Benediction (Hot Natured Cover)

I know I’m breaking my no post before Tuesday, long weekend, rest pledge. But there’s a very good reason for that. This won’t take long, and I don’t want to wait until tomorrow to post this.

On Saturday night, we were directed to this on YouTube by our overnight guests. This wonderful singer – Amy Syed – is our friend’s niece. Her aunt (one of those guests) is massively proud of her…. and rightfully so. Enjoy!:

What one can sometimes learn unexpectedly, eh? This being social media, if you like her singing by all means do please share it.

I’m returning now to my UK Bank Holiday weekend. ;-)

Have a good Monday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

I’m Gonna Write Till I Die

This extract does not do this Kate Colby post full justice. However, an extract of hers rarely does. Click over: she always makes us think, so it is worth reading in its entirety:

…I’ve spent several sleepless nights reading and re-reading the perfectly poetic prose of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. I’ve spent many an afternoon curled up in my windowsill with Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. I’ve spent countless evenings imagining myself a faceless extra, one of the glamorous flappers dancing in a party from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

…What if that one book is all I get from that author? What if the next is an utter disappointment, undeniable proof that my beloved novel is a fluke? What if I read a chapter, a paragraph, a sentence only to discover that the author I thought understood me at the deepest level is a hack, a con artist, who knows nothing of human nature?

And what if, when I am a published author, this happens to one of my readers?…

Of those authors, I know Fitzgerald best. The Great Gatsby is, by consensus of opinion nowadays, his “masterpiece.” Although his output over his career is uneven, he’s written much else that is satisfying.

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“Just write that Austria lost”

Long-time singer/ performer Madonna has readily admitted she’s interested in “being provocative and pushing people’s buttons.” Presumably this rates as another effort at being so. The Guardian:

….Speaking to French radio station Europe 1 in an interview … Madonna said “antisemitism is at an all-time high” in France and elsewhere in Europe, and likened the atmosphere to the period when German fascism was on the ascent.

“We’re living in crazy times,” the 56-year-old singer said, calling the situation “scary,”….

….“It was a country that embraced everyone and encouraged freedom in every way, shape or form – artistic expression of freedom,” Madonna said. “Now that’s completely gone.

“France was once a country that accepted people of colour, and was a place artists escaped to, whether it was Josephine Baker or Charlie Parker.”….

That commentary has unsurprisingly attracted attention in France. If you click on the picture below, or here, it will take you to the interview. Her words are translated into French, but one can hear her speaking English:

Europe 1 screen grab.
Europe 1 screen grab.

Obviously she has read and heard various things over the years, and knows just enoughdinner party” banter to sound informed. Listening to her throughout her career one has never been able to suppress a feeling that she is the proverbial “mile wide and an inch deep.” You never quite believe she knows nearly as much as she appears to position herself as knowing.

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From The Travel Photo Archive

In scoping out potential cover photos for the 3rd book, I paused yesterday to have a dig through old 35mm prints. Remember those (if you’re old enough)? It was called F-I-L-M.

I’d almost forgotten about this one. I can’t believe this is now approaching nineteen years ago. Almost TWO decades!

A famous landmark. In the foreground, a singer of some unidentified nationality was shooting a music video. [Photo by me, 1996.]
The Eiffel Tower (of course). [Photo by me, 1996.]
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Connections

In having posted back on Wednesday about those “ghosts” in our lives, one aspect of remembering deserves expanding: it is, we know, music. It stays with us. In many respects, our lives’ passage is marked by a “soundtrack.”

I had one of those experiences sitting in a small restaurant at lunchtime. During our meal, a “background music” radio station blurted out part of Jean-Jacques Goldman’s Quand La Musique Est Bonne. Released in 1982, it was an “oldie” even two decades ago:

I could have dropped my fork. It’s one song that marks, for me, “two decades” ago and especially hereabouts in France. We subsciously associate music with places, people and events to the point that we often barely realize the connection.

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Last evening over dinner, our chalet “host with the most” sought to bring together a roughly 10 year old French boy, and two English sisters, who we figure are between about 7 and 10.

Mid-morning today, from our La Clusaz chalet. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Mid-morning today, from our La Clusaz chalet. [Photo by me, 2015.]
They were sitting with their respective parents at tables opposite each other. He gave it his best shot at coaxing them together. The kids did lots of giggling, but that was about all.

Finally he shrugged and declared in his friendly voice loud enough that everyone eating overheard, “I see it all the time. They become friends their last day. That’s sad. It should be from the first day.”

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Had a slew of About.me views and new connections in the last few days. I’m still trying to understand what prompts its ebb and flow. Some days so many, others many fewer.

Always intriguing regardless. Some people put A LOT of effort into their profile pages. Makes me feel kinda inferior. ;-)

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Actually have time for some writing today. Going to try to take advantage of it. Have a good Friday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Bluntly Tweeting

Singer James Blunt has been in the “non-musical” news here in Britain in recent days. He got into a dust up with a Labour MP over that politician’s assertion that artists from elite educational backgrounds disproportionately dominate the U.K. entertainment scene. Many onlookers have sided with Blunt.

One of Blunt’s statements in his very public reply published in The Guardian:

….I got signed in America, where they don’t give a stuff about, or even understand what you mean by me and “my ilk”, you prejudiced wazzock, and I worked my arse off. What you teach is the politics of jealousy. Rather than celebrating success and figuring out how we can all exploit it further as the Americans do, you instead talk about how we can hobble that success and “level the playing field”….

The politician came back at him immediately and condescendingly….

Stop being so blooming precious….

Thus perhaps another difference been the U.S. and U.K. In America, I believe a politician would have instead at that point sought to “tone it down” and “make nice.” Advisors would have been nervously at him, warning, “Don’t alienate his fans! They’re potential voters!”

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“Ok, friends, so what are we going to do today?”

Ah, you came back. Thank you.

I apologize for having gone somewhat “professorial” yesterday after I’d stumbled over some in U.S. media’s indifference as to why most European countries have anti-hate speech laws in the first place. That tweet wasn’t the only example. Too many seem to expect everyone to understand us – our history, our heritage, what makes us tick – but appear utterly unable to make the modest effort to try to understand anyone else.

Anyway, after I got that out of my system, I forced myself to get down to more writing. I employed my tried and true method. “Ok, friends,” I looked at the screen and asked myself, “so what are we going to do today?”

I’m learning that no matter how much you write, it never gets easier. The creative process each day is much the same. And regardless of all you’d written before, you still feel only as good as your last paragraph.

The only consolation is after two novels with most of the same characters, by the start of the third one you know pretty well who they all are. You could practically have them write their own dialogue. And if you asked them about something currently happening in the real world, you suspect, uh, they’d have an opinion or two:

“What is this show?” she questioned, raising her eyebrows, incredulous.

James sat on the sofa next to her. She handed him the remote. “It looks like a repeat from a few years ago,” he said. “It’s on live late on, uh, Saturday nights.”

“I cannot believe this, the way they are making fun of Arabs,” she observed, appalled at what she was seeing.

James’s grandmother appeared. They wished her good morning as she took a seat.

Revisiting the television program, James continued. “Oh, they blast everything. Some of it is in bad taste for sure. A lot of it isn’t funny also.”

“You would not see that in France,” Isabelle noted seriously. “We must be careful. We have bombs in France for years. Now you here see the World Trade Center.”

By the end, I think I had some good bits fall onto the “page.” (Technically, into Word on the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.) I’m still in the early, “skeleton” phase. With Frontiers, last year, I learned you should never, ever, consider “the long road” ahead.

However, I made a terrible mistake mentally in briefly doing precisely that. I’d sat back at one point and considered the finished books – which are sitting on my desk an arm’s reach away. For extra inspiration, I also have a group photo propped up of a bunch of us, and it includes our late friend Kam – in the last photo of her we took together.

The picture was suddenly the opposite of inspirational: it depressed me.

The books themselves were, in their ways, worse. Nearly 200,000 words and over 2 years work were staring back at me.

For a moment, I had a chill.

I put on my Sara Bareilles CD.

image

See, I was telling the truth. I wasn’t kidding. I have that CD.

Briefly, I also really wanted to pour myself a drink – which I immediately discounted doing, while alone, before noon!

image

A Sprite had to suffice.

I’d also considered taking a nap. (Obscure – or not so obscure, if you watch the program – Mad Men reference.)

I know I wrote something similar on here last year. Another volume to complete. Doing it AGAIN is a daunting task.

While you may have the book outlined, that’s far different than having the full tale completed. What gets you through is never imagining the “entire” project. Instead, it’s a series of tightly focused, small steps.

Slowly, a day at a time, that frightening void you had been staring at begins to fill itself up.

At least, early on, that’s what you must keep telling yourself.

Have a good Friday, wherever you are in world. :-)

For My Eyes Only – For Now

Yesterday, I was writing at one point while listening to the “Gladiator: More Music From The Motion Picture” CD I’d gotten for Christmas (along with, uh, Sara Bareilles – now, there’s a musical contrast):

Photograph of More Music cover. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Photograph of More Music cover. [Photo by me, 2015.]

At the outset “More Music’s” inner sleeve notes make clear that what’s heard on the CD are often “first drafts” of music from the film, or music that didn’t make it. So technically it isn’t from the released, final “Motion Picture.” (By the way, if you’ve never seen Gladiator, it is really something else. Superb.) Composer Hans Zimmer writes:

image

Musicians can get away with that, whereas a novelist would probably look ridiculous doing something similar.

Every draft I do is dated that one day. The next day is another draft, dated that day, and so on. If I make a subsequent change, I can always go back to an older iteration and re-use something. I never “obliterate” an eclipsed version so it’s lost forever.

I’m continuing in that “approach” with the brand new, third volume’s (very early) manuscript. Doing it that way, I’ve kept hundreds of Word drafts from the two now finished novels. The completed books unsurprisingly often ended up rather different when compared to what was in early drafts.

One example: Names. In Passports, initially “James” and “Béatrice” were known by other names. “James’s” earlier name just didn’t click for me, nor fit within his family scheme I was developing. In fact I now recall “Béatrice” actually had two earlier names. I went for “Béatrice” in the end owing to it having been a common name given to many Frenchwomen born from the 1960s until the mid-1970s. Both new names, to me, worked better in the stories. Now, I can’t imagine them called anything else.

In Frontiers, “Rita” is first mentioned while James’s parents – Jim and Joanne – and grandmother are chatting about his upbringing (while he is safely well out of hearing a continent away):

“Hmm, not high school. They were in junior high. He was fourteen. Ninth grade,” Joanne corrected herself slightly.

“Rita was his first real girlfriend,” Jim turned to Lucy and recalled fondly. “In some class she passed him a note with her phone number. At first, he didn’t want his mother to know.”

“Hiding things from his mother began pretty young with him,” Joanne declared.

She had a different name too, which I changed only about a month before publication. Her previous name was, to me, just too similar to another character’s name. It was as simple as that: I didn’t want any reader confusion.

Understand, though, I won’t reveal here what their earlier names were because I don’t want anyone thinking about any of them, “Hey, Rob, I liked that other name better.” ;-)

Another example. I must have made at least two dozen major changes to the opening chapter of Frontiers. By that I don’t mean stuff here and there. I mean I shredded and re-shredded the entire thing – background, location, happenings, nearly all of it – repeatedly until I was satisfied with it.

I did that because several times after I’d re-read it, I still didn’t like it. “It doesn’t convey what I want,” my shoulders slumped again and again. “And it’s the first chapter!”

I can’t see myself as a writer ever releasing the whole “first draft” of a finished book to show readers “the process.” The “sneak peeks” I had shared into Frontiers over the year were just that – and largely finalized. The final version is THE STORY. Looking back on them now, the earlier drafts, frankly, often make me cringe.

Anne stepped up to him. “Oh, yes, of course.” She added, “You’re turning into a silly old Frenchman. Do me a favor, if you’re looking to make a fool of yourself with a girl fifty years younger than you, at least wait until after I’m dead.”

My books and “papers” will be left first to my wife. I suppose she’d leave them to my niece and nephews. Unless of course Oxford wants them. (Hey, my nephew goes there. ;-) )

What they do with them after I’m gone someday is entirely their call. In that, I suppose I see things a bit like Isabelle’s mother, ripping good-naturedly into Isabelle’s father in Frontiers. What happens after I’m dead, well, happens.

Have a good Tuesday. :-)

I Admit It: I Like Sara Bareilles

Yesterday, ending their nearly week-long, post-Christmas visit, we drove my in-laws home to Enfield. After depositing them, and a quick lunch, we returned to Wiltshire. It’s about a 2 hour, 15 min drive each way.

So Mrs. Nello drove to London and I drove back. During the day, she began to develop a bit of a cold. No surprise: her parents had them too. Half of England seems to have the sniffles at the moment. (I’m still okay, but fully expect now to get sick also within days.)

The weather had been great, but cold (by English standards) – clear and frosty:

Frosty Wiltshire farmland, not far from our house. Photographed earlier in the week. [Photo by me, 2014.]
Frosty Wiltshire farmland, not far from our house. Photographed earlier in the week. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Friday was warmer, sunny and pleasant; but that was apparently a blip. Wednesday into Thursday, frost gave way to the rain. It is rainy again this morning. (I can hear it hitting the house. It’s about 7 AM as I write this.) Everyone has been mostly inside, sharing germs.

At one point, I glanced over at Mrs. Nello as I drove; and I saw she was snoozing. Much of the M4 is long, straight and dull – especially in the dark of an early evening. Tired of the radio, I decided to play a Christmas gift CD.

That’s right: it was a Sara Bareilles CD.

And I like it. “The Blessed Unrest.” That one.

Eh, men reading this: don’t judge me. I like her music and her voice. I especially like “Brave”:

SaraBareillesBrave

In one of her other songs on that CD, she sings about Queens, New York too.

Okay, yeh, another song happens to be entitled “Little Black Dress.” Never mind that. I didn’t know that song existed until I got the CD.

Wait. Why am I justifying myself? I have nothing to be guilty about!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re smirking. But I can prove I’m a man. Here. Look. These are the books I received for Christmas. Here’s the list:

A Subaltern on the Somme.”
The Battle of Kursk.”
Wellington: The Iron Duke.”
War and Remembrance” (for after I finish “The Winds Of War”).
General Richard Montgomery and the American Revolution: From Redcoat to Rebel.”
Trajan: Optimus Princeps.”

Does it get any more “guy” than the likes of those?

Hmm. Suddenly I also remember attending an Alison Moyet concert (longer ago than I now care to recall) with a girlfriend. At some point, it hit me that I was one of about the “50 guys” in the audience of a few thousand. Or so it seemed anyway.

[Shrug.] I suppose we never really change. As a teen, and in college, I always gravitated more toward “girl friends” than “guy friends.” I had guy pals, but I always preferred hanging out with women.

There were guys who made fun of that tendency. Somehow, you’re supposed to want to do lots of “guys only” stuff – with no women around.

I’ve never understood that. “Men’s only” clubs? Seriously? Why the hell would you – as a man – not want women around?

Probably to feel freer to lie about the women you don’t actually know, that’s why.

Eventually, those same “guys only” types also end up wondering how you know the cool girls you do.

It’s not rocket science. Younger men, take note. ;-)

Have a good – and healthy – Saturday, wherever in the world you are reading this. :-)

Obsessed By You

Yes, I wrote just the other day that I planned some time off. Well, I lasted two days. I have plunged now into fully outlining what had been the sketchy ideas I had had for the third novel.

Although they are naturally exasperating at times, I am missing my fictional “friends” from Passports and Frontiers. If you ever in real life feel a bit isolated and alone (even when surrounded by people who love you; I have had bouts of that for as long as I can remember), you discover pouring yourself into characters forces the mind elsewhere. You hope your efforts in the end grab readers and your characters and story take them away from some of their own worries and troubles – and perhaps even help them in some small ways too.

Beginning of the outline of the next volume.
Beginning of the outline of the next volume.

Once again, I’m aiming to finish in about 12 months. The new manuscript is still untitled (although I’ve got an idea for one that I suspect will be the title), but if you know the first two books this coming third will follow much the same form and style. Staring back at us from the pages will be most of the characters we’ve met before – eventually to take us roughly to three years from where the series started “in 1994.” There will also be several new ones, and introductions to some we’ve heard merely mentioned in the first two books.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a rock guitarist.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a rock guitarist.

Back on Christmas Day, with my 12 year old nephew and 17 year old niece, I was watching music videos of some of the “all time greatest Christmas songs.” Many were by artists who, now, in 2014, are long past retirement age. Yet many are still out there recording and performing live.

I could only smile at some of the clothes and haircuts of decades ago. Did we actually look like that? “Welcome to 1984,” I joked to my niece at one point.

If those singers are still at it today, it’s because they can’t stop. One supposes they like – and likely need – the money; but we all need money of course. What they also love is the audience, and bringing joy to the faces of their long-time fans.

I’m learning we as authors are not all that different. We may not sing for our supper, but writing for an appreciative readership is certainly much the same thing. I’m finding it is something of an addiction, and can even turn into an obsession. ;-)

Hope you’re having a good Sunday, wherever you are in the world. :-)