Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Schmetterling by Sandra Horn

Dad always worked with his hands. He’d been trained as a carpenter and joiner, but after the war he joined Mum’s family building firm and learned to be a plasterer. I think these jobs must require total absorption – getting the consistency and thickness perfectly right, making changes in body movement to accommodate to distance-from-core,  constantly judging the state of the receiving wall...and all on what looks like automatic pilot; a deeply-embedded skill.

All the time he was working, he sang. He sang completely unselfconsciously, almost as if he didn’t know he was doing it. He’d had his voice trained as a child by a formidable aunt (she was an LRAM, spoken in a hushed whisper) until she threw him out for misbehaving. He had a fine tenor voice and had picked up snatches of Italian opera. They were my first foreign words, but not much use in general conversation: None shall sleep! Your tiny hand is frozen! On with the motley, the powder and the paint! Love me, Alfredo!

My big break came when I went to Italian lessons decades later and the teacher asked each of us what we did. ‘Scrivo!’ I warbled (Rodolfo, Act 1, La Bohรจme). My favourite Dad story is that he was once plastering a vast factory building and all the windows were open. He became aware of someone outside shouting ‘Excuse me, mister!’ and he went to a window and looked down. A small boy was standing there. ‘Yes, Sonny?’ asked Dad. ‘My mum says, please, do you know The Lost Chord?’
This long preamble is about bits of the brain doing their separate ‘things’ at the same time. It can be a blessing or a curse – happy synchronicity or destructive interference. When it’s happy it’s called multi-tasking and women are supposed to be particularly good at it. When it’s not, it’s like being inhabited by those butterflies, whatever they’re called, little browny jobs that flit about endlessly and very fast and never settle anywhere for more than a nanosecond. 

I’m not like Dad. If I’m singing, I’m singing. Introduce anything else into the job and I’m sunk. The other side of the coin is that when I’m not totally absorbed in something, I’m full of little brown butterflies. The other day, for example, I was thinking about Dad’s story and The Lost Chord was flitting around in my head, alternating with Pretty Flamingo, and images of Dad leaning out of the factory window and Paul Jones with a microphone. This sort of thing happens all the time and rarely makes sense. It’s very distracting. It can shut out everything else. I have to be very careful to make sure I’m not away with the butterflies when I’m walking downstairs, for example, or I’d miss a step and end up in a heap at the bottom. I drop and smash things if I’m in butterfly mode; I just don’t see the glass, the vase, the precious plate. They are sacrificed to a mental pot-pourri of, say, a snatch of Robert Frost: and miles to go before I sleep, Ravel’s Bolero, Klimt’s The Kiss and did I remember to hang the bathmat up? Then someone comes in, someone speaks to me, the phone rings, the butterflies crash-land and in that moment so does the plate/ vase/glass. 

What has all this to do with writing? Well, I’m not sure whether the act of writing banishes the butterflies or the butterflies have to go before I can even think of starting. They disappear when I’m in a state of quiet concentration, not always easy to attain when I’m tired, fretful, under the weather, etc. It’s an effortful calmness, if that makes any sense at all! Something like this:

*Cover your ears against music,
Chatter, noises of the town.
Search for an almost-silence,
A feathery soft swish.

Empty your mind of sunsets,
Scarlet poppies, apricots.
Contemplate goosedown, tundra,
Iced Sherbert, moon.

Sometimes I think it’s the need to write that becomes a butterfly-banishing force; sometimes I think that they flit off randomly and leave me with some head-space for a while so I can write. I prefer to believe that writing saves me from the flittering; that as soon as there’s a scintilla, a crumb of an idea I want to put on the page, something changes fundamentally and I can focus.
I’ve just stopped for a coffee and into my head popped this ‘joke’,  which relates to this post in a sideways sort of way: An Italian, a Frenchman and a German were arguing about which of their languages was the most beautiful. They took the words for butterfly as an example. ‘Farfalle’, sighed the Italian. ‘Papillon’ crooned the Frenchman. ‘Schmetterling’ said the German and the other two burst out laughing. It’s not funny at all. Schmetterling is perfect. It’s EXACTLY what the little brown jobs in my garden and in my head do! 

*extract from How to Paint a Snowscene, Artemis issue 16, May 2016.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Call of the Duvet by Jan Edwards

It is that time of year when some of us would much prefer to hibernate. Once new year celebrations are over (in the UK at least) there are two months of cold and damp to look forward to – and I am a summer girl.  
Events such as signings are invariably a lot more fun than my winter-brain tells me they will be, and something writers do, even in deepest, darkest winter. Especially when good friends are relying on you to be there.  This was the case for the recent signing that I attended to promote The Daemons of Devil’s End. It was the last event in the signing tour to promote both the The Daemons of Devil’s End DVD, starring Damaris Hayman, made by Reel Time Pictures, and the accompanying anthologies The Daemons of Devil’s End, and/or  Olive Hawthorne and the Daemons of Devil’s End, both from Telos Press. Yes, two editions of the same book (another story in its own right).
It was touch and go whether I would make it at all, having gone down with a bad cold that week, but I decided it would be too bad of me to cry off at that late stage. I hate letting people down. So, sniffing and shivering aside, I decided the game was still afoot. 

The event was in Derby,  just an hour’s drive from here , so my old friend Debbie Bennett, also an author on the same project,  was driving to Derby with us and then staying with us overnight.
We set off in good time and parked near to the Quad, because that was where we ‘knew’ the event was taking place there. We  had a leisurely Italian meal in the restaurant opposite the venue and at around 7pm we strolled over to the Quad in what we thought was good time.

So far so good.
In the Quad cafe we bumped into the Robert Dick and Steve Hatcher – and this is where things began to go distinctly kablooey. The lads expressed surprise to see us there. ‘We must be off,’ they said. ‘We have to pick up Sam and David. But we shall see you there at the gig venue in little while.’
See us there?’ says we. Isn’t this it here at the Quad?’
‘No,’ says they. ‘It is at the Voicebox!
To say that panic ensued would be mild. It had started out so well and suddenly it was the night out from hell. I don’t know how we had all had the very certain knowledge that the Quad was a venue, but  we all had it wrong as it turned out. Our own collective faults, and an object lesson in the first rules of being a writer:  always, but always, read those guidelines!
Whilst Debbie Googled the Voicebox and my other half, Peter, fetched a map book of Derby from the car and having consulted the various oracles we realised the venue was not that far off. So we started walking and arrived there at a little after 7.10, which, when the event began at 7.30, we thought was pretty damned good
Second shock wave of evening hit us. Having hoofed it across Derby town centre, we were nonplussed at finding the place deserted. Every door locked, not a light to be seen, not a soul in sight.  Had we got the wrong place yet again? After a few minutes waiting and wandering up and down a dark  and freezing side street, checking and rechecking that we did indeed have the right address this time, Debbie made a call.
Yes, we had arrived at the right place, and, we were assured, the caretaker would be along at 7.20 sharp to unlock.  So we waited, and we waited. Other people started to drift up, and we stood shivering together like a bunch of depressed penguins, getting colder by the minute. At least, I told myself, it wasn’t raining, or snowing.
The Keeper of the Keys did eventually arrive – at dead on 7.30; not a moment sooner nor later; as they do. By that time, however, I was chilled to the bone and feeling decidedly grotty. I had not anticipated hanging around on frosty street corner and my head-cold was rapidly descending over my senses like a pall, and with it all chance of retaining any capability to construct a coherent sentence.  
We’ve all been there. Catarrh-brain had struck!
Once inside we found our hosts to be were lovely people, and the signing went well. (A hot drink would have been nice, but apparently there were no facilities for tea or coffee – one of those things I guess.) We signed many books, which is always good, and I had at least begun to thaw out by the time we were up for the panel. 

The interviewer,  Robert Dick, was charming as he chatted to all of those on the make-shift podium;  Reel Times Films guru Keith Barnfather,  authors Debbie Bennett, Sam Stone, David Howe and myself , plus cover artist Andrew Thompson.  
I think I did okay – by which I mean to say that I didn’t say anything too stupid (so far as I remember). Now in the normal run of things I would have stayed for the second half  of the event, in which actor Steven Thorne was interviewed. But the only reason I was not actively 'death warmed over' was the fact that I was too darned cold; a classic contradiction. With an hour’s drive ahead of us?  I just wanted to go home, have a couple of glasses of wine, and finally be warm! 
At least it was a signing I shan’t forget in a hurry, and on the upside it was a chance to catch up with friends and even make a few ones. Books were sold and titles promoted. Huge thanks to all who got the event going.
Note to self: always check the venue and always pack an extra jumper!
And if you hear that call to hibernate under the duvet on a frosty winter night? Give it some serious thought!
Jan Edwards can be found on:
Blog: https://janedwardsblog.wordpress.com/
Facebook: jan.coleborn.edwards
Twitter: @jancoledwards

Titles in print – all available in print and dig formats
As author: Winter Downs; Fables and Fabrications;  Sussex Tales;  Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Power of a Negative Word by J. D. Peterson

In my reading and writing I have found that the English language favors the use of negative words to add impact to a statement. Idioms, phrases, and figures of speech also favor the negative form for emphasis.

Let me explain.
It’s morning, and you’re on your way out the door, and your partner say’s, “Don’t forget your lunch.” Why don’t we say, “REMEMBER your lunch,” instead?

You had a meeting with a person of authority, like a police officer or a judge. Your friend asks if you were nervous and you respond; “I wasn’t afraid.” Instead of saying, “I was very brave, and all went well,” WHY does our language default to a negative response?

It appears that there is emphasis added by the use of a negative word. For example, when achieving success in some endeavor, we say, “I could NOT have been happier.”  Instead of a simple, positive remark, “I am so happy!” Just saying, “we’re happy” doesn’t create as powerful a statement as we get by adding a negative for emphasis. This subtlety is woven so intricately into our language that we don’t even notice it.

But why is emphasis landed squarely on the use of a negative word?

How happy are you?

“I’m so happy, I can’t stand it.”
“I’m so happy, I could just die!”
“Just slay me, I’m so happy.”

Really? No wonder the English language is confusing to folks whose native language is not English. And again, that doesn’t even begin to address the use of idioms.

Occasionally when reading a novel I run across a sentence that has so many negative words being used to reinforce a positive statement, that I get confused. It becomes necessary for me to pause, and dissect the sentence in order to determine if it is a positive or a negative statement. Jeepers. (I’ve searched for an example, but one alludes me at the present moment.)

Did you know that hypnotists, when writing a script for a client, are very careful not to use ‘negative’ words like no, not, can’t, don’t, won’t etc. ('Never' is acceptable because it is a time period. Forever, ever, today etc.) Hypnotists claim that the human brain does not process negative words and will cancel them out, which is why when they write a script for a person they will always use the positive form of a sentence or phrase.

Example: A client comes for a session to quit smoking. The hypnotist will never give the suggestion; “You don’t want to smoke cigarettes.” According to the brain experts what the client hears is; “You don’t want to smoke cigarettes.” In essence, reinforcing the very thing the client wants to avoid.

If this is true, then why do we communicate with each other using so many negative words to emphasize our feelings?

If we keep yelling at our children; “Don’t throw that ball inside,” and they’re not obeying our command, could it be because they are actually hearing, “Don’t throw that ball inside.”  Would we do better to say; “Take that ball outside on the lawn.”

What do you think? As a writer, I’ve been pondering this simple observation.

How could I not?