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Monday, 23 April 2012


Happy St. George's Day, Shakespeare's Birthday and World Book Night! (Phew - 'tis a lot to get in!).

At the moment, I haven't been as regular as I often promise I will be (on the blogging front, mind), mostly because I'm finding multitasking to be a bit of a pain. I've got my teeth into the novel and hope to complete a first draft before the summer is out, which is no mean task, seeing as I have the habit of reading and rereading everything I've written before continuing where I left off. That's great when you're at the first chapter, but not when you've got 50,000 words under your belt.

I've put a lot of things on hold but, like the weather of late, I have a feeling it's all about to break. So, once again, I'll be attempting to leave smaller gaps in between updates from now on.

I was about to add some cool fact about St. George, patron saint of England, but Wikipedia seems comprehensive enough in his case. I didn't know until today, for instance, that  George was born in Syria Palaestina which, I believe, is now an area comprising Israel/Palestine, Lebanon and, of course, Syria.

As a child, I learnt all about the dragon legend;
they made us draw George, sword and shield and all
while the teacher created a monster from green sticky-back plastic
which she attached to the wall...

The problem with fire-breathing dragons is they're neat little foes -
and once you have a fearless knight in sparkling armour,
striking a cheesy pose
it's easy for him to spot them and lance...

But taking a glance outside the fiction
I can't envision the terror
faced by those who inhabit the West Bank,
Palestine or Syria,
where daily frictions and deep-rooted convictions
often explode...

The road to peace cannot be mapped
or charged through with horse power
and these days you cannot slay dragons
without blowing hope to smithereens...

I don't mean to go off on one,
my point should have been simpler and not overdone.
St George, for me, is a reminder
that we create these heroes - these saviours -
in a world where there are none.

(okay, it's a freewrite and not that great but I hope the sentiment comes across)


Well, seeing as it's his birthday and all, I remembered something from my school days... I always read a lot - and from an early age - but despite liking Macbeth, Richard II and Romeo & Juliet when we had to study those plays, I othewise avoided Shakespeare. At school, I found the sonnets we had to analyse particularly boring (I mean, what kind of a chat-up line is "Shall I compare thee to a summers day" when you live in unpredicatable England??) and the language too reminiscent of the King James Bible, which I also felt got too much props.

Everyone seemed to put Shakespeare on a pedestal, even though, apparently, much of his work couldn't be authenticated. And while, on the one hand, I had teachers extoling his virtues for having created new words and appropriating vernacular language, every attempt by others at modernising the language in his plays often met snooty derision. Baz Lurhmann's Romeo + Juliet came out while I was studying for my GCSEs - and even with all the guns and gangs, at the time, I was disappointed that they kept his language.

So then, one day, we were given an assignment - to redo Act III, Scene I: the death of Mercutio. I know I kept the original (and it should be in a box somewhere under the bed, so I'll dig it out some time if I can find it). Using the instrumental for Busta Rhymes's Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See, I retold the entire scene through rap...

I can't remember it all but it started with something like this:

This old scene begins with my mate Benvolio
Hanging with his homie and G Mercutio
Runs into old Tybalt and meets Petruchio,
Big no no.... etc

And then the chorus:

If you really wanna start in Verona
You better don that bullet-proof vest
Don't be putting my threats to the test
Or you'll find a massive hole in your chest

I remember I did three whole verses of it, start to finish. My teacher, refreshingly, took it quite well, and subsequently became a good fan of Busta Rhymes. Meanwhile, I hung up the mic for a while...


With my early efforts at dramatising Shakespeare in mind, it was really good to see Hip Hop Shakespeare on stage at World Book Night tonight. Let's just say their lyrical skills are much more developed than mine were at fourteen.

Earlier in the evening, several authors read extracts from their work - and from others'. At some point, I followed a woman who was giving out books for free, and winded up with The Time Traveller's Wife, which I shall read in due course, and hopefully enjoy and pass on. Then there was music, and more Shakespeare - and then I had to go...

Fiona Bevan
I won't comment much more as I'm pretty tired... But, a year on, it's good to see other countries, such as the US and Germany, joining in with WBN. I'm still worried, however, about the way we look at books, even though I count myself among those who've made snooty comments about ebooks and the Kindle et al. in the past. And while I still prefer actual tangible books - bendable pages, spine and all - and don't possess an electronic reading device (unless you count my phone), I know it's not good enough to fetishise the book.

Books in themselves aren't the be all and end all of humanity; it's what's inside them. Stories have been told throughout history, orally, through ballads and through plays, through carvings on walls, designs on cloth and through highly ornate writings on scrolls and, finally, paper. Adapting them for the digital age shouldn't be something to be afraid of.

Of course, I advocate reading books - and performing and listening to poetry - writing is the media that chose me long ago and I find most allows me to express myself. Reading an actual book, compared to a digital one, involves more of the senses and so, for me, is much more of a memorable, complete experience. Using language - as opposed to just music or drawing - enables us to communicate more effectively, and expand our knowledge more quickly. But that doesn't necessarily make the place of the book sacrosanct. And it shouldn't make us denigrate other forms of communication; they can reach places that books can't.

Anyway, I'm going on... More tomorrow, maybe...    

And Today's Random Word Is...


(And I better get cracking with it, seeing as there's only ten minutes left)

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Day 11 - freewrite

(Taking part in the NaPoWriMo challenge... I'll catch up later on Days 1-10)

the sweat of skin
of drum
that beats a sweetness
burning into your nostrils

you are home once more

with one gulp of air
which tastes of earth
and song

and the tambourine man
hollers a hallelujah chorus
with that same tangy voice

you got to hear to believe

it feels like nothing
but the blood
pounding inside your ear

drum and chords
that cannot be broken
like words

susurrated by lisping spirits
and something happened
and all I know...

and there is fire

once more
we are home

April Fooling...

So Easter's been and gone. It's always been a reflective time for me and still is, not least because the novel I'm writing revolves around the week leading up to Easter. I've also had a bit of a 'system overload' of late - a lot of stuff going on, too much to comment on, and the vague feeling that it isn't worth getting involved in it.

Whenever I feel this way, I look to the sea. The waves come and go and there are a lot of obvious metaphors you can take from it: for instance, that life has it's ebb and flow and there are days when things are going to be easy... and other days when the tide just brings in a lot of rubbish. Some days things are choppy... other days you just need to be still.

Blah, blah blah. You get the picture.

Being miles out from the sea in the Smoke, I've taken a shortcut - I've been flicking through photos from the trip I took over Christmas. It's brought back some good memories which have helped me get back into some kind of rhythm in my writing.

Whilst I manged to record a storm in Havana and a few miles of empty coastline, the most interesting things that happen are, of coure, when you put down your camera. In my photo albums, there's nothing of the deserted caves I found at night, and nothing could quite capture the feeling of swimming in the cool sea.

A picture saves a thousand messages

On a related topic, I was thinking how interacting on social networking sites such as Facebook has a way of filtering experience into a few photographs and comments that only give one side of the story.

Today, I was bored enough to check out the page of a "friend" of mine who I haven't seen or spoken to since we left school back in 2002. He smiles holding a baby, among faces I assume to be members of his family, including a sister I recognise (the comments underneath confirm this). He wears funny hats and makes goofy impressions next to people I don't recognise (I'm guessing work colleagues, but who knows?) In later photographs, he's lost weight and I remember he used to get teased about it so I assume he's happy now (at least he's smiliing). He smiles again next to a girl I can infer is his current girlfriend (she is tagged as such). He smiles next to a well-known celebrity. And again in some basketball court somewhere in the States, and then again at a famous landmark, also in the US. The pictures go on...

After under five minutes of scrolling through his page, I've had my fill of this old friend, immortalised in smiles; I feel I've caught up on nine years worth of friendship - he's happy, in a relationship, has lots of family around and is in a job; most of all he has good teeth. And yet, I feel uncomfortable that I've used the moments he's chosen to add onto the website as a way of developing a picture of his life... I have little intention of getting back in contact after all this time but, somehow, by scrolling through his snaps and a few comments on them, I feel I've done that. Yet, really, it's the moments away from the camera that matter most...

But pictures are powerful. No wonder Facebook has recently made a whopping huge gamble by buying up Instagram for $1bn: the image is king and we're starting to learn it - we're all becoming amateur photographers. As we get overloaded with information, we need more shortcuts to process it all, and a picture can do the trick in a split second, whereas words, dialogue, direct interaction, all of that takes time and effort. I could have had a conversation with said friend. But the information I gleaned from looking at a few photos would have taken much longer than the few minutes it took for me to scroll through his life if I'd actually sent him a message and waited for a reply.

As a child, every time I made a rash judgment about someone, my mother would always quote: "Don't judge, because the way you judge others will be used against you..." Hmm. Just the thought of that makes me want to delete my Facebook account forever.          

Wednesday, 11 April 2012