Sunday 23 May 2010

Mark Twain

I read this article in The Independent this morning - 100 years after his death, Mark Twain's autobiography is to be published - in full.

I love having something to look forward to (my present carrots which I am going to reward myself with some time very soon are Devil in Disguise by Julian Clary, Under The Dome by Stephen King, Just Me by Sheila Hancock and Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler)

But this – this unexpurgated autobiography has really got me excited and is going to be a carrot of major proportions to look forward to.

And here for your delectation are a few of my favourite Mark Twain quotes. I don't think I'm breaking any copyright laws here, but I'm sure someone will soon let me know if I am.

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them. MT

I am not interested to know whether vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn’t. The pain which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity toward it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further. MT

Don’t go round saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first. MT

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great. MT

Saturday 22 May 2010

My First Time

We’ve been sorting out the loft and I found the school English literature magazine from nineteen seventy cough-cough and it contains my very first published piece.

Would you like to read it?

Of course you wouldn’t, but I’m going to put it on here anyway.

It’s called A Bundle of Dynamite and it was about my dog Cassie who lived to be seventeen and was the best mate a girl ever had.

He sits quite still upon the chair,
A bundle of dynamite covered in hair,
Two bright brown eyes, a velvet nose,
What will he do next? Goodness knows.
His ears prick up; there’s a tap at the door,
The bundle of dynamite hits the floor,
“Watch out!” cries Mum. “It’s only Dad.”
He gives a bark. His tail does wag.

Peace for a while. His restless spirit is still,
Will he come for a walk? I think he will,
I pick up his lead and rattle the chain,
The bundle of dynamite’s active again.
Now he is tired, not dynamite now,
He’s even too sleepy to say “Bow wow”.

Oh come on! I heard you groan from here. I was just a kid and I’ve never claimed to be a poet, but it was my first time – well if you don’t count when my friend Malc and I did a community newsletter and tried to flog it to the neighbours . . . following so hot on the heels of the perfume incident it was no wonder we got into trouble really. Happy days.

And please go along to the Gentle Footprints blog and read my lovely friend (and very talented writer) Lyn Fountain’s posts which start today. And buy the book!

Thursday 20 May 2010

Wind Farms and Cuckoos

I was going to do another one about writing, but hey ho. What with half the family suffering with sciatica, torn ligaments, prolapsed discs, strained muscles and bad tempers, I’ve not thought too much about writing to be honest.

I’ve been doing it, writing that is, but doing it and thinking about the whys and wherefores are two very different things.

I heard my first cuckoo yesterday.

I sat on Clacton seafront earlier in the week admiring their wind farm. Actually admiring isn’t really the word is it, but there is something oddly fascinating about watching the sails spin round.

And you can’t hear them. All you can hear is the sea. You’d think with 48 of the things spinning round there’d be some sound wouldn’t you even at such a distance.

Bit boring really aren't they. More interesting when you see all the bits up close stacked on the quayside.

I had my laptop with me intending to do some work on a pocket novel, but the battery died after 5 minutes and I hadn’t got my notebook, naughty me. Let that be a lesson to you, always carry your notebook. I’ve never had a notebook run out of batteries, but I have had pens run out of ink – so best take a spare pen as well.

Oh well look at that, a paragraph about writing after all.

Tuesday 11 May 2010


When I started this blog, I intended it to be about writing and as anyone who drops by will know, writing posts hereabouts are few and far between. That is because I am good at waffling and not so good at getting on with what I should be getting on with.

So what could I say about writing that hasn’t already been said elsewhere – and much better – on other blogs? Truth is, nothing.

But I thought maybe I should try from time to time and where better to start than with beginnings?

I’ve heard it said that the beginning is the most important part of your story. I disagree. The beginning is a very important part, no doubt about that. Without a good one you’ll lose your reader pretty quickly.

I must admit I’m a beginnings tart. If I start to read a story or book by a new (to me) author and it doesn’t grab me fairly quickly, I give up. I may have said this before – life is too short and there are too many great books around to waste time reading one that doesn’t do anything for me.

But no matter how wonderful the beginning, how seduced you are by the opening lines, if the story sags in the middle and if the ending doesn’t satisfy, the beginning becomes meaningless.

A week or so ago I read a novel (by a well known author) in which the writer had deliberately misled her reader, adding elements to the plot which were only there to deceive.

I’ve nothing against plot twists and turns, in fact I like being surprised, but I do not care for deception.

The book I’m talking about was a whodunit. The characters were all so alike that I had to keep reading back to remember who was who.

One of the major “clues” which was referred to repeatedly throughout the book pointed to a particular person as being the murderer and on the last page it was dismissed as being of no significance.

Why did I keep reading it? Because the beginning hooked me and I wanted to know what happened. By the time I got to the end, I was so fed up I didn’t give a toss. Will I buy any more of that lady’s books? No.

So beginnings. The be all and end all? No. Important? Vitally.

A beginning is so much more than a single sentence, but here are some I’ve taken from my shelves. I ran my finger along with my eyes shut and poked four – and here they are (the Alan Bennett one being from a book of short stories so I chose the beginning I liked best) but otherwise – random.

On the many occasions Midgley had killed his father, death had always come easily. He died promptly, painlessly and without a struggle. Looking back, Midgley could see that even in these imagined deaths he had failed his father. It was not like him to die like that. Nor did he.
Father! Father! Burning Bright – Alan Bennett.

“What have you done with Fred’s hands?”
I pushed her gently away from me, to lift her left buttock about an inch or so, and polished it with the loofah.
“They’re on the radiator in the kitchen.”
Diana’s Story – Deric Longden.

I did not kill my father, but I sometimes felt I had helped him on his way.
The Cement Garden – Ian McEwan.

What did you ask, Andy Bissette?
Do I ‘understand these rights as you’ve explained em to me’?
Gorry! What makes some men so numb?
Dolores Claiborne – Stephen King.

Do any of those make you want to read further? Why? If you don’t, why not?

I read for pleasure. I find it very difficult to analyse why I like or dislike something. I like all the above beginnings and probably the Deric Longden one best. His books are the ones in this house most likely to fall apart from having been read so many times.

But I should really stick to talking about fiction. Trouble is I couldn’t tell you how to write a good beginning – I wouldn’t know where to start. A lot depends on the kind of story you’re trying to write.

You might not write your beginning until later. You may find your beginning somewhere in the middle of your story. If you think you’ve written an excellent first line, but it happens to have come in the middle of the story/chapter/whatever – move it. You have the power.

A beginning should promise, invite, excite, frighten, crook its finger, wink . . . well you name it, but it should do something to your reader. If it winks, it’s saying “Come on in, let me tell you something.” If it excites, “You’ll have to come with me if you want to know what happens next, but I promise to keep you on the edge of your seat.”

So there you have it, more waffle from me which has probably left you at this stage wondering why on earth you bothered reading it.

I shall now go back to waiting for the phone to ring.