Tag Archives: writing about writing

A reading chair

If I was a king, I would have a chair purposefully crafted out of volumes of books. Books that I have read through the years. Books that now I find are inside of me.

The iconic Iron Throne in the infamous television drama, Game of Thrones (adapted from the novels by George R. R. Martin), is allegedly forged from 1,000 swords. I guess this is the source that inspired me. But alas, I am not a king at this particular moment in time, so I have settled for a leather black studded Art Deco-style chair. The type of seat that will improve with age, the more battered and worn it looks.

The Reading Chair 2

I was inspired to purchase a designated seat to just read in after enjoying horror master Stephen King’s book simply titled, ‘On Writing’.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things: read a lot and write a lot.

So read I where I can, but I have a favourite place: the blue chair in my study. So far in 2014, I have read the graphic horrors penned in GRIMMS FAIRY TALES, been to prison and stolen books in 1930’s Paris with JEAN GENET, danced the Charleston at THE GREAT ‘Jay’ GATSBY’s and warded off stray donkeys from Betsey Trotwood’s lawn in DAVID COPPERFIELD. Who knows what adventures await me next?

The Reading Chair

Quentin Crisp said cinema is The Forgetting Chamber, where you forget all your daily troubles and dissolve into the cinema screen. To have my very own chair to escape into the world of literature is essential for sanity, health and well-being. In fact, I think Schopenhauer said it best:

I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage.

I don’t know where this overgrown bush of books has come from; I cannot resist picking up the odd title as I go. I am sure there are worst habits to have.

The Book Bush

Thankfully, Stephen King agrees with my reading addiction:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

desk

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Viva Frida!

I like to read and write in bed. A comfortable mattress can at times be equally as productive as a sturdy desk. A pad perched up on my knees, drafting, crafting. My mantra has always been: graft equals craft.

One of my idols, Frida Kahlo, used her bedroom – sometimes out of necessity. There she would sketch and paint images that came out of her dreamscape. A cocktail of her fear and inner thoughts. Breton famously  described the work of Frida as

a ribbon around a bomb.

She was used to suffering from early age when she contracted polio and then at 18 was injured in a horrific bus accident, where she sustained injuries that affected her throughout her lifetime. Her personal life was turbulent and her relationship with soul mate Diego Riveria was a tempestuous one. The creative couple was known as ‘the elephant and the dove’, a Beauty and the Beast-like pairing.

Her entire catalogue of work is a testament to my personal belief that art has a transformative element; turning negativity into something positive. Be it a writing pad, a canvas, a block of wood or clay, an artist’s role is to take experience, push it, question it and put it out there. Her self-portraiture is painted with a pallet of wit, raw honesty, brutality, pain, cruelty, passion and empowerment. Or as she simply put it,

I paint my reality.

This inspiring lady had a resilience that pumped through her blood.

Five months after her accident she posed in a family photograph, wearing a grey suit, a practical element to disguise her injuries. A controversial, provocative dandy, taking centre stage in the composition captured by her photographer father, Guillerno. Almost like the son he never had.

The artist used her own body as a canvas, painting the massive plaster cast that bound her torso during her recovery from the accident. She later took on the Mexican dress of long skirts, heavy jewellery, fringed shawls and a crown.

fulang chang and I

FULANG, CHANG and I (1937), illustrates Kahlo at the height of her beauty, an image from the sensual world.

Kalho Frida - A few small nips passionately in love - 1935

A FEW LITTLE PRICKS (1935), inspired by a morbid newspaper report, she used this story to distance herself from the real life trauma of the recent betrayal of Diego sleeping with her sister Cristina. The victim in the composition has her sister’s features and the man with the knife resembles Diego, while Frida herself imagined that she herself had commits the murder.

little girl with a death mask

LITTLE GIRL WITH A DEATH MASK (1938), inspired by the native style of popular Mexican art.  A person clad in a traditional white death mask, holds a sunflower (tagete) traditionally used during the day of the dead, celebrated on the second of November. The flower is meant to light the path for the souls of the dead as they make their way back to their ancestors. On the floor there is a jaguar mask in papier mache, another ritual accompaniment at this annual festival.

the-wounded-deer-1946

THE WOUNDED DEER (THE LITTLE DEER) 1946, in this image Kahlo places her own visage on the animal and it conveys an expression of nobility, an air of dignity, in the crown of antlers. The deer has been pierced with nine arrows, a slow kill to symbolise the emotional pain of Diego’s repeated infidelity.

I paint self-portraits because I am the person I know best.

She did not solely use the medium of canvas painting; her diaries also contain sketches, reflections, watercolours, lyrics and poems. A candid, reflection on her personal creative process, her childhood, political sensibilities and obsession with Diego. The diary spans from 1944-54 and is a series of random memories and thoughts with no attention to chronology. The manuscript is a turbulent bag of emotions.

Aztec Rebirth

Diego beginning

Diego constructor

Diego my baby

Diego my boyfriend

Diego my painter

Diego my lover

Diego my husband

Diego my friend

Diego my mother

Diego my father

Diego my son

Diego= me=

Diego Universe

Diversity in unity

Why do I call him My

Diego? He never was

Nor ever will be mine

He belongs to himself

The legacy left behind by Frida Kahlo is a collection of paradox, she is both victim and heroine, suffering and successful, but above all human. Essentially painting her own life.

VIVA Frida!

viva frida

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The Charming Depravity of Tennessee Williams

North and South meet as ten minutes hate‘s guest writer John Maguire considers Tennessee Williams.

The autobiography of Thomas Lanier Williams, otherwise known as Tennessee, is almost written in his own blood, chronicling his creative and personal journey. He did not just make emotional, thought-provoking and entertaining drama, he lived it.

He wrote some of the most iconic 20th Century pieces of theatre, among them The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Rose Tattoo.

Work!!the loveliest of all four letter words, surpassing even the importance of love most times.

Flirtatious, tragic, witty, annoying, all adjectives that can be applied to his character, Blanche DuBois, from the brutally raw triumph, A Streetcar Named Desire. Equally though, these very terms can also be applied to the late Tennessee, the very creator of this tragic heroine.

Behind every monster there is a Dr. Frankenstein working on the creation’s wiring, circuitry and emotive feeling. If  we are totally honest, we all have a little bit of Blanche in us, deep in the recesses of the human soul, there is that vulnerability, confusion and desperation. In the character of Blanche, Tennessee predicted how indeed his own life would eventually play out, he inevitably almost became her.

The 1977 musing on his life is a frank, to the point, tale. He is dangerously self-aware.

I was a writer, and consequently a kook

It is a welcome read at this particular period in the publishing calendar.  Traditionally, the book market will be awash with many a self-penned (or ghost written) reveal. The United Kingdom this week has Morrissey’s simply titled, Autobiography, Alex Ferguson’s imaginatively titled, My Autobiography and One Direction’s Where We Are, all in the Top Ten sales charts.

To open the proceedings of his own life dramas, the celebrated playwright does not try to disguise the reason he has decided to put ink to paper, it’s all about the coinage, he is solely in it for the money.

tennesse williams typewriter

With his plays and controversial short stories, The Inventory of Fontana Bella and Desire and the Black Masseur, he had always used the fictions to curtain his real life shenanigans. Now he does not just drop the mask, he peels it off literally.

The form he chooses to narrate his anecdotes is free association. Time is blended, present and past entwined, in the pages of this work. The enfant terrible of British theatre, Steven Berkoff, also used this structure in his excellent Free Association.

Life is made up of moment to moment occurrences in the nerves and the perceptions and, try as you may, you can’t commit them to the actualities of your own history.

The journey is decadent and depraved, taking in his childhood in Mississippi, to St Louis and New York. One thing that leaves the reader after being at this somewhat autopsy of Williams’ life is the ingenious way he poeticises the everyday.

I finished the work before 7 am, awaiting a bus, sometimes known as a ‘tramp chariot’ in these here parts. I immediately found myself seeing things  with a more poetic perspective. A hovering black raven over grass became a black piece of floating silk over a sea of shining green emeralds. The sky scape over the council houses now looked like a canvas of purple pink candy floss clouds.

READ this biography for the wit alone, for the poetry but we do not really need the shock tactics and graphic hints at his fookery.

Sexuality is an emanation, as much in the human being as the animal. Animals have seasons for it. But for me it was a round the calendar thing.

On the other hand it must be remembered, society has become a great deal more open and liberal in the last thirty years. That is in some countries, places like Russia need to really get with the programme. As Stonewall fantastically put it, some people are gay, get over it.

Flashback to 1977, to be overtly talking about same-sex relations and a battle with drugs and liquor takes some courage. Alas, his sad descent that can physically be seen in his writing style in these pages is quite unsettling.  He yearns for a companion as he is sick of promiscuous fast food sex; his friend suggests he picks someone up to which he honestly replies,

There’s nothing emptier, nothing more embarrassing….each time a little bit of your heart is chipped off and thrown into a gutter.

Mr. T.W’s Argentinian tango with Mr. Alcohol and Mr. Narcotics is revealed in the somewhat rambling and self-pitying, towards the final act of the book.

It can be difficult to follow and at times he is like a sizzled Uncle at a wedding, he can just go on and on, unpredictable, all around the park with his explanations sometimes not linked, only to then slap the reader with a treasure in his last phrase, or a gem of wit. He is at his most amusing when he is being catty without realising it,

She was a voluptuous piece and he was voluptuous too, and when you say a man, a bridegroom is voluptuous; it’s not a compliment to him.

By the time Tennessee was rewarded with fame and credibility for his craft, he had managed for years to keep running from the dogs of depression, they may have been consistently nipping at his ankles, but when he did start to slow down, they took a chunk out of his inner core, then the self-doubt and the lack of confidence managed to invade him.

Other creatives do manage to either realise the dogs can be tamed – or in the drastic cases put down – but unfortunately Tennessee Williams was a little blinded by the poisons discussed, so instead the hounds were empowered.

Sometimes I wonder if it is healthy for a writer to use their own emotional stock in his or her work. For I guess every time a play is performed, or story read out, the plaster is ripped off and the wound becomes more intense creating a deeper scar. Possibly the case with this Southern scribe.

tallulah-bankhead-018

The tale is entertaining, both comic and tragic with tragic a cast of glittering stars, including Andy Warhol, Tallulah Bankhead, Brando, Bette Davis…….on and on the list goes, just like a Tennessee anecdote.

williams warhol

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On trend

image

From the Pre-Spring 2013 edition of i-D magazine, courtesy of Givenchy comes word of the latest trend in high fashion: babies. Forget handbags, watches and bangles – the only thing to have hanging from your arm this Spring is a small person.

Luckily I put in my order for this highly sought-after item last year, so my son made his debut in time for me to be on trend. He has been as delightful, entertaining and – on occasion – as bewildering as everyone tells you children are. That said, a late night reading of some Sherlock Holmes stories from the Kindle app on my phone apart, we haven’t been doing much reading together yet.

I am mindful of Cyril Connelly’s often quoted words:

There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.

But also of mothers who haven’t let the small person stop them writing when they can, perhaps J. K. Rowling and Monica Ali being the most notable recent examples.

I was in hospital when I found out that my last post ‘A desk of one’s own‘ was being selected for the Freshly Pressed site. Reading the many comments left there by readers, to which I am determined to reply before too long, made for a brief holiday back to life before motherhood. This new role means that updates to ten minutes hate might be infrequent, might not always be written by me, but will be forthcoming. Even if they are tapped out on a mobile during naptime, like this one.

Thanks for reading!

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A desk of one’s own

Writer Erinna Mettler sparked my interest this week with her post on ‘Desk Envy’. A desk is such a fundamental part of a writer’s equipment, yet so difficult to perfect, it is no wonder that there are thousands of pictures like the ones of famous writers’ workplaces in the post which can inspire the green-eyed-monster. Space in the home is at such a premium – certainly in the UK, even more so in Japan – that for most of us the dream of a quiet room with a huge desk covered with piles of essential writerly clutter and (crucially!) all of one’s own must remain unindulged.

Still, we can dream. I was lucky enough to spend some time in the Lake District recently, with hints of spring breaking through the winter gloom all around. The hotel had this lovely number sitting in a corridor seemingly unused and unloved, except by the chambermaids for heaps of fresh linen mid-change.

hotel desk

Contemplating all that space for half-scrawled notes and pages torn out of newspapers could give me palpitations. Drawers overloaded with notebooks, both filled and still to be used, cartridges and half-full bottles of ink, because this desk would go so well with my favourite pens… until my thoughts crash into the likely shipping costs to get the thing to Tokyo and realise it isn’t to be.

The reality for most of us is that writing space has to exist wherever we find it. When I lived in London I would write sitting on the bed, a cushion behind me and one under the knees, laptop finely balanced, in a pose that would strike dread into the heart of any physiotherapist or yoga teacher. Although it did keep me paying the bills to have my poor spine straightened out again. Having to clear away the detritus which somehow accumulates around any working writer – take the picture of Einstein ‘s desk for evidence – before I could go to sleep was always such a disheartening thought that writing into the early hours became the norm.

It wasn’t until I moved to Japan that I came into possession of a dedicated writing desk. A low wooden table acquired from a neighbour who was moving on, it was the first piece of furniture that I owned after arriving and all the more loved for that. Writing in bed continued, of course, as well as curled up in a chair, but owning a desk was a step up and great things were sure to follow, I was convinced. This is my first Japanese desk, looking far too neat, which means it was probably tidied for the picture:

first writing desk in Japan

Of course, it wouldn’t turn out to be the perfect writing desk, otherwise this post would end here. The difficulty, entirely of my own creation, was that there was so much of Japan to explore beyond those walls that I barely spent any time within range of the desk. Writing again became something to do in cafés, on trains, at work, or in the park. Anywhere, it seemed, but at the dedicated space that had so fortuitously been granted.

For my next apartment, things would have to change. After coming into possession of another donated desk and chair, then finding a wonderful place to locate them – overlooking a neighbour’s well-stocked garden – combined with living closer to the distractions of the city, suddenly writing time was almost abundant. Who wouldn’t want to spend all of their free days here:

Tokyo desk

It is summer, hence the mosquito coil kept close to hand, but the air conditioning unit was right above the window and the fridge a short hop away. ten minutes hate became an unneglected website again, letters were penned and the following spring my book, The Teas That Bind, was written here. All punctuated with essential breaks for pots of tea and staring out of the window. The way the butterflies would dance through the sunshine as it dappled between the trees will stay with me forever.

But life moves on, time intrudes and I find myself between desks again. As ever, my reserve writing haunts are cafés and there is fun to be had attempting to track down a new favourite. Here is where Erinna Mettler surprises me a little, as she writes:

The words don’t really flow in public cafés. For a start off I usually bump into someone I know and then there’s the hovering waiting staff asking if I want a refill, or babies crying and if I drink too much coffee it costs a fortune and I keep needing the loo. The café has to be just right, it has to be big enough to hide in from friends and waiters, with tall ceilings and no piped music, and I prefer diverting decoration and real-fire cosiness.

Although it has been a long while since I was a resident of the same town,  my memories of it being full of serviceable writing cafés would be shattered if they had all been conquered by the big chains. In the same way that we fetishise desks, most writers probably have a picture in their head of the perfect writing café experience, my own heavily influenced by a visit to the actual table in Paris once used by this lady:

Simone de Beauvoir writing cafe

It is doubtful if she would be as prolific today, however, if she were attempting to write in the 21st century version of her home-from-home café, surrounded by loudly obnoxious tourists and gawping fan-girls such as myself.

Perhaps this is the lesson to learn from all this desk adulation: that the space itself is irrelevant. Make it the best, comfiest, happiest place it can be but don’t get too caught up with perfection. While perfection on the page should always be the goal, sometimes the means and the location of production will have to fall far short of the ideal. Sitting at the dream desk racked with writer’s block and indecision would be a far worse fate than that of being jammed into a tiny table at a terrible café with a mug of bad coffee scrawling note after note on napkins because there is no more space in your notebook.

As Hemingway knew,

the great thing is to last and get your work done

because what is created when your backside is in the chair is far more important than the quality leather cushion or cracked plastic that it rests upon. So even if you are lucky enough to achieve perfection in your surroundings, be sure to recall this advice from Stephen King:

It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.

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Eight methods to beat the blues

My pal the Japan Camera Hunter has written this great post, all about escaping a photography rut and beating the blues. While it is no doubt useful to those with a camera permanently affixed to their hands, I was struck by how much of his advice – read a book, change of scenery, look at your old work – could also apply to writers and, I am guessing, to other creative types too.

I have been feeling like I have been in a rut lately, probably something to do with the summer heat encouraging indolence, so will be giving this advice a try – with some luck and hard work you will be seeing the results here soon! In the meantime, take a look at JCH’s excellent post and see what you think.

I hope it helps with whatever you are working on…

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Content creation

There is a commonly held belief that in these days of social media, what we do is manufacture content. How many times have you been told that when you use Facebook or similar sites, you are not the customer, you are the product? Your engagement, your clicks, your likes, these are the items that are being sold, and for huge numbers if the Instagram purchase is taken as evidence.

This is, after all, the way of our new product-based civilization — in order to participate as a citizen of the social web, you must yourself manufacture content.

And manufacture it we do, every occasion photographed and uploaded, often before even saying farewell to our companions, for every location a check-in, every issue from the critical to the trivial can be extensively and rabidly commented upon. We must be the generation both with the greatest opportunity to express ourselves and the least inclination to notice when others do the same – who can say that they regularly keep up with everything they have bookmarked or flagged? Most days, scratching the surface and sharing a little of what we have unearthed is the best that can be hoped for.

A camera-phone photograph is a captured moment, a tweet or a status update is a passing thought crystallised. None of them are meant to stand for eternity, perhaps for the first time our means of recording what goes on around us are designed to have a transitory quality (if you don’t believe me, try searching for tweets you wrote more than a year ago as I did when writing The Teas That Bind, it was the biggest headache of the whole process).

So, where does that leave those creators, the writers, photographers and artists who are trying to produce something of more lasting value? In this eloquent exploration of ‘the Facebook Problem’ for photographers by Martin Parr – a photographer who relies on a seeming lack of awareness of the camera on the part of his subjects – he notes that:

[n]ot having everyone looking at you in these situations is a major achievement.

As we have become more aware of our roles as content creators, so we are also developing a more heightened sense of our public image, so that calls for unflattering photographs to be deleted and retaken are now so routine that they pass without comment except in jest. Few of us, I expect, would be happy with an unfavourable photograph being displayed on the internet, even if the button was clicked by a legend like Mr Parr.

For writers the social media problem is often one of focus, as when everything ever written is available for you to read – often via the same machine you are attempting to use to create – it takes a strong soul to turn away from the delicious yet distracting fruit being proffered. Writer Sean Lotman notes, in this interview with the Diverse Arts Project:

[Doing art] … entails removing yourself from the outer world with its tweets and status updates and general distractions. It’s not easy to do. In fact, it can be like hitting your head against the wall…  it’s easy to be influenced by others’ work.

It appears to me that creators are caught on the horns of a twin dilemma, building your social media presence to establish an audience for your work takes you away from doing the work that the audience are meant to be appreciating. Investing time in the creation of vibrant online presences will only enhance the wealth of some Silicone Valley entrepreneurs. Hell, at least in the ‘bad old days’ the writers and photographers routinely got paid, without having to send emails like this.

In that case, why do it at all? Back to Sean Lotman for a final word:

Don’t expect to get rich or famous. Don’t let your ego be manipulated by ‘views,’ ‘faves,’ or ‘likes.’ The best art is rendered because it had to be. You don’t have a choice in its creation.

The only choice, then, might be who you create the content for. That being the case, be sure to choose wisely.

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Love those redheads

I have profuse apologies to make. I can’t remember the last time I took a whole week off updating ten minutes hate. Thanks to all of you who have been passing by to see if I had written anything new, I hope you managed to find something sufficiently entertaining in the Records Department.

Rest assured that I haven’t only been spending the time lazing around with a pot of Earl Grey, I have also been working on my entry for Carve Magazine’s Raymond Carver Short Story Competition, doing tons of planning for a new course which I am enjoying teaching no end, as well as daydreaming and plotting a final assault on my first novel which I am aiming to have done by the autumn (kick me if it doesn’t materialise!)

Before it does, be sure to pick up a copy of the five-star rated The Teas That Bind, available either to download now or in paperback.

And finally, here is a clip which always makes me smile, for obvious reasons:

A very happy Sunday to you all!

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Carve Magazine – Raymond Carver Short Story Contest

I wasn’t going to mention this as I know there are quite a few talented writers who read ten minutes hate and I thought maybe I could do without the competition!

Reason prevailed though, so it is only fair to let you know that the Carve Magazine Raymond Carver Short Story Competition is now open and I am working on a couple of ideas for it. Last year’s winner is a poignant read featuring a cast of very different women passing through a shopping mall’s bathroom.

I hope I can do it justice. So why not join me and get writing?

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Going missing

A grey sky, making it too easy to feel miserable. The heel fell off my boot as I walked into work, leaving me limping all day. Over-tired, I had slept too long, veering from one lucid, unsettling dream to another without any pause, so that I found it difficult to escape from the feeling of having disappointed some faceless authority, failed to measure up to what was expected of me and faced down accusatory tones, even after the alarm had intruded.

Days like today it is impossible to fight the urge to go missing for a while, even if it only is in the virtual sense. Turn off the internets, pick up a book, a notebook, a pen. Write letters, listen to music loud enough to have the neighbours cursing your name and hope that tomorrow the sun will shine again. Perhaps that is enough.

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