You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘literature’ tag.
BHD’s salacious story of dark veined Cubans and smooth skinned Connestogas (cigars!) Hecho A Mano is among Liars Leagues’ TOP TEN STORIES of all time (well, their first 10 years!)…. You can vote for it too….on the link below! Hecho a Mano, by the way, means – roughly translated – a hand job!
OK. So. Me’s in the Threshold’s Features Competition Longlist. Clap, clap, clap.
I tole him. Get a life. It’s a long list for cryin’ out loud. Whaddya wan? A fanfare? Sheesh!
Long List! I ask ya? He’s so pleased wit’ himself. Pathetic! Whatcha gonna do?
Local writer and Creative Writing teacher, Darren Harper, asked if he could interview view me, in BHD mode, for a film to be made by film-maker Phil Hewitson of Toliver Productions. That put me on alert to think about what I might want to say, and to be seen and heard saying, about the process of writing short stories.
I found myself looking for the metaphor I’d use to describe what I think I’m doing when I’m setting out to write a story. I’ve used, and written about, such metaphors before. A favourite, which I use to explain the distinction I see between the novel and the unrelated short story form, is that one is a cruise and the other a crossing. But I was looking for a metaphor to capture what the process might be, rather than the product.
One that might suffice, is to describe the writing as analogous to climbing a mountain. Mountaineers will often say, when you ask them – bemused – why on earth they do it, that it is because it is there; and there might be a similar passion behind the writing of stories. Each one, for me at any rate, is an attempt on something – to capture a moment of perception, to reveal the hidden depths in something glimpsed, overheard – rarely imagined. Getting the story down, and making the capture, or the revelation, is like scaling the peak, reaching the summit.
And publication then becomes something like having your photograph taken on the top. The photograph isn’t the point of the exercise, only evidence that the point has been achieved. Publication isn’t always the point of the writing, nor its success, only a record of it having been done.
Of course, publication might be the point of some other endeavour, to which the writing is merely contributory, but then, perhaps we’d have to look for another metaphor.
There are several – some might say many – pairings of books and their film adaptations on my shelves. One pair that gets taken down and watched and read more often than most is Isabel Colegate’s novel The Shooting Party and Geoff Reeve’s film of the same name. I’ve written about this pair before as an example of the ‘faithful’ adaptation, but that fidelity doesn’t mean it is a slavish copy, a filmic re-enactment of the scenes readers might be expected to imagine (as has been said of the film version of McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, for example).
Recently I watched and read, the Colegate/Reeve pairing with a closer eye than usual, looking, to begin with, for what I thought of as filmic equivalents to the told story’s content. Perhaps because Reeve has captured the tone and characters of the film so well and in many cases has replicated word for word the dialogue of the told story, I was surprised to recognise just how many changes I had not been conscious of when the watching and reading were weeks and perhaps months apart – or when the attention to detail was overwhelmed by the enjoyment of absorption in the story, told and shown!
In fact, even where those dialogues had been lifted ‘faithfully,’ they had often been placed differently in the film to where they lay in the original, both in time, and place, and on several occasions had been put into the mouths of different characters. Many had been turned from internal monologues, to comments made in public.
Speaking on the DVD ‘specials’, Rupert Fraser, who played Lionel, remarks that there is only one scene in the film that is not in the book – the fancy dress scene that takes place on the stairwell at Knebworth (which took the role of Nettleby). I have said as much – and written it! But it is not, in fact, the case. There is at least one other – where Lionel and Olivia, in the film alone, go riding and have a faithfully reported conversation from the book – but not at the same point in the story nor in the same location. Other scenes have their conversational and incidental content switched around, the dinner party, in the film, for example, allowing words that are only thought to be exchanged aloud and thus made available to the watcher as they were to the reader.
The point I want to make is not so much about the particular novel and film, but about the fluidity of of stories – how conversations can be manipulated, moved from place to place, and time to time, and mouth to mouth, without obviously changing their significance in the story, and, at first glance, or indeed any ‘glance’, without changing our perception of the characters that speak them.
Yet on a close examination it might be that a story is changed, subtly, and that its characters will be different, and not so subtly? One case I would give is where, in both versions, Sir Randolph, the key reader-proxy and opinion touchstone of the story, talks to Aline, the mistress of Charles Farquhar (in the book), and of Sir Reuben Hergesheimer (in the film), and accuses her of ‘wickedness’ in her speculations about the ‘affair’ between Olivia and Lionel. In the former version this is quite a long conversation, but in the latter is equally brief. More sharply potent perhaps, is where, in the film, Sir Randolph confesses to Hergesheimer that copying the Sandringham shoots almost bankrupted the estate. In the book, though the rest of the conversation does take place, Sir Randolph only recalls this to memory. He does not share it with his house guest. The shift in our perception of Sir Randolph may be slight, but is in a definite direction: In the first case what he is shown taking an interest in seems to me to be narrower and more focused in the film, broader in the novel. In the second, the told Sir Randolph’s reticence seems more in keeping with his character than the film’s more expansive version – yet, without that remark the audience of the shown version could not know that particular detail.
This isn’t offered as a criticism, only as an observation, and one that might support the contention that the business of shown, rather than told stories is one of sharper focus – streamlined is a word I have heard used by film-makers in relation to the adaptation process. With a novel our imaginations, sparked by what we are told, might run more freely, than with a film, where we must observe what is put before us.
Of course, whether or not considering this helps, when it comes to writing a story, might be a moot point. Another story set in the past but not made into a film (yet) is BHD’s A Penny Spitfire, available here (but only for a couple of months more).
Pewter Rose Press is closing down. This is one of the best independent small publishers that I have encountered.
I first came across Pewter Rose at the launch of Vivien Jones’ Perfect 10; short stories ‘about big girls and big women’ (and so much more!). It wasn’t only the quality of the stories, but the professionalism of the publisher, Anne McDonnell, that impressed me. That was the reason I sent my novella A Penny Spitfire for her to consider. That was published in 2011, and a year later the short story collection Talking To Owls followed.
Both of these titles, along with those by other Pewter Rose authors, will be available from the publishers – click on the images to link – until 31st of March 2017, so why not take this chance to get yourself some copies.
BHD on A Penny Spitfire – It all started with a photo album, and a conversation. Why, I asked my cousin – who was a decade older than me – were my parents in the nineteen fifties, so dour, compared to the laughing figures in our black white photographs from before the war? The war changed everything, she told me. When your dad came home, he wasn’t the same. So far as I knew he hadn’t been in any horrendous battles. Yet something had shaken the foundations of his life. Oh yes, and while I was clearing out my mother’s house I found a penny spitfire that he had made. [that penny spitfire dropped from my lapel after the book was published…I heard it tinkle as it landed, and looked around to see what might have fallen…but didn’t! Almost like a scene from the book – its job done, it was moving on]
BHD on Talking To Owls – I can’t remember, from my school days, ever being told about ‘the short story’. It was novels all the way. But once I’d discovered the form, whilst taking my M Litt at Glasgow University’s Crichton campus in Dumfries, I realised that I had been reading them for a long time – in Kipling, and W.E.Johns in my childhood, and in the Sci-Fi stories of various annuals, collections and anthologies. I’ve been BHD since the day I was born, but have only known it for the past twenty years. What better form in which to explore the people I might have been, and the voices I might have had?
.Cent magazine has one too……(a story by BHD ….hasn’t he been busy…sheesh!)
Under the Radar magazine of poetry and short fiction #18 is now out, and includes a story by BHD….
Here’s a Christmassy sort of story from BHD, along with BHDandMe’s very best wishes for the festive season: have a cool Yule!
A Winter Tale
Rav had watched through the window of his shop all morning, putting down his book every few paragraphs, and staring across the road. It was a beautiful day. The sun was blazing down, making the snow and ice sparkle like Christmas decorations. Curves of frost stuck to the corners of the glass, like the ones he’d sprayed on from a can in previous years.
He was watching pedestrians come round the corner from Market Street into Bank Street. It was as they made the turn they slipped, and as each one did so, Rav felt his muscles tighten, as if he were the one who might be about to fall. Of course, they didn’t all fall. Most of them just wobbled, threw out an arm to one side, two arms, one to either side, and righted themselves, and his muscles would relax again; but every now then one would go down, and Rav’s muscles would contract, and he’d grit his teeth, almost feeling the impact as they hit the pavement.
He had watched four already this morning fail to make the turn, crashing down onto their sides, feet briefly showing above the snow, shopping bags spilling their contents. People came to help them of course, seemingly able to run across the very ice that they had slipped on. They had helped them to their feet, picked up their fallen shopping, repacked their bags, and sent them on their way. At least no-one had been seriously injured yet, although the day before, when it had not been sunny and the snow had still been falling, an ambulance had been called to take one victim away.
They really ought to get these pavements sorted out, Rav said.
I know, Bev said, examining her nails.
Rav was picturing the shovel they kept at the back of the shop. Not really a shovel, more of a scoop. They used it for the ornamental gravels. But it was made of metal, and was the size of one of those old fashioned shovels you’d use for coal. If you got down to it, and put a bit of shoulder behind it, you could quite well clear a few yards of pavement without too much trouble.
In fact the pavements had been cleared already, technically. The council workers had been around and had shovelled a person wide gully through the snow down the centre line, with offshoots to one side where there were shop doorways, and the other where there were pedestrian crossings. But since then there had been a slight thaw, and melt-water had run out from the piles of snow and had frozen again, leaving a thin and very slippery coating of ice.
I should go across and clear it, he said. Obviously, it was that patch on the corner that was causing all the problems. People were managing perfectly well on the straight. It was when they came to change direction that they experienced difficulties.
It’s not your pavement, Bev said, looking up.
That was true. It was the pavement outside the sports shop. Quite clearly so. Anybody could see that. Rav could see it; but he could also see the people falling over on it.
But I can see it, Bev, he said. In fact he doubted whether his motives were entirely altruistic. The tension of watching, his heart thumping in his chest as people made the perilous crossing around the sports shop corner out of Market Street was doing him no good. He wondered if perhaps it was for his own benefit that he felt the need to take responsibility.
An old lady jerked and jolted around the corner, making him wince. She steadied again and walked on safely. Rav blew out a long breath and sucked in another.
I cannot take much more of this, he said.
Don’t look, Bev suggested, peering at her nails again.
Don’t look? How can I not look, when I know it is going on outside my own front door?
I bet they’re not looking at the sports shop, Bev said, prodding carefully at a cuticle.
That was true too. She was undoubtedly right. In the sports shop they would not be looking. They would be watching their large television screens, upon which they showed endless films of people climbing mountains, and surfing, and hang gliding, and sliding down steep slopes on toboggans and skis, in the snow and ice. Why would they want to look out of their window? Besides, the sun did not favour them the way it favoured Rav, when it came to looking out.
Perhaps, he reasoned, if they did look out, and saw what was going on they too would want to do something about it. He weighed up the situation. To go over there and to tell them what was happening would be presumptuous. It would imply that he believed there was a fault on their part. They would be either insulted or embarrassed, and he had no wish to cause either embarrassment or offence. Yet, to carry over the small shovel and to begin clearing the pavement under their very noses would be an equal insult, an equal embarrassment.
What if, seeing him work, they came to a sudden realisation of the situation, and of their failure to react to it? Mortification. He would be giving them no chance to rehabilitate the situation. Every time thereafter that he saw one of them unlocking the shutters in the early morning or locking them up again at night or passing on the street on some errand they would feel an unspoken reproach that he did not bear towards them, yet which he could not mention, as that would in itself imply that he had cause to.
Yet, he thought, as another spasm of splaying arms attracted his attention, there was an accident waiting to happen, an accident that would happen outside their shop, and within sight of his own. A further thought occurred. People would say of him, Rav, that he had stood and watched and done nothing. They would be thinking that he had watched in the hope of seeing someone fall, much as people are said to watch car racing in the hope of seeing a crash. What sort of person would that make him?
Resolve hardened in him, and he turned away from the window.
Bev, who like Rav, thought more than she spoke, had the little shovel in her hand already and offered it to him.
I have a better idea, he said, waving a finger at her, one that will save all embarrassments.
He had been reading The Wooden Horse, a wartime escape story, in which a secret tunnel was dug, out under the wire of a prison camp.
I am going out for a moment, he said, and he helped himself to a five-pound note from the till.
Rav emptied his trouser pockets into his jacket, and made sure he had the little penknife with him. Then he set off at a careful pace, across the road, past the sports shop and taking great care at the corner, into Market Street.
Good deeds, he believed, should be done unostentatiously. The merits within them were lessened, he thought, by the discomforts they brought to others, who might have perfectly understandable reasons for their own inactions. He would clear away the ice and the people in the sports shop would not even know it had been done.
He bought two small bags of salt from the mini-market on Market Street, pierced them with the penknife, stuffed one, slit down, into each of his trouser pockets and set off back towards Bank Street. In the book the escapees had been faced with the problem of what to do with the soil that they had dug out of their tunnels. Clearly they could not leave piles of it lying around for the guards to see. So, they had distributed it all over the sports ground at the camp, by dribbling it from the pockets of their trousers.
Rav was thinking with pleasure of this when he arrived at the corner and realised that he had not cut holes in his pockets through which to dribble his ice-busting salt. Perhaps that was why, when he reached the corner, he was struggling with both hands in his trouser pockets. The people in the sports shop saw him wobble briefly and then disappear from view below the level of the window-sill.
Ay up, mate. You all right?
Yes, thank you. I am fine, Rav said, looking up at the sports shop manager.
You’ve dropped something, the man said, bending down beside him. The two bags, from which the salt dribbled slowly, had slipped out onto the ice. They’ve split, the man said, trying to stop the flow.
Salt, Rav said, fearing the man might think it something worse.
We could do with some of that out here, the man said.
I was dipping, as I’m wont to do from time to time, into that fund of short stories, Hammerton’s The World’s Thousand Best Stories, and came upon The House of Fahy, by Somerville and Ross. These two have always made me think of cowboys for some reason. Perhaps it’s down to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which would explain the Ross, if not the Somerville. (I’ve never managed to track down any of the stories by Ross & Cromarty – I think Cromarty withheld the copyright after Ross’s death, something to do with a writing-buddies’ fall-out over royalties perhaps…)
The House of Fahy concerns a dog called Maria, a boat trip leading to a shipwreck, and a landfall leading to the eponymous house, which in turn leads to the loss of a parrot! It’s a funny story, with that slow-burn style of comedy that builds incrementally to the comic climax, itself overtopped by the delightful last line that both wraps up, and unexpectedly moves the story on another notch!
It’s told in the voice of a grumpy husband who is a poor sailor, but whose wife has no trouble with rough weather and choppy seas. I can vouch for the realism. This little dynamic alone gives cause for some great one liners. ‘I was not feeling ill, merely thoroughly disinclined for conversation.’ Comedy using the first person voice can reveal the narrator failing to conceal their true nature, or failing to see it. Here’s the narrator commenting on the dog, which has followed them to the coast, and paddled out to the yacht alongside the wherry: ‘This was Maria, feigning exhaustion, and noisily treading water at the boat’s side.’ I take that to suggest drowning, by the way!
Of course, we might not notice that latter, had we not been alerted to the technique by the more obvious earlier examples. The story opens with a long paragraph focusing on the dog, including an incident with a piece of beef, intended to be used for luncheon. ‘all we can do with it now’ the cook says, ‘is run it through the mincing machine for the major’s sandwiches.’ Later, we’re told that the ‘sandwiches […] tasted suspiciously of roast beef.’
These little asides make the story a lesson in detail, and its uses. The voyage, with the narrator’s oblique references to the sea-sickness growing more and more explicit, concentrates more on the activities of the human characters, with only brief reminders that Maria is present. After all, it is not really a story about the dog, but about the narrator, and his relationship with his family and boating friends. It is his, and their, behaviour, rather than Maria’s that sustains the comedy, during the voyage, the shipwreck, the landing, and the night spent in the Fahy House. But Maria edges her way back into the limelight, with the appearance of the Fahy parrot. It is in fact a cockatoo, and it makes itself a nuisance. Maria, helpfully, kills it, which puts the castaways, who have already done several pieces of damage to the property, in a difficult situation. Help is it hand though, for as morning breaks, they see the ship, having floated off the reef it ran aground on, sailing past on ‘a light northerly breeze’. They decide to quit the house, having secretly buried the deceased bird in the garden. The focus finally shifts back to Maria, who (which?) closes the story in an unexpected way, but one that reminded me of a much later shaggy dog story, told by Mike Harding, and involving a rabbit!
Somerville and Ross, when they were not riding the range, were best known for their The Experiences of an Irish R.M. What I hadn’t known, but do now, is that they were two Irish ladies.