What I did on my holidays

What I did on my holidays

It’s that time of year. If you have kids, they may well be scrambling to write up a report of the same name as this article, or complete whatever project they were asked to do. You may be getting ready for the new school year yourself, as parent, teacher, teaching assistant or other related jobs.

I decided to take August off, stepping back from blogging weekly, because I felt it was time to cut myself some slack. I’ve been fighting off some very dark moods and the effort of writing a blog post every week was becoming a big deal.

So what have I been doing this summer?

Reading, for a start. I’ve worked my way through several books by Jungian writer Robert A Johnson. They’re excellent books, deceptively short but packed with condensed, intense but eminently readable information. I’ve also read through several books by Dennis Wheatley and enjoyed them; I was warned by an uncle never to read them but having read them, I can’t see why they were seen as so disturbing. I’ve read a good number of books by Dion Fortune; some I am still working my way through. I’m a person who can have twenty books on the go, and pick up and put down as they take my fancy. Of mainstream authors, I read the most recent by Joanne Harris, Peaches for M. le Curé (good but a tad predictable and somehow lacking in verve), the first of the Cormoran Strike books by J.K. Rowling (enjoyable but oddly dated; I admire her but I really think the success of this book is entirely due to her name and not the actual story). I read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the end of the Lane with huge enjoyment, and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye with puzzlement and some sadness. I read two books by Graham Masterton, set among the garda of Ireland, and while they were compelling, they were also absurd, ridiculous and gratuitously horrible. Poetry, I read Yeats’s The Wind that Shakes the Reeds and reminded myself why I always loved his work.

Among the independent authors I’ve read this summer, I read Mary Grand’s Free to be Tegan ( gentle, intuitive and a very interesting exploration of leaving a cult), Mari Howard’s Baby, Baby, an intelligent, well written and intriguing novel, exploring the ethics of fertility and the effects on ordinary people. I’ve also read a work in progress by Karl Mercer, an absurdist pastiche of Sherlock Holmes that made me laugh out loud a few times.

As well as reading, I’ve done a certain amount of painting, and active imagination work. In terms of writing, I’ve done dribs and drabs, as well as some poetry. I’ve got three works in progress than trickle along, as well as one that basically got shelved a couple of years ago. I have gone back to doing long-hand first drafts, because I’ve found it impossible to allow myself just to write and let the story reveal itself if I use a computer. There is so much internal pressure to produce perfection on the first draft that I don’t find I can write at all. Long-hand means I can let it come out, and edit later when it gets put onto a document. It’s hard for me to remember that when I had my spell of intense productivity about ten years ago, each story had already been through a process of creation many times over in my head and in my unconscious before it ever made it onto a page. They were never true first drafts.

We were meant to be going away a few times in August but the friends we were going to visit came down with a nasty virus, and then, our beloved guinea pig Tiko became ill, and after a week of hoping and nursing, he died in my arms last Monday. We were devastated. He was such a character, and is hugely missed. We’re on the look-out now for a local rescue centre or individual, needing to rehome guinea pigs.

Other thing I’ve been doing is the final frustrating and maddening edits and tweaks to the collection of essays from this blog, entitled Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking. The paperback is out now and the kindle version will follow shortly. I have a launch party on Facebook on the 4th of September so come along and join the fun here: https://www.facebook.com/events/354508034737778/ I’ve chosen not to do a lot of the running around authors seem to do for new books, like a blog tour or similar. I’ve grown aware that with the ocean of books and the phalanxes of authors out there, there’s just so much noise and shouting louder and longer is just a waste of energy, not to mention that it becomes obnoxious when authors are constantly in your face. I’ll be posting here about the new book and perhaps in a few places as well, but if you read it and find it worthwhile, I’d hope that it might be that you would review it and talk about it to your circle of friends and family. I’ve put a lot of myself into it and I believe that it’s a book that is needed. It’s not a self-help book and it doesn’t offer easy solutions, but I think it asks questions that need asking.

Other things I have done this summer have been sitting out in the garden and just taking the time to watch the flowers grow and the insects do their work. That’s been a great joy, just to BE, and be in a place I feel at home and safe. I’ve read, painted, written and done my colouring seated at the patio table on the area that might loosely be termed crazy paving (not so much crazy as downright psychotic) and it’s been a blessing to have that space. While I was teaching, summer school meant that I never got to enjoy the lazy days and sunny afternoons as I was always on the go and rushing. When we moved here, the first two summers I was still too unwell physically to enjoy it. This third summer has been a time of reflection and contemplation.

Anyway, September tip-toes in and I wish you all the very best for the mellow days of autumn that are on their way.

The short life and unlamented downfall of *Clean Reader* leads to musings on the reader-author relationship

The short life and unlamented downfall of Clean Reader leads to musings on the reader-author relationship

Blink and you might have missed the kerfuffle. The so-called Clean Reader app offered the chance to read without sullying your precious mind with rude words and profanity by covering them with an alternative deemed acceptable by the app’s creators. However, the backlash from authors including Joanna Harris meant that very rapidly the company was obliged to remove all books from its catalogue. The app seems to still exist (so perhaps my blog headline might be misleading) but I shall watch with interest the developments. I have a feeling we are not done with Clean Reader yet. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/27/clean-reader-books-app-censorship-victory-authors-celebrate

There were some excellent explorations about what the existence of such an app means, the best of which was here:

http://www.remittancegirl.org/2015/03/26/clean-readers-profound-illiteracy-the-consumption-of-the-text/

A conversation on Twitter set me to thinking about the relationship between reader and author. The one set out by Joanne Harris is one of dignified mutual respect. Yet another Harris, Charlaine, in fact, author of the True Blood series of books, received death threats over her decision to stop writing the series, and often received very abusive messages when fans disliked the turn a book took. This is the “the emerging transactional relationship many readers are seeking to have with the texts they purchase.” that Remittance Girl writes about so eloquently.

At its best, the dignity of the reader-author relationship that Joanne Harris mentions, is one of fully mature and enlightened adults. It’s one where the author has nothing to fear from readers, and readers can approach a new book by a favourite author and not throw a hissy fit if it is not exactly what they wanted it to be. The other relationship experienced by Charlaine Harris is a blight on the world of the printed word. It makes an author a slave to their readers, afraid and even unable to develop as an author, or explore other genres or techniques.

The realisation has been dawning on me that the power of this transactional relationship (ie someone has paid for a PRODUCT) and therefore demands a product rather than a work of imagination and creativity that does not fit neatly or at all into the box it was believed to have been in (but usually wasn’t) is a pernicious and worrying one. It undermines the integrity and security of a creative artist (author etc) to produce what their (and I hate the term) Muse brings to them. It boils down to this: if I write something that is hated by those who have previously loved my work, the relationship is over because it is seen that I have not provided the “goods” they have paid for. Making literature into a transaction where the buyer believes they have purchased a commodity that conforms to their expressed wishes is a dangerous thing. It means for a start that to survive authors have to tailor their work to the parameters dictated. You could argue that this is precisely what genre fiction already does, but I would disagree. For certain there are a vast ocean of books that could (and perhaps have been) written using a template so that they conform to the genre. However, within these guidelines the authors are free to write whatever tale they want. It’s a discipline, like writing a sonnet. Sonnets have a set number of lines, a required metre and rhyme, and if those are not conformed to, the poem is not a sonnet; within those constraints a poet is able to write about whatever he or she chooses. There is endless freedom within a rigid system.

That isn’t what I mean, though. What I mean is this: an author stops daring to write what wild and crazy and wonderful ideas that come, because they feel sure the backlash from readers will be so devastating it will wipe them out; because they fear the annihilation that comes with plummeting sales, of being dropped by their publisher, of the snide and abusive comments of former fans dripping vitriol.