Poetry Day

Poems for poetry day

4th October 2018

Today is National Poetry Day, 2018. To mark this, I publish three of my poems based on history and legend.

17/12/1965

Antiochus, 1965

A thousand slaves on Nemrud’s height did toil
and raised a tumulus of such might
that snow lay on its body, huge and bare.
Six Titans sat, carved from titanic stone,
and guarded Antiochus, lord of Commagene,
whose mortal ashes, in his tomb,
no longer can be seen.

1966

Some lines depicting a Greek legend, 1966

Wild chaos, like a milky void, was there
and from it, through the very beats of time,
arose a Goddess with a graceful form.
She found no solid thing to rest upon
and so divided water from the wind.
She made the boundless sea with flowing tide
and danced upon its ripples and its waves.
She danced upon the universe alone
and grasped the tameless wind between her hands:
she rubbed it and behold! A serpent grew.
The star-crowned, black-winged goddess of the night,
before whom even Zeus must stand in awe,
was courted by the wind and made an egg
of silver which she laid in Darkness’ womb.

24/01/1966

Artemis, 1966

Artemis gazes from above
with hornéd creatures by her head.
She fills the world with stormy love
and constellations of red dread
lie throbbing on her many breasts
above the aching chasm’s floor
that once contained her great incests –
rise now with human gore.

All composed during my teenage years when ancient history was a new-found interest of mine.

Aakash Odedra

“Echoes & I Imagine” World Premiere at Curve – Review

10th Oct 2015

Echoes and I Imagine – World Premiere – Curve

By Trevor Locke
Rating: *****

The solo dance performance of Aakash Odedra tonight was sensational. I have not seen male dance of this calibre since I last saw Rudolf Nureyev in the 1970s. Odedra’s first piece was a stunning performance based on the Indian classical dance genre Kathak. Dancing to the choreography of Aditi Mangaldas, Odedra demonstrated the sublime artistry of his abilities, with movements that had razor-sharp timing, perfectly synchronised with the music. The work opened with with gloriously evocative sounds creating a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere, heightened by the lighting and the floor of the stage being spread with long filaments of golden threads studies with tiny bells, laid out to look like the ripples of a lake.

The piece drew on the image and symbol of bells, which hung from the top of the stage in clusters of long strings. As the programme notes explained ‘The resonance of the bells awaken us to the now. A breath and senses awakens. LIFE awakens me.’ The Kathak dance form is story-telling in motion. The elaborate footwork, enhanced by bells, attached to the ankles, was characteristic of the dance form; Odedra pulled down two of the long strands of bells and wound them around his ankles before proceeding to display amazing footwork, in his bare feet. In something that Western audiences would recognise as tap dancing, he also used his feet as percussion instruments, drumming on the stage, producing sequences of intricate rhythms. Echoes is a work that plays with the idea of bells, their tradition in classical dance, their ritualistic significance and their potential as a metaphor for freedom and awakening.

The piece also included many of the spinning movements – the chakkars – so characteristic of classical Kathak. What Mangaldas has done is to bring the ancient art form into the 21st century without losing any of its resonance and vibrancy. Some of Odedra’s spins were like those of an ice skater; he has a fluidity of movement that is remarkable but he combined this with dynamics that are amazing. All the time we watch those extraordinarily impressive hand movements, the fingers that wave and flutter like the wings of a bird. It was like seeing dance from another planet; something that moves forward what we understand about solo dance. Utterly enthralling and spellbinding throughout.

Echoes celebrated the form of classical Kathak, but the second piece – I Imagine – brought a totally new approach and direction to the stage. In it, Odedra demonstrated his sense of humour, his consummate capacity for entertaining his audience. It was another demonstration of his story-telling powers, using mime, antics and even spoken word to engage us in a meditation on the theme of travel and migration (very topical.) Odedra came on to a stage stacked with suitcases – like the bells, another evocative metaphor. This piece used a variety of masks to signify characters, not unlike those used by actors in classical Greek drama, I thought. At the beginning of the piece, one of the larger suitcases begins to move and Odedra emerges from it, foot by foot, leg by leg, rather like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. It reminded me of Ernest being found in a handbag. The story goes on to depict arriving in a new country, migration to a new and alien culture, the feelings evoking loss of homeland, leaving behind the ones that are loved, the challenges of accommodating a new style of life. And then Odedra does something totally innovative for a dancer – he engaged in a spoken monologue in which he used surprising skills of characterisation, speaking in accents to bring his characters to life, much to the amusement of the audience. It was a sequence that bore similarities to stand-up comedy, recollecting the Kumars, I thought. Towards the end of the piece, Odedra walked across the top of a line of suitcases, having used them beforehand to make an armchair and a house. It was a gleeful deployment of the props and one that took us a long way from the previous classical dance routines.
I Imagine included spoken word by the celebrated Sabrina Mahfouz, the British Egyptian poet, playwright and performer who was born in South London. Odedra’s collaboration with the award-winning Mahfouz created a work that was supremely one of theatre, one that gave us dance, drama, comedy and gymnastics. It reminded me of my previous experience at Curve when I saw Bromance, the production by the Barley Methodical Troupe that created a new genre of dance and gymnastics. Odedra commissioned the masks used in this production from circus practitioner David Poznanter (it must have been the association of circus that conjured the idea of the work by the Barley Methodical Troupe in my mind.)

Tonight’s World Premier of Echoes and I Imagine crowns the previous appearance made by Odedra at Curve, including Inked and Murmer in 2014.
Speaking after the performance, Odedra paid tribute to his teacher, the internationally renown Kathak dancer Nilema Devi MBE.

Aakash was commissioned by Curve Theatre in Leicester to choreograph a piece for the opening of the theatre in November 2008. This piece, called “Flight” was the only one invited to perform for HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh on their visit in December 2008

Aakash Odedra was raised in Leicester and his company is based here.

Curve has over the years given us so much that is new and exciting in the arts and tonight was no exception.

This entry was originally published in Arts In Leicestershire online magazine,  on March 12, 2016

Poems from 1969

Poetry

from 1969

Marooned, 1969

I was a small boy;
perhaps I was twelve.

“Me an’ me mates
were over on ‘ayling Island.
Trev – ‘e’s me best mate –
‘e went back to the mainland on the ferry
but I couldn’t go, ‘cos I didn’t ‘ave
enough money. So Trev went over and
said he’d come back for me.”

I stood on the island shore
watching the tide pour through
the narrow channel between the islands
in a churning current.
Watching the figures on the mainland shore
hoping that one of them would come back for me.
I stood there alone, penniless…

…with a strange feeling deep inside me…

a feeling
a feeling

of being utterly alone
stranded, in a strange place,
far from home.

I was not afraid
even as the tears
momentarily blurred my vision.
I felt challenged to survive.
Independent. Self-dependent.
With a strange feeling,
an odd sensation deep inside me.

Stranded on an island far from home.
Across the raging water,
just three hundred yards away,
there was my friend.

I did not know
what that strange feeling was
but I called it
‘maroonia’

Since then I have
felt it again.
At times it creeps back;
when I am faced with
momentous decisions
when I have to make important plan
when I end a love affair.

On my island of life
I look across at the world.
I feel alone.
I am far from home.

But the challenge is to survive.
That dispels the blurring of my desolation.
Maroonia returns.

I did get back all right.
I did get home.
But now home is
eighty miles away.
I am an adult.

But I am still alone.

Maroonia.

Room, 1969

Room with a view
and a gas ring
a hot and cold sink
a hot and cold bed
Bare walls distempered blue
and carpets fitted – more or less.

Heavy lorries roar
in Cromwell Road.
The gas fire hisses
at the coldness of my feet;
drafts carry away
the precious little heat.

I am here.
They are there,
all around me
boxed in little rooms
human units
anonymous entities
unrelated existences.

Roar, roar thou winter lorry;¹
thou art not so unkind
as Georgian architecture.

¹ a play on words from Shakespeare, As You Like It (II, vii)

My mind, 1969

My strange existence:
it is heavy like a rock
it is shallow like a stream
it is clear like a loch
it is false like a dream

From bubbles to butterflies
it changes, like passing clouds,
and winds that blow away
leaving the air to be still

I seek it with searching eyes
I seek it with straining ears
I seek it with with groping fingers
I seek it with quivering heart
quivering with frustration

I reach, at last, the truth:
Alas! The bubble bursts
the butterfly flutters away.

The Wind, 1969

I feel it blowing through my mind,
this wind of evening, warmed by the setting sun,
as light as the fleecy clouds, high in the radiant sky.
I feel this wind: breathing, gentle, ponderous,
softly in my heart, living in sentiments.
It blows faintly through deep bones and organs,
whistling in hot blood, collecting in the clear eye,
whirling around in the darkness of the brain.
My life is a wind of change, eternal transience,
but I, always ineffable, say
“I am I, for ever, come what may.”

Though I may suffer much, I never cry
from the bleeding rack of bloodied time
and unavoidable age. I never cry:
the wind will dry my tears before they fall.
I never cry. But, do I ever laugh?

My inner wind is never calm. From gales,
to fairest whispers, I am beaten down
by the movement of feelings,
emotions, sentiments, stinks and essences
of my life, my destiny, my death.

I never cry? I laugh, only to die, for a time
and I have parted friendless from enemies.
Be brave, for courage is
one’s only untaxed asset.
And tears fall in the drying wind of change.

Poor, sad eyes: dark pools within
the face’s wan virginity.
Dear wind: blow! blow!
My tears are drops of dew
in your desiccating kisses.

See also

A Poem of Tajihi

A Country Walk 

A poem of Tajihi, 1968

A poem of Tajihi, 1968

‘Cranes call, flying to the reedy shore;

how desolate I remain

as I sleep alone!’¹

Here lies a boy with empty arms,

his soft hair lying on the pillow.

When the sun bears the golden fruit

and lifts his head to melt the frost

and summon up the cock

he will awake and hear the sound

of reeds rustling in the morning breeze.

Then he will remember the evening passed,

he’ll see again the amber sun

reclining in a bed of rosy clouds.

That call again will echo in his ears,

the cranes will settle in their nests

and he will wander back

to his small bed – alone;

and on the way he’ll pick a fading rose

and sniff its mellow perfume,

he will lay it on the table by the book he read

last night. Then he will look

across the valley to the little town

where all the people live.

But now, he lies asleep

with no one in his world,

to make his fresh young heart

beat faster in its ruddy nest.

Those eyes of his will fade

before their dewy brightness

can be seen.

Cranes: call no more tonight!

Quoted from An old threnody by Tajihi Yanushi, an envoy, composed in grief at the death of his wife.

See all poems on poetry home page

A country walk 1966

A country walk, 1966

I walked all wreathed in bliss and happy thoughts,

bathed in the pleasant sunshine of the noon,

with grass, a happy carpet for my feet,

the trees were clothed in leaves so rich and thick,

the sky was blue and shining like the sun,

and all lived in the country’s earthly peace.

The sadness and the grief of concrete wrong

had left itself away, a journey long.

I wandered in the heart of nature’s breast,

and had no future, in my little life,

I was a cow, a ship and roaming beast.

I knew no place of living; here was rest –

it lay about me on the verdant grass,

There was no ardent torture for a climb

to higher ways and better means of life,

such things were lost in dim, historic time,

entombed beneath the joyous here and now

it was as though to heaven I had gone.

See all poems on poetry home page

Keeping going

Sunday 5th August 2018

Keeping going

Last Sunday I wrote about what I called a Turning Point. I pointed out that I had decided to change course. After six months of writing my current novel, a new approach was required. Changing the style of the novel – from something resembling a screenplay – to the more conventional format of a narrated story, told in the past tense. That is what I am doing. It was not a decision that I took lightly; it means a great deal of work; editing the text, changing the way dialogue is treated. While that is happening no new material is being created.

Have I done the right thing?

Part of me wants to be rebellious. Creative. Innovative. Committed to bringing about change in the way novels are written. Another part of me craves recognition. Getting my novel published – by an established publishing house – justifies the many, many hours of work involved. An author who has a string of credits, whose work sells well, who has a following of readers, can try something new. A writer who wants to get his first novel into print is enslaved to conventional ways of doing things.

My previous two novels stuck to the rules. They were written in a style that followed the conventions of writing fiction in English. Neither of them has yet been accepted; but then, I have not done much to get them accepted. The manuscripts have been sent to far few literary agents. All of those approaches have been rejected. Hardly surprising. Both works were too different. They would not have slotted easily into the pre-conceptions of British publishing. Rant as I may about the sad and sorry state of book publishing, there is little I can do to change it.

I thought I read somewhere that the British buy more books than do most of their European counterparts. A nation of readers, the British spend more time in front of a page than the Peoples of other countries. Even if that is correct, I am far from convinced that the reading public wants novels that are literary. The shelves of bookshops are piled high with works that stick to well-worn themes, recognisable stories and genres, formats and styles that play it safe.

What do I read?

Reading novels written by others takes up a lot of my time. On my desk are copies of books that have recently dropped through my letterbox (I buy all my books on the Internet – at a fraction of the cost of what is being charged by the established High Street retail outlets.)

Kipps, by H. G. Wells, was the last one to land on the doormat. A couple of days before it was Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin. And his A Single Man is on its way. As the pile increases, I realise I am still wading through John Braine’s The Crying Game. And Smut by Alan Bennett. And I still have not finished Brideshead Revisted. Or Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Even the bookmark slotted into the pages of Doctor Zhivago is nearer the front than the back. It’s all got rather silly.

But then I had been told that writers should read the works of other novelists. I think the Bennett is the newest work I have bought – having been published in 2011. I use it as a guide to contemporary typesetting. Frequently looking into it to see how things have been punctuated or laid out on the page. Would I buy a book published this year? Probably not. Apart from the price (too much for my meagre budget) I don’t like what stands for current fiction. Not based on what websites and newspapers are telling me. Expensive industrial pulp. In ten years time, many of these books will have been forgotten. Buy it. Read it. Bin it. Not my mantra.

Other posts in this blog

Use Your Imagination.

For a complete list of blog posts, go to the home page.

Turning Point

Sunday 29th July 2018

Turning Point

No one ever said that writing is easy; least of all, me. After more than six months of working intensively on The Streets Of London, I have come to the point where I think I have been doing it all wrong. Novelists will, I am sure, recognise that – as something that happens. As I have explained elsewhere, I decided to use a totally different style for the book. Most novels are written as narratives; often in the past tense and where the story is told by a third person. I wanted to do something different.

See my article about writing style

I used that style in my first two novels. In them. It worked. But I felt that the time had come to try something different. To experiment with a fresh approach to the novel. That is why I used a style based on the film script. Not the accepted standard way of writing a film script. A modified version of it that read like the text for a film. In some ways I think it worked.

Now I am not so sure. Yesterday, I spent several hours looking at the whole issue of whether it is possible to write a novel using a film script style. At the end of that time, I felt less confident that it could be made to work. I reached a crossroads. A turning point in my journey as a novelist where I had to make a decision about which way to go. I decided to rework the whole of Act One. Abandon the film script style and turn it into the more conventional way of writing. Narrative. Told by a third person. Possibly even an omniscient narrator.

Having done that, I will look at the two versions and weigh up where I have got to. That was my decision. I said ‘Act One.’ There were no chapters in the first draft of the book. Just three Acts. Each had a series of scenes. Each scene had a precise date. This is a history. It uses a chronological approach to the story. It does not have flashbacks. Those devices have not attracted me. Occasionally a character would talk about their lives – in the past. But they do that in the present. There is a sense in which the whole book is a story told by someone. But we are never told who. Or. It could be a diary. In that sense it is an epistolary work. It is, quintessentially, a story that runs along a time line. It begins at an exact time and ends at an exact time. Its division into three acts is, somewhat, a matter of convenience. Act One introduces the characters and sets out the background. Act Three leads to the denouement. The second act is the main course. Dividing the material up into chapters would be completely arbitrary.

Towards the end of last month, I realised there was one big weakness with the approach I had been taking to writing the book. It was almost totally talking. It could have been like a play for radio where all you hear is the voices of a group of actors saying the words. Apart from a few short opening sentences, each scene is limited entirely to people talking. All dialogue. It occurred to me that there could be some scenes that were almost all visual. Or largely visual. I have not yet tried that. So. I am not sure how to do it. In narrative. It’s straightforward. You tell the reader what happened. Job done.

Today – in the year 2018 – most people know the sixties from old film clips. Lots of documentaries on the television show news footage. Scenes shot at the time. They last for a few seconds. They illustrate the narrative. Someone talks about the riots in Grosvenor Square and you see brief clips of people fighting with the police; or being dragged away by them. That sort of thing.

Ah ha! You say. But this is a work of fiction. So you are not limited to brief news clips. You can make a scene as long as you like. As long as it needs to be. Yes. That’s true. But I could also use that news reel approach. Brief scenes where action takes place and a narrator describes what happens. New reels for radio. So to speak. That is a trope that might evoke a way of knowing what happened in the sixties. If you were not there. At the time. For some scenes that might work. Like Michael being at the Grosvenor Square demonstration. Or the boys attending the free concert in Hyde Park where the Rolling Stones were the main attraction. An approach such as this will not work for everything. It would not be possible to use it for the assassination of Martin Luther King. For example. That did not happen in London. The boys read about it in the newspapers, the day after. They talked about the news in the pub. There was nothing to visualise. Other than three boys sitting at a table with their newspapers and pints of beer. Talking.

Successful story telling involves keeping the reader engaged. Happy with how things are moving along. Being satisfied with the pace. Offering enough variation to keep them fully engaged with the story. Not getting bogged down in writing in a certain way. Just because you – the writer – feel comfortable with it.

Finding a voice

Lastly. One final problem. The story revolves around the lives of three people. All of them men (or at least boys – that is what they call each other.) Each of them has a distinctly different voice. In Act One. When they arrive in London. As their friendship develops, they become more and more like each other. By the final stages of the last act, they all speak with one voice. So it seems. By that time the reader has got to know them. As individuals. So, differentiating them through their voices is less important.

That is what I think. But I am not completely sure it works. Like that. Understanding the role of a voice in the novel is something I need to think through. But that will have to wait for next time.

Imagination

Sunday 15th July 2018

Use your imagination

To write a novel you have to use your imagination. At least. That is what I found working on The Streets of London. As the novel has developed it has taken on a life of its own. It began in January and is now over half way to its planned end date.

As I work on the sections, the world of London in the nineteen-sixties emerges, in my imagination. The characters become people that I can relate to. They can go on living their lives even after I have closed the document and walked away from the keyboard.

The scenes flow from my imagination. Like much imaginary life and like many imaginary worlds, the London they inhabit is partly imaginary. And partly real. The novel is sprinkled with real events. The central characters go to see a play. They go to the Royal Court theatre. They see a play by Joe Orton. The date on which they attend the show is a date when Orton’s Ruffian on the stair actually happened. The group of young men, around whom the story revolves, talk about the Grosvenor Square demonstration. They later talk about the assassination of Martin Luther King. Not long after that they discuss another assassination – that of Bobby Kennedy. They share their views on the musical Hair, recently opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre. They gather together to watch the first man landing on the moon.

The story is also sprinkled with real people. Various people make appearances in the book. To mention a few, Steven Sondheim, Leontyne Price, John Braine, David Bowie, Allan Sillitoe… people whose names might be found in any historical account of life and culture of the late sixties and early seventies. Their words were imagined. They were not people I actually met; well not most of them. One or two perhaps. I wrote them into the story because they were relevant to it.

Imagination or reality?

For me writing a novel is not q question of trying to decide between reality or imagination. It is about finding a way of weaving them both into the fabric of a story. My novel is based upon London during a period of five years. London is not a figment of my imagination. It is not a city in Middle Earth. It was a London that actually existed. It is, however, a London that no longer exists. It has passed into the shadows. Like the London of the Elizabethans. Or Victorian London. Many of the real people who appear in the story are no longer alive. They made their mark. They left behind the remains of their existence. Their books. Their recordings. Their lyrics. Their music. Just as Shakespeare did. Just as Karl Marx did. Some writers have created worlds and people who are only imaginary. That trope never appealed to me. My London grew out of my own experiences of living there. From the records I made, some fifty or so years ago, I have a woven a literary fabric which has the warp of reality and the weft of imagination.

Previous posts in my blog

Sunday 8th July 2018 – Ways of writing a novel.

See the home page for my blog

Ways

Sunday 8th July 2018

Ways of writing a novel

Someone asked me recently, how I wrote and was I either a planner or an inspirationist? In other words, did I plan everything in detail before I wrote the first word or did I just sit down at the keyboard and start writing, fuelled only by inspiration and the ideas floating around in my head.
My answer was that, where my current work is concerned, I started as an inspirationist and then became a planner. When I started writing, back in January, the idea for the book was in my head. I felt inspired to get on with it. By the time I had written several thousand words, I realised that I would soon be in trouble. I could not hold all the information in my head; I had to get it down on paper. Otherwise, I would start making serious mistakes. So. What needed to be planned?

Two things stood out:

Characters. Their names and profiles.
Timescales. When things happened and the order in which they happened.

What worried me the most, was continuity. In movie-making, continuity is making sure that details remain the same from one scene to another. If someone has red hair in one scene, he cannot have black hair in a later scene (unless of course, he dyed it but that is something you have to explain.) Or, to take a more obvious example, if a character is 19 in Act One, they cannot be 18 in Act Two. Timelines are records of dates that ensure that each scene happens in the right order. My timeline planning document runs to seven pages of A4. Its purpose is to ensure that there is chronological continuity across the five years of the story.

My novel is split into three acts (not chapters.) Each act is a separate document file. If I want to look at or work on, a specific scene, I use the timeline sheets to find it. Each scene is marked with a unique number. It has to be that way, if I am to find any specific point in the whole manuscript.

The Streets of London is not a simple work. For a start, it now well over 150,000 words long. And growing. There are already forty-six characters in it. Each character has to have a profile specifying their age, appearance and other key details that appear in the book.

Other things have been going on, in the background. A synopsis of the book has been written. This helped me to visualise the work as a whole. A resume of each of the three acts was written. Each of the five years, over which the story takes place, was researched. Facts had to be checked. The story is told in chronological order, from day one to the final day. It certainly was not written in order of the days. It was written in sessions – that was the inspirational bit. Now that nearly all the days have been drafted, I go back to scenes, add to them, amend them or even delete them. And that is just the work on the first draft. Throughout the book, there are some key moments – milestone events that are crucial to the story. These have to be right; they have to be in the correct position to make sense in the flow of the story and they have to be worked out. Once they have taken place, their consequences need to be seen. Explained and shown.

When can we read it?

So, when will the book be finished? I plan to have completed the first draft by the end of this year (2018.) The first couple of months of next year will be concerned only with editing – things like checking the spelling and grammar. I also have to ask myself how it reads – as a novel. Or, more importantly, I have to ask my friends to read it. And to tell me whether they enjoyed it. Sending it out to readers is done to find out if people enjoyed reading it. Some will; others will not. But it’s why they reacted to it in the way that they did, that is important. Not just friends (who are likely to be kind to me) but other writers (who are not likely to be kind to me.)

Finding the tropes

Then there are not inconsiderable issues of style. Trope. A trope is a literary device. A metaphor that portrays an idea; a motif that recurs in the writing, that embodies something. What it should not be is a cliché (unless of course, it is a cliché that was common to a year or period that would warrant its use.) A trope is a figurative device. The story contains motifs – symbols that represent something that underlines a character or event or an idea. The story, as I have written it, contains a great deal of imagery (often of a visual nature.) Motifs feed the reader with clues about what is happening, the significance of events or spoken words. For example, there is a scene in which Adrian (one of the central characters) is walking along a road that glitters with stars. Glittering streets is one of many motifs that are used to signify an aspect of life, an attitude to circumstances. There are many images or figures that signify something and these have to built up as the story unfolds. In this respect, a novel shares elements in common with poetry.

How did we speak?

There are several figures of speech. One of the big challenges I faced, in writing about the sixties, was trying to figure out how people spoke. Despite the fact that I was alive in that period, I cannot remember how people spoke. Not with any degree of detail or accuracy. But to bring the sixties to life, I had to guess how people spoke. There were a lot of slang words in the 1960s. Some of them I remember. Others had to be researched because I had forgotten them. Some of those sixties words and phrases are still in use; others have fallen into obscurity. Part of the trope (of writing about the sixties) was trying to capture how that period sounded, in the way that people spoke, back then. Not just speaking either. I had to describe how they looked. Fashion. Hairstyles. The way that what you wore said something about who you were.

There is one advantageous source, about setting a novel in modern times – film. Writing novels about Tudor times does not have that advantage. The camera was invented long, long after the death of Shakespeare. A lot of films of people talking and doing things in the 1960s has survived. Some of it has been very valuable to me in getting to grips with the period. It does have to be authentic. It’s no use thinking that movies, in which actors speak from scripts, is social realism. What I relied on were newsreels in which people spoke their own words.

Why?

In my travels around the Internet, I came across one question which I tried to dismiss when I read it. The question asked ‘Why are you writing this novel?’ So. Why am I writing a novel called The Streets of London? If I wanted to be flippant I could simply answer ‘Because I wanted to.’ Flippancy is not ways widely appreciated. In all seriousness, there are reasons and these include:

(a) Because I think it will make an entertaining read. Some people will want to read a book about the ‘swinging sixties.’
(b) A lot of books have been written about this period of English history. Few of them portray it realistically and accurately. Many of them stereotype it and simply trot out all the well-worn cliches that have become stock-in-trade for people who were either not alive at the time or failed to really understand what it was like, back then.
(c). I love using my own past – in my creative writings. Beware. My novel is not an autobiography. It is not about me. It is based on my experiences, that I recorded at the time, as they happened. The word ‘based’ is a trope. A device that is waived around in films and books more in glee than in seriousness.

Why did Jane Austen write Pride and Prejudice? Why did Charles Dickens write Oliver Twist? Why did George Orwell write Nineteen Eighty-four?

Intriguing questions but will we ever really know the answer? Might it not be better to say why I wrote the book after it is finished?

Some previous posts in my blog

Sunday 17th June, Finishing a novel

Sunday 10th June, Changing course.

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Finishing

Sunday 17th June 2018

Finishing a novel

Is there such a thing as a finished novel? Well there is; it is finished when it published and appears in print. But when it is finished as far as the author is concerned? Back in 2016, I thought I had finished my novel ‘Holiday‘ (working title). But, over the past couple of weeks, I have been going through it all again. I talked about this in my last blog post – Changing Course. More work still remains to be done. I will return to the manuscript and deal with the issues that I think are left to consider. One of these issues is how to start the story. At the moment, the story begins about three days into the timeline of the sequence of days that make up the fourteen days over which the story takes place. How do I explain the main characters got to that point in time?

The Saint Gotthard Pass. This picture has become a metaphor for writing a novel.

My original draft began right at the very beginning – when the main character went into a travel agency to book his holiday. I started not to start at that point, when I came to the third edition. I still think it important to tell my readers who the two boys came to go on holiday to Italy, back in 1966.

Structure and the flow of a story are considered to be very important. The way the story is told is considered to be part of the art of story-telling and how to write a novel. There are many elements within the story, elements that have to make sense as they read. Things happen and the reader has to understand why they happen, how they happened in the way they did and, after they have happened, what the implications are.

The characters are the story

My novel is a tale about two teenagers and their friends. That is what the story is about. What they do, what they say to each other, how they relate to each other – these are the elements of the plot (if it can be said to be a plot, in the traditional sense of the term.) Some scenes need no introduction – other than being family with the characters involved. It is just a narrative about people talking and doing things. But some events are put in and require later analysis. That happens. The main character is a teenager writer. What a surprise! That gives me a way of dwelling on what he thinks and I use this technique in ‘Holiday‘ and also in ‘The Streets of London.’ Michael, the main character of ‘Holiday‘, talks, acts and is seen doing things. But we really get into his mind and soul when he writes. The narrative has brief pieces of his writings. As he goes through the holiday, he writes about it. His thoughts could have been handled through dialogue. My concern is, however, to portray Michael as a writer and, as such, he is different to those around him and different in the way he experienced people, events and the things he sees and experiences.

That trope is one of my key characteristics as a novelist. Insert bits of written script into the narrative, draws the reader into the nature and art of writing and into the way that writers experience the world and the events that happen to them. Other authors do the same thing by narrating what the characters think; as though the narrator was capable of seeing into their minds. In two of novels, I make the leading characters write about what they are thinking. I want the reader to see what life is like as a writer and how the realities of daily life can be expressed in writing. Not everyone carries a notebook around with them and writes down in it things they experience in their day-to-day life. For authors with non-literary characters, they can equally well sit down and write a letter. It’s an alternative way of doing much the same kind of thing.

For me, I like to portray characters as writer. As Michael, the lead character in ‘Holiday‘, writes in his holiday diary:

Being a writer makes me different to other people. They keep asking me why I am always writing things down in my notebook and I try to give them serious answers but I don’t think any of them understand. For me, writing helps to sort out my thoughts and feelings. In my notes I can record what I have seen and done and how it is has affected me. I write about what other people have said and done and what I think about them.

This is a recurring theme in my work – that the writer is not just another bloke; a writer is a different kind of person. How he sees the world, how he thinks, and how reacts to his experiences, are recorded with a pen and paper. That makes him different. He is psychologically different and existentially different to people who never writer anything. That is a premise which I want to stand up to scrutiny. In The Streets of London, I take it to the next level. Adrian, the writer and main character, is writing a novel and that is part of the story line. What unfolds is a novel within a novel. A story being told about telling a story. Of course, the book is not just about Adrian writing a novel; there is a lot more to it than that. Adrian’s writing is a sub-plot. What the story considers is the way in which his experienced as a person feed his creative writing. It also reveals how his desire to write about specific things drives his life and even the lives of his friends.

For now I am putting the manuscript of ‘Holiday‘ to one side and returning to work on The Streets of London.

Previous blog posts

Sunday 10th June – Changing Course