Award Night Schadenfreude or The Dangers of Facial Leakage

Funny things, award ceremonies. They exist to celebrate the best: the best written; the best sung; the best acted; the best designed. And we tune in in our millions to watch these ‘bests’ receive their prizes. It’s all, of course, tremendously exciting. Who, we wonder, will win? What will they say? Will they trip up the stairs? Will they remember to thank their Granny? All very important aspects of an awards ceremony I’m sure. But is that really why people tune in?

There are of course those awards – the Oscars, BAFTAS, Golden Globes – where it’s all about the dresses. At least it seems that way if the dreary output from our esteemed television networks is anything to go by. How low will they go? Who dares to go strapless? Will a single person this year wear yellow? In the rain. And I’m sure many viewers tune in just for the fashion chat. And why not? It’s often more exciting than the hours of dross to follow.

Amongst all the reasons for dropping everything to catch these ceremonies (or for remembering to catch it later on the internet) is the less obvious, and oh-so guilty pleasure of waiting for your favourite star to drop their ever-present smile. It’s that split-screen moment just before the winner is announced: six hopeful faces, still smiling their professional, ‘awards-night’ smile; still smiling their ‘God-I-hope-it’s-me’ smile; still smiling their ‘this-could-really-be-it smile’; still smiling their ‘the-world-is-watching-me smile’. Then we finally have our winner and the screen fills with the shocked/in denial/confused/delirious/ecstatic face of the newly crowned victor. The other contenders vanish; their moment is gone. But in the split second before they are cut from our view, we get the briefest of glimpses of their reaction to the news; their honest reaction before the pro in them kicks them back into line. It’s a rare and precious moment. Seconds later, as the victor climbs to the stage, the runners-up find cameras thrust into their faces, so they’d better be ready with a generous smile. Come on, let’s face it: we love to see them struggle; to see the pain behind the grimace; to see the festering resentment of ten nominations with no wins. It’s in the eyes. Unless they’ve opted for tinted eye wear, which just ruins the fun for the rest of us.

This is not something I spend much time thinking about. Honestly it isn’t. But, if you read my last post, you’ll know that I’m shortly up for a prize myself, the Kelpies Prize 2015, for children’s fiction. Admittedly, it’s on somewhat of a smaller scale than the Academy Awards, or the Booker, but it is nevertheless the biggest thing I’ve ever been involved in. It’s the only prize ceremony I’ve ever been involved in (unless you count my sixth form prize night, where I was shocked to find myself walk off with the joint prize for French. I wasn’t even in contention, but I think my teacher felt obliged to give me something for improving from a predicted ‘E’ to an actual ‘A’).

As my nerves have been increasing, so too has the awareness that all eyes will be on me and the other two shortlisted writers. What if, like me, someone there enjoys the Schadenfreude of watching for the runners-up reaction? With this in mind I thought I’d better practice my split-screen moment: the before (Will I? Could I?); the after (OMG! It’s me! Or, Bravo! Well done!); and, yes, the momentary in-between face (Bugger! Not me!).

And I need to practice because I’ve been told that I suffer from ‘facial leakage’. The inability to fake an emotion.

So, judge for yourselves. Are these faces believable?

The Before Face:

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The After, OMG! It’s Me! Face:

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The After, Bravo! Well done! Face:

wpid-img_20150821_150642.jpgYes, it’s identical to my OMG! It’s me! face. This is the face I hope to be wearing whatever the outcome. It is, I think, a genuine-looking smile. It’s a smile that only hurts if you don’t mean it. Without it of course, there’s every danger that I could be wearing….

The Bugger! Not Me! face:

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Or the ‘No, really, I’m super happy for you, really’ face:

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Or, and this would be a personal disaster, the ‘I feel like killing you’ face:

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I think I’d be on safer ground with the ‘oh well, there’s always next year’ face:

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Naturally, on the night, there will be no hiding my genuine emotion; all the effort in the world won’t help me. I shall just have to trust my face to perform for me because I’ll be too busy being genuinely excited, terrified, expectant, hopeful, and most importantly, thrilled to be there at all. That’s the face I’ll be wearing: thrilled and excited and just happy to be part of it. And I don’t have a picture of that face, because I can’t fake it a week away from the event. And in any case, your mouth can be doing one thing, but it’s the eyes that have it. That’s where the true emotion hides. I’ll check in with you next week with some photos and you can judge for yourselves.

Whichever way it goes, I trust my eyes will be smiling brightly.

Travels with my manuscript; a journey with many destinations.

It’s been another lengthy absence from here…I can think of no other reason than I didn’t have very much to say. It’s always been something I’ve struggled with (at least since I stopped posting flash fiction) : keeping a theme running through my posts. I do think this is how the best blogs attract and keep readers.

With this in mind, I think I’ve found something to blog about which might a) be interesting, and b) keep you coming back for multiple visits. I won’t mind if you don’t, but I’m hesitant to give up on my blog, so here goes.

I’ve embarked on a journey.

This isn’t in itself ground-breaking news. I’m always embarking on a journey. I’m the flyingscribbler.

In my writing life I’ve embarked on several journeys: starting to write; learning to write better; writing short stories; discovering flash fiction; blogging with my flash fiction; entering flash competitions; winning some; daring myself to write children’s fiction; discovering I really enjoy writing children’s fiction; deciding to write a whole children’s novel.

Many journeys. The last, I’m happy to say, I completed. My previous blog (from February, but who’s counting the months?) was about finishing the third draft of my second attempt at a children’s novel, and sending the manuscript out to a competition. I entered my story, Monsters M.I.A., into the Middle Grade (8-12) category of the Kelpies Prize 2015, thereby embarking upon another journey. This is a trip I am not making alone; rather I see myself AND my manuscript heading off on this voyage in tandem. So far, we are having a great trip, the two of us, and have arrived at our first destination.

A few weeks ago, I heard that my story had made the shortlist; and a short shortlist at that.Facebook-20150803-020057 On receiving the letter – a real, physical, rip-it-open-as-fast-as-you-can letter – I apparently screamed as if someone had died. In my head I was whooping with delight and joy with the unbound thrill of it; I clearly need to work on the outward manifestations of my inner emotions. In the months between sending my manuscript out and receiving the good news I had thought about this possibility, but my thoughts were edged in a Disney-like fantasy glow. A couple of times, I found myself imagining that I was at an award ceremony, but again, this played itself out like a soft-focus dream sequence; I didn’t actually think I’d get this far.

Oddly, (and psychologists out there might enjoy this), since discovering I am shortlisted, I haven’t played through the awards’ night scenario once in my head; it’s as if I daren’t. As the event itself looms ever-closer, the tantalizing possibility that I might win has had the effect of shutting down my internal projector; I can literally no longer imagine myself there. I don’t know what to expect. It’s not as if I go to award ceremonies very often. Or ever.

Who does know what to expect when they embark on a writing life? I know I didn’t when I first set out on the journey. I had no idea if I would ever be any good at it for a start. And my modest success with adult fiction didn’t mean I was going to repeat it with children’s fiction.

But here I am: shortlisted (one of three) for an important children’s fiction prize. Publication awaits the winner, but I imagine just being shortlisted will provide a major boost to my chances of getting my story into print. Most importantly, the shortlisting is vindication that I can write for kids. This is good news because I really enjoy writing for them. And I’m hoping one day to find myself walking into a school, or library, or bookshop, with my book in hand, ready to read some of it out.

This journey stretches out ahead of us. We don’t know where or what the final destination is; we don’t know when we might reach it; we have no clue where we might find ourselves along the way. Together with my trusty manuscript though, I intend to enjoy the ride. It’s been pretty exciting so far.

Please excuse my absence…

I’ve been away from my blog for so long that it’s entirely possible in my many months of absence, people have given up on blogging and have moved on to the next big thing in social media.

What’s that? They have?

Intsawhat?

Oh.

Never mind.

Blogging might have become the betamax of modern living, but I’m not quite ready to give up on it yet.

The reason I’ve been neglecting my blog was due to a self-imposed ban. I had a project to finish and the only way to do it was to prevent myself wasting spending time on here.

The result is this:

This is what 8 months away from a blog can achieve!

This is what 8 months away from a blog can achieve!

I am now the owner of a completed third draft of a children’s novel. It’s unedited and yet to be proof read, but it is finished.

I have employed a small team of readers (zero hours contracts ; they read; I pay them nothing) who are on deadlines of their own. They need to read and provide feedback before the end of the month when I intend to enter this pile into a competition.

There’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind. I’ve always found them essential from school days through to now. Without them, projects linger and languish until dust covers them and time forgets them.

My self-imposed exile from my blog ensured that this is one project which stands a chance (slim, I know) of seeing the light of day*.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, I might even get to blog again.

* For “light of day” read “publisher’s desk”.

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.)