Telling Tall Tales

Why do we do it, what’s in it for us?

Is it fame, fortune, nubile young women of adventurous intent?

To be fair they all sound good reasons to scribble away – more fantasy than reality, but sound enough reasons all the same.

I’d like to say I’m typing away with some altruistic noble intent, that I am sacrificing my life blood to bequeath unparalleled wisdom, wit, and exploration of the complex human condition…

I could say that, but much like the bevy of enthusiastic gymnasts with a penchant for middle aged scribblers, I think we can agree that these ideas are at best fanciful illusions.

I scribble away knowing that these ‘rewards’ will never be mine.  I accept that I will never buy that ‘castle in Scotland’ or engage in an orgy that would make a rocker form the 1970’s blush – but I scribble all the same.

My aspirations, like my rewards are indeed modest.

I’d like to be read, and once read I’d like to be enjoyed.

I scribble away because the challenge is something I enjoy – the scenarios I create become problems that need solving.

But, most of all I’d like so very much to be read.

No matter how doe eyed I stand, no matter how appealing I make my submission to the publishing gods – the answer remains as it always seems to be… a silent NO.

The clocks tick, time passes by, and the ‘if you haven’t heard from us in eight weeks’ comes, and then goes. 

My first attempt at submitting my work wasn’t the best – we have learnt, adapted, and improved – but still the echo is silent.  

Chapters 1- 3, pages 0 – 30 have been written, rewritten, scrunched up, thrown away and polished as much as my limited skill will allow – yet still the silence screams after each submission NO.

Is this a test of perseverance to see if I’m worthy – or is it the publishing world emphatically telling me to try my hand at pottery?

To this question I have no answer…

I think my project has merit, has potential, and that it is worthy of being read.

But sometimes the Chumbawamba tubthumping rhetoric isn’t enough.

Maybe my labour will be rewarded?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Not with a bang, but with a whimper…

So, with all the overplayed artistic cinematography of a slow-motion car crash 2021 eventually comes to an end.

I doubt in years to come many will look back as this year as a halcyon period (pharmaceutical companies and their shareholders notwithstanding) worthy of song and celebration.

And, as it has been with the stymied lives’ we’ve been leading in and out of lockdown, so too has it been with my scribbling.

2021 should have been a golden opportunity to advance like a true colossus with gigantic strides of progress – but it wasn’t.

Something (for me) went wrong, something intangible interfered…

We wrote, we have written, but for effort in and output out the ratio has been wrong, very wrong.

Effort and frustration should eventually produce results – but this year the bounty of these labours has been pitiful.

Even though 2022 has such a low bar to surpass, St Francis de Sales still has his work cut out, and as such suitable incantations will be offered…

Stay safe, remain sane and may your efforts be both bountiful and rewarded.

2022 – have at you!!

Did they like it?

Sitting down to write, I am again mindful of the ‘Man In The Arena’ speech.  It truly is the dirt encrusted soul in the arena who counts, who knows the highs of success and the many lows of failure.  Yet this intrepid soul cannot operate in a vacuum, and as cutting as the critiques can be, they are an evil necessity. 

We write to be read, we write to be enjoyed, and we wait with bated breath as every head rises from its task, and every hand slowly closes the manuscript.

Did they like it..?

Was the phrasing to long winded, too clumsy..?

The garden scene, yeah I should delete that…

Surely they’ll pick up the running thread, the recurring themes?

A throat is cleared – a fresh coffee offered…

No walk to the gallows has ever been so painful, so pitiful, so tragic as your shuffle towards the kettle…

They liked it, it was pacy, it was dark (where did you get those scenes from), an eyebrow is raised as the head is tilted, eyes look at you as if it is the first time we’ve ever met – the noir of your tale was indeed black…

But, they liked it…

Coffee is drunk.

So many questions are in your head, racing, overtaking, competing to be voiced, but never aired.

You say ‘thanks, glad you enjoyed it’, the nonchalance ham acting worthy of day-time TV. 

Eighteen months of emotional investment satisfied as the second biscuit is dunked.

They liked it…

Chairs

The seats were uncomfortable, the feel all too familiar, strident echoes of long passed school years.  Blue polypropylene buckets that reminisced youthful buttocks, were now supporting those belonging to an older and more jaded clientele.  This evening’s group was mixed, but also the same.  What they had in common transcended whatever differences life outside this cold church hall had bestowed upon them.  In this group, right here and now they were all the same.  This is a collective of imaginative yet timid souls, this was Imposter Syndrome Support Group.

It should start something like that.  These words should indeed be the opening lines for a voyage of self-realisation.  But they are not.  These are instead the words and musings of an infrequent blogger and (unpublished) writer of tall tales imagining himself sat in such surroundings.

If I, or indeed you, were sat in that group how would we fare?      

Would we sit silently on the peripheries, would be feel that in this solar system of creativity we were indeed the debatable charlatan Pluto?  Or would we inwardly scream Carpe Diem, cough a little and then mumble out our concerns? 

I think I’d be option two…

So, in a room full of rounded shoulders, glasses being continually pushed back from slipping off noses who would my peer group react to my cries of insecurity? 

I imagine nodding heads, voices quietly saying “preach brother, preach…”.

Favour found, or quietly implied, would I then bare my soul, expose the at times crippling insecurity that an unread writer feels? 

Will the emotional outlet become a cathartic cleansing of tensions?

Questions, always questions…

The coffee will go cold, but hands will still hold it. 

Suffering will be recognised; true empathy will flow like electricity between the huddled collective. 

Sparks will ignite the imagination, and these lights will flicker and burn behind knowing eyes. 

This is a road they have all travelled, a maze that at times had trapped many. 

The committee will confirm the route needed to escape, the mantra is simple, it is deliberately short and easy to remember.

“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole law…”. 

A rye smile is held by all, they share the bookish joke, they know the truth. 

Truth isn’t a glib slogan dropped to seek kudos, the truth that is shared isn’t that kind of prophetic declaration, it’s so much simpler…   

And this truth, what is it? 

Turn up next Thursday, around seven thirty, and we will share it with you.

Stay safe – remain sane!       

Black Coffee Blues.

Again, I tip my hat to a near obscure literary pop reference…

Often thought if I should highlight such gems in my regular scribbles, or just let people stumble upon them in their own time? 

Anyhow, here we are again, last exit for the lost, debating if indeed every day is exactly the same…?

It’s been a while since my last utterance, and I feel almost obligated to provide some earth-shattering updates on my quest, but alas I have no real ground breakers to provide.

I have had a written rejection – which was nice. 

The first rejection (cut) is indeed the deepest, but after that (tipping hat to Marquis De Sade) you do almost enjoy these painful interactions, especially those who provide details of just why your submission didn’t make the cut – writers, bunch of weirdoes, who knew? 

So, I have been typing away, resurrecting, and then killing off (almost) what we’d taken so much time trouble and internal debate to reintroduce… 

Research on beneficial avenues has been pursued, but mostly the rabbit holes have provided more tinfoil hats than nuggets of gold – but hopefully knowledge is never wasted, and these obscure trinkets will be used at some point in the future. 

In other news I have (again) singed up for a writer’s course, so hopefully the quality (if not the quantity) of my writing will improve!

In these crazy times of feeling like you are an active participant in your most relevant dystopian novel (Fahrenheit 451 anyone?) I wish you all the best of days, that you all stay safe, and importantly that you all manage to remain sane!

Old dog – new tricks.

You are never too old to learn.

It’s true, you’re not.

Every day should be a school day, an opportunity to learn.

Knowledge is never a wasted investment – every little nugget can be squirreled away for future use.

You are always the student, never the maser – and so is everybody else!

As such I am in the middle of a formal learning opportunity.

I’m attending a six-week workshop with other writers [elevated myself quickly there] to pool process and best practice.

It could be daunting.

It could be off-putting.

At times it does fuel the whole imposter syndrome.

The fragility of existence is challenged, but I’m persevering.

Food for thought is offered.

Struggles seen as common.

Support given…

I’m enjoying it, and importantly I’m learning.

Education is never wasted.

Stay safe – remain sane!

Pretentious, Moi?

So, you’ve given the world your synopsis, and that was no mean feat, an achievement worthy of considerable note.

Folk now know the broad direction of the narrative. 

But now they want to know ‘what’s it like’?

Them: Whose tales are similar?

Me: Deep intake of breath, reply with something along the lines of Amy Grace is probably told in the same manner as Wilbur Smith tells his historical tales, key historical events creating a timeline against which the story is paced.

Them: Okay, but what of the heroine, who’s she like?

Me: Hmmm, if you’ve read Philip Pullmans Sally Lockhart character, now imagine her being written by Stieg Larsson, more grit, more independence – more pain suffering and vengeance!  Oh, and with more violence, definitely told with a very lot of violence!

Them: Anything else?   

Me: Yeah, we’ve sprinkled a fair measure of James Herbert/Clive Barker darkness and gallows humour between the pages.

Them:  So, you are comparing yourself to…

Me: No, no, not at all.  I’m merely providing the most prominent signposts I can think of to give you a full as possible flavour of the tale that I’ve told.

Them: So, Peter Jackson is doing the screenplay?

Me: I cannot possibly comment…

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name, do titles count?

Seems they indeed to.

If the title of the book was Adventures in Toyland, you’d like more than just a passing reference to be made to the realm of playthings.

Artistic licence and imaginative twisting’s notwithstanding, if the title became a mere opaque reference, it could annoy more than it indeed should whet any appetite.

Relevance being the undertow at play here, I’d better quickly attempt to create some.

The latest incarnation, the current work in progress, is the continuing adventures of Miss (Mrs) Amy Grace as she crosses the immense body of water that is the Atlantic Ocean. 

Originally, we were titling this fifth instalment ‘Dublin’, as after all, that was more or less where she was heading.

I say originally, because we have now changed our mind, and with it the direction of the tall tale being told. 

What was once a story named after a capital city is now titled with the more emotive ‘Home’.

It’s not as if ‘Dublin’ was a shackle restraining the creative process, but it did create an air of expectation that somehow it would be pivotal to the tale…  and it’s not, not now, I’ve changed my mind.

Home gives me a flexibility to drag the narrative somewhere else – and so dear reader we have done just that. 

I hope that when this instalment lands in your hands that you will enjoy it and that it will all make sense?!?!

As ever, thank you for listening, stay safe, and in paraphrasing ‘Wild Stallions’ – be excellent to each other. 

It’s a bloody horse!!!

I remember a friend of mine telling me how they’d spend hours just staring in frustration at the blank canvas in front of them, tears of impotent rage running down their cheeks. 

For years I never understood the sheer depth of that struggle – now that I write, now that I watch the cursor blinking for hour after hour in the same spot, now I get it!

Now I too know that struggle to create, not just to mark the canvas with splashes of paint, but to leave something that is truly mine, something that is a near perfect reflection of my imagination.

And, just like the artist, brush in hand, I too stand before my canvas sheet fearful that I may not get it right, that my colours will be too bland, too bright, too messy…

But if I don’t dab the paint, dawb some colour, who will ever know that my creation is indeed a horse captured in abstract majestic splendour?

And therein we add a further layer, an additional nuance to our struggle to paint – what if our art becomes Dorian Gray, discarded in an attic never to viewed?

Our imperfections, our flawed creations need to see the light of day – they need to be viewed.

And like clockwork our theme returns to the ever so predictable beginning of so very many of my musings – the near primal need to be published!

I have written.

I have created my tales.

But they are not read…

I can stand back from my canvas (like many do) and spot where the colour has accidently bled from one stroke into another, where the detail isn’t as sharp as it could be – but it is unmistakably a horse, my horse. 

A horse not by another name, but a horse clear and obvious.

I have listened to the critics how say how this art should be approached, and often, how it most certainly should not be done. 

And of the latter wisdom in abundance abounds!

A tale should NOT be long.

NEVER create a series without selling book one.

It should NOT cross genres.

A man CANNOT write from the POV of a woman.

NEVER be different…

NEVER stray out of your lane…

These rules they say are proven maxims, sacred edicts beyond debate – KNOW your place little writer!

Maybe I should know my place…

Maybe I shouldn’t. 

Pee, or get off the pot.

Excuse the crudity, but we are that tipping point moment where we need to either initiate something, or politely shuffle away into the shadows…

The books have been written, polished as much as a scribe such as I can manage, and now they need either the printer or the shredder!

Hours, untold multiples of hours have been spent expressing our imagination, creating prose, tempting fate and all those associated acts.

And, we have often stated that an unread book is tragically just paper and cryptically arranged ink smudges…

We want to offer our best version of the tale to the world.

If not our best, why are we bothering?

Help is needed, and the available avenues binary.

We can hope for professional assistance via the ‘traditional route’ of an agent and obtaining editing/creative correction as part of that relationship, or we can plough our own furrow and procure the needed attributes ourselves. 

The first option has the smallest outlay, but potentially the least artistic control.

What price artistic integrity?

Option two gives total artistic control (for better or indeed worse), but it also means to achieve such we need to gather our coins together and pay this diligent third party the worth of their hire.

And therein is part of the rub.

Lucre, filthy lucre in all its glory.

Counting coins and ambition are now locked in combat.

To achieve one thing under my own steam I must have piles of little gold coins – and these alas I do not own.

So, we either continue the thus far unsuccessful attempts at attracting a publisher to bankroll my art, or indeed we find a nice pot of gold at the end of the rainbow… 

Pride month it may indeed be, and rainbows aplenty do indeed abound – but associated pots of gold less so.

What to do, what to do?