Across Continents

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Writer’s block

February 9th, 2013

Difficult to say what exactly had stirred me to write once more. Scribbling of a more therapeutic nature than the last few months, for there’d been plenty of writing, but it’d all been of a largely technical, legalistic nature. Of course, I’d enjoyed crafting such missives, seeking to balance precision with the elegance of simple prose. But something had been missing, the jigsaw incomplete. I’d now found the mislaid piece.

But what to write? There’d be eyebrows raised if I’d ever venture beyond Dover. For a year or two perhaps. Not that such excursions, however brief, were necessary. Ample adventure to be had closer to home. Unfolding in forthcoming tales….


Tie a ribbon

September 30th, 2012

The Carnival Queen was late. I was pleased. Secretly you understand. Quietly hoping the residents would soon have her engrossed in conversation, dwelling longer than she might otherwise have intended. I’d arrived at the care home, a rather plush affair in the Somerset countryside, a little earlier, intending to chat for a bit shy of an hour to the guests about travels with my trusty two-wheeled steed. Instead thwarted by the technical trolls, obliged to quickly devise a new means of keeping my expectant audience entertained. Taking a modicum of comfort from the pageant princess’ delayed arrival, for it bought me breathing space and a chance for a little creativity.

I’d miss the opportunity now to head into nearby Wellington and search for a copy of Geographical magazine, the latest edition out that day. Eager to see a small piece I’d written actually in print. Just a few hundred words. And one of my own photographs. But pleasing nevertheless, a honour simply to have been asked to compose a contribution for such a prestigious publication.

Writing had become a pleasure, a cathartic release, another means to share experiences with others. Admittedly, on the back burner for the last few months, for I’d embarked on a second career and, as ever, keen to establish myself, especially so as I’d found something that absolutely hit the mark in terms of playing to what I perceived to be my strengths, whilst keeping me suitably challenged. No half measures. After all, in my book, mediocrity is a political system in Australia, not a philosophy for work.

Still, I’d managed to see more wildlife the previous weekend than in the last couple of years. But I suppose that’s Longleat for you. You can never have enough meerkats. Actually you can. About fourteen. Sociable chaps rather than solitary individuals. Only disappointment was the recreation of an African village. Full marks for the wet season, but the rains appeared to have flushed out the child soldiers, refugees, and not single UN funded five star in sight. Never mind.


Pen and ink

May 13th, 2012

“Plausible impossibilities should be preferred to unconvincing possibilities” Aristotle

A link I’d been sent recently to a reputable website, the BBC in point of fact, had been a gentle reminder that literature is inextricably bound to the landscape. Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie. Somerset. Wordsworth and the Lakes. Virginia Woolf. Cornwall. Whilst I didn’t exactly disagree with the writer’s assertion, the romanticisation of rural Britain would have been a better premise for the piece. Exploring the irony that in doing so, in bringing such idyllic locations to the attention of the masses, the middle classes at least, the very essence the authors had sought to capture would be lost. Forever.

I’d hated Cider with Rosie at school but as an adult loved its descriptive prose, the fine detail. You could taste the morning dew, the crunch of freshly plucked apples. But what I liked most were the manuscripts. Scrawled handwriting, as if written in haste, struggling to get ideas onto paper before they might be lost. Insights into composition that would endure. I’d imagined a writing desk, blotting pad and an ink bottle. Generous black strokes, scribed deeply into thick parchment paper. A contemplative silence ruffled only by the gentle tick of a clock. Beyond, a bay window, soft early morning sunlight.

And then I remembered. Freshly made coffee. A small cafetiere, filled to the brim, the plunger precariously balanced on a thick crust of grounds. My inspiration, frequent sips as a smoker might draw on a cigarette. Dylan Thomas perhaps, surrounded by discarded papers, crumpled in frustration, lying now on a tatty, stained carpet. Soft hazy spirals rising slowly from nicotine stained fingers. Ash on the page, a small tumbler of cheap whisky within reach.

I doubted if anyone wrote novels long hand these days, but hand written prose still had its place, the art of letter writing at least offering a gravitas electronic media could never match in an intrinsically sensual world. Fine vellum wasn’t necessary, indeed composition on the back of a paper napkin, jottings on cheap hotel headed notepaper, suggested the author had made that extra effort, had sought to share their thoughts, their feelings, with a freshness, a spontaneity that might otherwise have been lost.

The plunger slid down with ease. Quickly decanted into a mug marked Captain. I’d nautical aspirations, rather more Swallows and Amazons than the open ocean. Returning to the kitchen table, neatly stacked with work for the day ahead. Soft brown leather organiser, a trusted companion, now with light sheen from years of faithful service, a gloss disrupted only by a few deeply ingrained freckles. Couple of A level texts. Mathematics. Classic works but with bright, appealing covers and well presented text inside. A scientific calculator with a soft grey case. Creativity can be ordered, a beauty in precision quite possible.

[Despite a childhood aversion to Cider with Rosie – one of his set texts for English Literature – the author actually secured a respectable ‘O’ level, as much to the surprise of his teacher as to himself]


Postcard from Paradise

April 8th, 2012

I’d been working with a seasoned Features writer, providing the photos and the notes whilst she did the actual copy, for a forthcoming piece in Wales on Sunday newspaper. But that was far from all. Invited to write a chapter for the next edition of the prestigious Royal Geographical Society Expedition Handbook. It’d not pay, but that wasn’t the point. A chance to share what I’d learnt, a real sense I’d something fresh to say. The skeleton I’d shown the editor now neatly overlaid with pencilled scribbling, refinements to strike that very fine balance between inspiring the novice and keeping the respect of more seasoned riders. Quite a few of whom I know well.

I’d also been busy readying for my inaugural talk, selecting photos and sketching out stories, for it was to be an evening of illustrated anecdotes rather than some dull travelogue. Was there to be a book? I was beginning to shift my stance, conceding this was now a possibility. The catalyst had been an unsolicited comment from a journalist, the mention of an engaging light touch style. Not for a while of course, despite a growing passion for writing. Rather too much to do crafting CVs and covering letters to prospective employers.

In the mean time, you might expect the odd piece to appear on the blog, musings from back in Blighty. And a chance to develop writing skills. Incidentally, always interested in suggestions, even commissions, to put together prose for others. Do get in touch.


A darned good read

March 6th, 2012

There’s been quite a bit of talk of writing a book about my venture. But not by me I might add. You’ll find me quite reticent on the matter. Reluctant to commit. Simply because it’d be a sizeable undertaking and, to succeed, it’d have to offer something different. That’s not a no. More a qualified maybe. Still, has got the grey matter mulling over what makes a good book. A really good one.

I’d posed this question on Facebook. Asking what makes you not want to put it down, to ignore those around you? Is it humour, pathos, perhaps characters you identify, even empathise, with? Intriguing responses. Pace, clarity, a bit of self analysis, humour and opening the lid a little wrote one. Echoed by another who suggested honesty, and feeling like you’re really engaging with the real personality of the author. Choose a decent title, not an after-thought. Vary the length of your sentences. Ok.

Is there a method here? Not so much a neat formulaic approach, with the precision, the elegance, of a mathematician’s solution. But a pattern of success at least? Perhaps. Consider a couple of well-regarded novels from the Twentieth Century. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Published almost two decades apart, either side of World War Two. Both dealing with dark visions of the future. Individual struggle against the State.

One conveys the sense of a chilling, soulless world in just the first few lines:

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him."

The nondescript surname for the main character suggesting a lack of individuality. Together with the choice of name for his apartment block – "Victory Mansions" – the first hints of an oppressive State apparatus. A little later the author describing another building, the Ministry of Truth, as:

"…an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, 300 metres into the air…".

And there’s the three Party Slogans to be recanted without scrutiny:


Jump beyond 1984 to a more futuristic world and you’ll find Huxley echoes similar sentiments. But in a somewhat more concise form.

"A squat grey building of only thirty-four storeys. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY."

A pattern of sorts. Think I prefer Orwell’s efforts. His writing drawing you much more quickly into the lead character. And a sense that the author was troubled by dark clouds, a foreboding for what lay ahead. Of Totalitarism. Oppression. Probably time for me to board another bus.

[The author, as much to his own surprise as everyone else’s, actually did better in O-level English Literature than English Language…]

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