A Sense of Time

I’ve recently started watching old episodes of the comedy show Drop the Dead Donkey. At the beginning of each episode, an announcer now explains some of the topical references. As the series ran from 1990 to 1998, it’s likely a lot of them will have been forgotten.

A similar rule applies to fictional writing. If you want to set a story in a particular era, there might need to be some explicit or implicit reference to the timeframe in which the story is set.

For instance, one of my novels is set in 1964. This is introduced to the reader when a 21-year-old character is revealed to have a birth year of 1943. There are plenty of other era references throughout, but this avoids the dull initial statement that, “The year was 1964.” In one of my short stories, the 1980s is drawn more subtly, since the main character possesses a Filofax and a pager. It falls under Elmore Leonard’s classic advice to show, not tell.

To me, it’s important to avoid jarring the reader by letting them assume the story is set in the modern day if it isn’t. If a character is described as arriving home by car, then watching TV, that could have happened any night in the last fifty years. But tell the reader that the character arrived home in a Ford Capri, or watched Popstars: The Rivals, and that says they belong to the 1970s or the 2000s, especially when they go on to look up a number in the Yellow Pages and dial it from a wall phone. There will, of course, be occasions when you’re already aware the author lived in or wrote about a particular era.

The alternative is to make this story timeless. It’s hard to do in an urban environment since architecture and technology change, but it can still be done very successfully. If you’re describing a natural scene, it’s much easier to imagine it being any time over the last thousand years.

For anyone reading this well beyond 2014, this entry was set at a time when David Cameron was Prime Minister, coffee-lovers went to Starbucks for their fix, and people still thought Twitter was a good idea.

Advertisements

An Update on @Strange_Musings, and Some Transatlantic Translations.

Alternate Hilarities
Alternate Hilarities

Around three weeks ago, I was pleased to report that I’ve had a third short story accepted for publication. Strange Musings Press of New York will be printing Amending Diabolical Acronym Misuse, subject to raising enough funds through their Kickstarter page.

There’s still around a week left to raise the $1,100 required for it to go ahead. You can donate at several different levels from $1 to $150, each of which buys you into the project with increasing levels of reward, including electronic and/or paper copies, autographs, and your name in the Contributors’ section.

My story is called Amending Diabolical Acronym Misuse, and it’s about a man who wants to rid the world of badly-constructed acronyms. Although I’m Scottish, my dialect is British English so that’s how most of my stories are written, including this one.

If I’m sending to an American publisher, I often change the grammar and spelling to suit; at least, I have a decent stab at it. In one case, I even wrote the whole story in US English because the character was so strong in my head: a cross between Jason Gideon from Criminal Minds, and Adrian Monk. In Amending…, I took the decision to keep it in my natural dialect as there are a number of references to British places and companies, and I felt it would look odd if I, “translated” it.

A couple of weeks ago, I began reading The Traveller by John Twelve Hawks. The narrative is written with a curious mix of dialects. For instance, the title is spelt with two Ls and there’s a reference to a pub, but the colour gray and an SUV appear in other parts. The SUV would be known as a 4-by-4 in Britain. The story is set in several countries so I expect it’s difficult to settle on one standard spelling, yet it’s not a distraction here, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the story.

Conversely, my mentor Zöe Venditozzi released her debut novel Anywhere’s Better Than Here in 2012. When a US edition hit the shelves, she told me there were no spelling changes made. When you buy a copy, watch out for the character whose initials match mine.

So is it important to adapt your dialect depending on which side of the Atlantic you’ll be published? I expect most Internet users will be accustomed to reading both, but at the same time, people will still write in whichever they feel comes most naturally.

Perhaps one day in the future, the two will merge and we’ll have one way of spelling each word, one form of grammar for all. It would be more practical, but probably rather dull.

Can you help @Strange_Musings fund an anthology?

Alternate Hilarities
Alternate Hilarities

I’m pleased to report that I’ve had a third short story accepted for publication. New York publisher Strange Musings Press will be printing Amending Diabolical Acronym Misuse. However, it will only go ahead if enough people contribute.

To this end, a Kickstarter campaign has been set up to raise $1,100 by Tuesday 25 March. You can donate at several levels from $1 to $150, each of which buys you increasing levels of acknowledgement, privilege, and general bragging rights.

I wouldn’t ask you to do something that I’m not prepared to do myself, so I’ve donated $22 under my legal name Gavin Cruickshank. That amount includes $10 overseas postage for a copy of the book, due out on Thursday 1 May. You can see my contribution on the backers’ page.

I would be most grateful if you could give whatever you can, and the editor Giovanni Valentino will be delighted. Don’t forget to share this blog post on WordPress and/or your preferred social networks.

If this comes off, I’ll have been published in the UK, Australia, and the US. Canada, I have my eye on you.

JC Superstar. (CC: @Sultonna)

After making my fifth post here, my attention was drawn to a service called Headliner, designed to allow bloggers to cross-promote each other. I thought I’d sign up just to see what happened. Today, Mellie Miller promoted this very site on Twitter, so if you’re reading me because of her, a thousand welcomes to you. You can find Mellie’s blog on WordPress and her Twitter name is in the title. What a tangled World Wide Web we weave.

And it’s a good time to join me. Over the next few days, I’ll be headed to Dundee Literary Festival, which attracts some heavyweights of the writing world. It’s possible to see them all, but more prudent to be selective and allow a little time for reflection between speakers. It launched yesterday with a debate over potential Scottish independence, hosted by the neutral Five Million Questions organisation.

Poetry is my weak suit, so I’ve made a point of seeing events with that theme. Today, I heard Robert Alan Jamieson read a little verse, as well as a lengthy extract from his riveting novel Da Happie Laand. Over a ham roll and crisps, I heard Michael Hulse read in a measured, definite voice echoing Tom Baker. I rounded off the day with non-poet Lesley Riddoch, who argues that our country would be better off with localised communes such as those found in Northern Europe.

I mentioned in my entry The Shock of The New that I intended to revisit the subject of poetry, particularly the performance type, although neither Jamieson nor Hulse fell into that camp.

At the start of the year, I was listening to the soundtrack album of Plan B’s Ill Manors when I heard a peculiar part that began, “Pity the plight of the young fellow, too long abed with no sleep…” I looked at the track information to find it featured a John Cooper Clark. I hadn’t previously heard of the guy, probably because he totally disappeared off the radar from the early 1980s to the mid-2000s.

But for the last few years, he’s enjoyed a resurgence. I’ve seen him once live on stage, then once via video link at the cinema earlier this month. His piece I Wanna Be Yours was included in the GCSE exam syllabus alongside poets like Maya Angelou, while Evidently Chickentown was featured prominently in The Sopranos. As well as Ill Manors, his lyrics also feature on The Arctic Monkeys’ AM album. Both of these reached number one.

His amazing story has me wondering if I have what it takes to write a poem for performance. There are still people out there doing exactly that; in particular, one of his live support acts, Luke Wright. But where I find that Cooper Clark often rushes his delivery, probably a result of cutting his teeth at punk gigs, Wright understands his audience, and his delivery is clearer as a result.

Comedian Phill Jupitus has also returned to his roots, performing The Misunderstanding at the Edinburgh Festival, along with another poem comprising solely of titles from its brochure. Craig Charles of Red Dwarf also started his career in a similar manner, before turning to acting.

One omission I’ve made so far is Pam Ayres. I’ve been listening to her recently in the car. She’s a homely, motherly poet, who focuses mainly on domestic matters. I hesitate to criticise because her wit and observations are sharp, and she’s loved by millions across the world, yet her delivery can be forced, for instance using, “On the brinked,” in place of, “Brink,” to rhyme it with, “Extinct.” And she occasionally expresses the same thought in two neighbouring lines, but this can be a useful skill for holding her own on radio panel show Just a Minute against comics like Paul Merton or Graham Norton.

The groundwork has been laid for me, but the question I have to ask myself is: can I produce material for performance that isn’t derivative, especially when it’s something so alien to me? With Wright emerging, Jupitus returning, and Ayers with a new collection on sale, I have a suspicion that performance poetry is about to become massive once again, and I want to ride this upcoming wave.

You can say you heard it here first.

 

Taking The Lid Off The Pen.

When you speak to a lot of authors, it’s common to hear that they were always writing stories as children or experimenting with poetry as teens. However, I’ve only been writing for three years, since 29 October 2010, in fact. That was the day I signed up to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) on a whim, since everyone else was doing it.

From high school until that point, I’d written hardly any fiction. Since then, I’ve entered NaNoWriMo every year and written dozens of short stories, many of them under the tutorship of Zöe Venditozzi, whom I’m sure would like you to buy her book. I’m also pleased to report that I’ve had a flash fiction piece published in The Fiction Desk, while FourW will publish one of my short stories next month. More on the latter when it happens.

Although I didn’t write fiction until three years ago, I have kept a blog for a long time, and it’s still a powerful way of spreading your message, even in these days of Twitter and Facebook. I don’t plan to give up my with ageing LiveJournal for my day-to-day activities, but I did want to start afresh with WordPress for discussing my writing.

I’m viewing this as an experiment, and it might not last. After all, the more you write about writing, the less time you have to write. But I hope I can whip myself enough to keep this place updated, and more importantly, to make sure you want to read it.

One final thought: I’ve used the tag-line Carry on for a long time, before that Keep Calm poster ever came out. I’m debating whether to have a tag-line at all, and if so, what should it be?