Friday, July 29, 2016

The Art of the Re-write

29th July 2016

A lot of my time these days is spent talking and thinking about American politics, and so I suppose my post today ought to be on that topic. But I am actually more than fed-up with this circus. I'll watch again when the clown jumps off the platform into a kiddie pool.

The Republican convention was like a really second rate act in a cheesy night club; the Democrats look positively adult in comparison. During the last election, a political journalist on TV described the American electorate as "sophisticated." Well, eat your hat. The American electorate these days looks anything but. I am with Bill Maher on this one. American voters on the whole are about as gullible as the German and Italian populace were before they elected Hitler and Mussolini respectively. If you can't see through a narcissistic nut when he is acting like a narcissistic nut, then you deserve what you get.

I keep waiting for half the population to wake up.

But I have top resign myself to the fact that it may not happen. Even Michael Moore has decided that Trump is going to win.

So, moving right along: I am a third of the way through the re-write of the last book in my time travel series.  Apart from taking out the preaching I was mentioning a couple of posts ago (well, most of it. I am a preacher's kid, after all!)  I have been moving things around a lot. It's a bit like lining up a photo shoot, going around and putting people in different places, only it isn't people or characters I'm moving so much as scenes. Thank God Almighty for cut-and-paste! I usually have an inkling when scenes are out of place as I am writing the first draft, but I am very good at denial.

But inevitably one of my readers will say, "Mmmm. That scene really intrudes here." Then I have to take my head out of the sand and do something about it.
I'm thinking that this version of the story is way better than the first. But then I also think that without any doubt, old orange-comb-over is going to lose the general election. Not being an American citizen, I don't get to vote, but everyone else had better not get complacent. Get out and vote, people, or you're going to go down on the wrong side of this historical moment! The tide will come in and your head will still be below sea-level.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Fanning Yourself

22nd July 2016

They say that being famous gets old really quickly. I can't say I wouldn't like to try it for a day or two, but it does seem to be one of those butterfly illusions you can never quite catch and make work for you. Those multi-million-dollar stars of film want you for them, but not really near them. It's just the way it goes - take a line from young Justin Bieber: stop throwing shit on the stage for me.

I was once at a John Denver concert (yes, John Denver - I admit it! Much maligned singer/songer writer that he was - forget "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," and think  "On the Road" or "The Game is Over." He wrote as many good songs as James Taylor (whom I also admire) but didn't have the requisite edge...hadn't actually been in a mental hospital or lost grey matter to LSD.)
So, anyway, off track - I was at this concert, and there he was up on stage doing what he did best,  when a woman who was rather advanced in age and should have known better, arose from her seat on the aisle and headed towards the stage (where are those security guards when you need them?) She walked up in a rather embarrassed lope, and tossed him some cheerfully wrapped present with nice paper and ribbon. I imagine she had probably knit him a hat or something she could weave a bit of herself into. It was a cringe-worthy moment. John stooped down to pick it up and said, "Thank ye, Darlin'," with as much disgust as is humanly possible without actually wretching.

Just for the record, I don't live in Aspen because of John Denver, but it was a nice perk for as long as he lived here, too, before he went off flying and someone blew up his plane with sugar in the gas tank (This is a personal conspiracy theory of mine.) But I did run into him once outside the liquor store (well, everyone has their vice.)
"OMG," I thought. "There's John Denver!"
It was him, too, wearing a blue down waistcoat with a big sunburst on the shoulder. And, because I figured it was probably the only time I was ever going to get within five feet of the man (which turned out actually not to be true), I decided to look him right in the eye. I stared, and he realised I was staring and the look he gave me back conveyed something like, "Say anything, and I'll kill you."
So fandom comes crashing down. It's the nature of the beast. What it says is we all need to get a life and stop thinking that being in the proximity of stars makes us burn a little brighter. Actually, it extinguishes what little light we have.
JD used to open his shows with the line: "You can join in with the chorus, but let me do the verses. It's my show." Step away, little fan!  Justin Bieber is right: keep your little knitted hats and your sense of self to yourself!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Show don't Tell and Go Tell It on the Mountain

15th July 2016

I have started my re-write of the third and last book in my Veil Of Time series. I am ready to be done with this project and get the book out to my agent and then onto the shelves. Because of a tendency I have towards preachiness, much of this rewrite has to do with making sure I get off the bully pulpit and stick to the story. Showing, not telling, is the first law of fiction and should be the mantra of every writer. Why is it then so easy to forget? It's easy in this book because I have so much I want to drive home, and allowing the reader to make the jumps themselves is an act of faith.  Rewriting this time means taking myself into the corner where I am at my best as a poet in the craft of spinning words.

I keep imagining I will stop this art of spinning at some point - once all my backlog of books is out, I say. But then I have been coddling this new idea for a novel lately, actually quite an obvious next step after my forays into the moment in history when the church exterminated paganism. It  would be about Yeshua Ben Yosef (aka Jesus) before he became a holy icon. Coincidently, there's a brand new film about him starring Ewan MacGregor.

I know I ought to be glad for my countryman, but, good god, do we really need another European Jesus? With blue eyes and a Scottish accent to boot!  Ewan MacGregor, away you go and do a film about the glens and the heather, dig up some of that good Scottish history we were never taught at School.  Then you'll look the part.
But let's stop this endless rehashing of New Testament stories. They are after all just stories  cherry-picked from a collection that is very often downright contradictory.
The impetus for my new novel would not be the Bible, then, but something Oscar Wilde said to WB Yeats: what if Yeshua Ben Yosef were to zoom forward into our time, what would he think of how the Christian religion came to use him: as an excuse for hate and guns and persecution. The lake-preacher turned into a world religion of war.
So if there's any way to write this in the poet's corner, I'd like to do a Kazantzakis here and put the whole Christian thing on its ear.  The appeal in it for me is that somehow I think Yeshua might approve.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Bombs Bursting In Air

8th July 2016

Independence Day. The fourth of July. Parades and barbeques and fireworks! Americans know how to throw a celebration. All very splendid and enjoyable. And the celebration of a nation freeing itself from colonial suppression is, of course, close to my heart. But let's bear in mind that not all nationalisms are created equal. Pride in a nascent country is not the same as the will to go out, as Britain did, and make colonies of other peoples. I stand behind countries getting themselves back on their feet, but I do not approve of rabid nationalism.
I never, for instance, stand for any national anthem, because I think it is just so much beating of the chest and calling "Cock-a-doodle-do!"

In the British anthem, we have God Save The Queen/King: O Lord our God arise, Scatter her/his enemies. (Especially if her/his enemies are trying to undo her/his empire!)  Britain has another national song called Jerusalem with a whole lot of nonsense about Jesus Christ, a peasant from the middle east, walking about England's green and pleasant land. (Methinks he would have looked less holy under an umbrella!)
When it comes to nationalistic hogwash, America, of course, has its fair share. O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave oe'r the land of the free and the home of the brave. To swallow that, you have to engage in some serious redefining of terms. By "free" is meant white European male, and by "brave" is certainly not intended the real braves, those few natives who managed to escape extermination.

This kind of nationalism will always try to conflate its expansionism with religion. It's been doing it from the moment the Roman Empire took on Christianity as its standard bearer. If you're going to go out into the world and claim other lands, you'd better have god on your side. The much later Christian Doctrine of Discovery issued by some Roman pope in the fifteenth century carried the tradition on.  It's how the west was won. How the Middle East is still being won. Or so thought Tony Blair and George Bush when they were brewing their felonious little plans. Eventually, but not in our lifetime, the Middle Eastern countries will celebrate their own independence from colonialism, with fireworks instead of bombs. Now, that's a thought! I wish I could be around to see it.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Centre Cannot Hold

July 1st, 2016

Americans have this wonderful expression: Life turns on a dime. Every so often, life certainly seems to. You're going on with business as usual, getting up in the morning, reaching for the teabags, going to your desk.....same old, same many more cliches can I use before the sentence is up...and then everything changes. Two planes hit the twin towers and nothing is ever the same again. You fall asleep at the wheel and end up in a wheelchair. Or, on a lighter note, your agent calls you and tells you he has just had a six figure offer for one of your books from a major publisher. In fact, since I'm enjoying this, let's take the fantasy one step further - all the major publishers are in a bidding war for your latest book and the offers are making publishing history.

So, in every writer's dream you go from slurping tea in the early morning light to walking down the red carpet of literary history with cameras flashing and money dropping down from heaven. Why not? History is made of moments like this. Britain is right in the middle of one of those fairy pirouettes. London Bridge, as the nursery rhyme goes, is falling down. Pulled down by the people, no less, and the Oxbridge toffs are jumping off like fleas.

Who'd a thunk it?' - another apt American expression. This green and pleasant land, this bastion of decorum, is heading down the toilet. Scotland is trying to succede and Ireland is trying to be one country again. Just like the old days. Perhaps all that is happening, all that ever happens, is that history is spiralling back on itself. Just as my man Yeats said it would do. And doing it on the tiny circumference of a small silver coin.