I’ve got involved in several conversations this week – face to face, e-mail – touching on the issue of authorial intrusions. There was a time, way back in the last century when such activity was deemed unacceptable. I think time’s they are, and wait for no man! One of the Facets of Fiction group members had put one into a short story: blatant, clear, and directive, and early on in the piece, at the end of the first short paragraph, where you weren’t going to overlook it. She asked my opinion. Well, I’m unashamedly in favour of such things. They prejudice the reader. Everything we read, in her short story, after this short sharp statement telling us what was important, we read in light of that comment. I favour the Henry Fielding approach. The narrator of a story should be up front and visible. He, or she, should have a reason for telling a story, an expectation of his listeners, and an attitude that governs how the story is told. Narrative voice is personal, even if it’s robotic. My long time correspondent and writing mentor, Kurt Tidmore, had touched on the issue too, telling me of a conversation he’d had, in which he’d been ‘accused’ of being a ‘monologuist’. As another ‘monologuista’ I thought that was a label to wear with pride. That detached narrator, refined, almost, out of existence, paring it’s Joycean fingernails, is just someone hiding his, or her agenda under a bushel; pretending to pass off their storytelling as a piece of reality that just happens to be running past us in textual form. It’s a spectrum, in truth, between the absolutely concealed, and the absolutely revealed, and fashion is renowned for dancing up and down spectra (or spectrums if I may be so bold). Rather than thinking in terms of right and wrong, perhaps we should snuggle down in whichever part of the spectrum we feel comfortable – which may well change with each passing story – and fight like hell against anyone who tries to evict us!
Talking of telling, my own narratives, in a series of ‘read by BHD’ and ‘Mike Smith reads’, the former short stories, the latter poems, have started to find their way on to Vimeo. This rather neat site has some superlative short (and not so short) films on it, beside which my work shudders to appear. But we can get over that! Take a look, if you have the time and inclination, on http://vimeo.com/search?q=Bhdandme The plan is to put up around a hundred short stories, and a lot fewer poems over the next chrono-clasm, chance arising!
The project raises the thorny issue of matching visuals to voice recordings, something BHDandMe am in two minds about; but I would like a record of me reading some of the stories and poems, and this seems to be a way of doing it. A long time ago I worked with a jazz band, There were several poets: Geoff Holloway, Pat Pogson, and Me, plus Dick and Jackie Chapman’s band, which was based, in the nineteen seventies, in Windermere. I have a recording of us performing in the late seventies (mid seventies perhaps), at The Barn, at the then Charlotte Mason College in Ambleside. The gig was great fun, producing one of the best drum solos, from a man named Kenny Hopper (memory, memory), I have ever been upstaged by! There’s also a Geoffrey Holloway poem that isn’t in his collected works. One of these days I’ll get this tape transcribed digitally! We called ourselves Colloquy, though, Cacophony might have been better – when I listen to it now I’m struck by the fact that so few of the poems and jazz actually support each other. Mostly they sound like the beachhead recordings of an opposed invasion of one art form upon the other! I hope the film/text combinations have done better than that. Leave a comment if you like; enjoy if you can.
The link below will take you to the blog of Carol Ross, editor, and publisher, of the anthology Words for Wellbeing. Working within a NHS framework, Carol has been exploring, and exploiting the value of creative writing as therapy. Recently she joined one of my Facets of Fiction groups. I have always tempered my passion for fiction with the memory of the Cumberland poet Norman Nicholson telling me that ‘I’m not a philosopher, Mike: I’m an entertainer’. The punctuation is mine, and he might even have used the ‘just’ word. I heard Nicholson’s words, and could not find a better role model, but there is an element in writing, in the need to write, that has nothing to do with the need to entertain anyone, certainly not to fart at them.. Perhaps there’s a spectrum – and I don’t mean a stone-age computer – that runs from philosophy to entertainment, and we all dangle from it somewhere along its taut-strung line. If Nicholson warned me, wisely, about taking myself, and perhaps art itself, too seriously, Words for Wellbeing reminds me that what makes you cry, when you’re reading it; when you’re writing it, isn’t just to pass the time. Neither, it seems to me, must we be doing one or the other. Comedy and tragedy, banal and profound, philosophy and entertainment, are not merely not mutually exclusive, but are probably mutually inclusive. So if, like me, you suffer from an over-preponderance of one or the other – or of both, sequentially – Words for Wellbeing might well contain the words for restoring a balance. Mentioning a book title three times in something under three hundred words might suggest a promotional intent – and why not. Writing can be a serious business, whether we’re pursuing a financial gain that will enable us to do something else that we really want to do (professional), or pursuing a personal obsession, enabled by the money we’ve earned elsewhere (amateur). Which part of that particular spectrum we’re strung up from, at any particular time, is of course our concern – though arguably the more so at one end of it than at the other. In Carol’s anthology you’ll find writers clustering at one end, but managing, perhaps because of that, to engage readers at the other. So much for the spectrum, which nobody said had to be a straight line. In fact, it might be thought of as something like a double helix, which I’ve heard of in some other context I’m sure. Worth checking out the link for, I’d say, on anybody’s spectrum. http://trioross.wordpress.com/