Thomas Hardy experiments with some adventurous punctuation: https://soundcloud.com/bbc-radio-4/that-mitchell-and-webb-sound
What prompts a story in your imagination?
What on earth is the story here? A broken romance, so painful that not even the padlock must remain on the bridge? A padlock made of gold? A vital message scratched on one? And why delegate the finding of this lock to someone else?
Historic events are often tragic but can form the setting for so many stories.
On 21 August 1968 the armies of the Warsaw Pact invaded their partner in the socialist bloc, Czechoslovakia. Thus ended the hopes of the Prague Spring, and then came ‘normalisation’ (Orwell would have been proud of that neologism), which put the Czechs and Slovaks back in their place behind the Iron Curtain for the two decades until 1989.
Two novels published this month focus on these terrible events. There will be several others!
Prague Spring is by Simon Mawer (author of the remarkable novel The Glass Room, reviewed on this blog at https://ninevoices.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/the-glass-room-revisited/). Two English students, Ellie and James, are hitch-hiking in Europe and are in Czechoslovakia at the key time, while Sam Wareham, working at the British Embassy in Prague, much in the company of Czech student Lenka Konecková, is discovering the world of Czechoslovak youth. But the Russian tanks are assembling … (Published by Little, Brown; ISBN 9781408711156)
Broken Sea: A story of love and intolerance is by Nigel Peace. It’s a love story set against the background of 1968. 18-year-old Roy has met Czech student in Wales and falls in love, but she feels she must return home. Their love develops, but can it last? Lives are so changed by the events of 1968, and are too many things kept secret? (Published by Local Legend; ISBN 9781910027233)
At this date fifty years ago I was staying with a German family in Bielefeld in West Germany. I recall vividly their alarm at the news of the invasion: would the Russians stop at the Czechoslovak border or carry on into West Germany? Fortunately for my hosts they stopped.
If you’re interested in the politics of it all, there’s a 12-minute piece on Radio Prague about the negotiations between Dubček and Brezhnev in the period leading up to 21 August – go to https://www.radio.cz/en/section/czech-history/kieran-williams-a-week-before-the-invasion-dubcek-still-believed-he-had-time.
During numerous visits to the London hospitals, I have found the apostrophe comes in many guises: Guys, Guy’s, Guys’ – poor Guy must be turning in his grave.
St Thomas, St Thomas’s, St Thomas.’
St Thomas is interesting. The ‘s’ is present in the name so presumably the apostrophe would go after the ‘s.’ But, and here’s the rub, should an ‘s’ be added, hence St Thomas’s? After all, it is usual to write Margaret Davies’s house.
I believe David Crystal has said that as Jesus is universally and historically known, no extra ‘s’ is required, hence Jesus’ disciples.
Does St Thomas have similar status?
In any case, whoever is sitting in an office at St Thomas’ or Guy’s Hospital, please apply some consistency.
A frustrated patient.
Noticed this today as I drove past. The Old Post Office is, of course, no longer a Post Office, but lots of luxury flats. What are chances that its modern equivalent would take such care to put the proper apostrophe in “Postmen’s”?
Of course, nowadays it would have to be “Postal Workers’ Entrance”. Or more probably: “Staff Only”.
‘Make your nasty characters ten times nastier,’ advised the creative writing tutor. ‘Readers want strong definition so exaggerate the light and dark.’
She had a point. Even if you aren’t writing crime novels, it’s no good running away from the evil side of human nature. But it’s July 18th, the day that Jane Austen died 201 years ago, and I found myself remembering the careful subtlety of the unpleasant characters in her novels, such as Mrs Ferrars, Lucy Steele, General Tilney, Mrs Norris. Jane Austen never goes over the top.
If asked who we hate most, many of us would probably opt for Mrs Norris, the horrible aunt in Mansfield Park, because of the way she bullies Fanny Price, the terrified little girl taken away from her own family and Portsmouth home to live with her grand relations. Her vindictive spite continues to find fresh expression in the years that follow, but it’s the abuse of a defenceless child that we can’t forgive. Mrs Norris is both loathsome and entirely convincing: we know her. If Jane Austen had overdone Mrs Norris’ awfulness, she might have slid into a caricature and become less real.
Re-reading Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, I could see the same elegant restraint in the portrayal of the corrupt and manipulative Gilbert Osmond. We shiver because we see the trap Isabel has walked into, but it is not until chapter 42 that we know what she is suffering: ‘… it was as if Osmond deliberately, almost malignantly, had put the lights out one by one … under all his culture, his cleverness, his amenity, under his good-nature, his facility, his knowledge of life, his egotism lay hidden like a serpent in a bank of flowers.’ Her real offence ‘was her having a mind of her own at all. Her mind was to be his – attached to his own …’
In my mind, Gilbert Osmond and the sadistic, chilling Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt, husband of Gwendolen in George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (described in the ninevoices post Emotional abuse from a monster husband – and a complex fascinating heroine) now tie for first place as the most hateful men in literature, while Mrs Norris is still without a serious female rival. But this is perhaps from a sheltered and limited viewpoint. What other fictional characters do we fear and hate?
On Saturday mornings my other half and I usually stroll into Tunbridge Wells. It’s a pleasant walk alongside the Common and in spring there’s the glory of the municipal daffodils.
Yet on each journey I am affronted, disgusted even, by the lack of an apostrophe on the sign for Major York’s Road. I expect better from Royal Tunbridge Wells.
Should such things bug me? My husband doesn’t care about Major Yorks Road, yet mutters darkly about split infinitives whenever he catches me using them. He will also place exclamation marks (plural, notice) in the margins of any drafts of mine where a sentence starts with And. Other people’s blood pressure rises at mention of the Oxford Comma.
You might like to see some of our previous thoughts on this often contentious subject.
As writers we surely have a duty to defend our wonderful language and how it’s placed on the page. However, knowing what is correct, but deliberately bending the rules, can be excusable, and hopefully creative.
So, on that question of split infinitives, let me share something George Bernard Shaw wrote to his publishers:
There is a busybody on your staff who devotes a lot of time to chasing split infinitives. Every good literary craftsman splits his infinitives when the sense demands it. I call for the immediate dismissal of this pedant. It is of no consequence whether he decides to go quickly, or quickly to go, or to quickly go. The important thing is that he should go at once.
Your views on grammar pedantry are welcome. Don’t be shy, we’d love to hear from you!
At a recent meeting one of our members (bless) suggested that we should have homework that we would bring to the next session. The first theme set was on being awoken by a galloping horse at 3am. Ghost stories, a wife’s revenge and a rant on royal pageantry followed. Maybe these will be developed into fully-fledged stories (not the rant). Is it a good idea? Or does it distract us from other writing?
There’s a PS to this. We’ve had two other “homeworks” since and one of our members has become a poet.
Anyone who has ever given or lent a copy of a much-loved novel to a friend is likely to be familiar with the occasional disappointing response. It might include the suggestive silence, or the apologetic, half-embarrassed ‘sorry, not my kind of thing’ or even (and this is worse!) ‘I can see why you enjoyed it, but…’
It may still surprise and even disconcert when the people we love don’t ‘get’ an author who means so much to us, but we’ve learnt not to allow this unaccountable gap to mar our friendship. It doesn’t change what we feel about them.
But comedians Kathy Burke and Tom Allen savaging Barbara Pym as ‘twee’ and ‘boring’ in a Radio 4 discussion of the novel Crampton Hodnet provoked bewilderment among Barbara Pym readers. How was it possible that these two critics had entirely missed the point of her novels?
One comment among the extensive online discussion which especially resonated was that criticism of Barbara Pym feels personal to him in a way that it doesn’t with other authors. But why should we mind when Barbara Pym is dismissed or mocked when we can shrug off adverse criticism of other authors we enjoy? Perhaps it is because Barbara Pym writes so tellingly (and with a sharp wit that is always funny but somehow never cruel) about ordinary people, dealing with the small things of life which are also the big things. Twee and boring seem to be the wrong words for such richness.
But it’s more than that. When Barbara Pym’s characters make reappearances in her later novels, it’s like being given news of old and dear friends. They have an extraordinary habit of living alongside us; in wilder moments we may even feel we are becoming one of them. No wonder an attack can hurt…