a novel entitled "Chameleonic", a three part saga based loosely on The Divine Comedy. I wanted to examine the hypocrisy endemic in the English class system, particularly post-War: all that jovial 'we're in it together' melted away like snow, yet the outward trappings of camaraderie remained. You know: 'good morning, Mrs Lovell. How's Doris? Oh, good morning, Vicar. Yes, the plans for the church fete are going swimmingly.' And so on, whilst beneath the veneer of capability the ordinary middle-class lady, married to a cleanshaven chap who goes off to his office punctually at 8 each morning, returns at 5 in the expectation that slippers shall be warmed and little Bobby behaving himself, is a seething mass of rage, sexual frustration and despair. The ordinary middle-class lady whose husband is more shocked and disgusted not by the fact that she has had an affair, but that she has had an affair with a mere grocer. A woman who has dedicated her life to hiding her fragile mental state, holding on to her sanity by a thread, looking perpetually into the abyss: a state that her neighbours neither know nor care about, because it Just Isn't Done To Pry.
I set "Chameleonic" in a village on the south coast - deliberately leaving it nameless; I wanted to convey more the sense of the time in which my characters lived, rather than place, in order to make it applicable to all England. There's the usual selection of retired Brigadiers and Majors; also a healthy crop of dilettantes, the most outrageous of whom is Byron Stanton. He's married to Gala, a red-headed shrew with whom he has constant stand-up fights (viz. "As she passed by the self-consciously named “La Belle Époque”, Byron and Gala’s tottering cliff top house, the sound of distant shouting came to her ears. She stopped to listen. Above her somewhere a door burst open. ‘Bring me a kipper, anus!’ Byron bellowed.
‘How dare you call me that?’ screamed Gala from her tower room. Melanie could see the violent conflagration that was her hair from the lane below.
‘It means ‘old woman’, you fat ignoramus,’ Byron shouted.") Byron's favourite pastime is to pretend to be someone else: one day a cavalry officer, the next a Maharajah, the next Napoleon. He has a Dressing Up cupboard full of useful items to aid his metamorphoses: monocles for the Country Squire, sagging cardigans for the American Grandpa, togas for Nero, red braces for the Tycoon. He is also deeply unhappy, wandering Dante-like through the dark wood. As is Gala, poor Gala, who goes through life labouring under the impression that she is unloved; their tragic niece, Bella, who knows that if she is not flamboyant and outrageous no-one would take any notice of her, Bella's abandoned pink-eyed trembling son, Carson...
"Chameleonic" is not all doom and gloom, however. There is redemption, humour, unexpected joy and tenderness; the whole gamut of life. Love, too, that escapes the narrow confines of the society which seeks to bind people irrevocably to unquestioned notions of respectability.
"She watched the movement of his intense dark eyes, he felt her gaze and smiled suddenly; looked from one eye to another, lost in the complexity of colours. The clear, near translucent whites flushed a faint rose like the blushing wilderness sky before dawn. He remembered such dawns in France. When the pale landscape took on endless shades of milk-green with the changing light and lavender shadows slid across crimson rock. Remembered the sable fields streaked with gilt ribbons of gleanings, the bowed heads of sleeping sunflowers. And as the gleaming fire eye of the sun opened in the ivory sky and the deep blue of the heavens sank lie a veil towards the horizon, the sunflowers raised their golden faces expectantly. Encircling the landscape of her sight a black wall, perfect and unbroken. The territory within charted by archipelagos of light and deep green sounds, a map that drew the reader inexorably into the heart of her consciousness, the centre of the wheel. He looked upon her soul and found it glorious."
I can't wait to share "Chameleonic" with the world. Also its sequel, "Panopticon", a work in progress; difficult to write because it requires me to live a vast range of emotions through my characters. I average around 300 words a day. But if something's worth doing, it's worth doing well and taking time over. Far better 300 words of excellent prose than 3000 words of chick lit, for example...

Friday, 9 July 2010

Black Dog Days

If you ever fall into the slough of despond that I do on occasion, what I call a 'black dog day' when all I want to do is sit by the sea and watch waves cresting endlessly, writing for children is an excellent pick-me-up. What other pastime allows you to break the laws of physics in a variety of creative ways and see the multiverse in a way usually only achievable by ingesting large quantities of LSD? My first children's novel, The Dawn Herald, is set on a bowl-shaped world cupped in the boughs of a universal tree. It is populated by two-headed men, talking Squirrels, Sky Pirates and their crews of Sea Rats, Hares in scarlet jackets which splutter so abysmally when they speak that one must put up an umbrella or risk being drenched, angels, rulers descended from fallen angels and fallen stars, and my two favourite characters of all: Isolde, princess of Gerena and the protector of the great Sky Goddess, and the Karabu:

"The karabu was one of Isolde’s few friends and her partner in crime. A fiery chariot with the heads of a lion, man, ox and eagle at each corner whose upstretched wings formed a shady canopy, it had borne The Almighty Creator from place to place on a very different world in the days of the prophets. However, it had taken a wrong turning in the desert and fallen through an interdimensional door, landing with a crash in the middle of the Palace’s Bee Garden to the astonishment of the King and Queen at the time. At first wildly popular due to its unique appearance and ability to harmonise with itself in song, it had lately been retired by Orochthiel, head angel of the Infinite Library, on the grounds that it was too old-fashioned. The karabu was not enjoying retirement. It refreshed its sixteen heads frequently from a bucket of wine and hiccupped."

After an act of spectacular perfidy by the Regent of Isolde's kingdom, Gerena, Isolde goes on the run with the karabu and thirteen angels. There are battles galore, creatures of darkness, and unexpected allies found in the shape of Mordial-King, Perfectly Round Monarch and Ruler of Territories both Real and Imagined whose country, Yorsin D'Oc, regular gets up and wanders away depending on the weather. I'm beavering away on the sequel, the Shield Bearer. Any advice from those who have successfully placed children's books with agents?

Monday, 5 July 2010

The Trials and Tribulations of the Unpublished Author

This blog will henceforth be dedicated to my ongoing attempts to get my books published. Political rants, when I feel sufficiently irate (unusual, given that we've got the government I've been praying for for the last five years, even with the LibDems orbiting St David of Cameron) can be found over on marasunamusings, however, will be a daily (or thrice weekly, depending on how the mood takes me) chronicle of what it is to write - and to be rejected.
Writing is the easy part. Also a necessity. If I am prevented from scribbling down my thoughts, I descend into uncontrollable melancholy/rage. I can't sit and plan out what I'm going to write, as if I were trying to produce a 1st class Tripos essay. It is rather as though I'm watching a film, the salient details of which I must record before they are lost forever. But, at the same time, I am my characters: young and old, male and female, I become them. When I write them, I speak through their lips, descend into the darkest depths of their psyche and out of the abyss; yet, simultaneously, they are entirely distinct from me and the dearest of friends. I know them better than anyone on earth. If one of them dies, I am distraught.
Writing is an endless joy. I refuse to cease until I've used up all my words. But it is a process of immense betrayal also. One uses the interesting parts of friends' and loved ones' characters and discards the rest. Their innermost thoughts, secrets, pain, all becomes grist for the mill, translated by a traitorous pen into a gripping narrative in a world that would otherwise not take interest. One's moral compass is always pointed Due Self-Interest. It also offers a satisfactory vehicle for vengeance. If someone has irritated one for a long period of time, one can immortalise them. Exegi monumentum and all that.
Being published is an entirely different cup of tea. Learning to commodotize oneself is appallingly different, if not morally and philosophically suspect. Picking up the telephone with sweating hands to call an agent in order to see if they're interested in reading one's stuff, only to have them bang it down with a tart 'no', receiving rejections with such lines as 'your work isn't suited to the talents in our agency' (say what??? Anyone who can decipher what on earth that means wins a Prize) or 'this really isn't one for our list', the 'really' heavily underscored, is a tremendous blow to one's amour propre. It is difficult to ascertain whether the agents play Jenga with unread manuscripts and only flick through those which land at their feet, or whose title starts with 'A', or if they are even bothering to take on new works (but haven't bothered to say as much on their websites). Or is it merely a case of not What You Know but Whom You Know?

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Who Did *You* Vote For In The Scramble For No10, Daddy?

From my customary prone position I am goggling at Nick Clegg's shameless two-timing of the Tory and Labour parties (were one's chap to behave in such a dishonourable fashion, he would be fired via trebuchet into the North Sea posthaste). The Kingmaker, whose Cheshire Cat grin is becoming more pronounced by the day, is bossing around both the parties to get the entirely unwanted constitutional reform he claims the nation 'deserves'. Doesn't he realise that he came last? And that those who voted for the Tories (or for those way back in second place, that vile excrescence on the buttcheek of the nation's politics) Oppose PR? Despise PR? Have absolutely no interest in PR whatsoever?
PR is what Clegg craves, and PR is what we've got. The nation should take its head out of its orifice and have a good hard look at the mess we're in - the backroom meetings, dodgy deals, endless non-statements and fluff news (sorry, Mr The BBC, but 'his car's just pulled up' is neither interesting nor relevant to, well, *anything*), financial markets yoyoing around the stratosphere and absolutely nothing getting done. The election wasn't fought on PR. It was fought on the battleground of providing economic stability. PR guarantees the opposite. Yet nonetheless the Cheshire Cat forges on, touting his wares indiscriminately, in order to drive the final nail through the crumbling coffin of parliamentary politics.
The Tories lost by only 16,000 votes. Not a great deal, it must be said. It is perfectly reasonable for Mr Cameron to form a minority government, were Brown not so despicably dishonourable that he refuses, leach- or squatter-like, to budge from No10, and is offering his resignation on a platter to the LibDems John the Baptist style. To all intents and purposes, the Tories came out on top. Now, the party that the majority of the country voted for faces having to stand in ignominy on the wrong side of the House and to deal with the insanity of a LibLab coalition. I can only hope that should such a dreadful thing come to pass, the lefties will make such a dog's dinner of UK politics that when another election rocks up in six months, they'll be sent into the wilderness for a few decades. Alas that so many jobs, so much industry, and so much more of this blessed England's history would be destroyed in the meantime.

Friday, 7 May 2010

The Balance Of Power

The plummeting markets have been stayed a little by Cameron's statesmanlike pronouncements on a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Voting reform shall be a tricky issue, difficult to navigate through; yet Cameron's pledge to make the number of voters per seat equal while retaining the past-the-post system is eminently sensible. Additionally his pledges to do away with the dreaded ID card scourge, not handing over power to the EU and shoring up our defences are extremely attractive. Will Brown make way, though, once the Cons/LibDem alliance has been forged? As John Major delicately pointed out, Brown's behaviour is less than dignified; he reminds one of a child that has spat its biscuit and wants it back. The comparison between he and Cameron is a laughable one. The next twenty-four hours should be very interesting indeed.

Crash and Burn

Having taken a prolonged leave of absence from blogging due to the tiresome ramblings of a socialist witterer* on each of my posts which filled me with so much ire I nearly shot my Mac, I feel the diabolical catastrophe that was last night's election bloodbath requires some comment. 1). If you voted for BNP or UKIP, you're a tonker. Not only because you're either a far-left extremist who considers Mein Kampf essential holiday reading or because you think for a second the EU will relax its tentacles because Lord Pearson of Rannoch has asked them to nicely, but because you've shored up the Labour vote. By denying seats to the Conservatives (or even the LibDems, at a pinch: despite their Obamania, support for the Euro etc they are at least LIBERAL). 2) If you voted for Labour, you're a tool. The last 13 years have been so insufferably vile, so filled with spin, counterspin, doublespin, backbiting, barefaced lies, financial ruin, Nannyism, snooping, deliberate uncontrolled immigration in the name of 'multiculturalism', 'diversity', 'equality', a monstrous welfare state, surveillance and Ed Balls that only windowlickers and their ilk can possibly find anything good to say about the Labour party. 3) Cameron could have been a lot stronger; he should have taken the gloves off and let his opposite number have it. Gentlemanlike behaviour, though terribly laudable, is not what is required here. Blowing up Brown (in a metaphorical sense, of course) *is*. There is so much that could have been pointed out about the malevolent meglomaniac currently hanging on to the doorframe of No10 and strenuously resisting any attempt to dislodge him - but wasn't. C- for effort.
Rather than sit about and watch the economy tank, I'm off to the pub. I may be some time.

*at least I think he was a socialist. Certainly a witterer. Either way, a pain in the arse.
Life is to be lived, not controlled, and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat -Ralph Ellison