Publication Day.

It’s a day all writers hope to see; a day to dream about, sitting at a desk, staring into space. A day which often seems impossible, unlikely, unobtainable. A day to confirm the belief in yourself which you don’t always possess.

First Publication Day.

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Not for me the Fourth of July.
Et ce n’est pas le14 juillet. Non.

I haven’t been hoping year after year, month after month, day after long day, for independence; I’ve been waiting for publication. To see my name in print; in a book.

And so, the 17th July will henceforth be referred to chez flyingscribbler as ‘Publication Day’.

Ok, so it’s not my book per se. I’ve yet to publish anything bearing my name on the cover, ( something, naturally, I hope to put right in days, months, years to come), but I’m more than happy to settle for two of my stories to appear in a short story collection.

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So I won’t be earning a penny from sales. This is not important. If I’d wanted to earn a living from writing, I would have given up ages ago….a report last week said your average published writer earns £11,000 a year from their toil. This is so far below the minimum wage as to make it practically worthless.
Sales of the anthology of winning stories in the Words with Jam ‘Bigger’ short story competition instead go to that publication (check it out, do), and to amazon.

But I don’t care. I’m currently on cloud nine, basking in my small degree of success; intending to celebrate in rather bigger style, almost certainly out of proportion to my achievement.
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned since picking up my pencil, it’s that even the tiniest success must be celebrated.

Is that a cork I hear popping?

Incidentally, if you wish to add to Amazon’s groaning sack of cash, oh, and read my two stories, the book is “An Earthless Melting Pot”, published by Words with Jam,  (www.wordswithjam.co.uk).

Justin N Davies. Writer.

The Ship That Never Sailed.

Having joined Historic Scotland recently, (they can be very persuasive; and they made it seem like such a good deal), it was decided, late in the day, that a visit to Blackness Castle was in order. It makes sense to use the membership after all, and I’m a sucker for anything historic. Apart from which, it’s a year since we moved to Scotland; I ought to know more about the country’s past.

Blackness Castle is also known as ‘The Ship That Never Sailed’. I find this a touch melancholic: ships are designed to sail; if they fail to, they haven’t reached their potential. 
It’s also more than a little melodramatic; especially if you project the words with theatrical flair: with added theatricals: “THE SHIP THAT NEVER SAILED!”. Same phrase, different interpretation.

It is all a question of angles; of point of view. The castle gets its tag from the fact that, seen from the sea or from the air, it really does look much like a ship, with its bow attempting to plough on through the water. Unfortunately, the stern is very much stuck fast to solid rock.

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All aboard to Nowhere!

Seen from another perspective, it is (I won’t say “just” because Blackness isn’t just a castle..it’s a really good one), simply a castle. A castle as castles are…built solidly on land.
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Viewing things from different angles is what writers do. Finding stories when you least expect it; seeing stories where others might not: these are the rocks on which our output exists.

Walking, (stumbling, actually), over the rocky enclosures of Blackness, apart from asking myself how they managed to get around in the 1600s without twisting an ankle, I saw potential everywhere. Who, for example, could walk past an original seventeenth century castle latrine without imagining some poor soul baring his all to the gulls outside the walls, willing the job to be done before freezing his unspeakables to the seat? (it’s cold up here in the winter, especially when an easterly blows in down the river from Siberia).
What tales of wo and hardship could the prisoners thrown into the prison pit tell?
And the guards? How did they pass those long northern nights?

But then, forget a reconstruction of what could have been….tilt your head to the side, squint your eyes and……imagine….. . Things look different when you dare to dream a bit.
From a castle wall…
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appears a coiled snake, ready to attack:
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That hole in the wall…..could it really be a porthole?
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Has the ship that never sailed actually departed?

And that stepped gable end….Where does it lead? What dimension could you reach if only you dared to climb
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It’s no coincidence that Blackness Castle has been used for location shoots over the years; places like this conjure up images and ideas at the drop of a royal crown. The trick is in first spotting, then seizing the potential (oh, and then going home and turning the idea into a best-selling work of children’s fiction), before the ship sets sail and the moment is lost to the encroaching mist.

It’s Getting Drafty Here.

The lamentable abandonment of my blog of late has been entirely intentional; I apologise to my regular visitors.
It was an experiment: in the same way some people opt for giving up watching television; and others leave off Facebook for a while. I wanted to see if, by ceasing to plan and write blog posts, my other writing pursuits increased in productivity or quality.

I hoped to improve the speed at which I’m writing my novel for children.
I haven’t.
I thought it might improve my concentration on other projects.
It didn’t.
I fancied it might focus my mind; free me to think about other things.
It hasn’t.

Although my posts were always sporadic (at best), and sparingly read (definitely at best), I enjoyed the process of blogging. Finding a subject to blog about is always exciting; as is the research it inevitably leads to. Writing the posts is, let’s be honest, fun. I wouldn’t bother otherwise. It flexes the writing muscles, loosens the mind and offers the opportunity to use different styles than I otherwise employ. And then there’s the inevitable wait for responses……….sometimes a very long wait for a single response. Which turns out to be a ‘like’. Or just spam.

So, in addition to the discovery that I miss blogging, I also found that not blogging has no impact at all on my story writing output. It’s the same process which means that when I have say, a week off work, I get about as much writing done as when I have a scant 3 days available. It’s the concentration of time which concentrates the mind so well; much in the way that if you want something doing, you are supposed to ask a busy person.

However, there have been advances in the time I have been away from the blog.
I have progressed to a second draft of the novel; it finally takes shape. I know where it’s going and, most importantly, I know how to get it there.

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This, incidentally, is what one and half drafts of my story looks like. Thank the writing overlords for post-it notes.

I have made a further discovery; a true revelation: if given only 30 minutes of spare time, I can still write something. I can still contribute a sentence, an idea, or just a few words to the whole. These snippets add up. They will eventually lead to a whole.

Therefore, I will keep blogging. I already have an idea for another post. And I will do it with the knowledge that it is unlikely to have any impact on my other projects. And my novel will get written. It’s an organic process; like a plant growing in stages, it sometimes enters a dormant period before bursting back into full, unfettered growth.

So, on with the second draft. And on with the blogging.

LES FLEURS ANIMEES…OR FLOWER POWER, FRENCH STYLE.

It’s always a thrill to make an unexpected  literary discovery. I experienced such a thrill last week on a visit to The Morgan Library and Museum in New York.

Whatever your views are on bankers and their (im)moral qualities, there is no doubt that Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) used some of  his wealth to create an impressive legacy in his private library, built to house an astonishing collection of books, manuscripts and artifacts. The building itself is beautiful, and the library within a bibliophile’s dream.

The Pierpont Morgan library, New York City. (image: themorgan.org)

The Pierpont Morgan library, New York City. (image: themorgan.org)

Shelf upon shelf of beautifully bound books and manuscripts line the walls of the main library, the upper tiers reached by means of two concealed spiral staircases. My first job as a teenager was as a ‘Saturday Book-Shelver’ at my local library; I envy the lucky soul who held this position at Mr Pierpont’s Manhattan library.

Nowadays, the books are kept safe behind locked gates; only the bound spines are visible to suggest what joys lie tantalizingly out of reach. There are at least five meters of bibles and prayer books, a large section of children’s literature, including an intriguing collection of miniature books, and a whole section devoted to Goethe. There are musical scores, medieval Books of Hours, and Trollopes galore.

The Morgan allows the visitor a peek at the treasures by displaying a small selection on a rotating basis. Several books lie open, Snow White-like, within glass cases, offering a glimpse of literary history to those of us who have only Billy bookcases lined with modern paperbacks at home.

One book in particular caught my attention and fired my imagination. Les Fleurs animées is a wonderful creation by J J Grandville. He was a nineteenth century caricaturist, made famous by Les Métamorphoses du jour,which comprised a series of scenes in which individuals with human bodies and animal faces were made to play human comedy. Grandville worked for various periodicals, whilst continuing to produce collections of lithographs, among which was Les Fleurs animées.

Les Fleurs is a compendium of poems, stories and vignettes about flowers, accompanied by beautiful, well-observed lithographs of ‘flowers’ – anthropomorphised depictions of each subject. The Morgan’s copy was open at the page occupied by La fleur de Thé and La fleur de Café.

Le the et le cafe par JJ Grandville

Le the et le cafe par JJ Grandville

 

In this charming tale, Le Café pays a visit to Le Thé in her native China. But all is not as it seems, because there is some disagreement (in fact, a millennial-long feud)  as to which flower is the most important. Unfortunately, the display case was made of anti-theft glass and I was unable to turn the page to find out how the argument ended. However, it did inspire me to do some research once back home and with what results!

Les fleurs animees, vol 1 & 2. By JJ Grandville

Les fleurs animees, vol 1 & 2. By JJ Grandville

It turns out that the edition on display at the Morgan was a copy of the second volume of Les Fleurs; the first contains tales and poems about flowers as varied as the rose, the violet and the chèvrefeuille (honeysuckle). L’immortelle (everlasting flower) and lavender each bemoan their lot in life: lavender laments that she is condemned to die a dry, parched death, whilst the everlasting flower wishes she could experience the first flush of a springtime youth again; never again will she be visited by a bee, or feel the brush of a butterfly’s wing.

Then there is Margueritte, the humble daisy.

The humble daisy.

The humble daisy.

To illustrate this flower, Taxile Delord, the author of the texts for both books, writes about a young girl called Anna. She, naturally enough, plucks the petals from a margueritte to discover whether ‘he loves me; he loves me not’. Anna is told a secret: namely that men play a similar game to find out whether they, in turn, are loved. ‘Young lady,’ Anna is told, ‘never answer. Men will reject you having deflowered you.’

There are also wonderful lithographs of the poppy spreading her hallucinogenic seeds,

Poppy

Poppy

and of Le perce-neige (snowdrop).

She laments that whilst it is she who calls on Spring to awaken, she is condemned never to feel the warm heat of the sun, to hear the sweet birdsong or to experience the joy of love, (unlike her lucky friend the primrose).

The snowdrop laments.

The snowdrop laments.

Volume two, of which tea and coffee are part, also depicts the Hawthorn (l’aubépine) and le Sécateur.

Watch those blades; they bite!

Watch those blades; they bite!

This story is more a warning from a mother hawthorn to her young; it tells of the terrors to be found on the edge of the woods; the cold bite of the sharp blade.

I could go on, but there are hundreds of pages of wonderful pictures and charming stories; too many by far for this blog post. I encourage you to seek out a copy of this delightful find (paperbacks are available, I believe). I am now hankering after an original copy, like the one I saw in the Morgan. Sadly, I think the only way I’ll get my hands on a first edition is by smashing that display case. Which is, of course, highly disrespectful; not to mention illegal. But it would grace my Billy so well…..

Incidentally, le thé and le café never do agree. They have what can only be described as a heated debate: “I reign in England'” says tea; “I in France,” replies coffee. “I inspired Walter Scott and Byron,” boasts tea; “and I Molière and Voltaire,” replies coffee. In the end, they take their dispute to a tribunal; the jury, goes the story, is still out.

 

(You can read – in french – the text of tea and coffee by clicking here.)

Don’t make me cry Argentina….I’m already melancholy.

A useful tool from within a writer’s box of tricks is to allow the emotion of a location or setting to spill over onto the page; even better, to transfer some of that emotion to a character and have them reflect their surroundings and react to the feelings that that place gives them. People, and therefore, characters, act differently according to their emotional state; they think differently, feel differently and speak differently. For example, if you want a character to feel down, depressed or simply show them low in spirits, it isn’t necessary to make something bad happen to them: try putting them in an atmosphere which can induce those feelings; it might help to make them think differently and ultimately act in a new or surprising way.

The potential that such a moment in time might have to change the way a character might feel and act occurred to me last week whilst enjoying a lunch in Buenos Aires.

La Biela is a popular and staunchly traditional cafetería in the well-healed area of the city called Recoleta. Home to designer labels, art galleries and the famous cemetery (famous mostly due to Eva Peròn’s ever-lasting presence) where former rich Porteños – as residents of Buenos Aires are known – lie in ornate family tombs, Recoleta remains a pleasant, if expensive, place to have lunch and while away the warmest hours of the day.

The cafetería is something of an institution, serving up an interesting mix of pastries for morning grazing (smeared with dulce de leche – thank you for that Argentina), snacks to nibble on with a refreshing cerveza, or more substantial meals – steak sandwiches, palm heart salads or plump, round omelettes – all of which may be enjoyed under a giant fig tree in the plaza outside (ten percent added for dining al fresco), or inside in the air conditioned, but slightly utilitarian dining room.

La Biela's 10% extra terrace. (image: nytimes.com)

La Biela’s 10% extra terrace. (image: nytimes.com)

Having sat and contemplated my surroundings for a few minutes, I became aware of a general feeling of melancholy sweeping over me. It wasn’t instant; rather a gradual bleeding of pensiveness, seeping slowly from the buildings, dropping  gently with the first curling leaves of late summer from the tree, oozing imperceptibly from the faces of the those around me.

Certainly the heat of the day played its part; but there was more. The waiters, always rather surly, certainly brusque, displayed a passive, world-weary acceptance of the run of things. These ageing professionals, waist-coated, aproned, go about their business as they no doubt have for decades; only now their smiles appear to be fading along with the grandeur of the art nouveau buildings around them.If they haven’t done it all, they have at least seen it all; people come, people go; good times come, just as certainly as good times go. Their faces bear the hallmarks of lives lived and love lost; it’s all served to the customer unknowingly as a side dish with his omelette and mixed salad.

Look beyond the confines of La Biela and its retinue of well-healed locals and dollar-rich tourists fresh from the cruise ships, and you catch a glimpse of a less fortunate city, a city down on its luck. A city which co-exists with its richer cousins. Frequently their paths cross.

The wealthy wander by, defiantly picking their way through pot-holed pavements, led by lapdogs on long leashes; or they sit at an adjacent cafe, idly tapping at laptops. Perhaps they are ordering lapdogs on their laptops. Channel-suited women clutch handbags with jewelled fingers; sharp-suited men clutch cigars with theirs, manicured to perfection. Meanwhile, unseen, lightening-quick fingers, snatch bags from shoulders, watches from wrists and dignity from the trusting. These are the desperate, the poor; the desperately poor. Feeding a habit? Perhaps. More likely a family.

There on the corner stands a lonely soul. He murmurs to passers by: “Change your dollars; best rates.” For this is also a city of markets: black market, blue market, free market in free fall. Money deals sealed with a whisper and a bunch of forged pesos.

A shoe-shine grabs at an already polished brogue: “No gracias!” Too late, he’s already started. “Five pesos for a clean windscreen señor?” “No gracias” “Too late; we already did it. Hand over the money.”

This might not be terminal, but, for the time being at least, the city’s in decline. And all played to the soundtrack of a lamenting accordion; its owner, a clown, squeezing what life is left in the dusty bellows.

Recoleta's accordion-playing clown (in a lighter mood). (Image: tripadvisor.au)

Recoleta’s accordion-playing clown (in a lighter mood). (Image: tripadvisor.au)

Clowns, by their nature, are melancholy souls; tears dripping from mournful eyes. But Recoleta’s busking clown is a half-clown; half made up with a red nose and half a smear of face paint.  And he plays with half an effort; the tune winding slowly from his instrument, catching on the afternoon breeze. It takes a moment to place it, like jazz muzak instrumentals which ruin forever a favourite song. ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina,’ he plays, ‘I kept my promise; don’t keep your distance.’

This clown, and his mournful accordion, personify more than anything else, Argentina’s current situation. The city’s Belle Époque heyday can be heard in those forlorn notes being squeezed out for a few pesos; but they are a mere echo of former times. Adiòs optimism and hola la tristeza. (Meanwhile the government, who, you might have thought had more pressing economic issues to deal with, threaten visiting cruise ships unless they lower their ensigns. Don’t make me laugh Argentina; the truth is, you’ve bigger problems.)

The city will survive; it has climbed higher mountains, and from  deeper troughs. But for the time being it drugs its visitors with this melancholic air. Do they notice? Perhaps. Will it change them? It might. Will they act differently, make unexpected decisions because of it? Maybe. The point is, in writing terms, anything could happen. Drop a character in the midst of melancholy and who knows what they’ll do? It might, just might, change them forever, and with it, the course of your story.

 

If you find yourself wanting more in-depth information about Argentina’s current and historic economic fortunes (and I admit, this post is light on detail), you could do worse than read this piece from The Economist.

And here you can read about the recent cruise ship incident.

Rejoicing vs. Rejection.

Good news is always worth waiting for. Nobody waits in for bad news to arrive.

Trouble is, for the aspiring writer, bad news is the more frequent of the two visitors.; and it’s not easy to shy away from it.

This bad news visitor generally arrives in the guise of an email announcing competition results. It lures the expectant entrant into opening the message with all the hope and positive anticipation they felt when submitting the work so very many months ago. The emails have to be opened because you might, just might, find your own name lurking somewhere, anywhere on the list.

Not in the top three? No problem, keep reading; there’s still the shortlist to go. Still the hope that all your efforts were worthwhile. Not on the shortlist? Nor the long list? Who cares? It is, as we all know, and let’s hold hands and repeat the mantra once again, THE TAKING PART THAT COUNTS.

Still, for all that, the sinking heart and  momentary stab of regret are hard to avoid. Thankfully, these feelings and the disappointment always become diluted and tend to result in a burst of renewed energy and vigour; a determination to return to the desk and try again. Try harder. Almost certainly fail again. But next time, fail better (Beckett said this: wise man).

Yesterday I received a results email. I metaphorically hid behind the sofa as I scrolled down, as if waiting for a Dr Who monster to burst from my kindle fire. I felt prepared to do battle with my sinking emotions. I am, after all, predisposed to tackle the setbacks, the blighted hopes. We all are. It comes with the territory. Naturally, I hadn’t prepared for the converse emotional response: the thrill, the joy, the sweet delight of actually winning something. The need for this is so infrequent, so rare, so very unlikely, that it never occurs to me to brace myself to seeing my name up there on the list of winners. Runners and riders yes; winners no.

But this time I’m in the winners’ enclosure. The results of the Words with Jam ‘Bigger’ short story competition 2013 are out and I placed in one category and made the short list in another. I have neither won anything, nor been published for such a long time, I’d forgotten how it feels. To be honest, I was numbed yesterday by jet lag and tiredness, having literally just returned from our holiday to California. This compounded my brain’s confusion and probably inhibited it’s ability to compute positive information of this nature; it certainly meant that I couldn’t contemplate toasting the glad tidings with anything more exciting than a mug of Horlicks.

This morning in the warm, glowing light of day (it’s not: it’s cold and windy), I can bask more easily in the knowledge of my small success.

Now I just have to make this feeling last….it might be some time before I find myself dusting off this emotion form the shelf again.

My second placed story “Sackcloth and Ashes” in the category for stories up to 1000 words can be found over at Words with Jam. It is also to be published in a winners’ anthology in due course. My short, short story which was short listed will also appear in the anthology.

Follow the links above to read my story and the other winning entries. They are all very good.

Words and Pictures/Sight and Sound

Flyingscribbler is on holiday. Which means I am also taking a break from my writing projects. Of course, I am still thinking about my writing projects; in fact, come to think of it, most days when I’m at my desk, writing and thinking about writing amount to pretty much the same thing.
Writers never stop thinking about their writing; even when they are at their day job (assuming the writing isn’t the day job of course – lucky you if it is), those projects continue to lurk in the brain, clamouring to be heard. And we must be constantly alert to the possibilities: inspirations are everywhere…a word, a sound, an event….anything can trigger the next idea.

With this in mind, I announced that on our holiday to Southern California, I would refrain from unnecessary snapping. Why take photos when looking with your own eyes offers so much more? Seeing a sunset through a smart phone screen hardly conveys the feeling and emotion it can fill you with. I have limited my photo taking so far to pictures which will simply work to trigger my appalling memory….a photo of some seaweed, an unusual bird…which might come in useful one day.

Last night, we wandered down a narrow path leading to a stunning viewpoint in Laguna Beach, just in time for the sunset. Carrying my mantra, ‘no photos, no photos’ in my head, I intended to put my feelings into words. And a very noble intention it was. But someone had got there first.

A local sculptor and public artist, Raymond Persinger, has installed these wonderful panels at the end of the lane. I thought about trying to find some words to convey the beauty of the moment, but really, I doubt I could have been as eloquent and poetic. The piece is called ‘Sound and Sight’.

Enjoy.

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SOUND AND SIGHT

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SOUND AND SIGHT