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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.
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Friday, 27 November 2015

Gradus ad Parnassum

Novels take a minimum of two years. Aged eighty I worried. But what the hell; some unfinished novels have turned out famous

Roderick Robinson


MR KOSSOF was almost finished; just a signature on the final page. Lindsay leant over the counter pointing to the line, discreetly managing her cleavage gap as she did so. One didn’t distract a customer signing over sixty kay for a new three-litre convertible. But then perhaps Kossof had earned a sly peep; deserved it? Suppose he offered her a ride?

He glanced at her name badge. “Well Leenzy, chwill the ladies be eempressed?”

“Of course.”

“Beeg car, huh?”

“Luxury car."

“Luxury? I dunna understan.”

“Like Buckingham Palace.”

He smiled, showing gold teeth beneath a ragged moustache. “Good for Her Majesty. You eempressed, Leenzy?"

But Lindsay never did get a chance to answer this promising question. Jenson, passing behind her to the photocopier, found pin-striped grey polyester, wool and Teflon stretched over her bowl-shaped rump just too enticing. Made no attempt to pretend it was an accidental brush-past, went for a fondle with added linger. Hearing her gasp, Mr Kossof looked up and did not approve, perhaps seeing tanks on a lawn he imagined he already commanded. He pushed the signed contract across the counter and turned towards a TV showing an over-hysterical video loop on car insurance for the over-fifties.

Furious, but keeping it under control, Lindsay went to the loo and dissipated her aggression in high-pressure pee. Thought about laddishness. Jenson was good-looking and devoted more of his salary to his appearance than any woman she knew. Used mousse on his hair while it was still controversial; patronised a Pierre Cardin boutique for males who were small but perfectly formed. Lindsay could imagine French-kissing him and simultaneously kneeing him in his – no doubt, perfectly formed – groin. How was it possible for her to contain these two emotional extremes?


  1. Well, you have certainly "grabbed them by the lapels" with a cracking start, RR. As we get older I try not to look to the future but enjoy the present. After all, you would not have thought twice about starting a novel when you were, say, 70. So what's the difference at 80? Go for it!

  2. Avus beat me to the punch with approving your hook in this one, Robbie. Snagged my interest straight away! Looking forward to more.

  3. Do a Dickens and run it as a serial? But no, I know you do much revision along the way which makes me wonder about Dickens who must have shot himself in the foot in that respect. Perhaps it shows, most of his stuff is too long. I hope there is more motor trade background. If I wrote a novel I would certainly use my knowledge of that subject - the personnel are such a colourful bunch, and in Bradford, during the Sixties, all of them were interacting and familiar with each other, like a large dysfunctional family

  4. Avus: There's more to come:

    Cheerfully Lindsay acknowledged getting into and out of these low-slung bolides was a job for a car-porn star. Her skirt rode up as her legs, sardine-parallel, slid in. Not to complain. Those same legs, sardine-parallel during the interview two years ago, may have got her the job.

    High Hopes will be vulgar, slangy, perhaps comical but also deadly serious. Women's stuff as usual but no hoity-toity, no literary allusions.

    Can I do do it? I'll tell you this: 80 is quite different from 70. Not so much a matter of decline, several of the systems are in reverse. But writing beats getting out and talking to people. The struggle gets recorded.

    Crow: A race against time, then? Snagging's what I'm after.

    MikeM: Enticing? In that case I need to pitch it lower. I mean you might say an eclair was enticing whereas a hamburger was something else. Enticing's kind of delicate if you see what I mean. HH shouldn't be raunchy or brawling but it might be rude.

    Sir Hugh: Meeting the demands of the serial with cliffhangers every 7000 words wrecked some of Dickens' books (eg, Dombey And Son. "The worst book in the world." - E. Waugh). But I will, as I have in the past, include short extracts in Tone Deaf. You're right about what Lennon/McCartney referred to in Eleanor Rigby ("Meeting a man in the motor trade.") - it's an activity rich in pretension, failure and mendacity - a reflection of a predominantly male world, dark side up. Lindsay as a character will be developed among cars but then will pass into something far more extreme.

  5. I meant only that the rump portrayal was enticing. Sardine parallel is pretty good too unless one over-thinks it.

  6. MikeM: I think I over-did the spirit of correction. Often your comments are an encouragement to think aloud, as it were.

  7. Three things I can offer if asked for a critique:
    1. Mr.Kosoff's accent. Is it really necessary to try and mimic his ethnic origin? Wherever he's from, his accent doesn't sound either authentic or comical to my ears.

    2. "...pin-striped grey polyester,wool and Teflon.." What on earth is she wearing over her bowl-shaped arse? A minute ago she was showing cleavage (hence some fairly lightweight fabric adorning her upper half) so would she really be in pin-striped grey wool...and Teflon..(as in non-stick?)skirt or trousers?

    3. "...dissipated her aggression in high-pressure pee." No. Pee can't be willed, no matter how agressive one may feel.

    Having got this uncalled-for critique out of the way I can now say that I'd be interested to know how the rest of this plot will unfold.

  8. Natalie: Oh, dear, here we go again. You and I, Natalie, are not interested in the same subjects nor in the same way of telling them. Nor do we share the same sense of humour. I will forever disappoint you. Knowing it's pointless I'll answer the things you raise according to what I am trying to do.

    But first, here's a blanket statement: the first part of this story takes place in a car dealership as adumbrated in an earlier post (Step One On A Two-Year Road, November 14) when a visit to a Birmingham concert (Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto) provided me with the first stirrings (ie, a character) of an idea for what turned out to be High Hopes, now 2200 words long. You do not drive and have no interest in cars therefore the extracts I am likely to publish in Tone Deaf are going to be a hard row for you to hoe. High Hopes will not be be a novel you would willingly read under any other circumstances

    This is not an attempt to warn you off, comment as much as you like, but expect to be progressively disappointed.

    1. Mr Kosoff, a very minor character, has just spent sixty-thousand pounds on a car. His name suggests he might be Russian and the tendency for wealthy Russian oligarchs to end up in Britain, protected by our very lax tax laws, helps reinforce this. He doesn't have much to say but, in order to grant him some authenticity, I Googled "Man speaking with heavy Russian accent" and then phoneticised what I heard. Hence, among other things, the word beginning with "ch". The result may not resemble anyone you have ever heard but when did you last attempt to render a Russian accent in dialogue?

    2. Technical detail doesn't interest you; you have made this clear several times. In fact you seem to resent its inclusion. Lindsay is wearing a cheap business suit and believe it or believe it not the mix of materials I list is to be found in the skirt that comes with such a suit (from Debenham's as I recall). The assault takes place in a techno-environment, not your spiritual home.

    I freely admit that what I am trying to write is not a Paul Auster novel.

    3. Male and female anatomies differ, I know that. Yet if I contract the muscles of my stomach, and women have stomachs, at the beginning of a pee (ie, when the bladder is full) it does increase marginally the pressure of the outcome. You are saying this doesn't happen with women. Actually it doesn't really matter; Lindsay is angry and is looking to work off some of her anger in a physical way; just the impression of peeing harder may be enough. I didn't say L had willed the pee.

    Your final sentence makes me laugh, but wryly. In cliché terms it's a sop to Cerberus. Or, whistling in the wind. I am presently half-way through a passage when a woman comes into the dealership and is pondering buying one of these cars. She and Lindsay talk and their situation becomes the foundation of a dialogue about male discrimination, with an action section which demonstrates this topic. But the basis is cars, Natalie. Things of metal with more metal inside.

    I appreciate your interest but there's a heavy irony about our relationship. As if I'd written an instruction manual for your washing machine and you were complaining because it lacked human interest. There's a further 88,000 words of High Hopes to go. A long arid road. Also I've just turned eighty and have only time to write the novel I can imagine, not the Paul Auster novel you think I should.

  9. I've messed up again! I really truly do not want to be at odds with you, Robbie. I thought that expressing my view honestly and in some detail was proof of friendly interest rather than snobbish disapproval, as it seems to have registered with you.

    A Paul Auster novel is what I think you should write? Huh?? I've read a couple of his, wasn't impressed. I don't understand: why would I prefer Auster? I have no idea what sort of novel you "should" write and no objection to one about the motor trade, even it's not my favourite subject. My uncalled-for critique was about the writing, not the subject.

    The imitation Russian accent simply doesn't work and if meant to be funny, isn't. My father and his relatives were Russian, I heard the accent all my life but I wouldn't know how to render it in dialogue. John Cleese did a credible imitation in that film about fishes - can't remember the title?

    As for "high-pressure pee" I also thought this wasn't good writing - not because of the subject: any subject can be grist for the writer's mill.

    "...As if I'd written an instruction manual for your washing machine" Yes but that's not what you're doing, is it? You're writing a novel, therefore it's permissible to comment in terms of writing per se, isn't it?

    To summarise: I'd rather be on friendly terms with you than to exercise my lit crit faculties so I shall henceforth offer only complimentary comments.

  10. Natalie: Dunno where you got snobbish from.

    Quickly then. You cited Paul Auster (favourably) some months ago when we disagreed about dialogue. Kosoff was never intended to be amusing, he doesn't say enough; just needed to be foreign. "isn't good writing" isn't specific enough; in any case your previous point about peeing was physiological not literary. The key to the washing machine allusion was "as if", an analogy to illustrate a paradox.

    But I reiterate. I may be wrong but I feel sure I am trying to do something which, in the end, doesn't interest you or that you don't understand. Something that as far as I know no one else is trying to do. I won't explain yet again, I've done so too many times, the problem starting in your response to Gorgon Times when you said I could have removed all the detail about what the two main characters did for a living without affecting the story. In fact the work was the whole point, a point made repeatedly throughout the novel. Similarly in the novels that followed. I accept you may think such an approach is wrong-headed, that nobody would be interested in it, but it happens to be what drives me. If I can make any claim to originality in what I do, this is it. Exploring an unexplored area.

    Occasionally I deviate from this aim in short stories, verse and some posts and then you're much more at home with your comments - complimentary or critical. But the novels are me being serious though not, I hope, solemn. Hence "high-pressure pee" and mock-pedantic references to skirt fabric.

  11. I don't remember citing Paul Auster at all but I'll take your word for it. I've just checked my bookshelves and found "The Red Notebook"(not a novel) by him which indeed I do like.I had a couple of his novels, can't find them but remember being unimpressed.It's posssible I remembr wrongly. What sort of writing do I like? I'm not sure, there doesn't seem to be any consistency in my taste: Le Carré, Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, Marguerite Duras, Kerouac, Dave Eggers, Philip K.Dick,Hemingway,Simenon,Peter Ustinov, Salinger, Beckett.....etc.

    True, there's no point in going over old ground we've already discussed/misunderstood before. Just to correct a misconception: technical manuals are some of my favourite reading matter. I have a shelf full of 'how-to' and 'what-is' and 'why' manuals on all sorts of things. If I had ever bothered to own a car, for sure I would have learned exactly it worked and how to repair it. I love techy stuff.

  12. Natalie: Given all this low-grade squabbling it's amusing we shall be appearing as co-authors within the same book cover very shortly.

  13. In that book, I'm only the translator of Vinicius de Moraes' poem in Portuguese (Brazilian) but in any case, squabbling or no squabbling (surely not low-grade?) I'm happy to be in the same book with you.

  14. Natalie: A cold detached eye is the best assistant when viewing stuff people have written. Low-grade is quite a high rating in any case; it means we weren't lugubrious.

    Poetry translation may not be creation but it is re-creation. Try translating your own verse; it can be a revelation.

  15. Nothing high-brow from me I am afraid. I have never kneed anybody in the groin; but aged eleven, I did swing my back-of-a-cereal-box briefcase between a lad's legs. I though he would think it was funny!

  16. ... plus, I quite like the idea of a Teflon skirt. Kind of difficult to get into, but slippy when required to be so.

  17. Blonde Two: I was trying to summarise a woman's dilemma: faced with a guy who's good-looking and sexy, but who she knows to be a bit of bastard.

    I hope you learned from your briefcase moment.