Wednesday, 20 September 2017

New W.I.P.. After the bombing and in a safer place

Work In Process for the first book in my trilogy 
Lifespan
Book One: Embarking 

 Collecting the Pictures

1945 June 4th  'Labour will need a sort of Gestapo to rule,' says Churchill.

(Maggie gave birth to Alice in during the bombing of South Shields. They are now in a safer place...)


Now Alice, we’re gunna see your pretty picture,’ says Maggie, unbuckling Alice from her harness, leaving the big pram outside the photographer’s shop.  The bell tinkles and Eli Mason looks up from the far counter where he is wrapping a big picture in brown paper and string. He looks up and smiles. ‘Ah!Mrs… er  Miss … You’ve come for your photographs!’
She smiles. ‘Just call me Maggie,’ she says. ‘Yes. We’re looking forward to seeing them aren’t we, Alice? 
Alice makes her mouse squeak in response and Mr Mason laughs He puts an envelope on the near counter. ‘There you are. Good job,  though I say it myself,’
Maggie leans over to get a closer look.  ‘Amazing. Just perfect Mr Mason.’  She has tears in her eyes. ‘She looks so much … herself.’’
Mr Mason smiles ‘That’s what we want from our photographs. People looking like their best selves. Especially these days.’ He pushes a mahogany frame towards her. ‘Choose the best picture and put it in this frame.’ For free,
Maggie puts her hand on it and hesitates,.
‘It’s a present,’ he says. ‘For Alice.’
Maggie smiles, relieved. She only has the money for the photos in her purse.
He wraps the photos and the frame and - after protesting – takes  the money for the photos from Maggie. ‘Well, if I must.’
She tucks the package into the pram basket and makes to go. Mr Mason puts up a hand. ‘I don’t know if you’re working, er … Maggie?’
‘Well, I work four nights in the bar at The Welsh House. I'm staying there.’ She smiles. ‘Singing for my supper.’
He stares at her, ‘As a matter of fact I need a hand here in the shop. The women are signing on at the factory and the men are in the army or at the pit,. Much better money of course. I told you I’ve lost  Bernie  didn’t I?’ He hesitates  ‘Would you be interested to work here? Maggie, times to suit you?’
Maggie smiles faintly. ‘Its wonderful to watch you work Mr Mason.. But I know nothing about cameras, or taking photographs.’
He smiles ‘I can teach you. Took young Bernie straight out of elementary school. In six months he  was nearly as good as  me.’ His smile fades. ‘Not that that’s doing him much good now  at the bottom of the Atlantic.’
Maggie finds herself nodding. ‘Now Alice is at school perhaps I can make the time.’ He is delighted, bustling to find his calendar to arrange when she can start. She is outside the shop and walking down the street with Alice in her pushchair before she realises that she had said yes to Mr Mason because he was so sad about his lost boy.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Work in Progress

I'm just about completing my first novella in

my Lifespan Trilogy:

Embarking:1941 - 1951

Here we are about halfway through the novella. Lou has arrived in London home from four years in a military prisoner of war camp in Germany.

'...In the early weeks of his time in the hostel Lou gets into the habit of turning out every morning and wandering the streets - not quite exploring, but throwing himself into the tide of city street life and seeing where he comes ashore.

He gets into the habit of taking his board and sheaf of papers, finds a place to sit and concentrates on seeing and drawing people who crossed his path. Survivors all, he now thinks. In  drawing them he manages to avoid contact with them and concentrate on them at the same time. Now and then, after drawing a person Lou will follow them to their bus stop to see where they are going. Islington. Camden. Holloway. City. Whitechapel. 

This is a world, not just a city. A whole world. A universe.

One afternoon he follows two men: one heavily built with a flowing coat, the other smaller and narrowly built, wearing Cavalry twill trousers  and a neat trilby over a mane of startling silver hair. The men gesticulate as they walk and talk. Lou lengthens his step to get closer to them, to hear what they are saying.

He follows the men up an alley into the side entrance of a public house, crowded with noisy people, most of them standing three deep at the bar. He wrestles his way through them and buys himself a half-pint of cloudy beer. He spies an empty corner table and sits down, taking his board and papers from a deep inside pocket and placing them carefully on the stained table, not unlike the table in the middle of Hut16 in Stalag Eden...'

Hope it is catching your interest... 






Monday, 11 September 2017

Back on Song, Spreading My Wings Again



This last year has been a bit of a health challenge so sadly I have not  got to comment on my blog or my Twitter to keep in touch with some great people who think about the world and write and read and let me know what they are thinking. 

Thankfully things are back to normal more or less normal now  and I am reading and writing at last inside my normal writing rhythm  and am two thirds of the way through very the first novella ‘Embarking 1941-1951’ in a trilogy called Lifespan which takes place between 1941 AD to 2,000  AD. Ambitious?   Moi?


So you might say in these months I have only been talking to, and creating for, myself, and that has had to be enough. But now I am about to spread my wings and start to sing again. Can’t tell you how good that feels. Like many writers, writing is not only what I do but who I am. Without writing I am nothing.


Regular readers here will know I am a great champion of the computer as a writer’s tool. It’s there alongside the Internet, the network of Libraries, story telling among friends and family, and a lifelong, well developed Imagination muscle.

However the the longest lasting and the most unique tools are my ink pens and my spine-bound notebooks. I have more than forty of these. I can pick up any notebook and revisit the sheer adventure of building that story which was published ten years ago.walking alongside my  invented characters and following them wherever they lead me. into darkness and light. 

I was wonderful to hear writer Patrick McCabe  on BBC’s Book Club describing his process and insisting that the progress of his novel Butcher Boy came from inside the writing process  and how surprised he was when certain very dramatic things happened. I can very much identify with that.

Herein lies the originality and the energy of any good novel,  This is the antithesis of many present day novel - certainly  decently  written  but rather formulaic and targeted  at the widest market where the first principle is profit. This is not to denigrated my fellow  writers at all. Publishing seems to me to be exhaustively and exhaustingly  market-driven with books seen as products rather than works of art and skill.

But we write on.
When I was halfway through  Embarking 1941-1957 I stopped to make a list
of my characters – names, ages etc, This is so I can keep these imagined facts consistent like the continuity girl on a file. The list came to 25 characters, names and occupations. Admittedly there are only six or seven front line characters. But who knows where they will lead me?  Only time will tell.

More soon …

 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Holiday Reading: Well! Is it a race?

 I returned much refreshed from my recent very welcome holiday with two favourite people with whom I share a good deal, including a joy in reading.


We all have busy working lives, so time spent in easy sunshine beside a Mediterranean lagoon is to be  relished. Truly the thought of a week reading at leisure in the clear southern light becomes a distinct and positive pleasure, even for Mme Lickedspoon and me   who read and write for a living. For us, reading of all kinds – even fiction - is also work or some kind of research
.
But it doesn’t feel like work here in the bright French sunshine, overlooking the silvery lagoon. No hurry. No politics. No commitments. Just the pleasures of the place and the language in the air and on the page.  Then there is the communication with each other: the deep breathing, the smiling, and the relaxing. And the food

As the weeks went on I became interested in the fact that the three of us read with equal enjoyment but at very different speeds.


M. Lickedspoon  is not a writer and doesn’t read fiction as part of his busy day job. On holiday he made his way through the most books in the three weeks. He does read for leisure though, in his normal life. Among other books he likes thrillers and detective stories and easily moves between Kindle and paper forms. I thought you might be interested in his impressive list of books read over three weeks.

1. Blackwater Lake - Maggie James (Kindle)
2. All Kinds of Dead - (Inspector Carlyle Book 11) - James Craig (Kindle)
3. Hunted - (Detective Mark Heckenburg, Book 5) - Paul Finch (Actual Book)
4. Strangers - (Detectiv Lucy ClayburnBook 1) - Paul Finch (Actual Book)
5. Stalkers (Detective Mark Heckenburg, Book 1) - Paul Finch (Kindle)
6. Sacrifice (Detective Mark Heckenburg, Book 2) - Paul Finch (Kindle)
7. Stop for Breakfast (Augill Castle Book 2) - Simon Temple-Bennett (Actual Book)
8. The Killing Club (Detective Mark Heckenburg, Book 3) - Paul Finch (Kindle)
9. Guapa - Saleem Haddad (Kindle)
10. Dead Man Walking (Detective Mark Heckenburg, Book 4) - Paul Finch (Kindle)

This total is an improvement on that of Mme Lickedspoon and myself  - the two of us who write for a living. Between us in those weeks we read – and very much enjoyed - a total of four books and one Kindle:


1.   Commonwealth: Ann Patchett 
2.   Hot Milk: Debora Levey
3.   The Vanishing Futurist: Charlotte Hobson
4.   The Burgess Boys: Elizabeth Strout (See my comment on this novel in my last post on Lifetwicetasted>
5.   New edition of Jilly Cooper’s whimsical; Class – read on Kindle by both of us. But this doesn’t count as it is better labelled work/research.

I’ve been wondering if I could come up with an explanation for this gap - this difference.


Some Possible Reasons?

·        We all agreed it wasn’t a competition.*
·        Madame L and I cannot resist enthusiastic discussions - on the balcony or in the café on the quayside - about what we’re reading. Time consuming of course. But then, for once, we did have the time.
·        Madame L had a commissioned article to write. So she did have some work to do.
·         As for me I spent a good time listening to Hilary Mantel’s clever, insightful Rieth Lectures – even making notes. This was surely research but it was the same time totally enjoyable – the line between work and leisure entirely blanked out.  Then because we were there we had to make time on the balcony to discuss the importance of Mantel’s ideas to any writer.

Anyway when I got home - fully rested and inspired by France as well as Madame Lickedspoon and Hilary Mantel - I rushed to order Jean Rhys’s luminous Dark Sargasso sea, (which had come up in a discussion). I also ordered Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety, set in the French Revolution. 

The books came yesterday and I spent the day curled up reading the whole of The Wide Sargasso Sea – a brilliant slender volume of a hundred and twenty pages. Mantel’s novel is a heavier tome at eight hundred and twenty pages and could, I suspect,  take much longer than a day to read.

Portrait of the charismatic Camille Demoulins.



Perhaps another holiday? Another balcony?



OK! Monsieur Lickedspoon definitely won!







Sunday, 18 June 2017

A Writer's Commentary on The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Sprout

  

Holiday Reading 


Reading at leisure is a great treat isn’t it?  So, reading on holiday in the sunshine in good company is the greatest of treats. And here I am, doing just that. And there are another two holiday readers here.










The Burgess Boys
by Elizabeth Strout came highly recommended - not least by a profile of this writer sent to me by a friend, Fascinating! Here was a writer – a mature woman, a member of the American liberal elite – who only really started to write novels in her early sixties and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize: very encouraging for those of us over forty who are still making our way.

The complex nature of contemporary American society - with its fluidity, its urban/rural dichotomy, its sophisticated myth of equality, its multi-faceted racism, its strange innocence – is the background for this complex, well-worked novel. As with all good novels the importance of this only really becomes evident to the reader on reflection and with further thought after enjoying the writing, the characterisation and the prose of this insightful   writer.

Luckily, reading on holiday provides the very time and place for just this. This is the season for reading and reflection. And this novel has been worth it.

There is something very American about the size and texture of this novel. It is long, as heavily worked as a carefully crafted tapestry. The action is rigorously observed with a carefully woven mixture of empathy and sympathy. The human truth is very much in the detail – in the mannerisms and preoccupations of the individual; in the passage of time marked by the changing colours and weather and in both town and country; in the meticulous fashion that the writer details even secondary characters and makes them alive in that world.  

Born in the small rural town Shirley Falls in Maine, the Burgess Boys are really the Burgess Siblings – two brothers, the aptly named Jim and Bob, and their bitterly unhappy sister, Susan. On the periphery is Jim’s wife Helen who willingly spent teenage years in the bosom of this diverse family. Bound together as adults these four weld together  a notion of a  common childhood  constructed from very different memories.

Susan stays with her son Zach in Shirley Falls while  Jim and Bob grow up and move  on to professional life in in hectic bustling, neutral New York. Jim is the successful one, the Golden boy, admired and loved by his sister and brother as well as his fellow lawyers. Bob has some moderate success in law in the city but is the vulnerable one; he drinks too much and living on the edge of despair at his wasted life. He is the character most well realised here
.
One shock in the early narrative is the way both Jim and Susan continually berate Bob, even as adults. The terms jerkoid, retard, bozo, cretin and slob-dog flow from Jim’s mouth like black rain. Susan adores Jim but looks down on Bob, perceives and treats him as a failure even though he persists in coming to her aid in what seems like her doomed life.

As the narrative unfolds it becomes clear that the siblings’ late mother who set this poison of casual verbal abuse to drip down the generations.
It slips down to Susan’s son the numb, unhappy Zach, alienated and confused, who commits what is seen as a hate crime in their small town,
In the background are the moving tectonic plates of American society – the breakdown of industry, the changing significance of religion, the migration of the young, the disturbing influx of a community of Somali immigrants, seeking refuge from violence and destruction in their African homeland.

At the centre of this the novel is the impact of these changes in the closed rural town and the bustling city; and how the Burgess Family deals, or doesn’t deal with it. This then is the engine of this elaborately constructed novel. Strought’s prose takes the narrative forward smoothly from place to place, from voice to voice in a deceptively easy fashion.

This is very well researched novel. One running theme is the existence and impact of racist perceptions and the difference in these attitudes between city and rural communities. Occasionally, though, one is struck by the fact that instead of inhabiting the hearts and minds of many of her characters, Strout has dutifully read their histories, profiles, letters and psychological files.

 This is never more so than with the Somalian character Abdikarim Ahmed, who is accorded a direct point of view in this narrative. Somehow I couldn’t believe this writer was inside the heart and mind of Abdikarim Ahmed,  

For a time I thought the novel was going on too long. But then, as the novel upped its pace it became well worth persisting with, to become acquainted in this fashion with a slice of the American if not the Somalian state of mind.


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Blogging on the balcony


Apologies to the sweet and kind readers who took their regular look at Life Twice Tasted in the last couple of months only to find unchanged copy. I hope you are there now and are enjoying the change as much as I am.

An easy place to write, overlooking the Etang at Marseillan

The story is that after a month or so of feeling 'low'  I was overtaken by a serious physical illness, in hospital for a week and convalescing in the super wonderful care of @lickedspoon for several weeks. Now I am topping that off with two weeks in my favourite sunny Marseillan with Monsieur et Madame @lickedspoon in the lovely Languedoc to complete the cure.

I must be feeling totally better because here I am blogging again and talking to you - friends, readers and writers all.
The fact that I am writing this for you on a balcony overlooking the sea in the port of Marseillan might complete the picture of my cure.

What have I been doing? I had just finished and published my latest novel THE BAD CHILD when all this began. I suppose you might say I collapsed due to an overactive imagination - a lifetime affliction you might say.

In the last weeks at home I have gradually got back to work by completing a small collection of writing called Dancing Through the Panic,  about my lifetime up-and-down journey through what we used to call depression but the medics call 'Low Mood'. I rather like that label, common among writers. That's now on Amazon if you want to follow me on that journey.

I have also been working for Damselfly Books alongside the clever Sharon Griffiths on her super future fiction novel Amity and The Angel. We had a bit of a dispute as to whether we should put it in the Young Adult category. I thought that, as well as its rites of passage theme it carried generic themes of survival, identity, gender therefore it would be enjoyed by people of all ages. Sharon won - a writer's prerogative. It's a great read and it too is now on Amazon.

I  have also been on the Damselfly website bringing it up to date and featuring Sharon's novel Amity and the Angel. Looking forward to working with further writers this year.

In this much more relaxed mood I am hoping to post daily from here on the balcony my Postcards from Marseillan, which you seemed to enjoy in recent years.

Thank you for your patience. I appreciate it.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Mindometry: Family Origins - A Child Makes Meaning

Writing for the States of Mind Collection, Mindometry)


Siblingometry


-Making Prisms of Meaning.
 


This family is a square:
at each corner is a child;
the hexagon at its centre
surrounds the lynchpin -
the charismatic mother.
The sides of the hexagon
consist of the beloved dead.
and the generations to come,
who send their own stories
swinging onwards and backwards 
in time..

  

              Child One:  Boy One


She wanted to make you brave like her
but she should have loved you more.
You are the tender one, your bruised personality
springing out of injury and unintended hurt -
loving music, following fashion
playing out the role of victim
with justified conviction
your hesitancy hiding
a romantic heart
that crashed and broke too early.

Child Two: Girl One

You were the feisty one -
the most like her, with your hot temper
and your challenging demeanour.
She was bound to steal your cigarettes
and smoke them to teach you a lesson
You were bound to be the one to test her to the limits,
to call her grown-up bluff. In the end,
you built  your wall of worldly success and family life.
So, defeated, she was driven to surrender
her power and ultimately keep her distance.

Child Three : Girl Two

You idolised and feared your mother
and tried to please her with cups of tea.
And – your stories between hard covers.
Needy and watchful, with your eagle eyes,
your bat-like ears, you tried to make sense of the language
and action around you - at first without understanding.
But you forgot nothing. Your primal perceptions became
Memories which you wove into stories  that both hid
and revealed a difficult  truth. To know you
the world  would need to decode your stories
and fact or fiction - fabricate its own prisms of meaning

Child Four: Boy Two

You were the last, the final product
of a soul-mating-bond cut off  too early.
You were her baby, her ewe lamb:
clever and self-determined.
Normally frugal, she’d make any sacrifice for you –
sweets and bikes galore, demonstrating  pride
and admiration. I remember the day when,
bold as ever, after diving with too much ardour
into a stony shallow river, you came home
with a bloody chest.
I watched her pick out the small stones
and bandage you gently,
with a nurse’s care.


(C) Wendy Robertson 2017

Monday, 20 March 2017

Several Pieces for My Mindometry Collection

Work in Progress. 

I am writing and collecting pieces that mirror my reflections on my time over the last three months on experiencing what the medics call  'low mood.'

 It's not all bad.

I hope eventually these pieces will build into a collection called:


Mindometry

States of mind

La Même

Thinking he was someone else
you leaned down and kissed him
But he wasn’t someone else,
he was the same -
the same slow delight,
the same pale, bright eyes,
the same puckish smile.
But you must admit
he was not the same.
Not the same.


Descartes

You sheltered under a dry stone wall
on the windy side of the moor
sharing the contents of his leather bag:
red wine and round biscuits.
You spoke of thinking and being,
your laughter echoing his,
across drying heathers.
When the storm blew up
you scampered down,
his leather bag over your shoulder,
leaving behind an empty bottle
and the last round biscuit,.
Je pense donc  je suis. 
OR 
Cogito ergo sum
OR
I think therefore I am 

Promise

It was a new car.
You did like your cars
You drove me two hundred miles
to the place where you were born -
the street where you played as a child
and the beach where you fished with a long line
and then to the road
across from the grammar school
where you walked with your father.
He said to you,  'The red brick building 
over there will be  your gateway to power.
Be sure of that.' 



Still a Problem 

Turmoil in your mind
stops you sitting down
to do what you want to do
These are not hard tasks –
simple transcriptions or
straightforward amends. Easy.
But it’s like I’m stone or steel
Lacking the power to move from
sofa to  desk.
  
  
  
   

The Door


The desk in the window is making a difference.
She see the light streaming into the room
and onto the grass and the tall trees. Easy to sit here
for three hours and concentrate on a book or a blank,
naked page. Sweeter than the other place
.
The other place is a back room with a big door. Once,
she chose this as the perfect workroom with a living fire,
space for shelves and tables for papers.
And a big technology corner. Sun only after noon.
But that room became a forbidden place
Darker than this room with its sunny window.

She thinks the back room must contain some essence.
Already in her life she’s glimpsed and heard things
That she knew weren't there.
She’s no longer reacts to this, remembering
the half-smiles shot in her direction.
As a child she’d been accused more than once
of being away with the gypsies.

But what about this essence? Is it the dread-feeling 
of  some eighteenth century maid who feared the place?
More likely it’s the world flooding in 
through the firecracker-gateway of the computer: 
a world too vast, too packed with too many people,
 too many things, too much pain.

But perhaps this crisis of the door, the room,
represented her own guilt about work undone:
tasks untackled, obligations unmet
Or perhaps it's the timid soul
which sits there at her core
not daring to try to breach that door.

So now, in the window the sunny room,
she decides to pull herself together,
get out of the house, away from the door
and away from that essence, that dread-feeling.
Wouldn’t it be too easy, to stay locked in
and fall asleep yet again?

So she flees the house, drives out through trees
and finds a cool space where she can focus –
manufacture order out of chaos, move on forward.
New feelings surge through her, freeing her
from the visceral strings that tie her down, that
make her dumb and stop her thinking straight,

Now, away from the dull routine and the person 
she’s become. She knows she’s not that person -
the person she’d invented to meet the low expectations
in the house with the room with the big door
and its threatening interior spirit,
its emanation of pain. She thinks now that

she loves the house, even the room  with the door.
Surely after so many years they’re woven into each other
like a precious carpet. She begins to see that
caring for the house is no different to caring for herself.
Sensing that spirit in the room where she works is sensing
herself in turmoil. Something to deal with, not to flee.



Yes, it's complicated. Be sure of thatsk in 

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