Starless and Bible-Black – Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas

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After my previous post, it seems entirely apt to post a review, today.

Writers rely upon reviews to sell books. To spread the word. And I am conscious how bad I am at leaving reviews – mainly because I’m not very good at writing them. But I Shall Try To Do Better!

To start with, this is the review I left on Goodreads some time ago for a book that is already very well-known.

This book begins, then, full of rich, playful language as it sets the scene and gradually introduces the players.

To begin at the beginning:

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’ -and -rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea. The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfounded town are sleeping now.

I have heard poems by Dylan Thomas read by Richard Burton – the actor, not the nineteenth century explorer – and his warm, mesmeric, lilting tone suits the poetry like no other voice I could imagine. Now, I cannot read any Dylan Thomas without hearing it read in his voice.

(I want my work read like that. There is a man I know with a wonderful voice; mellifluous and rich and deep, like Burgundy and dark chocolate. Not Welsh, but very English, who I shall attempt to trick into reading one of my poems or short stories out loud, one day.)

So, to the poem, or play, if you will, for it is a play, first and foremost, told as a prose poem. The play is full of wonderful voices, the voices of a plethora of small-town characters; all of them realistically drawn with their dreams and vices and foibles, and depicted with great humour, but also with sadness. Sadness, for there is resolution for most of the characters, and for some their dreams come true, but others are disappointed.

All of these characters love and hate and desire each other, they reminisce, they have ambitions. In this play, they all have their day. In this place, each one gets to tell their story, or have it told for them.

From the very beginning, the language is rich like double cream and brandy butter; too rich, perhaps, for certainly by the time I had begun to near the end it had become too much. I found myself yearning for more plain, simple language. I wanted a few bread and water phrases.

But the words invite you to savour them slowly – in fact, they demand it. Perhaps the secret, then, is to read this little and often; to dip into it and immerse yourself in the language.

I really wanted to give this masterpiece four and half stars out of five, but without that option, I give it five, although with the caveat above.

Stories From Anywhere

I am proud to announce…Tah…Rah!! A book of short stories from Tunbridge Wells Writers.

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My regular reader may be interested to learn that the collection includes a fairly long short story of mine, World’s End, and I’m reasonably proud to point out that the cover is also designed by me.

A dozen stories in total, this is available at the moment as a paperback on Amazon (the link is here), and it will be published as an e-book on Kindle fairly soon. Once it is, I’ll put up a new post.

From the blurb on Amazon…Twelve writers, twelve stories. From intrigue in Colombia to bizarre adventures in Italy, from an unusual protest to a prison break in Chile. Get ready for an exciting journey with this collection from Tunbridge Wells Writers… 

The Collector

Inspiration, writers’ block, ideas…I could write about all or any of these topics. Instead, I thought I’d simply post another poem – plus, of course, a picture (with far better weather than we’re having here) – and let it do the job instead.

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I’m a collector of images long stored in my memory,

A desert inferno of razor-sharp rocks.

A mountain breeze rippling an icy cold puddle,

Thick mists and thin soups, flowers, trains, and old shoes.

 

I’m a collector of memories, both mine and ones borrowed,

The harrowing journey, the lovers’ first kiss.

There’s betrayal and loyalty, flatulence, hope,

There’s a child being born, and a wolf at the door.

 

I’m a collector of stories, the stranger the better,

Believable, odd, and ridiculous too.

Close to home or historical, alien, fanciful,

Some to keep secret and some I can tell.

 

I’m a collector of moonbeams and of chance reflections,

A collector of sadness and bittersweet pain.

A collector of strangely shaped stones in a circle,

And dreams that tell stories I don’t understand.

 

Words

We use words all the time. There is a bottomless well of words, a huge mountain of them. There is a never-ending supply of words. Like anything else that is all around us and that we take for granted, we waste words because we see them never running out.

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We never think we have to watch them carefully, but words can teach and inform, or they can conceal and perpetuate lies.

Words can wound or words can heal.

Words can speak to people half a world away, or be whispered into someone’s ear.

Words can bring down governments and send the world to war, and words can bring people together and heal divisions.

Words can soothe troubled minds and words can reopen old wounds.

Words are powerful weapons and words are a lover’s touch.

Words are laughter and words are bitter tears.

Words are pleasure and words are torment.

Words are just…words, but…

The wise use words carefully, for they may have consequences far beyond the intention of the user.

The Assassin’s Garden

My mood is strongly affected by the environment, and this will naturally influence my writing.

Although it is obviously not necessary to recreate exactly the conditions of the story I might be writing, it certainly helps if the mood of where I am matches that of the environment I am writing about.

During the years I lived in a desert environment, for example, I never once wrote a story about whaling in Antarctic waters.

Today is grey, cold, basically miserable. To sit and work on my India novel is, quite frankly, impossible. Instead I have been re-working some of ‘The Assassin’s Garden

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The Assassin’s Garden‘ is the working title of the novel I have been writing for almost 5 years, now, and which got overtaken when I had the inspiration for ‘Making Friends with the Crocodile‘, and couldn’t be much more different. It is a complex tale, with a timeline that begins in Medieval Persia, passing through Mogul India to Victorian England, back to Victorian India, and then England again. It is (obviously!) a historical story, which also has strong elements of detective story and Gothic horror/fantasy.

I don’t really know which genre it truly fits into. Perhaps it needs a new one.

Proto-historic-goth-punk, perhaps.

As it stands, it is well over 100,000 words long, and may well end up being split into two or even three separate books.

Perhaps it is time that I finally completed it.

In other news (switch to picture of newsreader staring earnestly into camera, serious look on face, effect ruined only by line of kittens dancing a can-can in the background), I’m finding it quite difficult to sort out my Print On Demand edition of ‘Making Friends with the Crocodile’, and have now decided to switch printing companies (oh what fun).

I know I’m not the only writer who just enjoys writing the stories, but hates all of the publishing and publicity sides of the business – I am just not a businessman in any sense of the word; I dislike doing it and find it difficult. It also goes completely against my nature to go around saying ‘My book is fantastic, you must buy it now!’

Unfortunately, if there is a button I can press on the computer after I have finished writing the book, labelled ‘format, publish, promote and sell’ I’ve not noticed it yet.

The Past is Another Country…

…they do things differently there (L.P.Hartley )

Almost 20 years ago I was a care-worker, paying visits to support elderly folk who were, for various reasons, unable to cope on their own. I would provide support in a number of ways – cooking, washing and dressing,and cleaning, for example.

One man I visited quite often would talk a lot about his younger days – as is natural. He had a wealth of stories, and I always told him he should get someone to write them down. It is the ordinary person’s stories that are frequently the most interesting, and the ones that we usually don’t hear. Famous politicians, sports stars, movie stars…well, they write autobiographies, or have them written for them, and we hear all about the other famous people they knew and the hotels they stayed in…yawn, yawn, yawn.

But we hear far less about the family in the village 80 years ago, their day to day life and how the outside world impacted upon them.

Below, there is a photo of London Road, just outside of Tunbridge Wells, taken earlier today.

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My client told me that during his youth, he would walk back along this road after an evening out in town, describing how there was nothing but open fields on both sides for much of the walk. Looking at it now, it is hard to picture that, since I have never known it any way other than how it looks now.

But prior to this, in his childhood, he lived in the village of Groombridge, on the other side of Tunbridge Wells, and he told me how, as a schoolboy during the First World War, he and his classmates ran out of the class one day and across a field, to see a German Zeppelin airship that had just been shot down.

It is stories like this, that are the genuinely interesting stories that come out of the past.

And for my large Work In Progress, the past really is a foreign country. Much of it is set in Persia and India, in a time frame that covers some 300 years up until the late 19th century.

Now, I was about to write that if it is difficult for me to picture the main road near where I live as it was some 50 to 75 years ago, then it is far more difficult for me to picture the places in India and Persia where and when I have set my novel, but then I realised that this is not actually true.

And so this post is now taking a turn that I had not expected when I sat down to write it.

The Indian capital at the time was at Fatehpur Sikri, which today is just the remains of those buildings – it was only occupied for some 22 years, and then abandoned. I have visited the site and walked around it, and it is quite easy to imagine it occupied by Akhbar, his court, and the general population.

I have never been to Persia (modern day Iran), so my impressions are formed only at second hand. And much of what I have read consists of works about the 1500’s, and I am familiar with many of the paintings of the period, so again it seems almost natural to imagine it as it was then.

And then when I have travelled in India, as well as in the Middle East, I have spent a lot of time visiting the old parts of the towns and cities, and many rural areas where life follows the same patterns that it has for hundreds of years, and so, again, it seems more natural to picture the settings for my book in those time periods that concern me.

Finally, researching these areas, I often come across old black and white photos of places of interest to me, and since I have not been there, they are the only impression of these places that I have.

Of course, Tunbridge Wells in the Victorian era is much harder for me to visualise. All of the modern buildings get in the way of my imagination. All of the roads are surfaced with tarmac, the open spaces have largely gone, and many parts of the common that used to be open and windswept are now covered in trees.

On a slightly different note….

As a project, I occasionally take photos in sepia of the area around where I live, as though they might have been taken about 80 years ago – around the time that my elderly client was walking along the London Road, winds blowing across the fields either side of him, and the only light from the moon. Each photo that I take has something in it to show that it was taken recently though, rather than a long time ago, such as a modern vehicle, a modern street lamp, road markings, or modern windows. The shot below is an example.

Holden Pond

Easy to feel that it might be taken in 1930.