Monday, 17 June 2013

'Lipstick': 7 Wonderful Overblown Films from the 70s, Part 1

I was re-watching Lipstick (1976) yesterday, for the hundred millionth time (though the first time in 5 years).  I was joyful it’s still just as cracking a film as when I first saw it when I was far too young to grasp it properly.  In fact, all these films here, I was far too young to grasp properly and yet there I was, watching them anyway, Sunday after Sunday in my living room 6 floors up, alone in the midair of London. 

I grew up as homelife, with mum in the kitchen listening to sermons and doing the ironing and stuff; dad in the big bedroom, listening to classical music and reading.  This meant, mostly, during the day at the weekends and holidays from school, I would inherit the living room by default.  I also had very loose bedtimes, because I was good at getting up in the morning, even on school days.  So I saw lots and lots of late night Hammer horror double bills with dad, and lots and lots of gritty 70s thrillers and vigilante films and such (also with dad).  As well as lots of wonderful afternoon 30s/40s black and whites, and all those new wave and angry films of the 50s.  I was steeped in film as a child and teenager.  I did nothing much with my home life except read incessantly, watch TV and film and go for big fat long walks (we lived very near Hyde Park then, about 10 minutes max).

I’ve known for ages that the decade of my birth, the 70s, is my decade of obsession by choice.  I love the clothes, the music, the weird morality, the gritty sleaziness, the powercuts and striking bin men (I remember the smell).  I was far too young to be terrified by the way 70s England was in fact coming apart at the seams, though I was aware of the facts (I knew why we lit storm lanterns, and mum worried about stockpiling food and the costs of everything).  It just was as it was.  In many ways, it’s a lot similar to now, only now I’m grown up enough to be aware of how all these things really affect me, the planet and everyone, so I quake in my boots everyday.  Hopefully it will all work out just like the 70s and I will eventually look back and laugh – it all got better, things move on. 

TV used to repeat a lot of things in those days, way more than now.  And because there was only terrestrial TV, you got to see the same things with more regularity.  So I watched these 5 films in particular, over and over, by myself with the curtains closed in case real life and light interfered with the total immersion process.  When we got our first video recorder (we were very first with that – dad was a techno hound his whole life and both of us lapped up TV and film, though slightly different in emphasis on what we liked) – we quickly set to buying up everything we ever enjoyed.  I had pocket money which I was very good at saving, but dad was overwhelmingly generous when it came to my film collection.  By the early 80’s our living room was a library of VHS, organised by genre and who owned it, in every bookcase, shelf and box.

He was a strange man in many ways, my dad, but when it came to reading books and TV/ film, he denied me nothing.  If we could afford it and it existed, we both had, in our collections, whatever we wanted.  I had lots of very unsuitable things (to the great worry of my mother, who stood on the sidelines; and very often at the door of the living room, plaintively saying: “Sid, do you really think she should be watching this, she’s only 9/ 10/ 11/ 12/13?” at The Evil Dead/ Rabid/ Shivers/ 10 Past Midnight/ Scum/ Midnight Cowboy/ Midnight Express etc etc etc).  I of course, thought I should.  I was taking from them whatever I was.  Definitely it was something.  Though I understand all of the grittier or more adult themed films much better now in the literal sense, I got the feelings of each one perfectly, with zero experience of any of the situations to call on.  They all affected me deeply.

Though I do worry that I was so young and impressionable that the messages, sublimal or not of some of these films taught me things I might have done best not learning…I treated them as the bible, I believed these films (and most films I saw as a child/ early teen).  I trusted not their literal truth, but their morality and character messages.  They are partly responsible for the patchwork of me, the great mess that is sometimes good and sometimes not so.

Anyway – all these films are desert island ones for me.  I loved them then; I love them now.  I can re-watch them and never get bored.  So here are they are.  They aren’t my favourite films ever, but they are most definitely among them (I have lots in different categories!).

Lipstick (1976)

Ok, so, I first watched this rape drama on TV when I was 10 or so.  The thing that got me first and still gets me now, is the MUSIC.  That creepy, creepy, scary arse music that the rapist music teacher makes!  The plot is this: A successful model lives with her younger sister.  The younger sister has a crush on her music teacher.  Younger sister invites music teacher to meet older sister, hoping she can introduce him to others who may like his music (he composes), help him get on.  Music teacher meets older sister… and rapes her.  There is a courtroom drama. He is acquitted.  Older sister’s career is ruined.  By contrivance, he meets younger sister again, and rapes her too (yes, this does sound extraordinarily unlikely as I write the whole thing down, but suspension of disbelief is why fiction works, shhhhhh!).  Older sister loses it and kills him.  I never fail to feel very satisfied at this point, especially when she shoots him in the groin: Yay!  As you can see from the plot, this is 100% 70s politically incorrect drama; as it was also a Dino de Laurentiis film, it was also lushly colourful and beautifully shot.  But there was something small and low-key about it, much more so than some of the other films in this series I’m doing here.

As I say, its music grabbed me.  It has a soundtrack by the avant garde French composer and pop icon Michel Polnareff, which is a real mixture.  One moment sweeping sad epic ballad of tragedy as a main theme, the next that scary scary electronic sampling and angry synthy sounds used for the music teachers compositions.  He used pigeons cooing, and human breathing to great and scary effect.  Of course this was used in the film as narrative as well, in that near end scene, where younger sister contrivedly meets him again and he is rehearsing his music for some sort of barely plausible ‘Essays in Light and Sound’ show, with innocent teenagers in leotards littered about.  The other children leave, and he sees her there, and calls her down.  She is struggling with her feelings about whether he truly raped her sister, and whether it was her fault for bringing him into their house, and whether he can really not be the so nice man she has always thought him to be (and that he portrays so convincingly).  He attaches her mike to her chest, via one of those hospital electrode sticky things (much creepy play of him licking it over and over to get it stuck, and of him reattaching it a couple of times, each time pulling her Tshirt down slightly more to get it lower on her chest).  He is scaring her, especially after he turns the lights off in the studio and projects weird evil twin Jean Michel Jarre light show effects over both their faces.  All you can hear is her breath getting shallower and shallower and her heartbeat, getting faster and faster.  She realizes in that moment that he is the man her sister said, that he is feeding on and getting off on, her increasing fear.  As a scene, it’s intense, melodramatic and effective.  She bolts; he chases.  You learn that a man who felt overtaken and overlooked in life, who felt others, especially women, had all the glory and privileges and wealth – and respect – he craves, is instead going to punish and dominate those women, as it’s all he thinks he has.  (See here:

Chris Sarandon’s performance in this is both understated and spot on.  As I got older, I would watch the earlier scenes, wondering why why why he does it.  It’s not telegraphed.  It’s all on his face, his reactions to the women, his perceptions of his lack of importance in the world.  It’s an early role for him, and a good one.  He manages a horribly convincing sweetness that you see is his daytime face; his other one (not the real one, just another part of him) is in that music and it’s just full of rage at the world, and a need to take back power.  Though this film is definitely exploitative and melodramatic (Anne Bancroft as the lawyer for the older sister in the courtroom scenes has great fun overplaying it), it makes good points about what rape is about.  You see clearly it’s not about just how you are perceived to look; it deals squarely with the ‘you were asking for it’ defence (and this model sells sexy looks to sell lipstick – “I’m supposed to look like every woman wants to look, its not for men, its for women”, she pleads, on the stand), but about who is in charge.

I also feel rather sad when I watch this film.  It’s star, Margaux (aka Margot) Hemingway, grand daughter of the famous Ernest, died at 42 from an overdose or a huge epileptic fit (or a combo of both), after too much modelling and acting fame got to her.  She died, apparently, friendless and alone, and was so decomposed when found, she had to be identified from dental records.  Her younger sister in real life, Mariel Hemingway, played the younger sister in this, at Margaux’s suggestion – and she was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Newcomer that year. Her performance is a powerhouse of nuance and teen confusion and honesty.  After this film, slowly slowly, Mariel’s star rose thanks to Margaux’s beginning it, and Margaux’s started to decline.  Nowadays, as well as acting, Mariel is a lifestyle guru, yoga, cookbooks and a love of nature.  She seems a lovely person, a survivor.  I hate when I used to hear people compare the two sisters and say Margaux was less talented – all it was, in my opinion, was that Margaux had a huge overbite, which made her face look a bit dopey in repose sometimes; but if you watch her acting, it was all there, she convinces me.  She’s not overblown, she’s just doing it, she had a quiet style.  Also, how hard is it to move from modelling to acting and be taken really seriously?  In the 70s?

Everytime I watch this, I am absorbed again.  In how people can come across one way and be another inside, whole layers to them unseen and seething.  How loyalty to a person can actually not help them; how honesty sometimes isn’t always the best move.  How the failure of justice can erode a society and cause its own kickback chaos – as Ann Bancroft quotes in the closing moments. 

It’s a dated film, sure, but I love it.  I’m not sure its vigilante message is a sound one. I have great personal love of summary justice of this kind; but I’ve had it explained to me a hundred times why people can’t go about doing stuff like this and I intellectually get it; its just that my vengeful gut likes loose ends tidied away and got rid of…and this film shows, from the look on her face, that needing to have had to shoot him herself because the system failed her, has changed her forever.  She’s not smug; she’s closed: that her sister, a 13 year old had such a horrible life changing experience because no one believed her own account of events, and because there are too many “eighteenth century juries” out there (that’s Anne Bancroft again)...  It does make you think.  This film is more than the exploitative sum of its parts.  Get a copy if you can, it’s out there.


I realized I have waffled too long on this one.  I was going to put all the films together, but I can’t now.  I will have to split them up, you know, so you don’t grow beards and get very old reading this.  So – I am going to be thematic: the first three films have themes involving the fashion world, but more specifically, the appearance of women, what it is used for, who looks and how (remember, feminists, the study of ‘the Gaze’?).  So – next: The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978).  Now that’s a cracker too.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

"Write about the dog" - literally, in this case; and a purely personal critique of CBT

There’s a reason only stories make sense for me.  However incomplete, you have enough of the story to get the beginning, a bit of the middle, a bit of the end – more than you ever get in Real Life.  Even the most postmodern, non linear, ambiguous, reality mimicking stories do, basically, have a narrative that you and I as readers, struggle to make linear sense of.  We try and work out what happened.  Why.  What for.  We try to make sense.  Desperately.   And because we wouldn’t read anymore, ever again, if there was no sense at all in our fiction, nothing to take back to real life to help…there is always some sense there.  The authors know that no matter how teasing they are, we need to be pulled along by the hope of understanding life better.

I have been hoovering up books lately.  Gorging.  I have done hardly any writing.  Partly because I have been too damned tired, which makes it feel like a chore, something that must be ACHIEVED and crossed off a list; rather than the quiet fizzing joy release it usually is.  And I have decided, at present, to minimise stress and worry as much as possible.

And partly because, good old reason, had nothing to say.  (That I think you’ll want to hear.  I don’t particularly think you want to hear any of this post either; but you are my trusty friend, Reader, so I’m hoping you don’t get too bored.)

I was reading back some of the earlier entries to this blog the other day, and was dismayed to find its been months since I did a proper footnoted essay type post on something other than my daily life and frame of mind (which as we all know, gets beyond samey, doesn’t it?).  I used to write properly good, educated, enjoyable, informative posts.  (I remind myself of Hystery here: I Do Not Feel Clever Anymore, and its bugging the hell out of me.)

Bah.  As usual, time and tiredness are the culprits.  So, until things improve, you are stuck with this warbling.

So.  Get it together.
Say what I was going to say.

Gorging on books.  Mostly female written, with some exceptions.  Fantasy.  Ghost stories.  Life uplifts, life learners.

I am deliberately reading nothing too heavy and anguished, or too political, as I am on a bit of a downer recently.

Usual reasons: Fluffhead had a bug that lasted a month, sleep frayed to nothing.  Then I got a sort of kickback anxiety insomnia.  Grand!  After a while of that, nothing much makes sense.  You have to impose sense.  Make deliberate decisions as to what to put in front of your face in terms of stimulation[1], in order to carry on with life without just sinking into a chair and staring at the floor.


“Why what?”

“Why anything?  Plus, why am I so rubbish?”

There, that cut short for you, an immensely long internal dialogue that sludges on, particularly when I am overtired.  (In case you wonder, Fluffhead bore his bug with extraordinary resilience: bumptious and snotty, sneezing, wheezing and hot, he nonetheless smiled and ran about through it all.  Aren’t children amazing?  They know they don’t feel right and can’t seem to do all the things they usually do, but they keep forgetting about it, in the fascination of whatever they grasshopper to next.  So they have a mostly ok time.  Well, except for the bits where they scream and tantrum because they feel bad and they don’t get it, so are moved to rage from overtiredness.)

I wish I could be more like my 3 year old.  Just be in the moment with nothing around it.  He looks up at me, nose streaming, cuffing it again so that I have to change his top for the 3rd time that morning.  But in his eyes what I see is trust and affection for me, he feels so safe and loved.  He snuggles up to me, seriously like a kitten, and watches ‘Ivor the Engine’.  (Little Idris says: ‘Do you know Land of My Fathers?’ in a gorgeous lilt.  If we watch Ivor for more than an hour I start talking in a Welsh accent, with that upturn to my voice.  I think it may well be my 2nd sexiest UK accent, after Devon and Cornwall farmer accents.  So slow and lovely, reassuring.  Anyway, so I go Welsh, Fluffhead goes contented.)  Oh – to be more like him.  He has the right attitude.  No projecting ahead, or working over what has gone before.  I love him so much it hurts me, everyday.  Sigh.

I keep ploughing through the books, not because they must have a happy ending, though they often do, but because I am very fed up of living in my head with my thoughts.  I am too tired to defend against them, so I’m going to ignore them and have other people’s instead.  Judiciously selected.

In a way, that’s part of the idea of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  Ages ago, I had a psychiatrist, and he deemed CBT a treatment that would aid my mind.  Sadly, I could not help but perceive it like a game, a school exercise.  The way it goes, sort of, is:  you have a sudden bad feeling.  The concept states that this feeling was caused by a thought you had.  You might be so used to having this thought that it slips right by you incredibly quickly, too quickly for you to even notice any more in some cases.  But I’ve thought about it (ha!) and I do feel this makes sense (more ha!).  You try and pin it down.  You stop and examine it for actual objective truth from all angles. 

E.g. ‘I am rubbish’.  Well, no, actually I’m not.  Clearly this is not a well made thought.  It’s hostile to myself, judgmental, all or nothing based, and a generalisation.  For a start.  In terms of evidence: I have a family that loves me and whom I have not offed (or they me) in a senseless slaying in a public place with innocent bystander casualties (despite all those films and horrors you watch, silly girl).  Your family seem to think you are nice human being and want to hang out with you.  A smattering of friends think the same way.  You provide good care for your small son – you try to feed him the right foods, see he socialises a bit, read to him for hours a day, ensure he plays outside and gets fresh air and isn’t too hot or cold…he trusts and loves you.  This is an objective reality that can be corroborated by others, not just me.  You have a high educational attainment in your field of expertise…blah blah blah, I was sending myself to sleep there.  I’m not describing it well, as today I am doing it a bit flippantly, but basically, you observe how the thoughts you think directly give rise, immediately, to your anxious/ depressed [whatever] mood and any physical symptoms [ migraine, palpitations, shaking hands, acid stomach, general intense heaviness of body and mind etc].  “I’m rubbish” = wanting to cry, starting to get a headache, feeling heavy, wanting to go back to bed, feeling unable to cope, actually crying, starting to get stomach pains…etc etc etc.

You don’t, In CBT, need to go and have 50 years therapy to discover the root cause of these thoughts, you just deal with them in the now: seeing them for the overblown generalisations they usually are.  (“I am rubbish”.  Condemnatory, unrealistic as a statement.  No nuance, no understanding of circumstance: just a judgement.  Neither balanced, kindly, nor accurate.)

So, in CBT, you judge and assess these thoughts and then formulate newer more positive ones that you also assess as you go along, and try and have those ones instead (theoretically leading to feeling better: you feed your mind different food, it responds with a different reaction).

Sadly, I am too tired to do an alternative and more realistic thought than “I am rubbish”, which is unhelpful of me in terms of explaining these ideas to you.  Sorry.   But the point is/ was, here, that when sufficiently mentally awake, I could play this game like a pro.  I handed in all my many worksheets of my thoughts and their breakdown analysis; and my newer more helpful thoughts inserted at the end instead, and the psychiatrist loved me.  I was top of the class.

I totally missed the point.  I did the whole thing intellectually, but found I couldn’t use it all in Real Life.  Whilst seeing that my self-loathing thoughts made no sense was helpful, I didn’t believe the newer more balanced thoughts at all.  I believed the old poisonous ones, because they FELT true in my entire physical body.  No doubt through years of repetition and forced gouging out of neural pathways, that sometimes gave me these thoughts so quietly and immediately that I feel their impact even as the thoughts themselves have whispered past me and gone.  Stealth missiles of shit stirring.  All that I am left with is a migraine that just won’t go, a face heavy with downwardness and sorrow, and eyes that ‘naturally’ look down, not up – shoulders slumped.  Body language of defeat, sending its own repetitive signals back to the brain.

You ARE how you physically feel, in my case.  I have such admiration for anyone coping with Parkinsons or cancer or amputees – anything that messes so severely with your sense of physical embodiment I fear would undo me.  But then, I don’t really know, do I?  I might surprise myself.  I speak from a place of fear and unknowing.

CBT didn’t help me[2].  My new shiny thoughts felt hollow and pretentious (even as I could objectively see they made far more sense and WERE TRUE).  My old entrenched thoughts sniggered  at them as New Age white lightey crap.  (Which was inaccurate: they weren’t – they weren’t affirmations: “I am wonderful!  I am empowered!” etc.  No.  They went more like this: “I am basically a good person, as good as anyone else, feeling dodgy today because I have a lot of stressors in my life and I haven’t slept for 36 hours, except for a couple of catnaps.  My thoughts are skewy due to lack of sleep, and brain chemistry starting to go awry as a result.  All will return to normalcy and seem brighter after some good food and a rest.”  Hardly New Agey whitelightey crap, eh?)  The new thoughts shivered, and grew thin and cold from lack of use and substance.

On perfectly good days, the new thoughts – the reasonable, obviously true thoughts ARE me.  I don’t need to make an effort to think them.

But most days are not those days.  I used to sleep it off, once upon a time, when I felt bad.  Usually worked.  Not an option anymore.

So I read instead.  10 minutes here, 10 minutes there, on and off throughout the day.  I read other characters having good thoughts, taking action, doing things, having a life.  I brainwash myself through another’s more balanced mind.  While I read, the black dog has to sit in a corner and play solitaire by himself.  He’s pissed off, of course.

But reading is the only defence I have, apart from TV.  Even when I am out taking action myself, walking to town with Fluffhead, there I am with those thoughts, the ones that tell me, repeatedly, all about the worst parts of myself.  My brain fries from lack of proper sleep (the best non invasive torture method in the world, I suggest) and I have nothing to offer as an alternative, except my back.  No sophistry to combat.  Not even when Stanley tells me to remember my happy thoughts of horses, daisies and ginger beer.  Light of the sun on grass green as green.  Not even when I remember, when anxious, how Troubadour told me to float on the surface of my mind, and not dive in, just float...

This is how it is sometimes.  I did warn you, in the very first post, that I get solipsistically, egocentrically downered sometimes.  It’ll pass.  It always does.  It’ll be back.  It always comes back.  And if I am not too tired, I will remember all my psychological and magickal knacks to put my focus elsewhere and manifest good things.  I will remember to make new neural pathways.  But you do need to be quite awake to use these techniques properly.  (Not so easy when tired and stuck indoors caretaking, not able to pursue work or projects: it's vital to try and concentrate on something, and even better to DO something.)

So in the meantime, I thank all the people who write stories where things sort of make sense and heroines act as I wish I would, as a role model for me, so I can understand life, even if only for a minute.  Through their eyes.

[1] Informative things.  Productive things.  Good things.  Happy music.  A lot of music that purports to be peaceful, is in fact sad.  Have you noticed?  ‘Don’t Mess with Mr Inbetween’.
[2] CBT works for loads of other people, by the way.  Perfectly good method.  Not everyone is going to sabotage themselves and make a game of it.  I know lots of people who didn’t and have been massively helped by it.  Good.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Some Books Read This Year - that *ARE NOT* Dr. Who ones!!

Suddenly occurred to me that the only books I’ve really gone into this year on the blog (other than the posts related to specific books), were the Dr. Who posts.  So I thought maybe I’d waffle a touch about some of the other stuff I’ve been reading, here and there. 

By the way, in my little document on my laptop, where I note everything I read each year and what I reckoned of it, I have taken to noting for posterity whether the book was an actual printed one, or a Kindle one; or a library book.  I have decided my sources are interesting, historically speaking too.  I have actually read a ton-load more Kindle books than I’m mentioning here – I have a habit of reading lots of very subgenre specific stuff on the Kindle, which I thought might bore those of you not into it, so I haven’t mentioned many those here.  So far, my reading ratio this year, of Real Printed Matter vs. Kindle is about 60/40 to the former.

  1. Oxford Proof, by Veronica Stallwood (2003)
    (As readable as ever – possibly my favourite detective series.  Heroine not so much feisty; as lazy, a bit rude and wonderfully selfish.  Love her, its like reading about me, only with more oomph, money and crime solving ability.  This one ended up solved quite cosily, and yet still felt believable.  That’s what I like about this series best: I love the selfish heroine – she is more like most of us than most of us would admit – and I love the way everything that happens to her and around her is made plausible.  It’s not a Midsummer Murders where you wonder how there are any people left at all in this village or county.  It feels like it could be real. ACTUAL BOOK.)
  2. Cupid’s Dart, by David Nobbs (2008)
    (My first ever David Nobbs book – a present to me.  I had trouble with this at the beginning and I don’t quite know why, unless it be my odd prejudice against self proclaimed 'humourous' novels; as by about half way through I was completely hooked and raced to get to the end to see what would happen between Ange and her 55 year old Philosophy Don virgin.  I thought he was a great narrator.  Some of the details surrounding where Ange left him and he went a bit mad and tried to poison his mother with cake were excellent.  I was nodding along and laughing and feeling an outrageous plot turn was all too plausible.  This ended up being a very enjoyable read indeed.  I’d read more of him, this being my first. ACTUAL BOOK.)
  3. The Con and the Crusader, by Maggie Shayne (2005)
    (Contemporary – well, time travel, Romance Novella.  One of my favourite paranormal romance authors.  Very sweet and lovely.  Could easily have been worked into a full length novel, but she did ok with it at the shorter length too – it felt only a little rushed.  At her best, she has a feather light touch, her writing is gentle, impeccable, for its genre.  Yet above its genre too.  She’s a real artist.  I loved Jack McCain and I loved his redemption.  Don’t we all wish we could be redeemed by hard work – and isn’t it so much nicer to read about it than to do it?! ACTUAL BOOK.)
  4. Shayne On You, by Maggie Shayne (2011)
    (Very interesting book – a combination of magickal primer and advice columnist, by this woman, one of my favourite romance authors.  I am wary of Maggie Shayne in person, as I remember ages ago asking her advice on something online.  I don’t remember exactly what went down…she gave me a very good grounding exercise, but something I said – perhaps I hurried her, I do hurry people if I think they are being tardy? – annoyed her and she was scratchy with me.  This happens rather a lot when I speak to authors.  I piss them off!  Anyway, I unfriended her on FB as a result, as I felt her eternal ‘only see the light’ statuses were pissing me off violently – she herself says she can be Pollyanna-ish.  Reading this book helped me to understand her mindset an awful lot better.  I am not a huge fan of the Law of Attraction, but as she explained it, it made a lot more sense than it usually does.  Not all of it by any means – some of it contradicted itself, but mostly – I felt a lot of her advice was sound, more of it was than not.  I felt I understood and could buy into this positive attitude.  And I have actually been trying to. A daily thought session on what to be grateful for; some affirmations that don’t seem farfetched but I understand why I am doing them for once.  ON KINDLE.)
  5. Potty Training Boys, by Dr Caroline Fertleman and Simone Cave (2008)
    (I have come to the conclusion that I do not have a single clue what I am doing when it comes to potty training; I appear to have completely forgotten how to do it, so I have resorted to a book to give me some guidance.  This one was refreshingly simple and I have been implementing its advice now it’s a bit warmer.  As I couldn’t have little cold prone Alex constantly sitting about with his trousers off in those previously subzero temperatures when we can’t afford to put the heating on…plus, can’t risk too many accidents on this carpet that isn’t ours.  But I have been giving their ideas a go – it sounded simple enough.  Er, it actually isn’t.  It’s a bit of a quiet war played as a game, with sticker charts, this potty training lark.  Important not to pressure your boy, whilst also moving along.  Not as easy as the book made it sound!!  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  6. Rock Your Plot: A Simple System for Plotting Your Novel, by Cathy Yardley (2012)
    (How to write your typical 3 Act Drama.  Not just for genre fiction though she says it is.  I reckon it could work with more high class lit too.  I’ve always thought story and plot and suspense and emotional involvement are vital, you can’t just have good style.  That’s why Christopher Priest’s sci-fi novels read like lit – he has it all.  This may be the extensive scaffolding system I’ve been fantasizing about for a novel for years; even if only to learn how to break the rules more effectively.  Would love to have enough of an idea to see if this works in application.  I loved the story she used as a running example – I actually wanted to read it, the way she was constructing it.  How annoying she hasn’t actually written it!  ON KINDLE.)
  7. The Statesman and the Fanatic: the lives of Thomas Wolsey and Thomas More, by Jasper Ridley (1985)
    (Very readable biography.  Because I am reading other Tudor books at the same time, I know to not rely on his portrait especially of Wolsey, alone, but it was nonetheless very ably written, very well thought out.  What struck me, in the conclusion, was the very clever way Ridley said what they would be doing were they both alive today and had their careers followed similar trajectories because of their temperaments.  Wolsey would be a corrupt fatcat somewhere, but relatively harmless and very efficient.  Whereas More might be responsible for another Holocaust because of his sincere anti-revolutionary stance, his love of authority, and his inability to recognize anyone else’s conscience where it to conflict with what his own told him.  This all rang chillingly true. [Also, the man was appallingly sexist, misogynist even; I know it was the times, but bloody hell…scarily, reading the tone of him reminded me A LOT of my father, who was similarly conflicted about certain things; though he was the opposite in terms of revolution – he was all for it, but may have been just as ruthless given power.  And another who was only nice to his daughter.]  I enjoyed this book and found it rich in information. ACTUAL BOOK.)
  8. Creative Writing Prompts: Random Words, Phrases and Sentence Prompts to Help You Write, by Vanna Smythe (2012)
    (At first, I thought this might not be best helpful, but the way the words and especially the phrases section truly are random – to the point of being not phrases but gibberish in most cases – is in fact very stimulating.  Something hypnotic about the lists of words.  Some odd poetry here.  I haven’t used any of them yet, but I think they may well be VERY useful on a day I’m not dog tired. [Why is dog tired a phrase? Dogs seem energetic, if anything? Bouncy lil critters.  Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to be Cat Tired, they are always napping?]  I’ve enjoyed her 2 other fantasy novels, so I was interested in what sort of word chains would stimulate her.  ON KINDLE.)
  9. Writing From the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within, by Dennis Palumbo (2000)
    (Possibly the best book I’ve ever read on the way people who write seriously feel about it.  His constant message: what you are is enough; write about and from wherever you are now, no matter how negative you perceive it to be.  “Write about the dog”.  Not as in the black dog, though that’s lamentably accurate in my case; but as in a cartoon he describes where a writer is surrounded by balled up paper, going insane, clearly blocked.  The room is also filled – incongruously – with dogs lolling everywhere.  His wife comes in and exasperatedly says: ‘write about the dogs’.  Use what you’ve got, whatever it is.  There was a lot of acceptance and bearing with yourself in here.  The ‘write about the dog’ advice prompted me to write a blog post recently that got an amazingly positive reaction for being ‘real’.  It stunned me.  People were ‘transported there’; it was their ‘favourite of all my blogs’, ‘poignant’.  So by terms of external validation – which Palambo actually warns strenuously against, as a method of self judgement and self worth measure! – the book caused me to write something quite special.  It’s a keeper simply because it explores the vagaries of feeling of writers, their insecurities and sad feelings.  And it does them all so supportively, calmly, quietly and firmly.  Reading this is the equivalent of a wiser older friend listening and both reality checking you AND validating you.  Quite priceless in its knowledge and calm.  Will re-read.  Many times, I suspect. ON KINDLE.)
  10. Inglorious, by Joanna Kavenna (2008)
    (The style made this one, as it was actually quite heavy: a woman’s breakdown in slow motion, in very black humour.  ‘It’s a bad business when you think Modernism can help you.’ !!!!  That really did make me laugh.  It did drag, but then – a long depressed meander around why the hell am I doing any of this, with reference to lots of intellectual philosophizing isn’t going to trip off the mental tongue.  It was well worth reading though and made me laugh and think, many times. I then bought all her other books.  So that’s a recommendation.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  11. The Accidental Husband, by Jane Green (2013)
    (I’m starting to wonder if Jane Green is going a bit mainstream.  Bigamy is quite a big fat subject for a chick lit.  And she did cancer 2 novels ago, too.  Though this had her trademark calm narration, and the usual creation of a world of perfection, it dealt with other serious issues, bulimia for one, and it didn’t shy away from how bad that can get.  I enjoyed this more than I have enjoyed a Jane Green for a while.  Beautiful cover, too – the harmonious colours!!  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  12.  Before I Met You, by Lisa Jewell (2013)
    (This was definitely female fic, rather than chick lit.  It had the bouncy tone of Lisa Jewell and the wonderful down to earth not too rich characters, who feel REAL…but the time slip element was wondrous.  She went historical, absorbingly and wonderfully.  I think this may be her best book so far in my opinion.  I loved it from cover to cover and ate it in 2 days flat with Fluffhead there.  It also had one of the loveliest covers I’ve seen in ages – I keep wanting to cut it off the book and frame it.  ACTUAL BOOK.)

So there you go.  A confection of the mixed up lot of caboodle I’ve been nosing in.  I’ve actually read quite a lot this year so far, I’m quite amazed at myself.  Must come from the strong urge I am having this year to bury my head in the metaphorical sand!

More books soon!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Coffeehouse 4: Semi-Comatose

As I blundered in at 7.10a.m., I was the only one in the coffee house.  It felt like MY house.  The two baristas talking quietly in Polish at the far end (the Redhead with the wit, and the quiet braided brown haired one who is very skinny and has the world’s sweetest smile – I think her doppelganger in another dimension is a fairy girl: she smiles at things and they bloom, open out).

Now its 9.30a.m. and its packed in here.  Jonah and his mother, her sister, two friends.  He is immersed in a tablet, watching YouTube.  They have the volume down low, but its annoying the hell out of me.  There’s a ton of noise in here, but it’s white noise (raucous laughing and loud women talk; a man with a voice that carries like Simon Callow; music piped a bit too strongly, and the inevitable hissing and shushing of the coffee machines).  But the tone and pitch of whatever Jonah’s watching on YouTube is bugging me – it’s cutting through everything, a heavy saturated sound.  Lower, more pervasive.  I try hard to ignore it.

On my other side are two mothers with exceptionally cute and odd looking children (one of them looks like Federico de Montefeltro, warrior prince of Renaissance Italy – see pic – yes, the kid has THAT nose; and the other one looks like Benicio del Toro).  The mothers look English as anything, so the fathers’ must be Mediterranean or Latin through and through.

I am (as ever) feeling displaced this morning. I feel a bit of a fraud for being here.  I have no money, but luckily my loyalty card was up to 9 cups – 10th one free.  Now I’m doing the surreptitious tap water from home sipping thing.

It’s taken me two hours to get to writing.  Quentin (yes, that’s his actual name; he’ll never read this, and we should celebrate the Quentin’s of the world, surely?) who comes here every day from 7-8 a.m. before the rest of his working from home day, commented with surprise that I was reading and not writing.

I told him I couldn’t wake up yet. Still can’t.  I’m in fog today.  I spent the 2 hours reading my latest copies of ‘Prima’ and ‘Essentials’ magazines cover to cover.  Folding back corners of pages with crafts or recipes I like, and colour schemes of happy combos I find pretty and harmonious to the eye.  When I have a quiet moment at home I tear out/ cut up the magazine’s best bits and add them to various folders which I have indexed by section.  The whole collection is named ‘Life By Magazine’, and its where I go to get crafts and recipes to use when I have no inspiration, or where I just look at the colours to rest my eyes and therefore my mind.  Its anal, deeply satisfying and does actually come in useful. For instance, in the next week I’ll consult the folder called ‘Occasions’ for the Fathers Day section and see if there’s anything cheap and cheerful I can make for Stanley, soon.

While I’m reading away I’m thinking of writing and assessing my consciousness level.  It’s really low.  The Thought Police are alarmed and send for the Thought Ambulance.  Tiny Gnome Thought Paramedics paddle my head with stampy feet and throw ice water over me.  I blink blearily, and carry on considering ’10 Ways With Mince’, wondering if I can do the unusual Lebanese Lamb recipe with the rather tasteless soy mince, by using extra Harissa for flavour.  Would Stanley like that?

On the one hand, these thoughts are useful.  On the other, this ain’t how the Next Great English Novel will get written.  Or any novel.

Deciding my consciousness level is 2 iotas higher (plus the fact there are more massively yelling babies in buggies here, mysteriously being ignored by their groomed heavily chatting mothers, with no obvious embarrassment or callousness, weird) I have no choice but to waken a notch more.  I take out my Ovate Grade study lessons, and in about 5 minutes flat seem to have read one.  But, hmmmm, it’s telling me to go off and make a Crane Bag.  I can’t do that right now.  Impasse.  No fabric in coffeeshop.  Have vision of ripping off my jeans, saying, “This fabric is hardy enough, this will do!” – the mothers won’t bat an eyelid, they are all being very loud and very insular, I could probably run about naked and be ignored today.

So.  I put my Druid stuff to one side.  Apparently I am not awake enough to feel spiritual today.

I’m wanting to read on my Kindle.  I don’t want to work today; my head is full of golden syrup, just slowly sludging from one side to the other, giving my brain cavities with its sweetness.

There’s a lone dad in here, checking his Android phone, and his small bored toddler is tearing strips off the dad’s copy of The Times and eating them.  I try and catch the dad’s eye (are there still toxic chemicals in newsprint?) but he looks up in time, and does his best not to explode in anger, though he seems pretty irritable.  (He’s been all jerky and snippy since they sat down.)  He takes the paper away and the tiny boy looks confused and bereft, his small eyebrows rising into his hair.  The dad starts to get ready to leave, gulping down the rest of his coffee, and tiny boy stands to attention with his hand out, waiting for it to be held.  This melts the dad’s crossness.  He unpurses his lips, and takes tiny boy’s hand.  They share a lovely smile, and leave in identical blue anoraks and blue jeans, black Doc Martens.

I can feel my eyelids trying to close.  My focus swims.  I feel dizzy and lightheaded.  Some days are like this all day.  If I come to a stop at all, it’s like I’ve gone into suspended animation. There’s some kind of Autopilot Me on watch, so I don’t fall down, trip over stuff, or spill hot drinks down myself; but mostly I feel that soft fluff of sleep moving centre stage in my head.  If I close my eyes for just a second, my whole body goes to sleep.  I drift.  It’s most unfortunate I’m getting this on my morning off.  It’s bad enough when I get this flopsy looking after Fluffhead (I end up pacing the room just to stay conscious; I cannot sit down or I just fade out), but on my morning off?  Iniquitous!

I think of the Dennis Palambo advice - 'write about the dog', i.e. whatever is in your head now, concerning you.  How much can I say about SLEEP?  What I'm wanting is an absence of responsibility and consciousness.  Where I want to be there ARE no words, or not like here.  Hmm.  The dog is sleep.  The dog is asleep.  Lucky dog.

I read an article on my Kindle about what inspires some writers, where they get their ideas from. It’s interesting that the things are so small.  Looking at a room, a snippet of conversation, the hint of a ‘what if’ thought.  It must be because I’m so brain frazzled and tired that none of these sorts of things do it for me anymore.  I make those same sorts of observations, then think “yeah…and?”  And I fluff off.  Thinking about cushions and sleeping.  (Lay me in my little boat, light the little light, this is the way to the Garden In The Night…)

Jonah is now watching Thunderbirds, which I hate (creepy as all feck).  I try instead to tune in to the conversation going on to my right – a woman dressed very plainly but smartly in a black suit jacket with shift dress, and the bald suit with her, sweaty head, nodding at her as she speaks.  Looks like a job interview.  She’s confident.  There’s a bit of tension in her posture, straight back, shoulders a bit hunched – but her face is open, and she’s enthusiastic.  The man listens intently.  To his credit, his eyes are nowhere near her chest, which is capacious.

But Jonah’s mum’s sister starts talking loudly about how her cleaner is starting again this Friday.  I want to be irritated by what she’s saying, as well as her boomy voice (she’s one of those loud women who punctuate every sentence with ringing, thigh-slapping laughter – and by god, its getting old after 45 minutes of it almost constantly: woman, I want you to take a sedative or something…).  Thing is, I can only manage crossness at the voice and the laughing.  I think I would love a cleaner.  I used to say if I ever won the Lottery or anything, I would ‘keep it real’ and iron my own shirts and mop the floor etc.  After 3 years of hardly any sleep, I say: BULLSHIT.  Please come and do my mopping and ironing, someone!

I yawn hugely and watch Jonah cram a whole almond croissant in his mouth, creating a large crumb fallout field.  Yup.  They need a cleaner.  (Loud sister slaps thigh, booms laughter, points at Jonah.  Jonah, tip your milkshake on her, go on, please?)

God, I don’t want to work today.

For some reason, my head is filled with a vision of...of all things…a mythical, imaginary Parisian café.  Where I sit outside, looking like 70s film star Corinne Cleary, in an old style rainmac (collars!) sipping the French equivalent of an espresso from a china cup.  It’s a dim overcast day, there’s a definite chill in the air, I’m…also close to a river, and can hear water lapping nearby.

I sit there, looking incredibly awake, but detached and cool (sophisticated is the word I appear to be after here), with my wavy perfectly controlled hair, and my clear dewy skin.  My slightly downturned but not sulky mouth.  I cross and uncross my long shiny mythical legs.  I seem to be waiting for someone.  A man, obviously.  In this vision, I clearly have a very exciting life.  Plus, in this vision, I think I can wear high heels without spraining my ankle.  And exist on a diet of lettuce and apple peelings (and tiny Frenchish espressos).

I wonder why I always descend into fantasy?  Don’t answer that.

I give in.  I’m going to read.

I ask Jonah’s mum to turn down the volume on that tablet of his.  She complies with an outward sweetness and inner seething at the implied criticism that I am so very familiar with in us females.  It’s a result of the way we are brought up.  If you are brought up to constantly pay attention to the needs and desires of others, you get resentful.  It’s not natural to be taught your own needs are selfish and always second.  ‘Specially when people keep exhorting you to ‘take care of yourself’.  Gets confusing and irritating.  And add that to feeling your children’s behaviour reflects on your mothering utterly (as your mother probably taught you) and any hint of criticism of your child, especially from another woman…and you have an internal volcano there, simmering away.  I try to smile genuinely at her, to show I mean no harm, I just need some quiet.  What I want to add is “please turn down your steroid sister, as well, please?”

I open my Kindle again and sink into a fluffy fantasy written by someone else.  Today the Great English Novel will have to wait.

Jonah empties his strawberry milkshake onto the tablet screen.  Much noise ensues.  Followed by silence.  No boomy laughter now.  There’s a mercy.  Can’t help smiling, a bit.