From a cafe where I wrote some letters, on Blackpool’s Highfield Road:
From a cafe where I wrote some letters, on Blackpool’s Highfield Road:
Two photos from my recent trip to Brighton. (The sign is from the fantastic new coffee shop outside St. Peter’s church)
Last month I mentioned some photos I’d taken on the beach at St. Annes. I’ve finally taken them off my phone. The sculpture below had been placed on the beach, some distance from the tideline.
It’s like some grotesque Alan Moore-style reinvention. I was reading to my 10-month-old neice before she went to bed and someone passed me Dear Grandma Bunny a 1996 Miffy book. Children’s books are darker than they were when I was young. Dear Grandma Bunny begins:
"Why is Miffy so unhappy
On her cheek a tear is bright.
Do you know why she is crying?
Miffy’s grandma died last night"
First Mog and now this. What next?
(The book came from a Miffy library someone brought Liz as a present. They phoned her when they realised what Dear Grandma Bunny was about. Luckily my Mum found it funny).
That’s Not My Pony was a much better read.
I’m now relaxing in Melbourne, having completed my first week in the new job. As these things usually go I spent the first few days reading documentation and learning about the project. I’m very excited: I’ll be using Eclipse, EJB, SCRUM and various other exciting things. The office is quiet and I can’t wait for the first Sprint to start.
Coventry itself is beautiful, inside the ring road at least. The ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral are striking. I remember school assemblies where we were told about the Coventry miracle, the cross made of iron nails found in the ruins; it’s strange to finally see it. And there’s also the status of Lady Godiva, just outside Waterstones.
The only problem is a lack of connectivity. The town has lots of wifi-enable bars and cafes, but it would be good to have something more constant. Having said that, I’m getting a lot done in the evenings: working on my writing and reading.
I finished a few books in the last week, the best of which was Haruki Murakami‘s Norwegian Wood. I’ve read a couple of Murakami books and never really enjoyed them. I was surprised by this, since a number of people whose views I respect love his novels. I was about to give up on this one but my friend Kitty insisted I continued. After about chapter 5 it took off and became something remarkable. I’m glad I read it.
I’ve arrived safe and sound in Coventry after a lovely visit to Luton. This city isn’t the concrete hellhole people had suggested. At night, from the flyovers of the ring road it is incredibly beautiful. I can’t wait to explore.
Meanwhile. The job is going well. We’re going to be using SCRUM, which is great news. I’m enjoying the peace and quiet and doing lots of writing.
In the five weeks since leaving Sigmer I’ve read about 20 books, more than I’ve read in a long time. A number of the books were forgettable, but some were worth recommending, and possibly re-reading:
Pierre Bayard‘s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read was treated a little unfairly in the press, partly because of its provocative title. In fact the book is an excellent analysis of what reading is, and why it matters, particularly when so many books are forgettable (like the 15-or-so recent books I’m not mentioning here). It’s another short book, and well worth taking for a long journey or a couple of bathtimes.
Anne Fadiman‘s collection of essays, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader is another short book on reading, but even quirkier than Bayard’s. Fadiman talks about her experiences of books using anecdotes, such as the interior decorator who rearranged a friend’s bookshelves by colour; or her father who, when reviewing books while travelling, would tear out each page as he read to save weight.
I picked out Being Dead by Jim Crace at the second hand bookshop on Highfield Road because it looked like a bland literary novel and I was (for once) in the mood for something forgettable. In fact it was a haunting and brilliant novel, one of the best I’ve read in years. I’m now reading his collection The Devil’s Larder.
The biggest disappointment was a literary novel I read about quantum mechanics. I’ve read two books recently that straddled physics and literary theory and both have been irritating and poorly written. I discovered the recent one through a weblog recommendation and the Time Out reviewer is quoted on the cover, declaring that it ought to win the Booker. Instead I found the writing scrappy and the ideas dull. Maybe physics doesn’t lend itself well to literary fiction.
I made the journey from Brighton in 4.5 hours and I’m now back in Blackpool. The packing continued while I was away and the house is very empty. Apart from my room, which is full of post (including the new phone) and books. I have lots of things to do between now and Saturday when I set off for Coventry, via Luton. I also need to pack the room up too.
Which means my last 2/3 days in Blackpool will offer little time for walking along the beach. Guess I’ll have to come back here for a weekend when things calm down.
It’s weird to be bouncing around so much. Since yesterday I’ve had no housekeys but I don’t actually need any of the keys on it. Technically I don’t have a home right now – I’m not paying rent on anywhere and all my things are in the storage, which may or may not have a leak.
Whatever. The plan for tonight is simple – write one of the 5 letters I need to write in the next week and figure out all the things to be done between now and Luton.
I’m still in Brighton where I’ve had a relaxing weekend. On Thursday night I attended the Short Fuse Short Story Slam. The quality of the stories was highly variable but I was pleased that one of the winners was Bill Jones, who read at Telling Lies last year. As with poetry slams, comedy did much better than serious pieces.
I didn’t mind too much not reading my story (called ‘This is not a true story and happened to someone else anyway‘) as it meant I could relax and enjoy the night. The story was a throwaway, so will probably not now see the light of day.
Friday night I watched the movie Be Kind Rewind. It was a fun, uplifting film (a couple of people applauded at the end) but somehow felt slight. It’s interesting how many recent films have been about ‘little media’ and/or overtly undermine corporate copyright.
On Saturday I hung out with Beth. She’s been working on some interesting projects recently, such as Node 101 Brighton and it was interesting to hear about those. We had breakfast on her allotment, on the hillside above the Lewes Road. I’d not been there before and couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. I imagine it’s even better in Summer with warm weather and everything flourishing. I saw Beth again in the evening and walked to the marina and back. The marina is beautiful at night, and I actually think the Roaring 40s is going to look pretty impressive, setting aside the problems with the project. It will certainly add to the feeling that the marina is a JG Ballard theme park.
On Sunday I attended a friend’s daughter’s Harry Potter themed birthday party. I don’t remember children’s parties being that noisy and intense but had a good time. It was fun to see games I remember as a kid, such as the eating-chocolate-while-wearing-gloves-and-scarf game.
I still don’t have a camera and have packed up the cable to copy images from my phone, so can’t post any photos of the weekend. Hopefully I’ll have a camera again next week, ready for my arrival in Coventry.
One thing distracting a lot of aspiring writers is the question of research. I know people who write beautiful, entralling prose yet don’t work seriously on their book because they ‘need to do their research first’. Yet one person I know spent weeks researching the suffragette movement and the resulting information was used in only one paragraph of the finished book. Yes, it’s important give the reader confidence that they know their material, but it’s more important to finish the writing.
everything. I don’t do any research. Life is too short. To be a
convincing liar, facts don’t help. What you need is vocabulary, the
ability to use words with confidence. This came home to me when I was
in the Judean desert, before I wrote "Quarantine," which was set there
but 2,000 years ago. I went not to research but to see what the desert
was like so I could tell informed lies. I had a Bedouin guide with me,
with his gun on one hip and his mobile phone on the other. We slept out
one night under his jeep, and in the morning, he said "Jim, how did you
sleep?" I said "Oh, I slept like a log."
I saw his eyes
narrow, and I looked over his shoulder at the desert stretching away
with, certainly no logs, and at best about 600 meters away, a little
skimpy thorn tree. I knew this hadn’t worked. He spoke better English
than I did, but the English didn’t work. It was badly researched
English; it didn’t travel. So I said "How did you sleep?" And he said,
"I slept like a donkey. I slept like a dead donkey. If you’d have
kicked me, I wouldn’t have woken up." I thought here is the answer.
This is how you persuade a reader that you know your subject and are
inhabiting that culture. It’s not about research. It’s all about
turning your logs into donkeys. I just love that trickery."
Something I found with the WW2 book (which I plan to finish real soon…) is that the research didn’t help make it more plausible. People believed the things I’d made up, but always questioned the situations and events based on fact. The research made the book less believable.