Thursday, 30 April 2009

Peace Poor

The moment I get home today, what is the first thing I do, but slip up on the lavishly produced and cellophane-shrouded magazine that my beloved local Council has insinuated through my door? The prime excuse for this particular issue, if I am to believe its headlines, is to tell my bottom all about how our gallant representatives are Winning the War on Graffiti. There is clearly a suspicion at the Town Hall, and I deem it a just one, that the rest of us may have failed to notice.

So arrives the latest addition to that already crowded roll of honour which includes the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, the War on Poverty, the War on Smoking, the War on Obesity, and of course the still inchoate but never-sufficiently-to-be-dreaded War on Chocolate - all fittingly brought to you via the War on Language, and munificently funded by the War on My Wallet. Hoo bloody rah!

In the spirit of these cost-cutting but martial times, I should like to propose a War on War-Toss - a phrase slightly minced for the purposes of this elegant and family-friendly blog, but conveying its sense well enough. War-Toss is hereby defined as any talk of War in which the other side is not, in fact, the kind of thing that can shoot back. The War on Terror might get away with a loss of omnipresence and a little light rebranding: the War on Chocolate, and this is important, must be mown down without hesitation or mercy.

As to Winning the War on Graffiti, I hear that a gentleman named Big Bo 69 has already posted his rebuttal in the general vicinity of the High Street.

Gone Is the Romance That Once Was Divine

Today I saw the first poster exhorting me to vote in the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament - and realised, for the first time in my adult life, that I really don’t know whether I ought to vote or not.

It certainly isn’t a question of convenience. My local polling station is virtually across the street. Just going in and voting as of yore would be far cheaper, both in time and angst, than even thinking about playing democratic hooky. But I'm sore divided in my mind as to whether voting, especially in this game, remains the right thing for me to do. I may explore my reasons in some future posts before E-day.

But... how we change! A bare third of my life ago, I was a committed party activist. I ran for my Borough Council seat, and slogged out a due portion of my guts as Parliamentary Election Agent to a local Green candidate who has since gone on to bigger things. (Yes, I have walked a strange road since then. The actual distance travelled has been a shorter one than may appear.)

I believed in the democratic process, in those heady days. Not, look you, as a religious person believes in God; but at least as an ardent and active lover believes in Bed. Now I believe in it only in the humbler sense that I believe in beds, as also in chairs and tomatoes and integral calculus and aardvarks. And whilst I still believe in employing democracy rather than its rougher rivals, this is now only to say that I believe in sleeping on futons in preference to beds of nails. Free futons for all or no, I cannot help but dream seditious dreams of being able to afford a swanky feather-bed to snore in - or perchance instead to sneak off with some sweet companion, and sport beneath the clement summer stars.

Excuse me. The instability of my metaphor has just dumped my arse out of my hammock. But to hasten to my conclusion:

The abstinence I’m contemplating is one which many people I respect will, for good and honourable reasons, find shameful. Now, I am a goat and proud of it, and I accept no blame for escaping my old pen when I no longer see the good in it. And, yet, a melancholy overtook me as I passed that poster and thought these thoughts: they smack of a last farewell.

Oh, fair Una, in whom I no longer believe! I did love you so dear, and so long.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Saxon Drunks and Rock 'n' Roll

I worry from time to time that future generations may miss out on some of the very greatest parts of our cultural heritage because, as they are perceived as increasingly 'inaccessible', education will be made correspondingly more 'accessible' simply by avoiding those green but rocky roads and shepherding everybody along the broad well-trodden valleys, where are no obstacles to passage save for the treacherous bogs of being insufficiently arsed.

As a lover of freedom and a believer in its power for good, not least by inspiring people to be arsed, my dilemma is the greater, since I can hardly propose that the great works of Chaucer, Fielding, and E E 'Doc' Smith be shoved down the throats of our unwilling younglings by way of urgent remedy. So when my Muse offers me a chance to make my own little contribution to the shoring up of Civilisation's walls, you may be sure that I spring to the job like a good 'un.

Beowulf is one of the great foundation-stones of English literature. It is also long, difficult, and in an alien language. It is my happy task to repair all these deficiencies without falling into either the Scylla of omitting vital matter, or the Charybdis of introducing extraneous Angelina Jolies. (Actually I may have the proverbial hazards the wrong way round in this metaphor, but let that pass!) To the best of my knowledge and belief, I have succeeded.

Ladies, gentlemen, and sturdy technopeasants with your stout cudgels proudly upraised, hear my song!

THE ESSENTIAL BEOWULF

The king who ruled the Spear-Danes
Once built a famous hall.
A monster ate his houseguests there,
Which weren’t no good at all!

A hero, name of Beowulf,
Dropped by to break the charm,
And when the foul fiend came to snack,
Our boy ripped off his arm.

So Grendel ran off crying home,
And howling, “Ma! I die!”.
“Who done it, son?” his Mummy growled.
“I’ll have him, by and by!”

Now Grendel’s Mum turned out to be
A greater grimmer ogre,
And beating her in battle proved
An even bigger bugger.

At last, in dank and weedy halls,
Our hero did this thing,
And everyone was so impressed,
He soon became a king.

Much later, some guy stole a cup
From out a dragon’s lair.
The worm performed a stocktake soon,
And went completely spare.

He spilled his fire on barn and byre,
And bum became the deal
Until the old king strode grim-eyed
To show the snake his steel.

He bearded Bad-Breath in his lair,
And from that deadly bout
Nor king nor drake arose - we heard
From mates who'd chickened out.

So passed the greatest of the Geats,
And so must end my song.
It’s cooler in the speech of eld,
But this way ain't so long!


I await my fame, fortune, and literary lionhood with an air of modest, yet manly, stoicism.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

A Chapter at Lolly's

Hooray! I've just completed the first chapter of my current work-in-progress, a fairy-tale called Lolly Black and the Broken King. The eponymous heroine gets herself born at the beginning of Chapter 2, under the guise of Princess Lalage, but will get along pretty briskly after her leisurely start. The yarn is a variously distorted take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, if it were set in a Byzantine-flavoured corner of the continent of Fairy-Tale Extended England. It's complicated, but so far it's a lot of fun!

Anyway, I have to do some real writing whilst I sort the structural problems with the Tri-World Gunpowder Plot, since contemplating the creative act is a tempting but ultimately poor substitute for actually doing it. A rule which may well apply to some other kinds of creative act, also...

Ahem.

The Emperor, who originally stood in for Snow White's cipher of a royal father, has spent the first chapter turning into rather a tremendous character in his own right.

I love it when a lack of plan comes together!

Reading to Get A Head?

On my morning train to work, I found myself sitting kitty-corner across the aisle from a tall and massively built gentleman with a magnificent beard cascading down to his chest, and a great head of fine unruly hair that seemed to shine in the morning sunlight. He was, in fact, the denim-clad image of that Green Knight with whom young Sir Gawain had such an interesting go-around in days of yore.

He was utterly absorbed in a large floppyback tome entitled - Medieval Swordsmanship: Illustrated Methods and Techniques. I wonder if Her Majesty’s court doesn’t have some interesting days to look forward to.

I could not have made this up. But now the image has etched itself into my memory, I’m pretty sure that a story will form around it eventually. It’s just too good to let alone.

Since story ideas are not what I’m short of, I make a free present of this incident to the wide world, in the hope that a fellow-writer will pick it up and run with it, and I shall get to read the rest of the tale without the bother of writing it.

Assuming, of course, that it doesn’t turn up first in hundred-point type in every newspaper in the world.

999 Men's Morris

Late breaking news, on which further details from any clued-up fellow-Londoners would be appreciated.

As Margarita the English dragon winged her weary way home from a rather good amateur production of The Killing of Sister George, the curse of the late-night munchies overtook her, and she was obliged to dive-bomb a passing jingo in order to redistribute his fish and chips more justly. Having stashed the proceeds in her ventral tank for subsequent aerial distribution to the good people of the city, she happened to notice the following curious snippet in the grease-sodden copy of London Lite that the loot had come wrapped in. Alas, it was merely a reader's text-message tweeting, and neither her Google-fu nor mine has been up to providing details or confirmation. But:

It appears that during the St George's Day celebrations last Thursday, police were called to the Hay's Galleria on the South Bank to suppress an outbreak of unauthorised Morris dancing.

Truly, the spirit of my people surgeth against its chains, and the day of our deliverance draweth nigh.

With a whack-foddle-derry-oh...!

Monday, 27 April 2009

Keep 'Em South Georgian...

After blogging about the great Lord Mayor’s Show that is England in its bloom, honour requires that I also report a subsequent sighting of the dungcart.

Travelling back by Tube from a pleasant afternoon out by the river, I had the questionable privilege of sharing a carriage with a bunch of inebriate football fans. Their initial off-key and only slightly aggressive rendition of Sweet Caroline being received in good part by all, they began to up the ante with each of several subsequent ditties, passing through murder ballad payloads and tribal war-chants until the session at last devolved, as they seemingly all must, into the traditional abyss of Get Yer Tits Out For The Lads. Fortunately this was scrupulously undirected, and most of the female passengers had in any event detrained for some reason before then; but by the living Jingo, this is worse boot-scrapings than I have seen in quite some time.

I was further embarrassed by the presence among the lads’ war-chants of Keep Me English Till The Day I Die. This was not a proud moment for me, nor for Margarita my English dragon. But she has since been hissing a happy thought into my ear, which I hope has something to offer everybody.

A cause dear to the hearts of all such clamorous patriots is, famously, the maintenance of the United Kingdom’s long-standing quarrel with the Republic of Argentina’s imaginative pretensions to the British South Atlantic dependencies. The Falklands are sufficiently and tenaciously inhabited, by folk who incline firmly to the UK’s side of the question. But since the days of whaling fled beyond recall, the standing population of South Georgia has declined from 2,000 to approximately 4.753, and that is counting the dodgy penguin in the tutti fruitti hat.

This dereliction must now cease. We need permanent settlers who will burnish our possession beyond its former glory - bold, hardy, manly men who will laugh in the teeth of the Antarctic gale, snap their fingers at being two-thousand-and-spare-change-miles from the silken snares of womankind, and not be too nice to get their living farming the unique carnivorous ducks that feast on rotting seal carcasses.

And I think I’ve spotted just the boys for the job.

Friday, 24 April 2009

On Writing Books of Vile Darkness

A while ago I began to feel uncomfortable with one of my ongoing yarns. This half-finished fantasy novel, which I like to label the Tri-World Gunpowder Plot, sets about Big Brother government and political correctness with Fawkesian enthusiasm. All very fun and dandy. But an unwanted alternate reading emerged as the story developed. According to my tale's evil shadow, black people are bad, crazy, and/or scary; sexually forward girls are mean and trashy; smoking is what the cool rebel cats do; everything the Daily Mail says is absolutely right; and the evul tranzi clerisy pwns your cheezburger.

Since I dislike these opinions quite a lot, with the very partial exception of the one about the cheezburger, and think them actively injurious to their bearer and everybody within halitosis range, this gave me painful pause. Sure, it’s a dumb reading, but I’m pretty sure a good few people on either side of the battle-lines are well qualified to make it. Do I really want to take responsibility for inflicting such ills upon the world?

Having thought it over, all I can say is: by the Lord Harry, yes!

When I tell my tales so they ring true, to me, as "what really happened", I'm showing my readers respect and giving them their data. I can't, and shouldn't, spoon-feed or force-feed them my preferred conclusions.

Why? After all, I know those are just as true - in the tale-world inside my head. But if a reader sees given things in the real world, and interprets them very differently than I, then why shouldn't they keep their interpretation for those same familiar things when they see them in my story? The tale-world they recreate in their head may be as consistent with the facts, and as unlike my own, as our respective visions of our workaday Earth.

I don’t have to like that. In cases like this, I dislike it a big fat lot! But I oughtn't purposely to manipulate the reader by rigging our game to suit my external agenda. My world's inherently rigged in my favour, as it is, because my assumptions already inform the way everything happens, whereas reality can often be a bit sub-standard in this department.

Which is actually where virtue in composition gets its chance at reward. Suppose I do a good honest job of worldbuilding, so that even people so benighted as to disagree with my opinions in one way or another can respond to its feel of the real. Then any such heretic must automatically stand a fair chance of getting whacked with a clue-by-four at some point; and, because it feels like the sort of clue-by-four with which we are all familiar from our real live adventures, it may actually get their attention, or even induce second thoughts.

But the real world does not always so oblige its residents - and nor, outside the course of the story, should mine so oblige its readers. Because then it’ll be a different kind of world again, and Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby will be dropping by any moment to borrow a cup of sugar.

I realise it may sound pretty strange to spout off like this, as if there were a sort of journalistic ethics to be observed in the profession of selling willing victims pretty lies, but - oh? You don’t feel the dissonance? Well, maybe it ain’t so strange, at that.

It’s how I feel about it, anyway.

As to why this particular yarn might cast such a strange and disturbing shadow in the first place, and how this relates to why I want to write it - I think that probably deserves its own post.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Merry England!


It is St George's Day, the sun is shining, and the apple trees have all put their best blossoms on. Once again it is time to raise a glass to the happy nation that has blessed the world with birthday-boy Will Shakespeare, proper beer, and certain other advantages to which modesty forbids my alluding.

I take particular pleasure, as I think these mellow thoughts over a nice cool pint of Marston Pedigree Ale, in reflecting that our lack of any 'Government of England' deprives us neatly of any gang of knaves and jingos who can conveniently co-opt us into their shenanigans by the old metonymy shuffle: no ENGLAND VOWS LEADERSHIP IN WAR ON CHOCOLATE headlines for you, sonny boys! The mere prevalence of knaves and jingos themselves is a separate problem, and the subject of urgent research. That is why England is committing twenty million pints of beer today alone to forgetting about the silly beggars for a bit, and having itself some fun. Cheers!

Old England shall be merrier before this day is out. Indeed, the only person I know who is not enjoying the festivities is my pet dragon Margarita - who customarily spends the whole evening hiding under my bed, frightened by the lack of of fireworks.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The Kidding Around Commences


I'm Graham Woodland, familiarly 'Gray', and I shall be blogging here mostly about speculative fiction, the state of the jolly old world, and such other matters as my caprice suggests. As to myself, I am a mild-mannered English dilettante, geek-of-all-trades, and habitual scribbler of science and fantasy fiction. When, as happens more or less every issue, I encounter some joker claiming to be the boss of me and mine for everybody's good, I exhibit the superpowers of acting the goat and looking for new and interesting ways to jump the fence. The title of this blog is a tip of the hat to everybody else who feels the same way, and a hint at some of the questions I feel like exploring.

My literary heroes include J R R Tolkien, Eric Frank Russell, and Roger Zelazny. Other strong influences on my writing have been William Morris, E R Eddison, Lord Dunsany, Ursula K Le Guin, and H P Lovecraft and all the gang. More recently, I think that Lois McMaster Bujold can easily hold up her head with any of the above. I shall doubtless be gabbing about all of these at some time or another.

Politically I'm a libertarian, on the grounds that the best form of government is obviously one in which I am the immortal absolute monarch of the world; and I can imagine even better than you can what a bollix I'd make of that. The diverting implications of the evidence that most people would not freely accept even a small portion of libertarianism, served truffled on a silver platter with all the champagne they could drink, will often be seen providing me with food for thought; which, being an unselfish cove, I shall of course be sharing quite liberally.

So hello, iechyd da, and welcome to y'all!