Friday, 12 February 2016

All That Jazz


                 I’ve been listening to some jazz albums. I don’t know what made me try them, except a vague wish to try something different, and a vague wish to find out What It’s All About. I was raised on three minute pop songs, and I’ve always thought of jazz as either a lot of musicians trying to impose their tunes on each other, or else as the sort of easy listening that your parents would like. But I put Jazz For Beginners as a search term in Google, got a list of suggestions from various websites, and ordered half a dozen of them from my local library.
                The one which has really captured my imagination is Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Seven instrumental tracks featuring sinuous saxophone solos and soaring piano breaks. The track Take Five sounds familiar, perhaps from a car advert. I’d always thought that the instrument was a clarinet rather than saxophone, so clearly I’ve got cloth ears. This is smooth and melodic, but it isn’t bland. Oh, and the opening track, Blue Rondo A La Turk, is nothing to do with that group from the 1980s.
                Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock also blew me away. Four instrumentals which seem to belong to the Funk genre as much as anything else, but I guess you can’t fully compartmentalize art. Ladies, these tracks have tunes, you can dance to them. I remembered Herbie Hancock from that hip-hop/scratch instrumental Rockit in the 1980s, so I was surprised to find that he’s been a legendary jazz stalwart as well. You learn something every day.
                                                                *

                At my writing class the other day, the course tutor put us into pairs for an exercise. We had to make up a story between us. My mind went blank. I absolutely could not contribute anything, and the poor woman who’d been saddled with me had to do all the work.
                I can’t, any more, seem to make up stories as I go along. I need to think some way along. And I’ve realized since, too, that I need to know the characters. Which is why, for my next project, I am determined not to write a word of it until I’ve written at least a biography of my protagonist.
                Although I’ve said that before…

Friday, 29 January 2016

Water

            Last Sunday evening, after we’d been out for the day visiting, we came back home and, in the hallway, my wife noticed that her slippers were damp. They were directly underneath my winter coat, the hood of which was sodden. I struggled to remember: had it been raining yesterday? Had I hung that coat up there without letting it dry? And then I looked up at the ceiling, in time to see a water drop fall through.
            I struggled to take it in. Was that anything to do with our plumbing? But no, it could only come from the flat above us. A leak. And then I started panicking.
            I shot out, went around to the central door. That flat didn’t have a doorbell. The flat opposite theirs did, and I rang that- perhaps the occupant their could walk across the joint hallway and knock? But nobody answered. I hammered at the letterbox, and called out. No answer.
            There were lights on in both flats, but supposing nobody answered them? I had visions of being flooded out, of electricity fusing- perhaps even the ceiling collapsing under gallons.
            Finally, someone opened the window above us and leaned out. My wife, in stark contrast to me, had stayed level headed. She calmly asked him to came down, which he did, accompanied by his girlfriend. They were a friendly young couple, and when we showed them they leak, they were horrified. They’d recently installed a new washing machine, and the boyfriend went back to his flat to check it.
            So that is how we met our neighbours. That’s how you do it in London, anyway. We knew that new people were upstairs, but neither set of occupants introduced itself to the other until now, when there was an emergency. Up until then, we’d been hoping that they would be alright- sane, honest, friendly, reasonably intelligent- but we’d dreading the possibility that they wouldn’t be any of those things. I’d heard from a man whose upstairs neighbour liked turning all the taps on because of the colour the water made. And we’d already had to deal with a drug dealer, a criminal, and a man who liked throwing pizzas out of the window.
I keep telling myself, as Susan Jeffers suggests in Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, that, whatever happens, I’ll handle it. And I will; because you do, one way or the other. But here, I thought I might have to handle an underwater home, with chunks of floorboard floating about in it. This didn’t happen, though; and, as my wife pointed out to me that night, we were luckier than those poor people up in Yorkshire and Scotland lately.
                                                *
For this week, I’ve gone back to an old idea I’ve had for a contemporary novel. That’s every work day, Monday to Friday. I feel ridiculously proud of myself for doing it, and ridiculously optimistic. And, alright, some days it might have been writing one or two sentences, but the crucial thing is, I kept going back to it, each new day. I didn’t give in.
I might easily roll it all up into a ball and toss it into the wastepaper basket, of course. I don’t want to jinx it. What I’m trying to do is write the synopsis, only the synopsis of the novel, to read out to my writing group when it’s my evening (about a month away). Fingers crossed…


Friday, 22 January 2016

Good Start


It’s been a goodish start to the year. I can’t remember a January when I still felt positive this long after January 1st. Even Blue Monday, the 18th January, didn’t dampen my spirits. I’m writing dates in my Filofax- I’m sure you do that all the time, but up until now I kept forgetting- and as a result, I’m remembering birthdays, anniversaries, doctors’ appointments, etc. I’ve been getting into work on time. Not every day, but I’m better than I was.
Actually, my improved punctuality has come about because, for Christmas, my wife bought me a Kindle Fire 7”, and I’ve been trying to download all the books I had on my original Kindle. For this, you need wifi, and since I don’t have that at home it means I have to use cafes and pubs. So I’ve been leaving the house as soon as I’ve washed and dressed, and trying a different cafĂ© every morning, trying to connect with Amazon. The wifi on London Underground is no good for this, nor is Starbucks, nor any place whose server is The Cloud. Public libraries are hopeless. The only places whose wifi has helped me have been independent cafes and pubs, the wifi which asks you for a password.
Now that I’ve learnt a bit more about the Kindle Fire, it seems very exciting. Not only can I read e-books on it, I can download talking books, music and films as well. I can send and receive emails, and connect to the internet. I don’t play computer games, but apparently it’s good for that too. When we move, which will probably be out of London, which in turns means I will be virtually living in train compartments, I will have a few options to keep myself sane.
My writers’ group has started up again, and I’m beginning to get murmurings of story ideas. I was like this when I was at school- all through the holidays, when I had loads of time for writing, I dried up. As soon as the new term started, the juices started flowing again. I’ve started cutting stories out of newspapers (cutting, pasting and printing out stories from online newspapers isn’t quite so inspirational), and I’m managing to get out and walk around the block in my lunch hours, as recommended by Julia Cameron in her brilliant The Artist’s Way.
I’m writing regularly in my Writing Practice notebook. At the moment, I’m describing last night’s dreams, when I can remember them, something I’ve been doing since I bought Jenny Alexander’s Writing In The House OfDreams. Perhaps it’s only a coincidence (Jenny Alexander might call it synchronicity), but since I’ve been doing this, I’ve felt a lot more positive, and I’ve been getting story ideas, too.

Finally, to crown it all, I’ve written the first draft of a short story. Only about 1,000 words. Horror again- I would have sent it to Microhorror when that was still running. Now I might send it to Burialday.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Hogmany

Christmas was brilliant. And not merely because my wife bought me Avengers: The Age of Ultron. We went to mass on Christmas morning, and that set the tone for the whole day. The sun was coming up as we walked to church, people were walking their dogs, children were riding their new scooters. We both had colds, so we coughed and spluttered through Silent Night. And then we went home to unwrap our presents.
The lunch was delicious (if you're in the UK, and you can get to a Marks And Spencers, try out their gammon with cranberry and orange sauce). The Christmas episode of Doctor Who was okay, better than the (I thought) disappointing final episode of the season, Hell Bent. But it felt great to bathe in the peace.
I'm back at work now, grudgingly. We're all in a hangover state- there's leftover Christmas goodies, and nobody's doing all that much work. A vague feeling that you're missing something good on television, although you're probably not. But also the tension which arises from knowing that next week will be hell. The fares will go up, the transport will grind to a halt, the rest of the population will go back to work, and everybody will be frazzled and bad tempered. And you're at the start of a brand new year, and this time you have got to get to grips with it. We shall see.
I haven't opened my novel-idea notebook in over a week...

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Let The Bells Ring Out...

I normally love Christmas, but this year I'm a bit worried. We're having gammon rather than turkey. Supposing my wife doesn't like my present? Supposing I've forgotten somebody's Christmas card? Can I drag myself to mass on Christmas Eve? Christmas morning?
I don't know why I feel so pessimistic. Good things keep happening to me- I won £200 odd on the horses the other day- yet I feel anxious.
I had a few days leave last week, ostensibly to do the Christmas shopping, although that doesn't take long these days. One of the benefits of being disowned by your mother. We hardly have any Christmas decorations, so they didn't take long. It felt good to rest, and I even wrote some bits and pieces.
I bought myself a brand new Filofax- a proper one. This year, I'm determined to make use of it. I've been using book diaries for the last couple of years, but when I bought the last one (I've been getting the mid-year ones) I couldn't bring myself to transfer the addresses and phone numbers of the same old friends and relatives for another year, and so I ended up lugging the previous diary with me everywhere, as an address book. Of course, there's probably a way to do all that now on your laptop or mobile phone, but I'm a paper and ink man at heart, a luddite.
I've been making notes for a novel. Of course, by the time I post again, I might have packed it in, but it's been a whole week, now, and the project keeps growing. Ideas about characters, ideas for plots, subplots. I have this daydream of taking into my next writers' class, not a story, not a novel, but the synopsis for a novel, and asking the class to imagine that they are, not readers but publishers. And I'd like to think I'll make use of all those books about creative writing I've bought.
Have a great Christmas

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Recovery

I’ve been through a rough patch, which is why I haven’t posted anything in a long while. I felt depressed even though nothing bad had happened. In fact, good stuff was happening, but I couldn’t appreciate it. The new bed frame arrived, and we had proper nights’ sleeps. Our friends moved house. I posted all my Christmas cards, in order to use second class stamps. I don’t know what caused it, and I felt an ungrateful wretch, considering what has happened to other people around the world.
Still, telling myself this didn’t help. Writing practise didn’t help. Morning Pages didn’t help. And I still wasn’t writing, not properly, not anything for anyone else’s eyes.
I wasn’t walking much, either. I couldn’t get any time to myself, which always makes me feel claustrophobic and stifled. The days here have been grey. I think I lacked Vitamin D or whatever it is, the one you get from daylight. I felt sleepy all the time. Also (God, this sounds pathetic) I hardly got to watch anything I wanted on the telly. The latest series of Doctor Who whizzed by without me seeing it. I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here seemed to last forever, as did Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor.

At this precise moment I feel, cautiously, alright. Still not writing, but I’ve come across an interesting book, Writing In The House Of Dreams by Jenny Alexander. It’s about recording your dreams, with a view to using them to create stories. I haven’t, as yet, fully absorbed everything the book has to say. I’m not sure that, ultimately, it will work for me. But it’s well written. And I’ve found writing my dreams down (when I can remember them) to be therapeutic.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Bump In The Night

            We’ve bought a new bed frame. The one we had only lasted three years. It broke one Saturday night. It’s not what you’re thinking. We were drifting off to sleep when we heard creaking.
            At first we thought that the cat had crept into the bedroom. Ever since the flea epidemic, which mercifully seems to have passed, we’ve kept her out of there. We can’t shut our bedroom door properly, so we have to drag a bag full of water bottles, tins of Pepsi, etc; in front of it, to stop her barging her way in.
            We got out, put the lights on and looked around, but couldn’t see her, or anything else which might have caused the noise. So we got back under the covers again. And once again, we heard the creaking. Our hearts were thumping.
            The noise seemed to be coming from underneath us. We lifted up the mattress. The frame is wooden, with slats across as supports, which always made me apprehensive. Actually, the slats were fine, but the central beam to which they connected was breaking in the middle.
            That was Halloween, and things definitely did go bump in the night. Since then, we’ve been sleeping on a bed which dips in the middle like a hammock.
            The shop where we bought the bed has now closed up (perhaps for a reason), so we had no choice but to go out and buy a brand new frame, which should arrive this coming week.
*
            I’m still not writing, at least not anything which I want to show anybody. I’ve kept up Morning Pages and Writing Practice. I’m feeling better, less anxious. Ideas are swirling around. I’m reading again- Nick Hornby’s hilarious FeverPitch (again), and an intriguing biography of Oliver Cromwell, God’s Englishman, written by the Marxist Christopher Hill.
            I’ve also been dipping into poetry anthologies and writing out, in longhand into my notebook, some of the shorter poems. I’m not sure why I’m doing this. To help me absorb the poem better, perhaps. To look at the way the poet punctuates. I read that Natalie Goldberg does this, anyway, and thought that I ought to try it.
                                                            *
            I haven’t mentioned the atrocities carried out in Paris last Friday. Probably, like you, I don’t know what to say about it. I’m still reeling, and still bewildered. I hope that the dead rest in peace, and that their grieving loved ones find peace.
            Maybe I should have been more shocked than I was; but it feels like we’ve seen it all before, and not all that long ago, either. Planes blowing up, innocent sunbathers being machine-gunned. You know what’s coming next: speeches from politicians. Vox pop interviews. Clips of films of shrines, with flowers, candles, soft toys. Shaking footage filmed on mobile phones.

            I’ve tried to be a pacifist, but I don’t know what the solution is to the war on terror. Isil isn’t campaigning for anything, it only seems to want to turn everybody into Muslims, or to kill anybody who doesn’t convert. It’s the legacy of the west’s interference in the Middle East. Iraq, Syria, Egypt have all been turned into hellholes. I don’t think that air strikes work, because they obliterate the innocent as well as the guilty (and, incidentally, the Kurdish forces who have been fighting Isil on the ground). More troops? They might remove Isil operatives, but will they tackle the bitterness, the prejudice, the hatred which created Isil in the first place? Because unless we can tackle that, Isil or its replacement will simply spring up again somewhere else.