Here’s Southlight 28, online as part of the Wigtown Book Festival, and with something from BHDandMe inside.

WordPress has introduced a new ‘editor’, which has given me the push I needed. You can find find essays by Me on the short story, adaptation and writing in general on The Blue Nib, Literati magazine and in the Thresholds archive, as well as published collections on Amazon (by Mike Smith). Short fiction by Brindley Hallam Dennis appears on .Cent (don’t miss out that dot), Fairlight Books, Liars League archives and the Black Market Re-view and elsewhere. Both can be found in Southlight Magazine. Collections of short stories by BHD are available on Amazon. Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing. BHDand Me.

Let me give you an idea of what it’s like.

We cut back the hedge on the other side of the lane a few days ago. Not all of it. A man with a thrashing machine on a tractor was doing that. We cut the bit that had overgrown the gate not quite opposite the front of our house and which he couldn’t get his machine into. The hedge had gotten tall, maybe twelve feet, and it was thick. The birds love it that way, but if it comes down to around five or six feet it lets in much more light, even at the distance it is from our windows. From upstairs it’s not so noticeable,  but from ground level there are views all the way across to the Pennines at the false horizon to the east.

The bit we cut back, at the gate doesn’t make much difference to the light, but it’s like cleaning a window onto the farmland to the north of east, across the fields beyond the village that sits in the dip a quarter of a mile away.. Today a cow looked through that window, leaning its muzzle over the top rail of the metal fence. Nobody seems to use that gate these days. There’s another, up the hill, beyond the T junction, on what you might call, with no small sense of irony, the main road.

Many years ago, when we worked in the second hand book trade sending parcels out to more than twenty different countries, a visiting dealer, bemused to the point of being spooked by the quiet and the lack of houses to be seen from where we live, asked the question, what do you do for kicks out here? Well, these days, the cows, seemingly more often than they used to provide the kicks, but other than that we don’t do much. We noticed, today, that a cow was looking over the gate, where we’d cut back the hedge.

All of which might go to explain why there was no blog post yesterday.. It’s easy to forget what day it is; easy to forget which order they come in; easy to forget their names. On the other hand, it might have been just because I was too damned lazy to write one…..

Today BHDandMe will have fulfilled our three score year and ten, and will pass into injury time (and other stoppages). Perhaps in celebration of this, BHDandMe have collected the One Hundred stories posted, one a day, during the first hundred of days of the Covid-19 lockdown, and put them into the paperback Previously, now available online. The stories were posted on the blog between March 23rd and July 1st, and removed at the end of that month. Of the hundred more than ninety are previously unpublished, but one or two old favourites, commended stories and prizewinners were included. The book has them in the same order as they were posted, but that isn’t the order in which they were written (as would become apparent to a reader). Included too are the ‘preview’ comments that gave a little context to the original postings.

In the meantime BHDandMe are raising a glass or two to each other, and to you.

Ah! A beer in Vetters Bar in Heidelberg, just off the Haupt Strasse.

Here’s another little tale from BHD in .Cent magazine

BHD being toast?

I was invited recently on Faecesbook to ‘bin a word’. It’s an interesting, if ill-defined idea. It sounds ‘fun’. There’s a word to speculate on. It sounds ‘funky’, which may or may not be meaningfully related. It sounds ‘trendy’, ‘with it’, dare I say ‘cool’? And if I do, how many syllables should I give it, and what meaning? That of the sixties, when I first heard it? That of the nineties when it cropped up again? Of later?

‘Bin’? I met a Kiwi once who called himself ‘Bin’, but that was his accent, and vowels in anybody’s English have always been slippery. ‘Bin’? To discard, throw away, trash? To get rid of? Just what does that mean when it comes down to words? Does it mean that after we’ve Binned’ it and somebody, sinn fein even, comes along and finds it they, we, won’t know what it means? How helpful would that be?

And this is for writers, fgs! How helpful would it be to us to have ‘binned’ words, put them somewhere safe, somewhere where we’re safe from them, somewhere beyond anyone ever using them again, in any context? Wouldn’t that be hum-dinger of a 1984er! Imagine, never being able to have a racist, or an innocent use a word in a story, because you’ve ‘binned’ it. Maybe a word you’ve binned because you’re frightened of it, by it, a word binned for being what you think it is, or was, or might have been; a word you’ll never be able to make a ‘nice’ distinction about, being binned. How close that binned is to banned, and how close either to being forgotten?

I’m sorry, but I’m not a ‘binner’ of words. I’m a collector. I’m a hoarder. I hang on to as many of them as I can. I pluck them out of the air, into which other people, knowing and not knowing their meanings, past, present. fluid, fixed, varying from place to time, have tossed them, have whispered them, shouted them, spoken them. I have them wrapped in old newspapers like carefully preserved turds, lining the hallways of my mind. I have them stashed like obsolete fivers in the mattresses of my head, in the hatboxes of brain on the top of my wardrobe skull. I have them sewn like émigré’s diamonds into the seams of my subconscious underwear. I can’t get enough of them. Some are so old I’m not sure how they work, but I’m prepared to work at polishing them up, or sharpening them again, or oiling their rusted wheels. But even when I have they carry the marks of their times and places, and maybe that’s what I like about them.

Bin words? What sort of Orwellian sanitizer do you think I am? Do you want me to be? I’m more likely to be going through your word bins, fishing out the tasty morsel you’ve wasted there, putting them to use, re-cycling them, re-purposing them, re-furbishing them. Don’t ask me to bin words. I’m not sure I could even skip them.

Here are some thoughts on poetry, shared by Me with The Blue Nib!

I didn’t read The Hobbit while I was at school. I remember sixth-form friends talking about it, but I was already into James Joyce’s Ulysses.

A few years later though, while at college, I did read Lord of the Rings, and became a fan. I went on to read The Hobbit then, which, of course, made it for me not so much a stepping stone to the larger book, but a step down to a much lesser one.

College years during the early nineteen seventies cast Tolkien’s Middle Earth as a sort of hippie realm; a semi-magical world of adventure and medieval, even ancient mythology. Treebeard and the living wood created a ‘Green’ glow, in both senses of the word. Yet even amidst all this fantasy I got the sense that Middle Earth was perhaps the most dominant character in the book, and that it was also a thinly veiled metaphor for rural England. I don’t know how Scots feel about it, but though I’ve travelled extensively in their country I’ve never felt a Middle Earth connection. In the Midlands England I grew up in, and the Northern England I emigrated to, Middle Earth popped up again and again.

In fact, in those early readings of the book I was content to experience the story as if the landscape and its implied adventures were all that was there. A college lecturer called halt to that by proposing that the book was badly written. This idea was so heretical it shook my faith in him, for a while. He was a bright bunny. Insisting on doing my final English thesis on a minor American author he hadn’t read, he insisted I compare the man to a greater one that I hadn’t. A couple of weeks later he could run rings round me on both.

Yet, to suggest that Lord of the Rings was badly written! The suggestion has haunted me ever since. The implication of it, I thought, was that its popularity was thus questionable, though now I doubt that would have been my lecturer’s point. Writers, editors and critics might care about how well a story is written, but readers, I suspect, rarely do. With them it’s content that wins the day, not form.

It was in the early eighties I think that Brian Sibley scripted the BBC Radio version of the novel and suddenly the landscape of Middle Earth was eclipsed by the sound of its voices, and those voices hammered home the truth that the book was conceived and written in and about a class ridden society.

Every orc in the story speaks with the accent of the London mob. The ‘good’ peasant, Samwise Gamgee, has a sort of rural speech. The Hobbit adventurers whom he serves speak a self conscious RP, especially when they are talking about their class and where it fits in to the book’s hierarchies. In the final sequence, hinted at but not played out in the films, it is ‘ruffians’ who invade the shire, and I wonder to what extent, for Tolkien, the ruffians were us seen from the white towers of academe?

And behind those English class-labelling voices sits, hidden in plain sight, the fact that this book, perceived as being about the battle between good and evil and transformed into a film along those lines, is really a promotion of the idea of hereditary monarchy.

Tolkien’s Aragorn might have the qualities that a good king needs, but the author makes it explicit that he is the ‘rightful’ king because of who, not what he is. He even has that old medieval magic of the ‘king’s touch’ which heals the sick. In the film this diluted to an apothecary’s trick that anyone could pull, but the book plays up the medieval monarchical mystery.

Tolkien’s hero is taking back what is rightly his, knowing that his time has come. He earns the victory, but does not earn the right to the kingship. It is already his. It is not a sword that is brought to him at the weapon take before he takes the paths of the dead, but the banner of his family, and with it the secret army of his household that has worked for years towards the Restoration of the kingship. Assuming the crown after the victory over Sauron he is accepted by his subjects, but they recognise rather than chose him. There is no choice but to submit, or resist. He is the ‘rightful king’ either way. The Lord of the Rings is not a novel that promotes democracy. One of the arch villains, Saruman, is dangerous fundamentally because of his voice, and he uses it like a modern politician, to delude the mob and to seduce his peers.

The Hobbits Merry and Pippin, both learn and explicitly accept the place into society into which they have been born. It’s an idea that the Edwardian working class parents who brought me up would have understood, and also would have accepted. It’s the attitude that pervades the British Establishment, with the proviso that it is a club that is open for new members so long as they too will conform to its attitudes.

 

Here’s another BHD tale from Fairlight Books

But the editors of Southlight have ventured to include some of my musings on Basil Bunting’s epic poem, Briggflats in issue 28 (due out soon.) I wouldn’t normally mention this sort of thing, but I’m always pleased when something of mine gets an airing, and especially so when it’s about a piece of writing that I greatly admire. Of course the writing of mine is likely to be less admirable than its subject in such cases, but if it only draws your attention to the piece, and that leads on to you actually reading the work in question, having deeper insights and drawing wiser conclusions, then neither my time nor yours will have been wasted!

I posted a short piece on the poem here on the blog late last year, in which I mentioned reading it aloud, and recording the reading. I’ve read it aloud several times since, and recorded some of it (I let technology down quite often), and even listened to a couple of sections afterwards, which I’m sure Bunting would have wanted me (& us) to do!

Sometimes we know there’s a story before we’ve worked out exactly what it is. We know some, perhaps all of the characters. We know their circumstances. We can imagine, or recall events and incidents that might be part of it as beginnings or middles or ends. But we still don’t know the story. Some writers will tell you that even when it’s all written down and fit to publish, when it has been published even, and acclaimed, they don’t know for sure.

Which is odd, because it implies, perhaps even means, that story is something other than merely the characters and the situations and the incidents and events, even when they are the right ones, and told of using the right words in the right order. Could it be that story is not inherent in any of these elements, but only in the right combination of them and when told in such a way as to imply, strongly, or subtly or obliquely  a significant meaning that will become apparent to the listener, or reader? Could it be that story is, in fact, the implication inherent in a particular narration?

This implication is created, in the case of the short story (flash fiction, and micro fiction included), by the whole story, but is realised at the end, and in turn it raises in the mind of the  reader/listener a series of questions or speculations or revelations.

What will happen next? What is he thinking now? How great is the gulf of meaning  between those two characters in relation to that single repeated word? Those are my responses at the end of three particular stories, two by Ambrose Bierce, the third by Zola.

But there are those accounts we will be told, sometimes in print, that raise only the question of why on earth did you tell me that? They have all the elements: characters, events, incidents, situations, locations in time and place and even a distinct ambience. They may be told in such a way as to be clearly imaginable, sometimes in tedious detail. But they raise no questions, spark no speculations, bring forth no revelation, imply nothing. They are not stories.