Friday, January 9, 2009

The Writing

I am back on the prose project again (I won’t say the N word in case it comes and smacks me on the head for leaving it so long). Still keeping an eye on doing something with poems but last year was not hugely encouraging. I need to keep sending out, and will.

The project I’m working on has a first person narrator and draws from autobiographical experience but the narrator is not me. This is something of a relief as I wasn’t sure at the outset because she and I share so many details, including some years at an inner London primary school in the 1960s, which is where I am now with it. I wish I’d known how childhood stays with you forever, I would have eaten even more sweets, my teeth couldn’t have been any worse than they were. Whatever difficulties had to be negotiated in the classroom, the playground or at dinner time (slugs hiding under the salad cream, gristle in the stew and fearsome dinner ladies) you knew that sweets would always be there for you – cheap, reliable, plentiful. Even the poorest kids seemed able to afford those. You could get four chews for a penny and a generous bag of fluorescent sherbet for tuppence. Actually, I am not writing about the sweets at the moment, but it’s good to know that they are there in the background and the writing, I feel sure, will want to go there at some point. Sweet cigarettes, though (remember those?), have made an appearance. They were basically the same as what are now sold as “candy sticks”, but with a red tip at the end so you could pretend you were smoking them, and they used to have cards with pictures of footballers that you could swap with the boys for a bit of liquorice shoelace. Bazooka bubblegum could last a whole day if you stuck it under the desk in between sessions.

It seems hardly believable now that the girls and boys playgrounds were separated by a brick wall, but that is how it was, and we had our own entrances too. If a girl tried to play in the boys playground she was called a Tomboy and if a boy came into the girls playground he was a Cissy. You wouldn’t want to be called either of those things, but being a Tomboy was fractionally easier than being a Cissy as it carried with it a smidgeon of respect borne out of fear.

The narrator has an easier time of it than I did, not having lived in Germany and come back to England with an accent (not to mention the weird haircut and Lederhosen), but there will obviously be other complications in her life because, as Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes) says, “the happy childhood is hardly worth your while.” She is, though, optimistic and resourceful and it is another child’s predicament that becomes the catalyst for events that unfold.

But why am I talking about it when I could be writing it? Well one reason is that I am bog-tired after driving through a pea-souper of fog in the small hours to collect Son from somewhere or other in the middle of blasted heath after his return from Dublin. And then I couldn’t sleep. And when I did I woke again after only a few hours. And today I have a trip to Lewes. And – most interestingly – whenever I sit down to write the Project I kind of gear up for it because it counts as Work, but whenever I sit down to put words onto blog, I just do it.

Yes, I know.


Nicola said...

And I have been seriously thinking about blogging what with my black rooster in the pink crabapple tree, replacing the blackbird that has been there throughout the cold months until the freezingest point.

Candy cigarettes with that lit pink tip, bubble gum that lasts between lessons, you remind me of all that I've forgotten. Even the return from Germany though I lacked even the accent having been unable to properly integrate.

Serious and even seriouser, I was today considering joining the lovely web that you, Anna and others are weaving, but wondering at the energy that it takes, might take, from the writing that, yes, I fail to do anyway. (How does the horseman manage it? If he truly does. tpe?)

Collin Kelley said...

Happy writing. I'm doing the same. The time is now...

Reading the Signs said...

Nicola, you might just have to try it and see, because for everyone it's different and people do it for different reasons.

To do The Writing takes discipline and energy, but blogging doesn't necessarily take from that, it has its own place. But can only speak for me.

Be seeing you in Blogoslavia then?

Reading the Signs said...

Collin, the time is most certainly now ... yes.

The Periodic Englishman said...

Signs – hello and a very good day to you.

It would probably take too long to go into the reasons that people choose to start and maintain a blog – and my own reasons change every time I’m asked – but I do wonder at the line you seem to be drawing between blogging and work. These two things can complement one another, I find, and may be done simultaneously.

Mr Signs does crossword puzzles. He’ll know, I imagine, that a particular clue can repeatedly draw a blank and that the best thing to do is to walk away and think about something else. Then, freakishly often, you can go back to the clue and find that the answer is immediately obvious. So far so good.

If I get stuck with writing (I’m talking about work here), then I’ve always found it useful to bounce around in space allowing the very act of writing itself to unblock any (work-related) blocks. More often than not, the creative energy required to ponce merrily through Blogoslava is sufficient to overcome any pause in (work) output.

And so the point, I suppose, is that blogging needn’t take away from any of the creativity required for work, rather that it can aid and complement the process.

It’s all just writing, after all, and I’ve never had it properly explained to me why words that appear on paper are (to be considered) more important or worthwhile or better-written, even, than words that appear electronically. I prefer blogging to work, for what it’s worth. More freedom.

And I preferred sweet cigarettes to liquorice shoe-laces. More cool. Man, but those things looked good. A vital accessory for any self-respecting child smoker.

Good luck with the prose, Signs. (Or good luck with the energy levels, more accurately. Your prose, I believe, will take care of itself.)

Nicola - hello and happy new year. Get yourself a blog already and quit swither-dithering like a loon. If you find the thought a bit much, of course, you could just write a few things and keep the comments turned off - just to see how it all feels.

At the very least, it is a perfectly valid creative exercise and is a very fine way to get into the habit of regular writing (I mean with comments, too, not just writing posts.) It can, very occasionally, feel a bit overwhelming, true, but when this happens, well, you just stop for a bit and concentrate on something else. What could be simpler? Okay, lots of things could be simpler, but that's not the point. No.

Kind regards etc.....


Reading the Signs said...

morning, TPE. Well the thing about words on paper (in book form, at any rate) is that they give you something to hold in your hands. I love the presence of books on my shelves, even those I haven't read for years. I love the feeling of holding a new, slim volume of poetry in my hands, opening it up. I have read some excellent blog posts since doing this thing, and written a few of my own that felt like yes, this is what I wanted to say. But blog posts are an ephemeral thing, not intended for holding in the hands or looking at after being read. Just a different thing. I like the possibilities of both and do not despise ephemera.

I would not want to post a novel up on blog, or to have it published online. If I do this thing I want to be able to hold it in my hands.

Reading the Signs said...

And blog comments are something else again. In the last one I mentioned "my hands" four times! But will I go back and edit? No, publish and be damned!

(see I am a little bit rockanroll)

The Periodic Englishman said...

Afternoon, Signs. I share your preferences - as I'm sure many do - but this still doesn't tell me that words found on paper are, by default, better (to use a very general word) than those found in space.

I differ in the re-reading of blog posts thing, however. There are many bloggers whose posts I go back to read, time and time again. You make it sound like you're talking (accepted) fact when you say that "blog posts are an ephemeral thing.....not intended for looking at after being read". Says who? This can only be your very personal interpretation, of course, and comes nowhere near my own feelings on those people whose words I read and love. I can think of no reason whatsoever that a blog post should not be re-read. Doesn't make sense to me.

Oh. Did you know that there are some swanky new electronic book-shaped things that hold - roughly - 200 or so books in them? I think you can download novels into the thing and then go on holiday safe in the knowledge that you're not going to run out of reading material. Would this be an acceptable compromise for you? Personally speaking, I don't like the look of the things and can't ever imagine feeling happy using one.

Likewise, I have real difficulty giving up the habit of buying and reading newspapers. Online versions lack the sacred ceremony and crinkling sound-effects of a Sunday very well spent. We are Luddites, Signs, and need to get with the programme. (Trying to use a modern-sounding phrase there to show that I'm in with the kids.)

Have a hyper-modern Sunday, Signs, and good luck with your returning guest.

Up to date and achingly hip,


(more aching hip, really, but don't let that put you off.)

Cusp said...

I think you two are talking about the literary equivalent of the discussion in the visual arts world about 25 years ago. When I was at College there was a student who had found a way to make 'paintings' through her computer and print them out in sections which then had to be laboriously put together and pasted onto canvas. At the time it was very 'cutting edge' and outraged some of the older tutors who at one point threatened to chuck her off the course. Of course that all seems ludicrous now but back then.....

Personally I'm also so ancient that I think there is no comparison between the souless lack lustre experience of reading, say, a newspaper online or a novel with one of those electronic book thingiesand holding a real bit of paper that can get smeared with thick cut marmalade over Sunday breakfast.....but that's because my initiation into reading was through books and libraries and the love of the feel of books and the smell of paper. Personally, if there's a lot to read (and something v. important) I have to print it out and read it (how 'sad' is that ?!).

My daughter on the other hand, who is 10 and adores her laptop and DS, is very taken with the new ads for 100 Classic novels for £19.99 to read on her DS Lite and will probably buy said disc; even though she's a child who adores reading and has tons of books. She's of a new generation.

As for blogs, well they are a thing in themselves in a way: kind of like a journal or diary but initiated and created through the medium of the internet. They aren't diaries for me because you know/hope that other people will read them and you'll garner a response. They aren't RL conversations because they aren't face to face and you never quite know who you are 'talking' to even though there may be dialogue /rapport between blogger and commenter. Having said that I do agree with one recent commenter who said (in the parlance moderne) 'blogging rocks' because personally I have made some very interesting connections and realised the smallness of the 'global village' that the WWW has created.

Now...onto sweet cigs....loved the cool stance of 'smoking' on the top deck of the 193 or the 248 bus but hated the Dolly Mixture with extra sugar...yuck! I liked those fake fags you got that were cardboard tubes with one end covered in red foil that had tiny holes in through which you could blow the talcum powder (or whatever it was inside). That looked really cool and we just *knew* the adults thought we were really smoking on the top deck: nice middle class suburban children in our StartRites going big guns with the nicotine.

The Periodic Englishman said...

Nice. And here’s me thinking that we seemed like a couple of tramps fighting over a can of Special Brew. I think Signs will be just as shocked as I am, Cusp, to discover that we were actually continuing an artistic debate from 25 years ago. I knew we were more intellectual than we made out.

But yes, you hit the heart of the matter, no doubt. Those people growing up nowadays lack our emotional attachment to paper. I’m minded not to care a hoot, however, just so long as they’re actually reading. My nephews and niece take all of this computery stuff for granted and are far more at ease around it than I’ll ever be. It is entirely normal for them to read their books on a computer. (You do know, though, that you can drip marmalade all over a computer screen? It makes online newspapers more credible. You know it makes sense.)

One thing: in the olden days, were penfriends considered to be from real life? Or is it just bloggers and these interactions of ours in space that find themselves relegated to unreality? If so, why? Is a letter sent to a newspaper part of real life? Where is it that you’re drawing your line? (Not arguing, just wondering, as I'm sure you were only talking for yourself and there's no right or wrong here, as far as I can tell.)

For what it’s worth, I view it all as part of real life and see nothing untoward or unreal about those connections I continue to happily make. If someone turns out to be an impolite cretin, you ditch them – just like out there, in the big bad realistic world of reality and real stuff and realness. Really.

Middle class children make far better smokers. More style. That’s one thing I miss about the old days – kiddies with fags. Ah, sweet memories. You were definitely one of the cool gang, Cusp. We rocked (in a middle class, non-confrontational way).

Kind regards etc….


Signs - watch it.

Cusp said...

Ah well Mr P. Englishman (sorry Signs we seem to have taken over your comments section for a moment), I'm not really sure about penfriends. For me they were always a dubious delight: thrilled at receiving letters from someone in a faraway land in an envelope with strange stamps and franking but never quite sure about whether the person who was writing was who s/he said s/he was --- rather like blogging. This may stem from an untoward experience with a 'boy' from Hungary in about 1968 who turned out to be 26 and more interested in the stamps I could get hold of for him than in writing to a nice English child who was convinced that the world was just how 'Look & Learn' portrayed it.

Letters to newspapers could be real but then didn't Mr Orton write some scurrilous correspondence to newspapers in the 60s under a pseudonym ?: and look where it got him.

It is all 'real life' in terms of experience and the playing with reality and unreality of what we perceive to be living and life, methinks.

Yes we were cool getting on the top deck after school and a quick purchase of said contraband from the toy section of our local department store. Somehow, though, the kids from the Catholic school always seemed to have the edge. Maybe it was Catholic guilt seeping through their sin-making pores which gave them a certain froideur which could trump any sense of 'cool.'

nmj said...

But why am I talking about it when I could be writing it?

Dearest Signs, If it is the most important thing to you, you will keep writing it and it will be finished.

It has to be or you will go mad, and every day be eaten up by guilt that you are not finishing.

Sorry about all the italics.

A for E-readers/E-books, I have no desire to read one, but my feeling is that many who felt they would hate them are being converted.

And like TPE I still much prefer to read newspapers as real newspapers, and not on-line, but it can be very handy to read online when you are too tired - and still in your pyjamas at 4pm - to go out to the shops.

The Periodic Englishman said...

Beware the 26 year old Hungarian man collecting stamps from a child. It’s a famous maxim, Cusp, and I’m surprised you let it slip from your mind. However……

I do wonder about some of the penfriends I may have had as a child, now that you come to mention it. Sports fanatic Gregory, 12, from Nimes, did seem unusually keen to see a picture of me in my trunks. It’s a bit chilling to think that those pictures are still in circulation, actually. You struck lucky, surely, with the stamp guy.

But yes, I suppose I feel that the people who have made my life most difficult are those people I’ve met face to face. Physical, day to day familiarity is no barrier to treachery. You’re just as likely to bump into a mentaller on the street as you are in here. (Okay, the chances are maybe slightly higher in The House of Signs, right enough, but that’s something you’ll need to take up with our host).

And you say that penfriends were a mixed bag for you, a dubious delight. Ditto for me with the people in Blogoslavia and ditto for this life as a whole. It’s just the way things are, really, and I’ve never felt that the people here – in blogland – are any worse than those guys out on the street. (With, yes, the obvious exception of Signs. She’s just an absolute nightmare, though.)

Kind regards etc….


NMJ - terrific news that you’re still in your pyjamas at 4pm. Tend to agree – the online papers are very, very handy when collecting the paper sort of papers seems too much. It must surely be better for the environment, too? Or does all this electrical activity nullify the gains? I think that Signs, as our leader, should probably answer these concerns.

Signs – seriously, watch it.

Reading the Signs said...

Evening all - as Dixon of Dock Green used to say. A party, how nice. I would have joined you before now but Icemaiden has been plying me with drink (a devilish black concoction that you keep in the freezer)and we have been to the flicks (Slumdog Millionaire - wonderful).

And just to say, TPE that I am and have been watching it very closely indeed, and will continue to do so, hipster. Stop with the Special Brew though.

And Cusp, nothing wrong with taking over my comments section, I like y'all taking over my comments section. It's like having a party where there is the convivial hum of all your friends talking to each other.

NMJ, I am having to think about whether it is the most important thing, and I do drive myself mad. But talking about it feels like a good part of the process. Of course I risk disappearing up the backside of my own process and losing myself but I need to freewheel a little and blog is lovely for this.

(I have been known to stay in pyjamas all day.)

Back soon but suppose I should think of getting some sleep.

But. Blogoslavia is real and this is real and so are we.


Anna MR said...

Hmmm. Hello, everyone - what a good, interesting, flourishing thread this is. It's not like I have anything revelationary and earth-shatteringly new or different to add, but I'm still going to give my take on the blogging/writing-"real life friend"/blogfriend issue (in other words, having nothing to say has never shut me up before).

For me, my blogging is my writing. For me, my blog friends are my friends. I don't see a problem there. I may or may not write somewhere else, too, I may or may not have friends you won't meet in these threads, but one is not lesser than the other. I absolutely believe relationships "here" can be as reliable and true as any I'm ever likely to have the privilege to experience. I suppose one could also have the misfortune of coming across some real wankers, here as elsewhere (although, as pointed out by a certain and very special someone up there, here in the House of Signs it tends to be weirdoes and mentallers more likely than wankers - speaking as one, you know) (weirdo and mentaller, that is - just to be clear). As anywhere, in any relationship, it's a combination of luck (needed for meeting - could also be called chance or destiny or serendipity or guidance or whatever) and mutual honesty and openness and respect and trust and recognition and an amount of similarity of character, too, I suppose. For these features to manifest, bodies aren't really needed (useful as they are for many other things).

And to come back to the blogging/writing dichotomy - could it not just be that a blog post is a new(ish) package in which writing can come? We have novels and essays and poems and all manner of other things. I find a "good" blog post (and let's not muddle issues by trying to define "good" for now) is a good piece of writing in its own right, it doesn't have to be a poem or a novel or an article (while it can be any or all or a combination of these, and other forms of written messages). Also, blog posts tend to grow into a body of work, a collection of posts, often and beautifully with a context of its own and an intertextuality with other blogs. Additionally, there is in blogging the interactiveness of the comment world, which I absolutely adore and which, for me, is as creative and wonderful in its unplanned, spontaneous, bounce-off-each-other unpredictability as any human interaction I can imagine - bar maybe dancing. Funnily enough, we were talking about this tonight with my lovely host (hello, sees), and I said the closest I could come to describing (for myself) the comment phenomenon was "dancing with words". It's fun, it's breathtaking, it's exciting, it's beautiful.

So, you know, that's what I think. Or at least a slice of what I think. It's late and I have to say farewells tomorrow, so I must save my energies and your reading-ears and shut up for a while. In the meantime, hugs and hellos to one and all. (And Nicola? Hello. Just create the blog, first of all. You don't even have to write anything, just make it so it's there. Or just keep joining in here. There are no rules.)

Digitalesse said...

Sweetie cigarettes obviously led wee happless weans onto harder stuff like sherbet fountains and cans of Co-op shandy. I'm now in 'recovery' on a diet of rice cakes and alfalfa sprouts. Just say NO, kids.

nmj said...

hey signs, of course is good to freewheel on the blog and talk about the process (of writing), and you freewheel so well, after all, in a most readable way... i used my blog to talk about the process (of publishing, or lack of) til it actually happened, so maybe that can happen with the writing too?

... but part of me honestly thinks that if it is the most important thing then you know it already.

... sherbert fountains, my god they have prob been banned now cos of the additives and sugar content...

Reading the Signs said...

too late, Digi, they got me when I was young and I still occasionally buy sweets from the section that is clearly only meant for tiny kids.

NMJ, you can still get sherbet fountains with the white stuff that looks like cocaine and the little black liquorice stick. How can fizzy sugar be so gorgeous.

I have been thinking about some of these comments. Sometimes it feels quite new, this way of talking and being in touch with people. I suppose that in the old days (how old I am not sure), it was possible to have several letters flying between people in the course of one day, as long as they lived near enough to each other for someone to run between them. Then came the telephone. I once had a penfriend who lived in New Zealand. We sent each other drawings of the layout of our bedrooms, spoke about best friends and favourite pop singers. I was at boarding school having a bit of a miserable time so I made things up that sounded approximate to the kind of happy life she seemed to have. We both liked the Beatles. The wait between letters was weeks and eventually we both lost interest. I thought that with emailing there was the potential for a renewed kind of creative letter-writing, but actually it has mostly become an alternative to the telephone a quick way of sending and receiving information. Blogworld is still generally despised by those who don't do it, but creative possibilities aside, it does seem to me to have offered new possibilities for relationships and dialogue between people. And, to echo TPE, I too find bouncing around in Blogoslavian space refreshing after a hard day at the - er - coalface.

Kahless said...

they dont do sweets like the old days. Thanks for those memories, cos that is what I focussed on!!!

Reading the Signs said...

You can still find them, Kahless, if you know where to look.

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