Gloves for the Hangman
In a roundabout turn of circumstances I today learnt that Ted Walker, the poet, is dead.
Nadja is now busy in her second internship as part of her training to become a judge. She is currently working at the Legal Publisher, “Dalloz, where, she informs us, she is readying material for their blog. So I hopped over and found her first post. And just underneath was a piece about the judicial statute [is this the correct term? the judicial personnality perhaps?] of animals. This in turn referred to the recorded cases when animals have, in France and in the past, been tried for what we would consider human crimes. Including murder.
Ted Walker based a poem on one of the documented cases, and this appeared in his book, Gloves to the Hangman which my mother gave me many years back.
We were familiar with Ted’s work, and even met him a few times. He attended Steyning Grammar, in Steyning, Sussex, as I did too. Although not at the same time. He was then the sponsor [or titular figurehead] for the school’s annual poetry competition. I have no idea how one judges poetry competitions, and am inclined—reflecting back on my efforts—to suppose that perseverance was at least a major criteria. Ted Walker also performed the occasional reading at the school that I also attended, not only because distractions were rare…
One of my English Lit. teachers—with whom I somehow seemed to often cross swords, if not pens—also published poetry, and held Ted Walker in high estime. Some part of that estime must have seaped through our bended napes*, and I have subsequently followed and enjoyed Ted Walker’s work. Which is why my mother gave me the book.
So today, seeking the reference to that specific book [which is far away from me at the moment] about the pig’s hanging, the first reference that I found in Google was Ted Walker’s obituary from the Guardian.
An obituary is a curious affair, resuming a person’s life in under a hundred lines. But the very fact that it exists also says something… How many obituaries are still unwritten?
[*] School regulations stated that a boy’s hair [yes, we were the first year to be ‘mixed’] could not encroach on the nape of his neck—this was in the mid-seventies when shoulder length hair was quite normal. There could be no real reason for the rule, so we decided—in all logic and common sense—that the knowledge dispensed by our wonderful teachers was in fact imbibed through the back of the neck. Thus explaining the need to keep this area clear of interference.
This is just to announce that I have put Juliet online under a Creative Commons licence. It is serialised daily, and will end at the start of April… Enjoy.
The book is called “Black as Snow” and is available from this link.
There is a meme circulating around the web that seeks to incite people to read 50 books in the coming year. This is a great initiative, and I’m all for it. In fact I would like to do the same.
If you have noticed my reading lists along the side of this [infrequent] blog, then this might strike you as curious. Last year, according to that list I read in excess of 120 books. In fact, I have probably forgotten to note about 10-15, and my total is nearer to 150, than 50.
So why seek to read 50 books in 2007? I think it is because I read too much, if that is possible. Since the beginning of this year, I have been demolishing two to three books a year. Again. Perhaps I should be spending some of that time doing other things. Like writing.
I have been a wery naughty boy. In fact, because I have a stinking headache, and am preparing to go and lie down instead of working, because working at 2 mph, is probably worse than working at all—I’d say that it is so bad I am currently in a zone of neagtive productivity and tomorrow I will have to unwravel the little I did manage today—and to make things worse, I’m now typing terrible run on sentances in the blog that I haven’t updated since June. That’s life for you.
But this is not why I am a very naughty boy.
I am a naughty boy because, as said daughter told me the other day on the phone, I haven’t announced my unbounded joy to the world that my daughter is now a Judge.
So much so, I was going to entitle this post “My other daughter is a judge” [This was designed to be a reference to those stickers that appeared on beat-up cars in the 70s and 80s proclaiming, “My other car is a Prosche”. Or whatever.] But I dropped this idea because the aforementioned daughter might not appreciate being referred to as ‘the other daughter’ [which I can understand], and so would telephone me to complain. AH, the things you have to do to get your daughters to telephone you…
Theoretically parenthetic asides aside. My eldest daughter is an English Teacher, and quite happy with her lot. And so, the secondest has just been accepted into the ENM which is the French National School for Judges. Technically, I believe, for the first two years she is an Auditor, but she gets sworn in at the end of the month, and has already had her robes [and hat] prepared for the day. The youngest daughter—for the moment still at school, and having just started playing with career choices, currently wants to be a chef. We’ll see.
What is wonderful for Nadja, is that she has worked towards this for years. Whenever we tried to approach her during, more or less, the last decade she always shooed us off, quite firmly, saying that she was studying. Which, it seems, she was. And today all that has paid off.
I won’t be going down to Bordeaux to see the ceremony, not as a way of sulking for having been spurned, but because they have limited invitations to only two people each, and she is taking her companion, Philippe, and her mother. But I will be with her in spirit, every inch of the way.
Big hugs to you all.
home news from abroad
Well here we are then… Flat is strangely quiet, but that could be because The Cat is asleep and no longer throwing herself at windows with gay abandon in attempts to catch flies. No, the flat is quiet because I am all alone while Ludivine has gone off to Thailand for three weeks.
Of course, last night I had a weird thought: she hasn’t gone to Thailand at all. All this is an elaborate pretense, organised with Magali’s complicity [perhaps even at her instigation], and Ludivine will sudenly appear again like at eleven, possibly with magali in tow to act as a witness, expecting to catch me on the hop with all sorts of wicked sexy creatures. Far from this. In fact, at eleven I was mopping up the kitchen in my underpants as the bodum exploded when I pushed the plunger down to filter the coffee. Greasy coffee grounds dripped down the walls, water bubbled over the heating plate and through the cracks onto the shelves below, gradually puddling around my bare feet. I didn’t even have the presence of mind to grab the leaking remains and dump them in the sink. Instead, I’m grabbing tea towels and dish clothes and trying to damn the brown rivers flooding over the kitchen top. I suppose that I wasn’t too awake. And having coffee pots explode isn’t really an everyday occurrence so I wasn’t prepared for it. I’ll know for next time, anyway.
So Ludivine is in Thailand. I mean, do people really go to places like Thailand? How can you even be sure that such a place exists, and is not just some elaborate fiction? [This sort of ties into a childhood fancy that places didn’t exist until you visited them, and even then they were hastily built up in preparation for your arrival. I think that I grew out of this around the age of eleven, but somehow, deep down, it seems to touch something and the idea is always hovering about below the surface. Especially when people are trying to persuade you to go to strange exotic places. And this would explain why all these places look different: they use local labour.]
Of course, it didn’t help to borrow Bridget Jones – The Edge of Reason from the local library yesterday and have to read her adventures in Thailand. Ludivine, if you’re reading this: do not touch the local produce, lay off all offers of magic mushrooms. And especially beware of all sexy Harrison Ford look-alikes. Even if they are not international drug dealers. Although that is a good enough reason in itself.
Stop press: mail arrived. Ludivine arrived safely. And now I know something else about Thailand: the keyboards don’t have accents. In fact, they don’t seem to have apostrophes either. The mail looked a bit like a text message sent with all thumbs from a mobile phone. But the essential was understandable. She’s in Thailand, in the rainy season. Hmm. Like Bridget Jones that.
My latest project mogWerks has gone online. There is another part here for the open source activities. Please feel free to drop by, say hello, and recommend us to your friends.
little known facts about cats
Cats and Mindwaves
Cats emit two different sort of mindwaves. Humans are quite sensitive to the first type, technically known as the come – over – here – right – now – and – stroke – me waves. Unfortunately—and all cats will tell you this—Humans are less sensitive to the second type, technically known as I’m – bored – of – being – stroked – and – you’re – making – a – bad – job – of – things – now – just – leave – me – alone mindwaves. And I’ve got scars to prove it.
Cats do not have opposable thumbs. This means that they have trouble opening the freezer. This also means that it is highly unlikely that The Cat opened the fridge and ate the last of the ice cream, however much she wanted to do. It is much more probable that it is a crotchety old man, even though he protests and blames The Cat.
The Cat, unlike Humans, has retractable claws. But this means that, again, unlike Humans, The Cat can’t push her claws out to clean them with a nail file. This might explain why The Cat has caked blood under her claws, and why she leaves stains on light-coloured surfaces.
Cats and the Web
As cats are responsible for human civilisation—according to Boris Cyrulnik, they pushed humanity to create housing so that they could get close to the radiator—they also inspired the creation of Internet so that they could communicate using all the pictures of themselves that people post there. (Incidentally, this is why cats watch TV, they think that it is the Internet and are waiting for the cat pictures to appear).
PS. Cats are probably the only quantic animals [see below], which also explains their affinity for the Web which was, you will also remember, developed at the CERN, an international center for research into quantic physics. See, it all comes together.
The ultimate elegance of all cats is to ignore the scratching post that you will buy it when the cat starts clawing up the furniture, as The Cat has no wish to destroy this hideous new decoration, preferring to continue with the ones it has already broken in.
The Cat that has managed to hide itself in the dirty linen basket can be alive or dead. You cannot know until you open the basket and examine everything. Without an observer, does the cat exist at all? This is one instance of quantic behaviour by cats.
But, the real enigma is: Is the cat that has managed to hide itself in the dirty linen basket just asleep, or is it patiently ripping up all your delicat undies and favourite shirt that just happen to be in there…
It is said that cats always fall on their four paws. This is not true. In fact, cats—being quantic animals [see elsewhere]—re-arrange the world around them as they fall in order that their paws meet the ground. In this instance, the distance that they fall is directly proportional to the time it takes them to rearrange the world, and not to any vague human notions like distance, gravity, mass, etc.
This also explains why the idea of building a perpetual motion machine through the means of a slice of buttered toast fastened to the back of a falling cat is doomed to failure. Buttered toast is not known for its quantic properties and so the cat will always win out.
Having just updated the sidebar of films and books, I just wanted to say a couple of words about some of the entries there…
Millions, which we missed at the cinema, has finally come out on DVD, so we jumped on it when I saw it on the shelves of the local Video Club. It was—quite simply—more than well worth the wait. It has overtones of Toto the Hero in that it treats the child’s word with a straight-forwardness, no talking down, attitude. It has overtones of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in the way that the digital effects weave themselves into the fabric of the story, rather than taking it over. As these are films I also love, it comes as no surprise that I loved this too. In fact, I’m probably going to rent it again just for the pleasure and the fun.
The other really notable [and pleasurable] event was reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. The novel is a delight to read, with punchy wisecracking sentences that do full justice to the subject matter. However, I found the tone rather dry and emotionless, a little deadpan, until—suddenly—the elastic snapped, literally, in a marvellously ridiculous scene on the Empire State Building. [It should be noted that the whole novel is wonderfully preposterous, but this is the device that, precisely, renders it and the characters so real.] And the emotion poured out, made all the better/worse but that clever smart prose. I cried and cried and cried after that.
The Cat invented a new game yesterday.
She drops a hair clip at my feet. I have to pick it up and throw it across the room for her. She pounces on it, then picks it up in her mouth, pads back across the room and drops it at my feet. If, by any chance, I don’t promptly pick it up and throw it again, she starts eating and scratching my papers.
Cats take the business of training humans very seriously.
Juliet, alone in the world
At the end of the year, I sent Juliet off to a new reader, and I thank her very much for slogging her way through my words. And also for writing back, sending me encouragements not to stop there. I won’t embaress this person by naming her here, but knowing her as a person—however distantly—and as a professional in the publishing industry, means that I attach importance to her words. While she may qualifiy, or rather disqualify, her judgement, it was precisely the kick that I needed to stir me to action.
So yesterday I swatted up my list of agents, and sent out tentative enquiries as to submitting the ms. It is too early to know if any of this will come to anything, but even as I type, Juliet is on her way to other hands, eyes, and opinions.
Now that Juliet is out of my hands, and launched upon the world, for better or worse—she may find her way, but she may just as likely return home, exhausted to sleep for a while within the covers of the folders on my desk—I have been thinking about what is the subject and the matter of the book as I attempt to advance on the others.
It is clear to me that—anthropomorphic rabbits aside—this is a coming of age tale: how Juliet comes to terms with herself, with her new life, with herself, and her abilities, and qualities. This is the novel that I wanted to write. Yet, alongside those events, and the other characters’ actions, there is another presence in the novel.
I never name the place where she lives, but for me it is the Sussex countryside where I played and roamed and explored when I was young. At that time, stumbling onto a sort of bucolic Narnia just through the next thicket, would not have surprised me. This was the possibility that was always there, waiting, suspended, just around the corner. I am not certain in this fenced and frightened time that children still have the liberty to wander as we did, but I am pretty sure that the desire to do so, to go out and invent the land, that that need is still there.
This possibility offered by the land—or the sense of ‘place’, for want of a better term—drawn from my own experience, is also present in one of my other working manuscripts. The opening scene of Tooth—for the moment, at any rate—takes place with the protangonists routing for flints in a freshly ploughed field. Exactly the sort of joyful and pointless thing that we got up to.
As I now have four books on the boiler (well, three, if I consider that Juliet is off the boil, and may be revised, but is, to all intents and purposes, finished as is) it is also interesting to look at the themes. While they are all in the magical fantasy canon, there are nonetheless two different undercurrents running in there.
Juliet and Died both have elements of terror in them. Terror, not horror. Horror for me is somewhat explicit. Terror is the feeling of unease lying behind the events and the characters. It is not explicite descriptions, but an atmosphere of disturbance and ill ease.
Pirates, and the latest sketches currently living under the name of Tooth, are on the other hand, adventures. It is perhaps caricatural—and revealing—that it never occurred to me that the principal character of Pirates was anything but male, even if his principal opponent is a very strong-willed girl (the good baddie). In fact, she is a much stronger character than Colin, and he does spend much of the plot being a wimp.
Tooth, came naturally with a female protagonist (probably as, like Juliet and Died it is being written with Kim in mind), but the plot is much more complicated, and I am currently battling on paper with lists of characters, groups, collections of people, waiting for the more forceful ones to push their way to the surface and impose their points of view. Lots of them will inevitably be male. I can’t help that. It’s the world that they live in. Although the absence of women, and the fact that my protagonist—not to say hero/heroine—is female, is part of the story/plot.
Why is it important to bring in strong female characters?
For a start, I’m pretty sure that children identify with strong characters. I don’t think it matters that much to them whether they are male or female. Just that if they are strong, they can feel for them in their struggle. Secondly, if girls can get a strong role—and not just as good baddies—it does provide a form of role model saying, Yes, you can do this. Girls can give as good as they get, and better even. As a father of three quite strong (and complex, and differing) girls, I am definately aware of this.
And finally, so many adventure stories are male-orientated. It is important that female characters impose themselves in the genre. I personally don’t have any qualms about my being an old white male trying to write this material: after all, Lyra—one of the most remarquable ‘heros’ of recent times—was also written by an old white male—makes us sound like gorillas, doesn’t it?—and she is absolutely marvellous. Would that I can become half as good a writer as Pullman is.
2005 Film and DVD List
Being a list of films viewed during 2005
· Howl’s Moving Castle, Hayao Miyazaki
· Finding Neverland, Marc Forster
· Possession [DVD], Neil LaBute
· The Edukators, Hans Weingartner
· The Nightmare Before Christmas [DVD], Henry Selick
· Constantine, Francis Lawrence
· Star Wars IV: A New Hope [DVD], George Lucas
· Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back [DVD], Irvin Kershner
· Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi [DVD], George Lucas
· Final Destination [DVD], James Wong
· Donnie Darko [DVD], Richard Kelly
· Men In Black II [DVD], Barry Sonnenfeld
· The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Wes Anderson
· The Gathering [DVD], Brian Gilbert
· Insomnia [DVD], Christopher Nolan
· The Bourne Supremacy [DVD], Paul Greengrass
· Scooby Doo 2 [DVD], Raja Gosnell
· Horus [Taiyo no oji: Horusu no daiboken] [DVD], Isao Takahata
· 3-Iron [Bin-jip], Ki-duk Kim
· Steamboy [DVD], Katsuhiro Ôtomo
· Spiderman 2 [DVD], Sam Raimi
· High Fidelity [DVD], Stephen Frears
· Ghost World [DVD], Terry Zwigoff
· Bandits [DVD], Barry Levinson
· Collateral [DVD], Michael Mann
· Stars Wars III – Revenge of the Sith, George Lucas
· A Simple Plan [DVD], Sam Raimi
· Sin City, Robert Rodriguez, et al.
· No Blood No Tears [Pido nunmuldo eobshi] [DVD], Seung-wan Ryoo
· The Mummy Returns [DVD], Stephen Sommers
· Time And Tide [Seunlau ngaklau] [DVD], Hark Tsui
· Wonderful Days [DVD], Moon-saeng Kim,
· Oldboy [DVD], Chan-wook Park
· Chronicles of Riddick [DVD], David Twohy
· A Series Of Unfortunate Events [DVD], Brad Silberling
· Kung Fu Hustle [Gong Fu], Stephen Chow
· Matilda, Danny DeVito
· Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton
· War Of The Worlds, Steven Spielberg
· Identity [DVD], James Mangold
· Hostage [DivX], Florent Emilio Siri
· Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets [DVD], Chris Columbus
· Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Doug Liman
· The Island, Michael Bay
· Die xue shuang xiong [The Killer] [DVD], John Woo
· The Jacket, John Maybury
· Danny The Dog [DVD], Louis Leterrier
· The Transporter [DivX], Louis Leterrier
· The Brothers Grimm, Terry Gilliam
· Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Steve Box, Nick Park
· Equilibrium [DVD], Kurt Wimmer
· The Corpse Bride, Tim Burton, Mike Johnson
· Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow [DVD], Kerry Conran
· Free Zone, Amos Gitai
· The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Tommy Lee Jones
· Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Mike Newell
· The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Andrew Adamson
2005 Reading List
Being a list of books read during the current year.
Bruce Sterling: Heavy Weather, Holy Fire, Bruce Sterling
Terry Pratchett: The Fifth Elephant, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, The Truth, Thief of Time
Lemony Snicket: The Austere Academy, The Hostile Hospital, The Vile Village, The Carniverous Carnival
Walter Jon Williams: Metropolitan, City on Fire,
Iain (M.)Banks: Excession, Use Of Weapons, The Player Of Games, Look To Windward, The State of The Art, The Business, The Wasp Factory
Eoin Colfer: The Supernaturalist
Douglas Adams, Terry Jones: Starship Titanic
Douglas Coupland: All Families Are Psychotic, Microserfs
Carolyn Parkhurst: The Dogs of Babel,
Robert Charles Wilson: Gypsies, The Harvest
Jan Mark: Useful Idiots
Leon Garfield: Mr Corbett’s Ghost
Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Dan Brown: The Da Vinci Code
Mike Brotherton: Star Dragon
Poppy Z.Brite: Swamp Foetus
John Irving: The World According to Garp
, Widow for a Year
Nick Hornby: High Fidelity
Brian Eno: A Year With Swollen Appendices
Jonathan Coe: The Closed Circle
Donna Tartt: The Secret History
Hanif Kureishi: The Buddha of Suburbia
Philip Pullman: Lyra’s Oxford
, The Tin Princess
Philip K.Dick: Complete Short Stories, Vol.1, 1947-1953
, Complete Short Stories, Vol.2, 1954-1981
Ian Rankin: The Falls
, Hide And Seek
, Knots and Crosses
, The Hanging Garden
, Black and Blue
, Witch Hunt
, Dead Souls
Haruki Murakami: Sputnik Sweetheart
, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: A Novel
, The Elephant Vanishes [Short Stories]
Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere
Margaret Atwood: Oryx and Crake
, The Handmaiden’s Tale
Daniel Wallace: Big Fish
Vincent Ravalec: La Vie Moderne [Short Stories]
Stephen Davis: Bob Marley
Jerome Charyn: Call Me Malaussčne [Short Story]
Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Diana Wynne Jones: Castle In The Sky
Cory Doctorow: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town
Don DeLillo: White Noise
, The Body Artist
Jay McInerney: Model Behavior
, How It Ended
Paul Auster: The Book of Illusions
Martin Amis: Yellow Dog
Greg Bear: Slant
, Queen of Angels
, Moving Mars
J.K.Rowlings: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Louis Sacher: There’s A Boy In The Girl’s Bathroom
Jonathan Stroud: The Amulet of Samarkand
, The Golem’s Eye
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Lost World
Salman Rushdie: Midnight’s Children
Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon
, Snow Crash
Kim Stanley Robinson: Red Mars
, Green Mars
, Blue Mars
, The Martians
, The Wild Coast
, The Gold Coast
Dan Simmons: Hyperion
, The Fall of Hyperion
, The Rise of Endymion
Orson Scott Card: Ender’s Game
, Speaker for the Dead
, Children of the Mind
, Ender’s Shadow
, Shadow of the Hegemon
Jasper Fford: The Eyre Affair
John le Carré: Single & Single
David Sedaris: Naked
Ursula Le Guin: The Other Wind
Stephen Baxter: The Time Ships
Joe Haldeman: The Forever War
, Forever Free
Christopher Fowler: Psychoville
Robert J.Sawyer: Factoring Humanity
Jeffrey Ford: The Physiognomy
Fabrice Colin: Dreamericana
, Le Fils des Tenebres
Greg Egan: Terenesia
Ray Bradbury: The Illustrated Man [Short Stories]