Monday, September 28, 2009

Kindling me softly

This is a shot of a Hell's Pizza sign, taken whilst driving by one night in November 2007. I am very fond of taking photographs this way.
"The narrator of Afterlife looks back to the summer of 1976, when the course of his life was decided by a violent tragedy, prefigured here in the destruction of a manuscript. He's temperamentally unable to separate the enduring sense of personal loss from his continuing anxieties about the meaning and authority of literature. Perhaps his pessimism will prove to be well founded. There can be few writers who do not at some level suspect that it is entirely possible that all the literature they most value will be discarded in a process of cultural change so encompassing that its exponents and opponents alike can have only a limited grasp of its possible consequences. The automatic remote erasure of electronic texts of Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984 undertaken recently by Amazon/Kindle (legally and for legal reasons) - to the fury of readers who thought they'd bought the material in question - can't help but seem richly, if parodically, suggestive of what may await us."

Sean O'Brien: if only you had enthused me as much with your lecture on William Blake! You're a devil of a poet though - I wonder what your novel's like?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Telling me

As far as I am aware, the end result of this image still hangs in a tertiary education facility somewhere in the North of England. Media: felt tip pen on jotter pad.

"Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag..."

When I was seven my grandfather taught me to paint with watercolours. It became my hobby. I have his tartan printed shortbread tin with his paints and brushes, a pencil and a putty rubber, and a piece of charcoal.

When I was seven I wrote my first story and showed it to my primary school teacher. She didn't believe I had written it. Writing became my secret.

When I left high school I had failed my mathematics. I wanted to study journalism because I had to be able to get a "proper job". I was refused entry to the course because the then head of the course thought I was too shy to make it as a journalist. I was brought up to accept the advice of my elders and of professionals: these people knew what they were talking about, apparently.

I looked to science - I had an aptitude for chemistry and biology - I had no mathematics and was refused entry onto the science courses. I enrolled to study art, modern history and English language, and to re-take mathematics. A few months into the course I had dropped history and was re-failing maths. I was deemed unworthy to go to university. I hadn't thought about university. On the advice of a lecturer I dropped out of my other courses - because what use were they if I wasn't going to university?

If I wasn't studying I had to get a job.

I signed up for an art and design course when I was still seventeen, it included fabric and fashion design, jewellery design and ceramics, and in the summer break I got myself a job at my college - painting murals. I still have a great interest in fashion and fabric design, I still make my own jewellery, I went on to study and make ceramics. I still paint. My writing is no longer a secret.

A while ago I was asked if I thought my writing and art were connected. I know the thought processes behind the two definitely are but it took me a while to step away from myself enough to be honest about my work to see what my painting and my writing, and, therefore, what I am about.

"And smile, smile, smile..."

We all have an image of what we want to be. We all aspire to be the best that we can be. We all want to be open to others and embrace difference. And underneath all that - if we were paintings and someone x-rayed us, beneath the layers of what we've told ourselves and everyone else what and who we are - there would be us; raw, rough and unfinished, but us nonetheless. I call this potential. Every blank canvas has it. Every empty screen, clean sheet of paper, new beginning; they are the tabula rasa, the potential. But when we create upon them a mark which we later decide we do not want, do we say - that's it, that was your one chance? Or do we continue with another sheet, another layer of paint, a new document; a new beginning. Does potential cease to be because we didn't achieve it in the first draft?

So, anyway, last week I found the design of the mural I painted in my summer job and I thought of this poem. I wrote it last year.

She wore VERY FLAT
sandals, the type that
history tells us
were worn by Jesus,
though I doubt if He
were real He would be
inclined to wearing
successes such as
these samples of mass
production nor source
purposefully coarse
skin making designs
dyed a lurid lime.
And even if He
were He probably
could not find any
sandals SO VERY
similar; with the
chrome buckles and the
gluing of the straps
concealed within flaps
tucked inside the SO
FLAT soles. Who would know
for definite? No
real proof exists though.
As is commonly
the case, like her, He
more than likely had
soiled, cracked skin: a pad
resulting from too
much wear of a shoe
severely lacking
support; cushioning
secondary to
looks. Feet which tried to,
shed in blocks only
becoming ingrained
with dirt and the dead
skin becoming grey
in pallor. I say
the word probably;
the reality
was I couldn't see,
well not properly,
her feet, because frayed,
trousers, discoloured
from being trodden
upon and sodden
in all weathers, hid
them. I think she did
this on purpose, part
of a student's art
project, a no jest
feminist protest.
Lurking within brown,
corduroy worn down
to the ground were no
doubt legs that were so
hairy they were part
of the protest art;
intrinsic to what
it is to be that:
a feminist. I
realise that my
description does, on
the whole, rely on
gathered unwisely;

In my short story collection there are two semi-autobiographical pieces: one is called Potential. With age comes the ability to project confidence. People who meet me are intimidated by my height and outspokenness - ironic that in school I was bullied for my height and quietness. I was called scaffolding (as well as cardboard cut-out and dictionary) I couldn't shorten myself so I upped the volume. I wear bright colours. I speak my mind. I am honest even when it would serve me better, and those around me, to lie. If I have offended you with this or any other post or comment I have made please tell me; directly. There are, as any writer or reader will know, multiple interpretations of any word or combination of words - it all goes back to that slippery chain of signification - and it would be a fool who professed to know what any one person means by a small selection of words, or to take from that comment an assumption of what a persons views might be. I would say to such people, go back and look again at what offended you from another perspective. I am many things. Other people think I am different things; but, underneath, I am still there, shy as I ever was; writing.

"What's the use of worrying? It never was worthwhile."

I could tell you another version of me, and another, but really, what difference would it make? You'll each have your own perspective, some of you will have more than one - hopefully.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

To Chalmers

Note how the style and colours of this porcine picture jars and juxtaposes with the visuals of my otherwise serene blog.

Last night I went to a packed theatre to watch a music concert. I shouldn't blog about this, normally I wouldn't mention it, but I have never been very successful at disciplining my thought to mouth ratio and now it seems my thoughts are struggling for supremacy over my fingertips.

It wasn't Pink Floyd. It was a World Vision concert. The singer was on fine form (if you enjoy beach boy medleys and the Lonely Goat song from The Sound of Music in the same half hour - I can't remember what else she sang, I've blocked it!) suffused with a couple hundred tired yet overconfident kids, and half way through stopped - (for breath one assumes but not for good) to say why she was singing. Yes, there was a reason - other than the obvious! She wanted to charm us. No. She wanted to raise awareness of the plight of the children of Honduras.

She began by saying that, probably, none of us in the audience would have had any experience of living in a third world country (to which all the British health workers groaned and muttered something to the effects that they thought NZ was a third world country) and that she had been to Honduras to experience it first hand. A video clip followed.

She had taken a film crew. Shots worthy of news night were inter cut with shots of the lovely host - the contrast was staggering - and one could not help but be moved by the images we were being presented with: men, women and children struggling to carry clean water from miles away on a daily basis to tend to their large and hungry families. Their homes were as basic as a home can get and be called a home. Their children were as well behaved as hunger permits. Sometimes, our host said, the elder siblings go without for the younger ones to feed. Meals consist mainly of dry pitta bread, apparently. But all was not desperation.

The next shot was our lady in the home of a family who were busy with jars and fruit. The peoples of Honduras were capitalising on the usually discarded fruit of the cashew nut - I didn't know it grew on the end of a fruit either - they offered our host some to taste.

Mmmmmm, went our host - juices dribbling from her dewy moisturised chin - it would go wonderfully with fine cheeses and a glass of good port.

Seeing is not experiencing.

At the end they thanked the fourteen people who had donated. Wish you were here?

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's sea, see?

Pardon my wonky photo, the horizon line on the actual painting is decidedly more horizontal! Do not, under any circumstances, suggest I put a boat in! I seem to have cropped off the high arc of the sky, it is indigo at the very top. Disclaimer - this painting is not finished, nor is it intended to be viewed as such - ever! I reserve the right to completely white wash this canvas.

A while ago I started another painting, I think I mentioned it, around the same time I was churning out a short story every other day. Well, it's a good thing I primed that canvas because my short story splurge has come to a halt and I am trying to pace myself before I go to the South Island of New Zealand to research my latest novel because I know, once I return from that trip, I will be eat/sleep/drinking my project for the foreseeable future. So I've been adding a dob of paint here and there on the canvass and this is what I've got to show for it thus far.

Originally I intended to plonk lots and lots of brightly painted houses and trees on thick bright grass in the foreground, all but totally obscuring the sea (because I have yet to develop my sea painting skills - blame it on living far inland for the first twenty years of my life!), but now I am wondering whether to let it be a simple and uncluttered (quite unlike my other paintings) seascape.
My daughter had a go at it a few weeks ago, there was a lovely splurge of bright yellow slightly left of centre in the sea and again at the bottom of the frame, I kept a little of it, children know so much more about art than adults.

I look at the sea when every morning on the school run, and every morning it appears completely different. And then again each afternoon, and any other time I am passing! This painting began when it was a soft grey fuzzy morning sea with silver patches and an horizon line which looked like a Morris 1000 car had zoomed along it and left its paintwork there.

What do you think, beach in the foreground or brightly painted lapboard bungalows? I could even throw in a few Norfolk pines and I'd be able to sell it in a touristy gallery - NZ icons painting!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thieve a few

A little piece of NZ, framed especially for you.

I think I may have lost my marbles. Do tell me if you see them rolling around anywhere, feel free to collect them up and keep a few cats' eyes for yourselves, I won't miss the odd one or two.

I have been planning a novel for some months now and next month I am going down to South Island to carry out research for it. I don't have to: in theory I could find all the information I require at my local libraries or from contacts I have made in South Island, and it's going to cost me an arm and a leg, but I really feel I need to experience the place I am writing about first hand. Plus, as there is a lot of oral history in NZ, I need to go to the place itself for that.

I don't want to give too many details away other than to say it is a variation on the idea of a triptych and already it is consuming me. I made a start with writing a few "scenes" back in June, to get a feel for my characters. Much of what I've written so far will not make it into the novel but it has served a very useful purpose, and been worth every word, to really bring my people to life.

This is the first novel I've tackled that's had me scared. I am worried I may have bitten off more than I can chew but there's nothing I love more than a difficult challenge: if something's not hard, it's not fun for me. So I'm doing as much research as I can to be as prepared as possible for everything I am throwing at my characters, and I'm chomping at the bit to find out what they're going to throw back at me.

I've never been to South Island before. When I started planning this novel I spoke to librarians - they were fantastically knowledgeable (as you would expect librarians to be) and went way beyond the call of duty to email links and things they thought might be of interest to me weeks after I had initially queried them! I was given contact details for people living in the place I am going to and was offered free accommodation! I asked an architect about a building and he offered to check out all the details on buildings in my story for accuracy! I have never encountered enthusiasm, helpfulness, generosity or trust as I have found from the people of New Zealand (except, maybe, in the UK! - Especially me, when I lived there!). But seriously, I've been blown away by the offers I've had. So this post is really a big thank you to New Zealand for all the opportunities it has given me.

The only downside is that I have to plan the whole trip! Everything requires timetabling and, as I have droned on about before, I really am not bedfellows with numbers. And the nearer the trip gets, the more stressed I get about catching the plane etc on time, and the more difficult I find organising all of the other things for the correct times and dates. It's giving me headaches - I need to eat some feverfew. I much prefer organising novels than trips! So my marbles have started disassembling and I may loose a few for good. So, go on, take some, I hope they are more use to you than to me!

Monday, September 7, 2009

A wry thing

What's in a name? This question was posed in one of the first posts I read when I first started blogging back in May and according to the questioner, Loredana, the answer is: not much. If you want to know where her name comes from you can find out at her blog, where she goes by the name Lori.

For the past week I have been hosting Nuala Ní Chonchúir for the first leg of her virtual world tour, to promote her book of short fiction, Nude. Nuala has now travelled over to Tania Hershman's blog, TaniaWrites, where you can read more about Nuala and Nude. As past of my interview with Nuala I had the opportunity to ask three questions but I thought it would be a great idea to offer one of my bloggers the opportunity to ask one question, in exchange for me giving a little blog showcasing, and Lori was that lucky blogger!

Lori Tiron-Pandit has a blog and website combo, Daily Writing, which is characterised by immaculate presentation and thoughtfulness. Lori is, it is my belief, a truly thoughtful person. She thinks about the colours of her site, the presentation of the images, the wording of the, erm, words, in fact, she thinks about everything. I would describe her approach as holistic.

For someone as interested in visual art and design as myself, Lori's site is visually very appealing and beautifully illustrates the calmness and tranquility that I like to imagine Lori exuding.

Everything Lori presents on her blog and website, both images and written content, is done so in a very balanced yet imaginative way. She has a fantastic eye for detail and her site is both thought provoking and interesting: she manages to present spirituality, as well as moderating debates about it, in a thoughtful and intelligent way. I told you she was thoughtful!

And she has a sense of humour! An important thing for a wry thing like myself!

You may have noticed I have mentioned Lori's name a lot! Now don't go forgetting it!

So, what is in a name? Name is an anagram of amen, bet you couldn't have figured that one out, uh? Mine, in case you were interested, literally means Ewe rejoice of the fens, or, as I like to say, happy bog dwelling sheep! Lori's must mean something akin to...well, I suggest you hop over to her site and decide for yourselves!