For anyone who’d like to hear the first chapters of my novels, they are freely available at the link below, or just clicking HERE.
So far there are chapters of the three parts of the Silver Nights Trilogy, and of The Ecology of Lonesomeness.
I plan to add the first chapters of my other novels soon.
And they’re read by the author, too, so you will get to hear what I sound like in real life – or remind yourself of my strong accent if you know me already!
And please, feel free to leave a comment – or a review of the books!
Are we learning Newspeak as we speak?
George Orwell’s masterpiece novel is 70 years old this week.
I first read it thirty years ago, when 1984 was already a year in the past. But it was clearly then a warning to be vigilant, to watch Big Brother and ensure He/It/They didn’t take over our little part of Oceania (though Ireland doesn’t even get a mention as Airstrip Two, or something).
Yet, despite the fall of the Iron Curtain five years after its setting it’s become more relevant as time goes on.
Orwell had lived the experience of seeing the ideals of the common man being twisted, controlled and eventually stymied by a stronger power, which pretends to be helping, often with propaganda as one of the main weapons. Consider the attempts to halt climate change, pollution, corruption, environmental destruction over the years since the 1960s. They were as effective as the efforts to overthrow communism in the USSR and Eastern Europe. Hopefully the current demonstrations from #fridays4future and #extinctionrebellion will have better success, because we can’t afford wait till capitalism collapses under its own weight – predicted to happen soon enough but not before it causes ecological collapse.
The emission of a reality TV series called Big Brother brought the book to the consciousness of a mass of viewers who’d never read as voraciously as some of us do.
And yet, how frivolous a use of the term. How cosy we were in thinking we had control of how we were being observed, could opt in to 24/7 scrutiny for a few weeks in the hope of winning cash prizes and/or fame.
I’ve not read the book again since I was fifteen (I very rarely read a book twice), but recently I’ve been teaching students about dystopias and I’ve watched clips of the John Hurt movie version, which bring it back into focus like a slap to the face.
When I tell the kids where the reality TV show name comes from they’re surprised, but what’s more astounding is the ease with which we have allowed Big Brother (Big Business, Big Data) to take over our lives, to actually scrutinise us more than the TV cameras do on that show.
Though we don’t pause to consider it much, now They can look into our thoughts, from our daily choices and actions in a real setting, not on some TV set.
And I’ve started wondering if we aren’t already starting to use NewSpeak.
At first, we did it to ourselves, since people stopped writing letters to one another, as well as a decline in reading.
Then, when phone texting became a thing, we started shortening words and changing spelling to fit more words in, and speed up messaging. We also started choosing simpler words rather than more complex ones.
Now, though, Big Brother is doing it.
Just like Big Data has figured out that predicting our choices is easier when They are in fact guiding us – as seen in the Pokemon go game – so, I think, predictive text on our phones (and the suggested replies suddenly appearing on our emails nowadays) is designed to do the same to our thoughts: to direct them, shorten them, prune the word selection until we are saying the same thing again and again, using only the few words They tell us to. Eventually, the sentences They construct for us will be considered good enough. We will write what They suggest we write. And, as Orwell so vividly explained, we will think how They want us to think. Simply.
Is there any remedy against this trimming of our mental faculties?
Read the book.
Read the book again (I plan to this summer) and again, and read more books in general.
Haven’t posted in a while because real life is keeping me from any sort of writing.
I am back to work – the day-job stuff. Since I haven’t been flooded with movie option offers, or thousands in royalties, I’ve still got this nine-to-five teaching stuff to do.
And getting time to write fiction is very complicated; it’s hard to get some intellectual space to enter any imaginary realms.
This year I have increased my hours in the school so that I don’t have to do the evening classes I have been doing. This doesn’t give me more time to write. In fact, it gives me less.
I used to have a chance to get a few hundred words done in the spare hours between classes. Instead, the new schedule gives me time to do the things people do with their kids – collect them from school, go to the park, take them to swimming and dance class. Then there’s going home to have baths and prepare dinner. The six hours between 3pm and 9 go by faster than the six between 9am and 3pm!
Collecting conkers in the park…
It hasn’t helped that my daughter broke her arm two weeks ago, and so can’t cycle her own bike, among many other inconveniences and incapacities. That means I spend more time commuting back and forth, to collect push chairs and catch buses.
I have had a chance to read a few pages of novels while the kids play or take the bus, but I haven’t written anything other than a shopping list in the last two weeks. I am one of the last letter writers left, and I love to write and receive them, but I just sent a birthday card to my sister and I didn’t include a handwritten latter – for the first time in the sixteen years I’ve been away from home.
Not only have I not had a chance to write letters, but I can’t keep up with my emails. I usually read or delete the mails in my inbox within a day or two. Sometimes I leave one or two pending – longer mails or links to articles. At the moment I have four hundred to get through. Many of them with links to longer texts. I open my mail each morning hoping that I can delete as many as possible without even opening them. Much of these would be interesting if I had time, but my priorities don’t include reading mails.
I have also been busy living life. I’ve been out collecting mushrooms in the beech forests north of Pamplona. I am not much into mushrooms myself, but any excuse to get into the woods is good, even at dawn. And foraging is my second favourite food collection method after hunting!
Pickin’ mushrooms with the lads.
I’ve been collecting veggies and making tomato sauces for jarring, roasting and preserving peppers, and I have prepared my patxaran, a local liqueur like sloe gin but with anis. These are all excellent ways to spent time, both in terms of healthy eating and zero-kilometre food, and in the simple manual labour tasks that are communal and relaxing.
not a big fan of this myself, but friends and family love them, and it’s foraging – second only to hunting in my favourite food collection methods!
My tomato sauce stash, made from fruits picked off the village veggie plot. Should keep me for the year.
And while such activities don’t remove the urge, and need, to write, they are therapeutic in their own way – better than colouring books, in my humble opinion, in reducing stress. Which reminds me of a poem I wrote back in August, when I had time to think. Apologies to my friends who are fans of adult colouring books!
Colouring Books for Adults
I know someone who bought a book
To colour in, in her spare time.
It’s the new trend in stress relief,
She says; takes her mind off thinking,
Relaxes in its repetitive actions,
Easy, simpleminded tasks that pass
The time of a dark evening
Much more calming than movies
Or reality TV.
I think it’s akin to knitting;
If you didn’t have a niece who needed a scarf,
Or whittling sticks; since who wants to hoover
Up the shavings off their sitting room floor?
Or darning socks that are too darned thin to bother nowadays,
Or jarring jam, or bottling sloe gin, or
Washing up; which filled in time, once upon a time,
As we talked between dinner and sleep.
Sometimes you see a book come out exactly at the right time.
That’s luck, perhaps, or good planning. But then, there can be a slew of books on the same subject that are all on the mark, in fashion, ready to make that hay while the sun shines, and strike the iron while it’s hot.
I’ve never been one to jump on the bandwagon. The wagon usually goes too fast for me and I end up on my arse in the dust, or worse; the mud.
Many thought it was time to write an erotic novel after Shades of Grey went viral. I didn’t, but I wrote some anyway. They haven’t lit up any lists yet.
When my first werewolf novel came out, I was asked if I wrote it in teh wake of the Twilight trilogy. I wrote it twenty years before.
At the moment I’m writing a novel concerning the illegal wildfires in Ireland during the last two Aprils and the current government’s willingness to change the law so the farmers can do what they like when it comes to the environment. So it would be best to get the novel out as soon as possible to be current. However, it’s taking longer than I thought (it always does).
At the same time, it should not matter so much because I hope that in twenty years time the novel will still have its impact, like a novel set during the AIDS crisis of the late eighties still impacts us now just as much.
The novel is on hold this summer because I’ve got another time-sensitive project on my hands – one that can’t be put off, like putting up firewood can’t be ignored if one wants to live through the winter.
Time will pass, and though I will have other chances in the future to continue this project (and will have to) it’s at a critical stage right now and I have to take advantage of the time I have right now to apply to it – something that’s a luxury which thousands of others might envy me of.
The project is a little human. A mini-me, as it were; my six-month old son.
Books, Booze and a little Boy – Be warned: the three don’t necessarily mix very well…
I’ve got him – and his older sister; at her own critical stage of development – for the summer. He’s a time-intensive creature. He will be crawling soon and I’ve already accepted the fact that he’ll do his best to wreck my house.
But it is time well invested. I’m sure he’s a quick study – already clapping hands and holding out his dodie to me, then laughing as he takes it back.
Mainly, though, the means, the brainpower to think of other projects is being sucked away. He barely gives me time to clean the house while he sleeps and prepare his purees and fruit.
Many other parents know what I’m experiencing – it’s probably light compared to some nightmares, but for a writer, at least this one, it’s easy to start projects in spare moments but hard to tie a story all together without long stretches of quiet concentration.
So I’ll not bother. I’ll have a rest – as far as that goes – a holiday. I’ll go back to my books – the long list of novel spines staring at me from my bookshelves – and relax my brain. And I’ll read aloud, to let my son listen to the rhythm of one of his native tongues.
The heat here disappeared and a storm saw the start of the school year last night but the next festival in Pamplona is already setting up…
The city of Pamplona used to be divided into three Burgos. This is mine.
The celebration of the privilge of the union of these three (592 years ago) takes place on the 8th of Sept. Small San Fermin, or San Fermin txikito takes place at the end of September.
For me, September started with dental surgery, but I’ll save you the photos of that…
Anyway, ’twas a good summer.
Apart from sitting on the beach and visiting home, I watched three seasons of Mad Men, read half of MR James’s Ghost stories, and all of Lonesome Dove, wrote a novella, and almost all of a novel (still not ready for submission, albeit) I put on a few kilos, saw several species of raptors every day and a few foxes and roe deer around, but got few decent photos, made a saw horse (as well as cut and constructed a few walls of logs) and mounted a headboard in the village house.
What I haven’t done is write many blog posts, but I hope to rectify that this autumn..
I did scribbled a few more poems, one about mountain biking, which I didn’t do enough of this year, really – sticking to my desk instead.
Here are a few more of these…. two are inspired by having a child ask the questions we never got good answers to in our day… at least I didn’t.
Along Hallowed Paths
Old friends we seldom saw
Except in photos or in a bar,
But who shared a hobby, such as
Biking or hiking, where we are alone,
Never enter our thoughts upon the
Mountain; only when we return to recount.
However, now they are gone from those
Groups in the bar relating their days in
The saddle, their face comes to mind any time
We sit upon a mountain bike, it seems,
Every crazy climb and mental descent,
Every path picked over rocks and
Gravel track or long asphalt road
Through fields and forests
Is hallowed ground.
Dogs don’t go to Heaven
They told me dogs don’t go to Heaven.
If so, then much less the wolf,
Nor would the fleet deer flee.
If there are no dogs allowed,
Then neither birds nor bumblebees
Enter, I’m sure. Who visits flowers, then?
None need, for they are also absent.
Mountains there are equally bare
Of the forest that covers the one before me.
When they tell me of Heaven, I can hardly
Imagine how the water flows and falls there,
Or why one would swim in the wide blue sea
Without a fish to see.
They tell me
Dogs don’t go to heaven, so I’ve decided
That’s not somewhere I’d for ever want to be.
Thoughts on Obvious Questions Reappearing as a Parent
Why did Cinderella have to go home by midnight anyway?
What kind of fairy godmother gives a taste only to take away?
Was it because young ladies do not linger out all night?
Yet for the rest the party was in full swing when she took flight.
Control and strict rule sets of the time seems to be at base,
For readers to learn early how a suitor should give chase
And girls be given freedom only in small doses, lest
They reject the men who’d take them and clutch it to their chest.
The Poplars and the Church Tower
The church tower of Olleta has stood five centuries
In the fork between the river and the gulley;
The row of poplar trees four fewer, but for forty
Years now have stood a few feet taller; a monument
Of Nature making the village square shadier.
But they won’t stand longer,
For they’re coming down this week;
Some to make room for renovations to the church wall,
Lest it fall in ruins – after all, ’twasn’t built to last this long –
And the rest to return the view
Of the sun-drenched sandstone
From before it was shielded by such tall trees;
Proving man prefers to gaze upon
The wonder of his own creation.
In case I caused a misunderstanding in my recent post regarding spelling and grammar, and our current use of computers, I would like to make a more few points on the subject.
I don’t think that either of these two, especially spelling, should deteriorate as a result of our constant use of computers. Nor does, or did, handwriting always hide bad spelling. My own handwriting is atrocious. My sister, a trained secretary who can type faster than I will ever hope to, has to decipher my writing when I write a letter to my parents. And I do write them letters, despite seeing them on skype every week, for I am one of those who never stopped writing letters. I began at the age of 13, writing to Mary, my pen-friend in Durham, who unfortunately died a few years ago. When her mother wrote to tell me, she said that Mary had always commented that I had the most important skill to be a doctor (I am only a PhD, like Dr. Phil): the indecipherable handwriting. When I wrote exams, I always did the second draft very slowly, making certain that each letter was legible.
My handwritten drafts of poems or stories are, happily, though, proof from the casual over-the-shoulder perusing that family members have such an annoying tendency to try. How do you understand that chicken scrawl, they wonder aloud. My little secret is that I sometimes don’t (the most common situation is after I write something after getting home from a night out – or worse still, while in the car or other means of transport on the way home from a night out). I usually have a fairly good memory of what I wrote, though, and I get the gist of the flow as long as I don’t leave it for weeks or months before I write it up. If every third of fourth word is just a blur, I can still figure it out: like those “how powerful is your mind” things I was talking about, on the Internet – except I write my own.
When I am typing up, though, I have to fiddle with the screen or change windows until said family member leaves me alone. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how offended they get, then, when you tell them to piss off and let you work, saying “You never want me to read what you’re writing,” when there is a copy of my last novel lying unread on their desk top.
Of course, that is not to imply that there aren’t a whole heap of errors on my typed draft. Whether I am writing from scratch, from brain to page, or transcribing, I always type faster than my brain really can, just like I handwrite faster than my hand can move, and though I said I use the delete button more than the space-bar, that’s only on emails. the word documents get cleaned up later, with an mouse and the good old right-click to correct errors. The red underlining slowly disappears and I am left with something approaching illegible, if not readable. If the spell-check didn’t exist, though, I would go more slowly, I think. And I would certainly proof-read all my texts better before sending them off. Do kids do that so much, though? It doesn’t seem to be the case. Either that, or they see the mistakes and they can’t be bothered to right click the mouse, because they know that the standards are perhaps slipping, and people will still read and reply to their emails or whatever it is they are sending.
My first drafts are also littered with errors because I am not the greatest speller in the world. I am forever mixing up the h and t in strength and length to write strenght, and lenght, (because weight has them the other way around) and do all of the other things that show up in lists of the most common mistakes… But most people don’t know that – even though I admit it at the white-board of my class every now and again – because I always double check. I got to the computer type it as I think it should be and see if the little red line appears. With spell-check, it should be easier to keep your writing clean. But I always had a dictionary at hand before I had a computer. When I left home and moved to Spain, though my parents helped me out in buying a laptop to write up my thesis corrections, I stole their dictionary: a Marion-Webster (American spellings!) from the 80s that was the only reference book we had in the house – I am ignoring the completely useless set of encyclopedias that seemed to come without an index and were not in any logical order, much less alphabetical that sat on a shelf in the playroom for twenty years. Believe me, my parents didn’t need the dictionary. I was the last kid out of the house and my siblings never touched it much. I still do: I still have it, after taking it to Boston and back, and picking up a thesaurus or three on the way. My vocabulary isn’t too hot, either, despite my voracious reading. Sometimes my wife asks me the meaning of an English word and I find it hard to explain: “I mean, I kinda know what it means, and I’ve read it lots of times, and I know what context it normally comes up in, but a definition… let me check.” Without a thesaurus and dictionary, my poems would be pretty much poor, or poorer than they are. That old dictionary would be right there beside me in my bookshelf if I was writing this in my office, but I am in a park, watching the cotton seeds drift down from the poplar trees like summer snowflakes across the sun-rays through the trees and wondering how park benches can be redesigned for laptop writing comfort. Getting the words write matter to me, of course.
In my hand written exams I always corrected spelling as much as I could using the available vocabulary that was written on the exam sheet – something I always advise my students to do (especially those learning English as a Foreign Language). Any spelling mistake of a word that is written in the question or elsewhere on the exam is not a spelling mistake, it’s laziness.
That, my friends, is our big problem. Maybe the sheer quantity of text we have to write at speed makes it harder to pick up a few small errors and typos, but the vast majority of what we are experiencing that frustrates us is not small mistakes. It’s silly mistakes, stupid mistakes, repeated mistakes: mistakes that make it obvious the writer is either lacking a little education or lacking a lot of interest in making his or her words work correctly.
Another problem, related to that, is that not only are texts sent between individuals lacking in correct structure, but that ill-written texts are being (self)published as books and people are reading them because they’re free. I read through a short book about blogging, myself, that was advertised by the author as free on Kindle, and the amount of typos and spelling errors was such that I was a little embarrassed for the author.
Two days ago, some “writer” posted on a facebook writing page that he “had got half his book wrote,” and wanted advice on whether traditional or self publishing was the way to go. Everyone was a little too supportive, to be honest. I told him it was a long road, but at least he was on it ( I was on it more than twenty years). Others just said “self”, but we’re doing a disservice to the guy, and to potential readers if we let him put his work online before it is vetted by someone who knows the basics of grammar.
Nevertheless, I put the parenthesis around the self part of self-publishing, because there are print books out there that are just as bad, if not worse. When the Twilight series came out, several of my high school biology students read them voraciously. At first, I jocularly suggested they read something a little more worthy, but stopped as soon as I saw some of the other books they were even more addicted to. I won’t give the name because that would just be publicity, but let’s say that it was “Chic Lit” involving young ladies of colour in a sorority. I am sure it sells a lot of copies, written with the diction and spelling that I’d be aghast to see in an ESL student.
If this is what students are reading, I can but expect their essays to be somewhat lacking.
Some will say that these kinds of books are just breaking conventions that are old hat, anyway. If so, I can stop bothering to proofread and edit my work, then. And that message my publisher – which I waited many years to finally get so I could prove to myself my writing was worth reading – just sent me regarding formatting and punctuation can be safely ignored. But I don’t think so, like, seriously.