Denotation and Connotation: enjoy!

A recent and very fascinating thread on WriteWords has been unpicking the opening of Eleanor Catton's story "Two Tides", which was published in a recent issue of Granta (the Summer 2009 New Fiction Special, if you want to track the story down). I won't précis the discussion here, because the whole thread's worth reading and ranges over a good deal of ground, (the story's well worth reading too) but even a single sentence (or rather, half sentence) illuminates all sorts of interesting things in miniature. Catton's story opens thus: The harbour at Mana was a converted mudflat The point at... Read more →

Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "Understated and 'gentle' just is my voice"

Some time ago, I lent This Itch of Writing to Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt, so that she could reply to an aspiring writer. Since then Jerusha has been travelling the world from New Zealand to Harmondsworth, in search of new ways to understand our peculiar art and craft. But every now and again another cry of writerly anguish reaches her by pigeon post, and she stuffs her reply into a bottle and tosses it into the sea to reach me. As she did with this one. Dear Jerusha; I've published four novels with (and had four more novels rejected by)... Read more →

Only a proof of the splendour

The signs to have your formal graduation portrait taken were at least as large as those for the graduands' check-in and for collecting robes, and more colourful. I had an hour to go till the ceremony and you don't have to pay unless you order one. The people in front of me were being slotted one after another into six units of the franchised formula, first alone, then with family, then "next please". Standard lighting setup, friendly and efficient ladies, camera with leads to lights and laptop, a slap-it-down rubber circle where you stand, complete with extra white line at... Read more →

Two or three ways of thinking about a sieve

I've always read poetry, but it was workshopping other students' poetry at Glamorgan, under the aegis of the likes of Sheenagh Pugh, Gillian Clarke and Tony Curtis, that taught me a bit about how poetry works: most particularly contemporary poetry, where it's so much less obvious what the poet is doing and how they're doing it. The rest of what I know about how poetry works I chiefly learnt from Ruth Padel's 52 Ways of Looking At A Poem. Now I go to readings, and work on poems and poetic techniques as part of developing my prose, and get my... Read more →

The diaries you don't keep

Since no one can help me track back to the original source of the quotation, "Fiction is the memories we don't have", I'm going to claim it for my own, because it crops up so often that I'm getting bored with the virtual footnote I feel obliged to add. The original thought started with philosopher and novelist Richard Kearney's book On Stories. He talks about how narrative evolved as an integral part of evolving human consciousness: once you have an understanding of your self and then other selves, as individuals in time, you start trying to understand your relationship to... Read more →

The real sixth sense

Have you ever learnt a dance step, or a musical instrument, or a tennis stroke? Felt how it gradually makes sense, how getting your weight in the right place makes the other arm move sweetly to where it needs to be, over and over again, whether it's a bow or a golf club? How suddenly your dancing body finds its place in the music, so that you're free by virtue of being part of the pattern? Can you imagine now, this minute, riding a bicycle down the road, pedal by pedal, push and turn and swoop? No, not the road... Read more →

A different skin

Perhaps because I was rash enough to embark on explaining Why Modern Poetry is Worth It to an assortment of people who don't think it is, or perhaps because because I've been swapping some of my old poems with a friend, a poem occurred to me yesterday for the first time in a very long time. Not the whole thing, of course: it hasn't “arrived” all in one, as stories sometimes do. It's a powerful (to me, anyway), purely visual abstraction from a lifetime of taking photographs, and a conviction that there's more to it than at the moment I... Read more →