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So the waiting is over now, for me. Joint third is a good place to be when you’ve never won anything before, and after seeing the quality of the opposition I’m more than a little chuffed!
Actually, of course, the waiting isn’t over. Tomorrow comes the pleasure of seeing the two stories the judges deemed better than mine.
Inspiration! That”s what every writer needs and, if all those TV Christmas Specials are anything to go by, not to mention dozens of Christmas No. 1s from singer/song writers, Christmas is a great source of inspiration.
But we all know that genius is only 10% inspiration, the rest is hard graft, especially when you’ve got a deadline to meet. Here’s how Paul Andruss handled the problem last year, courtesy of Sally Cronin over at Smorgasbord.
I like this post from Australian author Robin Storey. The only quarrel I have with it is her suggestion that ladies of ‘mature age’ still wear Crimplene. Maybe they do down there in the antipodes. I don’t know anyone who does among my contemporaries in the British Isles.
“With Queen Elizabeth turning 90 recently and still looking pretty spry, it got me thinking that one of the secrets to healthy aging has to be a sense of purpose, a reason to get up in the mornings. In the case of the Queen, she has commitments – speeches to make, buildings to open, medals to give out. And hundreds, often thousands of people would be put out if she pulled the covers over her head and refused to get out of bed because her arthritis/lumbago/gammy hip was giving her trouble.
The challenge for many people after they retire from the workforce is to keep active and fill their days with challenging and worthwhile activities; otherwise it’s a short slide into a twilight of daytime TV, curtain twitching and writing daily irate Letters to the Editor.
From that point of view there are many advantages to being a mature age author.”
If you want to know what they are you’ll have to click through to Robin’s original post.
Sinead O’Connor used the ‘C’ word in a tweet. It seems she took offence at the presence of a certain young woman, famous for being famous, on the cover of Rolling Stone. She could have said “What’s that face doing on the cover of Rolling Stone?”. Except it wouldn”t have had the same impact as the woman’s body part she chose to use instead of ‘face’.
How is it that words associated with sex and the sexual organs have been subsumed into the language of hate, used to express one’s response to an event or behaviour that we regard as foolish, ignorant or inappropriate?
There are couple of ‘T’ words, one with the same literal meaning as the ‘C’ word, frequently used in the same way, although with rather less anger. But it is not only female sexual organs that are invoked to express frustration at someone’s idiotic behaviour. D**khead comes to mind as one example. We all know that when something goes horribly wrong someone will refer to the situation as a ‘c**k up’. And any man will tell you that the physical manifestation represented by the phrase, should it happen at an inappropriate time, is indeed a source of embarrassment. As such, it is perhaps the only commonly used sexual metaphor that makes any sense.
The ‘F’ word has become a common place expletive; the verb as it stands an expression of annoyance, with the addition of ‘ing’ becoming a general purpose adjective. “F***ed up” describes a person or activity that has gone off the rails.
And then there are the ‘B’ words. The noun, literally meaning someone born outside of marriage, is far less used nowadays, perhaps because so many people are now born outside of wedlock. The other, the verb for anal sex, is usually regarded as less offensive in use than the ‘F’ word. Which seems an odd state of affairs given that the activity is so frequently viewed with far greater disgust.
All of these usages derive from our culture’s fear of sex and the accompanying notion that sex is dirty, disgusting, filthy; not to be mentioned in polite society.
Suppose for a moment that the sexual organs were deemed to be beautiful, as a growing number of us do now believe, or that there was a public acceptance of the truth that sexual activity is the most tender expression of love between two people. Would any of these words have the same impact? Would they even be used in the same way? Perhaps we would have to say what we mean; Sinead O’Connor would be forced to substitute “horrible person” for the ‘C’ word in her infamous tweet.
Now let’s fantasise for a moment and suppose that words describing violent acts and weapons became as unacceptable in use as words with a sexual connotation are today. Would “gun” or “bomb” be used in the way the ‘C’ word is today? Would “fight” and “fighting” replace those other “F” words?
She was 14 when her father gave her in marriage to a foreign warrior in return for the restoration of his kingdom. Her daughter would marry a man who served three English kings and ended his life as Regent. What was it like to be Strongbow’s wife and, later, his widow? Could she forgive her father or his arch-enemy O’Rourke? What became of her after Strongbow’s death?
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Comedy must be one of the hardest forms of writing to get right. You would not think so, given the number of successful situation comedies on television or the number of comedians of either gender able to attract vast audiences.
The difficulty as I perceive it, is that in order to make something seem funny, it has to be exaggerated. But not too much, just enough to highlight the inappropriateness of some ordinary behavioural trait, without going so far as to make it seem ridiculous or hurtful. It is a difficult balance to achieve. Go too far and your characters become caricatures.
One of the reasons I never warmed to French and Saunders or Absolutely Fabulous was because, in my eyes, too many of the characters were caricatures, so over-played as to be unlike any normal human being. The same can be said of some of the characters in The Vicar of Dibley but that was always redeemed by the down to earth humanity of French’s own role.
So when I came across a novel by Dawn French I could not resist taking a serious look at it. Would her characters have the substance to sustain them through a 300 page book?
The answer, I am pleased to report, is yes. A Tiny Bit Marvelous presents a fairly ordinary middle class English family going through the turmoil that is inevitable when adolescent angst meets the mid-life crisis of a parent.
French has indeed achieved the balance I referred to above, exaggerating just enough to highlight the inherent humour of a situation without going so far as to make the whole thing seem ridiculous.
What the reader is presented with is something much more substantial than a series of sketches. Events build steadily to the inevitable crisis. Chapter points of view alternate as the story unfolds through the eyes of mother, daughter and son, each of whom has a distinct personality and writing style.
In the background father and grandmother provide a grounding of common sense as the other three become embroiled in a steadily escalating series of increasingly bizarre, but by no means unbelievable, events.
This was a satisfying and enjoyable read I’d happily recommend to anyone whether or not they enjoy French’s work in television.