31 December 2010

2011: I expect it will be really dismal

Think of all the things that can go wrong.  OK, stop now. I said stop, you will be at it for weeks, there's so many of them.
I am old enough to remember 1962. That was a time when it was easy to imagine that bad things were about to happen.  Really really bad things.  The B-52's were circling overhead then, and I don't mean the ones that sang 'Love Shack' in a very irritating way. As a school kid, I spent what seemed a very long time gathered in the assembly hall being told I had to pray very hard for peace.  I presume all other options had run out by then.  At thirteen, I was old enough to understand what was going on and be suitably terrfied.  I still occasionally lie awake in the night and imagine that distant car headlights are the final blinding flash that kills us all.
Still, I did my bit.  I prayed hard with a sincerity that only terror can bring, and it must have worked.  None of us died in that terrible crisis, though Pobs O'Brien did break his arm in a stair-related accident during the pushing and shoving that occurred when we were released from prayer duties.
So, in 2011, despite every prospect of it being pretty uninspiring, I intend to savour every moment.  Rejoice every time I notice that I am not dead.  I don't mean live as if every day will be my last, that would be uncomfortable and depressing.  If I thought today would be my last day alive, I would spend it in fear and anxiety, listing to myself all the really inconvenient aspects of being dead and worrying about all the things I will miss, like breathing and other small pleasures.
Instead, I will live as if this is the first time I have tasted aliveness, the first time I have breathed in, the first time I have scratched my back, etc. I am sure you get the picture.  OK, so I'll spend most of the year forgetting to do any of this.  But that's alright, nobody's perfect.  Once will be fine.

On a more sombre note, there has been a development in the blogging firmament which I need to bring to your attention.  Check out http://tedeuge.blogspot.com/ but please come back here after you have.

Happy New Year

23 December 2010

Presents and Resolutions

It's that time of year again.

If you want to give me a present, press the 'follow' button.  That way I know you are there.

My present to myself will be more writing, including this blog.  I have been really excited by all this social networking business, I am on twitter (@djharrison99) and starting to get the hang of how that might work.  I follow anyone I can find that has something interesting to say about writing and have even got some followers of my own.  Some of these have wandered off, but their loss has been compensated by my first Chinese follower.  At least I presume he is Chinese as all his tweets are in an elegant but indecipherable script.  Should I learn Mandarin in his honour?

New Year resolutions are commonly negative.  In my experience deciding not to do something is doomed to failure.  Don't eat so much.  Stop smoking.  Drink less beer. 
Positive objectives have a much better chance of working.  Eat more of all the good things, take more breaths (and time) between cigarettes, get more enjoyment from beer (and everything else).  These have a chance, and aren't they really what we mean?

So, I am going to write with more joy, with more heart and with more passion.  My characters are in for a rough time in 2011.

My other resolution involves haircuts.

Yesterday, I decided to get a trim in time for Christmas.  Not absolutely necessary, but I am going to the darts with my son and his boss, so I could do with looking a bit less unkempt than usual.  Anyway, I slush down to the hairdressers where I spy the tall blonde lady who usually cuts my hair and pop inside to enquire how she might be fixed to give me ten minute's attention anytime in the next three days.  Instead, I find myself confronted by the plump teenager who made such a mess of my friend's hair he had to have it fixed elsewhere.  "I'll do you right away!" she offers.  "Surely she can't make a hash of a simple trim," I think.  Instead of saying "No thank you, I will wait for my usual lady" I find myself unable to stand up for myself and relent.
When I arrived home my wife's first words were "What has happened to your hair?  It looks like someone has been hacking random lumps off." 

So, that's what I resolve to do next year.  Get a haircut from the person I want. Stand up for myself against anyone who deflects my purpose, haircuts or otherwise.  Feel into what I want from any situation and go with that rather than allowing myself to be hijacked.

You can hold me to if you like, or even join in.

16 December 2010

Inspiration and Influence

Reading is important to me, it inspires and informs my own writing. 

As a reader, I find myself oscillating between the extremes of despair (I couldn't possibly write anything as good, so what's the point?) and derision (I could easily write crap like this but what's the point?).  I get jealous that other peoples' writing can be so coruscatingly brilliant. I also get frustrated that the routine and pedestrian commands a wide readership. 

Writing allows me to take more from reading.  I have a better appreciation of the sheer hard work involved and the ways in which my attention is held.

So which writers inspire me most? I'd say these three:

Kurt Vonnegut
Unique, insightful, poignant and very humourous.  I love him, have loved him for forty years, have read just about everything he wrote apart from the end of 'Timequake' which I couldn't finish in case it turned out to be his last and I had nothing more of him left to read.
If you have the extreme good fortune never to have read him then rejoice, you have a treat in store.  Start with Cats Cradle, that's my advice, you'll never look back.

Raymond Chandler
Wonderful descriptive prose, beautifully crafted plots and compelling characterisation. My favourite opening paragraph of all time begins The Big Sleep.  Start there if you haven't already.

Bob Dylan
Dylan can tell a story with a handful of words, set a scene with a single phrase, convey feelings and powerful images with such economy that I am left breathless.  Listen to Desolation Row.

1 December 2010

Being Seen

I find the hardest thing about writing is its need to be seen.  While I scribble away in private, I am safe and comfortable and forty years can pass without any pain or risk of rejection.  Now, if my writing is to have any life, I have to stand up here and shout about it.

By some very contrary mechanism, my urge to hide has been overtaken by the desire to have my work validated, appreciated and enjoyed by a wider audience than can be provided by family and friends.  My family and friends are amazed that I can write at all and have critical faculties that are blinded by love and kindness.

Writing workshops provided me with a first opportunity for gentle airing, though one course I attended involved sitting around getting pissed and not writing anything in the company of people who liked sitting around getting pissed and didn't write much even when they were sober.  The best writing course I have encountered is Freefall, run by an amazing lady called Barbara who I respect and love to pieces. http://www.freefallwriting.com/
Eventually, my confidence lifted high enough to send the script of my first completed novel to an editor, John Jarrold.  He liked the writing, loved the plot and the story, enjoyed most of the characters apart from one.  This one was the main character, our hero, and completely ruined the book.  Nobody could possibly be interested in this character, he said, nobody could possibly like him and nobody would care if he lived or died.  He was an arse, a total dick, a waste of time. I was quite disappointed with this.  The character was not only central to the story but also pretty much autobiographical.

After a few years of reflection, I have grasped the points John made and come to terms with them.

Awareness is a wonderful thing for writers to cultivate in their characters and themselves.  I am certainly trying.