Monday, 31 December 2007

A Nun's Thighs

That dear man, Ronnie Corbett, arrived today with a flask of Mrs. Corbett’s home make chicken broth. I was in my dressing down with my ear and elbow close to a roaring fireplace when Judy showed him into my study. Even in my much weakened condition, I was happy to see him. He had clearly gone out of his way to visit me, despite his walnut wounds.

We spent a pleasant hour talking together. I told him that his limp seemed to have almost gone and he praised me for my pallor which he said was ‘as pale as a nun’s thigh’.

Yet the truth is that I’m feeling no better. The cold had progressed from the feverish stage and loaded my head to its muzzle with chemical weapon’s grade bacteria. There’s an odd feature of my flues and colds. I fear worse when my body is clearing its system than when I’m under the influence of some unfriendly virus. You might compare it to the condition in Iraq.

Anyway, I’m hoping to be back to normal tomorrow or Wednesday at the latest. I have great plans for the New Year, including the campaign I’m going to start against the cult of the celebrity novel. Casting an eye over the January book sales at Amazon, I was pleasantly amused to see all the usual Christmas celebrity biographies are now half price and Russell Brand’s annoyingly titled ‘Booky Wooky’ (not necessarily the right title but I'm too sick to go look) is working its way towards a good pulping. Less amusing was the number of novels written by celebrities I noticed. Even our own Denise Robertson has spawned a couple of these potboilers. Something really needs to be done and I think I’m the man to do it. Judy has said to me on many an occasion that she intends to ‘become a writer’ once she finishes on TV. I try to tell her that writers are born and don’t suddenly ‘fancy having a go’ once the TV work dries up. However, on this, as in many things, we are bound to have differences.

Okay, I can feel my anger begin to rise and if I don’t stop now I won’t stop at all. I’ve already written more than I intended and I’m feeling weaker for it.

Until tomorrow when normal services should resume, I hope you all have a wonderful time tonight. Personally, I don’t treat it as being particularly special. It’s the most miserable night of the year when we all look back on opportunities not taken, disappointments accrued, and the world situation going from bad to worse. I’d be more than happy to celebrate New Year if we could take 2007 out behind the garden shed and smack it ceremonially around the head with a spade. Because we can’t, I don’t. Nevertheless, I wish you all a happy New Year.


rilly super said...

and happy new year to you too, Richard old chap

AxmxZ said...

And Happy New Year to you, too, even if you're not fond of it. :)

Selena Dreamy said...

I have great plans for the New Year, including the campaign I’m going to start against the cult of the celebrity novel.

I dare say, Richard, you are right, and indeed you have cause to be.

Most writers are commercially successful only because they are very zeitgeist-specific in terms of celebrity-style and content. Others are charismatic iconoclasts, with a profligate disregard for literary conventions. But in either case, it is accurate to say that the literary service industry in general is preoccupied with “artistic” control over the books they are commercially publishing. Agents, too, have traditionally possessed a fatal attraction for the magnetism of genre fiction - chic-lit, serial-killers, Bible-codes etc. - without necessarily promoting its deeper artistic claims. They are neither blind nor indifferent to economic matters.

But striving to express ourselves is no longer a purely literate issue. It is a question of our spiritual, social, and cultural survival. What began as a cross-cultural franchise devised primarily for the benefit of unpublished writers, has exposed a literary catastrophe. More than just websites, Bloggers are a contemporary phenomenon. A new wave of social-networking sites that rely on their community to create the content. Indeed, I could easily expand on how the writing business has actually become a contest between rival bloggers, rather than publishing conglomerates, let alone literary agents, and that the one who accommodates the biggest jerks, not the finest literary minds, nowadays comes out on top.

A book is the art of giving contour and coherence to the life of an idea. An instruments for enabling us to recover our diminishing capacity for spiritual survival. Though, as you might have guessed, my own relations with books, have started to cool just about this time. Like an overloaded website that crashed, there are too many, too meaningless, too mercenary, too vain, vulgar, blatant, falsely enthusiastic and hugely mercenary publications. It is as if love had been replaced by pornography.

The great prophets have all gone out into the wilderness.

Some books, admittedly, touched me to the extend that I could have written the musical score to them. All is not lost I thought. Which goes to prove how gullible I had become or how desperately a person clings to false hopes at a time when the number of competent experts in literature far exceed that of its students. Beautiful memories are best left unsullied. What will remain of us is books, momentous intellectual accomplishments and visual poetry like the great Classical buildings, the imperial temples, royal tapestries, Italian villas, English landscapes bursting with bluebells and rhododendrons, or Celtic mythologies, fashionable French avenues, the music of Brahms, Mahler, Strauss, and the paintings of Gustav Klimt, but, at the end of the day, they are but part of a dying heritage, a valediction to the transcendence of the human spirit and the splendour of the noble thought.

This is a sad and regretful conclusion to your own splendid thought, Richard, and I'm sorry to have to bring it to your attention on the very last day of a dead and dying annum.

May the Muse be with you...


Richard Madeley said...

[The paracetamol have kicked in so I have five minutes to respond before I fall asleep]

‘A book is the art of giving contour and coherence to the life of an idea.’

Selena, this is a beautifully written way of saying something I endorse totally, but don’t you think the sentiment can (and had) been perverted to do bad? The key word, for me, is ‘life’. It implies a connection to a thing we all know. It is a link to those archetypes, old and valuable, that exist within us individually and as a culture.

I have an unstructured thought somewhere in my mind that we’re living in an era that, in the future, will be seen as the time when we sought to live out our narratives through celebrities. I think it’s a very strange phenomena linked to some flaw in our society. There are large forces at work on our culture that applying a pressure that results in, on one hand, a spiritual malaise, and on the other, a regression back to childhood.

Education no longer makes difficulty an attractive proposition. Problems in pure mathematics are no longer about finding elegant solutions, those aesthetic thing which we discover for the beauty of themselves. The same is true in the teaching of literature. Just as we aren’t shown how to appreciate, enjoy, (or more accurately) acknowledge and recognise beauty, we are no longer encouraged to argue or to disagree. We are told to seek a consensus because, as the good little postmodernists we have supposedly become, there is no sacred truth.

Yet, at the same time as we are no longer taught to think independently for ourselves, we are surrounded by geniuses, produced by agencies of the corporate, media-savvy world. We dare not challenge their status. Tracy Emin, Banksy, Damien Hirst all represent modern art to the majority of the nation. In literature, the Booker Prize goes to novels that people don’t want to read. Fiction has become dominated by ‘intellect’, with so many books proclaimed for being unique, new, bold, startling, brilliant. Intellect rules over craft, or to put it more precisely, craft and intellect are no longer seen as being one and the same. The savant is privileged over the craftsman. I don’t want ‘unique’ and ‘startling’. Anybody can be ‘unique’ and ‘startling’. It’s hard not to find somebody these days who isn’t ‘unique’ and ‘startling’.

What few people still read books respond to these forces in a visible and not totally depressing way. They seek safe harbour in children’s fiction and generic fiction. People love Harry Potter, not because it’s great art, but because it’s a place to hide from the intellectuals. In adult fiction, genres have themselves adopted celebrity personalities. We have authors proclaiming themselves as ‘the new Dan Brown’ or ‘like Bill Bryson’ in a way that herds customers like sheep being put safely into the pens for the night.

What I think I’m saying is that in an increasingly angst driven world, where we’re no longer sure what we’re meant to think or feel, ‘celebrity’ offers us a heavily distorted vision of what once was. They are the classical heroes of antiquity, full of the same old vanity, ego, failure... On the surface it may seem depressing but in a deeper sense, it’s indicative of how we know what we like. The great novels remain popular for reasons that are usually self-evident when we read them. They contain the old elements of writing craft that the modernists and post-modernists threw into doubt. I think the challenge for many writers is to feel no shame if their art is readable, popularist, intelligent, structured, classical, elegant… You know: those words that are frowned upon in this supposedly pluralistic, free-form world.

(And forgive the ramble and specious nature of my reasoning. I blame the tablets.)

Richard Madeley said...

And, of course, Rilly, AxmxZ, and Selena, have a bloody good New Year. I'm sure you all deserve it.

Swearing Mother said...

Happy New Year Richard,


AxmxZ said...

It's reading rants like this that really brings home the fact that absolutely no one is going to want to publish my novel when it's done. I mean, it's shamelessly pointless. Pure self-gratification. There are no tragic journeys, no heart-warming or soul-searching, and no one re-builds their shattered relationship with their estranged mother/spouse/third cousin/parakeet. No one has a life-threatening disease, just inconvenient ones; if someone stands up for their beliefs, it's because the alternative promises to be far worse; and no one overcomes impossible odds except by pure dumb luck.

I mean, really, who would read such drivel? Or rather, who would dare publish it and recommend reading it? 'Cause the thing is, I'm relatively sure that a ton of people are of the same opinion as me on the subject of contemporary lit: they are dead tired of both sugary snot and escapist kiddie lit/Young Adult pap.

I want to write pure entertainment. Something that coasts mostly on banter, puzzles, adrenaline, comedy and a cast of utterly unrealistic characters not one of whom symbolizes a damn thing beyond the fact that I found them damn entertaining to write. I want to say absolutely nothing outright about The Way Things Really Are or Ought To Be. Most of all, I want to write in such a way that no one would ever, EVER be able to review it with a one-liner comparing me to some other monkey with a typewriter raking up sales in my genre that month.

Mission: Unpublishable.

Anonymous said...

My predecessor at work (secretary), now retired, is apparently going to write a novel. Having read some of her saved letters, it's going to be a pretty shit novel.

A physiotherapist at work told me she'd written a 200,000 word novel about a woman who is raped and abused then goes to Hell. This physiotherapist's reports were badly written & misspelt, so i was at first surprised to hear she'd landed an agent for it.

Then i thought, of course, misery lit sells.

We need men like you, Dick, men with a heart full of tempered rage.

Richard Madeley said...

Elberry, that is tragic news. I'm firmly of the belief that PCs with pre-installed word processors should be outlawed. Is there any person out there who hasn't written a novel? I find it so hard, I have also assumed it could only be one or two in every ten thousand. It appears I've miscalculated.

I'm going to use your 'with a heart full of tempered rage' quote and use it as my motto.

AxmxZ said...

Yeah, everyone wants to tell a story, but no one wants to buckle down and learn how to do it well. And then they wonder why publishing houses reject their chef d'oeuvres.

Then there's the converse: people who *can* write and enjoy writing but aren't interest in producing anything publishable. My best friend writes Harry Potter fanfic which blows Rowling's efforts not just out of the water but up into the stratosphere. You can tell this person a) has studied and thoroughly enjoyed the entire canon of Western lit, b) is on good terms with several languages and cultures, c) is clearly a historian by trade and knows a whole lot about the development of Western natural magic practices, and d) writes for like-minded adults. It's spectacular, and no one reads it.

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