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Posts Tagged ‘literature’

miceThe more literary kind of story has a habit of fluffing its conclusion, of building you up through a series of struggles, pointing to one final decisive conflict, but just as one is hopeful of a whizz-bang ending, it veers off the mark and cuts to the credits without having resolved anything at all. Critics do effusive somersaults over the subtlety of this sort of thing and provide a multitude of their own subjective interpretations based on impenetrable literary theory as espoused by someone you’ve never heard of. As for the rest of us, we can only trust the whole thing was not a deceit, that the author simply didn’t know how to finish things other than by saying it was all a dream, so he trails off instead, fades away like a ghost.

In similar vein I swear I did not dream of mice last week. I saw them, heard them, chased them, tried in vain to trap them. But I’ve not seen one since, nor been disturbed by one in the night. My house is now bristling with traps, baited with all manner of treats – currently pieces of KitKat stuck in tasty splodges of peanut butter. Yum!

Nothing. No bites. No dead mice.

I’ve been round the outside of the house looking for any means of mousy ingress – tiny holes in the corners of walls and where the drains poke out. I have applied cement here, there and everywhere, just to be sure. I know they’ve definitely been around and where they’ve lingered longest because there’s an eye watering smell of ammonia coming from behind the cupboards in the conservatory. For weeks we thought it was a pair of my son’s trainers, and grumbled for them to be stored elsewhere. But the more savvy visitors tell us this pungent signature scent is actually mouse-wee. The cupboards are fitted and it will take a week to dismantle them, remove them, check for ingress, clean up, put back. Understandably I’m resisting the trial, hoping instead the mice have gone and the smell will fade if we keep the windows open.

No firm conclusion, you see? We trail off into the literary never-land. No bang, no snap of the trap and a clear indication of the saga’s end. It goes on until memory fades, hopefully along with the smell, and some other slice of life takes centre stage. So for now the mice have become ghosts to manifest at every creak or sigh in the night, but without actually materialising in tangible reality at all. Only their smell remains.

I hope.

Goodnight all.

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OWith Fifty Shades the Movie opening at cinemas in time for Valentine’s Day, one might be tempted to think it’s now okay for a man to physically restrain a woman and have his way with her any way he chooses, and that there’s something wrong with the woman if she doesn’t enjoy it. So let me begin on a cautionary note and say to all the men out there who might be thinking along these lines, I suggest you discuss the matter first very carefully with your lady, because she may not share your views. Bondage and sadomasochism are among the darker paths in human relations; the psychology is complex, arguably pathological but, in simpler terms, the emotions it arouses, while reportedly powerful, are not to be confused with love.

Let me pause for breath here and say I have not read Fifty Shades, nor will I be taking the good Lady Graeme to watch the movie. I have, however, read the Story of O, the 1955 novel by Pauline Reage, and from which all semi-pornographic bondage bonk-busters are derived.

It tells the tale of a young woman, known to us simply as “O”, a lovely ingénue who is drawn by her posh boyfriend into a secret circle of wealthy men whose sadomasochistic mores see O reduced to the status of a mere possession. O is at first horrified to find herself abducted, then inducted into all manner of degrading sexual practice, punctuated by frequent whippings, as anything resembling an independence of spirit is beaten out of her. The story persuades us she eventually sees the light, becomes a submissive chattel, and begins to take pleasure, indeed to see the very meaning of her life in sexually compliant slavery and regular whippings. The power of the story, and I did find it a powerfully compelling read, is that Reage achieves all of this without the use of a single naughty word. (would-be erotic authors take note)

sexygirlThe story of O is not pornography, in the same way Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly is not pornography, though both these works were ground-breaking in their time to the extent of finding themselves in the courts on charges of obscenity. Of the two, in my opinion, Lady Chatterly is easily the more literary, though O, winner of the French Prix de Deux Magots, cannot be dismissed as mere smut.

The paradox of O is the depiction of a woman sexually liberated by masculine domination, a liberation that can only come through her willingness to submit to anything her master(s) desire, and to revel in their punishments. The men are depicted as unrelentingly repulsive, and the women, including O, I’m afraid, as impenetrably dim. The men take the women however and whenever they choose, they remodel the shape of them to better suit their idea of a sexually desirable object, then brand their bottoms with a mark of ownership when the women “graduate” as fully fledged chattels.

When O meets an ordinary Joe who falls embarrassingly in love with her, she is incapable of responding in the normal way, and her dismissive treatment of him highlights the dramatic change that has been wrought in this former ingénue by her new lifestyle. The suggestion is that she now operates at a higher level of her being, emotionally and sexually, and that an ordinary man, one who would treat her kindly, is too tame and incapable of handling or even arousing the passions she is now familiar with. All this thanks to the wealthy male predators who own her.

But all of this is fantasy, and Reage doesn’t shy away from hitting you over the head with the darker implications of the endgame of any relationship built on such murky foundations. In short, the story of O does not end well. It’s a tale that can be read in many ways, but if you’re only in it for the titillation you’re seriously missing out. I found it rather a cautionary tale, for when the men tire of O, as all possessions are eventually tired of, she is unable to contemplate a return to the banality of her former life as a free woman and a human being, and the suggestion is that in one version of the ending, her then master, in a last act of gross masochism, grants her the wish that she be relieved of the necessity.

Any sufficiently sensitive man reading the Story of O cannot help but examine his own self for traces of the abominable chauvinism Reage depicts, and question any culture, closed or open, that would reduce its women to the status of objects, sexual or otherwise.

sexygirl2I have at times been in the company of men whose vulgar talk regarding the opposite sex has left me in no doubt as to their primitive attitudes. Whether they also share these views with their wives is anyone’s guess, but – and I speak as a man here – there is definitely a tendency in men that would sooner simplify women to the status of compliant sexual vessels, without the inconvenience of having to treat them as fellow human beings, with thoughts and fears and feelings. But again we must remind ourselves it is a fantasy, one we should take care not to let out of the box for too long, nor take too seriously, because, to paraphrase Alice, Nicole Kidman’s character, at the end of Stanley Kubrics “Eyes wide shut” the best we can hope, where sexual fantasies are concerned, is that we survive them.

Sex of course is one of life’s great pleasures, but by far the more valuable is the companionship of another human being whom you love and respect, and whose mere presence makes you feel bigger than you do when you are alone. I don’t want to pour scorn upon Fifty Shades the movie – there’ll be plenty of people doing that no doubt, as they did with the books – but I cannot help feeling a sneaking admiration for its author, a fellow indie, and a rare example of our breed who made good, made the crossover to the big time. So do read the books and go to the cinema and revel in the fantasy, if you think it might be your bag, but don’t lose sight of what’s real in human relations; remember it’s rather the exception to make love using ropes and whips and sticky tape, than the rule. So guys, don’t make your girl do what she’s not naturally inclined to do. That she wants to be with you at all is a prize in itself, so don’t push your luck.

Fifty Shades does not pretend to be literature, but if  you want to take a more literary view of the erotic you could try the story of O. But be warned, like O, you may get more than you bargained for.

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because you write

You see this one a lot in the blogsphere, and it’s always worth a glance. Of course there are no rules to blogging. You can write whatever and however you like, but there are certain things that attract readers. Readers turn into followers, and bloggers like to have followers – even the ones who say they don’t.

I’ve clearly some way to go before The Rivendale Review becomes one of the touchstones of the global online community, but I accept my material doesn’t have mass appeal. Nor am I about to start writing on “popular” or “controversial” or “trending” topics just to attract more traffic, and I recommend you don’t either. As bloggers our uniqueness is our appeal to readers, so don’t try to write like everyone else. Above all be yourself. The blog is you. Your blog is where readers come to find the unsanitised view of the world through your eyes.

All right,…

You’re a voice in the wilderness, your topic of conversation might not have mass appeal, so, without sacrificing your virtue, how do you best present yourself and start picking up an audience?

Here are ten guidelines – in no particular order of merit:

1) Keep it short. In the early days of this blog I wrote long pieces – several thousand words long. They were careful analyses on issues that interested me. Long, long essays on this and that. They’ve sunk without trace. No one reads them.

When I was writing for print I knew that however long my first draft was, I could always reduce it by at least a third without losing the essential meaning. Unlike print, in blogging we can blather as much as we want, but it’s a bad habit, so economise, economise, economise. Keep it short, or even your most loyal follower is wondering if they have time to do you justice. They move on, they get distracted, and they don’t come back.

How short? Currently I aim for between five hundred and a thousand words.

2) Tag. Us the tag function to tag your piece with key words or phrases. These things have a ranking. Hit upon a popular key phrase, one that’s currently “trending” and your blog starts popping up on the front page of Google searches. You can get clues to trending tags by using google’s auto complete function. “Writing a good blog” autocompletes after the third word, plus the b of blog – so I know it’s a fairly popular search term. But don’t sacrifice your ideals on a popular tag. Write what you want to write, then think how you might widen its appeal with the judicious use of appropriate tagging.

3) Answer your comments. Make conversation. Let your readers know you’re a human being, and not one of those horrible web-farming machines. If someone follows you then consider following them. If someone likes you, have look at their blog. You may have something in common. Blogging is interactive. It’s also a community.

4) Pictures. I like interesting pictures to accompany a blog. They attract the eye, they encourage your clicker to settle in and linger. But keep it relevant, and tasteful, and legal.

5) Keep going. Update regularly. Once or twice a week is okay. If you’re down to less than once every couple of months and it’s becoming a chore, then maybe blogging’s not for you. On the other hand don’t update too regularly. If you have followers they don’t want to be hearing from you several times a day. You’re asking to get unfollowed.

6) Don’t blog because someone’s paying you to endorse a particular view or a product. And don’t blog as part of a multi level marketing scam because that just annoys the hell out of everyone. You’ll get found out, and then your name is mud. You lose your virtue – and remember that’s the only thing you have going for you.

7) Don’t be afraid of sounding like a fool. Express yourself. Marylin Monroe, that most iconic of muses, once said: Imperfection is beauty. Madness is genius. It is better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring. She could have been talking about blogging.

8) Important one this: don’t blog when drunk, or within 24 hours of an emotionally upsetting incident, and especially not to get back at someone. I know you can always delete the nonsense you wrote next morning, but by then the damage might already have been done.

9) Normal rules of libel apply to blogs. Be careful what you say and how you say it.

10) Last of all, don’t listen to me. The best part of blogging is the journey, finding your own way, and your own audience.

So in the spirit of interaction, let me ask you: How would you write a good blog?

Graeme out

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And speaking of plagiarism,…

It seems I’m still publishing on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace! An early non-fiction work titled: “The Hexagrams of the Book of Changes” keeps popping up on there. The miscreant is doggedly persistent. However, it’s not exactly a best seller  and the subject matter is esoteric to say the least so it’s unlikely many have been duped into downloading it for money. Just on the off chance, if you were in the market for such a thing, do beware – the Michael Graeme who pops up on there from time to time selling my books, is not the genuine Michael Graeme.

This is not to be confused with Michael Graham of course, the American talk show host who is a genuine author of several books on Amazon, and the other Michael Graham, genuine author of the novel “The Future Visible”, also available on the Kindle Marketplace.

I am, however, so far as I’m aware, the only genuine Michael Graeme and, unless my various alternate realities have got their wires crossed here, I do not publish on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace.

Well, that’s cleared that one up.

So, will the real Michael Graeme please stand up?

No.

It’s a lovely hot day today – too nice to be inside, blogging. He’s off for a walk.

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book thiefAs I’ve written before, one of the hazards for Indy authors who self publish is piracy. You write a story, put it up for free online, and then it mysteriously appears for sale on the Kindle Marketplace. This has happened several times with my novels – and it’s just happened again. My story “Push Hands” is currently available on Amazon for the princely sum of $3.25, and I’ve no idea how it got there. I cried foul on the comments section, which is how I got the last lot of pirated material taken down, but Amazon doesn’t always approve of such unconstructive criticism, and I may have to approach their legal department directly. Again.

There’s not much we can can do about online piracy, other than remain vigilant and challenge it on sight.  If you’re an Indy, the first time this happens you’ll find it upsetting, even a little creepy that someone out there is impersonating you, but I think we have to accept it more as an occupational hazard and not get too hung up about it. The main concern here is for our readership, and to make sure no one ends up paying for work they think is coming from us, when it isn’t. So if you find your work for sale on the Kindle Marketplace, and you didn’t put it there, keep your head, spare your expletives and speak to Amazon. There is a process, and it works. Amazon will take it down.

If you’re a reader and you’ve paid money on the Kindle Marketplace for anything I’ve written, then I’m sorry but it’s been pirated and I urge you contact Amazon, who should refund you. All my work is available for free on Feedbooks. I do not self-publish on the Kindle Marketplace.

If you are the pirate, I’ve nothing really constructive to say to you, other than you’re courting some seriously heavy Karma, my friend, and you really need to mend your ways before it catches up with you.

I am the real Michael Graeme and you’ll find the real, unadulterated, unpirated, totally original, and absolutely free version of my story “Push Hands” here:

Push hands book cover

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parcelI know this traditional bookshop where they still wrap things with brown paper and string. Here, you’ll find a vast collection of second hand books, all neatly categorised and arrayed in labyrinthine rows on three creaky floors. It’s been there for generations, catering for the full spectrum of tastes, from the pre Socratic philosophers to the latest Fifty Shades. It’s a rare, book-scented treasure house, a bastion of colour and pattern and calm in an increasingly bland world.

I don’t always buy a book when I go there. At least half the pleasure in visiting this place is in browsing with no particular aim other than the search for something inspirational. My choices are therefore driven as much by mood as by the titles. My price limit also varies widely according to mood, and for all I know the cycles of the moon as well. I once parted with £25.00 for a copy of Jung’s Mysterium, a book much revered by psychoanalysts – and which I have not the Latin to decipher. At other times I am loathe to part with £5.00 and come away empty handed, dejected that nothing has taken my eye. To be sure, bookshops like this are mysterious places.

Last Saturday it was Wordsworth – well, not so much him as an idea inspired by him. I’d been revisiting the Romantics, thinking back on things I’ve written about Romanticism – most of it rubbish, but some of it still holding the test of time. And there it was, lurking upon a shelf of rather lack-lustre books, pressed a little to the back as if shy of the limelight: Wordsworth’s collected poems, dated 1868.

It was a handsome little volume – red cloth binding, the pages gilded, and the backing boards beautifully bevelled so the book turned smoothly in my hands like a bar of silky soap. Inside, among the familiar poems, there were engravings – intricate drawings, each protected by its own little insert of tissue paper. It was delightful. It might have been placed there only recently – or been there for twenty years, always escaping my eye until now. Only now did it speak to me. But what was it saying? Here are the poems of William Wordsworth, Michael? Read them? No, I already own a copy of his collected works. It wasn’t that I needed another. There was more going on here. All I know is I wanted it.

An expensive book, I feared, but no – £4.50 was its considered worth, which placed it within the means of my capricious and, of late, austerity-conscious pocket. It could be mine. It would be mine.

I am not a book dealer or a collector. I do not browse these shelves for unknown money-treasures in order to sell them on. The vendor is, after all, an antiquarian dealer of some renown, so I presume the real collectors’ items have already been filtered out of this very public domain – leaving only the dross, where treasure is to be found only in sentiment. I was under no illusions then; to a dealer in books this book, pretty thought it was, was worthless.

Was it really only sentiment then that drew my eye? Could sentiment take my breath away like this and fill me with a such possessive craving for a thing that was otherwise of no use nor value to me? Perhaps it was simply its great age and the fact I have a track record in collecting old and useless things. The Sage of Grasmere had not been 20 years dead when this book was issued, and here it was, still in marvelous condition –  a little frayed at the top and bottom of the spine, but otherwise pristine. Clearly it had been respected throughout its life, and was that not reason enough to earn my own respect now? Or was it that the book lain neglected behind the glass of some unfrequented country house library, untouched by sticky fingers – and now at last had come its chance to be handled, to be loved. Is that why is spoke to me?

It was a mystery, but one I was clearly in a mood to ponder in slower time. For now the priority was merely to rescue it, to possess it.

I took my prize downstairs to the lady at the till and she looked upon it with a genuine delight. She ran her long pale hands over the cover as I had done a moment ago, and in doing so shared with me the loveliness of it.  Her actions, unconsciously sensual and simple enough on her part, were to my romantic eye like holy devotions and they amplified an already growing numinosity. Then she wrapped it carefully, folding the paper with a neat, practised precision, deft fingers twisting the knot, an enchantress sealing in the spell of that afternoon – an afternoon possessed suddenly of a richness and a fertility I had not known in such a long, long time.

I emerged from the shop tingling with something that ran far deeper than the mere purchase of an old book. But what was it?

I’ve had that book for four days now and you might think it curious but  it rests upon my  desk, still in its tight little wrapping. I do not want to open it in case the magic of that afternoon evaporates. While I keep it wrapped, you see, the spell remains intact and only good things can happen from now on. The glass will for ever be half full,… never again half empty. But such an obsessive devotion as this is stretching things, even for me, and I realise it’s in my little foible – some might say my weakness – the mystery of that afternoon is revealed.

One cannot really capture a moment like that, any more than one can capture its essence in a photograph. All you’re really left with at the moment of capture is a dead thing. As I’ve written before, and keep telling myself, as if for the first time anew, the moment comes from within and cannot be contained in any “thing”. Curiosity will eventually overcome my obsessive Romantic sentiment, and I will snip open that package to discover all that lies inside is just a worthless old book, a little more world-worn and weary than I remember it.

The real power lies always in the moment and it will always be erased by time until we can find a way of staying in the moment all the time. If we can do that then every moment becomes imbued with a mysterious presence, a presence that has the power to inspire and elevate us beyond the mundane. There we discover that the meaning of our lives – the meaning we might have searched for all our lives – was never really lost. Nor was it such a big secret anyway, nor less a thing to be toiled at, nor pondered over with our heads in our hands, nor winkled out of the dusty tomes of several millenia’s worth of arcane spiritual teachings. It was there all the time; the numinous, the sheer pullulating exuberance of life.

You do not find it in work or wealth or learning, but in random moments of spontaneous inner realisation, like with me on that Saturday afternoon, browsing the hushed labyrinth of an antiquarian bookshop. But we’ve all had moments like this, and perhaps the only secret is that we should allow ourselves to recognise their intrinsic sacredness, then trust the mind, or whatever greater consciousness lies behind it, will grant us the presence to realise them more often.

Of course a more skilled pilgrim than I would have admired that book for what it was and, without losing a fraction of the meaning in that moment, simply left it on the shelf for someone else to find.

Pass me those scissor’s will you?

Thanks for listening.

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woman reading letterNothing happened today. There was no news, no carnage, no politicians to be called to account, no food scares, no financial ruin. There was no one to hate, no one to pity.  The nation breathed a great sigh of relief and we all drove to work in soft sunshine, with lighter hearts, skipping along like children let out of school early. A gentle hush settled over hill and vale, I saw my first Snowdrop,… and the world felt like a much better place.

The opening of an impossibly optimistic fantasy novel? No,… our regular news and current affairs programming was off the air because of a strike by journalists, and oh,… what a relief!

I’m sorry. I know it’s important to keep up with current events, to be able to understand and talk knowledgeably about the world. But there’s also a terrible downside, being inundated daily with crap that you can’t do a damned thing about. You begin to form a picture of a world in which nothing good happens, and it doesn’t matter that it bears not even a passing resemblance to the world you personally experience, you feel cowed by it, intimidated, depressed, goaded into cynicism, even afraid to venture abroad for fear of having your head cut off by blood crazed trolls.

So I don’t buy newspapers. I don’t watch the TV news, preferring nowadays to get my snippets in controlled bursts, through my iPad. I read the news briefly, with a cold, objective eye, digest the main points, then turn to the blogs I’m following because they’re so much more interesting.

For example, yesterday evening, I learned about a play in which Freud’s fictional final consultation was with the writer CS Lewis. It sounded like a fascinating idea, but the writer who saw it had felt let down by it. I also read about Innis Oirr, one of the remote Aran isles, off the west coast of Ireland and how the way of life there has changed over the centuries. Then I read about the pope and his reportedly unsympathetic views regarding people who might be labelled gay, bisexual or transsexual.

I realised I knew very little about CS Lewis and have now chased down some more very interesting information about his life that syncronistically informs something else I’ve been thinking about. I also mused that although my grandfather is from the west of Ireland I’ve still not visited his birthplace, and I really must do something about that.  I also pondered on the fact that religious teachings are too often defined so narrowly they cannot hope to encompass the rather more eclectic nature of the human condition. And is that right or wrong?

This is so much better than being blathered at by assertive media types, evasive politicians and pontificating pundits. Through blogging you realise there’s a whole ecosystem of ideas out there, and you can get involved in shaping it simply by writing your own material. But like anywhere else there are abusers in the blogsphere. They contribute nothing, yet expect the globe to laud them in return, catapult them to the dizzy heights of celebrity. A bit like the conventional media then.

Case in point: something odd happened last night. I put my piece up on “Photographing Ghosts”, but in the process managed to lose all the text, so what I actually posted was just the title. I was wondering how on earth that had happened, and whether it was worth sorting out, or if I should just delete the lot and go to bed,  when my iPad started pinging like it had gone mad. Before I knew it I had 3 likes for that piece – which was very gratifying but of course I could claim no credit for my literary prowess because all I’d posted was a blank page.

What was that all about then?

Among the rules of successful blogging the most important is that, apart from posting our own sincerely intended content, we should also take the trouble to read the work of other bloggers who catch our eye, and comment on their blogs as we might in making polite conversation with strangers. If you really like the work, then “like” it. If you consistently enjoy the musings of a particular blogger, and you want a regular dose of them, then you “follow”. What could be simpler?

But it seems some of us are sitting at the gates of WordPress’s “what’s new!” list and “liking” anything that wanders through, even “following” with no more motivation than the hope or expectation we’ll get liked or followed in return. This indiscriminate technique is the same as jumping up and down like a petulant wannabe, shouting “Look at me! Look at me!”. Are  we trying to get ourselves into WordPress’s currently hot list perhaps? Maybe from there we believe it’s only a short step to a slot on whatever passes for our nations top celebrity chat show?

Hmmm.

You cannot be serious. Real blogging is for those with something to say, and who are perhaps denied any other voice. If you’ve nothing to say, if you’ve only web farmed stuff for content , or “products”, or yourself to “sell”, then shut up and go away.

Blog because you like to write, because you like to present ideas, and see what ideas ping back at you. I blog about writing fiction, about the creative processes, the psychology and even the underlying spirituality of it, and if some of my readers are tempted to have at look at my stories while they’re at it, then all the better for my ideas, but I’m not selling anything, not courting my own celebrity here. I’ve been writing for thirty five years now  – I can walk into a bar anywhere in the world and no one will know who I am. And that’s the way I like it. I don’t know how to transform a blog into a WordPress hottie, and to be honest I don’t care. I’d rather remain obscure than lose my virtue vainly trying to escape it. I blog because I enjoy the debate and because that debate informs my own ideas, and because also, crucially, it paints a very different picture of the world out there than the one I get from the TV news.

I’m currently following around 12 blogs. This doesn’t sound like many, but I do read the postings from these authors, and I allow their musings to tickle my own thoughts and if you follow too many, you’re not going to find the time to do any of them justice. And it’s in doing justice to the blogs of others, even in a small way, that enables the blogsphere to collectively reflect, and more importantly to inform the global zeitgeist. Thus begins the slow fight back from a position where our views of the greater world are dominated by an entirely negative and sensationalist press.

I’m glad nothing happened today.

It’s was nice hearing myself think for a change.

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