Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Hovis Presley and Elvis Mcgonagall - more great poet names

I can't leave (for unfinished business north of the border) without mentioning a couple more Great Poet Names: Hovis Presely and Elvis Mcgonagall. Happily they belong to Great Poets otherwise it would be a Great Waste. I don't know if these guys ever met, but I like the way they took the Elvis Presley icon and reformed it in their own image.

Hovis Presley

Hovis - who came from Bolton and died tragically young a few years ago - wore the name ironically, being a pint-swilling down-beat Northerner. His dead-pan delivery, dreadful puns and perfect timing made him idolised by the likes of local lads Peter Kay and Johnny Vegas. He wowed them at the Edinburgh Festival and was tipped for greatness, but he was a shy man and backed away from fame.

I met him a few times and he was tremendously supportive and encouraging. I'd have chatted more but I thought there'd be plenty of time. There wasn't.

Small but tasty volume of his work Poetic Off Licence available here including the immortal:

I once spent an evening with Lola or Layla
She said make me breathless I hid her inhaler.

Elvis Mcgonagall

On the 3rd of March 1960, Elvis Presley spent two hours at Prestwick Airport, Scotland en route home from national service in Germany. Big Agnes McGonagall, a starstruck baggage handler, was left with the memory of a lifetime. Nine months later, on 22nd December, 1960, Elvis McGonagall was born on Carousel B in the North Terminal.

Elvis cleverly combines the name of a rock superstar with that of William Topaz Mcgonagall - the The Worst Poet in the World. He is more rock and roll, is normally dressed entirely in tartan and is generally a bit shoutier than seen here, but this must be sacrificed on the altar of topical comment because I can't resist using this clip:

(American readers tired of the Brits harping on about the election may prefer his: This Land's Not Your Land A Republican Party Protest Song )

He's been our guest at the Dead Good Poets and is currently on tour but not to us this year *sad face*.

p.s. Incidentally both men's real name is Richard. Perhaps they just didn't want to make Dick of themselves.

p.p.s. Elvis Presley was known as Elvis the Pelvis. I've often thought it was good he wasn't called Sydney. Sydney the Kidney wouldn't have the same ring to it. Or, indeed, Shamus.

See you all next week!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Naming the fish, and other creatures

One of the powers and responsibilities of a writer is to name people that don't exist (or re-name ones that do and then claim they don't). Being chronically indecisive, I find this much harder than I ought.

Did I mention I'm writing a novel? Fifty thousand words in and I don't have a name for my lead character - a keen but accident-prone local authority worker who has to fight vengeful librarians and the undead. (I know! What can I say?)

Back in March, InkyFool opined 'a fictional character should have one dull name and one extraordinary name. It doesn't matter which way around.'  My own predilection is for the impressive: as Moptop mentioned recently that Isambard Kingdom Brunel can't be bettered in that department. But something extreme wouldn't suit an ordinary girl like... you see? Dammit! How can I sell the book if the lead doesn't have a name? Alright, it's not without precedent but...

This is like the trouble I had when renaming myself. I'd been divorced a long time and had chosen to wear the married name like a scar, but I'd felt more and more uncomfortable with it over the years - and then someone with the same name started writing successful novels - grrrrr. It shouldn't be that hard to change should it? Even dolphins have names for each other.

Proper names are poetry in the raw. Like all poetry they are untranslatable. (WH Auden)

And there are some doozies out there. When I used to work in a bank it was like being on a very slow episode of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue ("Please welcome to the Mortician's Ball - Earl Fire and Dame Nation, and from Australia - Digger Pitt"). We had customers called C Breeze (a sailor perhaps?), F Sharp (music teacher?), a firm called Costall & Deer and - I kid you not - a Mr P Ennis. My dad used to work with an old sea-dog called Barney Scattergood and a friend of mine swears she went to school with an Ophelia Dickie.

Needless to say I had a lot of bright ideas when it came to a new name for myself, especially as I was a performance poet by then. Would I follow in the unholy tracks of the vampire poet Rosie Lugosi and become Cruella Diverse? Or take a nibble off my chum Gordon Zola's block and become Wendy Dale? What about Helena Handcart? Gracie Spoon? Ann O'Malley? I dabbled with Clare Willow-Fish for a while but in the end I just went back to my maiden name because I couldn't take the responsibility!

(It's easier when you have a bunch of things to name - I named my goldfish alphabetically after my favourite movies as a teenager. But Citizen Kane ate all the others then died of indigestion. It's a good job I don't have children - for various reasons.)

So help me out here - give me a good, memorable-but-not-barking-mad name (first & last) for a thirty something English woman who gets into scrapes. You see - it's not that easy when you can only pick one is it? 

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names. (Chinese proverb)

Friday, 23 April 2010

Are Tuesday's blue (& what does Nick smell like?)

An interesting blog by InkyFool - (read it here) last week has led me in curious directions. It was about Synaesthesia - a neurological condition where, as InkyFool says: 'colours are perceived as smells, smells as sounds, sounds as tastes etc'. Interesting stuff and I'd expand on it but he's done it so well I need say no more. 

A comment from Mrs M led me to this article in the Guardian - one chap's take on the first leadership debate was that Gordon Brown's name tastes to him of soil mixed with Marmite, Nick Clegg's reminded him of pickled onions and Spangles (whatever happened to Spangles *sigh*) and Cameron's was like ink and macaroons. Topical tie-in: tick.

Seems odd, doesn't it? But what if more people make these sort of links than we realise - possibly even you? It reminds me of a loose and unscientific piece of social research I pottered with a few years ago. (Science? BrokenBiro? Yeah - who knew?)

I forget how it started. It's not a question we ask each other, or information we volunteer. But for a while I asked everybody I met what their week looked like when they pictured it in their mind. Stop reading this for a second and close your eyes. What does next Tuesday look like? How do you picture August? What about ten years ago? 

Mine's very dull, a bit like a diary - no colours - with the past petering out of my head to the left and the future heading off to the right. I was astonished by the answers I got. So astonished that I still recall some of them (no, of course I didn't write them down, I told you it was 'loose'):

  • Lots of people pictured the different days in specific colours - i think yellow was popular for Mondays and blue for Tuesdays.
  • One married couple, who had never discussed this, had the same colours for the same  days
  • Some people pictured a cartoon bone-shaped week, with Saturday and Sunday being the bigger ends, often in brighter colours - except amongst the unemployed
  • One person's year spiralled away from them 
  • An eco-minded friend pictured his week as a walk through a tunnel of trees

There were many more. But no-one had ever discussed it before, there seemed to be the assumption that of course everyone imagined time the same way. Now isn't that interesting? Maybe some of us have other ways of thinking - unique to us and weird to other people - that we don't even consider. What? Doesn't everyone think the moon smells exactly like cardamom?

I'm going to continue my experiment now and ask you all  - what does your week look / smell/ sound like? 

Oh, and here's a bit of a poem I just wrote about it:

I touch you, taste that scent of early hyacinth
like a waterfall that flashes blue and pink.
Feed me on violins, let me gaze upon
the salty sweet of your voice, call my name
and I will come to you with kiss of cinnamon,
hot as fresh-baked newspapers
whose words tickle like spider ants,
leave an after-taste of cathedral bells.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Making the Headlines

We all like a good headline. Here are some to to save you from General Election burnout.  Let's start with the wartime classic:

Eighth Army Push Bottles up Germans’ Rear

(a fine example of Syntactic ambiguity popular amongst headline writers who like a laugh but can later claim all innocence.) 

I worked on the Wirral News for a year and was often called upon by the editor (who recognised my 'special' talents) to come up with catchy headlines. I was especially proud of one about a local student's sponsored walk in Jordan: 

Dead Sea Stroll

...most of them have drifted from memory. If they drift back I'll be sure to let you know.

Anyway, here are some favourites collected over the years from my local papers:

Magistrates Act on Indecent Shows

Big Surprise Expected

Enter your child now!

‘Suicide’ deliberate

Mayor Welcomes Badger Bill (a piece of legislation, but particularly apt for us because the paper's mascot called Bertie Badger - hence the lapel badges with the immortal slogan: 'I've Been Badgered By Bertie') 

The careful placing of one headline at the same level and in the same font as one on the opposite page can lead to entertaining 'mash-ups:

Beauty Pageant Opens opposite: Samantha’s Lovely Legs

My favourite local headline was the report of the death of an Irishman in the local river: Cork Man Found Floating in Mersey

One local journalist contact insists he regularly miss-spells end of British Summer Time reminders for comic effect: Don’t forget to put your cocks back!

While you're thinking about the funniest headline's you've come across, here's an entertaining song about Headlines, which I am indebted to Moptop for supplying:

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Writing the truth

I'm back from Scotland now (oops - did I not mention I was going?). An 8 hour drive through snowy landscapes to find spring has arrived in Wirralia, daffs blooming, and a dead duck in the middle of the lawn. Really.

Not a joke. Not a metaphor. Definitely not a double entendre. A duck. Dead. I'd have taken a picture but I had to act quickly, so all you're getting is a picture of the local soup where I was in Scotland*. But I digress.

This post may seem to be rambling, prevaricating and procrastinating but there's a reason - some of the best stories are the ones that Cannot Be Told. Sometimes you witness remarkable occurrences which embrace the humour and pathos of life, scenes which could (if written) become literary or cinema classics - events which really happened to you, which are emotionally true and press to be told. But the telling would compromise, embarrass, expose or demean somebody else. That makes them out of bounds. Some of the richest pickings in your life are Not For Public Consumption.

So you'll hear no more about it. A great screenplay goes unwritten. Think Local Hero, Thelma and Louise, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Whiskey Galore.

All you're getting is a dead duck. And now it becomes (as everything does) a metaphor - ripe for plucking but shot down in it's prime, potentially significant and wanting further examination, bundled up for the sake of decency and put out in the wheelie bin.

So where do we stand as writers? Do we 'publish and be damned' by running rough-shod over the feelings and reputations of others in pursuit of a 'good story' like tabloid journalists? Do we squeeze out every ounce of creative juice to camouflage the details as though our protagonists were part of a witness protection scheme? Do we wait until everyone involved is dead or demented? How far would YOU go and when would you stop?

* Historical note: Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell breakfasted at Cullen on 26 August 1773 on their tour of Scotland. Boswell wrote, "We breakfasted at Cullen. They set down dried haddocks broiled, along with our tea. I ate one; but Dr. Johnson was disgusted by the sight of them, so they were removed."