Friday, 26 February 2010

Where do ideas come from, mummy? #3

On an earlier post, Doctor FTSE described the Walker Art Gallery as 'A mine of ideas' and of course I haven't mentioned these yet as a source of inspiration:

The Idea Mines of Disturbia in the outer districts of Conscious are rich picking for fossickers if you get there at dawn.  Dig deep in the dark of what seems to be your own psychosis and thought-bats will be disturbed, circling up and around you and out of the cave mouth, always turning left. 

It's a dangerous place - rhymes and reasons leach intoxicating gases. The canary in the cage still sings, but the songs get steadily bawdier and are now accompanied by a small mouse on a trombone.  It’s very bluesy – you always get that from mice.  You’ll need a hard hat on that soft head because grains of truth and falsehood drip down on you – indistinguishable from each other in this light. Here's your maiden aunt's madiera, here's a magic monsters appearing out of empty boxes in a leotard spangled with sequins (each one chipped from the marble heart of a thalidomide angel). 

Voices flutter in your ear like tiny people reciting the rules of forgotten institutions: you must not wear red after dark, or smoke a pig, or scratch another persons arse, or dress as yourself, or redeem all the coupons, or complete the trick mathematics that will send you into a parallel universe where shit is luminous green and truck drivers are welded into their seats forever and daisies take a year out now and then to go travelling – you see them in deserts, on barren mountains, tossed on stormy seas telling each other how great the soil used to be. 

But you obeyed the rules and you haven’t fallen, though there are precipices here that could send you tumbling down into kaleidescope canyons, diving for butterflies lying waterlogged on the ocean bed.  What are you looking for?  Why did you come? With your pick axe and thesaurus, and everything turning into a poem: a bag to catch the story in and hold it as it squirms, a honeysuckle hunger and some bones to feed the worms. The wonder of it all, the wonder of it all - a hundred men digging for compliments on the outer slopes and you in the brilliant darkness with kisses coming at you, covering your face though it’s grimy with day-old dreams.

"Nurse!  She's come round again!"

More about ideas here:

Where do ideas come from mummy? #1

Where do ideas come from mummy? #2

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Ten Rules for Fiction Writing

This isn't a real post but may be of interest to those with literary leanings. Here's a link to a great article from The Guardian's website at the weekend: Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

The author asked 30 top authors for their best snippets of advice: Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, AL Kennedy Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson

OK, the web is full of advice to writers - there's always a market for it because it make us feel like we're writing when we're not. But this list is from the big names and is entertaining as well as useful. My favourite was Philip Pulman's delightfully succinct: "My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work."

So, can anyone guess which crazy tip is included in ALL their lists?

That's write.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Liverpool's Second Most Romantic Poet

I am astonished to report that I came second in the Dead Good Poets Society 'Romance Slam' the other night - with my bestiality poem (abridged below).
Despite some excellent lurve entries and a frisson of erotica, the audience seemed to warm to the anti-romantic: the winner (the romantically-attired Jacqui Dunne, centre) chose to honour her 27th wedding anniversary with an update on a classic sonnett: "How shall I kill thee? Let me count the ways..."
Slams (ie performance poetry competitions) can be cut-throat affairs but the Dead Goods has chosen to make them more accessible and fun using themes. It has really encouraged more people to get up and have a go and this one even had more female than male contestants, bucking the slam trend.

Animal Lover

It should have been explained a long time since:
not every beast you kiss will be a prince.
She’d started, small and scared, on frogs of course
then three white mice and – just the once – a horse

Too many fairy tales had made her cling
to fantasies they’d morph into a king,
that creatures she would meet in zoos or farming
were not just hooves and meat but her Prince Charming.

After a bit of booze she often plotted
canoodling with gnus, was sometimes spotted
out with a leopard, necking with giraffes,
or hitting on hyenas just for laughs.

She smooched with pooches and with grizzly bears
but none of them were ever sons or heirs.
Her lips grew raw, her tongue grew pretty strong
Nothing! She must be doing something wrong

Her slow decline from there I hate exposing
there were no monarch’s heirs amongst her chosen,
Her family kicked her out, her friends grew wary
of all that horn and snout – and all so hairy!

We should have told her then (perhaps in verse)
that beasts don’t change to men – quite the reverse.
In many years of slog it’s obvious that
she’s never snogged a real aristocrat.

The natural laws perverted and defiled,
no animal reverts to prince from wild.
For we know fine, it is the lot of girls
to cast before these swine such pearls, such pearls

Monday, 15 February 2010

Playing to the gallery

I've had a very cultural day today. I went to the Walker Art Gallery with my born-again-student friend P. I would say mature student because she's in her forties, but she's far too silly to suit that adjective. It was all a bit random. I forced her to sit through a talk on women poets and then made her go through all the whens and whats of arts movements as we did a circuit.

Not much to say about the talk (you'll be delighted to hear) except to reiterate how much I hate the term 'poetess'. There's nothing wrong with 'poet.' What next 'poetette'?

The thing is - I can't do museums and galleries. I love them but they fill up my head - I want to know everything and then I think of my own ideas on top of that and next thing you know - KA BOOOM! Head explodes. There goes the nearest Carravagio.

And it's even worse if I go with other people, especially P. I just feel the need to start being witty about everything and so does she. I can't tell you how annoying we are. Ooh - I just did.

Frederick Sands' 'Helen of Troy'- P: "She's got a face like a slapped arse. If Helen of Troy had looked like that there'd have been a lot less bother."

Maclise's 'Death of Nelson'- P: "Kiss me Hardy!" Me: "Not THAT Hardy!"

Me: "One of Rembrandt's paintings I saw in Amsterdam reminded me so strongly of my Nan."
P: "What was it of?"
Me: "What was it of??? An old woman."
Dead cultural, me.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Where do ideas come from, mummy? #2

I have been accused of having 'ideas'. I can't argue. I have more ideas than I know what to do with. Something in the wiring of the brain maybe.

So I do get a bit tired with people, especially poets, sticking with the same old same old. I knew one who went to work on the train and walked his dogs at weekends. ALL his poems were about riding on trains and walking dogs. A clever writer could probably squeeze a fair few metaphors for life, the universe and everything out of such mundane material, and on occasions he did. But there are limits to how much he could surprise or challenge - or to how much he surprised or challenged himself as a writer.

So where do ideas come from? Lots of places. But often from making links between the seemingly unrelated. Not sure if I do this naturally or just trained myself to, but it's been productive. My 'Silence Museum' poem came about simply by mis-hearing Science Museum, but it got me thinking about something I hadn;t thought about before.
Here's an exercise:
  • On lined paper, make a list* of subjects you might like to write about - do it quickly and freely without thinking too hard
  • Fold the paper vertically so you can't see the list. Forget what you've just written.
  • On the same lines, write another list.
  • Unfold and see what appears next to each other on a line.
  • There'll be a lot of nonsense, but (usually!) one or two marriages will leap out at you - connections zapping between them... acrobatic firemen, coin-operated walking boots, cat scaffold...
* It helps if each vertical list is of broadly the same kind of thing. You could have a list of concepts (fear, lonliness, ballroom dancing, last person on earth, parent) OR 'voices you'd like to write in (animal, fictional character, profession) OR places (library, museum, island, train) or interesting adjectives (coin-operated, camouflaged, open-top)

Just playing around like this has generated a few nice ideas, especially for short, quirky poems and stories.

Where do YOUR ideas come from?