Monthly Archives: October 2010
Towards the end of September, on a Wednesday, Graham Joyce came to speak to the Speculators (we, the am-dram of SF writing). It was an interesting talk; thought provoking, illuminating, full of inspiring stuff. It was so good I decided to write it up weeks later, once I’d forgotten how most of it went.
I did this for a reason. OK, another reason apart from being a lazy, shiftless cove… I did it because it is so easy in these situations to become a mere copyist, a transcriber and a verbatim recorder. Other bloggers do it: they go to a talk or lecture and reproduce the speaker’s notes down to the last sub-heading and footnote. In my opinion that is a problem, particularly for the speaker who may earn part of their living by giving talks. What do they feel about sharp-eared pixies giving away their merchandise? It is something to ponder before putting someones magnum opus online; you may be hurting them financially by doing so. To avoid this pit-trap, I prefer to write inchoate half-memories, so if I write nonsense, it is as a matter of principle.
Graham Joyce is a fantastic writer. Read all about him here. He is also a great raconteur, inventor of alter egos (William Heaney) and a lover of the craft of writing. I do hope that that at least will come across here. We began, as is entirely germane, with the writer’s story. His path to becoming a writer could not be more romantic; he gave up his job, went to live on a Greek island for a year, wrote his first novel and got it published before jetting back to England with a suitcasefull of retsina.
OK, so there was more to it than that (there always is), he was previously successful as a poet and had tried to write a novel earlier in life. He also had experiences to draw on which included years of youth work, bizarre meeting/therapy sessions and a childhood in a mining community that give depth and substance to his work.
After that part of the talk (or was it before?) Graham did a very unusual thing; he made a serious attempt to answer the age-old question “where do you get your ideas from?”. It is easy to scoff when people ask that question. It is considered bad form to even bring it up. This is a shame, as it is the most vital question of all: Why do we write what we write? Here is Mr Joyce’s answer, as far as I could fathom it.
Consider a triangle. You know, geometric shape, three points, isosceles, right-angled… oh, never mind, here’s a picture:
Right. Happy now? Let us continue. Well, at the top of the ‘Joycean’ triangle is your inspiration. This is drawn mainly from dreams. Dreams are your subconscious mind trying to order your waking thoughts, experiences etc. Many ideas come from this state of consciousness. The trick for a writer is to drag these ideas down to the bottom left point of the triangle. Here is where you sketch them out, scribble them into notebooks and generally form them into plots, characters and stories that you want to tell. Then the hard work begins of turning the idea into a manuscript and writing the various drafts that lead to the finished manuscript (the bottom right point of your triangle).
If you were in a mystical and Kabbalistic mood, you could liken this process to the lighting strike: divine inspiration pinging through all the sephiroth on the tree of life from Kether to Malkuth as the divine is transformed from spark, to Platonic form, to idea, to book signing at Waterstones. You’ll want a picture of that too:
Other interesting stuff was also said, like the fact that each of Graham’s books goes through four or five drafts. The first draft considers plotting and story-line, the last is a line-by-line reading and tidy up. In between, Mrs Graham Joyce reads the draft, bringing another pair of eyes to the manuscript.
Honestly, I can’t remember much more. He did let us all have a copy of his novel Requiem, which I loved, and talked about his new novel, The Silent Land. We all had drinks at the bar after. But I do remember another occasion, performing on the same bill as him last October in a cold, gloomy Leicester Guildhall in a charity event. He told a creepy little ghost story and just as the tale came to a spine-chilling crescendo, he leapt at two old ladies in the audience shouting “Aaaargh!”. Top bloke.
… Floppybootstomp Compress was born. To celebrate the fact, I offered to post a full-length story on the blog today. In fact, you get two for the price of one as the latest issue of Aphelion has one of mine too. How’s that for value?
Howard Jacobson, Mario Vargas LLosa and I have somethhing in common: we’ve all won literary prizes this October. OK, so I’ve only won story of the year at The Avatar, but we all have to start somewhere.
So, without further ado, here’s your story:
by Daniel Ribot
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, lived three strange grown-ups called Clarence, Ruby and Malcolm. Clarence, Ruby and Malcolm worked as performers. Clarence plied his trade as a strongman, bending iron bars and flexing his barrel chest for the amusement of the crowds. He had a twirly waxed mustache that he was particularly proud of – and some Dundreary sideburns too. Ruby was a tiny woman with black hair that she kept wrapped in a silk scarf of many colours. She told fortunes in a booth, a sideshow that delivered mystical advice in exchange for crossing her palm with silver. Malcolm was a midget, a dwarf if you prefer, who dressed up in a clown costume and entertained the punters with some hilarious routines. He was always getting custard pies in the face. All three of them worked at the circus and lived together in a caravan.
Today Ruby would tell the boys their fortunes. The circus had arrived at a new town and she liked to see how things would go for them here. She laid three tarot cards on the table; one for each of them. Clarence and Malcolm were preparing the tea and biscuits. Just then the ringmaster showed up, poking his head inside the caravan door.
“Oy, you lot! Come and help put the tent up!”
They sighed as they left everything to follow the ringmaster to go and help the rest of the circus-folk. The door swung closed behind them, but the latch did not connect. It was an old caravan and the doors were rather sticky.
Goldilocks was a little girl who lived on the outskirts of a sprawling suburb of teeny-tiny first time buyer properties. It was set in a maze of cul-de-sacs with nowhere to play and nothing to do. It was a sterile desert for children with only cars, grass and gangs of teens outside the offie to look at. Goldilocks decided that, rather than stay here and wait for something bad to happen, she would meet her doom head on. She left the house and headed for the fairground. She was bored and wanted some amusement.
Soon Goldilocks arrived at the edge of the fairground. It was late afternoon. She saw a row of caravans behind the generator lorry. Ambulance sirens could be heard in the background and the area was deserted. Tiptoeing towards the caravans, she decided to try the doors. All were locked until she tried the last one. It swung open without effort. She looked around to see if anyone was looking. There wasn’t, so she let herself in.
Inside the circus caravan, there was all kinds of interesting stuff to see. There was a stuffed owl, a blanket of jewels and feathers and a pile of books with a plantpot on top. But her eyes were drawn to table with a deck of cards and some mugs of tea, still steaming hot. Goldilocks suddenly felt very thirsty. The biggest mug was full of liquid that was a dark copper colour. Strong and possibly stewed. Mary slurped it.
“Ugh, no sugar!” she exclaimed. She put it down on the edge of the table and tried the next one. This mug looked dead milky and weak.
“Groo! Herbal tea with milk, rank!”
The last mug of tea was tiny. It did look the right colour for tea. Goldilocks drank it. It was hot, sweet and delicious.
Next, Goldilocks started rummaging around. Soon she found something to go with her drink. Three cigarette packets. The first contained fags made of strong, high-tar dark tobacco. She lit one and took a puff.
“Yuck! Too strong!”
The second packet was full of roll-ups. When she tried one, her face crinkled with disgust. It tasted like pot-pourri dipped in face cream. “Yucky yuck, yuck!” she declared.
The third was cheerful-looking pack of low-tar menthols. They burned with a cool blue smoke as she inhaled. Perfect for a little girl. Excellent. Now she could really enjoy her tea.
Only then did she spot the cards on the table. Goldilocks leaned over towards them. There were three cards from an old, mysterious tarot deck, all laid in a row, face down on the tablecloth. The little girl shuddered. It was spooky. She knew for definite that these cards were somehow watching her.
“Perhaps they will tell me my fortune.” she thought.
Goldilocks took the first card and flipped it over. The Wheel. It had a picture of a big wheel, like the one at the circus fairground or Chessington Adventure Park.
“Huh! I knew I was in a circus already. Not very good these, are they?”
She flicked her ash on the table and turned over the second card. The two of cups. “And what is that supposed to mean?” said Goldilocks irritably. She flicked her wrist to brush away the ash on the table and accidentally knocked one of the mugs. It was the big one. It fell and hit the floor, smashing into a thousand pieces. Goldilocks shrieked and jumped out of the way as the tea and pottery fragments splashed all over the floor.
“Oh my God, this is so weird!” Goldilocks stared at the table. There were now only two mugs on there. Two cups. Just like the tarot card had predicted. She approached the table gingerly. There was the last card, calling her. “I’m scared!” she whined softly. But she had to do it. She crushed her cigarette butt into the tiny mug and took a deep breath. Then she turned over the last card. Death.
Goldilocks screamed, the world went black as she fainted.
When Goldilocks awoke, it was night-time. There was a gypsy woman and a man with a curly mustache looking down upon her.
“She’s awake, Ruby.”
“So she is. Well, my girl. It seems you’ve been caught red-handed, breaking and entering.”
Goldilocks blubbed. “I wasn’t…”
“You broke my mug.”
“You touched my cards.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be bad.. I’m just a girl from a housing estate with nothing to look forward to but meaningless sex, self harm, alcopops, cyber-bullying and drug addiction. I didn’t mean no harm or nuffink.”
“Well, no harm done, I suppose.”
“Not compared to what happened to Malcolm.”
Clive looked stern and severe. “Malcolm, young lady, was a friend of ours. You drank his tea and smoked his cigarettes as he was dying. Squished by the largest tent-pole as we were putting up the big top.”
Goldilocks remembered the sound of the ambulance now and started to cry. “Oh, I’m so sorry! Didn’t mean to, honest!”
The two adults looked at each other and smiled. Ruby spoke. “It’s alright child. You can go when you like. Take our blessings with you.”
Goldilocks dried her eyes. She looked around the little rickety caravan. So much nicer than than a Beezer starter home.
“Can’t I stay?”
“You what?”, said Clive.
“It’s just that you’re so nice and my life is so crap and…”
Ruby rubbed her chin, pondering. “Well, we are short of a clown.”
“And Malcolm’s costume should just about fit her.”, added Clive
“Please can I stay, oh Please?” Goldilocks simpered. A tear ran down her apple blossom cheek. She wiped her face with nicotine-stained fingers.
“Well, we’ll need a letter from your parent or guardian.”
“…a contract and a CRB check.”
“And a National Insurance number.”
“But of course you can stay.”
And so it was, boys and girls, that Goldilocks joined the circus and everyone not living in a starter home lived happily ever after.
So goodnight and God bless.
Yes, Floppybootstomp Compress is now nearing its first birthday. It has been an interesting experience getting the whole thing up and running. At all times I’ve tried to ensure the content was original, well thought out and gave the reader some sort of reward for stopping by.
Central to my mission was to not give a damn about what was popular or likely to get me noticed. Apparently if you mention sex, lesbians, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga or Perez Hilton your hit rate soars, but frankly, I’m not after that here. This blog is about a few things, none of which, I imagine, will be of general interest. The first of these is stuff I like. That’s why I write about music and comic books. Obscure music and comic books. After all, who needs yet another blog about Lady Gaga or Michael Jackson? The other strand to this blog is writing and writers; the many great wordsmiths I’ve met what they are doing and how I struggle to keep my own scribbling up to scratch. So there’s a lot of variety here (which is why I have my Floppyboots compressed in the first place). Sometimes I’ve struggled for ideas or a decent grammatical sentence, but overall I’m happy with the result so far. And just for the curious, here’s a few stats:
In one year Floppybootstomp Compress has accumulated:
7000 hits (over 500 a month)
Most popular posts:
- Top 100 60s songs, the return.
- War of the World-Builders
- Comic-Book Classics 2: Sambre
The actual date of this anniversary is the 19th of October. On the day I will put up a story on the blog. Not a flash-fiction, but a full 1300 word story for my readers to share. I wish I had cake, but stories are better for your waistline.
Oh, and thanks for stopping by, amigos.
Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is a narrative in the fine tradition of Comic book reportage. It tells the tale of her own childhood and the huge political changes that shook her world. It begins in 1979 in Teheran during the time of the Iranian Revolution. It tells the story from the point of view of a little girl who comes to realize how the new Islamic regime would affect her and her family and that of many others.
Marjane’s family are middle-class intellectuals whose sympathies were initially fully behind the Revolution and rejected the Shah’s dictatorship. To begin with, the Revolution is supported by a wide section of society: Communists, progressives, democrats and religious leaders joined together to overthrow the government. Very quickly, however, they found that Revolutions can be very easily betrayed. Soon, life begins to change; women are forced to wear the veil, jobs are closed to them, universities close their doors, political options disappear. Like Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Satrapi shows the slow and relentless triumph of the forces of reaction, inhumanity and intolerance. The Shah’s secret police are replaced by religious police, equally barbaric.
The story is also full of hope and humour. Life, despite everything, goes on. Eventually Marjane is persuaded to go abroad and leave Iran. Via Austria, she makes her way to France. It is a journey that affects her profoundly. On the one hand, she gets to experience the freedom she has been denied at home. On the other, she finds that life can be confusing and cruel even away from the mullahs. The difficulties of living away from family, homesickness, the trials of life of an immigrant in a land that is not your own are all detailed here. It is a story that shows great emotional honesty.
Originally in four installments, published between 2000-2003, it soon began to create a stir, winning awards at the Angouleme festival and being made into an animated film in 2007. In English translation, the comic version been published in two volumes. The artwork of Persepolis is simplistic (naïve) and black and white. Satrapi was influenced by French comic book artist David B and this particular style suits the bleak, often harrowing story down to the ground. As critical of some aspects of Western culture as of the Iranian Revolution, it gives a truly individual vision of a history whose ripples are still making waves today.
Note: Marjane Satrapi is the first woman to make it on my list of classics. I’m sorry it took so long. It is an oversight I will be looking to correct in future posts. There are excellent women working in the field (Donna Barr’s ‘Desert Peach’ and The Girly Comic being particular favourites). And there was a time when Girls read as many – or more – comics than boys. When ‘Jackie’ outsold ‘The Beano’ and Archie Comics had a large female audience that even challenged Marvel and DC (Trina Robbins’ From Girls to Grrrrrlz is a first-rate exploration of that herstory).