The naive narrator.

I picked up Kit de Waal’s Six Foot Six while I was waiting to pick up Ray, because I’d given him a lift to work and although it was time to go home, he was still talking to students. There were no magazines in the lobby, not even tatty ones. But amongst the donated books by the coffee table was a slim paperback from The Reading Agency.

I’d heard about this project to encourage new readers. Penguin commission well-known writers from a variety of genres to produce short texts. My literary head whispered, novella, but I knew publishers don’t like to use that term, so I shushed it.

Inside, the font size was larger than I usually buy. I liked the look of it. There was no knowing how long I’d be waiting, and by skim-reading I might finish it. If not, a few pages would give me a flavour of Kit de Waal, who I’d not read before, and an idea about how Quick Reads work.

I told myself it was professional interest. I like to believe I’m efficient, and put my time to good use. Much better to claim professional curiosity than admit I’m forever losing myself in imaginary worlds.

Besides, I wasn’t intrigued by the cover. The blurb said a young adult would get involved with a desperate builder, and have to ‘collect money from thugs‘ which didn’t sound promising. It was not something I expected to invested emotion or imagination with.

I liked the opening paragraph though, which ticked four of the orientation boxes for creative writers: who, where, when and why – while raising all sorts of sub-questions at the same time.

Timothy Flowers stands at the corner of Gas Street and Yew Tree Lane. It’s the third of November and it’s Friday and it’s fifteen minutes past eleven o’clock in the morning. In a few minutes, Timothy will see the number forty-five bus. It will be the new Enviro 400 City Bus with the back-to-front design. It’s electric. You can get the internet on the new Enviro 400.

The precision of this information, and the detail about the bus was intriguing. Although it’s third person narration, by the end of the paragraph I knew it was focused through Timothy’s consciousness, and that he thought in short, simple sentences.

The second paragraph confirmed that syntax: ‘Timothy has seen the new bus before. Once.’ Using third person narration allowed de Waal to control the content, and include some background information. It was, we are told, Timothy’s twenty-first birthday, and he was as excited by that as about seeing ‘the new Enviro 400 City Bus‘ go past.

This repetition of the bus type could, I first supposed, mean Timothy was the road equivalent of a train-spotter. Then I thought not.

I realised I’ve seen him on the corner of a road I take to work, watching the traffic pass. It’s a busy road, and I’ve wondered about him, and worried about his vulnerability.

When Timothy was accosted, at the bottom of the first page, with an, ‘Oi, mate!‘ I worried for him, too. Timothy’s mum, the narrator told me, ‘…says that sometimes, when his brain hasn’t had enough rest, Timothy gets confused, so she makes sure he goes to bed by nine o’clock.’

A man in the basement of a derelict house across the road kept calling to Timothy, who knew he should ‘never ever talk to strangers.‘ I worried. The man kept intruding. ‘As well as shouting, the man is pointing at Timothy and waving. ‘Yes, you!’ he says. ‘You! The Longfella! Here, down here.

When Ray came out of the office Timothy had crossed the road to talk to the man, and I couldn’t leave them like that. I bought the book.

Naive narration is a tricky voice to maintain. It’s easy to unintentionally slip in explanations, or anomalous vocabulary.

There is a deceptive simplicity about this short novel/long story. The events of Timothy’s birthday are logical and straightforward: each triggers the next.

However, because Timothy’s understanding is limited to what, where and when, it was me who supplied the how and why aspects of the situations, and all to often, I later had to admit, I miss-judged them. This was one of those reading experiences where not only had the protagonist experienced a change through the course of the story, by the time I turned over the last page, I too had learned something new and important about Timothy’s world.

A room with a certain view.

MagpieThere’s no denying that a magpie is a handsome bird.  The trick to keeping that white shirt so pristine is a mystery that would be worth millions, if it could be translated to our laundry industry.  Imagine the sales pitch, ‘Chemical-free cleaning for a happy environment.’  How welcome would that be to soap manufacturers, I wonder?

As for that petrol-like gleam of blue on those black wings, hood and tail, it out-sheens any silk I’ve seen.  Up close, the birds have glamour.  Usually, around here, they’re seen from a distance, as a flash of monochrome, flitting out of the way of cars.  They are, after all, fine refuse collectors, and despite their handsome dinner-jackets, they relish road-kill.

magpie nestThis spring a pair of magpies have moved into a tree across the road.  They’ve constructed their twiggy des-res at the apex of the thin branches at the crown, it looks precarious, I get vertigo just thinking about sitting up there by the hour, but the design is clearly first rate.  Despite strong gusting winds during the last month, the nest remains firmly lodged, and Mrs Magpie seems to be brooding her eggs.

Mr Magpie flits back and forth, bringing home the groceries.  It’s a lot of work, searching out food for a growing family, which our Magpie couple must have factored in when they decided on this spot.  It is, after all, a prime location with several handy garden food stores.  He’s taken control of my bird-feeders, especially the inverted terracotta fat-feeder designed to favour acrobatic blue-tits.

Lacking the agility for swinging upside-down to feed, Mr Magpie paces along branches, assessing the problem from all right-way-up angles.  That’s when I have a chance to observe without being observed, to admire his elegance.  Any other time he keeps one eye always on the house, ready to depart at the twitch of a shadow, but this prize keeps his focus. He can reach the edge of the pot from a parallel branch, if only his beak would bend.

He’s not dainty, or delicate.  He drops onto the grass to eye the mush of fat and seed from below.  How solid he looks, as if he’s a regular at the gym. There’s no denying his qualities as a pin-up, but does that image tell the whole story?  I can feel the twitch of a smile, watching him pace, peering first this way, then that.  When he dives up, beak reaching, stabbing into the pot, gulping down fragments of plunder, I’m tempted to laugh and cheer.  He tries so hard to hover there, the effort is at odds with his usual economy of movement.

This fellow’s not sunny, or funny though. See how the other birds hurry out of his way?  They’re far from charmed by the sophisticated demeanour.  They know that Mr & Mrs Magpie are not ideal neighbours, that with their presence the garden has transformed from a gentle landscape of domestic intrigues into one laced with menace.

Shades and shadows.

Hi there, me again, posting another blog.  How long have we been meeting like this now?

Are you beginning to feel that you know me?  I hope so.  I’ve told you so much about what I think, do, like and dislike that I sometimes wonder if this blog looks like therapy.

I’ve been using the ‘me’ and ‘I’ approach, known (technically) as writing in the first person.  I’ve created a voice on the page, or perhaps I should say screen, that has its own idiosyncrasies, and hopefully convinced you that I’m a living, fully-rounded person, not just a flat fictional character.

Detail from Humphrey Newton's notebook, 1497

Detail from Humphrey Newton’s notebook, 1497

I’ve been confiding in you, and since I hope I haven’t offered you anything offensive or shocking, you’ve been inclined to believe me, haven’t you?  Might I even claim to have gained some degree of trust?

Well, of course, there was that lapse, last October when I abandoned blogging without warning, and disappeared for several months.  But let’s slide over that for the moment, and concentrate of content. That’s been sound, hasn’t it?

Tricky thing, pinpointing truth.  I was flicking through some old notebooks today, and came across one with some Dennis Potter quotes I’d copied out for a university project, and since one of them has been resonating, I thought I’d share it with you:

…apparently autobiographical forms are very powerful.  It’s…a method of appearing to inhabit one person’s head in a ‘truthful’ way.

The authenticity of the background and the surface detail is therefore guaranteed, as is the emotion, which gives me the licence to introduce and explore emotions that are not mine, that are fiction.