Armistice Day, 2016

Since White Feathers came out, I have posted an armistice day post every year.

Over the years, the ceremonies to commemorate the dead of the wretched First World War and its successors have become marked and tainted by nativism and rage. The poppy which graces the cover of my novel was originally the symbol of doomed Adonis. Now it has been turned into a fashion statement. Make no mistake: those who boast it most stridently are the spiritual descendants of those who forced men to fight in 1914.

I sought to tell a story. I sought to cry injustice. A man who refused to salute such authority and paid a deep price. A woman who swore to fight forever to restore his name. A love that was severed by a self-satisfied, violent state order. A story that is told, and told, and told.

I now live near the place where the bodies from the Lusitania were brought in to harbour. The sinking of that ship eventually brought the United States into World War I. The graves are in an ancient plot left undisturbed behind a German supermarket chain. They carry the simple gravestones of the Commonwealth War Graves. A tacit recognition that these men and women, although civilians, died as a result of war.

lusitania-grave

It breaks my heart to see that in recent months, a malicious backlash from the privileged has imposed a deep discourtesy on the res publicae, across the Irish Sea, across the Atlantic, throughout the world. Those who have sacrificed nothing, who are devoid of virtue or humanity, are elevated and revered. Those who strive against all odds have their striving belittled by people who have been given everything. Greed allows pillaging and soiling of our beautiful Earth without a whit of remorse.

Today I am going to include Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”.

At the going down of the sun, we will remember them.

 

On Being An Opinionated Novelist

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Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I’ve often wondered how appropriate it is for a writer to share opinions on issues unrelated to their work. Particularly ones of a political nature. Specifically I wonder if I share too readily and express my opinion too often. Recent crises, particularly Brexit but not limited to that sequence of events, have brought this thought to my mind.

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Scenes From Hell

Every now and then you get the Scene From Hell.

You have two characters who need to say a bunch of stuff to each other. There are several reveals, but also things must be concealed Because Plot. It has to be done in one scene and the scene has to end in a particular way. On your marks – start the dialogue – Go.

You’re about 500 words into a he-said, she-said scenario and it just seems artificial. So you have to break up the dialogue. Somebody do something! Find an animal who will do something animal-y to distract attention! Have it start raining. And stop raining. And start again. Anything to break up the talking heads!

Congratulations. You have just found yourself in the middle of a Scene From Hell, where you have to serve up a smorgasbord of the prose equivalent of the screenplay term /beat or /noises off while you get the characters to reveal what they need to reveal in good order. You get to the stage where Raymond Chandler’s man with a gun is a plausible interruption. Especially if he SHOOTS EVERYBODY and solves the problem there and then.

And then even when the characters are talking, they get distracted. You end up going down a rabbithole and having to delete several lines up to keep them on track – yet make it not look like you’re keeping them on track. So, how to do it?

Well in my experience, half the battle of a Scene From Hell is knowing you’re in the middle of one. Once you are aware of that, for some reason it takes the pressure off. Knowing it’s going to be very artificial frees you up to use artifice, which is what you need in a scene like this, and in spades. Occasionally, the character will lose patience with you; I was driving to work one rainy morning pondering the Scene From Hell I was currently writing when suddenly one of my characters started waltzing the other one across the lawn. OK, said I, I’ll go with the flow.

And now I’m noticing something interesting. Those Scenes From Hell often read more naturally than the ones that flow. And they get fewer comments from the editor!

Battle Scenes

Captain Blackadder’s reluctant company prepare to go over the top

Again, this blog contains adult (violent) depictions and may not be safe for work.

If you thought sex scenes were tricky. well battle scenes are an utter and total pain in the backside. (In Richard III’s case, literally; it appears on discovering his remains that of his many injuries at the battle of Bosworth, one of them was a spear in his rump, though it was the blow to the head with a large blunt object that actually killed him.)  The one biggest problem with battles is the following:

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