Longhand, Shorthand, Typing and Scribbles

PenToPaperIt’s a funny thing, writing. Different types of writing, different moods and different stages of the process all seem to demand slightly different approaches.

My diaries have nearly always been handwritten. There was an experiment with typing them way back when Windows 3.1 was the In Thing, but by and large, I like a good quality notebook and a decent ballpoint pen for my ponderings. I don’t like the restriction imposed by actual diaries – some days there’s nothing much to say and other days there’s pages of it, so a page-per-day format makes little sense in my eyes. Far better to just head the notebook entry for the day with the date, day, and anything else I happen to think significant with regard to my moods and feelings, and just go. Half the time I don’t quite know what I’m going to write about before I sit down at my desk and open the book. I’m not one of life’s ‘got up, put washing on, watched tv’ diarists, though you’ll see a bit of general life-recording in there, but nor am I an angsty stream of consciousness type (Well, not these days. Twenty years ago when I was in my teens, maybe. Mind you, at that point I used to draw cartoon strips in ’em as well from time to time.). It’s reflection, on self, events, others and life, and it requires a medium that allows for a freeform yet easy-reference approach.

Blogs, on the other hand – and I’ve been blogging both personally and professionally for over a decade in various places – are typed straight into WordPress as befits the medium. They’re snappier, not so personal, constructed rather than reflective, and so they suit a style of actually getting the words out that reflects that, and a medium that makes cut, paste, delete, edit, publish, share super simple.

Stories, well, they can go either way. I have an ideas notebook which contains bits of stories, random scenes which may or may not be revisited some other time, listed-out story outlines and character descriptions, event flowcharts and scribbled bubble diagrams to explore the various different ways a particular theme could be taken. There’s always just enough there to get the idea out of my head and onto paper, but no more. I use diagrams if it feels right, if there are several directions a thing could take or themes I want to explore, because spiralling thoughts can’t be pinned into sensible lists.

I’ll often write first drafts, or the start (and by ‘start’ I mean ‘first bit I start writing’, which is of course rarely the actual start of the piece although it might be the start of the backstory that’s later revealed) of them, in longhand – partly because it’s often more convenient if I’m out of the house (although I’ve learnt that writing erotica in your lunchbreak at work isn’t the best idea in the world) and partly because there’s something about the process of physically putting pen to paper, of crossing out words that don’t fit, of scribbling notes in margins and drawing whooshing arrows to swap paragraphs around, that helps me to shape those initial doughy lumps of story idea to a more workable state. Once that initial kneading is done and a touch of further tinkering is added via the laptop, the rest seems to flow much more easily through fingers that can type faster than they can write.

Art: Generalities

I tend not to go for realism in painted art. Or gentleness. I’m not one for brushstrokes so fine you can barely see them or dainty flowers executed in delicate pastels. I can appreciate the skill level involved – let’s face it, it far exceeds my own! But it’s not me, it’s not a type of expression that resonates for me.

I like vibrant colour – the colours of a fiery Autumn. Visible brush and knife work. Something that looks like it’s been painted in broad sweeps or splashes or speedy dabs. Texture. Something that evokes rather than depicts.

I’m my father’s daughter in much of this – I have his liking for Matisse, his preference for something a little bit dramatic or quirky, not photographic, executed in strong colours. Maybe a surprise or two.

I like Afremov‘s evocative paintings of autumnal city evenings, warm and inviting, the kind of aloneness that makes you feel alive rather than lonely.

I like images that evoke fire and wood, nature and humanity at its most dramatic and powerful. Abstract concepts and executions. Boldness with a side order of mystery. Elegance leavened with quirkiness. Warmth that entices and encourages but doesn’t coddle. If art expresses who and what you are, I guess I just told you an awful lot.

And because Pinterest is a better medium for conveying art – this is the art that speaks to me.

Lost Words

I’ve destroyed or lost countless pieces of writing over the years. Words and effort burnt, thrown away, deleted or mislaid a thousand times.

I remember a square spiral bound notebook I had at university in which I wrote up all my stories as neatly as possible (a hard thing to do when you’re not blessed with neat writing and your mind’s busy writing the thing after the thing you’re transcribing) – some of them only really scenes and snapshots. It didn’t survive. Burnt. But I remember the strongest of the stories it contained.

I remember my storybook from primary school, age 10 or so. Along with that of a friend who had particularly neat writing, it was snaffled by the school to use as some sort of evidence that Kids Do Good Stuff Here and probably found itself travelling to the tip with a skipful of old chairs and hymn books decades ago.

I remember a couple of horror stories I wrote, one at 8ish and one at 14ish. One got lost in the mists of time and the other vanished into the schoolwork heap. I remember one with total clarity but only get flashes of feeling from the other.

I remember a blog hardly anyone knew about, deleted long ago, though some of its ideas have since been recycled. Word and OpenOffice documents galore have met their match at the hands of a dissatisfied Cat and shift-delete.

But alongside the narrative carnage, I’ve been preserving certain writing with the care and attention you’d lavish on a signed first edition. My diaries, of course, survive in all their cringe-inducing glory. But then there are the stories that one way or another needed preserving.

These are the documents that have made it from PC to PC numerous times, some of them making their first few transfers on floppy disks (remember those, kids?) having been typed up from longhand. These are the documents of which I have multiple copies squirrelled away, Just In Case.

I’m not sitting on a pile of would-be bestsellers; this is the group of documents with which I can’t bring myself to part. They have too much in them.

There are poems that I wrote taking the mickey out of certain teachers or when leaving, or even doing, particular jobs – unprintable, sadly, but highly amusing to those of us in the know.

There are the starts of stories that never got finished not because the idea wasn’t sound but because I wasn’t the right me then to write them. I will be someday. Some of these have already been gutted for the good flesh, but I still like to keep the old carcasses around.

Old blogs, too. They may be gone, but they’re not forgotten. Except for the one I killed entirely, I have the best bits from all of them saved.

There’s the half a book a friend and I wrote to keep ourselves entertained during interminable enforced ‘revision periods’ at school. When we were supposed to be revising for our GCSEs, we were collaborating on a fantasy of proportions that threatened to be epic if we ever finished. We called it Bill. It featured a warlock by the name of Moshollondo, which name will make complete sense to anyone who went to the same school we did who juggles it around a bit to find its origin, and a devil who, now that I think about it, bore a striking resemblance to Lister’s Confidence in the Confidence and Paranoia episode of Red Dwarf. I couldn’t possibly hit the delete button on Bill, even though he’s over two decades old and never likely to be finished.

Some things were never meant to be. Some things served their purpose and don’t need to linger. Some things will find their purpose one day.

And some things were simply made to stick around.

Gig Review: Moulettes & The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Rescue Rooms, Nottingham

Truth be told, it was the Moulettes that piqued my interest in this gig, at the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham last night. We saw them supporting the Levellers a month or two ago and couldn’t help but be impressed by their infectious variety of modern folk/indie/pop music.

Last night’s show got off to a slightly irksome start after being quite heavily delayed, but despite the not-particularly jam-packed state of the Rescue Rooms the Moulettes did a great job of winning over a restless crowd that clearly didn’t quite know what to expect when cello, double bass and autoharp made an appearance on stage. The second track of an all too short half hour set, the gloriously haunting blend of voices that is ‘Songbird’, made the non-initiated sit up and take notice of the sheer talent on stage, and by the time violinist Georgina Leach and cellist Hannah Miller launched into a thumpingly spirited rendition of strings-only tune ‘Assault’ the crowd was nicely warmed up and appropriately appreciative.

A storming performance of macabre tale, ‘Bloodshed in the Woodshed’, was followed by the wonderfully varied ‘Requiem’ to draw a fabulously exuberant set to a regrettably early but triumphant close.

The enthusiasm of all the Moulettes for what they do is palpable – it’s clear for every moment they’re on stage that every one of them loves what they do (Bassoon and autoharp guru Ruth Skipper in particular flashes out a ridiculously engaging smile from time to time). But don’t let the ‘folky’ part of the musical description fool you into thinking that their stock in trade are quaint and simple ditties – the tracks are a complex blend of instruments, lyrics, voices and tempos. More than once, I saw folk at the front of the crowd clapping in time only for the tune to suddenly wrongfoot them by whirling and dancing off in a different direction and speed. The whole sense is one of fun – for both band and audience, if you keep an open ear and flow along with the music.

As with any skilled musicians, the Moulettes really come alive on stage, when the sheer power of their stunning voices and command over their instruments really shines – but if ‘complex, fun, slightly macabre at times, folky/indieish/generally a bit quirky’ sounds like it’s up your musical alley and current single, Uca’s Dance, embedded in this post appeals, I strongly recommend checking out their two albums, Moulettes and The Bear’s Revenge (yes, they’re on iTunes as well).

As for Arthur Brown, well, to be perfectly honest, neither me nor my partner knew quite what to expect beyond a certain idiosyncracy and most likely a rendition of the inevitable ‘Fire’.

Turns out, he can’t half belt out a tune! Gliding onstage in a long velvet cape (which turned out to be covering at least 3 outfit changes – he must have been sweltering for the first few tracks!) and sporting a mask, with his band similarly be-masked, we kind of knew we were in for something a bit quirky. And the 70 year old from Whitby proved he knew a thing or two about showmanship.

Not entirely surprisingly, the set was a fair bit psychedelic in places, but the musical and vocal range on show was as winning as the charismatic and decidedly spry Mr Brown himself – none of the weakness in his voice that affects the Maccas of this world as they age! His introduction to Fire was suitably wry and self-deprecating – he must’ve been singing it on an alarmingly regular basis for decades – but he and the band delivered a stormer as the inevitable climax to the gig. It’s a crazy world indeed, but a pretty remarkable one at that – and since I was one of the ‘I know ‘Fire’ but not sure what else he’s done’ crowd that was only really there for the Moulettes I was completely won over by the tall one in facepaint.

The god of hellfire himself:

Art Exhibition: Kafou at Nottingham Contemporary

On Friday, I spent a fascinating couple of hours checking out the latest exhibition at the Nottingham Contemporary – Kafou. Out of all of the exhibitions I’ve seen there since this fantastic and much-to-be-recommended space opened I reckon this one was the most up my alley.



Kafou is a celebration of Haitian art, in which themes of Voodoo rituals and the Haitian revolution recur as frequently as the gloriously vibrant colours that make the word ‘celebration’ seem more appropriate than it often is when used in the context of art exhibitions 😉 There’s some dark stuff there, none of the artists featured are likely to delight fans of the literal and the photographic, and despite the best efforts of the exhibition notes I’m sure I didn’t get all of the symbolism (though a surprising amount of it will seem oddly familiar for those of you who have read Pratchett’s Witches Abroad!), but as a fan of colour and symbolism I found it largely both beautiful and fascinating. It’s not just painting, though that forms the bulk of the exhibit – there are also some gloriously rough-at-the-edges sculptures, some stunning and vast beadwork scenes for the textiles fans, and a few original, suspiciously torn and stained, ritual cloths.

One thing that utterly charmed me was the few parents and grandparents that I saw taking quite young children round (I’m guessing they didn’t dwell on the one or two rather surreal depictions of devil-related nightmares!) and really encouraging a completely natural appreciation of the work. I love art (though I can’t for the life of me draw or paint – that seems to be a ‘one per generation’ thing in my family, and my sister nabbed it!), but like literature it does tend to suffer a bit from people wanting to over-analyse and over-dissect. It pays, I think, to consider themes and symbols and metaphor, but I can’t help feeling that the people who focus on a particular brushstroke (or sentence, if we’re talking literature) to the Nth degree are in danger of losing the impact of the whole while they peer at the detail trying to figure out the artist’s putative intentions – because so much of any artistic expression is in what feels right.

That’s not to say that elements of the whole aren’t placed very deliberately – of course they are, and of course you work a certain way to create a certain feel – but if you tried to design by checklist and focused on Your Big Intent (instead of on the actual process of creation) for every word or brushstroke instead of following your instincts to some extent I think you’d soon cripple yourself with analysis and risk ending up with something rather clinical. Perfecting the way your message is conveyed is what sketches and first drafts are for, after all 😉

So, you can see why there’s something rather magical to me about children simply being encouraged to put into words what’s made them light up or step back to take in a picture properly. It’s tapping into their instinctive appreciation, getting them to put into words what a painting has made them feel, what’s caught their eye. What The Artist Intended can come later, after the connection with the work has already been made.

I’m not saying that analysis is bad – far from it! Having an idea what the artist was working towards or focusing on while working helps to inform your appreciation of the work, cultural context helps decode things you otherwise may have missed, and semiotics is a fascinating study in itself and a rich seam to mine when studying any piece of art or literature.  But these things aren’t to be used to carefully take apart a creation and view it piece-by-piece – I much prefer to think of them as aiming to augment my understanding of a work as a whole. They create the nod of recognition, the smile at an in-joke that personalises the piece a little more for you. The close-up study helps – but you do need to remember to read to the end and consider your impression of the novel as a whole, or to take a few steps back and view the painting from a distance.

I guess you could say the same of a lot of elements of life.

On Writing: Last night, I dreamt a woman named September smiled a tremulous smile…

Last night, I dreamt that a woman named September smiled a tremulous smile and then got eaten by a shark.

Are you someone who remembers your dreams? The ones you have at night, while your unconscious mind is in charge, not the other sort. I remember only some of them – I guess they’re the ones that are most likely to wake me up for one reason or another – but they leave the general impression that my unconscious mind is rather energetic.

And I realised today just how far they tie in with my writing.

The dreams I can remember in the mornings are the type of writing I’m most likely to produce. They almost all involve gore, sex, or running. I’ve not written fiction for several months, but there’s a certain style, as there is with every writer. The most recent writings are erotica, but I entered  a short story contest a while back with a piece of straight fiction that had a running theme and got some pleasingly promising feedback.

All through my childhood and teens, though, I wrote horror . I remember painstakingly making a handwritten book when I was seven or eight – it had a decidedly bloody theme involving someone being chased through a forest, and would have been a comic if I could draw – I remember trying to illustrate certain scenes but being so unsatisfied with the results that I didn’t include those pages in the final product. I remember a story involving ritual sacrifice that I wrote for my GCSE English Language course getting one of the highest marks in the class  – and the comment that the teacher did not care for my subject matter (all credit to him for marking the piece according to its merit even though he really didn’t like it!).

I remember trying to write everyday things and finding that while I could conjure the scenes, I didn’t know quite what to do with them once I’d done so. They were nicely (if a little amateurishly!) drawn, but they lacked action and purpose – snapshot rather than movie.

Last night, I dreamt that a woman named September smiled a tremulous smile and then got eaten by a shark.