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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Book of Shoals - Excerpts from the Diary of a Seaman.

I hope some of my old friends will remember that I wrote a few pieces for our sharing sessions some years back under the collective title "The Book of Shoals...etc" (as above). I entered Amy Knepper's story competition again, this week and decided to dust the idea off and write a postscript to the original tales.

At the same time, it struck me it might be fun to re-visit the originals so, without apology, here is the first entry from the diary for old times sake.  By the way, guys, don't forget to go to google+ and vote for my piece (please).  I could do with the exposure with Finn's tales in final editing with an aim to have a proper publishing house take them up.

The Book of Shoals - Excerpts from the Diary of a Seaman  - One.

They say the sea is cruel.

I should know. Fifteen years I have lain with her as an uneasy bedfellow and I would say this;
She is not cruel, just dispassionate about our fates.

When I wake for my watch she is always there although she speaks to me with many different voices.  Today it is a song about freedom she is singing as I watch the Shearwaters fly past, trimming the wave tops, dipping sails to steer after the seemingly endless stream of mackerel who flow against the current.  She is weaving with her mind on other things and I hear her song clearly.
I have heard this one before and it always awakes disquiet in my soul.

I turn to my duties;

"Looks like a storm coming"
Old Jack flaps his arms to keep warm. He’s always the pessimist. He was probably born that way in the Glaswegian slum that was his home, what, seventy odd years ago now? 
Born, more like forced screaming into a world he saw only the worst in. Jack’s mother was an alcoholic so he says, father when he was there, a bitter, repressed, angry man, well, he had his reasons I suppose. To find yourself skilled in shipbuilding, and only that, and then be tossed aside when the warships were no longer needed to protect these shores, it breaks even a tough man's spirit.   Some days, though, I think Jack only keeps up this act because he knows the rest of us will make light and chide him humorously. It's the closest he can get to feeling loved, I think.

Pete "The Wreck" stumbles out of the cabin, coughing, retching. Spits something, probably tobacco. His pale and haggard features give him the look of a first timer, seasick and lacking sleep. But, he’s in his eighteenth year of this. He always looks that way, dry land or sea, rain or sunshine. His wan grin as he smoothes out unkempt hair says he is in as good a humour as he gets. He whistles out of tune. 

I wince and wonder what is it with some folks. How can you be so tone deaf that you can't tell when you entirely miss a note? I shake my head.

Grey horizon, brooding. Perhaps Jack’s right, maybe there is a storm out there, grinding its teeth and waiting with hungry eyes and greedy hands to feed on our fear and exertion.

It is true. Any seaman will tell you, in that moment of quiet reflection, that however long you ship, the bad storms never lose their terror. You just expect the struggle and look forward to getting your hands around a hot mug of tea or coffee when its done.

The waves are darker now and the Shearwaters long gone. 

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Writing and the cry of "If only I had more time"

I like to think of myself as a writer.

Even during the thirty plus years I spent as a senior manager-exec-consultant-contractor, I still liked to think that way.

I imagine that just about all of us who love to write would like more time.  The problem is that when you get to work on something serious, there is a lot of real work around bringing it to fruition. Writing a book is just the start.  From first to second draft, editing and probably third draft, getting it reviewed, rewriting it, passing it to the pro-editor, re-writing parts of it, having that re-edited....

And meanwhile, you are trying to build up a head of steam behind it amongst potential supporters and those who might influence the final outcome.

Then it probably comes back from the publisher wanting some more work on it and you are into another round.

While all this is going on, you need to be focused on the work you are intending to publish.

But, we are writers and writers are always having new ideas and inspirations. So what do you do with all those other stories and poems that are clamouring to get written?

I don't know about the rest of you but I tend to write any good lines and thoughts down, sometimes a whole chapter or two and file it. Some I turn, temporarily into short stories to see how they look and whether they might have legs.  Others, I just lay the plan out briefly and boot into the same area for a review sometime.

How many of you have more writing sitting in various states than have ever shared beyond maybe one or two friends or your partner?

And now it's Summer, here and there are even more distractions.  We went for a long walk around a local village, this morning with in-laws and puppy. Ah, the English countryside is so full of wonderful sounds, smells and ideas.  When you have as much time as you want to do such things, there is never enough time. 

Come on now, tell me you ever feel like there is time enough.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

That damn election (again)

They have put a large television on the wall in The Surfeit of Lamprey. Now, I am not a man to stand in the way of progress. I have enjoyed the advent of the internet, mobile phones with cameras and the blue-ray DVD recorder/player as much as the next man. The problem is not the presence of the thing but that it is on every time I go in, blasting out the election programme at full whack.

The reason, of course, is that Ronald Mildpint is backing Robert's campaign and his wife, Jane, even more enthusiastically with her glittering purple rosette with "You have to luv Bobby" emblazoned on it above "VOTE UKVIP",  and yes, in capital letters.  I'm not surprised that Jane is bubbling over with Robert for MP. After all, rumour places her pretty firmly under him on a number of occasions in the distant past.

And there's nothing wrong with good old Auntie's presentation but I like to get out of the house for a quiet pint and chat. Poor old Ted Gracecrease has been crammed into the corner on the other side of the bar and still can't hear word spoken to him.

In protest, on Wednesday, when Maddy let me know she would be late in for lunch as she was at a meeting of the Allbright & Beautiful Singers, I walked down the hill to the Waggon and Tax Break.  Pushing open the door, I stopped and listened. Such bliss. A few murmuring voices around the bar and the sound of jugs and bottles.  I came around the corner and what do you think? Leaning against the bar, talking politics were Robert Awfullybuff-Headstrong with the Colonel, who is local Conserve-It chairman, of course, Maurice Dufferly and Jeremy Enjoyse-Silk. Robert was still sporting his stupid gold and purple monstrosity, beside which, Maurice Dufferly's restrained orange job looked like a quail set against a Norfolk Turkey.

'Townshend!' boomed Robert, waving me over, 'you just missed Merton and The Charlatan.'

'Who no doubt will be pillorying you along with that supercilious Nigel Barrage on this week's "Have I Got Some Views From You"'. I replied.

'Well, yes, there is a chance I might feature but they were jolly interested in my campaign. Merton even made a contribution. That is to say he bet me a fiver that I couldn't pull Viola Jane Singleton, my campaign manager and the ex-Olympic horse rider who just moved into the area.'

'You mean the one with the laugh like a drain and the sort of smile that sent Lord Nelson to sea?'

'That would be her.' he laughed, 'she is a bit of a drip isn't she? Thing is, I'd already had her twice after we went to the Borderfolk & Sheepshire Constabulary Dinner Dance the other night. Easiest fiver I ever won.'

'And you told Merton that?'

'Well how else was I to win my fiver?'

(I should explain at greater length, I see.  Merton Herflop and Charlie Brownsoup were always the jokers. At Warboys, they put on the end of term rag and review.  At Peterville & Gonwylde, they wrote that University magazine "Open Eyes" that went on to become a national publication. Now, Merton is editor but spends more time writing for and appearing on TV in a hugely popular Saturday night show that pokes fun at politics.)

'I suspect,' I said with a mock folorrn air, 'that they will put paid to any chance of you winning the election, here. Or anywhere else.'

Jeremy Began to laugh his snorting laugh, 'oh dear, Robert, looks like they saw you coming.'

'I can't see what the problem is.' Robert shrugged, 'Everyone knows what I'm like. Jenny's past caring, long ago.'

'Ex England Rugby Hero caught with his shorts down again'  I spread an arm wide, "UKVIP candidate lets down wife and electorate with local campaign manager."  Or maybe something less subtle from The Globe like; "Bonking Bobby gets Viola's vote." The accompanying speculation should nail it.'

'I might even come second this year' Maurice Dufferly's said from somewhere behind us.

Everyone hates Chapter 2

Sometimes, you write a chapter or part of one that is a scene setter or a "plot hook".  Sometimes, however many times you write it, it just doesn't seem to work.

I accept, with as much grace as you're going to get from me, reading group, that you were right and chapter two needs a radical re-write. There are other places to slip the plot item into the tale so all will be fine.

I hope you all like the new chapter two which is two thirds written and one third re-read (and no, it will go to an editor only when you have had a chance to like or maul it, first.) 

It did set me thinking about something two of you have said about the first Finn book. You both said it set an almost frantic pace that rarely let up and left the reader panting with exhaustion and drained by the time it exited, setting up the next.

I think it might want a couple of extra chapters carrying a little more background and slowing the timeline as well.  Maybe we could have an early first term one in Car Duris.  Then there is the opportunity to add cameo chapters which, those who have read the original "skeletal" work (that set this whole thing on the road) know are key to the remaining books.

I also have to make a final choice on the editor.  The two candidates that I like will need to look at the re-written two and comment on the two choices - with or without cameos along with the reading groups.  So, two sets of five chapters are about to be dumped unceremoniously on your virtual doorsteps.  Didn't anyone ever say that reading for someone isn't just all fun and frolics?

That'll teach you all for trashing my chapter. *snigger*

Thursday, 7 May 2015

(Spoiler: Game of Thrones Included) Divergence - The Books vs Series Arguement

So, like all lovers of Game of Thrones and the characters that stride through the many pages that GRRM has written to date, I was upset when the TV production team decided to call time on Sir Barristan Selmy, so excellently played by Ian McElhinney. I had hopes that we would see his sharp dismissal of the knights of the kingsguard come home to roost. I wanted a moment much later in the series when we would see him prove to Meryn Trant and Boros Blount that even an old man like him could beat them all.

Not to be. Instead a courageous death at the hands of terrorists   Clearly, designed to give us an emotional reaction and set us against the Sons of the Harpy and all who support them, I guess they had to make it someone we cared about. Purist arguements about their lack of technique being inadequate to face a knight or unsullied are irrelevant. It wasn't well done but the point was supposed to be an overwhelming number overcoming an elite few.

Does divergence ruin a series?  I have seen a great deal of debate on line over this latest change and I have an opinion, of course.

I read and re-read the books long before the TV series was announced. When it started, it stuck pretty much to the books and I loved it but did think we were not going to be surprised. If a series is going to have it's own place, it has to be able to consider changes to such a long set of books. For one thing, a vast amount has to be cut out to allow for the series to keep to a manageable budget and number of episodes. That means some characters may be left out altogether. It usually means that some absent characters' key moments are then handed to those retained in the series. That is tv economy and is necessary. Then, there is the need to keep the series lovers with you not just the book lovers. One could argue that the book lovers will go buy the books but the series followers could drop off if you bore them. 

Given the awful quality of the last three books which probably could have been produced as one book and the rest left on the cutting room floor of "rejected and original chapters" on a pc somewhere, the TV production team were going to have to do something. Even the most avid readers that I know thought the last three books went nowhere and were overlong as well as often irrelevant.

So yes, I was disappointed that Barristan has been dropped early on.  Not as disappointed as I was at GRRM for killing off Rob Stark.  I liked the TV series giving Brienne a less boring wander about the world and maybe killing off Rob Stark's wife and child to reduce the complexity and possible split loyalty later on when I have little doubt that a Targaryen restoration will result.  Danaerys will (my view) meet the other two heads of the dragon, one of whom I believe will be Jon Snow, revealed as the Targaryen heir saved by Ned Stark and raised as his own.  With dragons, they can drive back the white walkers and save Westeros. All hail the Targaryens.   (And yes, I know what happens in the books but I have thought how that will work through given what will happen when fire is introduced).

There is a lot more in the books that could be played about with to make some interesting episodes.  I wish, now, they had the Mountain wound Oberon badly but as he rose to kill him, he had been called off by Tywin to avoid a more serious diplomatic incident. I liked Oberon (Pedro Pascal was excellent) and he would have been good to use in the series to play out some of Dorne's moves.  But there we are. That was a rather important book moment and has repercussions which I think we will see on a larger scale in the series.   BTW, TV guys, give Darkstar( aka Geroald Dayne) a big part. You've got to imagine what Arthur Dayne's brother can do in a fight!