4 minutes reading time (853 words)

CONTRARY CRAITUR

So much to do! But how much worse to be bored!

Three pamphlets are now at the press: everyday festival must be about to come back, with the other two not far behind. Flyers are done for these three.

So much to do! But how much worse to be bored!

Three pamphlets are now at the press: everyday festival must be about to come back, with the other two not far behind. Flyers are done for these three.

Now the HappenStance subscriber list needs updating to make sure everyone gets the next mailshot and the sticky labels have the right addresses on them! Although I love sending things to people, I somewhat dread the time it takes to do the practical business of putting things into envelopes, stamping them and seeing them on their way.

The new PoemCards - a set of six, also available individually - should also go to Dolphin Press this week. It looks very simple: one poem on a card. But I have been dithering with it all summer: the design, the shape of the card, the final envelopes (green), the size of the things. After all this, the trouble is you can't really see them yourself any more.

It's very interesting selecting poems to go onto cards too. Some excellent poems don't seem to me to work in this context - that is to say, I wouldn't want them sitting on my breakfast table. Others, which at first seem relatively slight, work beautifully on a card. It's a bit like Poems in the Waiting Room: there are poems you would welcome while sitting in a hospital waiting room, and those you definitely would not. You want the sort of poem that makes the reader's face light up slightly at the end, but one that also makes them think, makes them want to go back to the poem over and over.

Meanwhile, Sphinx is gradually being assembled in the background too, as are the triplicate reviews. I want to get some of these onto the archive as soon as possible. They are ready. I just haven't quite had the time (oh time, where are you?) to finalise and publish them.

Have been working my way through the STORY competition entries also. There were fewer than last year but more than the first year. The standard varies less dramatically than it did last year. A lot of stories sitting firmly in the middle of not-great-but-not-bad. Very few that are outstandingly creaky. Two (so far) are re-entries (I remember them well from last year). Alas, they won't win this year either. One story was entered twice at different times (curiously reassuring that other people can get confused - this is the sort of thing I might have done myself).

When reading your way through a set of story entries, you think long and hard what makes one work and another not work. There are obvious things, of course. One of the easy weaknesses to spot is the huge swathes of 'back' information, clumsily patched in, all of it in the past perfect: 'She had met Roberto when they were on holiday in Andalusia. She had been eighteen. He had been twenty-five. It had been a marriage made in heaven. They had had no idea then how magical etc etc etc'.

It's very hard to read stories with no paragraph indents, and lots of people don't bother with them. It wouldn't stop a good one working, of course, but it makes a middle-of-the-range one much harder work.

But it's not the plot. It's not the characters. It's not anything you can exactly put your finger on that makes beautiful prose do the job. But when it's there - that easy control of style and phrasing - you just read. It's like looking through a clean window. You're not aware of the glass when the writing is good. Or it's like a surfer, when the movement of the little human being on the board is so elegant, so assured, so easy that you forget the unstable waves and the whole difficult world beneath.

I was reading Alice Munro earlier in the summer. She's a superb short story writer, of course, and everybody know that. But the quality of her writing is so clean and pure. It's like drinking water from the source. Sometimes I don't even like her plots. Sometimes her plots are almost not there. But the way she writes is such a pleasure.

In the background, I'm still working on William Soutar, who was a marvellous prose writer, of course, as well as poet. He didn't know how good he was. Here's a bit from June 6, 1932:

The mind is a most contrairy craitur -- today it turns as if on ball-bearings, to-morrow the wheels are like fretting mill-stones with iron filings between them -- rusty at that. But that sudden pulse of joy when you are jogging along and suddenly are lifted up as on a wave-crest of life. So with the words -- those drab, peeping sparrows which, in an instant, clap their rainbow wings and soar up singing.

Autumn
Berries
 

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Friday, 23 August 2019