LITERARY ARMAGEDDON POSTPONED

Photo credit: Pierre J. on Visualhunt

I was in the village on Tuesday enquiring about the possibility of using a local community space for hosting a writers group, either the local one I am already with or another one I may start. I haven’t fallen out with the existing group but we lost the library space we used due to a combination of Covid and refurbishment at the library and we now meet in person half as often as we did, six miles away. I would like to meet in the place we are named after and within walking distance.

I found the person who runs the space and we were talking about checking availabilities and options for meeting there and it transpired that they do not have a website, they rely on Facebook. Facebook is possibly great for many things (I say that in an attempt to appear reasonable – it isn’t.) but it is lousy as a resource for finding information easily. I try and follow hobby sites and forums that have moved exclusively onto that platform and they may be immediate and simple to post on, but retrieving something you remember seeing two months ago is like trying to track down a work from the Great Library of Alexandria for all its accessibility now.

What has that got to do with writing? It reinforced a feeling that social media platforms are ousting web based information. Later that day I forgot and clicked on a link I have had stored for some years but rarely bother visiting now. I would visit more often, it remains interesting and informative, but it is moribund. As soon as I saw the landing page with its reminder that this site is no longer being updated I remembered why I hadn’t visited for some time. They still welcome you with open arms and invite you in to look around and enjoy the thoughts, links and celebration of the short story form. But one can’t help but notice that things like the ‘Lit Mags’ list is out of date.

I suppose part of the reason it is not longer being updated is that a source like ShortstopsUK is going to need constant attention if it is to remain relevant. The turnover in magazines has been huge and while solid stalwarts of the trade like ‘Granta’, ‘Ambit’, ‘Confingo’ and ‘The Fiction Desk’ are still going strong, the threat to many outlets old and new is highlighted in what remains of the lists in Shortstops. The number of titles, print and online, paying and not, bearing the dreaded red ‘CLOSED’ letters after their contact details is high. And trying to click on through many of the others reveals how even this annotated list is now inaccurate.

The site stopped being updated after January 2022 and the tumbleweed is beginning to roll through. I find this a real shame as I found it a very useful place to keep in touch with what was coming and going and who was rising and where to find them. It was of course also a very useful source of titles to place work.

Go and have a look, and if you are a social media user fear not, they maintain a twitter feed at https://twitter.com/shortstopsuk  which appears to include at least some of the features I found useful on the website. The Call for Submissions which collated magazines open periods for submissions and prizes and the like seems to slide in as one off tweets here and there, which may be okay, but is a nightmare to backtrack through from what I can see. I say ‘from what I can see’ because I am not tweeted up and twitter now blocks access after a couple tweets through and tries to force you to join to see more. I have a very oppositional nature and confrontational temperament so my main reaction is a string of expletives even if it does make life a lot harder.

I immediately wrote a piece about the demise of the web page and the takeover of social media. And then I had a thought; was this right? Had the web resource for writers disappeared to be replaced by an inefficient, short attention span social media storm? Or was I just being lazy? Me? Lazy!?

I started searching for writers/authors’ websites, blogs, fora. Sure enough the lists of lists popped up, 50 best sites for… etc. I picked https://www.scribendi.com/academy/articles/best_writing_websites.en.html for trial purposes, principally on the basis it had only 30 sites to check which suits my laziness/tight schedule but gives me more to chew on than ‘top 5’.

There are still lots of writers resources online so I can stop, for the moment, writing my ‘We’re all doomed!’ article (shame I like a good panic story) and look at what is out there.

It is worth noting first off that the list is two years out of date, but whilst three links were dead and a couple have morphed into related writing forms, the list seemed remarkably active.

This may be because most of them have commercial aims or at least spin offs – the number of free guides, booklets, newsletter was high but as I didn’t click through I can’t say how many led to pay-for classes, courses, books, guides etc. At least a few, because I did see several with links to content to buy, and there is a fair percentage of commercial outlets involved in this list. Two at least were part of a self publishing outfit.

There were hints in several that there were links to actual outlets for work, but none of them had that as their aim. The list was divided into ‘Advice’, ‘Lifestyle’, ‘Marketing and Blogging’, ‘Publishing’, ‘Writing Inspiration/Prompts’. There was a lot of overlap and in some cases I found it hard to understand why the link was in a particular category, but this was probably because bloggers had changed tack.

The general feeling was one of slick professionalism. Why did that feel worrying? There was a sense of glibness and a feeling a lot of them had been through the same course on how to sell a blog and that indeed a fair few were selling more for cash. That didn’t stop many having good, solid, engaging and interesting content. My reaction may be a Brit thing, I am naturally suspicious of surface glamour and glitz. The white bread may have a superficial promise of soft tastiness but I prefer a chewy wholemeal granary myself. And that is what Shortstops felt like to me compared with many of these sites. It had grit and maybe you had to work through a bit more, but I didn’t feel like I was being sold a snazzy looking confection that was a triumph of appearance over substance. Is that harsh on these sites? Probably and I would recommend having a look rather than taking my word for it.

It is probably part of my feeling that the web itself has lost its way in becoming part of the advertising industry it and commercial world it tried to subvert initially.

Still! Good news, there are writers and authors sites out there. I don’t have to sell my soul to the Metaverse or Twitter just yet.

[PS Not a natural Luddite:  Computer user programming Basic 1982, IBM mainframe TSO user 1984, PC and internet user since 1996. Smartphone Refusenik since forever!]

SAD LOSS

I heard at the beginning of the week that Ray Edwards has died from an infection acquired in hospital having been admitted with Covid.

It is unlikely that you will know Ray, and your life will have been the poorer for that. He wasn’t a great literary genius or a famous politician or a celebrity. He was simply a great human being.

I knew Ray through a Writers group and through helping proof read his autobiography ‘Lucky Me!’.(available here)

It was a privilege to know Ray and to help him in however small a way to realise one of his dreams; setting his life story down on paper. He wrote sensitively about his childhood and his family which held one of those secrets that could, perhaps should, have come from the pages of a novel rather than the beginning chapter of an amusing kind and sensitive man.

Whatever difficulties life threw at him, and he had his share and more, he overcame them and bought a smile to the faces of those around him. He turned this gift of compassion and human understanding to counselling work after his engineering career was over.

He used his experiences, growing up near Caerphilly, in the RAF and as an engineer with British Airways, and his natural interest in people to fuel a burst of writing enthusiasm which entertained, amused and entranced those who heard and read his stories. It is a great sadness that he has gone before he could have developed more fully the promise he showed.

He leaves his wife, Rosemary to whom I offer my deepest condolences at her loss and to whom I offer my thanks for loaning him to us at Writers every week.

He will be deeply missed.

NOT ZOOMING OFF JUST YET

 

In my post ‘Mumbling’ last week I mentioned a possible virtual meeting of a Writers Group I belong to. It seemed, and still seems like a good idea to me. Except. There’s usually an except isn’t there?

The basic idea was to use Zoom, which has had a massive uptake in the time since self isolation, social distancing, ‘lockdown’ (there’s a perfectly good word already people! -‘Quarantine’, without resorting to ugly neologisms). I have heard bad things about Zoom from a privacy/security angle, though. There are other video conference call systems available but none are without problems and drawbacks. The issue seems, as usual, at root  to be about money. If you want a system for free, it doesn’t exist. You may not realise you are paying for it or what you are paying to whom but there really are no free lunches and if you insist on one you’re very probably going to get more than you bargained for.

Some work only on Apple – you are already paying a premium for the name. Some on existing platforms/systems – Google, Facebook – bye bye data; some have interesting issues about what might be downloaded alongside, and some are very reluctant to let you go once they have you, and have even been known to leave bits of the software behind in case everyone wants to be friends again later, and maybe more.

So am I a luddite?

I started using computers in the 80s. Bought my first one c1981- 1Kb RAM! Expanded it to 16k – madness! And been messing about with them ever since – bit slow off the marks on the net – 1996 – and have been slowing down ever since as I realised the genie was out of the bottle and I couldn’t keep track of everything that was happening with logarithmic expansion of systems. Basic and DOS was no longer going to cut it!

So maybe not a luddite, but warily out of date, probably.

I’ll keep looking for a trade off between availability/affordability and security/privacy I’m happy with but in the meantime I’m going to be relying on carrier pigeons, emails and blogging to stay in touch.

Nobody needs to spend their day looking at my ugly mug anyway.

Photo credit: <a href=”https://visualhunt.co/a4/b4beb5″>bcymet</a&gt; on <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re6/781b18a3″>Visualhunt.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”&gt; CC BY-NC</a>

2026: KEEP SAFE YEAH?

Last week a member of a writers group I attend set an exercise for the group even though we aren’t meeting at the moment. It was to write a piece of about a thousand words on the idea of a ‘prediction’ six years post Covid. He provided a first phrase: ‘It was year PV 0007…’ which I have taken to heart but left out. What follows is most certainly not a prediction, but rather an irreverent imagining of what might happen if government of the UK fractured under the strain. I apologise for the ‘patois’ I’m bound to have got things ‘wrong’, but remember this is the future so I am ‘right’ after all!

 

2026

Somewhere in South London

Evening.

 

The man with the gun let Hancks into the room.

‘Wotcha Spango, awright?’Hancks said.

‘Wotcha? Wotcha? Nobody’s said Wotcha since forevs. Like before the Cov. What the effin ell’s up with you?’

‘Lightening the mood bruv, innit?’ Hancks said, hanging his head and avoiding eye contact.

‘Want it darker fam, like white dark.’

‘S’up with Spango?’

‘Brickin it inne?’

‘Fuck off Nods.’ Spango said, checking himself in a mirror.

‘Why? S’only a vlog post.’

‘Cos,’ said Nods, ‘e’s been on the Spice and e’s still all wavey.’

‘Where’d  you get that Spangs?’

‘Treasury, they got loads man.’ Nods said.

‘I ain’t been takin nuffink you nob.’ Spango rolled his shoulders. ‘Need to be tight’

‘S’a vlog post. You can do it again you get it wrong. S’not live.’

‘Why in’t he doin it live.’ Hancks asked.

‘Cos e’s bricking it.’

‘Fuck off you great wazza.’ Spango punched Nods. ‘S’important. People gotta trust me. Gotta be done right.’

Nods nodded and fiddled with the controls on the console.

‘And he wants music and effects.’

‘Oooh! Get ‘er!’

Spango stuck a finger up at Hancks.

‘Shut it right. I’m going to do it now. Okay Nods?’

‘Yeah go in three, two, one.’ He pointed a finger at Spango who began to speak.

‘People of South England. Good evening, I…’

‘E can’t say that.’ Hancks whispered at an enormous volume.

‘What the f…’ Spango exploded.

Nods toggled a switch and shook his head.

‘It’s a vlog innit?’ Hancks said.

‘I know it’s a fucking vlog. So effin what? I haven’t said anything yet.’ Spango screeched.

‘You said “Good evening”. What if they’s watching in the afternoon?’

Nods creased up laughing.

‘It doesn’t matter when they watch it. It’s evening now innit? It’s when it’s made counts.’ Spango explained.

‘I’d think it was well weird the Prime Minister saying “Evening” in the middle of the day, me. I’d think you’d lost it bro.’

‘Well nobody’s arxing you is they? So shut it yeh.’ Spango looked at Nods. ‘Need it from the top or run on is it?’

‘Just read man, I’ll splice it.’

Spango looked into the webcam again. ‘And you interrupt again I’ll have you office spaced you twattin bozak.’

Hancks sneered but shut up.

Nods did the three two one bit again and Spango went on.

‘I am speaking to you tonight to let you all know that my cabinet and I is thinking about letting you all out a bit. We have had only a few deaths this last week and we knows you is all cooped up and that. It is like six months since we let people out without offing anyone if they went out so we think it’s worth a shot.’

Spango took a breath and looked at Nods and Hancks. ‘Okay?’ he mouthed. They gave him a thumbs up. ‘That was bangin, Bossman!’ Nods said.

Spango smiled and carried on.

‘So from midnight tonight I am telling all… What now!?’ he yelled at Hancks.

‘Look bruv I don’t want no Babylon beating on me, but what midnight? I mean is that “tonight” tonight or “tonight” when it gets posted or “tonight” when they watches it?’

Spango’s eyes got really wide and his hands balled up into fists, but before he could scream at the door guards to take Hancks out and beat him up, Nods spoke.

‘Nah he’s right. I mean you gotta be precise. You don’t want no mandem thinkin “skate park time” and getting slotted cos it’s the wrong midnight.’

Spango’s fists unclenched.

‘Right. Carry on.’ Spango took a breath.

‘So from midnight on March 20 2026 all police and army will allow anyone with a ID app on their mobile to be out on the street from eight in the morning to 6 at night. If that goes okay for three weeks, we’ll see about extending that and I’ll get back to you. Keep safe bros.’

Spango stared into the camera with the hint of a smile on his lips and then Nods waved his hand across his throat to let everyone know he’d stopped recording.

‘Good?’

‘Well good bro.’

‘You want to skin up?’ Hancks asked.

‘Nah, I gotta to talk to Treasury now.’

Hancks and Nods folded over laughing.

‘Nah, no effin Spice you wasters. I gotta see if we is still skint after being Rishi’d.’

‘Whole world’s been Rishi’d man.’ Said Hancks.

‘Yeah well I gotta do a deal with some Northerners, get some jabs innit? Gonna need bare loot for that. Keep my people safe you know?’ Spango ducked his head to show how serious it was.

‘Yeah, can’t long it no more. Gotta get some.’ Nods agreed. ‘I’ll splice this up and get the tekkers to put some banging sounds on it yeah?’

‘Yeah, cool.’

‘You want Beeb South lined up for it?’ Hancks asked.

‘Yeah, bitches gotta be good for somethin.

‘Bozza know you is coming? Don’t want his people offin you cos you ain’t from their ends bruv.’ Hancks looked worried.

‘We doin it on the bridge. He stays north of the river. I stay south.’

‘Wear a mask man.’

‘A mask? I ain’t on the run bruv. I run everything south of the river. Bossman yeh? Pigs are mine now.’

Nah fam! A mask. He’s had it. Effin carrier now.’

‘You had it same time Hancks, you is okay.’

‘Can’t trust him though man. He had it real bad. Wear a mask.’

Spango nodded and went to talk to Treasury.

MUMBLING

I should be writing something.

Obviously I am, but I mean something else.

In the absence of talking to other people in the current quarantine I find myself increasingly mumbling at the computer or the newspaper or the keyboard as I write. Sometimes this is prompted by someone on the radio revealing a situation, action or opinion that demands a verbal reaction at the very least. At others, and I confess it is an increasingly large percentage of times, it is simply cantankerous commentary which is completely unnecessary. I have a suspicion that this is the written equivalent of that verbal mumbling.

I’ve always been prone to talking to myself, either internally or aloud. My family assure me that a lot of the time it is the latter rather than the former, although how they know what goes on in my head baffles me.

There are always things I should be writing.

I have a couple of SF stories on the go – one of which started out as a short story, ballooned up to 20,000 words, with less than half the planned arc done and is now sat there with a ‘plan’ to cut it down to  reasonable size as originally planned, cutting the verbosity and not pursuing interesting asides. Or, I should be weaving them into the main plot, rewriting the beginning to foreshadow and plant ideas and turn it into a novel. Unfortunately it appears to be AND rather than OR at the moment and as it is the same basic idea, only one of them is likely to see the light of day. Part of me hopes it is the novel otherwise there will be about 90,000 words wasted rather than 6,000!

That and the other one that is simmering away in the background are in addition to the one I mentioned a few days ago that I have been trying to sell.

Away from that genre there are two Fairy Stories a la ‘WOLF!’, one of which is all but finished, but I can’t seem to sit down and tie the ends off, and one which lost its way and turned into a story about council corruption, which needs serious revision. There are several short stories, the remainder of Westley Writers and at least four novels also lurking. I say ‘at least’ because there are the ‘beginnings’ of more and close scrutiny reveals that several of them are probably parts of the same story approached from a different angle and could and should be integrated.

None of these however are what I should be writing at the moment.

In an attempt to stop my mumbling and speak to people other than my family, I have agreed to join an experiment proposed by one of the more technically enthusiastic members of a writers group I belong to. He has proposed a virtual meeting courtesy of Zoom and I have acquiesced with some trepidation. Not because of the technical aspects; I anticipate few problems with those but because I can’t think of anything I have that is appropriate to offer to the meeting. The idea of writers groups for me is not to write things for the group but to use the experience to inspire, affirm and offer direction to each other in our work that is being written for a bigger audience.

Normally I don’t find that a problem. If I have written something I want to hear feedback about or even to entertain, I will read it. I will listen to others’ work and offer thoughts as appropriate. If I haven’t I’ll still turn up and engage in the second part of the experience but am happy to say ‘nothing to read’ for the first part.  But suddenly the idea that we are going to the trouble of downloading a program and running it to meet virtually makes me feel I should have something ready to read. And that is making me have absolutely no coherent thoughts about any of the things I could and should be writing.

Hence this mumbling.

I’d like to report that this has cleared my mind and I am now off to dash off a few thousand words of any of the projects mentioned above.

I suspect I am going to make another cup of coffee. Or lunch. Or just have a wander around the internet. Or maybe put Radio 4 on. And start shouting at it.

WESTLEY WRITERS Chapter 4

Julian has taken his time walking back from the pub, having declined Stephanie’s advances hasn’t he? It must be about 8 months by my reckoning! They are about to be reunited however as the new Westley Writers are due to hold their first proper meeting to elect officers and hear what they have all been doing since the split.

If you want to read yourself in or catch up with what has happened so far go to Westley Writers

 

CALM

‘Morning Julian, how are you?’

‘I’m well, thanks June. And yourself?’

‘Oh you know, hanging on.’

‘Sounds a bit grim. Things getting on top of you?’

June sighed and stopped unpacking her bag. ‘You know the Readers section are getting uppity about this place?’

Julian took off his coat and hung it over the back of the chair at the other end of the table from where June was unpacking.

‘No. I haven’t really heard anything from them since the split. What’s the matter with them?’

‘Oh some of them think they should have three weeks out of four here as they are bigger than the Writers group.’

Straker pulled a face of discontent at this news.

‘We sorted all that out the meeting and told the library didn’t we?’

‘Well yes, of course but…’

‘What do the library say about it?’

‘Well they’ve just apportioned the bookings 50-50, alternate weeks but they don’t want any trouble or too much attention, so we must be careful.’

‘Attention? I can understand them wanting to avoid trouble, but surely they want the attention. The council are always saying nobody uses the place and here are two local community groups fighting for access.’

‘For a service we don’t pay for.’

Straker’s mouth creased open in a wry smile. ‘Ah of course. An empty conference room not making cash. The horror!’

June looked around the room. ‘Hardly a conference room. It seats about 20 people at pinch. But I suppose that’s what some councillor will call it when he’s asking why the library isn’t making maximum commercial use of the facility.’

‘They used to teach night school classes in here’

‘Yes, languages wasn’t it? Nobody does that any more.’ June looked over at Straker.’ You used to teach some didn’t you?’

Straker dipped his head in acknowledgement.

‘For my sins.’

‘What was it again?’ June asked.

‘Bloody Russian. Who wants to learn that?’ Ashby walked in

‘Quite a few before austerity.  False economy if you ask me.’

‘Why? Who needs to speak Russian round here? Not going to have Putin coming round on a bear wrestling expedition are we?’ He peered at Straker, ‘Are we?’

‘Don’t look at me John, but I think learning about other cultures through their language has its own reward.’

‘Bloody hell. Sorry June. When did you become a hippy?’

‘There are no hippies left John. I just think it’s interesting.’

Ashby laughed. ‘Depends what you do with that interest.’ He raised an eyebrow in Straker’s direction, ‘Doesn’t it Julian?’

June had heard this sparring contest many times and John Ashby never got anything out of Straker about his facility with the Russian language.

‘Are we expecting the others?’ she  asked.

‘I hope so. I emailed everybody as agreed. Well not Sarah or Alan obviously.’

‘Are they still not online? I can’t see the point of having a computer if you aren’t online.’ Ashby said.

June looked at her watch. ‘Well it looks like it’s just us. Stephanie normally turns up though. Shall we wait or make a start?’ She voted with her feet and went to make a cup of coffee.

Ashby put his bag on the table and shed his coat.

‘We’re supposed to be electing officers and agreeing a constitution today.’ Straker said. ‘Not sure we can go ahead with three of us.’

‘Course we can.’ Ashby said. ‘Three best writers are here anyway.’

‘Not sure we should be judging people like that John.’ June replied, but the pride in her tone was evident. ‘I really think we need Steph here as well though, she’s always so practical.’

‘If people were online and paid more attention’ Ashby murmured, ‘they’d maybe realise why Stephanie wasn’t here.’

Straker paused on his way to the hot water jugs and coffee.

‘Oh?’

‘Still not bothering with Social Media then Julian?’

‘Not particularly. I’ve never seen the need to listen to speculations about lizard people or watch cats falling into wastepaper bins myself.’

‘Well forewarned is forearmed is all I’ll say.’

The day when John Ashby kept quiet about anything would be a day of miracles and wonders, Straker knew, so he kept quiet and moved off to make a coffee.

As June finished making hers and went to sit down Ashby bustled over.

‘She posted quite a witty piece about being stood up in a country pub the other day.’ He spooned coffee. ‘Sounded as if it were from the life.’ He raised an eyebrow in Straker’s direction. ‘You know, like it had really happened.’

‘Thanks John, I know what “from the life” means.’

‘Wonder where she got the idea from?’

Straker sighed.

‘It’s called creative writing John. You make it up from the imagination.’

‘Oh aye. If you say so.’

They pumped hot water from the flasks provided by the library.

‘So why did you think that meant Steph wouldn’t be coming today?’

‘Couple of things in it suggested maybe she, excuse me Julian,’ he interrupted himself, ‘I mean the protagonist of the story, had fallen out of love with the idea of writing for the time being. Emotional conflicts and all that.’ He raised an eyebrow in Straker’s direction and displayed the subject matter on his phone.

Straker let a little smile play on his lips.

‘She really can capture a feeling of moment can’t she?’ he said and dropped the used spoon into a spare mug. ‘Almost like one were in the room at the time.’

Ashby followed Straker back to the table and they busied themselves with notepads and pens.

June asked if they were ready to start but before either of them could respond the door opened and a gaggle of latecomers pushed their way into the room.

Straker looked at Ashby, expressionless as they both noted Stephanie Williams was among the group.

The noise levels rose as people exchanged greetings and comments about the weather, the library and of course the momentous events of their last meeting. Straker remembered that this was the first time many of them had been together since the split.

‘Thanks for the email Julian.’ Diane Eaton said. ‘Sorry I missed the other week, I was so worried about poor old Bill here.’ She pulled Parker into view. ‘I missed everything that was said after that.’

‘That’s okay, good to see you.’ Straker turned to Parker. ‘You okay now Bill?’

Parker nodded and prodded at a strip of plaster on his head where the skin surrounding it was still discoloured by bruising.

‘Rather sore still but the doc says I’ll live.’ He smiled at June. ‘And I’ve decided not to sue.’

Diane punched him gently on the arm while June blushed.

‘Leave her alone Bill. You know how upset she was.’

Parker shrugged.

‘Only joking ladies. Smiling through the pain and all that you know.’

Diane raised an eyebrow.

‘I’ll give you some pain if you don’t leave it. Tea is it Bill?’

‘Aye, one sugar please.’

Parker sat while Diane went to get the drinks.

Veronica Goodman offered a tight smile and slid round the table to sit opposite Ashby. Straker offered a flash of teeth in return and Ron ducked her head.

‘Julian.’ Steph said and sat next to him.

‘Stephanie.’ He responded. ‘Can I get you a coffee?’

‘Thank you, but Diane’s getting me one.’

‘Okay.’

Stephanie turned round to face him.

‘Seriously Jules, she offered as we came in.’

‘It’s okay. I believe you.

‘Sorry.’

‘Me too. My feet were killing me by the end.’

‘Serves you right.’

‘There you are Steph.’ Diane said. ‘What serves him right?’

‘Walking for miles at his age.’

‘How far?

‘Only about four miles.’ Straker answered.

‘Nothing for a man of your years.’

‘That’s what I thought when I started.’ Straker grimaced. ‘Anyway Steph, I read your Facebook piece. Very good.’

‘Yes, thanks. I was inspired. I didn’t know you were on Facebook?’

‘I’m not. John was kind enough to show me this morning.’

Stephanie leaned back and beamed at Ashby.

‘Thanks John, it’s appreciated.’

‘No problem Steph. Glad to be of service.’

Straker listened to that exchange. That was, he decided, an odd bit of phrasing. He’d remember that and use it in a story somewhere. He couldn’t make his mind up whether it was a deliberate tell of a conspiracy, an accidental giveaway, a meaningless exchange of pleasantries between two acquaintances or a piece of deliberate misdirection. He blinked. That way lay indecision and inaction. But then he didn’t need to decide right now did he. There was time for a longer game yet. He smiled.

‘Shall we get this meeting started then June?’ he said. ‘With any luck we can read some of the things we’ve been writing as well. I’m sure people will have made good use of the period since we last met.’

June put her coffee down and raised her whistle to her lips.

 

 

 

EMBRACE THE SNOWDROP!

There are unpleasant things happening in the world currently and my sympathies to anyone whose loved ones are ill or worse. However, for writers, the spin off measures being imposed or recommended by various authorities should not be as much of a hardship as they may be for others.

Social distancing? Pah! Self isolation? That’s writing. It takes a certain acceptance, if not love, of solitude to churn out the words to make coherent stories. Of course one would hope for a certain dual personality; a fun loving party animal for part of the time and a focused hermit for the working bit.

I’m not sure I have ever been a fun loving party animal. In the cold light of reason or a hangover, most parties are hardly worth the candle in my experience. I am quite prepared to accept I have been doing them wrong.

I have however, managed to live a sufficiently socially engaged life to accumulate a fair amount of understanding of how people live. It is a short hop from there to identify the interesting borderlands, the creative fractures in well ordered existence into which can be inserted the seeds of diversion from the norm. What happens if James Bond’s mid-life crisis takes the form of stamp collecting? How far will he go to get his hands on a Mauritius Blue? Of course Mr Bond is hardly normal, but the subversion of the idea of normal is part of the deal.

But the current desire to avoid our fellow humans has meant the suspension of various support mechanism for writers, established and aspiring. Major book fairs in London, Bologna, Leipzig, L.A. and Taipei among others, along with countless smaller fairs across Britain and no doubt the rest of the world. Writers group have also done the decent thing and stopped meeting at least in face to face mode for the time being.

This does perhaps lead to more isolation than all but the most anti-social dedicated author would wish for.

One group I attend is trying to maintain support and enthusiasm through email and other online means. Recently one of the group sent round a short piece, just to keep spirits up, about snowdrops. At the end was an admission of sneaking a few to replant at home and an admission of a small frisson of guilt, or uncertainty about this practice. The person concerned was well aware that the snowdrop is not a native species of the UK, is not threatened and not protected by legislation so she was not doing anything particularly wrong but still the worry, given the history of our predatory approach to nature.

It made me wonder among other things why the snowdrop is so out on a limb. It isn’t one of those hated invasive species like Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Balsam or the Signal Crayfish deemed too dangerous to live, but it still hovers in a limbo; officially tolerated while loved by many, but open to redesignation as ‘not one of us’ at a government whim.

I am unaware of any plans to oust the snowdrop. No doubt too much poetry and emotion has been expended on it as a harbinger of hope in times of darkness and a sign of  better times to come soon, for it to fall prey to a desire for native purity.

Let’s hope this desire to live and let live survives a closing of ranks and borders and we return very shortly to social inclusion and giving snowdrops and other ‘non-native’ Brits a warm embrace. Social distancing for as short a time as required, okay. But let’s remember to open our borders, our arms and hearts again as soon as possible.

DES MANNAY ‘SOD ‘EM AND TOMORROW’

sode'em and tomorrow

I went to the Newport Writers Group Open Mic night at Hortons in Newport again last night (thanks again Andy).

Poet Des Mannay was there, as he was last month and I should have mentioned this in my write up of that visit. He is a very exuberant and outgoing performance poet originally from Adamstown in Cardiff, now based in Newport and it is a pleasure hearing his work.

It is particularly good to be seeing and hearing him at the moment as he is about to have his first collection of poetry published this week.

The book is called ‘Sod ‘em and tomorrow’, published by LIT-UP, an Arts Council England-funded mentoring and publishing scheme for emerging poets of colour.

The launch will be in London on Saturday 29 February at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, in Tottenham Green, London.1430-1730hrs  entry £3-00 redeemable against purchase of the book.

If you’re in London why not go along, meet and hear Des and buy the book. If you can’t make it on the day, you can still enjoy his work and buy the book at good bookshops or direct from Waterloo Press for £12.

Good luck Des, have a great day.

FILLING TIME

Busy ‘writing’ week and yet little actually written. I revisited some old ideas, not having sufficient time or inclination to let new ones ferment into something positive and I’m impressed how fertile my imagination is/was, but slightly concerned (read terrified in unguarded speech) about my inability to finish things. Not an inability to know where I am going with things, I often have an idea, at least, of the ending of a story as I begin putting words on the page. No. Rather it is a reluctance to wrap the thing up. Whether it is related to my lifelong reluctance to slow down as I near the end of reading a book, not wanting a good thing to finish, or whether it is a fear of tarnishing the effort of the beginning and end of the stuff I have written with a weak ending, I am unsure.

Whatever the reason, and it may of course simply be laziness, it means I have files and files, mostly electronic these days thank goodness as there is only so much space in house, of unfinished stories. Sometimes I find one and think, ‘Damn, that’s good!’ but then on reading further suddenly wonder where I was going with it. The trick is of course to make some notes, however perfunctory, about story arc, characters, plot perhaps and ending if there is one. Yes, I try and do it now, but there were obviously many times when the idea seemed so cool and urgent that I ‘knew’ I was on a roll and just had to get the words down as they flowed. Unfortunately, whatever muse was hanging around at the time, something intervened and what may well have been a brilliant story is lurking, unloved like a clapped out matinee idol (look it up if you are too young to understand what one of those was- search engines are your friend) looking for a future that seems very uncertain.

The surge of activity started with the Open Mic night I posted about last week. Rummaging through material to read I started opening folders cunningly marked ‘finished?’ ‘in progress’ and ‘ideas’. Even in the ‘finished’ folder were files that had alternative endings, plot twists and character development.

In among the mass of words I found a short story beginning I remember being very taken with at the time of starting. It had a start – a psychiatric emergency admissions ward in Cardiff, and I know it had a hook to possible psychic/supernatural phenomena, bit of a cliché, but I hoped there was a sufficient twist to make it unfamiliar, and an ending. And there’s the problem, I remember the reason for the behaviours and the putative link to supernatural matters. I remember the discovery of the link and the probable dismissal, it was all rational, (or was it?) was going to be the unresolved ending. I think. But how did I plan on achieving it? The feeling of the ending and the rough concept of the middle are still sloshing around in my brain but did I write down any of the details? Of course not.

I read the beginning of it to a writers group the day after the Open Mic night and confidently suggested that I knew where it was going, had the middle sketched in my head and that the ending was there. But as I sat in front of the keyboard the ending became more wavy and unfocused as I thought and wrote about it.

I put it to one side for a few days and kept coming up with ideas but they weren’t the original idea. I know I should go with the any of the other, perfectly good, and maybe better, ideas I have had this week (after all the original one didn’t inspire me to finish the damned thing did it?) but I am still trying to get my brain back into the place it was in when I had the first thoughts about it.

One of the problems with electronic files, along with the delights of space saving, is the date stamp it puts on ideas. I was scribbling ideas and decided to open up the file and bang a few of them down and as I did it I noticed the date of the original file, which was 2014. Not as old as many of the ideas I have swilling around in various electronic ethers, but even so! It still seemed like an idea that was fresh, had only just been put aside for a moment and that moment was now six years in the past!

So, note to self:  be more ruthless in finishing stuff – better finished and good enough, than unfinished waiting for a perfection that may never come.

Re time: Be wary of AGMs. I attended the AGM of a writers group yesterday.

The Horror. The Horror.

OPEN MIC IN NEWPORT

An interesting evening in Newport last night. Not as you may have thought at Rodney Parade to watch Newport County nick a result against Macclesfield Town 1-0 but at Horton’s Cafe just across the road from the ground. As we drove up to the cafe we passed the ground and for one insane moment I thought of abandoning the open Mic night and popping in. Then I realised the last time I watched Macc Town play was probably the FA Cup run in the 67-68 season. Not a loyal fan I am sad to confess. Rugby is my game not football.

So into the cafe then and met with Newport Writing Group who hold an open Mic session at the end of every month in that venue.

I’m not a member of the group but it appears to be a talented and friendly group, who also meet every other Saturday morning at the Riverfront Newport from 0930hrs to 100 hrs.

The evening sessions normally have an audience of about 30 but being the first of the year there was a smaller group about half that size but the participation level was commensurately higher. The standard of writing was good and the genre and styles eclectic, from performance poets to short stories via stand up (sit down actually) comedy and encompassing all moods from dark themes through to whimsical verse.

The venue itself is excellent, also catering for all tastes, although there was surprisingly little alcohol flowing for a group of writers.

I read my short story ‘Entanglement’, available on this site as ‘The Problem with Thought Experiments’ in Writing: Short Fiction, which seemed to go down well.

I hope to return at some stage to the open Mic night to read and listen to quality writing. If you are around on the last Tuesday of the month in Newport I can recommend it as an entertaining and engaging evening out (and its free! But you pay for the drinks and cakes).