I’ve made a new short video on the Factory Girl trilogy.
You can find it here.
At the Shrewsbury Writers’ Lab on Tuesday (the local writing group Joe Shooman and I lead, based in Shrewsbury Library) a writer asked me a question I’ve never been asked before. We began a freeform discussion on our various projects with me showing everyone my notebook, and I spoke for a while about their value. Many writers had similar notebooks, some digital some real, and an interesting discussion was had.
But the question which floored me was: “Why do you use a pencil in your notebook, not a pen?” The questioner went on to observe, “You’re not rubbing things out, you’re crossing them out.”
I pondered this for a few seconds, then confessed that I didn’t know why I favoured pencil. But I knew even in those few seconds that I never had used a pen and never would. This surprised me, and I had to tell the assembled writers that I didn’t know why only pencil…
Since then I’ve had time to think about it. I know for sure that I never could use a pen in such a notebook (although, see below). My notebooks have great significance to me. I explained to the others in the group that for me each notebook has to be a physical object, treasured, taken pretty much wherever I go, and carefully organised.
I begin with the basics of the scenario, the most fundamental essentials: characters, setting, tone. Then the ideas flow. Eventually I’ll get to the stage where I block out the plot of the novel on one page, usually no more than two lines per chapter. Then more notes, then a second version of the plot, with four or five lines per chapter. After a further period of work I’ll know I’m ‘ready’ and it’s time to organise all my thoughts, notes, ideas and plot into the third version of the narrative. This version has one page per chapter, and it’s what I use when doing the actual writing.
So, why pencil? I think pencil has one advantage for me, though it’s quite difficult to explain, and actually not an explanation; more of a metaphor. Pen, to my mind, is too harsh, too dark, too contrasty. I use a pencil because the marks – the words – are grey; ephemeral themselves. Pencil somehow symbolises the ambiguity and uncertainty of my thoughts at the early stage. I know that sounds a bit weird, but I’ve thought about it, slept on it, and it’s definitely right!
What’s really strange about all this though is that when I had the opening ‘two hour splurge’ for the Factory Girl trilogy, I wrote them with a pen! What does this mean? That the material for that trilogy was so ready in my mind I didn’t feel the urge to grab a pencil instead of the pen which first came to hand? It sounds weird, but then so much of the author’s art is weird…
There’s never been a General Election in Britain. All we’ve had are a series of Partial Elections.
That sounds pretty crazy, huh? But think. Britain uses a First Past The Post voting system, which is just about fit for the eighteenth century. This however is the twenty first century. All enlightened nations – most of Europe for instance – use Proportional Representation. Britain, America and Canada use FPTP, and all face totally unfair national elections.
In a Partial Election, only marginal seats are meaningful. Only in a marginal seat does your vote have a point. Take Shropshire, for instance. In the constituency of North Shropshire where I used to live, if I voted Tory the Tory would get in; if I voted Labour the Tory would get in; if I voted Lib Dem the Tory would get in; if I voted Green the Tory would get in; if I voted monster Raving Loony the Tory would get in. If I spoiled my vote, the Tory would get it, and if I didn’t vote the Tory would get in. I think this rural blue situation illustrates quite nicely the concept of the meaningless vote.
This moreover is a situation which both Tories and Labour have supported, and with utter hypocrisy, since the FPTP system benefits them, as the two parties in a two-party system. So much for democracy, you titans of the Left.
In a British Partial Election only marginal seats make a difference. In 2017, the Electoral Reform Society was able to call the results of 368 seats – more than half of Parliament’s 650 – before the election. Is that democracy? No. Meanwhile, 225 constituencies have not changed political hands since before 1950.
This ludicrous system can be changed by PR. PR gives every voter a meaningful task. Yes, it means coalitions afterwards, as we’ve seen in Europe, but isn’t that the point of politics? Talking to one another, making compromises, then arriving at a mutually agreed result.
Sounds like politics to me.
Over The Edge Of The World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation Of The Globe by Laurence Bergreen
I really enjoyed this. It’s a no-holds-barred account of the world’s first circumnavigation, written by an excellent author who clearly loves his material.
In the early 1500s Ferdinand Magellan, an arrogant, self-promoting Portuguese out of favour with his own monarch, managed to get himself made commander of a five ship expedition to find a westerly route to the Spice Islands – now known as the Moluccas – on behalf of the king of Spain. What followed is narrated by Bergreen with fantastic relish – a tale of mutiny, daring, violence, survival against the odds, the discovery of the true size of the planet, cloves, nutmeg and much, much more…
The book uses various testimonies, but, given that only 18 men made it back of the original 260, that in itself it quite a feat. But the main testimony is that of Italian Antonio Pigafetta, a Magellan loyalist who made it back to Seville despite the demise of his master. In the meantime, the author spares us nothing of the voyage’s horrors: scurvy, mutual incomprehension between indigenous Pacific peoples and Westerners, madness and fighting… it’s got the lot. The prose is excellent, the background well researched, and the book overall is very readable.
Highly recommended to those who like tales from the so-called Age of Discovery.
When I read about the lunar theme to the new Eibonvale Press anthology The Once & Future Moon – tales either ancient or futuristic – I knew at once that I’d write a prehistoric story. Regular readers of this blog will know of my great interest in all matters of human evolution, and the meaning of the Moon to our early forebears was central in their mental frameworks. Although interpretation is difficult, there is evidence to suggest that lunar calendars were kept – bones with 28 or 29 scratches on, for instance. I decided to use this as a foundation for my tale ‘White Face Tribe.’
One of the difficulties in writing prehistoric literature is keeping all historic concepts out of it: urban life, stone apart from tools, and any thought processes involving separation from nature. But the aspect of prehistoric mentality which interested me most was the automatic self-centred viewpoint. The payoff to my tale is how the main character perceives herself and the reasons underlying her actions, which very few modern readers would consider plausible…
Readers of this blog will also know of my music and perhaps the collection of instruments I’ve built up over the last quarter century or so. One of the most recent acquisitions is a deer bone flute, made by a friend who specialises in Anglo-Saxon instruments, so I decided to use that also in my story. The flute is a beautiful little thing which plays sweetly: here it is being used in some music I recorded a while back.
The Once & Future Moon is available now from all the usual places.
Eibonvale Press’ new anthology The Once & Future Moon is out now, after a successful launch at the BFS awards in Glasgow. Edited by award-winning Allen Ashley, the collection has a number of lunar-themed stories, some set in the past, some in the future, including my own ‘White Face Tribe,’ which takes the reader back to Ice Age times…