Sunday 20 May 2012

Review: Peri Bathous - Or the Art of Sinking in Poetry, by Alexander Pope

Before I get to the real business of reviewing, I have two confessions to make. 
The first, that although I had heard of Peri Bathous; I had always assumed it to be a serious description on the art of poetry and not as a snarky look at the art of writing bad poetry. More than that, I hadn’t known that the ‘author’ of Peri Bathous is none other than our old friend, Martin Scriblerus.
The second confession is that when I found out that this was a treatise, I started reading it to get tips on writing my own bad eighteenth century poetry for the main character in my next novel, Sidney Derrick. This is a confession as it breaks on of my all time reading rules, ‘never read a book for a purpose’.

However, I did read this for a purpose and was lucky enough to greatly enjoy it. The notes in my copy point the majority of this small book to have been written by Alexander Pope, with little or no input from the other members of the Scriblerians. 
In this book, Martinus Scriblerus is assessing the taste for the profound, that a taste for profundity is more common than a taste of reality and that there are many mediocre writers, who can create really deep profundity with a little instruction. Martinus then gives us examples from real poems, where this art of creating the deep and profound writing has been perfected; gives the forms and styles that create this effect, a recipe for a epic poetry and a scheme for the improvement of the stage.
I particularly liked the link between profundity and depth to the concept of making things ‘low’. The main aim of the book is to encourage writers to sink to the very ‘bathos’, the depth of all. I have often thought that writers who write to be clever or deep regularly find themselves writing rubbish, and it was pleasing to see someone else saying it.
The tone of the piece is perfect, where the Memoirs occasionally got too silly, this book never slips the guise of an earnest and helpful style manual. The inclusion of many absurd and comical examples of real poetry, helped give the ideas weight.
I very much enjoyed this book, and wanted to quotes parts to people throughout reading. 
For example, there is the advice to those who wish to get the right register in a piece, that they don’t want to be too clear in their writing as that would be too vulgar. A writer must be obscure as 
‘Obscurity bestows a cast of the wonderful’. 
There is also the description on poetry as a ‘natural or morbid secretion from the brain.’ It is like snot or mucus, something better out than in, a view I have had about poetry for some time. Poetry certainly acts this way for poor Sidney Derrick, who can’t help secreting poetry, even when he is under awful strain.
The final piece of advice, which confirms my original conception of Sidney, is Martinus’s dictum that a poet must ‘acquire a most happy, unaccountable way of thinking.’ I like this description, Sidney will definitely be a character with a happy and unaccountable way of thinking, he’ll have a positively deluded way of thinking, seeing everything through a rosy glow. He won’t be able to see anything the way it really appears.
My absolute favourite part of the book was where overblown and poetical examples of normal commands were given - for example...
Shut the Door.
“The wooden guardian of our privacy. Quick, on it’s axle turn -”
Uncork the Bottle.
“Apply thine engine to the spongy door. Set Bacchus from this glassy prison free.”
And my favourite;
“Bring forth some remnant of Promethean theft, Quick to expand th’ inclement air Congealed by Boreas’s rude breath.” 
Which means, to light a fire.
Like lovers parting, or one stool-bound with a poo.
With tears I bid to thee adieu.

Saturday 19 May 2012

Odes to the Big City - a preview of a preface.

I originally planned to plan the next book and no more, but I couldn't help myself write a little.

The following part is the current rough draft of the preface I plan to use, as I say in the text, it is as traditional to skip a preface as it is to write.

In the preface, I lay put my scheme for the book and talk a little about the book's theme and the relationship between a reader and writer.

I put it in a word-cloud generator and got this - pretty, eh?

Wordle: Preface to Odes to the Big City

The following few words are some of the hardest I have ever written.

On the Essence of a Book and This Book in Particular.

The first thing people do after you tell them that you are writing a book, is ask; ‘what is it about? To which the answer given must always be a lie, a misunderstanding or a partial truth. This is an inevitable result of ‘what is it about?’ being a bad question. Were somebody to ask me that question, I could try and answer in a number of ways. 

Firstly, I could simply state the plot. Some would say that although this is the most common way to describe a book, it is the least useful. They would claim that the actions of a plot are nothing more than mere mechanics, a coat hanger for the smart jacket of tailored writing. 

Nonsense. If a novel cannot fulfil the basic obligation of interesting things happening to engaging people, then it is a failure. I consider it a direct and deep insult to be given a book where nondescript characters do nothing. Forget style, forget propriety, forget clever - Story is All.

In the case of this book, the story is about a deluded poet who moves into the Big City to seek his fortune. He is constantly under threat; of starvation, of brutal crime or of equally brutal justice. In the seedy underbelly of London, our poet needs as many true friends as he can get and needs to avoid the attention of powerful enemies. All he has in his favour is a dopey smile and fecklessness, his is not going to be an easy time. 

However, for those who do fancy a little bit more of a warning as to the main theme of this coming work, I can explain it in one sentence. ‘Odes to the Big City’ is about the complicated relationship between an author, his time and place and his writing. 

In the book we see our poet, Inspired by his own poetic vision of the Big City and oblivious to the chaotic and messy truth of it. We see other writers, straddling the High Lives and the Lowlifes, writing for money or for prestige, using writing to secure their places in the world and knock a few others off their perches. We also see the people who couldn’t give the slightest fig for the spats of writers, nor have any time for writing in itself. They couldn’t care what a writer writes or what readers read, they just want to stay warm and full.

This theme is given greater resonance through the attempt at writing the book as if it were an eighteenth century novel, and not just one set then. How does a writer trying to write as if from a different time (though pretty much the same place) relate to their own time and place? I  intend to follow as close as possible the quirks and features of the mid-eighteenth century novel; from the idiosyncratic capitalisation and short chapters with long titles, to the types of characters and scenes an eighteenth century reader would expect.

Originally I planned this first chapter to tell the story of how I ‘found’ the manuscript after rummaging through the second hand bookshops near Charing Cross. I was going to praise the ‘anonymous’ author and pretend that ‘Odes to the Big City’ was a relic. This would have fit in perfectly with one way of starting an eighteenth century novel, ‘The Man of Feeling’ starts with a man saving the manuscript from a parson who is using it for gun wadding. Novels later in the century, such as the gothic and sentimental often had a ‘frame’ for their story and the found manuscript is not an unusual one. It would also excuse me from having to talk about the awkward fact that this is an eighteenth century novel written by a twenty-first century man. Avoiding that fact is the act of a coward.

As much as I try and make this book an eighteenth century one, I am typing it on a computer and listening to mp3s. Even were I to lock myself in some rural hellhole, wear nothing but heavy duty re-enactor’s clothing, use nothing but period implements and a library consisting only of books available at the time, I’d still not be able to write an eighteenth century book. Even if I were rich enough for a classical Eton education, instead of my ordinary state kind, I’d Still not be able to write one. It is simply Impossible. There is no way I can think and act in a way completely eighteenth century, and even if I could, I couldn’t interact with others who could, or in a manner appropriate to the period. 

Which brings me back to the theme, of the author’s relationship to his time and place. Although I cannot fully recreate the past, in trying to do just that I am having a conversation with it,  a living engagement between the past and the present through which I can look at both the story, and the writing of the story in different ways. 

Which brings me back further when I said, ‘Story is All’. There hasn’t been much yet. This is because convention demands, if I follow the mid-eighteenth century example, that I begin the book by providing the reader a context for the work. Henry Fielding in ‘Joseph Andrews’ describes his idea of the ‘comic-epic in prose’. Johnson in his work on Shakespeare, contextualises debates on the celebrated playwright before we see his works. Samuel Richardson explains the morals of his characters before we are thrust in their heads, and so with this book, I try to explain what it is I am set out to do. As it is traditional for writers of the time to write a chapter like this, so it is traditional for the readers to skip it. I will certainly not be quite so direct again.

I started this chapter by asking the question ‘what is the book about?’ and declaring it a bad one. This is because a novel is only ever about anything when it is read. There are entertainments, like the theatre, where the audiences’s imaginations are limited by the physical presence and performance of the actors. We may wish to imagine Iago a thousand ways when we read ‘Othello’ but when we see it performed, Iago is the man standing on the stage, dressed in the costume he has been put in, saying the lines in the manner that the director and the actor have agreed already. The audience cannot affect what is in front of them. A novel is different altogether.

If this page is a stage, the writer and reader meet here as equals. The reader is not like an audience at a play consuming the entertainment, but like the actor is a vital participant, a performer. Where I as the writer need to provide clear direction and an engaging script, it is the reader’s job to act that script. To add breath to it and give it life. I may be able to describe with great clarity the dress of a character, the gait, the tone of their voice, but the performance of such can only be achieved by the reader. In this sense, a novel is not created by a writer, but an act of co-creation by writer and reader.

It is for this reason that the essence of a book, what it is about, can never be truly answered by anyone but the individual. Perhaps, when the book is finished, you might be able to tell me. However, at this early stage, as we enter the unknown hand in hand, I hope we can develop the rapport and trust that good relationships are built on; for just as you trust that I tell the tale well, I trust you to read it well also.
Onwards in trust then.
Adam Stevenson

Sunday 13 May 2012

Death of a Dreamonger

As the more observant readers of this blog may have noticed, there is now a large red banner at the top of this blog and a (rather swanky) mini-website at the bottom.

This is to celebrate and promote the completion of my second novel 'Death of a Dreamonger'. I am now sending out samples of the book to agents, as I seek both representation and publication. 

For those wondering what it is about, here is my blurb for it...

"With enough money and ingenuity, any dream will come true."
 - James Drummond, CEO, Dream 
Instantiation Company.

James Drummond, commits suicide, everyone says he killed himself because of DID, a suicide disease that James is blamed for unleashing on the world...but did he, and what actually is DID?

Seeking these answers is Eve Lewis, a quick-brained, big-mouthed, wheeler-dealer, who’s quest for the truth grows into an obsession. She is helped and hindered by Manna, a naive curry delivery boy with a not so secret crush; Morgan, James's adopted son, who is now a hermit, and Nat Brown, Fleet Street's finest character assassin.

These four people form and reform alliances by trading kisses, information and curry as Eve gets closer to the truth, but who can she trust? Who can trust her? And can Eve make her dreams come true on ingenuity alone? 

Anybody willing to find out more about the book, read excerpts from it, and download the first three chapters for free can look at the mini-site at the bottom of the blog.

In the mini-site, the reader has to navigate through Eve's messy desk, finding out the concepts, places and characters in the story, illustrated by quotes.

Anyone wishing to go straight to the free sample, or to make comments on the book - click on the business card in the bottom right corner and there will be the download and a form.

Comments from publishers and agents are very welcome.

All yours

-Just a little note to say my internet is playing up and that I may be a little quiet- 

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Susan at Life Takes Lemons has very kindly given me the Very Inspiring Blogger award, having been awarded it herself. She writes an extremely interesting blog, mainly on the eighteenth century, usually by taking a person or object and focussing on them. Her biography of Moll King is one of my favourite bits of web writing.

Recipients of the award have to say 7 facts about themselves and then nominate 7 blogs for the award.

Things About Me
  • As a child I had over 50 handpuppets. They all had names and personalities and by the time I was 15 I had imagined the island they lived on, their political system, their history and their own myths and legends.
  • I first knew I wanted to be a writer at the age of seven, after writing a story about a fox called Fox who got his revenge on a farmer after he killed all of Foxes brothers and sisters.
  • I was very keen on acting as a child and played child roles in a number of adult amateur productions, often as a character called Edmund. 
  • I was born prematurely at 1lb 14 oz, a statistic that raises eyebrows when they see my current portly frame.
  • I've had a varied career so far, having started work maintaining priceless books, to taking period portrait photographs, dressing as a zombie and promoting attractions and most ludicrous of all, as a waiter - where I once broke 300 plates in one shift.
  • Now I work as a teaching assistant in a class of 5 and 6 year olds. Sometimes they tell me off for being immature.
  • My slightly obsessive nature extends out of eighteenth century books and into other realms, including various types of music. My favourite peoples are Ian Dury, Misty's Big Adventure and Flipron.

My Recommendations

Letters of Note is a fascinating blog that publishes letters from all around history. You never know what subject or person is coming next, but it can range from Leonardo Da Vinci applying for a job to Harper Lee talking about illiteracy.

Bills of Mortality and Sudden Death looks closely at London's bills of mortality and probes them to see what the deaths, especially unusual one tell us about the city at various times. Macabre and interesting.

Writers Worth a website designed to get writers talking to each other. Also check out the Writers Worth group at goodreads.

And finally, four blogs taking the courageous journey of Clarissa with me. Take time to check out the well thought out literary thoughts of these brave people.

Lakeside Musing

Tip of the Iceburg

Spark's Notes

Tell Me a Story 

After checking all those interesting blogs, I hope you come back to your...