Saturday, 14 July 2007

Join me in Headlong Hall

My favourite place in the world is the inside of my own head and the older I get the more time I spend there. It is, above all, the one place in the world where you cannot be got at; the ultimate freedom. The room in which you have chosen all the furniture, the pictures and the books. Shut your eyes, kick off your body’s boots and you can go wherever you like, do whatever -literally - you have a mind to do.
There is even a little workshop at the back where you can rebuild conversations, including the things you would have said, if only you had thought about it at the time.

I had a friend, Kenny the Creature who abandoned his surname as unnecessary baggage and who came to the Isle of Angelsey every year in his horse drawn caravan. He used to insist it wasn’t his home but just his shelter. He told me once that his home was in his head and the idea so chimed with my own thoughts that I appropriated it.

Of course you have to spend a great deal of your time keeping it tidy, throwing out all those useless sideboards of bulky information, the dusty filing cabinets of facts we acquire and keep in the belief that one day they will prove useful. They never do.

It helps if, like me, you have not had a formal education. I am blissfully ignorant of the whereabouts of India, but since I have never had occasion to look for it I cannot see that it matters.

Anything that has a place in my head I have fuddled out for myself, in second-hand bookshops mostly and just window gazing my way round Europe. As I say,I was educated by paper-back book. I am a sort of M.A. (Penguin)

There are leather bound volumes there too, albums of memories I have not looked at for years. But I keep nothing that is not either useful or pleasureable.The mind is the perfect librarian. Ask it for anything and you have barely settled at your reading desk before it has blown the dust off a memory and set it before you, open at just the page you need.

I have won Grand Nationals up there behind the eyebrows, fought tribesmen, ridden with the Wild Bunch, served with the cavalry and rescued distressed damsels by the bushel

I have a collection of novel plots that would stock a library. Every painting I have ever loved; every piece of sculpture I have ever owned or touched in wonder has its place in the gallery under my thatch. My ears, my nose and my eyes are indefatigable collectors. Forever on the look-out for the music, the scents and the objects of art they think I will enjoy.

I can flood my space with Beethoven’s Ninth or turn down the lamps to listen to the best of jazz played just for me by Miles Davis, Count Basey or Duke Ellington, those matchless aristocrats. I can instantly command the scents of gardens after spring rain; the taste of asparagus. The soft reassurance of burgundy, the crisp joy of Anjou. Mine is the most extensive cellar with cases of the ‘24 and ‘45 ports I tasted in youth.
I can make myself instantly thirsty and quench my thirst with the Draught Bass the brewery used to make before the market men took over.

I can talk to who I please, raise the dead if I wish. My friend, Tom Firbank is still alive there and Ken Williams and Alexander Cordell. My bloodhounds Amy and Minnie Kip my lurcher. Jorrocks my bulldog and the collie Mitzi who was my surrogate sister in childhood are comfortably kenneled there.

All the world sees of me is a belly like a spinnaker, the whiskers and a nose quietly erupting like a volcano with nostrils. Up there behind the forehead, a different creature stalks. Considerably taller and much thinner. He never spills soup on his ties. A fearless horseman always up with hounds, hands of steel and a remarkable seat. Walks like a cat and pierces with a glance. Wears - the ultimate bliss - a curly rimmed brown bowler of a stamp and style that have long been banished from the streets outside. Never seen without his monocle and gold topped malacca cane.
Now there is a chap. Made his bones with the Mafia; got Sam Spade out of many a hole and fought at the side of Glyndwr. Hotspur, the bravest soldier in history is a boon companion. Hell of a gardener between wars; his roses are the wonder of the western world. No-one leans over HIS wall to tell him they have bigger onions in their garden and has he tried mixing sugar with the water he gives them.

Quite commodious too is Headhigh Hall, with two windows in the main reception area. Rather special windows I can swivel in any direction. I can choose what I look at so the prospect always pleases. Landscape, mountainscape or seascape
I have merely to register the thought and the whole edifice turns in the direction I wish.

But the nicest thing about such a home is that there is no waiting list for a tenancy. Everyone in the world has their own key. Just climb the neck and there you are.


Thursday, 12 July 2007

Writing a book is easy

Broadly speaking, writing a book is easy. Once you have the first sentence you only have to think of six thousand more and the thing is accomplished.
Don’t have to be short. Proust opened his Cities of the Plain with one that used up 958 words. They should grip the attention. Like the opening of George Orwell’s 1984… “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
The first sentence is the tricky one but it can be managed by a nine year old. That was the age of Daisy Ashford, the J.M. Barrie protégée, when she began her best seller The Young Visitors. - “Mr Salteena was an elderly man of 42.”
Doesn’t have to be clever. Virgil rested content after he began his Aeneid – “Arms and the man I sing”.
You can steal of course. Snoopy of Peanuts stole his introduction, “It was a dark and stormy night,” from Bulwer Lytton, the Victorian author whose introductions were windy too:
It was a dark and stormy night, the rain fell in torrents - except at occasional intervals when it was checked by a violent gust of wind (for it is in London that our scene lies) rattling along the housetops and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness…
I’ll bet Mrs Lytton had to have a reading of that the second it dripped from the quill.
The easiest of all is to write a book of other people’s introductions. Such as the one I found recently which promised much.
Forget “Last night I dreamed I was back in Manderley.”
An American academic, Professor Scott Rice, holds a competition every year for the worst introduction his students can conceive. The published collection is awe inspiring.
I liked best the 1983 winner: The camel died suddenly on the third day, and Helen fretted sulkily and buffing her already impeccable nails - not for the first time since the holiday began - pondered snidely if this would dissolve into a vignette of minor inconvenience like all the other holidays with Basil.
In 1984… The lovely woman child Kaa was mercilessly chained to the cruel post of the warrior chief Beast, with his barbarous tribe now stacking wood at her nubile feet, when the strong clear voice of the poetic and heroic Handsome roared, ‘Flick your bic. Crisp that chick and you will feel my steel through your last meal.’
I feel there lurks the next Arnold Schwarzenegger epic.
But my own favourite appeared in the historical romance section: As she fell face down in the black muck of the mud wrestling pit, her sweaty, three hundred pound opponent muttering curses in Latin, Sister Marie thought, ‘There is no doubt about it. The Pope has betrayed us.’
Contemporary romance: During an exuberant rainfall a languid bottle of salad dressing sat passively on a Formica counter top as her lips crushed satisfactorily against the velour upper railing of his moustache.
Even steamier… As she writhed and moaned ‘No,no,no’ he was writhing too and moaning ‘Yeth, yeth, yeth.’
Even steamier than that: Casting an eye over his shoulder he threw her bodily on the bed, ripping her clothes off with one hand, fumbling with the other at his jammed zip, their panting breaths coming as one impassioned sibilance; their ardour dampened only by her spiked heel puncturing the water bed and their bodies cascading round the room immersed in 200 gallons of water.
Biography: Let me tell you how luck, hard work and the love of a good woman brought Roc Sledge from obscurity to the job of chief salesperson in Peoria’s third largest shoe store.
Detective novel: There are things a good detective can feel in his bones and Dillon Shane knew that Josephine Kimberley Collingworth did not drown in her sleep on New Years Eve.
Drama: Heatheton stood menacingly at the very edge of the dark rampart, his formidable apelike figure starkly outlined against the nasty void by a sudden crack of lightning and amid the horrid din of growing thunder and precipitous downpour, shouted up at Emily who hung limply in the belfry, her head almost severed by the hangman’s noose: ‘I say woman, does this mean supper will be late again?’
So that is how it is done. Any questions? No? Well off you go...
Only six thousand more, and riches await.