Thursday, June 24, 2010

PMT - A very short flash fiction dedicated to Australia's new Prime Minister

She cursed the clock that made that cursed noise that disturbed her cursed sleep.

As Austagaglia's first female Prime Minister, she was going to have to do it tough. They were all waiting for her to collapse in tears or - possibly worse - to emerge as some Austragaglian Margaret Thatcher. God! Why not just accept her as a Prime Minister - what had gender got to do with anything anyway.

She slammed the coffee pot down. Empty. Someone had forgotten to fill it last night. And there were no Popadoodles for breakfast. How the hell was she supposed to run the country when there was no coffee and no Popadoodles. She opened the fridge and reached for the bread. Or, to be precise, for the bag containing one half slice and a crust. She cursed again. Not even enough for toast. There probably wasn't even any marmalade. She slammed the fridge and checked the larder. Seventeen jars of marmalade. Somehow that made it worse.

She showered - cold water, the heater was on the blink again. More plumbers! Then she dressed and grabbed her brief case from her desk. Of course, as any normal human being would expect, it wasn't closed properly and - in deference to the laws of physics - the entire contents took flight. She chased the paperwork about the room until all had been secured. She felt awful. The day was not off to a good start. Her first day.

The car started (surprise) and she caught seventeen red lights (no surprise). On her way in the security guard asked who she was. Ignorant swine. The guy's first female Prime Minister and he didn't even know her name.

As she fell into her chair in the Prime Minister's office, she felt like she had just run a marathon only to find that the real race was yet to begin. Would it always be like this, she wondered? Or was today just a once off. Just a case of Prime Ministerial Tension.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Need To Write

Sometimes I wonder why I write. Isn't the whole point of writing to be read? And if you are not read, then isn't writing pointless? A waste of time?

On a totally different topic - you might think - I was watching an old episode of 'Tales of the Unexpected' on DVD. It was not, I think, one of the ones written by Roald Dahl unfortunately. But despite that, it wasn't a bad story. Anyway, in it a possible film-backer was talking to a new author and she said something to him along the lines that 'writers understand things'. Writers understand things. A line written by a writer but placed in the mouth of a well-to-do woman getting a free lunch.

The two paragraphs above are not unrelated as you may have thought. The whole point of that line in the episode was to really highlight to the view that writers do NOT understand 'things'. Clearly the writer in the episode did not. Clearly the many writers who have received reject after reject did not understand things.

Only when they become famous (read 'popular') is that special and magic 'understanding' characteristic applied to them. A little like the 'overnight success' that some actors achieve after years and years of struggle.

In reality, writers express things - that can be said. Some of them are very intelligent, some are very witty, some are extremely observant. But they all have two things in common.

Firstly, they express things. They may or may not like what they are expressing but they express them never-the-less. A writer - a true writer - will not sit back with an idea and ignore it. Regardless of whether or not they think anyone will read it, they still write it.

Secondly, like all artists, they are driven by their need to create. Creating for others is important but 'creating' is the driver. Even if no-one ever gets to read their works, they still must write them.

Which brings me to my first paragraph. If I write this piece and no-one ever reads it - is it a waste? Is it time to put down my keyboard and take up stoat-juggling?

The answer is, of course, no. Writer Wrote, Reader didn't Read, but there's always hope.

The following is a list of important things to remember for the budding writer. You may get rejections - you may not even get read - but at the end of the day, persistence is the bridge to achievement. I'm not sure where the original list came from - but what's important is that no-one's overnight success came without many years of struggle.

I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.

These were the words used by one of the editors of the San Francisco Examiner newspaper when rejecting one of Mr. Kipling’s short stories. Mr. Kipling is now a revered author and the San Francisco Examiner is….
Dune was rejected 20 times before successfully reaching print – and becoming one of the most beloved science fiction novels of all time
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (later Sorceror’s) Stone was rejected by a dozen publishers, including biggies like Penguin and HarperCollins. Bloomsbury, a small London publisher, only took it on at the behest of the CEO’s eight-year old daughter, who begged her father to print the book.
C.S. Lewis, received over 800 rejections before he made his first sale. Lewis’s works have now been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies over the years. C.S. Lewis Quotes: What you want is practice, practice, practice.
Richard Bach has always said that this story, told from the point of view of a young seagull, wasn’t written but channeled. When he sent out the story, Bach received 18 rejection letters. Nobody thought a story about a seagull that flew not for survival but for the joy of flying itself would have an audience. Boy, were they wrong! Macmillan Publishers finally picked up Jonathan Livingston Seagull in 1972, and that year the book sold more than a million copies. A movie followed in 1973, with a sound track by Neil Diamond.
Pirsig’s manuscript attempts to understand the true meaning of life. By the time it was finally published in 1974, the book had been turned down 121 times. The editor who finally published Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance said of Pirsig’s book, “It forced me to decide what I was in publishing for.” Indeed, Zen has given millions of readers an accessible, enjoyable book for seeking insight into their own lives.
MA*SH by Richard Hooker
Before the television series, there was the film. Before the film, there was the novel. Richard Hooker’s unforgettable book about a medical unit serving in the Korean War was rejected by 21 publishers before eventually seeing the light of day. It remains a story of courage and friendship that connects with audiences around the world in times of war and peace.
Carrie by Stephen King

If it hadn’t been for Stephen King’s wife, Tabitha, the iconic image of a young girl in a prom dress covered in pig’s blood would not exist. King received 30 rejections for his story of a tormented girl with telekinetic powers, and then he threw it in the trash. Tabitha fished it out. King sent his story around again and, eventually, Carrie was published. The novel became a classic in the horror genre and has enjoyed film and TV adaptations as well. Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement from someone who believes in you.
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

The only book that Margaret Mitchell ever published, Gone With the Wind won her a Pulitzer Prize in 1937. The story of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, set in the South during the Civil War, was rejected by 38 publishers before it was printed. The 1939 movie made of Mitchell’s love story, which starred Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, is the highest grossing Hollywood film of all time (adjusted for inflation).
oh, and just for good measure:

Dr. Seuss got rejection letters, too. Here is one:
“too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”
Here’s a rejection letter for THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK:
“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”
H.G. Wells had to endure the indignity of a rejection when he submitted his manuscript, “The War of the Worlds” that said, “An endless nightmare. I do not believe it would “take”...I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book’.”

And when he tried to market “The Time Machine,” it was said, “It is not interesting enough for the general reader and not thorough enough for the scientific reader.”
Did you know that only seven of Emily Dickinson’s poems were ever published during her lifetime? A rejection early in her career said, “(Your poems) are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.”
Edgar Allen Poe was told, “Readers in this country have a decided and strong preference for works in which a single and connected story occupies the entire volume.”
Herman Melville, who had written a manuscript entitled “Moby Dick,” was told, “We regret to say that our united opinion is entirely against the book as we do not think it would be at all suitable for the Juvenile Market in (England). It is very long, rather old-fashioned…”

Friday, June 11, 2010

Interview with The Surgeon

What inspired my choice? I guess my initial interest came when I was quite young. It started actually when I was about five years old I think. I used to help my mother in the kitchen and I loved cutting up the meat. There always seemed to me to be a right and a wrong way to do it and even at that age, I would often admonish my mother for just 'hacking at it'.

Later I took biology at school and encountered dissection. The taking apart of some dead rodent left most in my class very cold, but the opportunity to - if I may use the word - 'artistically' expose the different organs such as the liver, the heart and so forth was something I delighted in. Bodies - all bodies - are amazing machines and to be able to open them up and discover their secrets was to me far more involving and satisfying than playing football or cricket - it was like an adventure into a foreign land. And as for 'art' - the splattering of paint with a brush or a palate knife hardly came close to the joys of painting in flesh with the scalpel. Naturally, I progressed my studies - it seems safe to skip the boring bits here - which led to where I am today.

Bored? No, definitely not. I haven't lost any of my enthusiasm nor my delight. The clean cut of the knife laying all bare to the observer; the near perfect separation of the skin to reveal the complexities of the most complex animal of all - man. No, it hasn't lost any of its magic for me.

Blood? Blood is natural - not like the chemical drugs that they'd like to pump into us. It's true, blood is a surgeons worst enemy but then it's also the friend. The pumping blood, oozing or spraying about the room is a living reminder of the real magic of the human body. I don't mind it a bit really. Things sometimes get a bit messy and it does reduce visibility a little but as I say, it's natural. It's a big ask to cut someone open and not expect blood.

Regrets? None. I've spent my life doing what I love. OK, well perhaps one. Yes, one regret. After all those years of being careful, I slipped up. I'd spent far too long opening up this old lady when her daughter came in and caught me 'in flagrante delicto' so to speak. Naturally, the cops were ecstatic - finally they'd caught 'The Surgeon' as they called me. Yeah, I slipped up and that's my only regret.

Psychotic killer? Yes, that's what the shrinks said. But no, not in my view. I'm an artist. An artist in flesh.