I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

More from the spinning wheel

Just reached page 100 (that's WfW pages) with the novel and it's going well. Hemingway says that's exactly the moment to break off - when what lies ahead is clear. Dangerous territory, he says. Well, a hundred's a round number.

I seem to have recycled more personal material  than ever before. I've just evoked a flat we used to occupy in north London, transposing it south of the river. One of my Second Hand extracts here in TD briefly mentions an odd occupation within the medical profession; a person so employed really exists and Sir Hugh recognised him. A press trip I made many years ago has been re-shaped into a seminal event in Francine's life.

These are legitimate practices, I think. Where else might I find persuasive raw material? Google? Sterile stuff indeed.

What I can't understand are established writers who lift real-life people, with all their impedimenta, and plonk them down - often only thinly disguised - as the spinal column of their novel. Sometimes womb-to-tomb accounts of a real individual, occasionally a relation. Where's the fun in that? Fiction is an opportunity for invention. A chance to tell a story you've dreamed up. Otherwise why bother? These transplantations seem perilously close to the processes our boroughs and towns set in motion at the local dump.

Even as I write, certain exceptions arise. Nothing's for sure, is it?

WIP Second Hand (42,240 words)
expected her father to respond but it was her mother who spoke first. Her voice was softer. “I couldn’t guide you. Not for a moment. This is a leap into the dark and you only do those yourself. But that may be part of what you need. Something exhilarating. Something that shakes off the past. Something with an unusual goal. Almost a mystical goal.”

“Mystical?” Tom Embery roared with laughter. “Why not hallucinogenic? Are we encouraging our daughter to take drugs? Damnit, I can’t not say yes. ”


  1. What better than being able to fantasize about the beginnings and endings, about people met and happenings experienced, which were unknown at the time, and to elaborate on the subjects themselves? Think of an impoverished painter being liberated from constraints by free lifetime supply of canvas and paint.

    I am surprised that with your phenomenal memory you are running out of such material.

    The excerpt reminds me of summing up the courage to tell Mother at my age 21 that I wanted to pack in my job and go off and bum round the Continent.

    Dreading the unleashing of parental disapproval I was taken aback when she said,

    “what a good idea, you will only get the chance once, go off and do it”.

    From that moment all desire to be a hobo was extinguished.


    I don’t like the double negative at the end of your piece.

  2. Sir Hugh: Memory. I remember a lot but there's no guarantee any of it will have any literary application. In any case the novels have absorbed huge chunks which then invalidate large radiations of related stuff.

    "Burn". Does this imply some sort of conveyance other than your feet? Conclusion: you didn't want to go in the first place.

    Double negative. Intentional. It's a rhythmic thing.

  3. I knew why you had used the double negative and recognised it as a device I have seen before, but with my slow mental uptake I have to read these things twice to work out the exact meaning.

  4. I think the double negative has the rhythm of a rat trap. Spine snapping, rib crushing, and impossible to escape from.

  5. Sir Hugh: I understand but it can - if you let it - be a matter of faith. The eye slides along the sentence, reaches "can't not" and takes the rest for granted. Actually, the more I look at the sentence the more I see "positive", satisfactorily rhythmic, options: "I've got to say..." or "I find I've got to..." or "You're forcing me to..."

    But this is typical of trying to arrrive at a satisfactory style beyond mere clarity. In some instances, especially with longish paragraphs of historical summary and/or reported speech, re-reading may encourage changes and then changes of changes. And usually the trend is to fewer words. This is because in reading as a reader (not as someone out to edit) one picks up longer and longer passages where the rhythm is satisfactory and these have an even stronger influence on what follows.

    I'm sorry that this sounds somewhat obscure. It needs to be explained with examples. Perhaps I should come to Arnside with a flip-chart and address your literary group on the subject. An hour is all I need.

    MikeM: Exactly. A combination of sense and style. I would add one further thing to your analogy. A rat-trap is an ugly device and so, to some extent, is this particular sentence. But occasionally ugly gets the job done better than pretty.

    Having said all that I will probably change the sentence in the MS. Both you and Sir Hugh have done a sterling job in drawing my attention to this piece and - inevitably - I've seen better choices. For which much thanks. Ah it's so much easier using a keyboard and a screen than a chisel and a slab of stone.

  6. No need to apologise. That explanation is quite clear and familiar to me. When writing a factual post on the blog minimum words are the target. When writing fiction or something more expansive that still applies, but there are instances where I choose to use more words to help with flow and rhythm, and sometimes to avoid repetition of the same words or phrases. Also longer and shorter sentences control description, or more drama respectively.

  7. I suspect that within the larger story, and being more familiar with Tom, I might not find the passage so jarring. It's comical aspects are just now dawning on me. Suppose I might have taken the clue "roared with laughter". I mistakenly took the double negative response to be an answer to the question "are we now encouraging our daughter to take drugs?", but now I believe the response is to the daughter's plea, which is undefined in this snippet. I'm new to the blog and adjusting to its structure.

  8. Sir Hugh: Mingling sentences of different lengths is one of the most rewarding features of writing prose. Get it right and you're set up for the day. I've been doing it instinctively for a while and I've only recently examined the technique closely.

    To make it work the short sentences profit from being really short. Even to the point of removing the subject in subsequent sentences, provided the subject remains the same thoughout. The rhythm is virtually audible: Di-dah di-dah. Di-dah di-dah. Dah di-di-di dah-dah.

    Because it's so exhilarating there is a temptation to go to excess: five short sentences followed by one long one. But this risks parody. Best to separate instances by two or three thousand words at least. Obviously the technique shouldn't be wasted: use it wherever propulsion followed by a long blast suits what you have to say.

    MikeM: Some of the sentences in this particular extract are intentionally misleading in terms of their order. Tom's replies jump around and, as you say, this would be more apparent if the extract were longer. Let me try and explain what I'm up to.

    Second Hand, my fourth novel since I started taking novel writing seriously, deals with an environment I know very well. Francine is the central character and arrives in this environment by accident. Her transition is traumatic and needs to be. For reasons of dramatic tension I am not including any details of this transition in these extracts.

    What I've looked for are very short passages which, I hope, have intrinsic interest and, even more optimistically, might have a life of their own. The nature of the interest varies. The preceding extract dated October 23 is more typical: a little story on its own. Others provide biographical data about Francine, the scope of the novel, and, Lord help me, moments of original observation.

    It is possible to take a cynical view of all this, that I'm tempting people in. But the fact is with the earlier three novels I've enjoyed interaction with my blog commenters (some even read the MSs) and this system of extracts represents opportunities for more of the same.

    I think I overstepped the mark with this most recent extract. I could have limited it simply to the response of Francine's mother. I'll bear this in mind in future.

  9. I've never thought much about rhythm in prose, but I suspect it is one reason this short piece of mine only has a bit of life toward the end:


    Everything on your blog seems very much alive, not least Sir Hugh's "hobo vs. mom" comment.

  10. MikeM: Left a comment back there.

    ... "seems very much alive... ". At age 78 I can think of no better observation.

  11. Thanks for your generous observations and advice. You may have noticed that a link to TONE DEAF has joined the very select company on the Mykwerks "favorites" list.