Friday, 24 April 2015

The Swallows Are Back

The annual migration to Sliabh Mannan of the house martins (bottom right) and swallows (top left) began a week ago.

It always seems to me a wonderful thing that these small birds can make the journey of many thousands of miles from southern Africa, yet even more astonishing is that each year they travel such a great distance in order to resume their interrupted residence in my outbuildings.

What, I wonder, is the nature of the advertising used by hirundine travel agents in the spring? Come to beautiful Sliabh Mannan folks; 500 feet above sea level, unspoiled natural surroundings and all the midges you can eat? Time share in a 1783 stable block with your old friends the horses? Play amusing games in the garden diving at the cat? Sliabh Mannan is THE place for a bird to be at this time of year.

Well, whatever the persuasion they employ, it seems to work. Here they all are again, remodelling and refurbishing last year's nests, zooming all around the farmyard and twittering loudly at each other, no doubt exchanging news of how they outwitted the bird hunters in Cyprus or drought in the Sahara.

Welcome back boys and girls. Now I know it's really spring!

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Writing and its Rewards

I do not write in order to win awards. I don't actually know anyone who does, though I would not suppose it impossible for someone to so so. That does not mean of course that I should not like to win awards. I am no more immune to the natural human desire for recognition than anyone else.

Though any artist would like to produce art for its own sake, unless you are very self confident it is hard to go on producing work that you can't sell. You do begin to wonder; if you are the only person who can see merit in your work, then does it really possess the merit you suppose?

Writers even cherish that strange publishing phenomenon known as a personal rejection. Magazine editors and other publishers receive huge volumes of unsolicited submissions that they call 'slush'. Much of this they may not even read themselves; they delegate to 'slush readers' who are often other writers trying to gain experience. All of us wonder from time to time how many gems are missed in this sifting process.

If a slush reader refers a promising story up the line to a second reader or editor, the odds are still against it appearing in the magazine, but sometimes, if the editor sees promise in your work, he will write back and tell you why he's rejecting it. This gives you pointers as to what you should be looking to improve on in future submissions.

This 'personal' (as opposed to 'form') rejection offers the writer encouragement to continue. At least one editor thought your work was not total rubbish.

One stage better is the 'rewrite request'. This is when the editor tells you the story is good but has, in his or her view, faults which would have to be corrected for the story to be published. You are invited to try again with the same story if you wish. As a general rule, writers struggling for publication credits certainly do wish, though you could always stand on your dignity and insist that your work cannot be improved upon. I have already stated as a matter of public record that my story 'The Man on The Church Street Omnibus' was much better after the suggestions that I received from Alison Wilgus of The Sockdolager than it was as originally submitted to her.

Those of us who have stories published on line may also receive feedback from reader comments in the publication itself or in some other forum such as this blog. Every little helps, and positive criticism in the sense of suggesting how things could have been better is welcome. Not all of us are robust enough to take negative criticism, the usual answer to which is, of course, that if you don't like it you are not forced to read it.

If awards serve any useful purpose it is to praise artistic merit. There would be no point in an award that simply recognised the highest sales, since such authors already have their reward.

Sometimes awards are judged by a panel. Panellists have to be pretty robust because some of the time they are going to face hassle from those who cannot understand, appreciate or agree with their choices.

Some awards, like the Hugos, the prestigious awards in the science fiction genre, are voted for by the members of the institution which instigated them. In this case there is an intermediate 'nomination' stage to whittle down the qualifying writing to manageable numbers for voting.

The controversy over that process this year has been loud enough to reach the ears of dwellers in the wilderness such as myself. Whatever the rights and wrongs one can only be sorry for the outcome.

This is just not the reason we write.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

A Poem - No Escape

A comment on an earlier blog post asked whether I wrote poetry. I do indeed, though it seldom gets an airing and is even more rarely submitted to publishers.

I do quite like to write poems in Yorkshire dialect (known as Tyke). Back in 2010 when I belonged to the Falkirk Writers' Circle I was impressed by the ability of some members to write poems in Scots. Now my original dialect was not Scots but Tyke. For one meeting we were asked to write a poem on the subject 'No Escape'. This was the poem I wrote for that meeting.  Sorry - no photographs of an Ark handy!

No Escape

Owd Noah ‘ad a magic cloak wi’ ‘ygroscopic properties,
That is ter say ‘e wore it when ‘e wanted it to rain.
E got it from the weather clerk, the archangel ‘ose job it is
Ter turn them ‘eavenly sprinklers on, and ter turn ‘em off again.

Nar listen ‘ere, owd Noah,” says the archangel ‘oo give it ‘im,
This ‘ere’s a mighty BIG job that The Lord ‘as given thee.
No matter what’s on TV, or if the football’s rivettin’
Jus’ thee mind an’ tek thy cape off, lad, afore thee ‘as thy tea!”

Nar Noah was a good soul, though some would say a wally. ‘Ey,
For years and years ‘e did the job and never would complain,
E organised the sunny spells so folks could go on ‘oliday,
And then ‘e put ‘is cape back on, an’ ‘e give the farmers rain.

When Noah turned six ‘undred, ‘e were old an’ a bit silly, like,
An’ ‘e got a bit forgetful, as very well ‘e might,
E went up Blackpool Tower wi’ ‘is cape on, ‘cos ‘t were chilly, like,
An’ e sat down in a deck chair, an ‘e fell asleep all night.

When Noah woke next morning, ‘e saw all the world were water,
An’ t’ top of Blackpool Tower were the only bit left dry.
The angel said “’Ee Noah lad, there’s been an awful slaughter,
An’, there’s thee wi’ thy cape on still as t’ floods are risin’ ’igh.”

Oh dearie me!” says Noah, an’ ‘e jumped up from ‘is deck chair,
E took is cape off straight away; ‘e’d ‘ad an awful fright,
What shall we do? All Lankyshire is waterlogged and wrecked; there
Is not a chance Old Trafford’s pitch’ll be playable tonight!”

I’ll tell thee what,” says t’ angel, “’Ere’s what’ll see us through lad,
We’ll cut off top o’t’ tower, like, and mek a kind o’ boat
An’ tha’ can bring all t’ animals that live in t’ Tower Zoo, lad
An’ we can call it Noah’s Ark an’ eastward we shall float.”

An’ when we’ve crossed o’er t’ Pennines ‘igh, then we shall find an ‘ome, lad,
In t’ West Riding o’ Yorkshire; we’ll in God’s county dwell,
Meanwhile I’ll shove this water ‘ere, right out in t’ ‘lantic foam, lad,
An’ if ’n t’ sea gets deeper, well, be years ‘fore they can tell.”

So all thee long-‘aired scientists, wi’ thy dire prognostications,
Wi’ all thy glaciers meltin’ fast and and all thy stats on tape,
It’s nowt ter do wi’ isobars, or green’ouse emanations,
An’ it’s nowt ter do wi’ climate change; it’s ‘cos of Noah’s Cape!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Wizard of Oz Election?

A column in The Times this week suggested the forthcoming election was like a contest between the Wizard of Oz characters Tin Man and Scarecrow; a party with no heart versus one with no head.  It went on to suggest the SNP was exploiting these mainstream shortcomings.

In my judgement, the SNP takes to even more egregious lengths than the mainstream parties the art of promising the manifestly undeliverable before wrapping the whole package in the mawkishness of a pledge to  deliver the victims of non-existent oppression from their imaginary chains. If ever there was a political grouping careless of its own shortcomings it is the SNP.

In democratic practice however practical shortcomings do not matter. The electorate are not going to check your sums; they are not likely to understand that today's over-consumers are stealing from future generations. They will even perceive unpalatable statistics as lies generated by a conspiracy. They feel that once upon a time we seemed to be able to afford things we allegedly can't afford now. The only possible explanation for this is government mean spiritedness.

Before the crash the Blair/Brown years delivered statistical growth by bloating the public sector and encouraging reckless borrowing; the coalition has restored statistical growth on the back of domestic consumption. (Though to be fair the Eurozone debacle has hardly provided them with a feast of export potential.) It's all done with smoke and mirrors.

I'm not sure about heads and hearts. Perhaps we should remember that the central government of Oz was also based on a populist fraud.