Happy Birthday, Mr Dahl.

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it
Roald Dahl.

It is far beyond my capability to say anything about the man, his life or his work that hasn’t been said already; but the idea of allowing this day to sail past without marking it in some way didn’t sit quite right with me.

To say this man influenced my writing would be more than a slight understatement. It would be more accurate to say that the entire idea of trying to put words together to try and form something coherent from the odd walks that my mind takes would never have entered my head at all without his work.  Quite apart from that, until fairly recently I found it  difficult to communicate with people my own age, and for about three years when I was a child I didn’t really feel like I had anything to say to anyone, and that the things I did say were the wrong ones. I spent a great deal of that time making medicine with George and hanging out with giant grasshoppers and watching the Twits torture each other. I’ll never be able to repay my debt to Roald Dahl, but my own writing is, in part, an attempt to thank him.

An awful lot of people struggle to externalize what happens within their imaginations and an awful lot more don’t think that their imaginations are worth the effort. Well I’m sure Roald Dahl, and certainly myself, think that the world needs a little more magic so take a leaf out of one of the storyteller-in-chief’s many, many books and have a go.

 

Somehow it feels fitting to share a (very short) extract from my own book, inspired by my time wandering around in Roald Dahl’s head;

“His mind could still reach for the reverie that had lead him to drink the rain and he had found himself retreading the same path more than once in the time since, his journeys through the clouds in particular sustained him during the solitude and he had allowed his mind to wander much further than his body ever would. Exotic lands like Cambodia, so far from the reach of his steam powered legs, were no issue for his imagination. The heights of the Himalayas had been scaled, and he had partaken recklessly in the continued destruction of the Palaces of Montezuma and the city of Pompeii. His limited frame of physical reference created no barrier to Arnold’s mind and as he walked he once again allowed himself to relax and reach towards the clouds that directed him, conversing in a language that made no sound and had no real form and becoming himself weightless once more.”

Please note that the image at the head of this post is the work of an extremely talented artist I’m lucky enough to spend my life with, Jessica Arrowsmith Stanley, (JazzStan)  whose beautiful work is available here.

Stay magic.

Advertisements

Book Review; The Hundred Year Old Man…

I recently dealt with what I really hate to refer to as ‘writer’s block’ for the first time. I really hate that phrase. For me it just conjurs up this kind of beret wearing, nicotine stained Greenwich village tortured-genius-beat-poet image that I really struggle to equate myself with.

That is of course reductive and dismissive but this is my blog and I’ll be insensitive whensoever the mood takes me thank you!

 

Pictured; not me

Pictured; not me

Anyway, it has been suggested by much better minds than mine that one way to make sure that your brain keeps working, and that your words come back to you, is to get stuck into as many books as can hold your attention and in that spirit I recently tracked something down that I’ve been meaning to read for some time now. I have a slight confession to make at the beginning of this, because this will by no means be my last book review.

I buy my books from charity shops. There are several reasons for this, not least that whenever I take it upon myself to support my local book retailers, which everyone with an interest in literature should do, I end up spending far too much money or else limiting myself to one book and inevitably putting too much pressure on it and getting a little disappointed.

I also like the fact that my wildly untamed book habit is in the hands of strangers, and that leads to some real turn ups for the, ah, you see where that’s going. SO, before I lose the run of my thought process entirely I would like to discuss The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.

First, the obvious. That is one of the best titles you’re likely to come across. People may stand where they wish on the matter of extended titles, and some of them are undeniably horrific.  But, for those of us who are not blessed with that mid 20th century American mastery of the short sentence, of breaking someone’s heart in three words, then why not have fun? There is no attempt to be serious anywhere within this book, which considering it starts with the eponymous 100 year old man stealing from the youngest member of a biker gang and moves swiftly on to recount the death of both of his parents, his incarceration and his state ordered castration, is quite some feat.

The main thing that comes across with this book is how absolutely in love with his own creation the author his, and so he should be. It reads as though Jonas Jonasson was in tears laughing at himself as he found the most ridiculous prism he could think of to look at some of the many and varied political and social conflicts that defined global culture in the 20th century. He sets his stall out early, Allan Karlsson the protagonist doesn’t care about politics, religion, family or idealism of any kind. As a reader we are given motivation for this state of affairs early and succinctly and asked to move on. The author worked as a journalist, and a very successful television producer before living what I would guess is the dream of more than a few of us, selling up and buggering off to some beautiful nowhere to work on his book.

The complete idealistic detachment he allows himself, through the perspective of his main character, means that Jonasson can get right up close to everything from the Spanish Revolution to the Korean War without actually taking a position on anything.

Without wishing to get into the finer details of plot and narrative and make myself sound like a fool I will leave you with a strong recommendation to read this book. As a flight of fancy, an excercise in imagination and, this is the kicker, a thoroughly researched and informative look at recent history even despite its obvious fiction this is probably unique in my own experiences. I wouldn’t suggest there is nothing like this out there, but certainly nothing I’ve read. If the personality and pulp sci-fi touches were stripped from Slaughterhouse 5 then maybe they might be distant cousins but that’s all that comes to mind. Finally, always a bonus in the lives we live, because let’s face it no-one gets enough reading time these days, it’s episodic, picaresque structure means that you can pick it up whenver you get twenty minutes for as long as it takes to get the thing read.

What are you waiting for?

BADPOET; Arbitrary

BADPOET is a project I started playing around with about a year ago now, the basic idea is, that while I have the utmost respect for poetry as a medium and even more so for the practitioners that can use it to express themselves, I am and always have been a pretty bad poet. This then, is my way of embracing my undoubted and inescapable flaws as a writer. I generally use these as short detours when my mind is wondering away from Strangetown. After all, I am of the firm belief that if your mind wants to wander then you should always let it, you never know what it might bring back. Anyway, this is the first in my collection of bad poems.

*ahem*

Arbitrary

In an attempt to write
bad poetry
Is it possible to
Stumble upon something
to be enjoyed?

Although I feel I have
A grasp of stanzas
I have sometimes suspected
in hands such as mine
that the customary
breaks in the line
are somewhat
arbitrary.

Earnin’ and Learnin’

Every now and again you come across something on the web that makes you think;

“WHY THE BLOODY HELL DO I HEAR ABOUT IT THREE DIFFERENT WAYS EVERY TIME ANY OF THE KARDASHIANS SNEEZES BUT I’M ONLY JUST HEARING ABOUT THIS!?”

Well, this was one of those moments. Y’see it won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that ‘knowledge is power’ is not just a cute quote that is vaguely connected to ol’ Franny Bacon, but is also an inescapable fact. Knowing more stuff than a given person will give you an advantage, personally, creatively, professionally. But we’re always hearing about cuts in education budgets and rising tuition fees and even for those of us in a position to commit to full time education its still a massive risk. I, for example, could regale you at length about Baudrillard‘s distinctly dim views about Disneyland but, and this is the clincher, no-one has ever expressed even the slightest inclination that they might want me to do that. The point I’m dancing around is that long-form vocational education is being made more and more impractical. So what’s the answer?

Well, at least part of it is provided by FutureLearn. This is an astonishing online service providing free, that’s free, short courses, most of the ones I’ve seen ask for around 16-20 hours of your time over four weeks, and you can do anything on there. I’ve signed up for two digital marketing courses that are starting in a few weeks and in the attached forum areas, one 40 year old mother of two has spent her summer learning Spanish and Forensic Psychology. For free. I really can’t say that bit enough. A few of the courses also offer official accreditation and certification to allow you to throw some paperwork around if the situation calls for it. This site is, I really and truly cannot stress enough, free of charge.

Elsewhere and a bit closer to home for the writers among us there are a few more sites that I’ve turned up that are more that a little bit useful.

-First up Aerogramme Writer’s Studio, a site dedicated to promoting news, writing tips and resources of all shapes and sizes, including fairly regular round-ups of magazines, journals and sites that are accepting submissions. If you’re looking to get your name around and gain a bit of exposure, make this one of your first ports of call!

Christopher Fielden, along the same lines, with a more personal touch, I have to admit to knowing very little about the man himself and have only used his site sparingly, but there has been a wealth of relevant information, his short story submission database in particular is a really breathtaking piece of work. I can only imagine the hours he may have put into something that complete. More power to him.

The Manchester Review, this, and the name may be a slight giveaway here, is a literary journal currently accepting submissions both fiction and non-fiction. The main thing to be said about it is that is very, very cool and in that respect getting your name seen by this crowd and furthermore their subscribers and followers will do you absolutely no harm.

Educate yourself citizens, it’s jungle out there.

In Conversation With; Isabelle Sudron

Moving forwards, to make sure that this isn’t just a blog full of me blathering about my own work and to provide a wider perspective on the weird and wonderful world of writing I will be pestering various literary types into answering some questions for the delight and betterment of all.

First up; Isabelle Sudron, a young lady that I met at University who, in an apparent contravention of the laws of physics, has a smile bigger than her whole head. Please take the time to check out her undeniably snazzy website HERE or indeed HERE before reading our hard-hitting expose on the life of an aspiring children’s author.

 

Writing Strange Give us a little background on yourself. What was the moment it clicked that you’re a writer and what are your ambitions moving forwards?

Isabelle Sudron I’ve always written stories and poems but I never really considered myself a writer. I felt silly calling myself a writer when I mostly just sit in a room alone, type some words, delete said words, and start again. Then, somewhere along the line, my definition of a ‘good day’ became measured by how much writing I got done. That’s when I thought, ‘I guess I’m a writer now!’
And, in terms of my ambitions, I’d just like to write for a living everyday – that’s the dream!

WS What are you working on at the moment, how far along are you?

IS I recently finished writing my first children’s book, Olive in the Heights, and it’s now in the hands of a number of lovely beta readers. So, right now, I’m waiting in fear for feedback. The next step is making a few final tweaks to my manuscript (I hope) and then harassing literary agents across the land!

WS What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your career and how did you do it?

IS A few years ago, I quit my job, moved back home and took an unpaid internship to get some experience in storytelling. My employer was a nightmare – think Miss Trunchbull meets administration – and at the end of two months of hard work, she assured me that I wouldn’t make it as a writer. So, I was unemployed, inexperienced and apparently talentless too. I felt pretty low and I spent a long time struggling to decide whether to prove ol’ Trunchbull wrong or throw in the towel. There was lots of soul searching, feeling sorry for myself and comfort eating. But, eventually, I decided I had nothing to lose. I got myself a part-time job and I focused all my spare time on writing a book.
Although that felt like a pretty rough milestone in my career, it’s probably also what kickstarted it. Thank goodness for the real-life Trunchbulls, eh?

WS When and how did you decide to produce work for a younger audience, do you have any particular influences?

IS As a reader, I don’t think I’ve ever really grown out of children’s books. I love the fact that anything and everything can happen, characters can be eccentric and plots can be so random. And as a writer, I love the fact that children are willing to suspend their disbelief for a great story. I feel like that creates so many more possibilities for writing. My main influence has to be Philip Ridley, he is my absolute writing Yoda! His books have eccentric characters and unusual plots, all while being set in average neighbourhoods that lots of kids actually live in. I still read his books when I need a bit of inspiration (and sometimes just for fun too).

WS Is there anything you’ve learned in the course of your efforts that you think of as being particularly useful to people in a similar position?

IS For me, planning is essential. Yes, it can be boring and frustrating, but it shaves so many hours off editing. The most useful resource I’ve found, in terms of story planning, is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and his ‘beat sheets’. Although they’re intended for screenwriters, I’ve still found them really useful. Another important thing I’ve learnt is that you don’t necessarily need to be a good writer to be a good storyteller. In the words of Elmore Leonard, “Write the book the way it should be written, then give it to somebody to put in the commas and shit.”

WS And just to be mean, what are your three favourite pieces of writing?

IS That is such a difficult question! I’d have to go for:
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and
Mighty Fizz Chilla by Philip Ridley.
I like books where you really get to see the characters grow and these three books do just that!

the man who could not smile (iii)

The third and final installment of the man who could not smile, then, in which our hero listens to the news and unexpectedly meets a young lady.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks I’ll be trying to edit this and get it published, so stay tuned for news of any platforms accepting original short-form creative writing and my spirited attempts to badger them into submission.


I mulled these various pieces of information over in my mind as I read an essay about the rapid rise in popularity of courgette ribbons and its effect on various heartlands of the agricultural mediterranean meanwhile miles davis broke down musical barriers in the background and I indulged in a bottle of mencia that a local wineseller assured me was a fantastic expression of a little known grape and which, while I had learned that he spoke on these matters with some authority, tasted to me like a generic dry spanish white wine and was therefore hugely overpriced

at some point I suppose I fell asleep because my watch, which I can no longer enthuse about but which rather charmed me when I initially paid a swiss artisan to hand make it, told me that it was 9:30 am, about two and a half hours before my appointment

the morning news informed me that world was still an astonishingly violent and seemingly irredeemable place as I brushed my teeth.

The weatherman informed me that the weather was unseasonably something or other as I quietly reflected that if the weather was unseasonable all the year round then maybe it was time to sack the weatherman and polished my shoes

the sports report told me of fantastic achievement and of unfathomable heartbreak as I tousled my hair

the watch told me it was time to get into my stylishly understated german saloon car, it being well know that sports cars are the preserve of dickheads and footballers, and leave in order to arrive for my appointment an hour earlier, the better to make the receptionist feel extremely uncomfortable with unnecessarily intense eye contact, a technique that has served me well over the years

after filling in the relevant paperwork I was seated on a wine red leather couch and presented with a passable cortada

I sat forward in my chair, making myself appear as uncomfortable as possible, and tried to lock eyes with the receptionist only to find my view blocked by a woman who was herself filling in paperwork

anatomically correct,
stylistically astute,
personally aloof,
I disliked her instantly.

Moreso when she ordered a double macchiato, a much more on trend caffeinated beverage than my own choice

I said a crude word aloud to myself

She informed me that she hadn’t quite heard me, although I knew she had

I informed her that it wasn’t important

Her disdain was obvious, the same her boredom, she asked me why I was there

I informed her that I could feel no joy

She reminded me that she wasn’t the therapist

I protested that she had asked

She told me she was sick of yp’s bitching about their insecurities

I told her that my position in life allowed me to sample the best of everything and that I didn’t really like any of it

She laughingly informed me that the things I was told to want were made by people like me, whereas she was being sold things by people thought woman was a marketing demographic

I told her that making money to spend on things I didn’t want meant that I only needed more money to buy more things I didn’t want

She told me that, since I was in a position to afford things, I should shut the fuck up about material satisfaction

I told her that the proliferation of impossible ideals meant that I could no longer feel an attraction to a real woman and that pornography had ceased to arouse me years ago

She howled with laughter, and said that because of a lack of seating she had found herself on top of a washing machine as an adolescent and that no man had ever made her feel nearly the same way

at that point I was called into the therapist’s office, wherein I remember nothing other than developing a nosebleed.

The beluga sturgeon is a breed of fish that has existed, relatively unchanged, since dinosaurs inhabited the planet

the fish themselves don’t produce eggs until they have reached maturity, which can take up to twenty years

these eggs are then used to produce Almas Caviar and sold at an astonishing price

I was seated in my customary table in the corner of the restaurant and, having ordered Almas Caviar, asked to speak to the chef

His caviar, I told him, lacked a little flavour

He informed me that his food was so well regarded that he had recently been approached about being the subject of a feature length documentary

I told him that, if you looked for it, you could probably find a documentary about status quo

he asked me why I insisted on disparaging his culinary efforts

I explained to him that as his best friend, it fell upon me to be honest

He assured me that he was better acquainted with several people

Regardless, I said with the disdainful gaze of the woman from the waiting room on my mind, I’d like you to know that I think I may have met someone.

Julian, said the chef, I really don’t care.

Strange Songs

Now, as anyone involved in any kind of creative pursuit will tell you, getting yourself a soundtrack together can be one of the most important elements and you can spend hours and hours trying to find the right noise to work to. With that in mind, I’d like to present a playlist I’ve been putting together for a few months. There’s a little bit of pretty much everything, although I’ve tried to avoid the heavier side of things, this is basically an allweather kind of thing, at 22 hours or so, you’ll be needing your skip button for some of it, but it might save you a little time. I also update it three or four times a week so if you like anything you hear then check back every now and again…

Press here for noise!

NOTE; its a Spotify playlist, not trying to plug one service over another, I’m just much too lazy to shop around the competitors.