More thoughts on, The Once & Future King.

This week was our first session discussing White’s novel, which for the sake of brevity, I think I’ll refer to as TOAFK, from here on.  Amongst the various thoughts we had about the reading, an interesting observation was that it was tricky to get hold of a second-hand copy from the usual local suppliers.

One shop said that the book rarely came their way, which led us to speculate about whether most people developed sentimental attachments to theirs.  I still have my first copy, held together with an elastic band, in the drawer with Wuthering Heights which also got read-to-bits.

Why do I keep them? It’s not just sentiment, they’re riddled with notes.  One of these days, when I’ve some spare time, I’ll sit down and see if there’s still any value in those old thoughts.

I don’t write in all of my books, usually only ones I’m studying.  I’m a bit precious about books, not even holding with folding over the corners of the pages – yes, you know who you are…we’ve talked about this.

annotated novelHowever, quite a few of my books have been annotated, because I often buy second hand, and I’m nosy.  I like to see what someone else thought, so given an option, I’ll choose the copy laced with resentment and exclamation marks.  Mostly this happens with old text books, but sometimes I’ll stumble over a note some reader was driven to make in the text of a novel.

Getting back to TOAFK, what I find interesting is that it’s still in publication.  You can buy a paperback or hardback copy, which suggests that it’s still selling well.

I like to think that copies of it are holding their places on a lot of family bookshelves.  Perhaps they are waiting to be re-read, perhaps to be handed on to the next generation.

 

david turnley  us military in saudi arabia

Photo by David Turnley.  U.S  military in Saudi Arabia

 

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Judging books by their reputation?

This week I’ve been reading the opening chapters of The Once And Future King by T.H. White, ready for our new reading course, and getting charmed all over again.

Here’s one of my favourite sections from book 1.  It’s part of the description of Merlyn’s study/bedroom, and surely only a minimalist would fail to be charmed by this.

It was the most marvellous room that he had ever been in.

Launceston Corkindrill

The Launceston Corkindrill

There was a real corkindrill hanging from the rafters, very lifelike and horrible with glass eyes and scaly tail stretched out behind it.  When its master came into the room it winked one eye in salutation, although it was stuffed.  There were thousands of brown books in leather bindings, some chained to the bookshelves and others propped against each other as if they had had too much to drink and they did not really trust themselves.  These gave out a smell of must and solid brownness which was most secure.  Then there were stuffed birds, popinjays, and maggot-pies and kingfishers, and peacocks with all their feathers but two, and tiny birds like beetles, and a reputed phoenix which smelt of incense and cinnamon.  It could not have been a real phoenix, because there is only one of these at a time.

 

Perhaps you think it’s a children’s book.  Many people do.

I challenge you to look at the end of this descriptive paragraph and tell me what age group would recognise and enjoy this kind of detail.

…two skulls, plenty of cut glass, Venetian glass, Bristol glass and a bottle of Mastic Varnish, some satsuma china and some cloisonné, the fourteenth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (marred as it was by the sensationalism of the popular plates), two paintboxes (one oil, one water-colour), three globes of the known geographical world, a few fossils, the stuffed head of a cameleopard, six pismires, some glass retorts with cauldrons, Bunsen burners, etc., and a complete set of cigarette cards depicting wild fowl by Peter Scott.

cameleopard  Edward Topsell, History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents. 1658.

History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents by Edward Topsell. 1658

 

So to what extent is it a book for children?

I think that’s a question I’ll be considering with the reading group.

 

Embracing the absurd.

I’ve just picked up on a challenge laid down for me a month ago, and read some of the absurdist stories of Daniil Kharms.   Thanks Mike, what a find, and how have I missed him before?

Literature is my favourite form of travel.  Think of the efficiency.  No hours on the road, or waiting around for connections.  Step between the lines of a story and I’m away.  The infernal combustion engines might transport us across the geographical world, but I’ve just travelled back in time, and got dunked into Russian culture.  No tourist destinations for me.

OldWomanLucieJansch

photo by Lucy Jansch

These Kharm stories read in a flash, resonate for hours.  They’re ridiculous, funny and dark.  Death slices through the lines of plot, taking out central character after central character.  The early twentieth century Russian landscape is grim, even bitter.  ‘Good people are not capable of getting a good foothold in life,‘  concludes Kharms, in his 1936 story, The Things.  I sense layers of suggestion, of anger, behind the flying dogs and missing legs, the drunken binges and vanishing brothers.  Like dreams, they sketch scenes, distort reality, break the rules.

These characters and their deeds twist my understanding of the world,  my sense of self and reality.  It’s brave, risk-taking writing, and I can’t predict the outcome of any piece.  They stop.

I think on, and see that sometimes writers need to be brave, and leap.

Clout Theatre 2013

Clout Theatre, 2013.   How a Man Crumbled.

 

 

 

 

 

Reading aloud? Encouraged!

In the beginning, there’s just you, the pen and the paper – or the keyboard – and your inspiration.  Words spill out, and if you hold onto that privacy of setting yourself on the page, you can write anything.  That’s how I believe the best writing takes place.

Leonid_Pasternak_-_The_Passion_of_creationThe page is a space of freedom to explore ideas, to experiment with form and content, to imagine; to re-imagine: to remember.  You can chose when and with whom to share it.  Will you though?

That’s a big step, for most of us.  Even handing out a finished hard copy so that someone else can read it, can be nerve-racking, and hopefully we will have chosen our ideal reader carefully.

So what happens if you’re asked to read it aloud?  There are a few competitions around now where the chosen texts are expected to be delivered to an audience, by the author. Do you avoid submitting your work, in case you get picked?  That would be a shame.  Your work might be perfectly suited to ‘telling’.

It’s been a source of discussion in my creative writing group, where we encourage each other to read our homework tasks to the group.  Some people are confident about this, they’re natural story-tellers who know how to pace, and dramatise.  For most of the rest of us though, it’s a steep learning curve.

Between us, we’ve shared a range of approaches, so I thought I’d try gathering them into a list.

  1. Read poems or stories that you like aloud.
    • You can do this on your own, or to a willing and sympathetic guinea-pig, who may then help you to change your style.
  2. If you’ve small children in your life, read to them.
    • Put your mind to making the text entertaining, don’t just deliver the words dryly.
    • Children love silly voices, pauses and dramatic interpretations.
      • Just because you read dramatically with them, doesn’t mean you need to employ those techniques to an adult audience, but knowing that you can loosen up will help your confidence.
  3. Read your work aloud to yourself several times.
    • This will help you to practice timing, and see if there are difficult phrases, or changes needed in the punctuation, so you’re winning on two levels.
  4. Go along to some readings and open-mic events.
    • Don’t just chose the big-name venues, opt for local, room-in-a-pub groups.
    • Enjoy listening, but at the same time, notice how varied the styles of reading are.  Some people are performers, but lots more are good readers.
  5. Try a public speaking coach.  They’ll have a wide range of strategies and approaches to help you overcome nerves and develop your delivery style.

What I find, is that confidence comes through practice.  Nerves are natural, so my list starts small and builds.

miki byrne1

Miki Byrne, performance poet.

 

This week I’ve had enthusiastic emails from two of my regular group who went along to Miki’s poetry workshop & open mic in the bar of The Roses, one of our local theatres.  ‘Poetry night was great,’ said one, ‘we really enjoyed it,’ said the other.

There’s a big writing world out there, and it’s ours, if we just dare…

What else are we going to do with our writing, if we don’t share it?