Silly Love Songs

In the reading I’m doing for the workshop on Saturday I mentioned a couple of pieces of background music that set the mood in a tastefully refurbished pub (‘marinated in a knowing, post-modern irony). These happened to be playing on shuffle on my computer as I was writing it. One is ‘Amoreuse’ by Kiki Dee, which is a song that few people probably know by name but most people will recognise. It’s actually a French song to which Gary Osborne put English lyrics (who wrote ‘Get the Abbey Habit’ and the lyrics to Elton John’s ‘Blue Eyes’ if I remember correctly).  

The other was one of my very favourites (and not just because of its drinking related title) — ‘Love Hangover’. I like the Associates version but the original Diana Ross recording is both incredibly seductive (in the opening) and then has the most incredibly charged erotic energy — the hi-hat making it pound along. I think I remember some Paul Gambaccini programme on Radio 2 describing how that Diana Ross was reluctant to record such a blatantly sexual song at first and the producer had to seduce her into it with the lights turned down very low.  (There’s something similar about it on this website.) It’s unusual as it’s written by two women — Pam Sawyer and Marilyn MaLeod.

I came back to try and find it on the laptop and did a filter for everything tagged with the word ‘love’. I don’t consider myself to have a collection with loads of soppy songs and it probably removed about 80% of the tracks. However, I was stunned by how many of those that were left were tracks that I really like. Having ‘love’ in the title almost seems to be a predictor of quality. Of those that are on the playlist are gems like ‘Big Love’ by FleetwoodMac, ‘I’m in Love with A German Film Star’ by the Passions, ‘Sowing the Seeds of Love’ by Tears for Fears, ‘Love at First Sight’ by Kylie, ‘Tainted Love’ by Soft Cell, ‘Friday I’m in Love’ by the Cure, ‘I’m Not in Love’ by 10cc, ‘Justify My Love’ by Madonna, ‘Love Shack’ by the B52s, ‘Love is the Drug’ by Roxy Music, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zeppellin, ‘Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding’ by Elton John,  ‘Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover’ by Sophie B Hawkins, ‘Saving All My Love for You’ by Whitney Houston, ‘Love is a Battlefield’ by Pat Benatar (I Love That) and, of course, ‘Silly Love Songs’ by Wings…though I wasn’t so enthused by ‘Boys (Summertime Love’) by Sabrina.

I’m not arguing the self-evident point that lots of pop songs have ‘love’ in their title but that I’m far less likely to skip to the next track when I’ve filtered for the word. This makes me think that. perhaps, that for a lot of artists that they are more confident of titling a song with a potentially ‘cheesy’ like ‘love’ when it’s a strong, good quality track (i.e. because it’s good they don’t need to be defensive about it). Paul McCartney’s lyric to ‘Silly Love Songs’  sums up this critical tendency. This is less true of the likes of Diana Ross but very true of the more macho male groups and singers. I think that may be a lesson for writing as well — if you’re dealing with emotions then it will work if you do it directly and confidently then that will be the best remembered of your work.

‘You Must Be An Angel…’

…I can see it in your eyes, full of wonder and surprise’ — from Madonna’s ‘Angel’ off the ‘Like A Virgin’ album from 1984.

I heard this song for the first time in years tonight on ‘Only Connect’ — an interesting quiz show hosted by Victoria Coren. (The title is presumably based on E.M. Forster’s famous quotation, which was much referenced by the Leavisite deputy head, Mrs Silverman, when I was in the sixth form who gave a couple of us extra sessions tuition in English Literature in case we wanted to do the Oxbridge entrance exams. I’m sure that our MP at the time, Joel Barnett (of the famous devolution-related Barnett formula) once said that she was related to the Labour MP Sydney Silverman, whose bill abolished the death penalty. She may even have been his wife, although she must have been quite young when he died in that case as that was 23 years before she taught me.)

Anyway, I always thought ‘Angel’ was a wonderful song because, like many others on the album, it was very subversive — at first hearing innocent electro-pop but finding all sorts of darker meanings on closer examination. I love the way she stresses the word ‘must’  in the line ‘You must be an angel’ — you’d expect the stressed word to be angel. The album came out in my first year at university and, having been one of the very small number of people who’d bought Madonna’s first album when it was eponymously titled in 1983, I bought both the single and album of ‘Like A Virgin’ on the day they were released.

I wondered why I thought ‘The Angel’ was a good title for the novel and it’s partly to do with Angel tube station (the lovliest named tube station on the whole underground) being the closest to City University but it’s also because I’ve always pictured, without actually realising it, the Kim character to look quite like Madonna of that era. Odd how it all comes tumbling out of the subconscious.

Encouraging Alumnus

Later this term we’re having a visit from a ‘real-life’ author but, as an encouraging testament, she is an alumnus of the Certificate in Novel Writing course itself. It is Kirstan Hawkins whose novel, Doña Nicanora’s Hat Shop, is being published around now. There’s a short biography on what seems to be her agent’s page and it’s quite re-assuring to see that she’s a veteran of various creative writing courses as well as having quite an extensive writing history related to her academic career.

Sally Hits Facebook

Inspired by Emily’s suggestion about creating diaries and the like for our characters I’ve come into the modern world and set up a Facebook page for one of mine — except that it’s a bit more complicated as this is something that will probably really happen in the novel. It’s for Sally Hunter — alter-ego wine writer of eco-grunger Sally Edmonds — and she’ll use her Facebook persona to establish her wine-writing credibility.

It’s early days yet — I want to her to become a fan of various wine related things and so on but I’ve had to put in things like education and date of birth. I’ve kept those pretty true to Sally Edmonds’ details. I’ll be interested to see if Sally gets mail (she has her own genuine e-mail address which she needed to set up the account) from people who went to Aylesbury High School or  Birmingham or Birkbeck Universities thinking they remember her. I think if Harry Hill’s Knitted Character can have a Facebook page then so can Sally.

Here’s how she appeared on my page — note her relationship status.

Sally Appears on My Facebook Page
Sally Appears on My Facebook Page

And here are the personal details from her page (or wall or whatever it is)

Sally's Info
Sally's Info

Click on the images to read the info in more detail.

Sally’s only got one friend at the moment so I’m sure she’d love more. You can search for her on Facebook using her mail address sally.hunter@mcnovel.org.uk (note there’s no ‘a’ in that spelling of mcnovel).

In due course Sally’s network will extend to other social-media-using characters who will make friends with her — Ana, Frances and maybe even Robert.

Back to the Tate

Had a meeting in London today between Mansion House and Cannon Street that I’d partly arranged in the hope of hitting the pub with friends afterwards and getting well lubricated. This didn’t come to pass but I didn’t waste the trip as I zipped over the river to check a few details out in the Tate Modern.

I wrote a piece for last Saturday’s tutorial by using the Tate website to look up the paintings so I thought I’d better go and see them for real before I revised the piece. Good job I did as I now know better where they’re physically located in the room. They are principally Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Whaam!’, Warhol’s ‘Marilyn Diptych’ and Rauschenberg’s ‘Almanac’.  I may also use Claeus Oldenburg’s ‘Giant Three Way Plug’ as it didn’t realise it hung in the air or was so big.

I went down and revisited the big box — not as spooky this time as there seemed to be more light and there were more people around — and also checked out the Cy Twombly paintings which I found all to be called Bacchus (untitled) in a collection called Material Gestures. It’s probably the first time I’ve ever ‘got’ a painting which to all intents and purposes looks like someone’s had a breakdown while doing some interior decorating. I can’t find it on the web but there’s a review in the Telegraph that shows a similar work. I’ve now found Twombly’s site. There are two Bacchus paintings at 21 and 22 on this page.

Next door to the Twomblys was something which was, re-assuringly, the sort of pretentious rubbish I’d normally expect. I can’t seem to find it on the website and I was quite interested as there was a warning about the room containing sexually explicit material. Unfortunately it was some old bloke’s home movies of himself stark naked in a mask hitting himself on the head with a boxing glove and smearing himself with paint (I luckily missed the bit where he uses bodily excretions). Not something that I’ll probably use in a novel.

More On the Ground Research

I wrote a section of ‘Burying Bad News’ in the summer which was a flashback to 1995 when Frances was a young GP in Feltham, in south-west London (famous for its Young Offenders’ Institution which takes the worst young criminals from the whole of London and visitors to which can often be seen on the local trains and buses).

I used to work there in the late 80s/early 90s and often travelled through there for the rest of the 90s. The whole town centre was a 60s planning disaster and over the last five or ten years it’s been completely redeveloped. My old office has been turned into Yuppie flats and the local boozer (whose beer garden was the only bit of green in the whole centre) has been flattened.

I went back there last night and spent two or three hours in the Moon on the Square — a Wetherspoons pub which replaced the infamous Cricketers, which was a place where 70-year-old Irishmen offered each other out for fights, customers let their rottweilers roam around and pushed trolleys full of shopping into the pub from Tesco’s next door (Tesco has relocated down the road and has been joined in Feltham by Lidl, Aldi and Asda).

The whole area is a vast improvement on what it was like at the point I set my chapter. The beer was very good in the Wetherspoons too. It’s good to revisit the places that I’ve used for settings. I drove on the bridge over the Stokenchurch Gap cutting last week and I’ll try and get to the Tate Modern again tomorrow .

Compliment?

I had the experience of being workshopped in the tutorial on Saturday, which was particularly nerve-wracking for me as I was the last one to be done (and we had over-run as well so I guess people needed to get away).  Even though I’m quite used to this process, both in person and on-line, reading for the first time in front of a new group of people is quite daunting. It’s worse when people who go before you get very positive comments as well and you think ‘Oh no, mine’s nothing like the style of the one everyone loves.’

What was most useful was getting the notes that people had made on the scripts. I read these on the train on the way back (and again on Saturday evening) and I was very encouraged. In the main people must have made the comments in advance and I was struck by the differing views. Listening to the class discussion, one might be tempted to think there was a uniform opinion (possible influenced by Alison giving her comments on hearing the extract read out.) However, there were plenty of instances where one person had scribbled something out as being, for example, over-written whereas another person had written ‘this is great’ next to the same line. I guess it goes to prove the truth of the Vonnegut quotation where he instructs writers just to write for one person and not try and please the whole world. (Bren Gosling mentions similar thoughts on his blog.)

One comment that slipped into the back of my mind on Saturday but has now come back to me was that someone said that she didn’t know how to interpret some of the material. I take this as something of a compliment now I think about it as some of the writing (and other art forms) that I enjoy most are those where the reader (or viewer) is not sure how to take it. ‘The Office’, for example, is comedy that borders on tragedy and parts of it stir emotion much more than many straight dramas. Similarly, Jane Austen’s writing is overtly humorous in places (Mr and Mrs Elton) but much more subtle in others. Two of my favourite TV series, ‘The Day Today’ and ‘Brass Eye’ (which I’ve just unearthed on DVD) are simultaneously deadly serious and incredibly hilarious. I don’t think I’ve seen anything funnier than Phil Collins with his ‘Nonce Sense’ T-shirt or ‘Dr’ Fox saying in all seriousness ‘This has no scientific basis whatsoever but it’s a FACT’.

Poem from Metroland Poets Meeting

In the environmentally friendly spirit of recyling I re-used some of the novel extract I sent out to the writing class to create a poem to be workshopped when I went to Metroland poets on Friday evening. This was the first poem I’d read and it was quite favourably received. One poet said it made him feel disgusted, which I think was a compliment!

Kebabbed

The day yields to the glow
thrown by vibrant, violent lettering,
lurid ribbons of plastic fascia.

Aromas of frying fat saturate
the air, oozing from the slick
of takeaways greasing the road
to the car factory.

Shards of compacted meat
weep from the window rotisserie.
Betelgeuse burns on a concrete post.

The K Factor – So You Think You Can Knit

After a long day thanks be for Harry Hill and the Knitted Character. He rose from the flames to have his own reality competition: the K Factor.

TV Burp is a masterclass in building humour from the compounding effect of repetition and self-deprecation. Now I’m not sure which is the best of the two. Which way to decide?

Political Research

Seeing as Frances Cross, the MP’s wife, is a principal character in ‘Burying Bad News’ it was quite nice to bump into Helen, my local MP’s wife briefly at the weekend. I don’t know her particularly well but certainly well enough to say hello to and have a chat. I know David, her husband and a shadow minister, slightly less well but I’ve met him on quite a few occasions and enough to say hello. (For the sake of their confidence I won’t say exactly where or in what circumstances I met her or even how I know them but it’s not in an overtly political context). Unlike Frances, Helen is a completely approachable, friendly and level headed person as is her husband, who’s pretty likely to become a minister should the Conservatives win in May.

I’ve also met quite a few other MPs and Ministers. I used to live in Vince Cable’s constituency and once took a deputation of neighbours to his surgery (an experience that I allude to in a chapter of BBN). Phil Woolas, who’s Minister of Immigration, came to my mother in law’s birthday party a couple of years ago and I had quite a chat with him. My mother-in-law used to have a photo taken of herself with Tony Blair every year at the Labour Party conference. She’s not managed it so far with Gordon. I told her before last year’s conference that she’d better be quick in getting one.

The Shock of the New

It’s going to be quite an intense day on Saturday for a few of us: Rick, Nick and myself have both a reading and a tutorial. The reading is c. 2,250 words and the tutorial extract can be up to 3,000. I slightly exceeded the word limits on both so I’ve got about 5,600 words in for feedback in one way or another — in two different novels, which might land me in trouble.

I really wanted to make a start on ‘The Angel’ and I began by trying to do something clever and writing a scene which, like Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Norman Conquests’, brought together characters from different works and had them interact in scenes which were interchangeable. I will probably still use the scene. It’s when Sally(from ‘Burying Bad News’) wants to bone up on wine. It turns out she knows Kim (from ‘The Angel’) from London and Kim persuades James to put on a wine tasting at ‘The Angel’. Sally brings Jez along and meets Emma and Gordon, Emma’s doctor father who tries to take over the wine tasting duties. Both Sally and Emma get smashed and Sally sees glamorous Emma as someone who can help make her image over and persuades her to accompany her to Bicester Village Designer Outlet to buy some discount brand label clothes cranking up the balance on the credit card she’s just wangled. In the course of this Sally would give Kim the third degree about why she’s left London and come to the sticks to work for an ex-banker. Kim would show Sally the space in the pub that she’s planning to turn into her studio. Quite a nice little scene I thought but it was quite dialogue heavy and didn’t really get into the meat of the story so I thought it might be a bit of a missed opportunity to present that for the tutorial.

Interesting that I referred to Alan Ayckbourn as I’ve long admired his plays — the way he works within a limited scope and is marvellously funny but still exposes the deepest recesses of his characters’ psyches. What I’ve described above is not too dissimilar to one of his plots.

So I decided to put the wine tasting writing on hold and write something different — and I had about two or three days to do it and last night’s class to fit in as well (in addition to work). I had a very firm image in my mind about how I wanted the novel to end and, bearing in mind feedback about how a reunion on the Millennium Bridge was a bit of cliche, I decided to construct an ending to the novel that took the cliche and subverted it.

I worked pretty obsessively on the piece as there’s not much opportunity for ‘face-time’ with the tutors and I wanted to deliberately address a lot of my concerns about the novel in the submitted extract. I got up at 5.30am this morning so I could send it in before midday (I failed by 8 minutes).

I also put my fieldwork research in the Tate Modern to good use by setting almost all the action in the gallery. I don’t know how successful a strategy it will turn out but I had the characters look at painting that were then used to reflect concepts and emotions from the plot. I tried to use paintings that readers would have a good chance of knowing, such as Warhol’s ‘Marilyn Diptych’ and Lichtenstein’s ‘Whaam!’. My reference to the latter wasn’t very subtle but it’s not a subtle painting. I really want to use the Cy Twombly paintings I saw last week but can’t find them on the internet. I’m planning another trip to the Tate next week to check. I also ensured that my semi-mystical experience inside Balka’s huge box was put to good use (see blog posting below). I hope Alison says that this works because, if it does, it could be quite a hook for the novel as I would see it being marketed at the kind of people, like me, who are reasonably educated and open to new ideas but who know very little about certain types of culture (in this case modern art). It works very well with things like Morse and his fixations with Wagner and Mozart.

I’m not sure how the piece hangs together. Because of the word limit (yes I came up against the word limit and had to edit it down even though it was put together quickly) it’s probably more rushed than I’d anticipate in a full length novel. For example, I’m concerned that I’ve telescoped the plot a bit too rapidly into the dialogue so there might be some cliches in there. However, some of the most basic emotions must transcend cliche. If a character says ‘I love you’ or ‘I want you’ is that a cliche? I don’t think so but I still feel like there must be cleverer ways of writing that or something like ‘Be there for me.’

I wanted to write something that had both dialogue and some extended description but I think I would want to hone the diction and rework some of the imagery in a re-draft. However, I wanted to use the extract to bring in and work on some of the themes I would see running through the novel, such as obsession, depression, communication, misunderstanding, ambition, modern art, etc. There’s also themes pubs and urban-rural tension but these aren’t so evident in the extract.

Now I’ve sent it in I’ll probably do something completely different tonight like watching television — I thought the new Rab C. Nesbitt wasn’t bad last week (I watch it with subtitles as I like to read how the dialogue is written) and ‘Bellamy’s People’ was ok last week.

And I’ve got six absorbing chapters from the other class members to read in detail before Saturday.
I’ve read through two or three quickly already but I’ll read them all through, let them stew away in my subconscious for a while, and then annotate them with any detailed comments I might have.

First Extract Sent Off

I was hoping to write something brand new for the reading in the class on Saturday but got a bit bogged down. I’m still hoping to write something on the new novel, even if it is a collection of fragments, for the tutorial with Alison.

For the reading I looked at what I’d written most recently for ‘Burying Bad News’ and was guided by the 2,250 word limit more than anything else in picking two of the sections set in Oxford, which came to about 2,500 words. They are when Sally and Ana are roaming the streets and when Sally argues with Emily Smiley. They’re mostly dialogue, which will be interesting as I’ve had a quick scan through some of the other extracts sent around for reading and, as might seem sensible at this part of the course, they’re first chapters of novels so set the scene for the rest of the story and tend to have a lot less dialogue. I wonder if picking something out from the middle of my novel will totally confuse everyone. The problem is that the novel doesn’t have a chapter one yet!

I knocked off a quick 500 words of ‘Gravediggers’ for Swan Supping. This is basically a more comedic version of ‘The Angel’ but allows me to try a few things out for ‘The Angel’. Again it’s almost exclusively dialogue with a reference at the beginning to a famous work which might set some expectation about what may happen in the end. Click here to read: Gravediggers Part 3

Best New Novelists of 2010

I came across a couple of interesting articles on the Telegraph website that may be of interest to some.
 
The first is one of these predictive pieces that tips the ‘next big thing’ — in this case new novelists. It’s interesting to see what type of novels are due for publication (and, perhaps, more importantly, promotion). Charlotte’s friend Simon Lelic is in the list. I saw his book being promoted in the window of Foyle’s at St. Pancras station last week.
 
The other one is a top 20 books of the decade thing (not just novels). Quite a few of the novels and authors we discussed last term are featured, including interesting choice like Persepolis. 
Now to try and work on something to send out for reading over the weekend.

Some Research

I was in London yesterday for work purposes and had two quite contrasting experiences that could be used in research for my novels in progress. I had a meeting with a management consultant at Price Waterhouse Cooper’s famous office at 1 Embankment Place — this is the semi-circular roofed building over Charing Cross station that was featured in the last series of The Apprentice (the toga wearing corporate hospitality task episode) and it’s even recreated in plastic bricks at Legoland. We used a little wood-panelled boardroom with all services and facilities laid on by attentive staff (obviously meant to impress financial movers and shakers — I turned up in jeans and a jumper).

My PWC friend and I did a conference call to Palma de Mallorca where the chap I’m doing some work for is based. He was rather pumped  up on testosterone and threw in phrases like ‘we really want them to drop their pants for this one’.

I had an hour or so to kill before I had to head back so I decided to take the tube to Mansion House and walk across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern — both of which are mentioned in one of my synopses. On some previous occasions I’m ashamed to say the free toilet facilities in the Tate Modern have been more of a draw to me than the artworks. However, I had a more considered look around this time, albeit briefly.

I’d seen Miroslaw Balka’s huge empty container from the outside previously but this time I ventured inside. I even got to the back wall — something that seems quite a challenge when you make the first tentative steps. (Basically the box, which is 13m high by 30m long is completely dark and empty inside.) Although one wall of the container is completely open, surprisingly little light penetrates inside so as you enter and walk straight ahead, it’s really like entering a blank void (apparently one of the allusions the artist wants to make is to the Holocaust). Once you get to the back of the container and turn round you realise you can see reasonably well in the opposite direction (towards the opening) but framed against the light are other visitors to the gallery who you observe facing you and tentatively making their way forward into the void. This is quite clever and the most effective part of the experience.

I took a photo of it on my phone which is a bit blurry but perhaps the more effective for it — see the people by the side for an idea of the scale of the box.

Miroslaw-Balka----How-It-Is
Miroslaw-Balka----How-It-Is

I don’t consider myself a great fan of modern art. I can’t make my mind up whether I need to work harder to understand it or if that’s pointless because it’s all a big con. (I imagine there’s some truth in both positions.) However, I did enjoy three huge paintings by Cy Twombly which were basically red spirals and loops on a big white canvas. I’m a bit annoyed as I forgot their title — something to do with wine I think and they’re quite new. I can imagine some scenes in my novel where the characters go round the gallery and have difficult conversations while they look at particular works and those Twombly paintings would be very good (and not too hard to describe!).

Today I went to corporate IT land — Thames Valley Park in Reading which is home to all sorts of corporations including British Gas, Oracle and Microsoft (who I was visiting). On the way back I decided to do a (very long) detour to Oxford to visit a location I’ve written about in a section of ‘Burying Bad News’ — the Cowley Road. I deliberately took a less direct route so that I could drive right along the length of the road from about 10 miles outside Oxford at Stadhampton. I could see the industrial part of the city looming up from a few miles away and then drove past the Mini factory and right down the road itself through the suburbs and outer city centre in the rush hour traffic ending up at the roundabout with the Angel and Greyhound at the bottom of Magdalen Bridge and then back again (getting stuck in big jams on the ring road).

I’m not sure whether to fictionalise the name of the road. I’ve certainly used artistic licence to make it seedier and grubbier than it actually is — although I noticed a few sex shops and dodgy bars. However, I’ve managed to doublt check that virtually everything I’ve described is really there — particularly a lurid row of takeaways, lots of newsagents and small grocers. In fact I may add in the pawnbrokers and cheque cashing shops…and there are plenty of buses going up and down so that’s true to life as well.

John Banville’s Character

Just watched another old episode of ‘The Book Show’. This one had an interview with Man Booker prize winning author, John Banville. He was asked about a literary character that intrigued him and he chose Cheeta from ‘Me Cheeta’ — which is a book that I’ve dipped into but not fully read. He said it might be best interpeted as a gay love story as Cheeta is clearly in love with Johnny Weismuller.

A Useful Resource for Novelists?

“Most of the time I just lie there and make lists in my head. I grunt once in a while so he knows I’m awake, and then I tell him how great it was when it’s over.”

I was watching an old edition of The Book Show with Mariella Frostrup and they asked novelist Tony Parsons what was on his bedside table.  Among other books he said he found ‘Why Women Have Sex: Understanding Sexual Motivation from Adventure to Revenge (and Everything in Between)’ by  Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss to have been a fascinating and invaluable resource, particularly for a male novelist (and it’s not just about women it has plenty in there too about men).

I found this interesting review from The Guardian — which cites the above quotation from the book, which I thought might not be out of place in a novel.  

Up Against The Clock

Useful e-mail conversations today gave me a bit of a shock when I realised I’m both a reader for Saturday 30th and also down to do my tutorial with Alison.  She recommends a week’s notice for readers so that means trying to send something out by Saturday. I’d quite like to do something new but I might work on the new novel for Alison and maybe bring in something to read from the current one. Up against time whatever…and today was fun with a vomiting daughter to tend to at 2.30am and a visit to A&E at Stoke Mandeville with my son all morning (he’s ok but the doctor wanted him seen in a hospital).

Two Sections of ‘Burying Bad News’ to Read

 Here are the fruits of my labours of approximately the past six weeks — about 12,300 words in two sections. That’s about 12-15% of a whole novel by a rough estimation so I’m reasonably pleased with the amount I’ve done. The longer piece (working title ‘Bird and Baby’) is the more revised and redrafted of the two. It’s taken an awful lot of hours to produce that. The other one could probably benefit from a couple more redrafts.

Taken together, they give a reasonably good overview of the characters in the novel — the five principal characters are all featured between the two pieces. The two are fairly contemporaneous in terms of plot sequence too. I would probably divide the longer piece and use the shorter one to intercut it.  

In both I’ve tried to combine some character exposition with plot development. In ‘Bird and Baby’ I’ve also tried to reveal my character Robert Cross’s political views (I’ve actually made him a secret lefty) so I go into his opinions on things as weighty as the Iraq war. Hopefully the political exposition isn’t too tedious as I’ve brought in other characters and plot elements.

I found that this section expanded enormously as I was writing it — almost in the fabled way that writers talk about when they say characters take over. I threw in a few chance meetings to break up the scene and found that the interaction with the characters created whole new scenes I’d not anticipated. The same happened with a pair of shoes.

There’s a bit of self-reflexiveness in that there’s a fair amount that discusses writing and the English language — and there’s also a bit of a rant about getting published.

A read of the latest synopsis should hopefully give some context to these two sections.  This first (‘Bird and Baby’) comes when Sally has got to know Robert Cross (the minister) reasonably well in her subterfuge as a supposed wine-writer. She’s arranged to meet him in Oxford when he’s doing constituency business so she can hopefully try to press him on his political views. She starts the novel as a committed enemy — the references to the demonstration outside the Oxford Union and the aggressive woman are to Sally as a political agitator — she was the tormentor but is trying to keep that hidden.

Sally is also responsible for having started a rumour that Cross is having a sexual affair with Ana. This has reached the press, via her political contacts. The story is just starting to break in the second section — Wendover Station.

Spot the carefully hidden references to Nancy Sinatra and Little Richard.

Click here to read ‘Bird and Baby’ (9,024 words): Bird and Baby — v44 — featuring Sally, Robert and Ana

Click here to read ‘Wendover Station’ (3,323 words): Wendover Station v12 — featuring Frances and Declan

The letter referred to in ‘Bird and Baby’ really exists and is exactly in the place described. I referred to my own photo when I was writing about it.

Inkling Letter from Eagle and Child
Inkling Letter from Eagle and Child

Should anyone have any comments then it’s possible to add them to the end of this blog post. I can also mail Word files if anyone’s really keen to suggest any changes.