if I don’t paint I can’t write, in fact if I don’t paint I lose the plot . . . it takes a while, months, sometimes longer, but here it comes again . . . sorry, got to go and paint . . . if anything decent comes out of my forthcoming painting session I’ll post it here, you’ll be the first to know . . . back in a bit . . . . . . it’s later . . . well, that didn’t go very far, there was a fair bit of tidying up and sorting out paints and brushes and canvases, not to mention collecting all the other stuff that had accumulated in the shed and putting it out of the way . . . then it was too hot to paint in there so very little got done (painting-wise) . . . then there was cooking and generally mooching about and just being unfocused . . . and now . . . here’s the result . . .
I had one of those writerly moments earlier; you know, when you have a brilliant idea for a piece of writing; something clever and insightful, something entertaining and wise, something beautiful and exciting, and all encapsulated in the same simple concept.
The words blossomed in my head, metaphors leapt about like lemurs and stunning similes smiled at me.
Right, I thought, I’m going to blog this. This’ll have ‘em dancing on their keyboards – now how do I begin? Ah yes – fantastic, that opening sentence will slay them, and then I’ll say that, and then I’ll bring that in and then I’ll end it like that – wow.
So, I hopped out of the armchair and skipped jauntily over to the laptop.
I’ll put the kettle on, I thought. Now where’s that box of cheating chai, and I’m sure there are some of those melt-in-the-mouth chocolate coated ginger biscuits left in the cupboard.
Damn ants, you only need a grain of sugar to escape from the spoon and they’re all over the place like an army of Eng-er-land supporters on speed. Better clean up a bit.
(This is a personal note to myself – please ignore.)
I’m a writer. There’s no doubt about that, as you would see if you bothered to explore my website. It’s mostly about writing and most of it has been written – by me of course. Problem is ‘writer’ is too wide a term to be meaningful to anyone who doesn’t identify as a ‘writer’. I mean, what am I? I write blog posts like this, and . . . well . . . here’s a list of the other things I write:
Plays for the theatre
But if I was forced to define more finely what it is that makes me a writer then I would say: “Call me a novelist”. I would say this even though I have not published a new novel for three years because there is something divine about writing a novel, something that takes a direct line to the absolute essence of my being – it is an experience, or a conglomeration of experiences, that means everything, forever.
Extract from Work in Progress novel – The Flying Boy
You. You.You. It’s all about you isn’t it? Yes of course, you think. Who else is it going to be about? There is only you, in your life anyway. Is that sociopathic? Or some kind of pathic? You only know about yourself. You can’t know about anyone else – only what you are allowed to know by whatever this universe is. Ah – there it is, it’s about a u-niverse, so, yes, it is all about you.
But you still have to breathe air, share, and even you admit you don’t know everything. In fact you know hardly anything, possibly nothing. For example you tell people you are writing meta fiction but you don’t even know what meta fiction is until you look it up in the great big dictionary in the sky, just to check that you aren’t talking crap and could be called out by a first year literature student. But you are talking crap aren’t you? You are talking crap because for one thing the great dictionary told you that what you think is meta fiction probably isn’t – for one thing it seems to be spelled metafiction as one word, and the rest of it, well, there’s too many subtleties in the definitions of the word and not many come close to the sort of thing you’re writing. So yeah, you are writing something that is probably not metafiction, but you’re not sure – maybe it’s meta fiction or even meta-fiction.
So what. You’re not writing according to some spurious literary rule. You are writing the truth. You don’t know who Jill is. This is important. Because Jill is . . . Jill is what? Hmm. You can’t deal with all this now. You have bigger fish to fry, or maybe you would if you fried fish. But you don’t fry fish; you don’t do anything with or to fish except look at them now and again in a friend’s pond or dead on the slabs of a fishmonger in the market.
There was that time, maybe thirty years ago, when you were involved with fish more than you wanted to be, more than you should have been. It was an actual fishing competition organised by your brother. He was a fisherman. Not a professional fisherman. He didn’t sell them or anything, though he no doubt traded the odd fish for some other advantage because that’s the sort of person he was, but he had a boat and loads of tackle, and he organised a sea fishing competition. You helped him by creating and managing a little computer database to record the details of the fish the competitors brought back to the weigh-in.
Stop! Pardon. Pause at least. OK.
When you’re writing like this it’s like applying the first daubs/splodges/lines of paint of an abstract painting on a canvas. You step back to look and at first it’s just random marks, random colours, random shapes and textures. Then you catch a hint of form. It starts to mean something and you start to realise that that meaning was there all along, it possessed your hands, your eyes, your brain. It used you to express itself. This is a divine thing – its form and its meaning will reveal themselves.
(Martin Amis is your inspiration. Is he? Yes. Every time you read something about him or by him or see his name on a book cover you find yourself writing seconds later. Is that true? You’re doing it now. Ah! OK.)
Now really restart, resume maybe.
So helping your brother out at the fishing competition means sitting in a damp portakabin behind a makeshift desk, typing bits of information into a computer database. Things like contestant name and number, boat name, time of weigh, species of fish weighed, weight of fish.
Each species of fish has a specimen weight attached to it. So, a sardine say, has a specimen weight of a few grams, while a great white shark has a specimen weight of almost two tonnes or whatever. Not that you weigh any sardines or great white sharks, though there is a shark the size of a spaniel dog and some kind of flatfish with the circumference of a saucer.
At the end of the day there is a winner, the person whose fish is bigger than its species’ specimen weight by the largest factor. The spaniel-sized shark doesn’t win but the saucer sized flatfish might do. You can’t remember. You don’t want to remember.
All that must have been around the same time , late 80s, early 90s, that you read the book London Fields by Martin Amis, coincidentally, you’ve just read an interview with him in the Guardian (online) about the film that has just been released based on that book – London Fields (the film is rubbish apparently). Maybe that’s the reason you’re thinking about your brother’s fishing competition, some feint connection from three decades ago.
So yeah, maybe you have to admit that Martin Amis is your inspiration, your muse perhaps? I wonder what he would think about that? Being a muse for an also-ran novelist. You know what he is. He’s not a muse, he’s the sort of arrogant male artist who employs muses, uses them at least. He’s as much a muse as a jockey is a horse or a fish is bait.
But there you are, there he is, each in your respective universes, and there you will remain. Though Mr Amis does remind you of a dope-smoking friend you had for a while as a dope-smoking teenager. That friend was called Martin as well. He was not a tall person and used to walk around in a thick woollen coat that was too big for him.
Your Martin used to knock around with Jill. Hold on. You’d better stop there to think about it. Jill? Even that far back? Half a century? Is that possible? Are your memories real?
There seems to be nothing there, but there are the uncountable billions of past experiences in this or other lives. Then there are the uncountable possibilities of future experiences plus of course the endless experiences occurring now.
And out of this nothing something new has to emerge . . .
Discovered this snippet in a ‘journal’ from 2 years ago
The other day I was reading something – or listening to someone on the radio – a writer who said that him/her/they write by hand in unlined notebooks because him/her/they don’t want anyone or anything to tell him/her/they, guide him/her/they where to write- i.e. between the lines.
Well Mr/Mrs/Ms/Mx ‘Rebel’ – ‘Free thinker’, whatever – you’re constrained/restrained by the page, by the pen, by the letters and words, by the language, by everything you’ve ever thought, felt or experienced in any other way – so shut the fuck up – if you don’t want to be constrained/restrained by the lines then fucking don’t be.
So now you’ve got to the point where you’ve had enough, done enough, know enough. You don’t need to learn any more about any thing. Well, maybe that’s pushing it a bit, that’s a bit too arrogant. You still learn at least one small lesson every day, you will always learn. But all the rest of it, well, you don’t need any of that any more – you don’t need anyone else telling you what you need either, or telling you what to do and how to behave, how to think. No! Fuck them.
You are who you are. You know everything. You know it all. You know as much as you need to know anyway. Note – how much ‘you’ need to know, not what ‘they’ think is how much you need to know. That’s what it’s all about really – you know everything.
Up to this point what has been written was written ‘before’. From now on what will be written will be written ‘after’. You don’t believe you know everything anymore. In fact you believe you know nothing, Take water for example, you know nothing about water, truth is no one does, not even the most scientific scientists. Electricity – that’s another one.
We live in a world which should not exist, it’s so improbable it’s impossible. You are impossible. Yet you are, you know that at least, you are, you do exist – whatever existence is.
Can it all be true? Can you know everything and know nothing at the same time?
Everything is ordinary, birth, life, death, flying, swimming, running, climbing. That’s what this world is. You can take any one of those ordinary things and zoom in and you’ll find that the closer you get the more it fragments, the more complex it gets. Zoom in some more and you get lost in the endless billions of sub-atomic particles. I mean, did you know that there are like 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms in just one grain of sand?
Now you have to admit that’s ordinary. It doesn’t get much more ordinary than a grain of sand; there are plenty of them everywhere. Nothing is really ordinary, in the sense that it’s banal, run of the mill, ‘normal’ – even those attributes ascribed to things or concepts are in themselves infinitely complex and interesting. Take a word like banal. I mean, what does it mean? Where does it originate? What are the other words that come from the same roots? In what context is it best used? Where is it best avoided? Does it have to be negative?
Sorry, I have a tendency to repeat, repeat, the things I want to say, maybe I’m subconsciously trying to build up a rhythm – I don’t know. I’ve also got a tendency to end up at the ‘10,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms in just one grain of sand’ thing when I get too analytical. But that’s OK really, because it’s ordinary. I mean even the most seemingly unaware human being, and I would probably extend this to all animals, has these kind of thoughts, even if not in the same word patterns; maybe they manifest as feelings, or emotions, or something that isn’t so easily defined as language is.
So the point is: All things are ordinary, but ordinary isn’t dull, or worthless, or unremarkable.
Ordinary is extraordinary.
Here’s a short video of something ordinary.
the river Taff from Fitzhamon Embankment in central Cardiff
The Sixties are finally ending. The signs are everywhere. The characters that populate the sixties of our shared imagination are shuffling off their mortal coils faster than newly elected politicians shrugging off their promises. It won’t be long before finding a genuine sixties survivor will be almost as impossible as getting an honest Tory to open your village fete.
So, from our vantage point half a century in the future, what was it all really about? Well, it’s kind of defined my generation’s life, coloured it in at least. But did it really mean anything? Was there a cultural revolution? Did we achieve Sexual Liberation and Gender Equality? Did we Ban the Bomb and Make Love not War?
I don’t think we did any of the above, but did we at least stall the inexorable rise of capitalism? Nope, never got far with that either. But, the sixties were special, with the music, the art, the fashion, the technology, the social movements – weren’t they?
Maybe The Sixties was just an idea. Ideas are powerful, everything comes from ideas. I mean, the music, the art, the fashion . . . and all the rest of it, they all started with ideas and then they happened. But – so what? Nobody wears mini-skirts and hot pants now, nobody marches from Aldermaston to London demanding nuclear disarmament – yet the nuclear arms are still there, more than ever. The reasons to do all those things still exist.
So, what’s happened then? Maybe the sixties were about hope, and now we’ve given that up in this topsy-turvy post-Trump-election world. There are too many billionaires, there is more wealth concentrated in the pockets of a couple of percent of the population than all the rest of us combined. The sixties itself has been commercialised more than any other decade in history – it has become a product, a facsimile designed to mesmerise, and squeeze money from, naïve punters like you and me.
Now that The Sixties is finally expiring maybe it’s time to bury the last of its warriors or at least let them sink into the shadows in retirement homes. We need to get on with now – the future.
In the meantime if you can think of anything positive that’s stood the test of that half century then write it on a banner and parade it proudly around town – or maybe just make a jpeg out of it and stick it on Facebook – job done.