27 November 2011

Colchester on a Snowy Evening

I began to half-wheel, half-drag the bike up the hill. Hythe Hill was almost impassable at this point. It smelt of anger, inexperienced drivers and burning clutch fluid. It wasn't pleasant. At the Brook Street lights, three yobs threw snowballs at me. They missed, I suspect, only because they were drunk. All along the road to St Botolph's, still in heavy snow, I kept passing under-dressed men, cans in hands, in drunken trances. At Colchester Town station, a courting couple were having a romantic screaming match by the wall. It was eight p.m. and half of Colchester, it seemed, was already trollied.

At the Arts Centre, amazingly enough, all three performers made it in and performed to a reassuringly three-quarters full house. "Anyone in from Wivenhoe, tonight?" I asked. Answer came there none. After ten p.m., therefore, once again, Nanook of the North wheeled his bike out of the place and set off back home. The snow had stopped and the town centre now looked like a Klondike gold-rush town on payday. The tourist brochures won't tell you this stuff but someone ought to, so I will. On the Saturday before Christmas 2010, Colchester High Street was full of large teams of raucously-drunk pond-life acting as if they ran the town.

At the top of Queen Street, I caught the attention of a group of about fifteen of them. They were so drunk that they were holding each other up. One of them screamed at me: "Oi mate. Why're you on a ******* (please insert password) bike?" I called back to him, "I've just finished work. I'm trying to get home." Whilst they considered my answer, I escaped. After a perilous descent of East Hill, just past the bridge, a smaller group of idiots threw a lump of ice at me, in a further attempt to unseat me. They missed.

Now look, if we can't do anything as complex as regulating the sales of I.Q. reducing liquids to these simians, can't we at least put a couple of snipers on the Town Hall roof on Saturday nights instead? This is my modest proposal. Because there seems little point in building the new Cultural Quarter in the town unless we do so.

Martin Newell, "Deep and Crisp and Even," in The Stars on a Tray, pp.15-16

19 November 2011

The Empress of Blandings

Mingled with a victor's triumph was the chagrin of the conscientious man who sees a task but half done. That he had properly put a stopper on Impostor A was undeniable, but he had hoped also to deal faithfully with Impostor B. He was wondering if the chap was hiding somewhere and if so, where, when there came to his sensitive ear the sound of a grunt, and he realized that it had proceeded from the bathroom.

"Yoicks!" cried Lord Bosham, and if he had not been a man of action rather than words would have added "Tally-ho!" He did not pause to ask himself why impostors should grunt. He merely dashed at the bathroom door, flung it open and leaped back, his gun at the ready. There was a moment's pause, and then the Empress sauntered out, a look of mild enquiry on her face.

The Empress of Blandings was a pig who took things as they came. Her motto, like Horace's, was nil admirari. But, cool and even aloof though she was as a general rule, she had been a little puzzled by the events of the day. In particular, she had found the bathroom odd. It was the only place she had ever been in where there appeared to be a shortage of food. The best it had to offer was a cake of shaving-soap, and she had been eating this with a thoughtful frown just a short while before the door opened. As she emerged now, she was still foaming at the mouth a little and it was perhaps this that set the seal on Lord Bosham's astonishment and caused him not only to recoil a yard or two with his eyes popping but also to pull the trigger of his gun.

In the confined space the report sounded like the explosion of an arsenal, and it convinced the Empress, if she had needed to be convinced, that this was no place for a pig of settled habits. Not since she had been a slip of a child had she moved at anything swifter than a dignified walk, but now Jesse Owens could scarcely have got off the mark more briskly. It took her a few moments to get her bearings, but after colliding with the bed, the table and the armchair, in the order named, she succeeded in setting a course for the French window and was in the act of disappearing through it when Lord Emsworth burst into the room, followed by Lady Constance.

P.G. Wodehouse, Uncle Fred In The Springtime, pp.194-195

18 November 2011

The Panda Story

This panda walked into a tea shop and ordered a salad and ate it. Then it pulled out a pistol, shot the man at the next table dead, and walked out. Everyone rushed after it, shouting, "Stop! Stop! Why did you do that?"

"Because I'm a panda," said the panda. "That's what pandas do. If you don't believe me, look in the dictionary."

So they looked in the dictionary and sure enough they found Panda: Raccoon-like animal of Asia. Eats shoots and leaves.

Ursula LeGuin, Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew, p.35

11 November 2011

"an art, a craft, a making"

Once we're keenly and clearly aware of certain elements of prose writing, and certain techniques and modes of storytelling, we can use and practice them until--the point of all the practice--we don't have to think about them consciously at all, because they have become skills.

A skill is something you know how to do.

Skill in writing frees you to write what you want to write. It may also show you what you want to write. Craft enables art.

There's luck in art. There's the gift. You can't earn that. You can't deserve it. But you can learn skill, you can earn it. You can learn to deserve your gift.

I'm not going to discuss writing as self-expression, as therapy, or as a spiritual adventure. It can be these things; but first of all--and in the end, too--it is an art, a craft, a making. To make something well is to give yourself to it, to seek wholeness, to follow spirit. To learn to make something well can take your whole life. It's worth it.

LeGuin, p.xi