Thursday, 21 November 2019

Dreaming of Poetry - Katherine Roberts

Anne Bronte by her sister Charlotte
(1845, public domain)
Anne Bronte's poem Night begins: "I love the silent hour of the night, for blissful dreams may then arise..." As a child I, too, used to look forward to the night, tucked up safe and warm in my bed, knowing I would not be disturbed until morning and could invent stories all night long in my head if I so wished - although, in practice, I usually fell asleep quite quickly, and then forgot most of what I'd dreamt up during the night. In those days, my dream life and my story life must have been closely connected. I don't know if this is the case for all children, but it's probably easier to access your dreams when you're young.

As adults, we tend to lose this connection. Nights get disturbed by snoring partners, crying babies, worldly worries, noisy neighbours, smartphone alerts, and - as you get older - an inconvenient need for the loo before it gets light. But I do still dream, even if (like those childhood stories) I don't always remember them. So last month I braved the storms to visit Cornwall for one of Jenny Alexander's Writing in the House of Dreams workshops, to see if it could help me find my childhood key and "unlock the power of my unconscious mind".

This was my first time with formal dream work, and I must admit to being a little sceptical. After all, I write fantasy tales for young readers, full of magic and legendary creatures, and yet I've never dreamt of a single dragon or unicorn as far as I can remember. My dreams always seem quite mundane to me, being more or less connected to my own (real) life. Aside from one I had in my early twenties, of the jackal-headed Egyptian god Anubis standing beside my bed (I told him to "go away", and he did), I'm not aware of using any of my own dream material in my books, so how would recalling my dreams help me write middle-grade fiction's answer to Game of Thrones?

I must eat my words. After just two weeks of dream recalling prior to the course, we all arrived with enough material to produce not only several pages of fiction each, but also poems and - in one case - the entire plot of a novel involving alien invasion via household irons... the new 'smart' irons, perhaps? I still did not dream of dragons (unless you count the dragon-head bookends I found in a charity shop and which worked their way into a dream last week), but I did get some surprisingly powerful poems during Jenny's workshop.

Here's an example, which I'm calling Allergies:

You are a demon phone mast
radiating across bare fields
rocking the folk who wake at 3am
and making rats glow pink
with blood in the lake.

You are ten bags of peanuts
loved by the folk who rock at 3am
but one tiny swallow
by a single child
asphyxiating in your pink lake.

Those who follow this blog might remember my post about my own experience of wi-fi allergy, which no doubt explains why I've been having nightmares about all the new 5G masts currently springing up all over my home town. But on the course we were under strict instructions not to interpret our dream material, only to use it creatively, and the above poem was the result. You are free to interpret as you wish.

Here's another poem I wrote following a disturbing dream I had about 20 years ago:

Armageddon
Everyone agrees it must have been a major disaster
perhaps something atomic, no-one remembers now.
It does not matter.
We are scattered across the universe, shrunken, crippled,
no longer men.
Once we built cities large as planets, white marble shining in the sun,
we reached across galaxies and stole the stars,
made belts of supernovae and pleated space so we could thread
silver-bright ships through relays of black holes.
We cut larger and stitched faster
and covered the face of God with fragments of ourselves.
Small wonder he sneezed.

An early glimpse of the ambitious 5G satellite launch perhaps? (I just hope some deity up there does not develop an allergy to satellites!)

You'll be relieved to hear that I don't usually publish my poetry, except in the odd blog post like this one where you can read it for free. But I do write short fiction along similar lines, much of which was published in science fiction and fantasy magazines of the 1990s, and which I am slowly collecting into my Ampersand Tales books. There are now two collections available, both currently FREE for Kindle for 5 daysso feel free to grab a copy if you've not read them yet. Each collection contains seven of my short stories, and both titles are also available in paperback.

Mythic & Magical

Weird & Wonderful

And if you're interested in accessing your dreams for creative work, here's Jenny's book on the subject, which also includes her own experiences with dream work and is well worth the read.

Writing in the House of Dreams

*
Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and historical fiction for young (and older) readers. Find out more at www.katherineroberts.co.uk


Sunday, 17 November 2019

Is it better to do a creative writing course online, or face to face?



I have been teaching creative writing in adult education for forty years, and I can attest to the fact that it really does help some people. I have also been teaching the same subject online for the Open College of the Arts, which leads to a degree. When I started, there was a lot of controversy about whether the subject could be taught at all – and so I did an MA to remind myself what it was like being on the other side of the desk. By that point I had had many short stories published, and five radio plays broadcast, so I wasn’t exactly a beginner. However, whereas the newbies chose modules where they hoped they could shine I decided to go for the things I found difficult – namely poetry and non-fiction. And much to my surprise I found I quite enjoyed it, and five years later I won the Cardiff International Poetry Competition.
            I think both methods of teaching are effective, as long as the student is willing to learn. Digital books are a real bonus when you’re carrying stuff to a classroom, and the free versions of classics are valuable resources for online teaching. So: the pros and cons of both methods.

Face-to-face pros:

If you dish out the work to someone other than the writer to read aloud, the author can be anonymous which helps beginners.

The author can listen to their own work read by someone else, and note the stumbles and hesitations which may indicate when something isn’t clear.


The writer can observe the reactions to their work on the faces and body language of the other class members. If someone’s snoring, the pace has fallen off a bit…



You learn a lot when people laugh in the right place, and even more when they laugh in the wrong one.

The student is in the same boat as the rest of the class, who should all understand how to give and receive criticism. Your nearest and dearest is not usually the best critic, as it’s easy to criticise the person rather than the work.

Meeting up regularly keeps momentum going on something like a book, where a new chapter can be tackled each week.

The tutor may be able to tailor a particular lesson to a request from a student.

People make lifelong friends, and I know at least two people who’ve married someone they met in class.

You can carry on going to the same class for years if you enjoy it. Decades, even.

Tutors are not well paid, and this may have an impact on the quality of the teaching.

Face-to-face cons:

If a student misses more than one week, it can be difficult to get back into the swing of things.
One difficult member of a class can ruin it for everyone.

There are bad teachers. If you get one and you’ve signed up for a whole term, you’re sunk.

If it’s an evening class, it can be hard to summon up the energy in the winter when it’s raining/snowing/blowing a gale.

It costs, and if there are insufficient numbers it can be cancelled. There are free courses, such as U3A, but adult education teachers are required to have qualifications.

Depending on where you go, there can be a lot of irrelevant time-wasting paperwork. The best question my students were asked, many years ago, was whether their physical fitness had improved throughout the term.

Online pros:

You don’t have to leave the house, and all your reference books are there to hand. As well as the internet.

You have time to reflect on the criticism you get, which should stop knee-jerk reactions.

You can request a change of tutor if things aren’t working, as the organisation will have more lecturers.

You can work towards a degree.

The course will be well-structured, with a lot of (hopefully) helpful written material to get through.
You can do it anywhere that has internet access. I have had students from all over the world.

The tutors are paid more, will be better qualified, and frequently have an extensive publishing record.
It’s a real plus for disabled students, who can’t get out much.

T
 A Brief Eternity was started as part of
an OCA course

Online cons:

You don’t get to meet any other writers.

You don’t get to meet your tutor.

The course won’t be tailored to your individual needs.

There will be a time limit for completion of the course.

You need a reasonably up-to-date computer, and you need to be computer literate.

I have had some big successes with both methods of teaching. There’s not a lot to choose between the ability of those who sign up for either method, as I’ve had students get published both conventionally and through self-publication from both disciplines. However, there is a requirement in online courses for students to be able to use English to reasonable standard, and a tutor may question their ability to complete the course if they feel this is lacking. Those who are likely to struggle are better off in a face-to-face class. The financial outlay will be less, and there is more wriggle-room for a tutor to give an alternative homework if they think the class one is too challenging.
            So do I think it’s worth doing a course? Definitely. Students are encouraged to try different forms, which may benefit them in unexpected ways. Budding novelists will learn about effective vocabulary from poetry lessons. Poets will tackle construction in a short story class. Short story writers will improve their dialogue by doing a bit of play-writing. I loved doing my MA, and I learned a lot.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

7 Hints and Tips for Motivation Beyond NaNoWriMo by Wendy H. Jones

I think about motivation a lot, perhaps more than I should do. I would consider myself a fairly motivated person and yet, there are days where my get up and go fancies a wee holiday. The difficulty with giving your get up and go a holiday, is the danger of it shoving off permanently. I firmly believe that Motivation Matters and that we should do everything in our power to keep our motivation going. 

One of the ways we can do this is by joining in with NaNoWriMo or national Novel Writing Month, to give it its full name. For those of you who haven't heard of it, you pledge to write 50,000 words in the month of November, which works out at 1,677 words a day. Trust me that is doable. NaNoWriMo works in many different ways. Firstly, it gets you into a daily writing habit. Secondly, it encourages you just to write with no stops and starts. Thirdly, it helps with accountability. The site, itself, rewards you for writing streaks and gives badges at set times. There are also writing buddies who help to keep you motivated and on track by sending encouraging messages. You can also see how your word count compares to your buddies which leads to a bit of healthy competition and, trust me, is extremely motivating. If you're the competitive sort that is. 

NaNoWriMo is a fantastic motivator but that's in November. What of the rest of the year? The problem with reaching a goal in November is that it can lead to lethargy in December. We think we deserve a well earned break and it's Christmas after all. We're back to where we started, lack of motivation which can lead into January and February. Before we know it, it's November again. 

So, what can be done to keep that motivation throughout the year? The good news is, there's a lot you can do. I don't usually share this in my writing life but I am an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) Practitioner, Master Practitioner and Trainer. Therefore I have developed a range of techniques that keep me motivated. Here are just a few:

1. Do something different before you start writing. Plan to write in a different place e.g. a coffee shop or library rather than your office. 

2. Write to music. Rock music for a crime book, War of the Worlds for a fantasy book, romantic music for a romance book. If you don't think you can write to music. listen to it before you start.

3. Swap tea for coffee or vice versa. This will get your brain thinking in a different way. 

4. Light scented candles or use essential oils. Did you know that Smelling peppermint enhances focus and increases concentration. Smelling lemon increases typing accuracy and reduces inaccuracies.

5. Change the temperature. Yep, that's right, get hot or cold. Now, much as I would like to think this involves an exotic holiday, setting the thermostat at home is much cheaper, if less exciting.

6. Do some exercise. Going for a walk pumps blood and oxygen to the brain and gets it ready for days writing. It also allows the brain to think about your manuscript whilst doing something else. You might want a digital voice recorder (there's one on your phone) to record all those blinding flashes of inspiration that come while you are walking.

7. Free writing. Write for five minutes about anything at all. Just write without thinking or stopping. This fees up your creativity and gets you in the mood for writing.

These are just a weeks worth of tips that can help to keep you motivated and make your brain think differently about what you do and how you do it. Most people say I am extremely motivated, and I like to think so. If you want to know more I have shared my motivational tips in my book Motivation Matters. There are 366 exercises you can use, one for every day of the year and one for a leap year. By then you will be well into the writing groove and highly motivated.


About the Author

Wendy H. Jones is the award winning author of the DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries, Cass Claymore Investigates, The Fergus and Flora Mysteries and the Bertie the Buffalo Picture Book. She is also the President of the Scottish Association of Writers and the Webmaster for the Association of Christian Writers, as well as a popular International Public Speaker. You can find out more about her, as well as book her to speak on motivation, writing and marketing, via her website 


Wednesday, 13 November 2019

'Right Trusty and Well Beloved...' - by Alex Marchant


A year ago I wrote a rather contemplative blog post about a new venture I’d embarked on – editing an anthology of short stories by a dozen authors inspired by the subject of my own two books, namely King Richard III. Demonized particularly by Shakespeare (following St Thomas More and other writers keen to pander to the dynastic requirements of their Tudor overlords), King Richard wasn’t of course much like the grotesque portrait that’s long been painted of him – and many modern writers are keen to provide their own take on his life and character.



My blog post can be found at https://authorselectric.blogspot.com/2018/11/dotting-is-editors-role-alex-marchant.html and focuses in particular on the process of editing other people’s fiction writing – something that I found very different from the more practical style of copyediting I’ve long practised in my day job. But it was a process I enjoyed – together with collaborating with a number of other authors with similar interests, who were willing to contribute their work for a charitable enterprise. For the book, Grant Me the Carving of My Name, has been sold in support of Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK), a charity that supports people today who have the same spinal condition as Richard – as was shown when his grave was discovered under the car park in Leicester in 2012.



As I mentioned in last year’s blog, at least as many more authors wanted to contribute to any future project as donated stories to the first one, so – guess what? Glutton for punishment that I am, I decided to do it all again this year.
The result is Right Trusty and Well Beloved…, a second anthology, this time of both short stories and poems, all in some way about King Richard, his life and times. It’s remarkable just how much interest the first collection attracted – so much so that we decided on a competition for submissions to the second. With a small entry fee going straight to SAUK, it was fundraising for SAUK from the start.



I learnt rather a lot from putting the first anthology together. One major thing was that it would be better to take more time over it, rather than try to pull everything together in just two months like last year. Mind you, there was no real selection process for the first book – I simply contacted a few writers I thought might be interested in donating stories. To my surprise, they all said yes, so we immediately had enough material to fill a slim paperback volume (ideal for a Christmas stocking filler at only £5.99/$7.99). This time, with the competition, there had to be sufficient lead times built in. So an announcement was made in February, with deadlines set for submissions, announcement of the selection, and the editing process.



I am rather a ‘last-minuter’ in most areas of my life, and this turned out to be no exception. The day before the announcement of the selection (and of the winners of outstanding story, poem and flash fiction), I was still trying to pin down the final choices – attempting to ensure a good variety of style, mood, genre, length, etc. My editing overran a little – not because it was an onerous task (I was as light touch as for the previous anthology), but simply because everyday life interfered. And arranging the cover went right down to the wire. I’d put it off again and again, thinking something would come up… Fortunately something did – with the kind donation by Frances Quinn of her lovely image of King Richard and his loyal knights haunting Ambion Hill, on the battlefield of Bosworth. I managed a very simple cover design which hopefully complements it, and we were done.

(c) Frances Quinn, https://www.deviantart.com/echdhu


Done, that is, apart from finding someone to write our Foreword. Last year not only did I have the good fortune to secure the permission of Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy to use a line from her poem ‘Richard’ for our title, but bestselling historical novelist Philippa Gregory agreed to write a Foreword. Philippa is herself responsible for many people’s good impression of King Richard, following his portrayal by Aneurin Barnard in the BBC’s dramatization of her The White Queen in 2013. Aiming high again, I contacted another Philippa, one whose name will always be indelibly associated with King Richard – Philippa Langley, whose tenacity and sheer hard work in the Looking for Richard Project over a number of years led to the rediscovery of his grave. You may remember her from the documentary about the search and the archaeological dig – ‘The King in the Car Park’.

Philippa Langley, second from right, alongside her Looking
For Richard Project colleagues, Dr David and Wendy Johnson
and Dr John Ashdown Hill. Photo courtesy Philippa Langley

I love it when a plan comes together (as someone once used to say…) Right Trustyand Well Beloved… was duly published (on time!) and launched with a Facebook event at the beginning of November. Of the sixteen authors involved this time, eight or nine (including one all the way from the USA) will be congregating in York on 14th December for a pre-Christmas ‘bricks and mortar’ launch too. I’m looking forward to meeting some of these authors face to face for the first time and to raising a glass of something festive to our collaboration. And of course also looking forward to raising shed-loads more cash for a worthy cause, while raising awareness of both the condition and of Good King Richard himself. Cheers!

Ricardian authors at York Explore launch of Grant Me the Carving... May 2019:
L-R: Jennifer C. Wilson, Alex Marchant, Marla Skidmore, Joanne R. Larner,
Susan Lamb and Wendy Johnson
Right Trusty and Well Beloved... can be bought as ebook or paperback from Amazon at mybook.to/RightTrusty or bought direct from Alex Marchant, or can be read FREE on Kindle Unlimited.






I want you to tell my real story…

Use any talent you have to show me in my true light, not painted black with Tudor propaganda. My new army must be wordsmiths, not soldiers; artists, not knights; musicians, not warriors. We will lay siege to the towers of Tudor lies and bring them crashing down…

Who, for you, is the real Richard III?

Is it the boy, exiled in fear aged seven? The loyal warrior, brother to Edward IV? The young man struck by tragedy? The just and rightful king? Or Thomas More’s and Shakespeare’s infamous villain?

You can meet them all within these pages … or can you?

This follow-up to the 2018 anthology Grant Me the Carving of My Name showcases short stories and poems by international authors inspired by all aspects of King Richard III.

Sold in support of Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK) with a Foreword by Philippa Langley MBE and edited by Alex Marchant. With contributions from Rebecca Batley, Terri Beckett, Sue Grant-Mackie, Kim Harding, Wendy Johnson, Joanne R. Larner, Kit Mareska, Máire Martello, Liz Orwin, Elizabeth Ottosson, Nicola Slade, Richard Tearle, Brian Wainwright, Kathryn Wharton and Jennifer C. Wilson.


Our first 5* review:
“Another nice mix of Ricardian fiction …This second anthology contains poetry as well as prose, thus adding to the variety. There should be something to appeal to various tastes.”


Alex Marchant is author of two books telling the story of the real King Richard III for children aged 10+, The Order of the White Boar and The King’s Man, and editor of Grant Me the Carving of My Name and Right Trusty and Well Beloved…, two anthologies of short fiction inspired by the king, sold in support of Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK). 


Alex’s books can be found on Amazon at:



Monday, 11 November 2019

The Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month



Today is the day we wear poppies to commemorate all those who died in the two world wars. On Remembrance Sunday there will have been a parade to honour the armed forces and wreathes laid at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. At eleven o’clock there will be a minutes silence all over the country for the fallen. It’s a solemn moment that, in spite of the distance of time, people still observe. They stop what they are doing, whether it’s in a supermarket, an office or in a classroom and stand without speaking until the minute is over and everyone can go back to their daily lives.
For some of us that stand and think our thoughts will be on the horrors of war and the pointlessness of so much conflict, both throughout history and in the present day. Others will be remembering family members they have lost, or how war has impacted on their lives.
When my sister and I were little we used to say that if it hadn’t been for WW2 we wouldn’t be here. Our parents, who were Polish, met in Iraq when they were both in the British Army. They came from different parts of Poland and it was unlikely that their paths would have crossed. As it was they had to leave their country at the beginning of the war. Dad, who came from Warsaw was part of the unit that escorted the Polish Government as it fled the German army into exile, while Mum who was from Lvov was deported by the Soviets.
As children we knew the bare bones of their stories, but over the past three years I have been helping Mum write her memoir and so much more has come to the surface. The project began when a friend she used to work with told her that she had had such an interesting life and would Mum mind if Chris recorded some of her memories. Chris very kindly transcribed those recordings for me and that’s where I would have left it at that, if my sister-in-law had not wanted to know more. Louise borrowed an old-fashioned Dictaphone and spent hours talking to Mum, not only about what happened to her during the war, but also about what it was like growing up in pre-war, pre-Communist Poland.
When the interviews were over, I wrote down what had been said and then, trying to keep as close to Mum’s voice as possible, put it into some sort of order. This took much longer than I had imagined, as there were things on the tapes that weren’t clear and going back to Mum for clarification prompted more stories that had to be included.
We’d decided, as a family that for the sake of grandchildren and great-grandchildren the resulting ms should be published as a book, as any form of digital storage dates and becomes obsolete while books are much more likely to be accessible to future generations.
After rigorous editing, I was nowhere near as good as I thought on organising the material because so much of it I knew already while someone coming to it fresh had so many questions that had to be answered, “We Were Lucky” was published by Penkhull Press this year.
It’s a slim volume. With Mum being ninety-eight it seemed to me more important to write what she could remember rather than wait for more memories to surface, which undoubtedly the more we talked about her life, they would. Those conversations face to face and over the phone were for me one of the highlights of the whole enterprise. It gave me an insight in to my parent’s lives and what they had survived and left me with an undying respect for two people who had witnessed so many horrors and yet managed to come to a new country, learn a new language and bring up a family, without any outward signs of what they had suffered.
There was no shadow of trauma over our childhood home. Learning about Mum’s experiences I understand certain things about her like her relationship with food and need to feed her family and friends, but what I admire most of all is the mind-set that enabled my parents and many others like them to go on living happy productive lives after the war.
“We Were Lucky” the title that Mum chose for her memoir says it all.  


Sunday, 10 November 2019

Finding Nemo (aka the best critique group) | Karen Kao

Finding a good critique group is hard work. Get into the wrong one and it’s easy to have your ego bruised or to lose your writing mojo. Some writers hate critique groups while others swear by them. How does a writer choose?

writing event
NaNoWriMo 2016. Image credit: Terry Chay
First off: let’s get our definitions straight. There are writing groups and critique groups. The former is a convivial place where writers can gather to write in each other’s company. Sometimes there’s chatter but mostly it’s about getting words on the (virtual) page. There are international events like NaNoWriMo and there’s the local coffee shop on Thursday mornings. A writing group, in my book, is about moral support.

A critique group, on the other hand, is where members are expected to point out the flaws in a manuscript. That manuscript might be a couple of pages to read on the spot or ten thousand words circulated a week in advance. It may not be the same people around the table from one time to the next. Whatever the rules of engagement are, the purpose of a critique group is to offer feedback so that we can improve our craft.

shark-infested waters


That’s the theory at least. In practice, there are plenty of dangers lurking in the sea. An emerging writer is particularly vulnerable because you don’t yet know your own strengths and weaknesses. You may not like to hear that your dialogue sucks. You may not believe that you have a real talent for description. It can be hard to separate what you want to hear from what’s actually being said.

This is why every writing workshop, class or critique group I’ve ever attended uses a cone of silence. The person whose work is being reviewed cannot respond to the critique being given. That’s hard sometimes. It’s natural to want to defend your work or to explain what you really meant. But if you’re talking, you can’t be listening.

shark critique
Image source: Wikimedia
Rather than a cone of silence (which I always visualize as a large dunce cap), it may be more helpful to think of it as a shark cage. If you stay inside, you can take it all in. But if you get out of your cage, well, good luck to you.

perils of the deep

 

You see, critics come in all shapes and sizes and levels of experience. There are the clownfish who never want to say anything negative. They may not bite off your leg. But they will put on such a happy face that you might be deluded into thinking you’ve just written the great American Novel when chances are, you haven’t.

Sadly, there are also electric eels out there who will zap you just for the fun of it. Writers who think they’re better than you are. Who know exactly how to fix your miserable excuse for a manuscript and are happy to share their wisdom with you. They’ll tear you from fin to fin.

Last but not least are the scavengers lurking close to the sea floor. We like to obsess about minutiae. Punctuation and formatting.  Whether the world-building is consistent. Time markers that correlate with actual history. You can waste a lot of time peering at the plankton.

the jellies

 

How then to avoid all these maritime perils? There is, of course, the option of crawling into your nautilus shell and write in accordance with your own lights. If you’re a solitary genius, then being alone works great.

But if you’re not, another option is to go to school. Writing is a craft and a craft can be learned. You don’t necessarily have to plunk down a load of dough for a multiyear Master of Fine Arts degree. There are master classes and writing workshops. And anyway, reading is the best way to learn how to write.
jellyfish critique
Image source: Wikimedia
But suppose you’ve already started writing. You’ve got a plot and some characters and it’s all going along swimmingly. Then you start to question yourself. Is my story zipping along quickly enough? Too many characters or not enough? It’s easy to get lost in the kelp, turned upside down by the currents, lost in space.

You could always hire a  book doctor, coach or editor. But that feels like something you do when you’ve got a finished manuscript. If I’m still navigating my way out of the Jellyfish Forest and I’m hoping to get across with a minimum amount of pain, what do I do then?

riding the current

 

I’m a member of two critique groups. I joined at a time when I realized that I wasn’t writing a novel but four novels at the same time. Clearly, I needed help.

One of my groups favors genre writing like science fiction and murder mysteries. They’re laser sharp on plot and pacing. My other group leans toward literary fiction and is more concerned with theme and aesthetics.

What they have in common is honesty intertwined with a desire to help the author write the story she wants to tell. This is hard work. I have played the clownfish, electric eel and plankton expert. Every time my critique group meets, I have to remind myself that it’s not about me.

I recently heard a story about a writing class in the US. The structure was similar to a critique group in that each student was assigned a date to submit. Problem was, students only attended when it was their turn to receive critique.

Being a member of a critique group means you’ll be giving more than you receive. My group has 8 members and meets once every two weeks. That means, on an annual basis, I can only submit three to four times. The rest of the year I’ll be spending on someone else’s work.

That may sound like a waste of time but it isn’t for me.  I feel like I learn more when I think deeply about what another writer is trying to achieve.

home

 

In a good critique group, you feel safe enough to take risks. Everything else is logistics. Size doesn’t matter. Frequency doesn’t either. It’s entirely up to you whether to meet in the physical world or online.

The makers of Finding Nemo have a critique process all their own. Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, has written a whole book about their critique process. Pixar calls this group the Braintrust and they live by three rules.
  1. You understand story. You’re able to pick it apart and put it back together without leaving a bunch of parts on the ground.
  2. You tell the truth and nothing but the truth. No politically correct fudging. No flamethrower activity. In a critique group, all members are equal.
  3. You don’t try to fix the problem. Instead, you give good notes. Good notes are specific. They contain examples. They do not prescribe a course of treatment. A good note inspires.
Here are the questions those notes should address:
What’s wrong
What’s missing
What isn’t clear
What doesn’t make sense
And because we all need encouragement every now and again, you can also ask:
What did you like
What would keep you reading
If you can do that, then you, too, can find Nemo.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

A blog for Schicksalstag 2019: 3 rededications for Hitler’s ‘piece of kitsch’ by Julia Jones

The German naval memorial
Laboe, Kieler Fjord
On the morning of August 18th 1939 my father, George Jones, walked up into Kiel to buy milk and bread. He and his companions on the small motor yacht Naromis knew they were no longer welcome in German waters.  Their original plan for the day had been to head down the Kieler Fjord then turn east for Warnemunde, where they would pick up the skipper’s daughter who had been staying in Berlin. After that they had intended to press on to Danzig, their purpose unspecified. However they had been told on the previous evening that there would be no more fuel for them in Germany. Perhaps someone had noticed George and his fellow RNVSR officer Bill photographing the Kriegsmarine's latest warships. Their only possible destination now was Denmark.
The battleship Gneisenau at anchor.
As soon as he returned home,
 George sent this photo to Naval Intelligence
As George headed for the shops at seven o’clock in the morning he was shocked to see the people of Kiel lining up to collect gas masks.  ‘My mind raced back to the September crisis of the year before. I got the milk and bread and hurried back to the ship. Less than half an hour later we were steaming down the fjord at an economical speed, bound for Nakskov.’ (The Cruise of Naromis: August in the Baltic 1939) Minesweepers and a minelayer accompanied them; they observed U-boats at exercise and a torpedo boat rushed past making such a wash that a pile of their breakfast plates crashed onto the deck followed by a thermos flask which went off ‘like a small bomb’.

They moored briefly at Laboe to clear customs. Germany's great naval memorial towered over them. At 72m high it’s visible for miles. George thought its shape was that of a rudder: when Francis and I visited last week I wondered if it was intended as a sail running up against a mast. Other
people have seen it as the stem of a Viking ship or the conning tower of a submarine. We were there on a grey day and the idea of a crematorium chimney also unfortunately presented itself. This would certainly have distressed the designer, Gustav Munzer, who had won the competition organised by the German Navy League in 1926. Munzer had begun his career as a bricklayer and stonecutter, then trained at the vocational arts school in Dusseldorf. Many students from such schools continued their training in the Bauhaus colleges but Munzer went directly into industrial planning. During the 1920s he was in Holland designing shipyards. He stated that he intended no specific reference  – merely a shape that would suggest positive feelings. Hitler – of all people – described the Laboe Memorial as ‘an unparalleled item of kitsch’.  He was wrong.  There may be kitsch in some of the individual tributes and inscriptions inside the memorial but the thing itself is stark. It's also challenging and has prompted reinterpretation.

Looking out to the Baltic on a grey day
Looking up from the deck of  Naromis, in August 1939, George assumed the memorial was intended as a simple commemoration of the dead of 1914-1918, something analogous to the Whitehall Cenotaph, perhaps. The central symbol of the Cenotaph is its empty tomb -- acknowledging that the bodies of the Great War were not repatriated. The Laboe Memorial recognises that for most sailors, the sea is their only grave. Wilhelm Lammertz, a former Chief Petty officer in the Kaiserlich Marine, and active in the German Naval League, first suggested a memorial as a focal point for national mourning. But whereas the Whitehall Cenotaph was government-organised and funded, the authorities in Germany were not interested and the Laboe memorial was financed from voluntary contributions. The aftermath of defeat was bitter. When the long process of construction began in 1927, Admiral Scheer, former commander of the High Seas Fleet at the 1916 Battle of Jutland, offered this initial dedication:

FUR DEUTSCHE SEEMANSEHR
  (To German Seamen’s Honour)
FUR DEUTSCHLANDS SCHWIMMENDE WEHR
 (To Germany’s Floating Arms)
FUR BEIDER WIEDERKEHR
(May Both Return)

In 1936, with the National Socialist party was firmly in power and naval rearmament in full swing, the memorial briefly became a political symbol. A formal dedication ceremony took place on the twentieth anniversary of the Battle of Jutland, May 30th 1936. Commander in Chief of the Kriegsmarine Admiral Raeder made the speech, supported by Hitler (who disliked the place and never returned) together with the War Minister Feldmarschall von Blomberg; Admiral Albrecht, Commanding Admiral Baltic and Kapitan zur see Mewis, the Naval Commander at Kiel. The message was power and resurgence, not remembrance.

In 1945 Laboe was in the British area of occupation.  While many memorials and public symbols were obliterated as part of the denazification process,  the Laboe memorial was embargoed but not destroyed.  On May 30th 1954 it was handed back to the German Naval Association as part of the rehabilitation of West Germany and publically rededicated. The dedication was voiced by former U-Boat Commander, Otto Kretschmer, but this time the local dignitaries were joined by representatives of the American, British and Italian Navies. The message was a commemoration for all the German dead – and also their opponents.

DEM GEDAENKEN ALLER TOTEN DEUTSCHEN SAEFAHRER
 (In commemoration for all dead German seamen)
BEIDER WEITKRIEGE UND UNSERER TOTEN GEGNER
 (And of our dead adversaries)

The architect Professor Munzer was there with Otto Kretschmer.
Lt-Cmdr Ramsey represented the UK,  Commodore |Moore the US
and Capitano di Rocco from Italy
From this time West Germany was allowed to rebuild a small navy and in 1955 it became a member of NATO. Over the border in East Germany another new navy developed as part of the Warsaw Pact. The main role for the East German navy however was to patrol the borders of the Baltic States and capture potential escapees. Finally the Cold War ended and, on November 9th 1989 the frontiers were opened and the barriers between East and West Germany came down. Thirty years ago.

November 9th is a significant day in German history. It's known as the Schicksalstag, the Day of Fate.  November 9th 1918 was the day that the Kaiser's abdication was announced and the Weimar republic created. The Nazis made their first bid for power at the Munich Beer Hall Putsch on November 9th 1923. Then, on November 9th 1938, came Kristallnacht. That's a memory of destruction which nothing can expunge, yet the fall of the Berlin Wall at least uses destruction as a positive force. 

In 1996 the meaning of the Laboe memorial was positively reinterpreted once again. Its current (and final?) dedication reads:

GEDENKSTATTE FUR DIE AUF SEE GEBLIESENTN ALLER NATIONEN
 (Memorial for all those who died at sea, and)
MAHNMAL FUR EINE FRIEDLICHE SEEFAHRT AUF ALLEN MEEREN
 (for peaceful navigation in free waters)

The Laboe Memorial in the evening light
November 3rd 2019
Warships of all nations dip their flags as they pass by.


A wreath from the British Government
in the underground chamber
at the Laboe memorial


Thursday, 7 November 2019

How our betters bob up and down by Bill Kirton



I usually prefer my monthly blogs to be fresh but, very occasionally, there’s so little ‘freshness’ discernible in the daily antics of the appalling people who govern our destinies and nothing in everyday life that’s not thoroughly depressing that I resort to revisiting some ancient topic I covered in my own blog. Quite frequently, it’s the seemingly inescapable evidence of absurdity  that provokes the piece. This month, however, rather than the bleak absurdity of the cynically mendacious and immoral Johnston, Trump et al’s words and deeds, which confirm the fundamental, philosophical inescapability of the absurd, it’s the version embraced by Jarry, Ionesco The Goons and others who step back from reality and recreate their own version of it for comic effect. Theirs is a sort of harmless absurdity, an expression of amused but extreme disbelief at the charades we all live.
So many of the ways we behave must make God sorry he didn’t choose a different species, such as slugs or mackerel, to be the Lords of creation. I’ve no doubt every nationality has its little foibles and proofs that humans are unworthy to have dominion over Chihuahuas, wildebeests, aphids and the rest but I’d make a claim that the UK must be contenders for the gold medal in unworthiness.
The blog on this topic which I’m raiding for this month’s offering was provoked by a small item in the Guardian newspaper way back when Prince William was first married. Also, for those who don’t live in the UK I should explain that, to the majority of our citizens, being a Guardian reader signifies that you must be a pretentious, gay, communist, ex-hippie, muesli-eating, sandals-wearing coward.
So, on that no doubt sunny morning back then, over my bowl of muesli, I learned all about a document entitled the Order of Precedence of the Royal Family To Be Observed At Court. I googled it to make sure it wasn’t a belated April 1st contribution and found that, apart from the revelations in my paper, there were all sorts of other arcane aspects to who’s who and who can do what at court. (“At court” – a phrase straight out of the Theatre of the Absurd.)
Anyway, this particular piece, and I acknowledge my debt to the Guardian in reproducing its main points here, noted how the OPRFTBOAC had been updated to take into account that someone simply called Kate Middleton had appeared in the Buck House team photos. Now some people think that, because the Queen signs edicts and laws and things ‘Elizabeth R’, she’s Mrs R.
Wrong.
She is, of course, Mrs Mountbatten-Windsor (we’ll leave out all the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha stuff). So when a commoner  arrives, she has to know where she stands. And the gist of it all is that, despite Father Xmas having given Ms Middleton the title of Duchess of Cambridge,  she still has to curtsey to Eugenie and Beatrice, the daughters of the Duke and Duchess of York, one of whom was famous for a while for wearing a fascinator shaped like a pretzel. To be fair, Ms Middleton only has to curtsey if William's not there, but still… And she has to do it whether it’s at a grand public affair or in private. This is because they’re real ‘blood princesses’ rather than arrivistes like her. She also has to curtsey to Charles Mountbatten-Windsor’s wife Camilla too, because she’s the wife of the Queen's son and therefore ‘better’? ‘higher’? ‘more noble’? than the wife of her grandson.
Now, when one considers this is how the people at the pinnacle of British society behave, a society whose lower reaches are rarely free of the grip of one sort of austerity or another imposed by billionaires who have no idea of how they live, we can surely claim the gold medal for absurdity. I’d be very interested to hear about the antics of anyone challenging us.