Write like Who?

When I wrote  ‘A Court in Splendour’ my book about the First Eidstedddfod, I chose the language in which I wrote to be somewhere more formal than a completely modern idiom, but not strictly medieval. Although initially it seemed artificial, the more I wrote the more comfortable I became with the style that developed. It added something to the characters and felt credible to me. According also to those who have read the book, it works well, and the voices of those who tell the stories are accepted sufficiently to allow the transition into the12th century, with the necessary suspension of disbelief the reader requires for true enjoyment. Now I have been asked to turn the book into a play, and I am fumbling along with a fresh problem. The first pages of the dialogue so far written are like a parody of Shakespeare – at least that is what they look like to me. Whenever I read through them it seems I am caught with visual images of Shakespearean characters striding the stage, doing something like…declaiming! not just talking which is what I aim for, but a kind of higher more formalised style which has sprung on me from nowhere. I sent it to a friend/editor who agreed that it was a bit Shakespeare but that once people begin to speak the lines it will iron itself out and the necessary casualising will occur. But how can I ask people to read it as it is. They will fall about laughing, thinking either that I think I am a reincarnation of Shakespeare, or I’m pretending to be clever – which I’m not. It’s a dilemma. I don’t want to write like anybody else. It is important to me to write like myself, but with the adjustment of course for the voices of characters. Maybe they want to be like Shakespeared characters, maybe a medieval drama has to be a bit like that. Well, we shall see I suppose. It’s early days and anything could happen.

However,  I am questioning why working with the dialogue in the book was so different from in the play. Technically I have heard all the characters  in the play share their thoughts with me (and the reader) in the book already, and it is these voices I am waiting for, not Malvolio or Oberon. I can’t figure it at all. I do hope it will work out but currently it is putting me off working on it. I do really need to keep at it because it is the only thing I am committed to right now. I am waiting to find out if I can achieve publication in England before I commit to my one other project, a story about Ashburton and St Gudula of the well there. At least in Wales I stand a fighting chance of being published because I’m a member of the Academy and because I write about Welsh history. So, perhaps a change is ahead, The Bardic Monk is currently being pitched to an English publisher so while I wait to hear from them I will give the play a rest and see if that has any effect when I try again. Watch this space.

There are times, and now is one of those times, when it seems that everyone in the world is moving along at a rate of knots so great that one can hardly keep up with them. Today I have spoken to no less than three people whose lives are in a total maelstrom of activity, chaos, and terror that what they need to achieve will never be reached. I watered a plant, jotted a few dates in a diary and was otherwise useless to them. I put the kettle on, had a cup of tea with them, while theirs went cold and they continued running about. I think I feel it most because I am becalmed at the moment. Nothing is happening at all. My latest book is finished but no publisher is reaching out urgently to read it. All of those closest to me are either moving into new houses, new jobs, new grandchildren, new relationships, and I drift along without any new ideas and hoping and waiting for something that is so nebulous I can’t actually identify it. A still centre whilst the storm rages round me I am aware that the vortex which tumbles around me is in fact unavoidably something to do with me being in the middle of it. Does that mean that I create the chaos? How we connect I don’t know clearly but the inner stillness and the outer chaos are inextricably linked to one another.

Perfect Moments

I have just finished reading a book called Disputed Land, a clever and thoughtful novel which touches on many themes, not least what we are doing to the environment, but also how we relate and how the capacity we have for good relating, perhaps especially in families, is in effect amongst the most essential of the qualities of human life. Not that Tim Pears the author does not see other things as important. But in the way the book is written, in the first person, as though through the eyes of a man looking back at his thirteen year old self, what struck me was the way that the familial relationships were cast through his eyes. I never had grandfather or grandmother within living memory. The last of them to die was my paternal grandmother who died around my second birthday and of whom I have no real memory and no photos. Theo, the young lead in the book, has a genuinely interesting relationship with his grandfather and there is a feel about it which made me quite envious. Until that is I reflected on the relationship my own father shared with my sons which frankly was virtually non-existent.Their grandfather was, in one way at least, like the grandfather in the book, completely obsessive about his own interests. Unlike the character in the book he had no idea how to engage with youngsters and did not particularly like to. When faced with them he might give them the benefit of talking about his latest invention in terms which no-one but him could understand (my late husband once fell asleep in front of him while he was talking to him, and two of the boys sat at his feet playing a card game but grandfather talked on apparently choosing not to see that no-one was listening). The extraordinary thing is that since he died he has become very interesting to them, his inventions are the subject of a certain fascination, and my stories of his eccentricities are eagerly heard.

Many things went through my head reading this lovely book, and no doubt many of them are nothing to do with the reasons it was written. But almost always in a good novel I find a quote, something which stands out to me and makes a point which however many times I’ve heard it before, I hear it anew. In this book it was a quote from The Venerable Bede, ‘Life is the flight of a sparrow through the banqueting hall’ and the author adds ‘and the banqueting hall is the mind of God’.

Is that not a sublime idea? Now I may forget the majority of the story in Disputed Land, though I will remember its themes, and I may forget one day that I have ever read any books by Tim Pears, but I will not forget that quote. And I have others, in notebooks, on scraps of paper and back pages of diaries, from other books I have read where one line, or one phrase jumped out and gave me food for thought for days, something which arrived at exactly the right time that my brain needed it and lifted my spirit. 

I see these as perfect moments and am always hopeful that my own books may carry one or two of them for other people because surely others experience those brief, sharp, delights, of finding a string of words that perfectly express a hidden truth.

Looking and Learning

It’s interesting looking at other blogs and seeing how the most interesting are often those with a visual attraction as well as words. In free-lance writing I know from experience that if I send in a story to a newspaper without a picture it only stands half the chance it would if it was accompanied by a visually interesting image. My problem with this, my blog, is my photo,picture collection to hand is not only minimal, but it is also not terribly interesting. I cannot just reach into my collection and produce something appropriate to what I am writing. For instance, writing about Barley Saturday, in my last post, in my head I had a clear image of a framed photograph on my loo wall, which was given to me the Christmas before last. It’s a view of the High Street on Barley Saturday with horses coming down the street, and the whole place alive and colourful, all the shops and so on. It is taken from above by my friend John Bass, who has some kind of specialist equipment to do it. His photos are amazing as he captures things one cannot see at ground level. But having one of his photographs on my loo wall is not the same as being able to put it here, next to my words, so you can see how brilliant the day is, and how well John has captured it. I must tackle this lack of  visuals at my finger-tips, otherwise I will consistently disappoint myself.