unwriterly advice

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In the bestseller written by Elizabeth Strout called My Name is Lucy Barton, the protagonist idealises another writer called Sarah Payne. That’s a long sentence. I’ll break it down.

Elizabeth Strout is Lucy Barton is Sarah Payne. ‘All life amazes me,’ is the last line in the book. And in the Buddhist world we all are each other (until we reject the illusion of Suchness and reach the shore of Nirvana, which isn’t really a shore and isn’t really Nirvaha, but the Great Void, which isn’t nothingness, or much of suchness either).

Elizabeth Strout >Lucy Barton> Sarah Payne (all writers, fictional and real).

Here’s the advice from one of them, or all of them. Take it with a lump of suchness.

‘And I think sometimes of Sarah Payne…how exhausted she became, teaching. And I think how she spoke of the fact that we only have one story, and I think I don’t know what her story was or is.’  

Writers that teach aren’t writers that write. In a way they’re second class. Writers that can’t write, teach, sutra.  More than that, teaching leaches the goodness out of Sarah Payne’s (pain’s) soul, so she can’t write. Discuss?

In terms of economics that’s true. The economic cost of doing something is not doing something else. When we do one thing, we can’t do the other. Although, of course, our bookshelves groan with learned professors. Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Caroll), C.S Lewis, J.R.R Tolkien and  Umberto Eco, for example, that teach and write. That’s the exception to the rule argument.

Is it an exception or is it a rule?

Nobody has asked me to teach and nobody asks me to write. But usually when I read a novel in which the protagonist is a writer or librarian (Stephen King’s protagonists are often writers) then I groan.

This ties in with the one story I continually write and rewrite. And in these fictional worlds none of my protagonists are writers. For a good example of a writer that continually writes the same story, his characters having different haircuts – think Irvine Welsh after Trainspotting. And he’s not even Welsh. He’s Scottish like me and tends to write about characters that think writers are well up themselves and should come down and get fucking at it. And I’m not even a fan of Irvine Welsh, I prefer Stephen King. And I’m not a fan of him either. The problem of being a writer talking about writing is to most folk it’s fucking boring and shows a lack of imagination. I’m a connoisseur because all I do is write and read stuff. I’m an exception to the rule, which isn’t a rule.  

The historian and writer Robert A. Caro nailed it when he was talking about writing and farming and how you need to pick up the vocabulary and live it to appreciate it fully. There are two ways of learning, lived experience or reading about it. I tend towards the latter. Writers have their noses pressed against a keyboard. If you want to talk about  The Snow Leopard live it like Peter Matthiessen and your vocabulary will be rich as buffalo shit, or watch David Attenborough and leave extreme environments to other writers that are less desk-bound.

If we only have one story, I’ve not perfected it yet. Maybe I never will, not in this lifetime. The secret of good writing is the secret of bad writing. You need to keep repeating the same mistakes again and again until you move on to a higher plane and realise none of it matters. And you must carry this secret into your next story.

Here’s Lucy Barton pondering the nature of time.

I think of Jeremy telling me I had to be ruthless as a writer. And I think how I did not go visit my brother and sister and my parents because I was always working on a story and there was never enough time. (But I didn’t want to go either.) There was never enough time, and then later I knew if I stayed in my marriage I would not write another book, not the kind I wanted to, and there is that as well. But really, the ruthlessness, I think, comes in grabbing onto myself, in saying: This is me…

The ultimate truth in Buddhahood is understanding and appreciating the permanent nature of eternity. The starting point is self. Arthur Miller was willing to concede that Timebends and all things may fall away, but he was going to write about them anyway. His one true story, was many storied.  

‘What writer makes money?’ Lucy Barton asks.

Certainly not me. Or 99% of other writers. I guess it’s an occupation that’s not an occupation, that’s doomed to failure for the masses.

‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad/They may not mean to but they do.’ Philip Larkin writes This Be The Verse.

Lucy Barton writes about writing about her family. ‘I kept thinking how the five of us had had a really unhealthy family, but I saw them too how our roots were twisted so tenaciously around one another’s hearts. My husband said, “But you don’t even like them.”

Any writer knows, nice people are boring. Their great secret is they’ve got nothing to hide. Molla tells Lucy Barton what we already know. For every Jesus we need a Judas.  

‘You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about your story. You only have one.’

Molla hasn’t got a secret. Lucy Barton has, she’s a writer.

A writer’s job is the same as Buddah’s, to hold every moment and to let it go, simultaneously. Here is Lucy Barton watching her dad, inhabiting him.

I remember only watching my father’s face so high above me, and I saw his lips become reddish with that candied apple that he ate because he had to…

And I remember this: he was interested in what he was watching. He had an interest in it.

Pay attention. Here’s Sarah Payne the writer giving Lucy Barton some advice about writing what you want to write, but the real advice comes at the end after rallying against stupid people that fail to understand.

‘Never ever defend your work.’   

It seems counterintuitive, but even a fool you don’t like can point out you’ve got your shoes on the wrong feet. In my writing it happens to me all the time. Insight is not a closed gate, but a gate you must leave open. Pay attention to your faults. Then with good karma you may not repeat them indefinitely. It’s nothing personal.

At the end of all lifetimes is the question a disgruntled admirer asks Sarah Payne.

He said, “What is your job as a writer of fiction?”

And she said that her job as a writer of fiction was to report on the human condition, to tell us who we are and what we think and what we do.

Amen. Go forth and multiply words.  

Clydesider’s Cuppa with Irvine Welsh, Issue 1, Summer Edition.

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I liked Charlie Sherry’s interview with Irvine Welsh, and I talked about it with him on my mobile. I’m not a great man for phones.  Boy can Charlie talk. Irvine Welsh probably never got a word in.  But one thing stuck with me the last few days and it’s not the Renton quote from Trainspotting, which I’ve some sympathy with, ‘It really is shite being Scottish.’ Nor is it Welsh’s upbeat message, ‘Scots now have a positive can-do attitude which bodes well for the future’.  That’s the equivalent of telling your granny, ‘you’re looking great’, when you know she’s going to peg it at any minute. What struck with me was Welsh’s aphorism ‘it’s not so much what they’ve done, but what they’ve destroyed’.

‘I don’t think you can be a real crofter unless you have the Gaelic’ says Donald MacSween a crofter from the Hebridean island of Ness, in Joanna Bigg’s,  All Day Long, A Portrait of Britain at Work.

Similarly, I don’t think you can be a Tory unless you’re a selfish cunt. Dress it up as Theresa May type  lamb in sheep’s clothing when they start talking about caring and compassionate Conservatism. Look at the honours list: George Osborne. I’m all for law and order, take mummy’s money away, daddy’s money away,  horse whip him and send his children to live in Ferguslie Park, in perpetuity, for the damage he’s done to the poor and sick of this nation.  I’ve a nephew that I found out was gay. Nobody asked my opinion. If they did I’d have said I don’t care what you do with your fiddly bits. But when I heard he’d voted Tory, well, that really did disappoint me.   It shows an indecent lack of imagination, a lack of empathy.

Britain is a good place to be rich. Eton educated, Lord Summerlayton, Hugh Crossley, a hereditary lord, who inherited a 5000-acre estate in Suffolk agrees. He tells you how hard he works, the estate wasn’t profitable and how difficult it is being part of Britain’s cultural industry. What he doesn’t mention is what subsidies he and his father and his father and his father before him received and continue to receive. But one great positive from Thatcherism on was the ability to tell us how it is and being able to talk about ‘welfare junkies’.

‘We don’t have savings’ (we do have debts), says Rachelle Monte, a care worker in Newcastle. ‘Anybody can walk into a job in home care’. In the 1980s local authorities contracted out care and the big three equity firms, Allied Health, Care Watch and Care UK brought in their own ideas of flexible working. Check out Sooz’s diaries. They detail exactly how it works from the management perspective.  Minimum wage is the maximum wage. Overtime is mandatory, but unpaid. Travelling time is unpaid. Keeping a car on the road is unpaid. Mobile phones are unpaid. But you do pay for your uniform. It’s a lifetime ago when my mum was something called a home-help, remember then? Three hours a day with a particular client and there was an out roar when that was cut to two.  Four percent of the population, almost four million people, rely on carers every day.

Tres Cosas campaigned for three things we have outsourced to firms like Balfour Beatty, who have moved sideway, vertical integration, from building houses to the profitable business of acting as a middle man and hiring out cleaners to institutions such as the University of London: ‘sick pay; pensions; paid holiday’.

Who wins? Rich folk.

Who loses? Poor folk.

Who pays for it? All of us.

Renton was partially right. It really is shite being poor. And Irvine Welsh is right, ‘it’s not so much what they’ve done, but what they’ve destroyed.’ Privatisation of schools, hospitals, libraries and health care is a sure way to keep us in our place and knowing our place in the world.

James Kelman (1998) How Late it Was, How Late

How Late it Was, How Late won the Booker Prize on its publication in 1994. It was a controversial verdict. Rabbi Julia Neauberger one of the judges is quoted as saying, ‘Frankly, it’s crap’ and threatened to resign from the panel if it won. Written in Glasgow dialect and telling the story of Sammy who did a bit of stealing, did a bit of time and has become blind after taking a hammering from the cops that arrest him, I don’t think it’s crap, but without knowing what else was up for the prize that year I wouldn’t have voted for it. I started reading it a few times, the language is familiar to me, as are many of the places, but I couldn’t really get into it. But I did finish it at the third attempt and I don’t want you to think it was a chore, because it wisnae, but neither was it a joy.

‘Yeah know the auld saying: life goes on. Sammy made it across the flats; it wasnay a scoosh case; he battled it out; he went for it and made it. So there you go and that’s that. Plus Helen hadnay come back. He knew it as soon as he stepped out of the lift. The fucking wind blowing in from the corridor as usual.’

Helen works as a barmaid in Quinn’s Bar and is Sammy’s partner. Sammy’s already been married and has a son Peter, who appears with his pal Keith to take some photos of the injuries Sammy suffered at the hands of the police or ‘sodjers’. That was Ally’s idea, he’s on a third of whatever compensation Sammy might win from the Sight Loss Department of Central Medical. Ally is an unofficial welfare right’s officer, the kind that many of us knew in the late eighties, a know-it-all that for a wee bit would help people fill in forms and get what they were entitled to and frequently werenae. He’s an expert in the system and humanity, bit of a pest and Sammy plays along with him even when he turns up at Helen’s flat at 5 am because he figures Sammy is one of those people that doesn’t sleep much, who lives on their nerves, much as Ally does when he starts washing Sammy’s dishes because it gives him something to do and helps him think. Sammy had to tell Ally to fuck off, but even that doesnae work. The threat of violence wouldnae work either, so Sammy plays canny and just lets Ally get on with it, even though he’s no intention of playing along. That’s the best way to get rid of him. Knowing people like Ally and knowing how the buroo worked as social satire it also just doesnae work, but I’d give it an A for effort, even though effort begins with an E.  Finding Helen with a H is an entirely different kettle of fish. She might just turn up. Then again she might not. When he goes to Quinn’s Bar to find out what might and what might not have happened, he’s flung out and is none the wiser. Being blind is most folk’s biggest fear. Sammy doesn’t let it get him down. He just soldiers on, regardless.

It takes immense courage to write in dialect and the number of rejection letters from publishers would be exponential to yer ordinary, proper English dialect. Kelman, Alasdair Gray, and more recently Irvine Welsh, to name a few, have taken on the establishment and won. Like Sammy they have shown immense courage rooted in who they are and who they arenae, for those that don’t like them, like Rabbi whatever the fuck, fuck them. The iconoclasts are better men than me, but I’m a better man for having read them.

 

Filth, Film4, 10.40pm (Jon S Baird 2013)

I didn’t watch this film all the way through. I got to the bit where Detective Sergeant, Bruce Robertson, (James McAvoy) of Lothian Police force looks in the mirror and sees the image of a pig.  Pig, filth, black comedy. Gettit? I turned the telly over and watched the end of the Liverpool game. That was exciting. The truth is I don’t know what truth is. But I don’t really need to see the end of the film to know what happens. Writers have a tendency to write the same thing over and over and over again. Some of them get rather good at it. They win prizes, they win awards, they become rich. Irvine Welsh is I guess a rich man (compared to me most men are rich, those that aren’t tend to shop at the foodbank). This film had four different blocks of producers flashing up on screen flinging money at the same old, same old shite.

Let’s go back to Trainspotting. ‘The sweat was lashing oafay Sick Boy; he was trembling…Ah tried to keep ma attention oan the Jean-Claude Van Damme video.’

Drug taking [tick]

Violence [tick]

Sex [tick]

Black comedy, what the fuck does that mean, yah stupid radge cunt? Just fuck off out of my face [visage] or I’ll stick the heid on yeh.

There was something gallus about Trainspotting. Irvine Welsh knows his music and he knows his drugs and he knows he’s slightly dyslexic and he knows he’ll not get published because nobody publishes shite in the common argot of arsehole from the lowest place on the planet, a junkies arse.

So Mark Renton/Rentboy has got his hit, but it’s not injectable form he’d hoped, but an opium suppsitory. Anyone that had seen the film knows what happens to Ewan MacGregor next. ‘Ah whip oaf my keks and sit on the wet porcelain shunky. An empty my guts, feeling as if everything; bowel, stomach, intestines, spleen, liver, kidneys, heart, lungs and fucking brains are aw falling through my arsehole intae the bowl.’

It’s not often that the film is better than the book. Ben Hur is an epic example of that. I’d guess Trainspotting the film is better because Irvine Welsh wasn’t the screenwriter. In Filth, there’s a little in-joke the Chief Inspector doesn’t do any police work because he’s too busy in his office writing screen plays. Gettit? Shite.

Trainspotting was a phenomena and cash cow.  Ewan McGregor got to fucking play with lightsabers in Star Wars and the force was with him and to a lesser extent Robbie Carlyle is Begbie and Kelly McDonald is Kelly McDonald. Peter Mullan was a bit part player in the film but no plastic bronze medal, Hollywood for him too. Closer to home Spud, Ewen Bremmer, got to play a cop in Line of Duty. Gail, Shirley Henderson, seems to be in every Irvine Welsh production since then. In Filth, she’s not so much an object of lust, but an object of dirty phone calls from Detective Sergeant Robinson that has been called into to deal with the dirty phone calls, and dear old Shirley Henderson, who plays the same slightly deranged character in each play/film/movie is called to revel in the lust and take the sting out of it by rolling in the dirty with the dirty cunt that’s phoning her and thereby unmanning the man. Gettit. Shite. I’ve not mentioned Sick Boy yet, Jonny Lee Miller. Sick Boy in Trainspotting ‘It seemed, for women, that fucking was just something you did wi Sick Boy, like talking of drinking tea wi other punters’. Sick Boy was played by Jonny Lee Miller. And as we all know his cast off, and former spouse was Angelina Jolie. What a brilliant piece of casting by Danny Boyle. But it was Trainspotting rather than the critically acclaimed Shallow Grave that made his reputation.

Now we’re getting a Trainspotting 2. Shite. Back to Filth. No, I’ll not bother. You watch it if you want. But if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.