A Rant, a Rave and a Reflection on wRiting (eventually)

A visit from some cousins of the recently-departed flu bugs meant that after a few carols and some turkey, I celebrated most of this Christmas in a fixed location. It sounds like one of those exercises in learning a foreign language. Question: Where is Ruth? Answer: Ruth is…

ON the sofa

UNDER the duvet

IN FRONT OF the television.

On the plus side, I did discover tracts of hitherto-unexplored TV beyond the delights of Doctor Who and Wallace and Gromit. How many other sofabound viewers sat huddled before the guilty pleasure of ‘The World’s Worst Police Videos’?

Most of the World’s Worst were blurry shots of police officers trying to get appalling drivers off the roads before they (the drivers) killed somebody. Over multiple re-runs of the footage, the presenter sounded as if he was trying to explain what was going on to his deaf and slightly confused granny. In case she didn’t get the point, he added, ‘DANGEROUS FELONS – THEY PREY ON SOCIETY!’ (Sorry about the capitals, but that’s how he spoke). For those of us feeling weary and somewhat addled, it was just the thing.

I’ve also become a connoisseur of End of Year Quizzes. Many of them are clever, funny and informative. The one we stumbled across last night was none of these. At least, maybe the rest of it was, but we tuned in during the round when the male panellists had to see who could be the loudest and crudest (but sadly not wittiest) while the females had to giggle and cry ‘Ooooh!’ to convey a mixture of shock and thrill. In the midst of this the presenter stood with a beatific smile on his face that suggested he wished he were somewhere else. So did we. With one flick of the remote, we were.

Enough complaining. There were good things to be seen from the sofa. Amongst the best was ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ – the one with the gloriously icy Tilda Swinton as the White Witch. It had everything. Great story, lots of snow, magic, murder, suspense, Father Christmas and elegantly-done special effects. Marvellous stuff, and somehow more inspiring about the Christmas story than the carols had been.

At this point I must have been feeling slightly better because the battle scenes reminded me of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films, which in turn prompted the unearthing of a book about the Inklings that I’d bought but never read. (Yes this IS a post about writing, it’s just taken a while to get here.) The Inklings were a group of writers who used to meet in CS Lewis’s rooms in Oxford to share and comment on their latest work. One of them was JRR Tolkien.

I bought the book after hearing author Simon Morden talk about it at the Greenbelt Festival. (The notes are on his website, under ‘essays‘.) It’s by Diana Pavlac Glyer, it’s recently out in paperback, and it’s called ‘The Company they Keep – CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien as Writers in Community.’

Now, there are vast swathes of Lewis/Tolkien/Inklings scholarship out there of which I’m completely ignorant, so if you want to know what Dr. Glyer’s book contributes to this field, you’re reading the wrong blog. What grabs me about it – and what grabbed Simon Morden – is that it’s a detailed study of a group of writers working together. What emerged was individual work that was far stronger than it might otherwise have been.

I read the book with a rising sense of recognition and hope. What writer, with a plot mired in piles of scribble, felt-tip scrawls and scatters of stickies, can fail to be cheered by the knowledge that instead of sorting out his notes on The Silmarillion, Tolkien became distracted by writing letters and playing Solitaire? More important, though, is the analysis of how groups work to encourage their members. I’m privileged to have a circle of friends who write. We aren’t as intellectual as the Inklings, or as disciplined, but I know that without the support of those friends over many years, Ruso and Tilla would never have made it past Page One. ‘Creativity,’ as Glyer says, ‘thrives in community’.

‘The Company They Keep’ is not a light read. It’s an academic work with numerous footnotes and quotations, many of which I confess I skimmed over. It is, though, worth the effort. It dispels the myth that art is best created by geniuses living alone in garrets. It’s also a marvellous counterbalance to all those ‘Write your bestseller in a weekend!!’ books.

‘Creativity thrives in community.’ After watching part of that dreadful quiz I can’t help fearing that given the slightest encouragement, stupidity may do, too. I guess the choice is ours. I’ll try and remember that for 2009.

I wasn’t going to mention the C-word…

…but this one made me laugh: http://www.aroundmd.com/whitechristmas/

There are celebrations at Downie Towers tonight as one of the editors has just OK’d the final changes to Book 3 and it won’t return here until next year, when the copy editors have spotted all the things the rest of us missed.

Tonight’s festivities will take the form of a glass of chilled white wine, followed by an assault on the mountain of ironing that we have been moving from room to room for the last three weeks in the vain hope of losing it.

The book that isn’t really there

Waterstones recently saved me from myself by selling out of the new Sony reader before I got to the shop. One of the reasons I didn’t pursue it was that the reader itself is scarily near to £200 and, apart from the free classics (many of which we already have mouldering away in the loft) the books themselves didn’t seem to be any cheaper than the paper versions. So unless you were planning to go on a long journey with a very small amount of luggage, it seemed like an expensive way of not being able to read in the bath.

However… I was wrong about the cost of the e-books. Penguin are selling Ruso and the Demented Doctor for £6.99, which is pretty darned cheap considering that it’s only available in hardback at the moment – and I guess it would save on shelf space.

Another option for saving shelf space is to download audiobooks from Audible.co.uk (.com in the USA). I haven’t tried novels but the language course worked fine on the ipod.

For the uncomputered (who by definition won’t read this anyway) audiobooks are now being produced on little plastic players not much bigger than a box of matches. Hopefully, they’ll be coming soon to a library near you.

None of them is likely to be much good for handing down to the grandchildren in years to come, though. Especially if you’ve tried reading it in the bath.

All grist to the mill – ?

Finally emerged from Fluland, a parallel universe in which one wanders through the motions of everyday life without much grasp of anything beyond the next five minutes.

A comment from Mark after my recent grumbling about the absence of flu from fiction suggests that writers squirrel away experiences that emerge later – and of course he’s right.

There’s an incident in the first book where Ruso decides to treat an injury to his own toe. I’ve never tried this myself and certainly don’t recommend it, but many years ago I found myself in a hospital casualty department with two nurses, a bunsen burner and a thin metal probe.

As the junior nurse approached my very sore toe with the red-hot probe her senior colleague asked, ‘Have you ever done this before?’

‘No,’ said the junior nurse.

‘Really?’ said the senior one. ‘Actually, neither have I.’

Not fit for fiction

I’ve just spent the last two days in bed surrounded by a chaos of medicines, tissues, drinks, phone and laptop wires and a happy cat who doesn’t usually have someone to sleep on during the day. All of which has led me to realise just how divorced from real life fiction is. When did you last read a story where a major character had the flu?

Admittedly it’s hard to get involved in exciting action when your legs are made of jelly and your brain has turned to blancmange…  It’s not easy to write blog posts either. Maybe flu’s absence from fiction indicates that it’s really not very interesting to anyone else.

Ah. Sorry about that, then. I’ll go back to bed now.