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Holiday Reading. History and Fiction … and historical fiction

It is the holidays, so this norming I read Michael Faber’s ‘The Fifth Gospel.’


Fun and quotable. And this easy and quick to read. A 3 hour train journey would do it.

Over the previous few days I have read Stephen King’s ‘Cell,’ which begins like a text book, ‘throw them out of the aerolpane’ thriller but turns into such daftness I skim read the last half at great speed. You must admire his hutzpah.

Over the previous week I have not been enjoying Simon Schama’s ‘History of Britain’ as I feel I’m getting too much of him and not enough history (He’s very good on Caravagio though) … while Andrew Marr’s ‘The Making of Modern Britain’ at least had some micro-factoids to interest in a journalist sort of way.

Then I found my old copy of Norman Davies ‘The Isles’ which I read a decade ago and plan to read again … followed by his History of Europe.

Unsure why I’m trying to pack my brain with such stuff, but it is in part due to my mind being re-awoken from a period of slackness courtesy of the OU.


The Watersprites (Chapter One)

The Watersprites


I have tried to write this story a thousand times. Every time it has come out a different way because I can’t get my head round it. Can I do it justice? Some things can only ever exist in your mind, the way you see and smell the events, the way it rolled out, the detail, the thoughts, the way you saw it

I was sixteen and at school. I played the flute, go to drama club, yawn yawn, and I have a boyfriend,. Yippee! We get on, we like each other … and all the rest of it.

Mum was over protective. Aren’t they all? Anyway, we were coming home, she’d picked me up from school so that I could drive home. See, I’ve got it wrong already – I had to be seventeen in order to drive. Thinking about it (I don’t keep a diary so I can’t tell you the exact dates), but I was more like 17 and a half. It was early summer and my birthday was in November, so that’s about right. Sorry kids, I thought I was younger. I did not think of myself as a child. The driving, the car, the boyfriend and all the rest of that stuff. I was trying to drive and we got into this blazing row. Looking back on it I see two kids fighting, not a mum and her daughter, I see a playground slagging match. She had to pull over to say her piece. It wasn’t about my boyfriend; he was away on his gap year before uni; it was about someone else I was seeing and how much time we were spending together. I didn’t like him that much … but enough of that … well, this isn’t going to be that kind of story so you can make this bit up. Either way the argument was unjustified. What business was it of hers? I wasn’t stupid. Meanwhile coming out of town the traffic is horrendous. The more het up she gets, the Mother, the most impatient I become with a bus that is getting in my way all the time and my not being able to get passed every time it stops because it can’t get into its stops because of some reason or another. Noting much the Mum version says goes in, just as well. I was aware of it. Got the gist of it, picking out the odd word that could easily be dropped into some sentence or another that meant the same thing. She was pissed off with me. Dropping the piano, the boyfriend, this guy on the side. She didn’t care how I drove so eventually I flipped, got up the nerve did the mirror, signal manoeuvre thing (I hope), pressed hard down on the accelerator and got passed this flipping bus. I wish I hadn’t, for some reason the faster I drove the more words my mother managed to get out, the louder it became and the more graphic the descriptions of what she thought of me. So I flipped, coming to the edge of town I saw an opportunity to pull over – in a bus stop. It wasn’t long before we had this bus, my bus, up my back end. I got out, slammed the door, ran over to the bus and jumped the queue. No jacket, no bag, a handful of coins. I paid what I had for a ride some dozen stops down the road. I didn’t know what I’d do next but I wanted my actions to have an impact. At first they didn’t, but boy oh boy did things go pear shaped after that. At first at least.

This is what happened. Mum sat fuming in the passenger seat. My younger sister was sitting in the back? I forgot to tell you that. During this adult-like, parents in the front of the car arguing thing we had both forgotten that ‘the children were in the back.’ I bet she thought it was all very funny; she had it all coming. Lucky sod had a far smoother ride of it than I did when she got to my age.

So, where am I? I’m on a bus, a red single-decker that is heading out of town on the West Road. I needed enough for an eleven mile trip. I had enough to get me less than half that distance down the road. Sod it. I’d get as far as I could and walk the rest. I was sure Mum would follow the bus all the way home. After all I was only sixteen. Or seventeen and a half 😦 You see, telling the story as it was again I am starting to see it from the point of view of others. I was after all 17 & a half. I was learning to drive. I could have passed my test by now and be driving myself home. If I had to walk five or six miles that would do me no harm. (That was something else I’d gone off in the last eighteen months. Family walks. They were okayish when I was 12 & 13, but then it became tiresome. Once my boyfriend came on a walk with us and that was fine, we’d drop behind or get ahead and have a snog behind a tree or behind a rock or round the bend). Anyway, back to the bus.

I get into a bit of an argument with the driver. I think he recognised the car that had been bugging him all the way out of town and had shot passed in a dangerous manoeuvre some x minutes or so ago. I begged him to take me all the way, but he was having nothing of it. My being a girl, and vulnerable didn’t wash. My not having my mobile to ring Mum didn’t mean a thing. I could take his bus, pay what I had and then get off. Which is what I did.

Drizzle. Turning dark. A dual-carriageway for four miles then a minor-road that ran down to the river and up the bank the other side. A couple of hours. It would be pitch black. No sign of Mum. If she didn’t turn up in the next twenty minutes she’d not be able to pick me out anyway. So I start to walk. I needed to get on with it. I get home soon enough. What I hadn’t expected were the pesky drivers who kept stopping to see if I was okay, if I need a lift, if my parents know where I was etc: etc: etc:

It got unpleasant, there was this one bloke in a white van who came back, said he’d got home and spoken to his wife who thought it best if he picked me up – not safe to be out in the dark and your age kind of story. Well I wasn’t having any of that, I was straight up this grass bank, over the fence and starting through a field before he had a chance to grab me. I’m sure he reached out to grab me. He got out of the van and took a few steps up the bank. I knew where that could lead, head down in wet ditch after a lot of nastiness. I’d watched Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect. It doesn’t take too much of an imagination to believe these things happen – they do happen. So I scarpered.

Looking about me I was worried about the growing dark but could orientate myself with ease. The orange glow of town behind me, street lights coming out of town either side of the valley where I could follow the river. There were also some huge electricity pylons that took me more or less home. If I wanted I could follow the buzz from them and get to a road I new that went into the village. I’d be home before the 10 O’clock news.

I didn’t reckon on the stickiness of the soil; school shoes aren’t the best thing to wear if you’re going cross-country. I cursed not having my bag with me. We’d had P.E. with Mrs Whoppet (sounds like her name) so I had trainers. And money. And my mobile. I so wanted to speak to my boyfriend, the proper one, the one I texted and sent messages too often. Would he be worrying already? He was a thousand miles away and not due home for another two weeks 😦

This wood loomed up, not so much a wood as a large copse. I was on a farm track in the middle of this field. I was heading west, I knew that. I could see the street lights on the top of the escarpment in the distance; I could even pick out the dual-carriageway to the north too. Sorry girls, I’m alright with Geography and maps and that. My boyfriend (he could drive), we’d gone off on a trip and I’d done the map reading. He was unfairly critical at first but then rather impressed; he’d not shelled out on a satnav-thingy so I did it for him, the funny voice and everything.

This wood was a bit of a pain. It didn’t look as big as it turned out to be and it was bang smack in my way. Did I go round it or through it? Being a sensible wee missy I turned my head skywards for a look at the stars. Don’t ask me to name more than three or four consellations, but I knew with the Plough I could get to the North Star. Sod it. Cloud baked orange from city lights to the North. Anyway, I’d ploughed on with plenty already that day so making this decision wasn’t so hard. I could judge a straight line. I’d go straight through, aiming for the river, the land dropping to the south, on my left, which should get me down to the river. This I could follow inland for a couple of miles to our village, there was bound to be a path by the river. There are always paths by rivers, aren’t there? So this is what I set out to do.

Weird Quest Dream and Analysed

Thursday 4th January 2007

I’m in a Moorcock world (though I’ve never read one, I’ve seen the illustrations)

As Dracula in the Dracula Spectacula

I return to my old prep school to become re-engaged with creatures that exist in another dimension: vampire like freaks with whom I had become friends and amongst whom I had made a friend, a girl I had rescued and returned to them. Without my help they will die. I must go on a mission to find her again. In order to take on this task I must compromise my human form, taking on more of a type in which I become more like bone with a soul, than a flesh and blood creature … my skeleton is less human than I imagine, the bones a thick as those in Skate around the ribs for example.

You could say these were well hidden Aliens.

Death is always close. As a human I could be consumer/translated … sucked dry at ay moment by one of these fairy/nymphs. My guardian is the head prefect/head master or prince of this kingdom/state. The instructions for the tools I require to get to this other outlet for their existence is complex and bizarre, mixing woodland craft, feathers and sticks with hi-tech gadgetry … and for more entertainment, a few toys.

While I’m there a war breaks out.

Dressing up as confederate solider they fight a battle with a second tribe also in fancy dress – all very Terry Gilliam, even Labyrinth or Henson’s Creature Workshop this.

Death is common place.

I allow someone who could be an evil torture to commit me to the procedure of becoming more like them, this will make me better able to find ‘the missing one, but will also make me less human. The procedure resembles having an enema through the heart – though I continue to live it seems to dissolve, then suck out my vital organs. In moonlight I am nearly translucent.

Procrastinating before this dangerous journey I am surprised to see another set out before me – Selina Scott (representing my sister, or an alternate or another part human). The sacrifice I am taking is being taken by others too. I now feel there is a race on … only one of this can succeed at the task to which I am now committed.

I have a flying device, more like a jet ski with wings/a sail.

Like many of these creatures’ devices it works by being plugged into your own body, drawing energy from you. My speed is controlled, as it were, by my blood pressure (or mood). It is hard to tell which. I set off at dusk, into a moonlight sky, into the clouds, over the town where I come from settling into the space on my vehicle on a trip that will take me to the other side of the world – as far as New Zealand on a large microlight. A couple of servant like beings have been sent too (or come with the kit).

They wait on me.

05h35 I’ve been dwelling on this in semi-consciousness for half an hour. I run through it a few times, the simple stages of returning to my old prep school, finding these beings that I befriended while their, being drawn in to undertake a dangerous mission that will return me to my true love … and save them from extinction. I feel it has something of ‘The Watersprites’ about it … something of ‘The Girl in the Garden’ too. (Screenplays)

1: Who are you in the dream?

Me. Younger. If returning to Mowden I may be late teens/early twenties.

2: Who are you with in the dream?

A human boy.

3: What details stand out?

The creature world from the woods juxtaposed with the human world.

4: What do you feel about these details?

A fantasy land that mixes wood nymphs, vampires, devilish ghouls and other ‘woodland’ creatures with the modern … somehow. Beings that exist in another dimension, or so disguised that they are unknown to most people.

5: What are the various actions in the dream?

Meeting old friends, re-familiarising myself with a form of existence I had forgotten about, committing to a risky adventure, self-sacrifice by becoming more like them to undertake the challenge/journey.

6: How are you acting and behaving in this dream?

Curious, cautious, interested … on familiar ground, but seeing it from the point of view of an adult, so making me less weary, or better able to stand up to some of the creatures, especially the underlings, in this strange, dark, wood world that has been touched by human technology … and have developed an alternate technology of their own as a result.

7: What relation does this dream have to your personality?

Forever setting off on quests of the imagination, where I must sacrifice things, commit to things and do it for no better reason than the pleasure I get from taking the journey and the reward at the end … love, companionship, a soul mate.

8: What does the dream want from you?

To write it down, visualise it, then incorporate it into a story I have already written or devised and give it a film structure.

9: What are the various feelings in this dream?

Awe, disgust, fear, trepidation … wonder, participation, being up for it …

10: What relation does this dream have to what is happening right now in your life?

We’re selling the house and moving … but more significantly, after a break of several months, I am about to commit to working on a story for possible publication. Again. Even though I need some kind of regular employment too to support us at the same time.

11: Why did you need this dream?

Do I need it? Is it a distraction? Or is it showing me the way forward? I have far too many projects on the go simultaneously. Is this a new one, or a return rto an old one? Should I not be redrafting something I have written already?

12: Why have you had this dream right now?

It’s the beginning of the year. January is always the beginning of a set of difficult challenges for me: don’t drink, come of coffee, detox … get the accounts in order, find a job (or get some stories out) … make plans, hope that some of them will bear fruit during the year.

13: What relation does this dream have to something in your future?

I need to achieve something. I need to undertake and complete a lonely, bizarre mission of sorts. I need to enter my head, extract a story from it, and lay this out on paper in a way that others can share and enjoy.

14: What questions arise because of this dream work?

Whatever story I tackle, I must see it through to the end … the end being putting it into the hands of a publisher or an agent.

15: Who or what is the adversary in the dream?

Me. Being distracted … filling my time and my life with something else. Making excuses … TV, the internet.

16: What is being wounded in this dream?

The transformation is one way. There is pain involved.

17: What is being healed in this dream?

Having something to do . Being a part of something.

18: What or who is the helping or healing force in this dream?

That comes when I complete the mission.

19: Who or what is your companion in this dream?


20: Who are your helpers and guides in life as well as in your dreams?

Alone. Though my wife, children and mother would deny this … there are even a few encouraging friends out there.

21: What symbols in this dream are important to you?

The weirdness of it, The otherworldliness of it.

22: What actions might this dream be suggesting you consider?

Get on and write it down.

23: What can happen if you work actively with this dream?

I’ll turn out a science-fantasy adventure story.

24: What is being accepted in this dream?

I need to set out on a quest.

25: What choices can you make because of having this dream?

Take on a quest … a writing journey most like (or a production).

26: What questions does this dream ask of you?

Ensconce yourself in the world of science-fantasy story telling.

27: Why are you not dealing with this situation?

Force of habit. Fear of rejection. Inertia. Distractions … any excuse!

28: What do you want to ask your dream spirits?

Keep coming back!

29: How helpful has this survey been?

An indulgence, always. TBT up. I crave coffee. I make a cup of hot lemon but fear I must have a coffee or retire to bed.

Result of my unwritten New Year’s resolution?

Detox Jan 1st: no caffeine, red meat, milk or bread.

Jan 2nd no coffee, milk, or caffeine … until I had a piece of chocolate cake.

Jan 3rd Took Paracetomol with caffeine, had three mouthfulls of coffee, had soup made with turkey stock and ate a couple of sausages with the kids instead of cooking the Tuna fish.

Jan 4th. Early days, but if the only way I can function having been up for two hours is to have a coffee then I will need to have a coffee! Pain in coccyx where I damaged it earlier this summer. I fear I cannot sit for long on any hard bench or chair … nor am I likely to sail dinghies as your arse tends to take a bashing! And there were a few more hours to the day:

Collecting TBT’s friend who came over to play.

Throwing out the Christmas tree and replacing the pile of pebbles we used to hold it in the pot. Making lunch. And this. I gave an hour at most to writing. I’m working on the story of a young woman who gets herself onto the Front Line during World War I for a couple of days and nights..


McKim, R.H. (1980) Experiences in Visual Thinking, Belmont, CA, PWS (Wadworth Inc.) pp 101-3 Garfield, P. (1976) Creative Dreaming, New York, Ballantine, Chapter 8, ‘How to keep your dream diary’.

Quck fix Anais Nim and Henry Miller

Here we go again. More speed, less haste. Or should that be the other way round?

I have my sense of direction this evening from Jennybabes.

Anais Nin kept a diary from age eleven and a half into her sixties. She was born? No time to look it up, but I guess around 1905. She and her husband, an American Banker turn up in Paris, where she meets yank ne’er do well, the 40 something Henry Miller. A punk, a ball of spunk, a mad, dangerous drinker, whoring unpublished writer running from the dank failure of New York.

Way, way, way ahead of his time. And still pints more honesty than you will find in ANY Diaryland Diary (especially anything written by a bloke).

Henry lived off Anais in more ways than one. He fed upon her, she upon him, they sucked their bodies and brains dry – they were lovers. They encouraged and facilitated each other’s development as writers.

This turmoil of a relationship fed Anais’s desire and craving and longing to write – more importantly it gave her something to write about. Her diary become the reason why she acted the way she did, why she risked all, why she risked antyhing at all. Does anyone in Diaryland go out and do something in order to report it in their diary? Find me one. We all keep our ‘deepest truth’ our real selves offline don’t we? Now one is truly exposed. Try me.

The ‘Journals’ were an obsession with Anais. She fed the ‘monster’ – her dairy and ultimately, after constant rewrites (and embellishments) these diaries were published – and became notorious.

Meanwhile, Henry Miller causes outrage with ‘Tropic of Cancer’ (Or was it Capricorn, no time to check. Top of my head stuff. A hungry, feastful of a book that was condemended as pornographic (in Britain, you could buy it in Paris – which is where I bought a copy to go with the Miller-esque ‘apartement’ in the Marias. (Find me a man who isn’t aroused by it. It is blunt talk, man talk. Honest. Literary. Mind filling stuff. Heavy going too. Getting through paragraphs that stretch from page to page to page is hard on the head.

Together Anais Nin and Henry Miller not only make a great read, if you keep a diarym, they will change the way you write, perhaps the way you live.

Anais produced some exotic, titilating erotica, and some volumes of her diary make gripping reading, try ‘Henry & June’ to begin with. She ultimately becomes a bore, too self-centred and unfulfilled because she cheated on her husband … and lovers. An ageist remark (that also applies to Heenry Miller, but once they got into their sixties they became impotent andtheir word flatulent).

Anais, non the less, became a voice for the ‘Hippy Era’, a feminist, the ‘true woman’ exposed.

There are diaries in Diaryland that make Anais look weak and niave. The Truth of woman and man is an orgiastic feast of diaries, lies, truths, failure and successes at self-expression.

The film ‘Henry & June’ is a reasonable way in. Lots of humping and grinding, innocent compared to the activities of the 21st century, a bit like watching cowboys in a saloon going upstairs with a couple of call-girls.

It is hisory. We are all Henry, all Anais. Maybe not all. Here in Diaryland so become Pat Califia.

Enough. Anais kept a diary for longer than any of us. She explored the many reasons for keeping a diary and as a writer did the one thing we ALL gain from keeping a diary – we learn to speak with a fluid voice, that isn’t a spoken voice, isn’t a text message or email, isn’t prose for printing.

Our diaries are closer to reality than anything from a journal written in long hand at the end of the day.

Jonathan Franzen on writing

Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen (Photo credit: What is in us)

First posted on 29/09/2002 in my Diaryland blog

On Jonathan Franzen

From edited extracts from ‘Why Bother?’ a collection of essays by Jonathan Franzen. This essay is, ‘How to be alone’ that appeared in the UK’s Saturday Guardian newspaper.

Jonathan Franzen’s model when he got out of college in 1981 for the kind of novel he wanted to write was Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch 22’.

This was 1992. So what is it now. I presume a bit of TV and radio would have given way to the Net’

‘The ambitious young fiction writer can’t help noting that, in a recent USA Today survey of 24 hours in the life of American culture, there were 21 references to television, eight to film, seven to popular music, four to radio, and one to fiction.’

I like how Jonathan Franzen relates the fall of the Soviet Union to the shift on car purchasing in the USA.

‘In 1993 -the swollen minivans and broad-beamed trucks that had replaced the automobile as the suburban vehicle of choice – these Rangers and Land Cruisers and Voyagers that were the true spoils of a war waged to keep American petrol cheaper than dirt.’

This brings a wry smile from me:

‘I was becoming so depressed that I could do little after dinner but flop in front of the TV. I could always find something delicious: M*A*S*H, Cheers, Homicide. Naturally, the more TV I watched, the worse I felt.’

I zap between E.R., Friends, Coupling and Simon Sharma.

‘If you are a novelist and you don’t feel like reading, how can you expect anybody else to read your books?’

This prompted me to go out and buy Zadie Smith’s, ‘White Teeth’, Tony Parson’s ‘Man and Boy’ and something else … I want Michel Houellebeque’s ‘Platform’.

‘In the 19th century, when Dickens and Darwin and Disraeli all read one another’s work, the novel was the pre-eminent medium of social instruction. A new book by Thackery or William Dean Howells was anticipated with the kind of fever that a later December film release inspires today. The big, obvious reason for the decline of the social novel is that modern technologies do a much better job of social instruction. Television, radio and photographs are vivid, instantaneous media.’

P.S. What is a ‘social novel’ ? I never studied English beyond school. I.e. Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Pope.

N.B. ‘The essence of fiction is solitary work: the work of writing, the work of reading.’ Jonathan Franzen 1992

This is why writers need a shed. Or a yacht. Or a hermitage

I’d like a hermit’s cage; I’d like to be sent innocent girl’s in search of God so that I could put the Devil inside her. (If she were consenting and over the age of 18 of course, or is 16 in England.)

‘However sick with foreboding you feel inside, it’s best to radiate confidence and to hope that it’s infectious.’ Jonathan Franzen 1992.

There are echoes of Steven Pressfield’s ‘The War of Art’ all about ‘resistance’ … though Jonathan Franzen wrote this a decade ago. Ripples, synchronicity. Blah Blah. Writer who writer about writing as they write.

‘Even harder to admit is depression. It’s not just that depression has become fashionable to the point of banality. The invitation to leave your depression behind, whether through medication or therapy or effort or will, seems like an invitation to turn your back on all your dark insights into the corruption and infantilism and self-delusion of the brave new McWorld … Instead of saying I am depressed you want to say I am right !’

And a bit more

‘Depression presents itself as a realism regarding the rottenness of the world in general and the rottenness of your life in particular. But the realism is merely a mask for depression’s actual essence, which is an overwhelming estrangement from humanity. The more persuaded you are of your unique access to the rottenness, the more afraid you become of engaging with the world; and the less you engage with the world, the more perfidiously happy-faced the rest of humanity seems for continuing to engage with it.’

Don’t think about it, just do it.

Don’t even hesitate to look into your soul. Don’t do an Elvis. Narcissism and writing equals stalemate

‘There’s evidence that young writers today feel imprisoned by their ethnic or gender identities – discouraged from speaking across boundaries by a culture in which television has conditioned us t accept only the literal testimony of the Self. And the problem is aggravated when fiction writers take refuge in university creative-writing programmes. Any given issue of the typical small literary magazine reliably contains variations on three general short stories: “My Interesting Childhood,” My Interesting Life in a College Town,” and “My Interesting Year Abroad”. As a reader I mourn the retreat into the Self and the decline of the broad-canvas novel.’

Just do it. Site down and write.

Lock yourself in a shed. Drink, wank, let go. Then write. Get on a yacht. Disappear to sea. Fly a rocket to the moon. Isolate yourself. No radio, no TV, no papers. No reference books. No contact with the outside world. No ‘writers groups’ at all. Sexperts are permitted.

‘I used to distrust creative-writing departments for what seemed to me their artificial safety, just as I distrusted book clubs for treating literature like a cruciferous vegetable that could be choked down only with a spoonful of socialising.’

Ha ! I knew this writer’s group thing was a waste of paste and space.

‘Readers and writers are united in their need for solitude, in their pursuit of substance in a time of ever-increasing evanescence: in their reach inward, via print, for a way out of loneliness.’

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