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Archive for September, 2012

Learning, humour and irony

September 23, 2012 Leave a comment

This last week I’ve been rewriting some material on sociology, which prompted me to investigate what’s available on Youtube. I was intrigued by some of the stuff I found.

Here’s one, 3 minutes or so long, on the sociology of the family for A-level students. Things I liked about it: the flat, emotionally unengaged voice of the character that keeps repeating ‘I feel your pain’; and the punchline at the end. Wonderful.

And here’s another, on homelessness and poverty. Six minutes in total, but the best bit is the cartoon at the beginning. One character argues that homeless people are real people, like you and me. And another asks, with a note of incredulity in his voice: You mean they’ve adapted? Copied our DNA?

Humour and irony as tools for learning. Excellent stuff.

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Writing on Walls – the stick!

September 20, 2012 Leave a comment
The stick from the 'Mabon Whores' story - photo credit Chris Cafferkey

The stick from the ‘Mabon Whores’ story – photo credit Chris Cafferkey

A few years ago I went to a local science fiction society meeting – probably Starbase Leicester – to attend a talk by an SF/fantasy novelist. I’m afraid my memory is poor about who the writer actually was, though someone may be able to remind me from the details I’m about to give. The key thing I took away from the talk was the idea that in order to get inside the head of his characters, he made puppets of them. Properly carved wooden puppets, about two feet tall, the kind on strings that you can use in a puppet theatre.

My memory says he’d learned the art of woodcarving from a family member (father? grandfather? uncle? I don’t know) and got into puppetry as a hobby from an early age. So when he started writing, it was a natural strategy for him to get a sense of his characters’ physique, looks and characters by carving and constructing them as puppets.

That is, I think, dedication – because I’d imagine it takes quite a time to get a puppet looking exactly the way you think it should.

The pics in this blog represent almost the reverse process, however. Because my Writing on Walls collection has a story in it titled ‘Mabon Whores’. Mabon is the pagan (some say primarily Wiccan, but there you go) name for the autumnal equinox and the story has references to various magical items made by dirt-poor people in a small rural community. One of those items is a magical stick.

In writing the story I  tried to imagine what such an item would look like. There are of course a range of possible variations – staffs, wands, etc. but I wanted it just to be a stick, the kind of thing you could pick up from a hedgerow or as fallen wood in a copse. And I didn’t want it to be well-constructed, made with craft and finesse. Not because the makers wouldn’t have had the resources to do that, because they’d be able to whittle and make home-made varnish and suchlike, but because they understood that the point and power of such an object lies in the intent with which it’s made. It’s the kind of WI Thomas logic at work here: if I pick up a random stick or twig and tell you it has powerful magic in it, and I’m convincing and you believe me, then for all practical purposes it does have powerful magic in it. If I tell you it can send out a force like a hurricane and wave it at you, you’d probably fall over (and think it was the stick that did it, not the power of suggestion).

The stick from the 'Mabon Whores' story, moodier image. Credit: Chris Cafferkey

The stick from the ‘Mabon Whores’ story, moodier image. Credit: Chris Cafferkey

So to cut to the chase, after I wrote the story I made the stick out of curiosity. And that’s what the pics are.

It came from the back garden, was painted with old spray paints from the shed, and decorated with random things lying about the house – some ribbon and beads, a plastic dragonfly (I said it was random, it’s that kind of household), an old keyring, the printing from the inside of a cigarette packet that looks almost-but-not-quite like buttons on a TV remote control.

If you read the story, the stick probably won’t knock you over. But the eviscerator might make you cross your legs…

Oh, and the pics were taken by Chris Cafferkey, who normally shoots far more elegant and beautiful things like flowers.

HPL

September 17, 2012 3 comments

Apparently one of the people I write education and training materials for has designated me an HPL. I discovered this when I phoned them to ask a question about their programme and the person I spoke to had to check a file, which referred to me and the other freelancers writing for the programme as HPLs. But she didn’t know what the acronym meant.

So – idle curiosity – I tried an acronym checker. The more amusing possibilities included:

High Pressure Laminate

Human Performance Laboratory (likely!)

High Performance Leadership (as a freelancer?)

Horizontal Protection Limit (?)

High Priority List (doubtful!)

I’ve since discovered from someone else in the organisation what the abbreviation actually means, but it’s boring. Anyone got any amusing suggestions?

Categories: humor Tags: , , , ,

Are writers ‘credible sources’?

September 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Here’s a slightly weird story.

Philip Roth – who’s pretty well-known as an author – wrote a novel, The Human Stain, published in 2000. No, I haven’t read it, but that’s not important.

Wikipedia has a page about the novel – not surprising, because it has pages on many novels. The page was generated in 2002 by a contributor and has been revised and added to on many occasions since. The page mentioned speculation by various critics that the principal character was based on the life of a literary critic, Anatole Broyard. Roth approached Wikipedia to offer a correction: despite the critics’ speculations, he’d drawn the events surrounding the principal character, and character elements, from the experiences of his friend Melvin Tumin.

The Wikipedia administrators refused to amend the entry on the basis that there was no second source to support this claim and he ‘was not a credible source’.

The entry has now been amended to reflect this exchange, but it raises interesting questions.

To what extent is any author a ‘credible source’ when discussing their own work? I’m not talking here about slips of memory or deliberately misleading statements – though those can happen – but the extent to which any literary work draws on material from a writer’s unconscious and perhaps touches on matters of which the writer was not consciously aware. I can give an old example from a piece I wrote and performed as a student: I was pleased with it, but the feedback I got after the event was that it was an interesting retelling of a Biblical story. One that wasn’t in my mind when I wrote it, and that I’d never consciously paid attention to since religious education classes in primary school. (I might add that I never kept a copy of the piece and couldn’t now tell you which Biblical story.)

What (or who) constitutes a ‘credible source’ anyway for a work of imagination? And with the passage of time, is it really possible for anyone – even with access to an author’s personal manuscripts and notes, etc. – to tell what was really in their mind when they wrote something? Does it even matter?  Because meaning is context-bound and if the book survives and is read years later, does the meaning even remain intelligible within the context of the time it was written?

As you may have seen in previous blog posts, I recently self-published a short collection of horror stories. And I’d hate to think what kinds of stuff people would find in there that I wasn’t aware I was writing, because a lot of my stories start from a single mental image, a fragment of life, or as much of a dream as I can remember when I wake up, and I try to re-imagine their contexts and consequences.

If you want to read the whole BBC story, here’s a link.

What I’ve been doing this week

September 1, 2012 Leave a comment

So here is the accomplishment of the week:

Accomplishment of the week

It doesn’t look like much, but it took about four days to get out of the ground, finally shifting when I bought a pickaxe and was able to lever it enough to cut the taproot. The roots had run riot under paving in the garden, causing problems with levels and unevenness. However a smaller and more well-behaved sapling will take its place.

Also something I encountered during the week – sorry about the poor quality, my mobile phone doesn’t do great close-ups. I want one of these to place under some ferns where it can peer out at unsuspecting visitors. Actually both stump and skull triggered some ideas which may appear in a later collection of stories…

Skull in stone - garden ornament

Skull in stone – garden ornament

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