I’m overrun with things I want to write about

ancient text on stone

After a few days of no blogging I’m overrun with things I want to write about, and not sure where I should start. But today it’s going to be The Epic of Gilgamesh

Other topics which interest me at the moment, and this is in no particular order, include;

  • will anyone remember my work when I’m gone.
  • why writers are thought of as anti-social.
  • fact checking and who you can trust.
  • Why my head is like a box of bees.

So, like the Von Trapp family in the Sound of Music, 

Let’s start at the very beginning, A very good place to start…  

Writing stories is nothing new. Even though we spend hours each evening glued to our screens, more writing is published today than ever before. Tablets and E-readers have made it easy to consume the written word. Laptops, blogs, and publishing on the internet allows even the most mediocre author to find an audience. But for millennia before the invention of audio recording, the radio transmitter, or the internet, written stories were our most simple form of entertainment.

Once committed to paper, and assuming it is correctly preserved, a written story will last longer than its writer. The oldest surviving written story is an epic poem, The Epic of Gilgamesh, which dates back to more than two thousand years before Christ. 

It’s your basic story, The Gods are board so the Gods make a man. Enkigu, the man they made, is tamed when he sleeps with a prostitute. The upshot of Enkigu’s night with the lady, who’s virtues are negotiable, is not a case of the pox. He got lucky, but he has a vision which tells him to challenge the local king to a test of strength – Why, well that’s never explained. The king, a chap called Gilgamesh, who gives his name to the story, can see Ekigu’s a mountain of a man. He still takes him up on his challenge, and guess what, the part-man and part-god character wins – Hands up anyone who didn’t see that coming? 

They become friends and they go on a journey together. Their quest is to cut down a sacred tree. However, another God, one who wasn’t in on the whole “let’s make a man thing,” sends a bull to kill them because it’s her tree they’re off to cut down. The bull fails and is converted into a pot of beef bourguignon and about a tonne of prime cuts. The goddess, Ishtar is, quite rightly, a bit pissed about losing her prize bull – well you would be, wouldn’t you – and she talks the other gods into sentencing Enkidu to death. Now, we know that when you’re sentence to death by the gods there’s really only one way for the story to go, and spoiler alert, he dies – horribly.

Gilgamesh is tormented by the death of his friend. Who’s going to help him eat the rest of that bull to start with? They had no refrigeration, and it’s probably beginning to hum a bit. So he decides to take another long journey, it’s what they did back then, and this time he’s in search of the meaning of life, (the answer by the way is 42, if you don’t know why, then look it up in the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy, by Douglas Adams).

As the King reaches the end of his life, he comes to the conclusion that “the life which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and control of his life they withheld in their hands.”

And that’s the epic of Gilgamesh in a nutshell. Mind you it go’s on a bit. There have been twelve clay tablets found so far, and we have no reason to think there isn’t more buried somewhere under the sand of Mesopotamia. If you’d like to read more, you can click on this link and have a look.  

So, if the oldest story can last four thousand years, then it’s fair to say that something I write today could still be around after I’m gone. I hope so, but I don’t expect to make it onto wickipedia, and it’s unlikely anything I’ve written will be searched for in the year 6019. The only person who might read my work will be one of my grandchildren on a wet Sunday afternoon. I like to think of them looking for clues in the text, something that will tell them where I stashed the family silver – but I’ve got bad news for them, there’s none left. It all went on fast women and slow horses (which is also the name of a Dr Feelgood album, released in 1982)

I was amazed and swelled up with pride when my daughter told me she’d found one of my mother’s books online. Mum, Margret Elizabeth Hadley, wrote two novels, A leaf in the wind, and the Passion Flower. They are both out of print now, but writing gave her great joy and the feeling of accomplishment when they were published stayed with her for weeks. Mum suffered from cancer for several years, she was often in pain yet seldom showed it. I think writing was one of the things that kept her going. That and the sparkling wit of her youngest son.

It was from her that I got my love of reading and You can see what I’ve been reading by clicking on this link. It’s not a comprehensive list of everything I’ve read recently but you might find few hours of escapism here. Sadly it doesn’t include The Epic of Gilgamesh.

A very sociable weekend

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’ve ignored the news and kept clear of current affairs programs on the TV.

Instead I’ve had a very sociable weekend. I’ve still downloaded the Times and read a few bits – I always read Melanie Reed’s spinal Column in the Saturday magazine. It’s been several years since her tragic riding accident and she has a great attitude to life. Giles Coren’s restaurant reviews have, from time to time, got him both verbally and physically attacked. He tells it how it and is highly entertaining.   

Robert Crampton is the beta male. He and I have so much in common that my wife sometimes asks if I ghost write his column –  for the purpose of clarity I want to point out that I have never met Robert, but I’d be very happy to do so, and that I do not, have not, and never expect to write his column.

On Friday we enjoyed a social evening at the sailing club, and that’s not as posh as it sounds. We gathered in our large wooden shed beside a rapidly drying ditch, sitting on old plastic garden chairs we picked from a variety of takeaway menus. Two of us were despatched to collect the meals from the Chinese/Fish & Chips/Pizza restaurants while the others arranged trestle tables and paper table cloths.

There was plenty to go around and several people took doggie bags home – there’s nothing like cold pizza dipped in sweet and sour sauce for breakfast. We have no alcohol licence so you have to bring your own drinks, everyone did and they were mostly soft. One of our member spoiled us with a home made pudding, a great big apple pie smothered in double cream. I could feel the arteries hardening and it was wonderful.

We chatted for a couple of hours about boats and families. Mostly we’ve known each other for so long that it’s one big extended family in all but name. Our wooden hut might not be the most celebrated clubhouse on the east coast, and I’m sure it’s never going to win any design award. But it’s the scene of some of the most memorable occasions of our thirty plus years in this town.

Fast-forward to 6am this morning and our annual breakfast race. The idea is that we have a silent start with no guns or hooters to disturb the neighbours. The Sailors are meant to “read” the flags and cross the start line accordingly.

We can ignore the race, I did as well as I ever do. Once everyone had finished, and the boats were out of the water, we settled down for a fabulous fried breakfast. Thanks must go to the members who cooked bacon, eggs, sausages and tomatoes on a Bar-b-que. Once again the trestle tables came out, we sat either side as they stretched down through the dingy park. Although it is September, the early morning sunshine was bright and warm, we feasted on a breakfast fit for a king.

And this is the point of today’s blog. Good food doesn’t need to be served on bone china plates in opulent surroundings and chased down with fine wines. If the right people get together over takeaway food or a Bar-b-que breakfast, eaten off plastic plates. In a wooden shed it can still feel special and create an atmosphere of joy filled thankfulness. We are drawing towards the end of our sailing calendar for 2019, there are maybe half a dozen races left. Our plans for 2020 will be constructed around social events like this as much as trophy races and personal handicap events. 

Thats all I have to say, I’m off for a bath with a good book . You can see what I’ve been reading by clicking on this link. It’s not a comprehensive list of everything I’ve read recently but you might find few hours of escapism here.

How would you explain it to a four year old

I’ve been thinking about how I’d explain the shenanigans in parliament to Clement. He is my sounding board, my go-to listener, my beta reader for everything. He’s only four years old but I don’t see that as an issue. He knows my opinion about those who represent us and it’s an advantage that he never repeats what I tell him. He won’t argue with me and never tells me I’m wrong.

Clement has his drawbacks, he’s a bit needy at times, he likes to have my full and undivided attention and really, really, want’s to be loved. He often twists around on the floor of the office, licking his balls and ensuring we all get an eye full. Well, he’s a Labrador, what do you expect?  You can meet Clement here.

I’m going to explain our current position like this – once I’ve got his attention with a biscuit.

You live in a house and it has a thatched roof. One of your children has convinced the other kids that it’s okay to set off a firework in the attic. Now the whole roof is on fire.

Your house was built over a fault line between two tectonic plates and the plates have started to move. That’s caused an earthquake and the cottage is unsafe. You need to get out and your family needs to get out. Everyone can see the building is falling down and leaving is the right thing to do.

However you are all crowded into the front hallway and have started to argue about whether you should wear a jumper or a zip-up cardigan. Still your house is falling down around your ears – and you don’t see it. You have focused on the details of one aspect and you’re blind to the bigger picture.

That’s how I see our government at the moment. They only talk about one thing – Brexit, while the rest of the county, our union of kingdoms, is collapsing. Scotland want to remain part of Europe. The population of Northern Ireland feel betrayed and abandoned. They’ve worked to overcome their troubled history and now people, money, and trade can move seamless between the six counties in the north and the republic in the south. All of a sudden they’ve become a bargaining chip in a game being played out hundreds of miles away.

Our infrastructure is creaking and the hospitals are at breaking point. We’re entering another winter with too few nurses, not enough beds and patients on trollies in every corridor. Police officers are leaving the service at an unprecedented rate due to disillusion and poor conditions. At school teachers strugle to teach unruly children and everyday they worry about getting knifed.

But all the politicians want to talk about, in soundbites for the ten o clock news, is a strategy for leaving the union of countries that have been our most valued trading partners for more than forty years. 

In the one thousand, one hundred and sixty eight days since the referendum we have become a lughing stock and the mother of all parliaments is now the butt of all jokes. We could have been trading, manufacturing and innovating. Instead we’re tearing ourselves apart, fathers against sons and neighbour against neighbour. There can be no “winners” because each day it goes on we all loose. This is an issue that will take a decade to sort out and a generation to accept. I hope it doesn’t become violent but I’m afraid that it will. Hot heads, fired up by windbags, will move the agenda forward – but at what cost?

It’s all too depressing to think about so I’m going back to a bit of reading and I’ll continue my own writing. You can see what I’ve been reading by clicking on this link. It’s not a comprehensive list of everything I’ve read recently but you might find few hours of escapism here.

Tumultuous times ahead

It’s a tumultuous time to be a writer. Everyone wants to write books that are of the moment, that is everyone who wants to write and who is not consumed by fantasy space travel, goblins and wizards or historical fiction. The rest of us, the ones who venture out of our bedrooms from time to time, don’t get too tongue tied when talking to a member of the opposite sex and avoid dusty libraries in case we catch rickets or scurvy from the ancient books there in, want to write about life today. 

But the problem with life today is that we don’t know what it is. Right now we are part of Europe, in a few weeks we may not be. For sure at some time in the not too distance future we will definitely be out, but what will out look like and who will take us there. It’s “the will of the people” I hear them say on the BBC and other news networks. But who’s will are we enacting. Back in the swirling mists of time, well 2016 anyway, the UK voted to leave the European Union by 51.89% for Leave to 48.11% for Remain, a margin of 3.78%, how many of leave voters are still alive and what  about the young people who have reached voting age since the referendum was counted. As younger voters tended towards staying in Europe while older voters generally chose to leave it’s a fair bet that the result would not be repeated.

So let’s have another vote I hear you cry. Well no. Because if it were to go the other way then it’s one all and the Leavers, who would now be the losers would cry foul. They had the original victory, it should stand. But the Remainers, the most recent winners, would say theirs was the victory of the moment and that should be recognised. Then there’s all those who really couldn’t give a toss any longer and just want it to be over. Who can predict which way they’ll cast their votes, and would it be the same as before? 

Maybe  we can have the best of three? Why not, when the world’s political discourse is reduced to seventeen second soundbites and repeating the same thing often enough makes it true then surly you can make up the rules as you go along. Dissenting voices are accused of spreading fake news, regardless of the facts, and it takes a young girl from Sweden to point out the Emperor is actually naked. 

So how do we write a book of the moment “when the times they are a changin” and changing oh so fast. I honestly don’t know, but I suspect that it’s one of the reasons that TV dramas and literary fiction remains so popular. We can immerse ourselves in stories, get lost in fantasy worlds, and identify with constructed characters. They are safe and comforting, even if the best books are dripping with blood and murderous intent (personal observation, that’s all) there’s nothing that can harm us when we invest a few hours in pure escapism.

So in the immortal words of the Captain from Hill Street Blues “Let’s be careful out there.” and be sure you dip back into the writing of your favourite author for a touch of escapism from time to time.

I have no deadlines.

As an independently publishing author I have no deadlines. There’s no publisher chasing me for a next draft, no agent asking for publicity information and no printer needed approved proofs send back. Decisions on timing are all mine, work is ready when it’s ready and I’ll upload it to Kindle when I’m happy with what I’ve done. 

Of course that means I am a master of procrastination. If I’m not in the mood to write or if there’s something more important to do and when isn’t there, I can spend hours, days even, not putting down a single usable word. This is not useful, and as my wife and bank statement keep telling me, it’s not revenue generating either. 

John Lennon got it right when he said “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Although he wasn’t the first to say it and the quote can be traced several decades further back than his Beautiful Boy song of 1980.

While I am having ideas for plots, thinking about characters and their relationships, actions and sometimes gruesome deaths (but not too gruesome as I have to get people to read this stuff) I also hold down a day job, have a loving family to maintain and need to spend time with my confidante and close friend, Clement. All this and blogging too – how will I manage.

The answer of course is time management and if I can manage to get out of bed in time to do some writing each day that would be a great help. Secondly a few self imposed deadlines which if I stick to will bring me a reward. Two hundred words, good ones that make sense in their context and content = coffee and a biscuit. Write my blog and post it, I can role around on the floor with Clement. A good chunk of editing is worth a couple of hours sailing in my dinghy and when I finally finish the book I’m going have a weekend away with my wife.

Small bites, that’s how you eat an elephant after all, and if I can take a few small bites each day then there will be less procrastination and more productivity, I’ll be happy, my family will see more of me and my bank manager will stop calling me in for increasing less social chats.