Thursday, November 27, 2008
The idiocy of this is obvious. Much harder to understand is the logic. It is all too easy to say that the terrorists are simply ‘evil’, and thus absolve ourselves of the task of attempting to understand how they came to believe the indefensible.
The motives of terrorists are usually explained in terms of grievance. “The people of my community are oppressed,” goes the argument. “I will strike back against the oppressors, and thereby protect my community.”
It may be that the foot-soldiers believe this to be true. In a simplistic sense, it might seem a coherent argument. “You hit my brother and I will hit you. Thus, you will not hit my brother again.” But reality is obviously the opposite. When an oppressed group commits an act of terrorism, history shows that the result is the increased oppression of that group. The foot-soldiers of terrorism may believe the result of their actions will be the protection of their community but they have mistaken black for white.
Perhaps we need to look higher up the chain of command to the intellectuals who send the foot-soldiers out. They must know what the result will be. Backlash. Further oppression.
The leaders of terrorism are usually seeing a bigger picture. They know that further suffering causes further radicalisation of their community, which causes more young men and young women to be attracted to the cause. More foot-soldiers. For them, the backlash is not an unpleasant consequence of terrorism, it is the objective.
More foot-soldiers lead them closer to the day of revolution, so goes the argument. However, there is another result. More foot-soldiers, give the leaders of terrorism greater power within their own community.
Although I write this as the atrocities in Mumbai are unfolding, I could be writing just as easily about any episode of inter-community violence, from present Islamist terrorism back to the obscenity of the Crusades, where Christianity, a religion of love, was used to justify the slaughter of the entire non-Christian population of Jerusalem. The power-hungry have ever used community grievances and violence in attempts to achieve power for themselves.
Thankfully the peaceful have an even more powerful tool at their disposal. If the organisers of terrorism intend to gain power by generating a backlash of hatred against their own community, every one of us has the opportunity to undermine that goal by showering the community in question with love and fellowship.
As Abdu'l-Baha said: “When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love.”
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Do let me know what you think.
Monday, November 24, 2008
This isn’t a complaint. I enjoyed the film. Not as much as Casino Royal, but that was going to be a hard act to follow. Quantum of Solace is a good, if unsurprising, action movie. Some great chase sequences, fights and pyrotechnics. Some good lines. And some superb actors. I can think of a lot worse ways to spend 106 minutes.
People had started to say that Jason Bourne was the new James Bond. Same initials, but greater emotional impact. Bond was on his way to the retirement home. Then came Casino Royal. Bond is dead... long live Bond.
In Quantum of Solace the Bond franchise has been shifted again – this time into a close copy of Bourne. The action sequences could have been taken directly from the Bourne films. Such is the degree of camera shake and the number of movement blurred whip-pan shots, that we could well have been watching Matt Damon instead of Daniel Craig and I would not have been able to tell the difference.
In this, the Bond team look to be lacking self-confidence. Casino Royal was a landmark. Not like Bond used to be. Nor like Bourne. They should have trusted what they had and stuck to their Berettas.
Friday, November 21, 2008
On the other hand, there are those who state that creative writing is technique, is craft, can be taught. Just like bricklaying or any other technical task. Give enough lessons and exercises, give enough feedback and repetition and anyone can get it.
Witness courses on creative writing at FE colleges. People with a wide range of initial ability levels sign up. They plough through writing exercises, read their work back to the group, get feedback and then repeat the process. Week by week learning the literary equivalent of putting one course of bricks on top of another. But if it could really be taught, wouldn't they all end up as successful writers? Some do. But not all.
Having taught technique for some years now, I do believe there is a significant element of craft in creative writing. I have seen many students develop through this process. Happily several have written excellent novels. A couple of them will be published in the coming year. (I will mention it here when that happens.)
That would tend to put me on the "writing is a craft" side of the argument. But I have been thinking recently that there is an element of the creative writing process that I don't know how to teach. Some people seem to have it to a greater extent than others. And that is what I call the 'writer's eye'.
The writer's eye is that ability to see the world that little bit more clearly than other people. It isn't a matter of eyesight. It is the ability to experience things with intensity - whether it be colours or sounds or smells or emotions. So that when you do sit down to write, there is a store of experience that you can dip into. And when you write about that experience it enables your readers to taste a vividness that they might not have been able to capture on their own.
Could it be that the "cult of genius" argument wins out? It is true that I haven't worked out how to help people develop their writer's eye. But I haven't given up trying. Not yet.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Film making seems to be 95% waiting around for everyone to be ready and 5% full-on concentration in trying to do your bit to the best of your ability.
The director has the job of getting everyone to focus simultaneously at those moments when he/she calls ACTION. Considering the number of people involved in cast and crew, this is very difficult.
There is a lot of fake blood needed to make a zombie movie. Luckily it is made of wholesome things such as food colouring, sugar syrup and bits of finely chopped chocolate. So it is quite yummy really, whatever it looks like.
Film lighting is hot.
This afternoon, I am heading off to Leicester University to do a session on plotting with some of the undergraduate students. I spent three happy years studying mining geology there, so it will be interesting to go back.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
There should be a couple of photos too - if they are not too grizzly to post here.
Friday, November 14, 2008
On Saturday I'll be in Retford Library, Nottinghamshire, presenting the documentary YARN. This will be the first time I have taken it out on the road and stood up in front of an audience to talk about it. That means I will learn from it. And that, in turn, means I will probably enjoy myself.
Then, by way of contrast, on Sunday I'll be on set with the Zombie Undead film, which is being shot in Leicester. My character is a doctor. A useful person to have about, one might think, when people all around are falling to a terrible zombifying infection. On previous shoots, I have variously, given good advice to panicky people, examined wounds and injected someone in the heart. But on Sunday I am told there is going to be a lot of blood. I think I'll take along a change of clothes, just to be on the safe side. I'm not sure it is going to end well for my character.
Many thanks to Zombie Undead for letting me include the above picture.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
But how to interpret those comments?
If someone makes a negative comment it is almost always because they feel a genuine disquiet. (The exception being if you are unlucky enough to have found a malicious reader. Very rare but not unknown). So take that - the disquiet - at face value.
But as to your critic's diagnosis of what is wrong and their suggestion of what to do about it - this you do not need to swallow.
Implicit in any specific suggestion is the idea of an end point. Your reader has read your work, felt it was not quite as it should be, imagined it different and made suggestions that would take your writing to that place. A different reviewer might well give opposite, but equally valid suggestions to take it to a different end point.
But you are the only person who knows the end point you want to achieve. The only thing to do is listen to the comments, sincerely thank your readers and make your own decisions.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
It is definitely one to watch.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
It might be hard to resist the urge to ask the more obvious (opposite) question, but I think it is probably more helpful.
You may find that he/she has never been asked that question before. Certainly not in the context of a conversation about dyslexia.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
We often meet real people who seem out of place in their role, or who break the stereotypes of their gender/class/nationality/race etc. It's just the way the world is. (And thank goodness for that!) But when we meet a character in a book who seems out of place, we tend to fear that the writer has made a mistake. This can spoil our enjoyment of the novel.
One way around this problem is simply to have one of the other characters voice the question that is on the readers' minds. "I'd never have thought someone like her would work as a clothes designer!" After that, the reader knows, on some level, that it isn't a mistake. It is a quirk of the individual. So the bubble of believability does not burst.
Friday, November 07, 2008
For me, the last ten years have been about a personal dyslexia awareness campaign. I have been trying to understand the differences between my basic set of abilities and the basic abilities of the majority non-dyslexic population. I have been trying to figure out methods of doing things that work for me - rather than copying the way non-dyslexics do things. I have been trying to become more aware of and to value what I am.
From time to time I notice people arriving at this blog having searched for information on "Dyslexia Glasses", "Dyslexia Overlays", "Dyslexia Exercises" and the like. And from time to time I get people posting comments here, which are in fact adverts for various systems designed to 'cure' dyslexia.
So on dyslexia awareness week, I'd like a chance to say that in my opinion:
- Dyslexia is not a disease.
- Dyslexia is a difference not a disability.
- Dyslexia gifts advantages that can be enjoyed.
- Many techniques are available to help dyslexics overcome their areas of disadvantage.
- Don't believe anyone who claims to have "the answer" because there are many.
- Please don't end up paying anyone a heap of cash to 'cure' your child.
- And if anyone posts a comment below, which gives a link to their website offering help with overlays, coloured glasses, exercise programs or any other system or program, please don't take it as a recommendation from me.
I sound SO grumpy today, don't I. :-)
If you want to hear me this afternoon, tune in to BBC Radio Leicester, where I'll be interviewed just after 3pm. I'm not that grumpy. Promise.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
But the film that is occupying my mind is the next one. The one I haven't made yet. "Breathing Underwater" was due to be shot last summer, but has now been postponed until the spring. I have been living with this film in my mind for so long now that it almost feels as if it has been made - and what I will be doing in shooting it is some kind of detail that needs to be sorted out before it is released. That probably sounds a bit crazy. But then, isn't that what creativity demands of us from time to time?
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Narrative voice is to some extent determined by plot and to an even greater extent by character. But it is a thing in itself. In its turn it influences the characters and the plot.
Back to my three story ideas. Which one shall I go with? However good the stories are, the truth is I will almost certainly go for the one which speaks to me first. The one that shows me a narrative voice that will work. Once I can hear that voice in my head, the rest will follow.
People sometimes talk about the relationship between narrative voice and the voice of the point-of-view character. In a first-person novel, they are clearly one and the same. But in a third person novel, there is still a relationship between them. A hazy relationship. That area of ambiguity is rich with possibilities.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Monday, November 03, 2008
Another thing I enjoy is keeping this blog. It is especially enjoyable on those occasions when I get lots of readers - which does occasionally happen. So I have decided to start getting this blog address "out there" as much as possible - making sure I mention it whenever I have a speaking engagement.
Does that seem narcissistic? Perhaps so. And yet, whenever I write, I am doing it with the ghost of a reader sitting next to me. My imaginary audience. I think many writers are the same.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
This time the competition was for a travel article of up to 1500 words. To cut a long story short, I decided to write about the ancient city of Acre, which I visited as part of my Baha'i pilgrimage. In order to write about a place, I need to re-visit it in my mind - which made this competition particularly pleasurable for me.
This process - of putting myself into a place in order to write about it - is fundamental to my approach to writing as a whole. It is far more important for me than thinking about sentences and metaphors and styles and techniques.
If you want to have a go at it, try this: Get your paper and pen, or computer, or whatever you usually write on. Choose a place to write about. Close your eyes and remember that place. Picture it in your mind. Remember what the air smelled like, how cold or warm it was, what sounds you could hear. Put yourself into the place. Imagine yourself standing there or sitting or however you remember being. Allow yourself to notice things about the place. Spend time savouring the memory. Enjoy it. Then open your eyes and jot down a few things about your experience. Things you smelled or touched or felt or tasted.
That's all there is to it. The remembering is more important than the writing.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
This isn't going to be a review of the story - because I'm only half way through. Rather, it is an appreciation of the style. When you read a book that seems to have been written effortlessly, know that the writer sweated blood over it. This is the case with Robert Harris's writing. Such a complex story, such a smooth style. Marvellous.I am also enjoying the 'pulse' of the story. Writers are often advised to put their heroes into difficulty - to make them suffer. But if this is not punctuated by small victories along the way, the story as a whole can become the narrative version of a dirge in music. A story needs a pulse. Positive and negative, following on from each other. Volition and passivity. Crisis and victory. Light and dark. These are the tones with which the storyteller paints. Harris does this beautifully.