Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Village By The Sea - A Reading Group Discuss

Village By The Sea really polarised the book discussion this week with some livid that something like this could: 1) get published, and 2) win prizes. There was a little upset that it was in the schools, however the counter argument is that it’s language is appropriate, easily accessible; is the only book of its type, aimed at that age group; and raises so many questions. Actually, considering the argument about the outcome of the book it’s interesting that we didn’t discuss how dreary life is for them all at the present tim5: all the men looking to drink to solve their anxieties.

1: Lots of plot elements are built up but dealt with off page – poof – it’s wasted.

2: P. 110. There are sixteen lines describing the night, and then one about Hari being there asleep.

3: Yes, the descriptions don’t really add to either plot or place do they? They seem levered in there.

2: The problem with flowery prose is a blind alley.

4: I agree but Michael Ondatjee and Lewis Durrell are just two examples that have wonderful prose that works.

5: Well, I liked it. I first read it and it was almost like Desai had taken out the interesting things and left just the carcass. But it’s Penguin.

3: Yeah, I missed that. What? It’s a kids book?!

5: It’s lovely. Difficult to get round the flower list. But, do you consider it as fiction or a tool for teaching?

1: The problem; is it in excusing the age of the book or the age group?

6: This isn’t better/worse than other books of its ilk. It raises issues without beating you over the head. It’s a dark book. Prescient.

7: The darkness brings it to life.

8: You judge as a piece of writing instead of fiction.

6: Enid Blyton wrote good stories, but you wouldn’t teach her work. Philip Pullman is the same. It’s wonderful but not all should be written like that.

5: Wouldn’t use Harry Potter.

8: As a book it works. Conflict is constant – environment/family/drunks/ecology. Hari lacks a father figure – has a fairytale aspect of storytelling. Didn’t think it patronising. It’s supposed to be easy reading. Such a dark/dismal life is coming in the future. So it had a good storytelling technique.

4: Desai is trying to be optimistic.

6: No. Like Sebald, it’s ll about the ending of things. Nothing’s positive.

9: Mixed message. We have a Westernised view that these people are a sad waste; the change is awful.

8: Ironic ending. He’s happy but his way of life is coming to an end.

4: I was reading about the Bhupal disaster. I thought that was where the story was leading to, but it was published before the incident.

3: It’s interesting to consider the irony of that in this context then.

9: Human misery is quelled by the humanity. It makes it all better. These people are goodies and these people are baddies.

3: I’d disagree. Desai seems to have a problem with wanting to show fallibility. The character of the chef who takes Hari in, is a stoic, but supportive and caring person. He supports Hari whilst getting his help in the work. Then she has him take Hari home and completely burns down everything we’ve thought about him – he argues with his wife, dumps Hari on her (with her whingeing away) and he goes off, like Hari’s father to get drunk on Toddy.

4: Characters are not strong. We don’t know them. Lila doesn’t come over at all. Harry is inconsistent.

3: And all the conflicts and problems end in Deus ex Machina/Fairy Godmother scenarios.

2: Enid Blyton’s kids did everything for themselves.

1: Harry’s passivity was disturbing – way he runs away. He’s not grounded, so I didn’t have to deal with it, and I wasn’t concerned.

2: It seems to work on lucky accidents.

8: I ran away from home when I was a kid (14), saved up my money (I was angry at my family), and I travelled 300 miles. When I reached the furthest I could go (I had a return ticket), I met a Nicuraguan Taxi driver who took me home to meet his wife and spend the night (I had nowhere else to go). I got up the next morning and returned home. Mum was paralytic with rage. Looking back on it, its scary and stupid, but in Desai’s it’s not because the kid doesn’t appreciate it fully. It’s believable.

4: But I believe your story. Not Hari’s. The dialogue is much better than I originally gave it credit for, however.

1: I worry about it patronising. Why can’t they deal with emotions – anger/fear? Is it right to make concessions?

6: There aren’t any concessions.

1: Not pictured for us, but allowing us to connect with it. Amazed it takes so long for Hari to send the postcard and then when it’s received, it’s with enmity!

2: But Re’s story has danger.

1: Very happy that Hari goes to the apartment, into the lift (for the very first time), but it’s a lost opportunity as he doesn’t react to these new places.

6: But that would take it off the topic. Reading fairystories – off fighting a dragon. The storyteller doesn’t say that the Prince cuts off the ugly sisters’ toes, and the blood goes everywhere, and the people react with horror. Toes are cut off, the kids fill in the rest.

1: But there’s no opportunities, no moment of linking with the environment. No reactions.

2: It wasn’t one person’s story.

7: I wanted more peril for the family. I wanted a death. The ash in the mouth of the mother made me wonder if she would go, but no.

8: Expectation of death?

7: Different culture but kids do know about these things.

2: But the father just ups and stops drinking. Why did he suddenly care about his wife?

4: Keep giving him money! Why’d they do that?

8: But it’s a Cinderella story. Is it finished?

1: It’s all wrapped up.

7: I read Adrian Mole when I was 6, and I could deal with the girl’s nipple etc,

8: Because of the way events transpire it shows the denigration of society.

3: As an eight year old reader none of the subtleties or subtext is going to matter to me.

6: Lots of fatalism in Indian Culture. Accepting of the caste system, their place in life. This book swims against that tide.

7: You can do something to change it if you’re lucky.

4: Hari thinks the watchmaker is naïve. No watches in the village. Sayid Ali, the bird watcher, what did people make of him?

5: I was in India, in a traffic jam and I bought Kiran Desai’s booker winner of a lady who was going between the cars selling books. What a brilliant way to sell books! Our friend is Sri Lanken, and she read The Village By The Sea, thought it nice but nothing happens. Couldn’t get her kids to read it. Sarah Waters’s book is a good read for someone with pneumonia. You’d read Anita Desai’s when you’re hot, as it’s not too excitable. The protagonist is a camera so that kids can project onto him.

9: Hari’s worried but excited by change. – it’s not an extensive inward journey.

8: As far as contrast/compare the two heads are missing (ala Gawain). Parents are cut off – 1 stuck back on by medicine, the other by sobriety.

6: Strong nature and death of nature.

7: It’s very beautiful but not deep.

9: Work with an editor. Must understand how to write for the age group.

Western culture it seems is too jaded for this Cinderella story. Desai was the only one writing about India for kids at the time (80s), and it was picked up by schools to fill the gap rather than because of choice.

9: When I was travelling in Africa I was taking pictures of the places and people, but when a tribal group came through one village and I went to take a picture of the children, they were so fearful of it. There is a big divide, not just between Western and Eastern cultures. There is so much fear and deprivation.

Litopia Podcast 8 - My Discussion on Beats

The 8th Podcast is up, and the second in my series of 10 minute sessions on Writers Tips. This second one: Beats.

You can listen to it on iTunes, or subscribe to it from here

As it says on the tin:

Litopia’s Donna Ballman interviews the man who has been called the master of contemporary mystery writing - James W Hall is author of bestselling 15 novels and is professor of literature and writing at Florida International University. We also interview one of the most powerful figures in British Children’s publishing, Sarah Davies, as she prepares to move to America to start a children’s literary agency. And have a writer’s master-class from Litopia’s Richard Howse on the subject of the Beat.

Monday, October 29, 2007

M. G. Harris's The Invisible City - Worldwide Exclusive First Review

Book one of the Joshua Files, by M. G. Harris, is one of those books. You know the ones I mean; the kind of book that gets into the psyche of its reader and spreads like wildfire through the collective conscious of popular culture. I'm being serious here, just let's not discuss those "other" books - Invisible City is not like them in any other way.

I have to admit that the opening was a little too like the opening to Anthony Horrowitz's Stormbreaker. Both heroes, Stormbreaker's Alex Ryder and Invisible City's Joshua Garcia, have lost someone important to them, a loss that sparks the ensuing adventure, and it all seems fairly rudimentary. But I hadn't expected MG to draw me so close to Joshua's plight - his anxieties, questions that are left unanswered, a home life in tatters and the world continuing to turn. And as MG slowly builds the story around Joshua's first investigations into the death of his father, I really understood how the nature of his loss, and the loss felt by his mother, had settled upon them in a way that no other children's-adventure novelist in MG's contemporaries has done.

The young James Bond's are all action, even Horowitz's Alex Ryder is often too busy with his exploits to consider how he is, or at least should be, feeling. MG, it seems, isn't prepared to rush the narrative for the sake of action and adventure - it's a good 60 pages before Joshua's investigation leads him into real danger. And for this very reason I care all the more. I've been given a chance to understand Joshua's pain, how he deals with that, how he chooses to carry out his investigations, and the wonderful use of capoeira to circumvent the question of how a thirteen year-old boy is capable of holding his own in an adult world.

An adult world that is so dangerous that I was actually shocked in a way that Horowitz and others had failed to shock me with their writing. MG laces her text with subtle brilliance, deftly swinging the reader from moments of introspection to violence and the horror that results so smoothly that you quickly forget you're reading the first book of a brand new writer.

And this all before you get to the crux of the themes and any discussion on how well thought out the machinations of plot are, how truly scary the potential of what it all means.

Admittedly as an adult I did gurn at the introduction of secret societies, possible alien/futuristic technologies and UFO's (don't, as I did, immeditately think of Alien visitations), but that is the nature of the age group, and the genre, and it's the action-adventure remit. MG continued to hold tightly to her set up, keeping us locked with Joshua and his anxieties, worries, and concerns, making sure that no leaps of faith or massive suspension of disbeliefs is required of the reader.

And to top it off, MG uses the device of blogging to develop a nice break in the structure - something that may both maintain interest in those young-boy readers (not that they need it) and to develop Joshua's innerself in ways that could have come across as stilted if written alongside the greater narrative.

And finally, MG makes no bones about her adult themes and putting Joshua through the issues of the adult world; his rite of passage.

Invisible City is to Stormbreaker what the Bourne films are to Bond. There is depth to the character of Joshua, and far better based realism (alien/futuristic technologies aside) and no overbearance or reliance upon special skillsets or super-spy technologies. In fact there is a brilliant moment where Joshua's mission starts to turn towards Bondesque infiltration and MG spectacularly redirects the story in another direction, ruining any use Joshua's new tools may have had, ramping up the tension and ultimately delivering the pay off of believability.

Reading Like a Writer

A strange convergence has brought me to this moment - and that's without considering the strange coincidence that (having gone out of my way to drop my wife off at her work today) I was queued behind a Porsche bearing the license plate: GO RIX - In Reading into Writing we have been dissecting the meaning of texts both young and old, genre based and literary, translated and as originally intended, picking apart the reasons for inclusions and exclusions. At the end of last week's Fiction module, my tutor advised us to read not only short stories (ie: Checkov in particular) to better understand a writer's intent, but also to hunt down Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer (A guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them).

The book does perfectly what we've been trying to do in Reading into Writing. It does exactly what Solvejg has been telling me for years, thumping my literary endeavours into pulp over.

Jessica Murphy discusses the book with Francine Prose here.

So, why haven't I listened to Solvejg? Well, I have... I've just been ready to put it all into practise (there's still a lot of other errors in my prose to sort out). The other reason is that it's a big step. I've read your latest opening to Tethered Light, Solvey, and to tell you the truth, I'm awestruck. I will produce a more detailed report for you, but right now I'm reeling, because I'm not even in the same game, let alone league.

And the same goes for Prose's chosen extracts for analysis. Whilst I struggled through Sarah Waters's Night Watch, I began to lose hope in writing in general, but a book such as Reading into Writing, so beautiful by inclusion of the extracts, and so eye opening in its meaning really makes you fall in love with writing and literature. Just the sheer flow of some texts that I'd otherwise avoid (my wife and her English class had to do The Great Gatzby for A-Levels and hated it), but check this out:

The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an achored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out through the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.
Francine Prose says:
You could almost get a sense of the passage by sorting the words according to what part of speech they represent, the participles and verbs (gleaming, rippling, ballooned), the adjectives and adjectival phrases (the white windows and skirts, the fresh grass, the pale flags of the curtains, the frosted wedding cake of a ceiling), the nouns (the whip and snap of the curtains, the groan of the picture, the caught wind, the boom of the shut window).
She says a whole lot more - really insightful stuff that I'm sure we could all pick up with no trouble if we weren't all hurriedly skim-reading to finish the book. Prose teaches us to read slowly (like I need any more encouragement to do that - I'd never finish a book), looking at specific word use, sentence us, paragraph use, character use, narrative use... etc.

I cannot recommend this book enough - and guaranteed, once I've got my course out the way, I'm going to have to go back and read it again and again.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Fiction Module - Class 1

Yesterday we got the Fiction module under way, and it was an interesting experience to again be able to sit, interact and discuss the issues of narrative structure, what we liked/didn't like about stories, and cover some ground work, all face to face. Here I will try to give a run down of what we covered:

  1. Firstly, we were given three items - drinking glass, button, wastebasket - the task being to choose one and write down as many uses as possible:

    Button: choke on, as Button Moon, eyes for a teddy, fixing clothing, finish off a cup cake, start/stop machinery, nuke the world, allow/prevent access...

    You get the point. It's about freeing the mind, getting us to broaden our imagination (whilst also being a warm up exercise to get the group used to one another)

  2. Next, write down a list of concrete nouns:

    Water, Bomb, Fireplace, Toilet, Lamp, Car, Bus, Shelter, Button, Echidna, Leaf, Tree, Vine, Boat Sun

    Now, choose one: Lamp

    Finally, use the word Lamp to describe the abstract noun: Life.

    Life exists when the lamp turns on. Like the lamp it dazzles when first it pushes back the darkness, drawing warmth and comfort about itself. That lamp may shine on, seemingly forever strong, and good, and bright. But, it doesn't last forever and if the lamp gives out of its own accord, the filament snapped like a snuffed candle caught by a breath, the cold and darkness shall return. And though the lamp may be replaced with the light of another - for light and life do go on - this warning must be heeded: The lamp, like life, can exist in the hands of another, who, by their own whimsy may so switch off the lamp as they please, thus ending its illumination prematurely.

  3. The third task was Consequences. Each person takes a loose sheet of paper. Everybody starts by writing a man's name at the top. They then fold a line of the sheet over and pass the sheet onto the next person. That person writes a woman's name, folds passes on... writes something the man says, folds, passes... writes something the woman says... fold, passes... writes a consequence (or outcome), folds, passes... and the final person, unfolds the sheet and reads out the story.

    For example:

    Man: Englebert Humperdink
    Woman: T. J. Pink
    Man says: "Hmm, loose lips and wide hips. No thanks, I think I'll pass."
    Woman says: "Don't you like my tight sweater?"
    Consequence: The man gave up fishing.

    Not very evocative, not in the least bit exciting, but it shows a basic narrative structure, that all the stories passed (and developed at random) around the group possess.

  4. We discussed two very different short stories, one by Ernest Hemingway and the other by Amy Hempel:

    Hills Like White Elephants - Ernest Hemingway
    The Harvest - Amy Hempel

    Hemingway's piece is stark in its description, choosing the describe the place in a functional manner, to evoke time and place, but not describing the characters or associating them to who is speaking at any one time. There's no he said, she said, there isn't even the description of the man translating for the girl - he simply repeats what is said before. What is important about the story is that Hemingway has written everything important into the subtext. The characters are at a crossroads - having travelled for such a long time (their suitcases have a load of country stamps upon them) - the girl is pregnant, and they are to seek an abortion (thanks to Nick for advising us all of the meaning of "To let a little air in")
    Of course, neither of them say this. Instead they talk about other things, such as drinking, and whether or not the other is happy with the decision. There's a great moment when he goes to the bar alone and drinks in there by himself, kind of reliving the life they had before complication.

    Perhaps though, because the piece takes a couple of reads to really absorb its deeper meanings, it doesn't work as well as it might - but isn't that why so many people are turned off by Hemingway?

    In complete contrast, Hempel's piece is American Minimalist. It is a postmodern story about an accident... well it's not, because it's really about garnering sympathy and how to weight a story by bending the truth or lying about the situation to make it sound worse than it was, or to embellish the circumstances to try to ellicit different emotional responses from the audience.

    I felt that this was something akin to the style of Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club), to which my tutor said that Hempel's short story is Chuck's favourite - yay! on the money.

    There is very little dialogue, and it's a completely different style to Hemingway. Interesting to consider both in this manner - the very antithesis of each other.

  5. Before the lunch break we each discussed a chosen book we'd read recently - and surprisingly out of the entire group of 12, none of us chose the same book. I reviewed John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany - which you can read from some months back, here.

  6. After that, and after none of us could come up with a book that we'd all read (we were going to cover a narrative structure from start to finish using a novel we all knew) - the closest we came was the Hungry Caterpillar! - we entered into our critique groups. More to follow on that later.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

As part of our Reading into Writing module, we have been discussing the olde booke Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (stop me if I've told you this before):

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late 14th century alliterative chivalric romance outlining an adventure of Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur's Round Table. The poem survives on a single manuscript, the Cotton Nero A.x., along with three pieces of a religious character, all written by the "Pearl poet" or "Gawain poet," an unknown author. The four narrative poems are written in a North West Midland dialect of Middle English.[1] The manuscript is currently in the British Library.[2]

In the story, Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur's Round Table, accepts a challenge from a mysterious warrior who is completely green. The "Green Knight" offers to allow anyone to strike him with his axe if he will take a return blow in a year and a day. Gawain accepts the challenge, and beheads him in one blow, only to have the Knight stand up, pick up his head, and remind Gawain to meet him at the appointed time. Gawain's struggle to meet the appointment, and the adventures involved, cause this work to be classified as an Arthurian tale involving themes of chivalry and loyalty.

Alongside its advanced plot and rich language, the poem's chief interest in the critical and historical worlds is in the symbolism and themes which place it in its historical context. Everything, from the Green Knight, to the beheading game, to the girdle given Gawain as a protection from the axe, is richly symbolic and steeped in Celtic, Germanic, and other historical cultures and folklores. As a result, critics often compare Gawain to similar, older works, such as the Irish tales of Cúchulainn, in order to find possible meanings and contexts for the symbolism and themes within the poem. A later poem, The Greene Knight, tells essentially the same story as Sir Gawain, though the relationship between them is not clear.

- Wikipedia

The following is a break down of our first two discussions with the tutors on the text of Sir Gawain:

Wednesday, 10 October

F. An exploratory module – we need input. Highly associative. Idea to move out as far as possible from the two core texts. Gawain is a romance because it takes a martial context and turns it into something else.

R. Distinctly English. Heathen roots.

F. Romance or anti-romance – adopting chivalry or parodying it? Laughter in the bedroom. Laughter in the court at the end. Impossible to decide.

A. Language is odder than Chaucer because Chaucer is Southern – this is Northern dialect. The character that looks like a P is pronounced ‘th’ and as the ‘y’ in ‘ye olde’ should be pronounced ‘th’. The character that looks like an oldfashioned z has various sounds – a ‘y’ at the start of the word, an ‘s’ or a ‘gh’ at the middle or end. It’s contemporary with Chaucer: every area had a different language form. It is part of the same ‘alliterative revival’. Chaucer is more French influenced.

F. There exists one ms only, in the British Library. There would have been more destroyed in the dissolution of the monasteries. It was lost from Henry VIII, wasn’t even heard of, and then discovered in the 1820s. First edition 1829. So lots of authors in between didn’t know it, e.g. Walter Scott didn’t. But Scott echoes its ideas. It is based on other, diverse sources, but the story was not otherwise known while it was lost.

A. Literature is exciting because we can’t easily understand it. It was written before early printing, so the text is unstandardised, transcribed from the sound particular to the region. Runic – Anglo-Saxon – 1150 Middle English – 1500 Modern English.

F. Gawain is central to this work. In later Arthurian writing Lancelot and Tristram are, and Gawain is portrayed as more of a sexual predator. This is played with and alluded to here.

Iris Murdoch’s penultimate novel is called The green knight, and is rarely reviewed.

E. Found himself on page 211 of Sebald!!

Wednesday, 17 October, session with Anthony.

All translations are versions – none can capture everything in the original. It is good to know as many translations as possible. Armitage has also done the Odyssey. Christopher Logue’s version of the Ilyad is loved by classical scholars. Edmund knows a children’s version of Gawain.

I found by comparing all translations of odd lines that appealed to me that Brian Stone’s seems to be most accurate, though Armitage best captures the spirit.

This was written as performance art – to produce laughter, arousal, fear. This is Middle-English rap.

Tolkein (the journey is all) vs Gawain (the journey is skated over). The narrative time projects a wider time framework.

Homer – is not a history of Troy, but about Achilles – starting in medias res.

Gawain’s three temptations – what do the three types of hunted animal tell us? The deer stands for cruelty and innocence – encirclement; the boar for fear/danger/confidence/aggression – fight; the fox for flight and cunning/wiliness – chase. The most innocent animal is killed most brutally and viscerally on the page, the next less so, the last less so again. Gawain can escape; the animals can’t. Man (hunted by the devil) has a soul, a choice. Animals have neither.

Christ in the wilderness: temptation, death, resurrection.

Chivalry? Idols other than God are punished?

The lady may be innocent, enthralled by Morgan le Fey’s magic arts.

How to live a good life before we all get to the Green Chapel.

The court of Camelot fails the first test by agreeing to murder the knight.

The court wears the sash at the end. [To me this is a mark of sin and mortality, that they unthinkingly treat lightly.]

Gawain is not rewarded, he is reprieved.

The other books we are reading – were they selected because they connect? No, says Anthony. But they will nevertheless generate connections (the principle of connection: our sense of being able to forge something from the random, our need for a shaping spirit).

Sebald – another translation! He lives in Britain, but writes in German.

A creative response could be to translate something. Or to tell the story of how the court refused to murder the Green Knight – Sliding doors – what happened then? Would it end up the same way, or not? Guinevere could tempt the Green Knight...

Shall we read Iris Murdoch The Green Knight for next time?

Creative writers translate all the time, imperfectly, from our heads into prose. And then are translated imperfectly again into a reader’s head – a unique reading of our intention.

Catullus ...? Louis Ktoffsky... Skoffsky... ??

ABBA – fit a language they don’t speak to the music. Napoleon did surrender, and I have found my destiny in quite a similar way. Again, a performance piece.

Maybe the original of Gawain was as awkward as Abba to its contemporaries, and now we revere it, like the bad bits of Shakespeare. Context governs.

Wodwo. Ted Hughes. Wodwo is an untranslatable word from Gawain. Armitage leaves it as wodwo. Invented words get adopted into the language. Keats, darkling. Lewis Carroll, brillig etc.

Line 725 – how is Dryghtyn translated as God?

- My thanks to Bobbie D for taking the notes. And to Sophie for discovering:

As far as this word for God in Gawain ll 724. As far as I can see, it is a traditional word, written as Dryghtyn and used by pagans and Wiccans as well as Christians. As it is sometimes referred to as the godhead, I thought it might come from some kind of Triton reference, with the 'three' connection and so originate from the Greek.

Friday, October 19, 2007

60 Words - A Luncheon Unfinished

Wired magazine said:
Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn.") and is said to have called it his best work.
We've all heard it. Short, sharp, and most importantly, poignant. At NAW some of the students have elected themselves to run a 60 word short story competition, and I, in my infinite wisdom, chose to enter, but rather than just scoot off an entry, I sat on it, and toyed with the idea (quite the way I don't normally toy with an idea before writing it). So, here's the brief:
Write a story with a 60 word limit and you can use the word 'lunch' as often as you like without it counting toward the word limit.
And here are the break downs of my entry from original version to final:

Title: A Luncheon Unfinished
Lunch, she thought, had done her in. Lunch, she forsook, half eaten; discarded like a Queen fearing poison. She struggled to the bathroom, tasting lunchtime’s heartburn. Her tablets, within reach – BANG – like an egg in a microwave! She crumpled in the hallway, a shrivelling soufflé… Still. Lunch was her last breath. Lunch, strewn upon the coffee table, waits on; a luncheon unfinished.

It didn't help my inspiration that Laura's nan had passed away recently - a shock that left the family reeling, God rest her - and as you can see my output is of the same ilk (though lunch had nothing to do with her death). I had this great sense of loss, and I couldn't help the thought of her having got up to go to the bathroom and simply collapsing there all alone at 4 in the morning, dead in a heartbeat, with no one to know until many hours later. In a way it feels like I'm sold out to use her as inspiration at all, preying on such a vulnerable subject, and certainly twisting the reality to include the sillyness of "lunch", but that's the nature of the beast of writing isn't it?

Anyhoo, I felt the need to work lunch into the frame of the story - since that was the theme (if you will) of the competition, and so decided that it would be lunch "what done her in"... or so she thought. Queens fearing poison, microwaved eggs and shrivelled souffles all came to me inspirationally. The death itself has its obvious origins.

I don't like the first line though - it's a waste of words - and though it's a nice contrast to the Queen reference, it's all implied by the remainder of the story. I could spread those words elsewhere to evoke some senses - gas and tightening. And though it has a poetic feel, "Lunch was her last breath" doesn't really work. So:
She forsook lunch, half eaten; discarded it like a Queen fearing poison and struggled to the bathroom. She could taste lunchtime’s heartburn in her throat, its gas on her breath. Everything was tightening. Her tablets, within reach – BANG – like an egg in a microwave! She crumpled in the hallway, a shrivelling soufflé… Still. Lunch, strewn upon the coffee table, waits on; a luncheon unfinished.

I continued to play with the Queen motive and the structure of that sentence, developed further the taste/smell of the gas (foul) - gas, egg, souffle all help to conjure this singular idea of eggs doesn't it (doesn't it?) - and made the microwaved egg and crumple and souffle into a single, run-on sentence to see how it sounds:

She forsook lunch, half eaten, like a Queen fearing poison. She struggled to the bathroom, tasting lunchtime’s heartburn in her throat; foul gas on her breath. Everything tightened. Her tablets, within reach – BANG! Her heart gave out like an egg in a microwave and she crumpled in the hallway, a shrivelling soufflé… Still. Lunch, strewn upon the coffee table, waits on; a luncheon unfinished.

"Everything tightened" isn't a great line. It's a waste really, and her heart "giving out" is woolly at best. It's interesting to see what lines I feel are the spinal cord of the piece and that I seem to refuse to change - Queen's poison, the actual fall, and the final sentence (for what I feel is it's poeticsm). But in particular I now have a new power word:

She forsook lunch, half eaten, like a Queen fearing poison. She struggled to the bathroom, lunchtime’s heartburn in her throat; foul gas on her breath. Her tablets, now within reach, would relieve lunch’s venom – BANG! Her heart blew like an egg in a microwave and she crumpled in the hallway, a shrivelling soufflé… Still. Lunch, strewn upon the coffee table, waits on; a luncheon unfinished.

"Venom" - isn't that better? Venom links in with the Poison. It gives the egg feel that definite sense of salmonella. What is still unnecessary however is the very last three words - it's the title for crying out loud (and the title has a free wordcount), so I shouldn't waste them, but utilise three words elsewhere. Also, we don't need to know that lunch is "half eaten" it's implied by being forsaken. Aha:

She forsook lunch like a Queen fearing poison. Lunchtime’s heartburn was in her throat; foul gas on her breath. She struggled to the bathroom, reaching for the tablets to relieve lunch’s venom – BANG! Her heart exploded like an egg in a microwave and she crumpled in the hallway; a shrivelling soufflé… expelling not just air… still. Lunch, strewn upon the coffee table, waits on.

I also played with the sentence structure and order there too. Did you see? And now we have "expelled air" which replaces the "lunch is her last breath" line from a couple of edits ago. But this still doesn't have the kind of punch I'd like. Time, I think to get some more power words in there:

She forsakes lunch like a philosopher fearing hemlock. Lunchtime’s heartburn is in her throat, its sulphurous reek on her breath. She flees to the bathroom, scrambling for tablets to relieve lunch’s poison – BANG! Like an egg in a microwave, her heart explodes. She crumples in the hallway; a shrivelling soufflé… evacuating more than mere gas… still. Lunch, strewn across the coffee table, waits on.
And so I reached my final version. I swapped Queen for philosopher because I could use a specific poison, and since hemlock has connotations of Socrates, therefore... philosopher works, right? Consolidating the egg leitmotif the foul gas becomes "sulpherous". I want her to be in a hurry, already in fear of her life, so she now "flees" to the bathroom. "Lunch's venom" is allowed to become "Lunch's poison" - previously I didn't want to repeat the word, but since the first instance has become "hemlock" I can throw out venom - which has the feel of specific intent to kill rather than the more naturey course feeling we get with poison (our bodies can poison us). To give a change to the structure I decided to explode the egg before the heart and from there, after the crumple it felt better to "evacuate" more than gas because it wouldn't just be gas heading out the door would it? And finally, to make it more immediate I changed it to the present.

And there we have it. My breakdown of changes. What would you have changed?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Night Watch - A Reading Group Discuss

night watch - STOP - lesbians in the blitz - STOP - every one a silly bitch - STOP - no tension - STOP - dreary structure - STOP - I wish that they would - STOP

As part of the Reading into Writing module for NAW we, the class, must read four books (some previously discussed on this blog) and to hold a book group to discuss elements/themes/characters/narrative/structure, etc. I want to share with you how a book group discussion develops itself and all the intricacies we covered, or the bugbears we had. but first... the book itself:

Sarah Waters's The Night Watch is a departure from her usual Victorian romps of lesbians in varying situations of undress/distress. I've not read them, and I must say I didn't really enjoy this - though I have it on good authority that her research really does evoke the time and place very well (so say some people from the library's customers who were there at the time).

For me it started off really badly - last Wednesday I thought that to save time I would listen to the audio book in the car - to and from Birmingham. After four hours of listening to the prattle and two attempts to take my own life and returned home and discovered that I'd only hear 125 pages out of 500+. I couldn't take it any more - the plodding nature, the aimlessness, the stupid and gruff sounding men. It had its moments, but a lot of it was lost as I tried to drive, dipping in and out of the story as if I had an incessant passenger who refused to shut up.

Here I respond to a fellow students questions:
  1. I want to know more about Helen - she's so central - yet she's the person I know the least.
  2. Do you think the book would suffer if the Duncan story was removed? I found the Alec sequence a complete anticlimax - almost like Sarah Waters had contracted this section out to someone else to write.
  3. I thought the 1941 section could have been more detailed. It all ended (or began) too quickly.
  4. The ring? I'd have been tempted to push that back to 1941 - originally Julia gave it to Kay? (perhaps the version with Julia fishing it out of the Rhine was too much).
  5. This sounds like I didn't think much of the book - actually I loved it - in particular the richness - and originality - of the historical context, the Kay-Julia relationship, and the reverse time structure.
  1. Yes, since it hinges around Helen, you would expect her to take up the mantle of protagonist, yet we're not allowed that since it's ensemble - I think this is one of my gripes, since by the middle of the 1944 section all I could think about Helen was - "stupid bitch" - for what she was throwing away with Kay
  2. I think the book suffered from, as Edmund pointed out from the other reviews, that the pace never falters but never speeds up. To me it stagnates (not least because I listed to four hours in the car which was only 125 pages worth - have I bored you with that?) I thought that Duncan's storyline had the biggest question mark hanging over it, the one that seemed most important to me... until I reached the end and had to wriggle through that awful section in which they discuss how best to end it all - boy was that awful!
  3. I was glad by the 1941 section that it was short - I'd had more than enough of sifting through the rubble of their lives. What I found interesting was that when I reached the end of 1944 I realised the majority of what was in that section was obsolete since it was implied in the 1947 section. Similarly the 1941 section was obsolete since the majority of it was implied in the 1944 section.

    And of course the end of each section for each person was dull, poorly contrived and served no purpose beyond... er... nothing. So what if we find that that's how Helen and Kay hooked up. It's so banaly fictionalised I'd rather that the end had Helen die to save us all the trouble and that Waters could have pretended that Helen had dreamed all the future up.
  4. I'll let the ring go - it was a nice touch in an otherwise bloated boat of a book that seemed constantly to be looking for reasons to link stories and times.
  5. The only things I liked were Waters writing itself - well constructed, lovely descriptions and the blitz - whether with Kay or with Duncan (spunking aside). The rest just wasn't my kind of book, dragged, was too chick-litty, and I just can't get on board with characters who love to bed hop in the name of lust and romance. Especially when you can see how unhappy they'll all end up - this of course is thanks to the useless structure which makes any reveal more of an "Oh, whatever," moment out of what should be "Oh God, I see."

    And of course, the problem with the opening section, thanks to that dreary pace is that it shows wonderfully how lost all these people are now that the blitz is over, how they are going through the motions of life, dragging their feet, trying to find themselves once more - unfortunately the narrative matches that feeling far too well. I don't like to read books that make me feel bored, lost and hopeless.
And here lies the transcript I took of our book group discussion - admitedly it seems to ramble in places, no one seems to listen to one another, etc, but that is only down to my inability to write everything at one. It's an interesting record of what we covered (numbers replace names to protect identities):

1: Reading The Night Watch was like attempting to swim underwater for the entire length of an Olympic sized swimming pool. You think you can do it, but you quickly realise you can’t.

2: Reviewers have said “read it again”. No. I wouldn’t want to, unlike David Mitchell’s work, which has these brilliant onion-like layers

3: I like to read into the intricacies of books, and yes, I like the idea of reading something again to pick out new bits that you’ve missed, but not this.

4: But you realise that the throwaway comments have meaning though.

2: The first line has a lot of meanin2: “So this, said Kay to herself, is the sort of person you’ve becom7: a person whose clocks and wrist-watches have stopped, and who tells the time, instead, by the particular kind of cripple arriving at her landlords door.”

5: Did you pick up on the toilet references? There are a lot of references in just the first 30 pages – I marked them out in my copy.

5: The Alec scene at the end takes place in the toilet too, but it was awful. His death and their mincing about was so poorly written

3: It wasn’t necessary. It was all insinuated and didn’t require being shown, which, as you say, was done poorly. That scene was wholly unnecessary.

6: The toilets seem to depict the only place of privacy for females. They go there to have a moment or for social reasons. Men use them totally for utilitarian reasons.

7: It breaks with conventions.

6: It’s about female alienation. It starts and ends in a toilet. Women go to a powder room to pull themselves together

4: But Duncan does this also.

6: He is an honorary female.

5: Reggie is in the loo with Viv. He’s a man of his time if ever there was one in this book.

4: Just cut out Alec’s scene!

8: It all strikes up with Gawain though – 2 men making a pact. Their actions have consequences, to do it together is an act of chivalry but Duncan doesn’t go through with it.

7: Lesbian chivalry/gallantry. P. 257, Kay buying the pyjamas for Helen. P. 368, Helen talking about Kay and Julia say8: “How gallant you sound.” P. 468, Reggie mentions King Arthur. And Kay at one points lays down her cloak.

6: But the books have been specifically chosen to link in. The romantic code is so entwined in fiction from Arthur to James Bond

2: Kay and the pyjamas is a representation of the girdle. It’s the same thing; a trophy

7: P. 230, we see how nice Helen is. P. 278, Julia calls Helen “nice”, and we know what “nice” can mean. But the book is like eating a hearty meal when you’re not hungry.

2: The two cigarettes – Helen and Julia – did it mean anything when they turned up later on her desk?

7: The cigarettes were having a tryst in the packet. A bell should ring. Duncan and Fraser share a cigarette in prison – Waters wanted something like Jeunet/Genet (playwright of the Maids)

6: Reading this as literature or structuralist?

7: It’s stolen intimacy

2: She plays a lot of games 6: Helen is in love with Julia’s makeup.

3: Julia is everything Kay isn’t

7: P. 307 – Genet reference – Fraser masturbates, Duncan holds the mattress. Lights two cigarettes. French kiss is like the passing of the ciggie.

5: The cigarettes help to establish the era

1: Repressive times like that Hollywood sense of love, lust, affection through smoking. A shared intimacy. The change in which they “suck” or “blow” differently.

7: One rings the other and asks for Ms Hepburn. P. 492 – Genet – sharing razors to kill

4: I felt Waters intended Alec and Duncan almost as they are translated to the reader, but it doesn’t come over properly. It doesn’t work.

7: Duncan doesn’t want to share his items

8: Duncan comes across as slow.

3: The opening of the book, and certainly on the CD, he comes across as stupid and gruff. Not at all how he comes across later.

7: Viv refers to Duncan as a child – the wool reference

1: The Mundy relation is sinister

5: They get into bed.

1: P. 162, the Angel at the end of the bed.

2: Telling it’s sinister, not showing

6: Duncan goes long. Too difficult to go to war, to difficult to resist Alec or Fraser.

2: It annoys me that it’s played with and undeveloped

4: Sociograms with the incidents. You could do away with all the men and the book would read better.

7: But the men develop the women’s stories. The developing triangle between Fraser, Duncan and Viv!

4: Fraser is only doing it for Duncan, taking Viv.

2: The book is at its most honest with Viv. Best character. Truthfully written

6: See them all as types.

2: Waters dispenses with all her research and develops Viv.

3: Viv is used to weave in and out of the other stories – she is the only one who seems to respond to the other characters – trying to avoid Kay and then seeking her out. Fraser, Duncan, Helen etc, all responded to by Viv.

7: They’re all outcasts of one kind or another. Which order did she write it in?

6: I read it backward8: 1941, 44, 47

3: I didn’t like it. There wasn’t any overarching tension. It was ruined by the backward structure

1: There is. In the scene looking around the house with Helen and Julia. Helen isn’t happy to be there.

3: But it’s localised to the scene. Just as the blitz raids, their only incidents. Nothing transcends that.

2: I couldn’t believe the reasons for Duncan going to prison – suicide/note/being gay?

6: Get a better understanding by reading it backwards

2: Which direction was it written in?

3: In her interview on her websit7: Waters states that she wrote 1947 first and then didn’t know where to go with it.

2: I think it works as it is, going backwards.

4: Yes, it does.

2: The reader looks for the why they do what they do, not the what they are doing

8: It’s a rare pleasure to keep going back rather than forwards

5: Pinter’s Betrayal anyone?

6: It’s a fatal flaw. Waters can’t sustain it. I reached P. 150 and thought 1) what is this about? 2) I don’t care about these vapid people. 3) I wanted to dig in and read it back to front. The opening of 1944 suddenly has greater meanin2: “Every time Viv and her father came out of the prison they had to stop for a minute or two so that Mr Pearce could rest, could get out his handkerchief and wipe his face. It was as though the visits knocked the breath from him.” It’s soap opera though in its current order. It only has two acts, and the best bit is 1944.

3: It’s a melodrama. She wrote 1947 first wanting to evoke the sense of displacement after the war, how these people are lost and looking for their lives, but she writes it too well into the book and it makes the reader feel bereft and lost. But she couldn’t sustain it herself, she realised it was all far more interesting during the war. Which lets herself down. She’s stumped herself at the first hurdle.

6: It has no beginning and no ending.

4: It’s written about after the war being bad. They all had their places during the war, which they’ve lost.

2: It’s a cliché though.

7: Waters has faith in mankind. Unlike Sebald, Waters is so nice. Object Correlatives (TS Eliot) in the bombing of the city

5: It’s the lost half-decade. I was born in that time.

7: It’s a successful book. Other relations have high hopes for the future.

5: Read P. 15 – the dating agency. It’s a microcosm for the greater society

2: Like Gawain/Arthur we have the legacy of WW2 hanging over us.

3: They’re all lost, tired, they need to be healed, which is the link back to the Christian Spiritualist. He’s telling them that they have the strength to heal themselves that they just need the willpower to pick themselves back up.

7: Yes, she wrote 1947 and wanted to write about the aftermath. Walking the streets – London is still working. Hope.

6: 47 is bereft because all the energy was expended in 44.

2: Reaction: It’s not tough enough.

3: Waters was bored by it.

6: She’s bored! I’m bored!

1: Gawain: tells you about all the gritty detail of gutting the animals, but skips the details of the other food being served. But Waters just goes on listing.

6: List all the “bored’s” She’s not excited. Stop repeating it! It’s infiltrating my mind.

1: They use cigarettes during the bored moments

3: Yes, the boredom permeates and its written well, it makes you feel as bored and lost as the characters

4: What happened to Kay and Julia? That is far more interesting.

5: The coincidences are too contrived. All the meeting ups.

4: I loved the driving along with Whiskey – Reggie.

1: Blood is used to catalyse the story! Waters’s pace remains the same throughout. She’s like a long distance walker. And throws in the blood for story lubrication.

2: The abortion is visceral, but the body parts during the war isn’t

6: Kay is “stone cold”

1: Helen is Kay’s emotion. Losing Helen breaks Kay

7: Reading anecdotes about the war time experience is what Waters has done, and she’s used what she’s found to fill up the book, whether they’ve been covered before or not.

8: Ian McEwan is remorseless at lifting anecdotes into his work.

2: Atonement – the nurses section is lifted from an autobiography

6: But she avoids the war. They’re not in the war. The place they’re in is not the war.

2: It would bleed into their lives. Julia can’t carry on ignorant to it. Her writing… she doesn’t care.

4: Virginia Woolf was stressed about invasion. No threat in the Night Watch

1: There are a few references to marrying Nazis on the train – slacks

5: The Camomile Lawn – carrying on as if there’s no tomorrow. Sex is terribly coy.

8: I found it erotic though.

3: Yes, I suppose so. With Kay putting Helen into the pyjamas, but not with the inclusion of men.

7: It’s heartwarming.

6: Sex in the street is the closest we get. Are we almost having sex now?

1: Helen is pretending to be Kay with Julia.

6: Waters is a coward. She touches upon the most interesting thing in the female psyche – she could tell us the secret, but bottles out.

There is a separation on thought between men and women here regarding male orgasms in the book – that is to sexually explicit to include, and rather disgusting for us blokes to have to think any more upon. Let us leave it on the note of a Hand Job in the Country!

8: Masculinity and femininity! The genders are overlapped. Relates to Gawain. Masculine women are honourable. Kay, Mickey and Binky.

5: Julia is male. Reggie…

8: Relations are doomed at the beginning because Kay didn’t admit that she rejected Julia. Julia isn’t as prised as Helen first thinks she is. Three weeks between sex and Helen’s love dying away. Femininity is punished.

7: Duncan hates the prison ladies like the invisible man hating to eat food! P. 425. Julia speaks about Kay – misunderstanding.

8: Sitting on the bed – a puppet cipher – like Gawain. Gawain is misogyny, harking back to Adam and Eve. Traditional female characters are blamed – as in the Night Watch

7: Masculinity gets away with it. Masculine always gives in to love in both, they need it, give in to the apple.

Monday, October 08, 2007


Despite having numerous ideas for novels blatting around my psyche already, a new one has elbowed its way in - a fairytale in fact, that matches the present day against the past (or rather the perceived past of a fairytale setting).

I guess that it's serendipitous that MJ mentioned he'd bought the Brothers Grimm collection (which one, I don't know) whilst I was already in possession of the Hans Christian Anderson collection (slightly less violent me thinks, and yet, so very... violent!). I felt the need to go out in search of the Brothers Grimm also - If I'm to write a semi-pastiche then I need to understand the machinations and standard themes (note, I've decided not to pursue a pastiche, but a completely new idea).

My initial idea was sparked whilst at the Police concert, listening to Wrapped Around Your Finger and the wonderful lyrics that I'd always associated with a magician and his apprentice and the powerplay between them - suddenly I felt the urge to write about it (nope, I've not written a thing yet). Over the course of the past month (has it been a month already?) I've toyed with that same idea - trying to make it work in a fictional novel context without it being entirely Sting's idea - it's not, I can assure you.

So, over the month I've stretched it out, drawing on previous story ideas and reworking the mythology of Sting's song to a secondary level that I'm not prepared to discuss here.

So it was that I bought a copy of the Grimms, and with it came a free copy of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber (short story collection based upon fairytales), which includes the original version of the film Company of Wolves. Why is this suddenly important?

Well, having read the title story I realise that it's the kind of style I want my novel-fairytale to include. Admittedly it's bleak, and I'd want to include some humour in my story, but her choice of words are as sublime as any Solvejg has ever used in his narratives:

His wedding gift, clasped round my throat. A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat.

After the Terror, in the early days of the Directory, the aristos who'd escaped the guillotine had an ironic fad of tying a red ribbon round their necks at just the point where the blade would have sliced it through, a red ribbon like the memory of a wound. And his grandmother, taken with the notion, had her ribbon made up in rubies; such a gesture of luxurious defiance! That night at the opera comes back to me even now... the white dress; the frail child within it; and the flashing crimson jewels round her throat, bright as arterial blood.

And that singular item, the ruby choker, wreaths the entire first story of the Bloody Chamber like a soiled bandage, such is Carter's well-planned imagery.

Now then, how might I copy?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Sea Room

It is with dubious pleasure that I bring Adam Nicolson's Sea, Room to your attention, a studious history of the Shiant (pronounced shant) Islands, how he came to own them, the possible lives of those before him and the geology (yawn).

To be fair, as I will show you, he's a good writer, who finds no ends of ways to describe water in motion, be it about a boat or upon a cliff face - for those of you that have read my latest entry for the Litopia Short Story Competition (this one being Paid Companion), you will understand why I fell so easily to choose a sea-nario (SIC).

Alas, for all its pretense and execution I'm stuck half way, wondering why I'm still pretending that I'll ever finish it. The problem is in the way it's a biography of a group of small islands - and I find reading biographies a dubious adventure at best (yours, Carolyn, are the exception I can assure you), but this is about rock, and sand, and sheep, and geese! It has no direction, and frankly, I don't care - but I've found that problem with all the books I'm supposed to be reading for college. They just don't touch me that way. My mind is on more important things (I hope at least).

Anyhoo, what does Adam Nicolson do right?

I always felt embraced by his presence. He whispered his stories through lips that clung doggedly to the crushed stub-end of a roll-up, his eyebrows, like sprigs of long-grown lichen, leaping at the punch lines. The movement of his mouth was so quiet, like the fluttering of a flame, that you would always be creeping closer to hear him, to put your ear in his lips. And while he spoke his eyes would move from you to the horizon and back: you, the listener, the target of the words, the horizon somehow their source.

Adam has chosen the important aspects of Hughie MacSween's character - not just his appearance. What makes Hughie MacSween Hughie MacSween? Well, that description! His ability to evoke places and people is luminous - I must pay attention :)

Later we have the descriptions of more people:

It was a charming, affectionate and mutually impatient double act. Fergus - Mike calls him Fergie - is the more bullish and macho of the two. He plays tennis for the Yorkshire Veterans, talks with fervour about 'stonking great sledge-hammers', likes to give things 'welly', wears dark glasses and short-sleeved tartan shirts, and looks after Mike, whose balance on the rocks is uncertain...

Nicolson isn't afraid to bring a person in one scene to the fore by describing their manner in another place entirely, helping to give and immediate, rounded sense of them.

The second aspect is in his ability to move from topic to topic, a skill I tried out in that latest short story compo, and, I believe, I deftly succeeded - we shall see. Anyhoo:

A gannet suddenly slaps into the sea beside me. No warning. I start at it and remember this, the story of on of the stewards of St Kilda...

I was first told that story when I was a ten-year-old boy. I stood up with shock as the crisis hit and, of course, I have never forgotten it...

It is the one bird I wish would to live on the Shaints. For a few years in the 1980s, the islands were the smallest gannetry in the world...

What you can't see are the swathes of paragraphs that separate these excerpts - I can't go pasting whole passages of someone else's work now can I? What we should note in this is the back-and-fro way the narrative moves between topics, ensuring that the reader is never jarred, but that one item/object/creature/idea helps to bring cohesion, so that the reader doesn't flounder.

You see, the kind of books I enjoy reading and the kind of books I want to write have, for some time, failed to match one another. I was writing simple, descriptive fiction, as in, I would be describing actions, dialogue and immediate thoughts. I realise that I enjoy reading sprawling narrative such as Murakami, McEwan, Irving and Angela Carter (more on her in the next blogpost). I don't do thrillers on the whole (certainly not Patterson, though I'm partial to a Dan Brown!), so why have I been attempting to write in that limited, fast paced narrative?

Lack of experience, foresight, failing in skill - now all I lack is consistency and the limitless knowledge of words that my peers have seemed able to harness.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Criminal Conviction - Perjury

A party or witness is usually required to give evidence on oath or affirmation. To lie having sworn an oath or affirmation could result in criminal conviction for perjury.

So begins the House of Commons 2003 paper on Employment Tribunals. It’s in the second line that I find the knot in my stomach turn to cold, hard stone.

There is a chance, a future in which we can move forward with victory in our strides. But, I have to wonder, at what cost?

You’ll have to forgive me for this, I need to rant, and blogging it is a good form of counselling that helps work out the issues. If I don’t, it’s going to eat me up like it’s done before and I just can’t afford the counselling on top of my physiotherapy. Anyone know a good psychiatrist?

This morning whilst I was borrowing my parents’ portable fridge to replace mine that had broken at some point between yesterday morning and this morning – sigh! Warm milk for breakfast – Dad couldn’t stop himself from showing me the latest documentation he’d received from the NSPCC.

For those of you not in the know, my brother was unfairly dismissed by his previous employer (my current employer) on the grounds of having had a relationship with a student – big whoop, it did the local newspapers and nothing more (for which, in hindsight we are thankful – having seen the Daily Mail spread of the former Head of Year 11 from the same school for her own student-affair we decided in was bad enough that local people could make up their own minds about what was going on… let alone nationally. Trust me, give the people a titbit of information and they can run miles with it, just take the McCann’s for example).

Anyhoo, although we were successful and proved that my brother was unfairly dismissed, we couldn’t prove wrongful dismissal. Our angle was that the senior staff had prior knowledge of the relationship. Why is this important?

Simply, because if the school (as in the senior staff) had prior knowledge and did nothing about it they a) were putting their students at risk, and b) were condoning the act, therefore removing responsibility from my brother.

We could prove that as high up as the deputy headteacher had prior knowledge, despite a key witness refusing to come forward because of still having to work with the deputy. We couldn’t prove the headteacher had prior knowledge. And since they’d not allowed the deputy head to stand as a witness (to avoid perjury), the evidence we did have – two witness statements – were deemed irrelevant.


So, why is the NSPCC documentation important?

My brother was suspended in July 2004 on grounds of inappropriate behaviour – this is a small aside that assisted in us achieving unfair dismissal. The relationship didn’t become a part of the investigation until April 2005 (9 months after he was suspended, 7 months after the student involved was interviewed). My brother wasn’t interviewed about the relationship until April 2005, and yet the school had officially (we thought) known about the relationship as early as September 2004.

That didn’t rub with the tribunal – they didn’t care about technicalities such as that. We thought it was important that the school had, in knowing, tried to hide the fact in the hope they could dismiss him with the original charges – which fell flat on their face through contradictory and superficial evidence.

Again it’s all by the by. What’s important about the NSPCC documents is that the headteacher made it clear she had no prior knowledge – certainly not before the student’s interview (September 2004) – and yet the documents prove she did.

This therefore is perjury, and perjury can carry a criminal conviction.

Dad’s going to the Crown Prosecution Service regardless of what new evidence he finds, but this helps prove the local authority have been lying, which is good. We’ve already got enough evidence about their attempt to crucify my brother and have him put on the sex offenders register using illegal and false documentation – we were lucky that the Government rejected the documentation – but this again was an illegal act upon which we can take vengeance.

The bad thing is that this doesn’t help the healing process – what we’ve all learnt to live with, locked up in a cancerous lump of three long wasted years dealing with the case, is now resurfacing, and all the bitterness and anger associated with that and what I feel was betrayal and abandonment by the people I thought were my friends is back in my throat – all these reasons why Laura and I will be seeking to move away from Bracknell as soon as our courses are done, in the hope we can start afresh and finally leave it all behind.

But, what good is revenge? For none of this will help my brother now. It may make us feel for a short time like we have been fully vindicated, but what else? What purpose?

I still have pangs of anxiety as the memories return: of representing my brother against my own employer, attempting to get the truth from possible witnesses (no easy feat since you can’t subpoena anyone), dealing with the shock that so few people are prepared to speak, that they’re all far more interested in getting on with their lives, questioning the head teacher at industrial tribunal, or of watching my father fall apart under the pressure and finally telling him that I would represent my brother in court instead.

Nothing will remove those now. They have stripped the good humour from me and made me bitter, turned me cynical. Hate pumps from my heart and it won’t let me live my life.