Sunday, 9 October 2011

Doing It Like Priestley

Just got back from the Faversham Hops Festival - a glorious, English end to the summer indeed. Faversham is a lovely old town in the heart of the 'Garden of England', the county of Kent, and it took no more than a couple of hours to get there on a red London bus. To while away the journey I revisited J. B. Priestly's Good Companions, which I'd downloaded to my for the purpose.

The Good Companions has a fascinating history since Priestly wrote it at a time when he was worn down with tragedy - the effects of the First World War, the death of his young and beautiful wife from cancer and the loss of his Father, tragically early at the age of 56. A single dad, trying desperately to pay the bills and bring up two daughters alone, Priestly would not have been able to take the time out to write the book were it not for the supreme generosity of his friend Walpole. Walpole, knowing that Priestly would be too proud to accept a gift of a year's salary, although he was wealthy enough to give it, instead suggested they collaborate on a book. Priestly agreed, and on these terms, Walpole donated his share of the royalties as a gift so that The Good Companions could be written.

'The Good Companions' turned out to be the book that Priestly called 'the only one I could have written at the time'. He quite literally wrote himself out of misery, with this charming tale that breaks all the publishers' rules - much too long, multiple protagonists, long rambling plot, feel-good ending. Incidentally, Priestly's knowledge of the forgotten corners of England during the Great Depression of the 1930s, all to familiar in our current credit crisis, shines through.

I love it.

Thoroughly unflattering but an essential part of the day...

My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart concealing it will break 
  William Shakespeare, Taming of the Shrew


Sunday, 2 October 2011

Banbury Cross

Superb day out in Banbury. This charming market town was made famous in an old English nursery rhyme:

Ride a cock horse
To Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady
Upon a white horse.
Rings on her fingers
And bells on her toes
She shall have music
Wherever she goes

The cock horse was a strong horse, perhaps a bit like one of these beautiful fellows. He would have been harnessed to one's carriage when it needed extra help to pull it up a steep hill, and then unharnessed at the top, to return to his bag of hay until the next carriage came along.

After staring up at the decorated stone cross which soars above the town, I descended to the water's edge for the canal boat festival.

The canal was packed out with local people and visitors, all enjoying the hottest October day since records began, hotter than Barcelona and New York.

I really want to keep the creative well stocked because I'm working so hard on two novels at different stages and I'm in desperate danger of disappearing somewhere in the swamp of their unresolved plots. Decided to try daily Haiku. I got this idea when I was studying for my degree with the Open University. The point of the haiki is to get daily practice at focussing on a single creative thought.

Banbury Canal Day
Barges festooned with flowers
Floating in the sun

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Creative Integrity - Last Stand or Last Breath?

Good grief, what a week we've had here in London.  On the one hand, the final section of the last ever Harry Potter film premiered to riotous but peaceful success in theatre land. Fans young and not so young swarmed into the 'West End' of the city. They dressed up, they sat on the lions in Trafalgar Square and generally made no trouble at all.

On the other, Wapping Station stands deserted in the wake of the 'News of the World' phone hacking scandal which grew daily. The senior staff were declared to be the 'No. 1 Priority', while 200 or so clerical  and portering staff in the paper's offices in Wapping lost their employment. Wapping's not a rich part of London - at one time it was the site of the great London shipping trade. Fortunes were made from trade and export then, but not by the local people. They're not likely to prosper out of the demise of a newspaper empire either.

That's before we even start to consider the victims of this alleged atrocity - the families of murdered children, bereaved parents of serving soldiers, the Royal family - how the list grows and grows. Well, the truth pf it all will come out sooner or later.

It is, of course, easy to be sanctimonious after the event, and perhaps this is the moment to take stock, and ask if there's anything I am currently doing, or paying lip service to, 'because everyone else does.'

One thing I do remember is that J. K. Rowling, a decade or so ago, was ridiculed by some of the very journalists who now have time on their hands.  Rowling's crime? She stuck to her guns about what she would, and would not, put in her books. She was choosy about sponsors, about merchandising, caring more about the content of young minds than about money.  Yet what riches it brought her, in the end.

Jennifer Pittam is a winner of Coast to Coast Writing Competition and is working on her second novel.