Island Blog 137 The Light Just Right

Music notes

 

 

I am excitedly working just now on new songs for recording, well,not recording yet, but more for designing and developing.  All day long I am humming little phrases, changing keys, changing words changing rythms.  Once I meet up with the Talented Two in a week or so, we will take my scribbles and mood-inspired poems and fashion music around them.  They, not I, will layer melodies and harmonies, suggest quirky add-ons that create depth and texture, colour and light.  And dark.  All I am required to do is to spend this preparation time doing what I do know how to do – put words together in a way that tells a story, that give a hint of pain or laughter, to show and not to tell it out too much, for we all like to fill in the spaces allowed us with our own feelings.  This is why some songs last forever and, to be honest, a lot of them make very little sense once we try to explain them.  A Whiter Shade of Pale was scribbled down in the back of a van in between gigs, so I am told, and, when asked what it meant, the writers just shrugged.  It’s not like schoolwork this song-writing thing, not at all.  I don’t have to show my workings, nor do I have to justify them, but what I do have to do is sing them with emotional connection as if what I am telling you is really how I feel.  I don’t write songs about Percy the Pig, or Nellie the Elephant, although that song is great to sing to grandchildren if I include all the actions.  I write about feelings.

It thinks me about doing what I do best, and not wishing I was best at something else.  At school I longed to be an athlete but I was so very far from getting beyond ‘ath’ that it would have made a whole heap of sense to do my best, loathe all of it and spend my free time writing.  The problem with writing is that the only time I found the limelight is in English Lit classes and that was providing I kept to the letter of the law concerning Good Composition.  Nowadays, it is fine to write slang, a lot of which has found its way into the Oxford Dictionnary, which is fine if it works for the piece.  It is not ok to swear, but, then, what is swearing now?  I can read words that would have had my school mistress dialling the emergency services had she ever seen such an assemblage of letters in print, let alone heard them read out in class.  The book would have magically disappeared from the Reading Shelf and parents would have been informed.

In songwriting, words can be hinted at, the front or the back of them lost in a rising instrumental.  It’s infuriating for those of us who want to cover a song and we must needs leap to Google for the lyrics, but I am encouraged by the Talented Two that it sometimes really works best that way and that my Elocution Prize might consider staying in my past.  Enunciating every word as if the whole world depended for its survival on my clear conscise rendering of a particular phrase, is, it seems, vanity of vanities.  Who gives a rip?

As I wrote my book, I let go of the Eng Lit teacher, pushed her off my shoulder and reminded her she was most probably dead and should shut up.  Although I love good prose and therefore find bad prose irritating enough to put me off the whole story, I find that I look more for a gentle sway, an easy rise of words that don’t trip me up with their brilliance, but, instead, show me an unfolding about which I am fascinated to know more.  I want to be led outside of myself and into another world and, yet, I still want that pull on my heartstrings, that connection to my own experiences, my own feelings.  When I read the tale of someone who is living through something I hope I will never live through, something that involves the loss of a child, perhaps, I will think about my own children, my love for them, my fears for them, and, in my heart, I will re-affirm my vow to them, the one I made as each one was born, a vow to protect and defend them to the death.  If I read of a world catastrophe, as a back drop to a tale of people, I will re-jig my priorities in that light.  In short, I will make changes because, through the words of another, I am changed.

I hope I can do the same with my songs.  For now, I am playing word games, reducing sentences down, questioning the need for all the adverbs and adjectives to be there at all, for what I can do, through my voice, as long as it is emtionally connected, is to pull back to indicated thoughtfulness, pain, fear, gentleness, or bring the air more forcefully across my vocal chords to show power, anger or determination.  I can leave out the paraphernalia and keep just the crystals……ones that should make it sparkle, if I get the light

just

right.

Island Blog 132

2014-03-28 12.29.53

 

 

We never talk about shrimps up here.  In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that word used anywhere in Scotland.  Up here, across the tempestuous border, we talk about prawns, and they are quite believably so.  Shrimps I remember from Norfolk days, and you needed 3000 of the little so-and-so’s for all of seven sandwiches.  I have been served up a plate of ‘prawns’ before now, and knew fine I was being ripped off, but not up here.  Folk can’t believe their good fortune when they order a prawn dish, savouring the fat pink bodies, dense and firm and tasting of a fresh wild ocean.

In Tapselteerie days, I would drive over the hill to meet the fisherboats coming in, bartering with the raw and ruddy-faced hard-working ‘boys’ for an overflowing crate of still-twitching jewels, the huge aga pans left to bring themselves to boiling point as I travelled.  The eyes of the guests grew wide with amazement as I laid down plates of them, pan fried with garlic and fresh herbs.  Then I would make bisque from the shells.  Nowadays, you can’t buy them on the quay, as I did, because they all go for export.  But there are a few choice restaurants who either make sure they have their own creel boat, or have found a way to do as I did, and connect with the fishermen. Some of these ‘boys’ are still fishing, some have stepped back to let their sons carry on the good work.  After all, shrimp or prawn, lobster, oyster or mussels are always a different experience when they are fresh and still full of personality.

Much like us.

So why am I talking about shrimps and prawns and the like?  It isn’t to lead on to the obvious Bigger is Better thing.  What I am talking about is choice and quality, yes, but more about paying attention to the strings that bind us.  Driving over the hill to find fresh shellfish meant I had to know and befriend the fisherman.  If he thought I was a stuck up little madam, he would have said nothing was available and I wouldn’t have blamed him for that.  I know that the lonely process of buying goods, any goods, via the interweb is easier, cheaper often, but it involves no human contact, or very little.  In fact, we seem to enjoy  as much ‘very little contact’ as possible these days, and, yet, it is only through a bonding process that anything in life really works.  Oh, I am not saying we don’t need, use and value the internet, but out of balance we can find ourselves clumsy and careless at times when we are with another person.  Out of practice.

When I go shopping for clothes (I hate shopping for clothes and am the very first to look online), I will avoid with great energy, huge shopping malls, caves of blue lighting, plastic walls and no air, or none already breathed in and out again.  Instead, I will choose the little shop with a ‘ping’ as I open the door and a welcome smile on the face of the assistant.  I don’t want ‘NEXT!’ yelled at me.  I have a name, and it isn’t that.  Although I absolutely do not like a pushy sales person, I do like the question ‘Can I help you with anything?’ and then, when I say I just want to browse, to be left to do just that.  If I buy something, I want her, or him behind the pretty counter, to be interested in me and my choice, as I will be in them.  I want to walk out feeling very chuffed with myself and with my purchase, and, more, the pleasant memory of our human encounter.

If I sound stuffy, I don’t mean to.  I blog, I Facebook, I text and tweet, but it isn’t all I do.

Recently I came to realise that my work is lonely work.  Writing, painting, loving my little home and being in and around it, walking with Poppy in the fairy woods, none of these get me in front of people. This is my choice.  I am, at heart, solitary and I need that space around me to feel creative and healthy, but, out of balance, I get fearful in crowds and resist meeting friends.  The good news is, that this is instantly fixable, once recognised.  Driving through Glen Coe, beneath the craggy snow-covered tops of the Three Sisters, I pulled over to call Lisa, my publisher.  We talked of mice and men, cabbages and kings, and, as I turned back onto the road, I felt a lift.  It wasn’t the content of our conversation that did that, but her voice in my ear, connecting me once again to the outside world and, in doing so, raising my confidence in me, making me feel important and interesting and changing my whole outlook so that I was, once more, fresh and full of personality.

Island Blog 101 Enough for any Lion

lion-2

When I first began blogging, I couldn’t even have spoken that word without a schoolgirl snigger and now look at me, tapping across the querty board like a sea bird over rocks.  Knowing how to do something affords me the opportunity for a back flip or a pirouette, a chance to show off, although my back-flip days are long gone.  For example, if I’m singing something I already know well, I can afford the odd contrapuntal hold-and-dash, curving up at the rise and down at the fall of a phrase for maximum effect, although who I am ‘effecting’ is probably nobody but next door’s hens.  If I am cooking, and find I only have half the cream and none of of the grappa, I chortle a bit and adapt, even if the panacotta would be more use as a corner stone.  In my book I describe such culinary adaptions, and it was daily, and it was sometimes disastrous but in the end, everyone got fed and it was never on a ready meal.

Tweeting confounds me a little bit with all those hash tags and @s that other people, who do know what they’re doing, seem to employ all over the shop.  I am never quite sure where to land those symbols inside a sentence, but I will learn and, for now, I just blunder on, pinging symbols onto the screen and counting my characters like the rest with a modicum of confidence.

On the subject of characters and what they say or ‘tweet’ brings me neatly in to land.

In writing my novel I am a woman at the beginning all over again.  I have absolutely no idea if I am writing tripe or something astonishing.  Oh, I know bad writing, can spot it immediately, but my own bad writing?  Of course I couldn’t could I……write badly?

I wonder…….

I could decide it’s all too scary, this ‘what do you think?’ question that keeps peeking around the corners of my days and nights and asking to be given a place at the table. Look at it sitting there booted and suited before me every morning and growing more confident every single day.  The flaming cheek of it.  And see it grow, and grow, until it towers overhead and fills the room so that I struggle to see the telly screen of an evening.

I could hide my ‘novel’ under my bed or clasp it to my chest within the dark folds of my old woolly jumper, saying to the world that I and my great story are zipping along like Road Runner on blades, allowing nobody to see it at all until the very last minute, when it’s finished.

But now it weighs a whole country.

Now I am upwind of the lions. And they are hungry.  Hungry for all those big dreams we dream and then abandon in our desert because we think we are not enough to walk them out.

Well, all I need is myself.  And who says I’m not enough?  Oh, of course……I do.

It is at this point I remind myself that I am not a famous author, nor a queen, nor the sole hope of a desperate people. I am just a woman, a writer with a big personality and a great sense of humour.  I can rise and I can fall like anybody else and should get on with doing so, or the False Evidence Appearing Real will consume me and lose me in the place where failure is a real threat.

I am nobody’s hope, nor disappointment – just my own.  Paws for thought.

So, I hand it over, the draft, now up to chapter eleventy three and a half, to my husband of a thousand years and he begins to read it.  As he leafs through the sheets of A4, lowering each, when read, onto a growing pile, I see the chapter numbers rise and rise, and he says not a word.  After 30 minutes, whereupon my indigestion level has caused me to locate and swallow a double dose of liver salts, he removes his half-moons and says……..

It’s great.

I want to know more.

I am ecstatic for about half a day.  Then I remember that for him, or anyone else, to know more, I must dance back onto the querty rocks and begin to tap again.  No back flips, no pirouettes, no contrapuntal gymnastics for me, for I don’t know this well, not yet, and nobody can run before they can walk except my little grand-daughter who never slows up enough to walk anywhere. I watch her take off, her little legs pumping with enthusiasm and energy and I watch her fall.  And then someone lifts her up, dusts her down and within seconds she is off once more, running into her life with a thrown back giggle and all our eyes upon her and I think to myself that even if she did come upon a lion, she would probably wrap her arms around its neck and bury her nose into its mane, confounding it completely.

Island Blog 92 On Writing

On writing

As you may know, it is essential to read, especially if you are a writer.  I read avidly, even during the day sometimes, which would have had me thoroughly tutted at by Granny-at-the-gate.  Reading is for pleasure and wifeys don’t do pleasure inside of working hours which numbered, in my recollection about 22 per day.  But now I have less demands on my time by little or big people, although sometimes, just before collecting my book and settling into a chair, I do check the clock and feel a frisson of minor guilt.  It is so much easier to busy up with faffing jobs that lift the dirt or fill the larder with goodly smells, leaving the me part of me just a bit skinnier.

When I am writing, I become lost in the story, as I am now.  Nights are broken as I weave my web, and ideas come at the most inconvenient of times, when the night is dark as a cave and I know I should fight on to achieve my 6 hours of rest, but once the next idea comes, the something that might happen to someone, the how of it and its consequences gets a hold of me, then Lady Sleep leaves the room.  Over the years I have worked with various top tips.

Get up and start writing.  No thanks, its too cold downstairs.

Keep a pad beside the bed and write down your idea.  Yes I do that sometimes, if the story is just a foetus without a name, but if I am well on with the tale and the tellers of it, I can just lie there and follow the thread.  Often, almost always, a character takes me in a direction I never mapped out for them, and that aspect of story-telling has always surprised and delighted me.  It is, as if, once named on a page, each character accepts an initial structure, quite quietly it seems, until he or she decides I’ve got it all wrong and should listen to what they have to say about themselves.

Yesterday, a woman took an action I would never have expected of her, with a confidence that never came from me.  That action changed the whole course of the story and I sat back in my chair, fingers hovering over keys that had just become a jumble of confused letters.  A moment or so earlier, I knew just how to write a sentence.  I knew where he was going, what she would say, what they would do as a result.  Now I stare down at a keyboard that is singing me, not the other way around.  I have become a player in the greater game.

Some writers don’t like this state of affairs.  Some painters, musicians, song-writers too.  But for me, it is the time when I can, to a degree, let go of control, and enjoy learning about each character by listening to their guidance.  I move wholly and completely into their world.  I work to understand their feelings, often not my own, about what has happened to them.  I endeavour to find empathy with choices I would never make, have never made, although I do wonder if that bit is quite true.  If I have considered, even for one minute a choice of action not in sync with how I see myself, might that mean that I could do that thing in different circumstances?

When I am writing a story, I move into it.  I have to, or nobody would believe in it and the book would be closed and sent to a charity shop, un-read.  Good drama draws us in, involves us and we can emerge from a book feeling angry, upset or filled with a happiness that never came from the outside.  We can love a character, or hate them, wish them joys or want to punch them in the tonsils, but we can never find them dull, for if we do, we won’t bother to read on because we just don’t care.

Once I have found my characters, and, believe me, I do find them, or they find me, more truthfully.  These characters came to me in an ordinary moment when I wasn’t looking for them at all.  Two people sharing lunch in a café, and the dynamic between them.  It captivated me and the story began to tell me how it wanted to be written.  I made notes, kept looking at it as I walked, worked, cooked, cleaned and gradually the protagonists revealed themselves.  How they dress, laugh, eat.  How they love, how they live, and how they wrote their past.

Then, one day, I know it is time to begin and not long after I do, there is a knock at the door and in they all come.

Island Blog 62 – Saying Yes

Island Blog 62

There are two of us leaving the island tomorrow.  One is me heading to Edinburgh for a book signing day in quite a few goodly bookshops and then on to Glasgow for my interview with Sally Magnusson on Friday for her programme ‘Sunday Morning’ which will air at 7.05 am on Sunday June 2nd.

Note for diary.

And the other is my little red laptop because she has decided to air her rebellious female side and has taken the initiative to add extra letters to the words my fingers ping out on her shiny black keyboard.  Although I do like a rebellious woman, am one myself and recognise the song of another in a crowd of hundreds, to this behaviour I have to say NO.

Now don’t get all ‘aw’ about it.  She is my tool and I need her to stay in line.  When I am writing a song, a blog a tweet or a piece for a monthly (is that why they are known as ‘periodicals’ one wonders……?) I must know that what I decide to lay down as a word smith, is what is laid down.  I cannot have random violations of that rule, any more than a pianist can have a sixth finger ping out a discord right in the flow of some enigmatic cadenza.  It just wouldn’t win the audience.

So, my lady in red is off to Germany for the second time.  As you may remember from her last ‘collapse’ into depravity, I diddled about for ages in the worldwide web to find the Laptop Hospital.  This time I knew my way and answered all the questions correctly.  I know this because that rather handsome delivery man is coming to collect her in the morning and I have the Collection Number.

I thought me a bit about saying No.  I think we women find it hard.  I know we do.  It’s something to do with our mother’s mother’s mothers who rarely said no to anything, just to keep the country going.  I honour their way, but it doesn’t work today, and it may not have worked for them, but they were way too good at stepping back into the wallpaper without a murmur and giving their lives as a gift for just about anyone who stepped into their space.

Not us girls.  I say ‘girls’ and laugh at myself with all my wrinkle potions, but you know what I mean.  Saying no is still hard.  Oh, I can be so very wise with someone else’s No dilemma.  I can advise them into a very tight corner, where all they can do is nod because the rest of them is pinned down by my Wise Words.  It doesn’t change them, even if they recognise the wisdom and hope they can walk it out into their own lives, but when they leave thinking how remarkable I am, I think for a moment about how well I manage to say NO at times in my own life when I am scared of rejection and judgement.

The answer is that I am full of wind (as they say up here) and the work I need to do on myself is still there.

But, what I can tell them, all these women, young and old, who fight to say NO to something, someone and to rise beyond the fear of rejection and judgement, is this:

Try it.  Just once.  And taste it.  The freedom of it.  The wild crazy headiness of it.  Ok, the person you said No to didn’t like it.  Of course they didn’t.  Would you?  But they coped with it and they reset their internal picture of you and they left feeling weird but really rather intrigued.  They might have said…….wow, good for her!

Because, what I do know, is that when you say No to someone else, actually say it, gently, without anger or blame (recognising that you have fed this all along) and with love in your heart for them, for yourself……..

You say YES to you.

Island Blog 47 – Upsettings

Island Blog 47

Yesterday, just as I was finger-tap dancing out my new blog, my almost new laptop made a groaning noise, flickered her eyelids a few times and disappeared into silence.
Apparently she has died, which is not game on at all, at only 4 months old.

This is when I realise with a jolt, that there is a body of ocean between me and a laptop hospital. It matters not one jot how brilliant the technology is, how fulsome and encouraging the communication, which by the way was first with Jamaica, then Holland, then India. I felt quite well travelled after visiting all those countries, and in such a short space of time, and I believe I made a couple of new friends, one of whom is definitely looking out for Island Wife to be published in her part of the world.

Are you sitting there in skimpy shorts with a Coolade on the rocks? I asked her and she laughed uproariously.
Not one of the questions I am supposed to answer! she replied, and that is when I mentioned my book, knowing I could say anything I liked at that point and she would be bound to listen, even if that piece of information wasn’t on her Answer Sheet either.

Today I feel a bit odd, to be honest. My nice new red laptop sits in silence, with her flaps shut, on my desk and there is no sound of that thinking hum with which she has, to date, filled the room. Perhaps that’s the problem. She has been way too cheerful working with me and somebody doesn’t like it.

When I spoke to that nice young Dutchman, he did suggest various attempts at CPR, such as flipping the laptop over….
Sorry, I whispered…..such indignity…….and taking out the battery. Then replacing it after a number of seconds and pressing the on button 10 times (exactly). Then he asked me to do something requiring a lot of pressure on the Delete button that upset all her settings right back to the ones she came with, and they took long enough to get rid of when she first arrived.

I didn’t know her at all after that, and so the bereavement process will be shorter I believe. All my orderly little icons and boxes are quite gone now, and it is only with foresight that I had asked my husband to back up all files and documents and pictures and so on onto some flashing box that normally drives me mad on dark nights when it suddenly springs into life and turns the sitting room a luminous green.
I won’t moan about it ever again I promise.

So, the box sits on the ground, complete with warranty information and laptop-shaped polystyrene in a fetching green, and all we need now is for Miss Jamaica, or Mr Holland or even Madam India to call on Monday with a return address. However, I doubt it will be Madam India, as I was fairly sure after a confusing exchange of information, that I had dialled a Flight Booking Service and almost took myself and the laptop to somewhere south of Mumbai.

Island Blog 2

This morning early, the phone rang and I ran to answer it.  It only rings 6 times before cutting off and 6 times are a couple of times too short to be honest, and we haven’t worked out how to lengthen the process.  Sometimes, when we don’t want to answer, its a blessing, but never very early in the morning or very late at night. Calls at those times can be bad news.

Anyway, first time I got there and there was a huff and a puff or two then the line went dead.

A call centre I thought, or a mobile in some early bird’s pocket taking matters into its own hands.

I decided to get dressed in the feeble morning light and was just stepping into under garments when the phone rang again.  Again I ran to answer it, fettered ever so slightly by being half in, half out of said undergarments.

This time I heard what sounded like a pig grunting and then a voice I know well.  A friend calling on his mobile from East Timor, just for a chat.  He lives in a monastic community, living on not very much and is happier than ever before in his life.  The pig, explained, had hurtled by his ankles whilst he crossed the dirt road to buy peanut butter.

There are pigs in the streets, he said, as if it was quite normal, which it is for him.

We talked for an hour, me shivering, him bartering for peanut butter, pigs running by, and I said its raining again here.

Thank God, he said, for rain.  We have had months of starving drought, and today, it rained.

It reminded me of a trip to Africa, during such a dry time, and walking into the streets into the first rains – people coming out of their homes to dance and laugh and hold up their arms to feel the healing drops on their parched skins.