Interpretation

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I’m back to work full time next week which is great (I think). Until recently I had a lot of time to kill where I was either:

A) Exhausted or
B) Busy trying to help my poor long suffering wife around the house (and probably getting in the way)

As a result of all this free time I’ve been listening to the radio a lot – including a great interview with Harry Potter author J.K Rowling on the BBC programme Desert Island Disks recorded in November 2000. If you’re a UK resident you can find it here : http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/dida/dida_20001105-1115a.mp3 (I’m guessing BBC license rules will stop the rest of the world but you can give it a try).

In this interview Rowling discusses the character of Rita Skeeter, who those of you who have worked your way through the Potter series will know, is a fairly vile journalist. Apparently Rita’s first planned appearance was in book one but by the time Rowling had reached the final draft she decided that the characters entrance was best saved for book 4 ‘The Goblet of Fire’ when the pressure of the fame would be most trying for Harry. Of course in the interim Potter became a phenomena and Rowling was being hounded by the press for the simple mistake of being a successful author (how very dare she). Now the character of Rita Skeeter is pretty vile, not as bad as some in the real media I’m sure, but a fairly nasty piece of work in anyone’s world (be it real or imagined) and now Rowling faced a quandary. If she wrote Rita as intended all those years ago would people, including the press, see this character as her response to the way the media had treated her?
In the end Rowling’s response was ‘just bung her in and enjoy it’ and then she ended up enjoying writing one of arguably the most memorable characters of the series.

Ok so what can we struggling mortal writers learn from Rowling’s decision? Well it’s simple – don’t worry about interpretation.

There’s an urban legend and I really hope there’s a grain of truth in it, about an author who visits a school to talk about their book which the students have all diligently studied, dissected and essayed. The author talks for a while about their work and then invites questions from the students. They of course have prepared their questions in advance under the guidance of their teacher and the teacher in turn will be teaching in line with the current curriculum supported by the available reference notes for the material. So when the students ask the author about the interpretation of the text they are somewhat surprised to find that the author didn’t intend any of it. The author was simply writing a story. Some of what the students have assumed or deducted might have found its way into the text subconsciously but the themes and meanings they have identified were never placed there directly.

Now let me prove a point. Let’s take that well know children’s classic ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea.’
Ok it’s a tale about a tiger who comes into a small girls house. The tiger sits down to tea with the child and her mother then proceeds to eat all the food, drink all the tea from the tea pot and drink all the water in the tap etc etc. At the end of the story when the tiger has departed and the father comes home there is nothing left in the house for dinner so they go out for a meal. Later they buy some special food in case the tiger ever visits again.

So as an adult (perhaps as a child) you kind of know its not a tiger it’s a cat. That’s the little joke we’re all in on as readers… But….

What if it’s not a cat. Maybe the child has mental trauma and is simply blocking out the reality with this story of a tiger. It could be a mob boss come to collect on daddy’s debts, a dodgy landlord after his rent “No rent? I’m shutting your water off”, or maybe it’s mummies lover who pops round when daddy is at work and calls the young girl “Tiger”?

That’s all nonsense of course I’m sure Judith Kerr didn’t mean any of that. BUT… Judith does have something in her past that might be leaking onto the page, consciously or not. She spent the first few years of her life in Berlin. Her father was allegedly on a Nazi death list because of his opposition to the party. Did they ever have an unwelcome visitor? All forced joviality masking an underlying threat? Fellow writer Michael Rosen has wondered as much:

“So I don’t know whether Judith did it consciously or not – I wouldn’t want to go there – but the point is he’s a jokey tiger, but he is a tiger.”

Or perhaps it could just be a story about a cat.

My point is that you can twist new meanings into everything. It’s doesn’t mean that those interpretations can’t teach us valuable lessons or shine a light on our subconscious. But as a writer why worry about it? Very few of us will ever reach the levels of fame that ends with academics and media critics scouring over our work. Concentrate on the story and the themes you want to explore. Let others read into it what they will.

You can read more about Judith Kerr’s fascinating story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25027090

Keep creating folks, remember it’s supposed to be fun ;-)

Pinterest

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Out of curiosity I joined Pinterest some time ago and discovered that it’s a great source of inspiration and a handy place to save all those interesting images you stumble across when you should be doing some actual writing…

Anyway I have a few boards set up now, some things that interest me, some that inspire or amuse me and a couple of project boards. One of these is called Dynasty and a cursory glance will prove that it’s nothing to do with an eighties TV show featuring Texan billionaires, massive shoulder pads and bad hair.

Dynasty is the working title for a trilogy of books I’m working on the first of was written and I thought (at the time) complete.

I was wrong.

Whilst floating high on morphine (hospital administered, I swear I don’t have a problem) a whole host of ideas flew into my head and now it’s getting another re-write. The first thing I did once I regained use of my faculties was scour Pinterest for images that I can refer back to when I’m refining my work. All of which is there for you to see here: http://www.pinterest.com/mattadey/dynasty/

It’s probably best not to think of it as a window into my mind, because that’s a really scary place and believe me when I say you wouldn’t like the view.

What do you do when life gets in the way of writing?

Medical EquipmentOk so this is my first blog post in a long long while, in fact I really left just as I was getting started. In fairness though I do have a pretty good excuse for slacking off having being diagnosed with cancer. Leukaemia it turns out, is not conducive to either blogging or to be frank reading or writing.

So have these been desert months?
Has all that time been lost to illness?
Well yes and then again…

I have had a lot of time to dwell on my own fate, a massive amount to be honest and to be frank I’m counting every moment that I still live, breath and think as a blessing. Don’t worry dear reader, my outlook is good and I can and see a better future ahead for both me and my family. I’m exhausted, even getting up and going for a shower knocks me out some days, but that will pass with time and it doesn’t stop my mind from being active. The storyteller within me is still waiting with the sparkling eyes of childhood and he is beginning to dance again, albeit with trembling feet. Given time he will find his strength and whilst he does I’ll read a little, write a little and listen to a lot of radio drama. Mentally I think radio has been my saviour, it is the bridge between page and screen, the place where imagination and realisation collide. It’s dawned on me that all writers should listen to the radio and not just to the spoken word. Radio is a gateway to new music, a place to keep up with current affairs and opposing world views and it can hold up a mirror to our own past; nothing brings back memories more than the music of our youth, but things can sound very different second time around!

During these months of reflection I’ve been reminded that music can be magical and would encourage you all to go back to old songs and really listen to the lyrics because they are the key to the writers soul. Remember that line in a song can be the spark that ignites a story, a joke in a sketch can can be the catalyst for a tale of darkness or maybe, just maybe you’ll find something in another writers tale that changes you in ways you’ll never expect.

Happy 2014 to you all!

Making the final leap!

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Well folks, I’ve done it.  I’ve taken the leap, dived right in at the deep end, set myself up for a fall or perhaps taken another step to achieving my dream?

I’ve submitted my work to agent.  Multiple agents in fact.

I’m not now going to sit here and type up a load of advice about ‘this is how you do a synopsis blah, blah, blah…’

The fact is I still don’t know how to write a synopsis, I suspect mine was a bit rubbish!  It was also the most painful thing I’ve ever written.  Originally I thought it would take me a couple of hours.

NO!

Ten hours would be a better estimate.

But I’ve done it, this might go nowhere but then again…

If I can do it then you certainly can.

If you’re anything like me, then there’s always that doubt in your head.   That little voice that tells you whatever you do is not good enough.

Well, whatever your field you always need to practice.  Everything can be improved, but before that your work needs to exist.

The great writers of our time all started out with a blank sheet of paper and the stories in their heads; but it takes time to find the words.

The finest sculptures were crafted by people driven by a desire to make something beautiful, they all had to start a chip at a time.

So here’s my call to you:

Go create.

Yes I mean you.

Go and do something amazing.

Iain Banks

Stone BayI was going to blog about my weekend.  I had a lovely time on the south coast with my in-laws and quiet walk down to the sea that sent my mind spiralling off in some new creative directions.

Then today I heard the sad news that Iain Banks has terminal cancer and does not expect to live for longer than a year.  Of course my heart goes out to him and his family, but it also aches for us the readers, the consumers of his art.  Those of you who know Iain’s work will appreciate what a loss this will be, although his books don’t consistently reach the heights of his début The Wasp Factory, his legacy includes some absolute gems.

Iain is the master of the opening paragraph, the most famous of which is probably from The Crow Road and begins with, “It all started the day my grandmother exploded.”  That’s not my favourite though, that honour belongs to Espedair Street; a dark, yet slightly comical, assessment of the life of an ageing rock star, a man who has it all and now can’t decide what to do with any of it.  I loved it, from the moment I read it, I ‘got’ this book in a way I could never describe.  Few books come close in my mind, only the collaborative efforts of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman on Good Omens pips it in my top five.  The opening paragraph sees our protagonist (Daniel Weir) discuss his intended exit from the world, “Two days ago I decided to kill myself…”  It then describes just how he intends to exit this mortal realm by diving into the cold waters off the west coast, before throwing you, the reader, a life ring “Last night I changed my mind and decided to stay alive.  Everything that follows is… Just to try and explain.”

What follows is a tale that makes me feel good every time I read it.  It’s not a light story by any standards, but it’s engrossing and believable and by the time Danny makes his fateful journey, you fully expect him to go through with his plan despite the opening assurances.  Then the ending comes and the grief pours out of him (and you) to be replaced with a strange feeling of acceptance, a realisation that happiness is found within, with those who love you and in the love you hold for others.  Few books will ever manage to pull of that trick so well.

So Iain Banks (with or without the M), for The Bridge, for Complicity, for The Crow Road, The Business and The Wasp Factory I salute you, because they are all great works, but for Espedair Street I will thank you, because it makes the world a better place to live in.

Daylight Savings Time

Digital Clock ImageFor those of us on Greenwich Mean Time this weekend sees the clocks roll forward by an hour, consequently that means that we all lose sixty minutes valuable sleep.
So the following day we will inevitably traipse around the house resetting wall clocks, thermostat timers, wrist watches and a myriad of other devices to the correct digits, only to change them all back again in a few months time (lets just give thanks that the video recorder’s now packed away at the back of a dusty cupboard).

Now the modern world has complicated things further by giving us devices which automatically adjust themselves, sometimes.

Not all of them do, which then leaves you with that moment of temporal uncertainty as you peer bleary eyed at your phone, watch or clock and wonder “Is it really 6:30? Or is it 7:30?” It’s a quandary that’s never really solved until you haul your weary carcass out of bed in search of any device that you are fairly sure isn’t equipped with any self adjusting mechanism. By this point you may as well give up, make some coffee and fight through the fatigue.

Don’t get me started on the perils of setting an alarm.

Now, despite my grumbles, I’m actually quite looking forward to the change, purely because my middle child takes the presence of a mere ball of fire in the sky as his cue to wake up, and when he’s awake it stands to reason that mummy and daddy should also be awake. So I’m praying that losing an hour on Saturday means that I’ll gain a few as the week rolls on. All this will change of course when (if) the British summer actually kicks in and he gets up at dawn again.

I could of course, simply go to bed earlier, but I’m naturally one of natures nocturnal creatures and I find my mind is most creative between the hours of nine in the evening and one in the morning. Sadly children tend to harbour the irrational belief that there is only one twelve o’clock in the day. So I’ll cross my fingers and promise to go to bed early this weekend so I don’t wake up as Captain Grumpy on Sunday; but sadly I think we all know how this story will end.

Oh and you forgot to change the clock in the car.