‘What’s it about?’

It would be fair to say I struggle with plot. I really do. One of the reasons is that I just don’t care that much about it. It’s never what really interests me.

Some of my favourite books don’t have plots. Obvious examples would include Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy, of course, but also more recent examples. Independence Day (Richard Ford), Hawksmoor (Peter Ackroyd), Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf), just to take examples at random. These have no plot, in the sense of a sequence of events and situations that lead consecutively to an end. They just give you some life, some vivid representation of what it feels like to be alive.

Whenever I read anything, I am always uncomfortably aware of the clanking plot machinery going on in the background. I just had to abandon reading a bestselling thriller by ‘one of our leading crime writers’ because I could see, not only exactly where it was going, but that that was all it was going to do. Characterisation, description, mood, atmosphere, sense of place: nope, just the story. There might have been some pallid pleasure in finding out if I was guessing right or not about the trajectory, but, ultimately who cares? I could invent my own ending. Who cares what such a bad author wants the story to be? And yet clearly, a great many people do.

I ploughed all the way to the end of a Jeffery Archer novel once, in the vain hope of working out what other people see in him. There were four ‘characters’, all of them simple cardboard cutouts with names attached to them. One of them was going to win an election, and I imagine you were supposed to be busy guessing which one. But again, how could anyone care which of four interchangeably one-dimensional characters ultimately won? The author clearly didn’t: they were simply a means to his tiresome end, and were no more than shop dummies with different coloured suits on. (I think the blue one won, but I couldn’t swear to it.)

There is a theory that men go for plot, women go for character. (A creative writing teacher recently reported that one of his male students had told him he would ‘fill in the characters later’.) I suspect there’s more to it than that, though. People go to books for a huge variety of reasons, and plot is just one of them. But film and TV have prioritised plot over everything else, to the extent that ‘what is it about?’ now can only mean: ‘what is the story?’ I think that’s a shame. Book are about life, and life hasn’t got a plot, it just goes on for a bit, there’s some shouting and drinking and so on, and then it, sort of, stops (round about page 235, just after the chase but before the shock twist that makes sense of it all). Plot is just a lie we tell ourselves that things have an order, a logic, a (deep breath) meaning. Well guess what, they don’t.

I read an interview with Keanu Reeves once. He was having what appeared to be a very, very bad day. ‘What is your new film about?’ he was asked. Long Pause. ‘It’s about the human condition,’ says Keanu. ‘Tell me about your next film.’ Long pause. ‘It’s about the human condition,’ says Keanu, at which point he gets up and starts, slowly and gently, to bang his head against the window. But that’s my answer from henceforth. ‘What’s it about?’ ‘It’s about the human condition.’ End of.

Outrage as Kindle reduces free samples to first six letters.

Kindle have caused an outcry at their announcement that the free samples will henceforth be reduced to the first six letters of a work. Janine Carapace, Kindle Marketing Director, said earlier today: ‘We have reached this decision based on extensive consumer feedback. People are just too busy to wade through an entire Kindle free sample. They need something more efficient. Time is money. We also felt that if a book can’t ‘grab’ you within the first six letters, then it probably won’t grab you at all. Authors will have to up their games.’

Examples:

A Tale of Two Cities

It was t

1984

It was a

Pride and Prejudice

It is a t

Paul Clifford (Edward Bulwer-Lytton)

It was a

Whitehawk

‘Jamie?’

Peter James ‘to take over Brighton’

Bestselling author Peter James is to be given a free hand in running Brighton, it was announced earlier today. All decisions relating to the city will now be taken by Mr James (63).

Denise McFail, leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, said this: ‘Peter James is one of our best known and best loved novelists. The plot twists, the moral dilemmas, the believable characters: readers just can’t get enough of him. Not to mention the incredible amounts of research he does on police procedure and so on. So it seemed a natural progression that he should be given sole command of the entire city. We are all looking forward to this exciting new era in local politics.’

A spokesperson for Mr James’ publishers (Pan McMillan) said: ‘Mr James is extremely busy promoting his new novel, Perfect People, at the moment, but he will be back in a few months to start getting to grips with some of the issues relating to recycling and parking, for example, which have plagued the city for years. We understand he has some quite radical proposals in mind.’

Local resident Sonia Teeth said: ‘Peter who?’

Reuters.

Author condemns BBC documentary as ‘biased’.

 

Controversial author Simon Nolan (Whitehawk, Revenge Ink, £7.99) has made a scathing attack on a BBC documentary. The programme, aired after Christmas, was, he said, ‘a joke, completely biased, with no attempt to address the arguments from both sides.’

Summer Ends on Penguin Island, screened on 27 December, featured numerous sequences of penguins eating herring and mackerel. But, says Nolan, the programme crucially failed to indicate how the herring and mackerel felt about any of this.

‘It was just blatant triumphalist penguin propaganda. I mean, when is it the poor bloody mackerel’s turn? When do they get to be the hero? You know?’ he said.

A BBC spokeswoman said: ’I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. Who did you say you were again?’

Reuters.

Want to win an iPad?

What is  –  iPad?

iPad is a revolutionary new device that allows you to:

•look at pictures

•watch films

•read books

•go on the internet.

(NB: None of these activities has been possible before.)

How to Win:

1. Find a competition that offers an iPad as a prize.

2. Enter the competition. (This is a crucially important step. You increase your chances of winning an iPad by as much as 38% by actually entering a competition.)

3. Win the competition.

It’s that easy!

Next week, how to win a Lear Jet!

New novel slammed by nurses

‘A wasted opportunity.’

Whitehawk,  a controversial new novel by Simon Nolan, has been roundly condemned by nurses. In a recent review, Nursing Times (with Midwifery Today) had this to say;

‘The novel has nothing to recommend it to the modern nursing professional. There is nothing substantial here on any aspect of nursing (or midwifery) whatsoever. The reader will turn the pages in vain for material pertinent to the theory and practice of nursing (or midwifery). A wasted opportunity.’

Amita Mukerjee, publisher, said: ‘We have no statement to make at this point. We will be looking into these comments, which we find disappointing coming from such an august journal.’

Reuters.

Smoking ‘cool’, say scientists.

After years in which smoking has been labelled ’pathetic’, ‘bad for you’ and even ‘addictive’, scientists at The University of New South Wales have made the surprising discovery that that it is, in fact, ‘cool’. The shock findings, published in Nature later this month, have been warmly welcomed by the smoking community.

It’s cool.

‘We’ve suffered for years from this “uncool” thing,’ said Ida Maraschino, joint chair of TAB, a smokers’ co-operative and drop-in centre in Bournemouth. ‘These findings just confirm what our members have been saying consistently over the last decade or so: we just couldn’t get the evidence to back it up. Now these new findings are out there, we hope that some of those entrenched negative  attitudes will start to turn around.’

Researchers are now also investigating claims that smoking is ‘big’ and ‘clever’.

‘There’s so much we still don’t know,’ said Project Leader Todd Hunger. ‘These are exciting times for smokers.’

Cave painting? It’s just a fad.

The world through a 3D lens, or maybe two.

So I finally got round to seeing a film in 3D, Clash of the Titans. I saw it on a Thursday afternoon, and the auditorium was packed with possibly as many as 5 people. Nothing wrong with the film, but the 3D ads were far more entertaining, in particular an ad featuring a tennis ball that appeared miraculously hanging in the air, just out of reach. It’s not at all clear to me what 3D is adding to the experience of watching a film, except that you have to have peculiar glasses on that make you look like a late-era Roy Orbison and you are constantly distracting yourself from the action to make mental notes about how the 3D is distracting you from the action.

But then I alway was a late adopter. I found it agonising to throw away my Betamax video, and resisted CD’s for so long that I pretty much went straight from cassette to MP3. I can never see what’s wrong with what we’ve got. Cassette had so many advantages over CD, not the least of which was the lovely rich, compressed,  bassy analogue sound and the sheer rattly plasticky pleasure of the things. Betamax, as has been extensively and very boringly established, was in every way superior to VHS (…drones on about obsolete formats for three and a half hours…)  I only started internetting about 5 years ago: I just couldn’t see the point of it. It’ll never catch on, I would comment sagely. It’s just a fad. I am currently holding out against digital telly, and no doubt by the time I am finally forced to relent there will be something else. But I like what I’ve got, I think, in a plaintive little voice. If I had my way we would still all be living in caves and throwing rocks at each other to communicate. Direct, easy to understand, cheap. Win-win, I’d say.

But they’re going to turn the analogue signal off. They keep going on about it: it’s like some sinister curse. ‘Everything you know and value is about to be swept away,’ they say. ‘Rejoice!’

I saw some pictures of gaslight being used for the first time in domestic houses, early in the 19th Century: everyone looked like they’d just been caught out doing something that would previously have gone unremarked in the warm, flickery glow of candles. The new lights cast ugly shadows over everything and no one looked quite at ease anymore.

You know where you are with a cave and a rock. Mind you, I’m against this new fad for cave painting. It’ll never catch on, trust me. I mean, what’s wrong with the walls as they are?

Vampiryirya, Acting Queen of the Damned

Vampiryirya, Acting Queen of the Damned.

1.

She flung her magnificent hair back and stood, her black eyes flashing as the moon rose, blood red, behind her.

‘I, Vampiryirya, Acting Queen of all the Creatures of the Night, I speak!’

The crowd behind her murmured and seethed.

‘She speaks, she speaks. Vampiryirya speaks.’

Many of them stumbled on the name, and the effect was somewhat dampened.

‘For now is the hour of Magicke,’ she called, her cloak billowing in the occult wind that had sprung up out of nowhere. The final ‘ke’ of magicke needed a slight emphasis to differentiate it from just ordinary magic, of which she was, naturally, superbly contemptuous.

‘Magicke,’ murmured the crowd of vampires, whose raven hair and jet cloaks were also billowing in the occult wind, but somehow not quite as convincingly as hers. ‘It is the hour of magicke.’

‘Friends!’ she called, and the word echoed around her. ‘Gather, for we have much to do. Soon, oh soon, I will summon the great Magus, of whom we are all daughters. Sons, also,’ she added hastily.

‘We await,’ they called back in ragged unison.

Her eyes became darker still, darker than night, darker than darkness itself, as dark as the shadows that creep in the netherest regions of the pits of the damned. Darker than that, even.

‘Now, oh now,’ she called. ‘Oh great Magus, whose bosom has suckled us, whose tears have cleansed us, whose, er…’

‘Blood,’ someone prompted quietly.

‘Blood!’ she yelled, sending waves of delirium into the crowd. ‘Whose blood is our food, our life, our passion and our despair!’

The vampires were an unquiet presence behind her, hungry, tumultuous, rapt.

‘I summons you! In the name of Osiris and Isis, Temperegrath and Bewilderwind, Peregor and Kallingernacht, oh hear me!’

‘Hear her! Hear Vampiryirya.’ Again the name proved troublesome for many.

‘From your timeless slumber! From the depths of your agony and delirium, your endless captivity in the caverns of damnation. Come forth!’

The crowd wept and swayed, all eyes on the great door before her, encrusted with ancient wisdom and antic runes. A moment passed. An antic rune fell off.

‘Come oh great one! Your servants await you!’

And another moment.

The moon was gibbous, hectic, and at the fullest. The time was the most propitious, the hour was at hand, the crowd wept and sang and surged, a great hunger driving them to beat themselves with whips and chains, the blood crawling over their pallid flesh like monstrous black worms.

Some more moments passed. No Magus.

‘Ah,’ she said.

‘Right, let’s have a look at this then,’ said Belloc, pushing through the demented hoard of hellish creatures. ‘Scuse me, ta.’ He stood, a man of little over five feet with wispy ginger hair and thick glasses. ‘Right well, you see what your problem is here love?’

‘Speak, oh Belloc!’

‘Yeah. Well it’s your Portal to the Netherest Regions of the Damned, sweetheart,’ he said, scrutinising the great door with a little torch on a keyring. ‘See, it wasn’t put in right.’

‘Not right?’ she called.

‘Dear or dear. What comedian put this in for you? See the render? No, sorry darling but it’s all going to have to come out.’ He scraped at it with a little blade. ‘I mean, call this a Portal? Dear oh Lord. The soonest I could have a look at is Thursday.’

‘Thursday? Is that the propitious day?’ she demanded.

‘Yeah, have to be PM love cos I’m all backed up at the mo. I’ll just take some details.’ He produced a small duplicate book and a pen. ‘Name?’

‘My name,’ she announced magisterially, ‘is Vampiryirya, Acting Queen of…’

‘Yeah could you just spell that out for me my darling? Bit of a mouthful isn’t it? OK. Daytime phone?’

‘Daytime? Phone? I, Vampiryirya, have no phone! I communicate by the winds, by the owls, by the fleet messengers of the underworld…’

‘Yes, I understand all that my love, but I will be needing a daytime phone,’ Belloc said with somewhat strained patience. ‘And I’ll be needing a deposit.’

To Be Continued…