Off with the fairies

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Her hat and gardening gloves were on the bench, but Granny was nowhere to be seen.

“She’s wandered off again,” called Anne.

“I’m sure she’s fine,” Martin called back from the conservatory, without looking up from the paper.

“I thought you were keeping an eye on her,” replied Anne.

“She’s fine,” repeated Martin. “Stop fussing. She wanted to do some weeding.”

“Well she isn’t weeding and I can’t see her anywhere in the garden. She wasn’t behind the bushes when I went to throw the scraps out. I’ll have to check the back lane.”

“She’ll turn up. Don’t worry about it.”

“Or maybe she’s gone off down the shops. On Tuesday she bought five boxes of After Eight Mints and a loo brush. You could at least help.” Anne had come back in and was standing over him reproachfully.

“Like I said, she’ll turn up. She always does. She’s indestructible.”

“She’s certainly vigorous. She’s stronger than me. But mentally – completely off with the fairies. It’s impossible, it’s driving me crazy, I feel like I never have a moment – and just when I was starting to cook dinner. Look, Martin, she’s your mother. I’ll check upstairs in case she’s – I don’t know, painting magical swirls on the wallpaper with lipstick or something, and then I’ll go to the shops. You do the back lane.”

Sighing, Martin folded the paper. He stood up slowly. He went to the door, opened it, and ambled down the path to the sheltered arbour where, as it turned out, his mother was sitting on the bench with her hat on her head and her gloves in her lap.

“There you are, mum,” he said. “Perhaps you should come in now. Anne is fretting.”

“I’ll come when I’m good and ready,” said his mother.

“Fine, fine,” said Martin. He went back to his paper.

Granny waited a little longer until she was sure the sparkles from the portal behind her were completely gone and it was safe to get up from the bench. She patted her pocket. Wonderful stuff, this magic dust. Perhaps it was reckless to get the habit at her age, but it made her feel brilliant and my goodness she needed it living with that pair. As she walked back to the house she calculated she could nip to the shop after dinner. This time, the fairies wanted Milk Tray.

Sure you know yourself…

Dot writes: it’s strangely hard to write short stories as an English person in Ireland. Stories do best with a rich sense of context. The author at least, if not the readers, needs to know where everything is and what it looks like and how it fits together. For me that’s most easily done in Dublin, where I live, so my characters tend to walk down the roads I know and stare at the views I stare at. Their commutes take them to Tara Street and when they go to the beach it’s Dollymount Strand.

But the problems start when they open their mouths. It’s not that I don’t know any Irish expressions now. I know plenty. I know my characters will “bring” their children shopping, ask “will I put it in the press?” not “shall I put it in the cupboard?”, have a “nasty dose” when they’re ill, say it’s “Baltic” when it’s cold, bravely face the drizzle of a “grand soft day”, and fear “losing the run of themselves” or “getting notions”. If someone apologises for being a nuisance they’ll reply “ah no, you’re grand”, and they might stick “so” on the end of their sentences: “I’ll see you then so”. They probably won’t say “howyeh” when they meet their friends as they’re all painfully middle class, and nor will they say “I’m after making the dinner” because the “I’m after” construction is one of the few I knew before I got here and that makes it seems corny, even though I’ve often heard people use it.

However, this is of limited use when the topic I actually need my characters to discuss is, say, their feelings about meeting someone they’ve seen on television or the embarrassing dream they had about their mother. (Who might be their “mam” but might equally be their “mum”, and using “mum” makes me feel less as though I’m hanging a huge flashing sign over their heads saying “look how Irish I’m being”.) How do they talk when they’re not talking about Baltic weather or nasty doses? When they’re just talking English, but as Irish people?

My problem is that I know how to make the characters, where it fits, signal their Irishness, but I don’t know how to avoid signalling my Englishness. Well, I know not to have them refer to a man as a “chap” or use obscure words of Norfolk dialect, but that’s about as far as it goes. Where is the part of the Venn diagram where the overlap in the middle between things any Irish person would say and things I would say stops, and it’s just the British part on its own?

It would be so much easier to write about this country if I spoke the language.

P.S. Earlier in March this blog quietly passed its tenth anniversary. A whole decade of blogging! Happy anniversary to us.

What’s up duck

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On Noah’s Ark the ducks had started a jazz band and it was almost unbearable, though perhaps marginally easier to deal with at close quarters than the African Large Mammals’ Morris-Dancing Collective (to whom, after initial resistance, Noah had yielded the use of the foredeck every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. The rhinos were persuasive negotiators). Mr Duck had recently taken up the saxophone, while Mrs Duck fancied herself as a sultry crooner. They had recruited the moorhens, the geese, the female flamingo and a coot to be the rest of the band, with, on drums, a platypus from whom they would soon part owing to irreconcilable creative differences. They practised assiduously and promised to put on a concert as soon as they were ready.

 

“Is there any sign of land yet?” Noah asked Mrs Noah, as they huddled in their cabin, doing their best to relax with the Epic of Gilgamesh.

“My budgie had a look around earlier,” said Mrs Noah, “and she says there’s still twenty feet of water over the highest mountain top and aggressive mer-people have colonised the city of Uruk.”

“You shouldn’t believe everything you learn from tweets,” said Noah. “But the dove said the same yesterday about the twenty feet of water. I wish I could get off this boat. The noise is appalling.”

“The hedgerow birds’ choral singing is quite good,” said Mrs Noah, who believed in positive thinking and was also slightly deaf.

“If only they didn’t do it at dawn,” groaned Noah. “Whose stupid idea was this ark nonsense, anyway?”

“It was God’s,” said Mrs Noah.

Continue reading “What’s up duck”

A Ghost Story

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At the waning of the year I gather my ghosts. This is their time, in that dark pause, when between the bustle of Christmas and the trudge of January the memories return, drifting from familiar walls, pooling under lamps. Like the living, the dead want to be heard, but they are more confused than the living and fainter, thinner – shreds of old love and pain. I try to listen and piece them together. I give them four walls to stop them wandering.

There’s the lost child. “Mother, mother,” he calls, from very long ago. “Here I am, dear,” I say. It’s all he wants. It quiets him for a while. And then there’s the angry ghost who cries “Justice!” and makes his case to me – oh, it’s only jabberings now, and the dream he gives me of the scaffold and the noose – but there is no justice, only time. Some are faded to whispers with the centuries; some have stories I’ve tried to complete, with discreet researches in the newspaper archives. The detective side is fascinating, though I don’t like to travel and go into the city rarely. The poltergeist shook itself into nothing in the pantry when I gave it jars to throw. I swept out the glass and was glad this is such a big house, so far back from the road.

It was in the road I found some of them, chilling the hollows or rattling in the hedges, or rather they found me and followed me back. The ghosts recognize a listener. A sensitive, as some would say, though I’d almost say an insensitive, for they don’t frighten me and never have. I can comb through their pangs and terrors and stay apart. I confer a little order. It is my work now.

Continue reading “A Ghost Story”

How to Get a Hit Record in 1985

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Dot writes:

How to Get a Hit Record: Things You Should Know About the Pop Music Business, by Ray Hammond (Poole: Javelin Books, 1985) ISBN 0 7137 1498 0

If you want a hit record in 1985, you should know that it is all about the money. You should expect to be cheated, fleeced, exploited, and charged for the hamburgers the crew bought three years ago. You should get a clever lawyer who will make your contract just exploitative enough for the record company to accept it while still leaving you enough for a washing machine at the end of five years.

If you want a hit record in 1985, you must have the right image, which is original but exactly on-trend but not too outrageous but handsome but not effeminate but not too sexual, especially if there is a woman in your band. Consider having plastic surgery on your nose but realize you cannot be objective about it. Maybe it is your best feature after all.

If you want a hit record in 1985, you have to be in London. Sleep in your car if necessary. If you formed anywhere smaller than Glasgow there are unlikely to be more than two talented people in your band. Dump the others.

If you want a hit record in 1985, you may need to stamp on your best friend’s face. With luck, this will only be a metaphor for sacking him.

If you want a hit record in 1985, it goes without saying your best friend is a man. Only men are musicians, or producers, or managers, or promoters, or salesmen, or DJs, or critics, or label executives. Women may appear occasionally in brackets as an alternative. Otherwise there is a girl you might pick up after a gig, whose opinion of your single you should ask (if you remember), since her friends might buy it. Managers hate it when a musician falls in love with an intelligent woman as she might be bored while he’s away on tour and uncover some of the ways in which the manager is ripping the band off.

If you want a hit record in 1985, put all the good ideas you’ve ever had in the first 30 seconds of your demo, as it is the only part that will be listened to. Remember most people in the music business hate most of the music they hear.

If you want a hit record in 1985, find a producer who makes hits that are bought by teenagers of fourteen to nineteen. Virtually all singles are bought by teenagers of fourteen to nineteen, and virtually all successful records are produced by Trevor Horne. And a few other blokes who are helpfully listed on p. 112.

If you want a hit record in 1985, some members of the band may not be allowed to play on it. Also the producer will probably do all the mixing without you. Suck it up as you want a hit very much. Simultaneously remember that this is your record and your creative input is very important.

If you want a hit record in 1985, the most important thing is promotion. Hopefully by making the record company pay you a huge advance you will have forced them to do lots of this. Promotion chiefly means smoke and mirrors deployed in record shops, plus supplying DJs with cocaine. Adverts do not reach the target market but make the rest of the music industry think you are worth talking about. If you play on daytime TV ask to mime.

If you want a hit record in 1985, you must recognize the desperate state of the industry in which sales are falling and new technologies (such as taping from the radio) have irreparably damaged the old business models. Understand that long careers are no longer possible and you are boarding a sinking ship. But do not despair, and do not be cynical! For music is a beautiful thing. Anyway, just think what it will be like in thirty-one years’ time.

Yet another list of the top ten albums of 2016

Dot writes: what is the reason for Best Albums of 20xx posts? Sometimes I think it’s to make me feel small. I looked at the list on The Quietus, which is a dead trendy website for cool persons, and even though their list is 100 albums long I think I’d only even heard of 15 of them – and that’s heard of, not heard. I couldn’t help feeling darkly, and, I hope, unfairly, that they were showing off.

Anyway, here is my list. There were a lot of Important Records this year that I didn’t get round to, but here are ten that have given me joy this year, and maybe you’d like them too. I’m not showing off. Honest.

10. Shura, Nothing’s Real

Slick eighties-style production, catchy melodies, but lyrics that talk about vulnerability and awkwardness. And she’s incredibly loveable.

9. Christine and the Queens, Chaleur Humaine

Elegant gender-bending pop.

8. Beacon, Escapements

I bought this subtle electronic album early in the year and have found myself repeatedly going back to it.

7. Case/lang/veirs, case/lang/veirs

I’ve only just bought this as I heard about it through the end-of-year list in The Guardian. This illustrates the positive aspect of end-of-year lists. A female folk-rock supergroup, the brainchild of k.d.lang, now on heavy rotation in my kitchen, which is a far more sweet and soulful place as a result.

6. William Crighton, William Crighton

Australian country rock, tough, bitter and tuneful.

5. Bell X1, Arms

Bell X1 write witty lyrics with a political punch – “Let’s ask what the markets would do / Cos markets have feelings too”, the second track starts – but they also offer melodies that hook you in and moments of melancholy romance, as in the gorgeous animated clip below.

4. Braille Face, Kōya

Electronic production and oblique lyrics come together in a beautifully atmospheric album. Listening to Tim Shiel’s podcasts about the Spirit Level label has made me feel involved in Braille Face’s journey into the spotlight, and I’ve found Kōya and the treasury of songs from which it was selected productive sources of ideas for my writing, but when it comes down to it the album is just good, and would be good without any of this other stuff.

3. J.Views, 401 Days

This is another album with an involving story. It was fascinating to hear and learn about the songs as they were written, through the DNA website. The final product is unashamedly sensuous, richly textured and enchanting. All the nice adjectives.

2. Beyoncé, Lemonade

I never thought I liked Beyoncé, but it turns out I do. Such a varied and powerful record.

1. Radiohead, A Moon-Shaped Pool

I wasn’t sure whether to put this or Lemonade at number one, but I think in the end I have to stick with my rock roots. It’s an album full of feeling but without a hint of easy sentiment.

Plus honourable mentions for:

Floex, Samorost 3 soundtrack

I fell hard for Floex this year, but for his oeuvre as a whole rather than for this soundtrack album specifically, which is why I’ve left it out of the top ten list. If I made a list of favourite tracks there would be several from Samorost 3 on it.

Chairlift, Moth

Arthur Beatrice, Keeping the Peace

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Ears

All Tvvins, IIVV

Bat for Lashes, The Bride

Colour Bomb, Colour Bomb

 

 

 

 

The Dressing-Up Box Nativity Play

This is a nativity play designed for the needs of the modern parent i.e. it uses only costumes that the average time-poor, pointless-crap-rich family already owns. It preaches a message of love, acceptance and extreme laziness highly pertinent to our frantic society.

christmas-star

SCENE ONE

A generic nativity play set with stars and stuff. Enter Mary (a princess) and Batman. All their luggage is piled on the back of a patient grey zombie.

Song: “Little zombie”

Mary We need somewhere to rest. I am about to have a baby and our zombie is very tired.

Batman knocks in mid-air.

Batman Is there room in the inn?

Witch No, but you can sleep in the stable where I keep all the ghosts, vampires and ghouls.

Enter ten children in their Halloween costumes.

Song: “A Wraith in a Manger”

Narrator (a knight) Mary had her baby and she called him Jesus. She laid him in the manger.

Ghost Wooooooo, what a beautiful baby!

Count Dracula He looks tasty.

Mary (indulgently) Count Dracula, you need to learn about the spirit of Christmas!

SCENE TWO

Still the same generic nativity play set, only now Mary, Batman and all the Halloween characters sit down at the side of the stage to indicate we can’t see them.

Narrator And there were superheroes abiding in the fields, keeping watch over the city by night.

Enter six or seven superheroes.

Song: “O little town of Bethlehem, how full you are of crime” 

Narrator Suddenly, the sky was full of princesses.

Enter fifteen princesses. Fourteen of them are Elsa from “Frozen”. The fifteenth is Xena, Warrior Princess, as she has a geeky mum who does cosplay.

Song: “The people that walked in darkness have Xena great light”

Xena, Warrior Princess Be not afraid! A child has been born in the city of Bethlehem who will save everybody much better than you do. However, he is being menaced by Count Dracula.

The superheroes have a quiet but intense argument among themselves.

Spiderman We will go to see him and bring him presents.

SCENE THREE

Same as Scene One but now with all the superheroes. The superheroes present the baby with a random selection of cuddly toys, weapons, pokémon cards etc.

Count Dracula This baby must be important, but I am getting very hungry.

Superman Don’t you dare try it, Dracula! We defeated you before!

Song: “Last Christmas, we skewered your heart”

By the way (thanks to Comics Alliance):

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SCENE FOUR

Nothing about the stage has changed, except perhaps a small ghoul has fallen off it. Enter three wise Jedi: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

Song: “We three kings escaped the Death Star”

Obi-Wan Kenobi We felt a disturbance in the Force and set out to bring gifts to the newborn king.

Luke We bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh-derous lightsabers.

The Jedi lay the lightsabers beside the crib.

Count Dracula I admit it, I can’t harm this baby. There’s simply too much peace and goodwill around. From now on I will give up sucking blood and eat only foil-wrapped chocolate coins and chestnut stuffing.

Everybody Hooray! Count Dracula has discovered the spirit of Christmas!

Song: “Dracul, the sharp-toothed vampire”

Darth Vader Jesus, I am your father.

Teacher Stop it, Nathan, that’s not in the Bible.

Song: “Have yourself a very mixed-up Christmas”

 

THE END