Circe by Madeline Miller

 

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A shout-out for this book, published a few months ago. If you buy into the Greek myths you will love this story about Circe, a character most of us only come across when she appears in The Odyssey. The author has researched the myths well and put her own spin and interpretation on various aspects, especially at the end where she both shows awareness of the sparse surviving remnant of The Telegony and makes a slight change to this elusive text.

It is the overall style that will capture the reader, however. It reads like a myth itself, and what greater praise can you give such a book than to say it reads like a translated version of a tale.

Some critics might argue that the author had an easy ride in that she had most of her plot already written for her – some 2,000 years ago! – and most, if not all, of her characters already created and their personalities at least hinted at in various other myths. But it is still a heck of a task to tell the story in a knowledgeable and coherent form, and to keep it entertaining and moving at the same time.

Time now to track down her earlier publication about Achilles…

Personally, I am still trying to edit a story I wrote two years ago and continuing to add another three or four hundred words to another tale whenever I am in a coffee house alone. I find it very difficult to concentrate on writing at home , hence my absence from posting here.

 

 

 

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Jack in the Green

This traditional event was alive and well in Hastings, East Sussex, England over the May Day Weekend. Four days of festivities involving parades, dancing, singing, drumming and eating were carried out in the highest temperatures known at this time of year for a couple of decades.

A bit about the tradition, from Wikipedia:

Jack in the Green, also known as Jack o’ the Green, is an English folk custom associated with the celebration of May Day. It involves a pyramidal or conical wicker or wooden framework that is decorated with foliage being worn by a person as part of a procession, often accompanied by musicians.

The Jack in the Green tradition developed in England during the eighteenth century. It emerged from an older May Day tradition—first recorded in the seventeenth century—in which milkmaids carried milk pails that had been decorated with flowers and other objects as part of a procession. Increasingly, the decorated milk pails were replaced with decorated pyramids of objects worn on the head, and by the latter half of the eighteenth century the tradition had been adopted by other professional groups, such as bunters and chimney sweeps. The earliest known account of a Jack in the Green came from a description of a London May Day procession in 1770. By the nineteenth century, the Jack in the Green tradition was largely associated with chimney sweeps.

The tradition died out in the early twentieth century. Later that century, various revivalist groups emerged, continuing the practice of Jack in the Green May Day processions in various parts of England. The Jack in the Green has also been incorporated into various modern Pagan parades and activities.

Enjoy the very amateurish photos taken while juggling cap, drinks, food and sunglasses…

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Adios, Writers Group

Does there come a time when you’ve outgrown the Writers’ Group you’ve attended for well nigh on three years?

I think I may have reached that point. In fact I’ve told them I’m taking a break from their fortnightly meetings for a couple of months. At the moment I can’t see me returning. Is this because I’ve given up writing? Certainly not. Why then?

Several reasons.

When I first started at the group I was writing short pieces, about 500 words, and putting them up on a blog. I continued that length in response to the various prompts the group had on their agendas, slowly building them up 1000 words, 1500 words at most. I covered a variety of topics: pieces based on a book or film I’d read or watched, responses to listed proverbs, sayings, headings, even personal pieces relating to my experiences in recent years. But after a talk from a visiting local author I began to experiment with longer pieces of writing. Prior to attending the group I had managed to write a story of about 24,000 words. Now, inspired by the writer and her suggestion of using Scrivener as a writing platform, I attempted to turn this long piece into a fully blown novel. After a number of months I hit 110,000 words, even after editing. Since then, apart from a few shorter pieces, I have written two novellas and am nearing the completion of a third, around 35, 000 to 50,000 words each. I’ve tried taking excerpts from these into the group’s meetings, with a summary of the story up to the point the extract starts from. But it’s proved hard for many of the group to give useful feedback. The more serious writers there do, they appreciate I want comments on dialogue or description or a character’s voice, etc, whatever I ask for before I share the piece. The others, the majority, are only really there for the coffee, biscuits and a chat. They rush off a simple rhyming poem as a contribution and their feedback consists of ‘That’s okay’, ‘Um, yes, I quite like that’, It’s okay’, or nothing at all. If it hasn’t got a beginning, middle and end, they’re lost.

The group has changed over the three years. People have left, people have joined. Sadly the overall quality has dropped. This means I’m getting the useful feedback from the same two or three. If they’re absent, or one or two are, then it’s a largely wasted two hours. Interestingly enough the group’s leader is also taking a break from the meetings for the same reasons as me. When I emailed him he rang me up within ten minutes saying we must me psychic as he was discussing the same thoughts with his wife that very moment.

The traveling. A forty minute journey there, two hours seated at the meeting, then forty minutes back home. That’s a lot of sitting down – not healthy. It’s a nice enough road, not too busy, going through places that bring back many memories for me, and the town where the meetings are held is also somewhere I lived when very young and our parents lived in or near for much of their married lives. But if the meeting is not worthwhile then the journey starts to become tiring, mentally. And I can still visit the town, and drive along the roads, without going to a meeting I don’t enjoy. In bad weather, of course, the reasons for not going only multiply.

So for now I’m happy to continue writing by myself. I’m nearly at the end of my present work and that’ll be up on Amazon once edited. And no doubt I’ll start something new to keep me occupied in the coffee shops.

Adios, Writers’ Group…

 

 

 

A day of new beginnings

The story I’m writing at present, the one I’m working on predominately in local coffee shops, started after a brief conversation with a sales assistant. I used our chat as the first few lines of the story. Yesterday I had three incidents, in coffee shops by coincidence, all of which could be used, and might be used, as openings for new stories or novels.

The first was a silent one. I sat with my coffee around 8.45 in the morning, trying to get my tablet computer to start up and I looked up and saw a woman staring at me. She was seated at a table across the way,  mid thirties, coat still on, coffee steaming in front of her. I recognised her from a few days previous when she had been standing in front of me in the queue for coffees. The barista had seen me and said ‘Your usual?’ The woman looked at me as if surprised someone like me (as old as me?) bought their coffee so often in this place that the assistants knew my order by memory. And there she was, looking my way a few days later. I continued battling with my tablet (see yesterday’s post) and when I glanced her way again a few minutes later she was looking my way again. Now, I know I bear an uncanny resemblance to George Clooney…(that’s humour by the way). With further comings and goings she must have exited quite soon after as the next time I peered her way the seat was empty. But…what a story could develop from this…she comes over and says hello, asks me what I’m typing, or whatever. The beginning of a romance story? A murder mystery? Could be taken anywhere.

About fifteen minutes later I’m head down tapping away now that my tablet is working properly when suddenly a woman waves her hand in front of my face saying ‘Hi, how are you? I didn’t see you there!’ I looked up. I’d never seen the woman before in my life. Once she saw me face on she quickly said ‘Oh sorry, I thought you were someone else…’ etc. A very pleasant mid thirties lady, very apologetic. Now, where might that incident go? Mistaken identities? Her way of forcing an introduction with this handsome guy working mysteriously on his computer? Could be a good start of something.

Then, in the afternoon, in a different coffee shop, actually the cafe area of a local bookshop, I’m tapping away again on the tablet (I had a free coffee on my loyalty card at this establishment) and on the next table was a very attractive young woman in her mid to late twenties, no ring on her finger, computer open, books and folders all over her table. I heard her make a phone call, something about ’10 gigabytes’ I think. Ordering internet connection? It’s a very pleasant seat I’ve got, watching this woman, close to the counter so seeing all the new customers coming in, and next to a window overlooking the inside of the small shopping mall. Suddenly the young woman gets up, comes to my table and says ‘I need to pop to the toilet. Can you keep an eye on my things while I’m gone?’ Of course I say yes. She returns a few minutes later and says ‘thanks’. We go on working until I have to leave. So what might that have led to? Suppose she hadn’t returned? I would be left with a computer. What might I find on it? Or she might come back and offer to buy me a coffee to say thanks. Our conversation would start and ..? Could be another interesting opening.

You can see that February 7th was quite a day one way or another. Considering I’d been going to these coffee shops for near three months and nothing had happened, I’m wondering how much longer I have to go before I have more interesting incidents occurring! Now, do I go back to that book shop cafe this afternoon, at the same time? Will she be there? Would I dare sit near her..?

 

Panic in coffee shop!

 

One of those days. You’ve got your coffee, found yourself a comfortable seat with a good view of outside and the counter…and your tablet won’t log onto the wifi. This means I can’t access the document with my ongoing story on. Don’t ask me why it hasn’t downloaded onto the tablet in the past but apparently it hasn’t, doesn’t, won’t. The coffee shop’s wifi wants me to set up a new account as I can’t remember my old password. So, through the process we go, then it says as I have attempted to log on too many times it will freeze me out for a while. Holy coffee beans!

Anyway, I keep cool. I load up a fresh document and rack my brains to remember where I had got up to in the story. It comes back to me and off we go, writing at last, half my coffee consumed already to steady my nerves. Fifteen minutes later I decide to try the wifi again. And of course? It logs on! I now access my original document and continue writing from where I got to on the new document. Once home I end up merging both pieces of writing and all is well. I think the issue might have been that I switched the tablet on at home then walked to the coffee shop. Maybe it didn’t like the bumping around. Maybe it’s on its last legs. Hang tight for tomorrow’s attempt…

Nice moment in the coffee shop later. A woman, early thirties, got up from one end of the room, headed out then came over and waved her hand in front of me saying ‘Hey, good to see you!’ I looked up. I’d never met her before. She realised I wasn’t who she thought I was. Lots of apologising. Sounds like a promising opening for a new story..?

 

 

Places to write

As I have explained in previous posts and on my Twitter feed I do favour writing in coffee shops. Where I was once able to write alone at home I find I now need people and noise around me.

A comfortable seat in required and ideally a table at the right height so that I can prop up my tablet and type with both hands. Stabbing with one finger with the tablet on my lap is tiring and slow. I usually get to the coffee shops early, around 8.40 a.m. and often just catch the bustle of the office and shop workers claiming their takeaways. If the queue is too long I take a hike around the shops and come back five minutes later. Most of the coffee shops hit a quiet patch around nine when the office, shop and student customers have all gone. Now its me and half a dozen similar aged men plus a few regulars who traipse in at thus time. Where they are heading for later I’ve yet to discern.

When I first began to hang around these places I made a few notes about the day ahead, I was not writing a story. Most of my time was spent watching the people walking by outside. Then I got an idea for a particular tale, just as I was getting bored with the notemaking. Now I average around 500 words in a forty minute session. I feel I can’t stay any longer, particularly if the place is beginning to fill up and I’m hogging two seats. After forty minutes my legs are crying out for movement too. Occasionally I have bought a second coffee but I usually head home or go around to another coffee house for the second cup. At least my legs get a bit of a stretch.

As I write this, the story has reached around 22,000 words. I’ve no idea how much longer it will go. It might be 23,000 or 100,000. If it’s the latter I might require a new bladder… Right now I just plough on. It’s better than working.

Here’s one of my favourite coffee haunts, in a branch of Waterstones Bookshop. You can’t beat being surrounded by books, especially new ones, the aroma is gorgeous. And the coffee’s good too.

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The best environment for writing is this one, a branch of Cafe Nero. They have a wonderful curved glass window overlooking the pedestrian precinct, great range of comfortable, if a little worn, chairs and a really friendly (and attractive) range of women baristas. It all helps… Oh, and I love their coffee too.

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Sorry for the blur – must have had too much caffeine…

 

Odds and no ends

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I haven’t written here for some little while. My writing time has been spent trying to continue the ‘coffee shop’ based story. It’s now reached around 17,000 words and I’m a bit coy about blogging too much here. I really enjoy the atmosphere of these coffee shops, one in particular which has a wide sweeping ceiling to floor window, a range of comfortable seating and a mix of older guys like myself tapping away on smartphones, notebooks or laptops, younger people popping in for takeaway coffees for their office or shop and the usual casual customer. The noise level is just right, the music instrumental and not loud, the distraction of attractive young women not too distracting, and I’ve been typing away contentedly for 45 minutes right through to the occasional and extraordinary 2 hours. I email the work to myself and pick it up on my laptop at home, I can’t be getting into all these ‘cloud’ things , and then editing it. My little notebook often throws a fit after fifteen minutes and deletes any words which have contractions in them so I have to write things out the long way, like ‘ I will not’ instead of ‘I won’t’, but it’s a small price to pay, and cheaper than buying another small laptop and a new copy of Word.

On other matters I watched an excellent movie or two this last week. Yesterday I caught up with ‘Sicario’, a very dark thriller with Emily Blunt about Mexican drug cartels and US dark op guys blasting them away. Just read the Wikipedia report on it and was pleased to see it was rated a very good movie by most reviewers. Last week I watched ‘Arrival’ with Amy Adams. An excellent science fiction movie which really got your brain cells going. By coincidence both movies are directed by Denis Villeneuve. A very talented guy indeed.

So life goes on; the story may hit a brick wall and be left unread in a folder on the computer, or one day make it to Amazon…then Hollywood…with Emily Blunt…and Denis Villeneuve…Well, one can dream.