Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Where's Wickerman?

Wickerman spotted at a recent 60th birthday party.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Hot pursuit

TWENTY-THOUSAND festival goers were left in the cold on Saturday when a willow idol fled the site of its execution.
The midnight burning of the famous Wickerman could not take place at the eponymous Scottish festival as the sacrificial victim escaped from the field some hours before the carefully scheduled pagan rite.
And an extensive search has been launched by police and mountain rescue crews to find the effigy who is believed to be at large in the Galloway hills.
The man is reported to have run from the Dundrennan hill where he was staying as a guest after a tip-off from a concerned wicker welfare officer.
Inspector Upfront from the Kirkcudbright constabulary, who is leading the investigation, said: “It is understood that the Wickerman had some concerns with his Saturday night performance after he had watched the burning of the Wicker Boy — an alleged colleague of his — during the Friday evening revelries. It is believed that there was a heated discussion between the Wickerman and property owner Jamie Gilroy before the former proceeded at full speed in a south easterly direction down the hill and into the cover of the forest.”
One member of the press, Standard reporter Craig Robertson, managed to snap the flight of the Wickerman in his bid for freedom. The photograph is being examined by forensics.
Eye witnesses report that the Wickerman appeared agitated during the Saturday afternoon and fled the field during the performance of the Yardbirds on the main stage. It is believed that his wicker arms were too stiff to move his hands to his ears.
Police have released information on a recovered note left on the site where the Wickerman once stood. It reads: “Bring back Eric Clapton, Jimmy page or Jeff Beck and I’ll turn myself in. I apologise for my absence at the festival, but I just could not take the atrocious musical line-up any more.” It was signed “Wickerman.”
The Wickerman is described as 30-foot tall with medium complexion, with no distinguishing marks and wearing no clothes. “He won’t be difficult to pick out from a crowd,” continued Inspector Upfront, “’cos he’s about24 feet taller than the average festival goer. ”
Members of the public are being warned that the Wickerman is extremely dangerous near a naked flame and should not be approached with a lit cigarette.
Anyone with any information on his whereabouts is asked to contact the incident room on 0845 600 701 or any police officer. Alternatively, information may be left, anonymously if preferred, with freephone Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Burning ambitions

I went to my first music festival ever this weekend. I have supported the Wickerman since its inauguration into the UK festival calendar - a couple of blokes on a hill with a guitar and a corn dolly, giving it laldy.
It has grown quite a lot since those days and, despite the terrible musical line-up, was a truly unique experience.
The one thing that bothered me, however, and I do not necessarily adhere to any particular organised religion, was the burning of the Wickerman on the Saturday night.
Apparently Edward Woodward refused the role this year, still nursing the scars from the third degree burns that he suffered in 1973. He has apparently never spoken to Ingrid Pitt since that time.
Now, I know that this is a huge publicity stunt riding on the back of a famous cult movie of sinister pagan rites, but it took two artists a whole week to build this maginificent, 30-foot structure only to see it destroyed in less than half an hour.
Anyone who has been to the festival will know that the Wickerman is innocent - for god's sake, he has only just been built - he could not have learned evil ways within the space of seven days! There were no shouts of "save the Wickerman" or "The Wickerman is innocent" and everyone appeared to want to let blood in a frenzy of alcohol-induced aggression.
I was fortunate to get up close to watch everything (I pretended to be with the BBC RADIO crew - they were let in because they had a camera to record the ritual. The world's gone mad!)
The urge to free the Wickerman was overwhelming, but someone cavorting athletically with a flaming brand got there before I could raise the alarm.
The Wickerman's spectacular combustion sent the crowd into uproar! Some of the elderly ladies even dropped their knitting (and their bloomers), so much was the excitement.
There is a parallel here: for over 400 years we have been burning the effigy of a man whose only sin was to attempt to blow up a few corrupt politicians. Guido Fawkes must be the most despised character in British history. So heinous was his crime that we burn him every year on millions of pyres so that his tortured soul may never rest. For some unwarranted reason, we do not do the same to the treacherous historical Nazi sympathiser Edward VIII or even the hissing Tony Blair. The Wickerman bore a strong resemblance to Our Guy and I wished that he would make a break for freedom and mash the tight ring of Up Front security guards with his woven wicker soles.
In the style of a true martyr, however, our 30-foot hero endured the excrutiating flames in order to glut the insatiable needs of a hungry mob who had no idea what they were shouting for. Some even sang "Flower of Scotland" in an inappropriate misinterpretation of the ceremonial intention. Poor Wickerman, the sacrificial lamb amongst a herd of Judas goats.
The moral of the story? Fire purges. The old must be destroyed to make way for the new. The blood of the innocent must be let to show the corrupt and the tainted the way to salvation. Without pain, there can be no pleasure. Without evil, we would not appreciate the general notion of good. It is a Christian concept and one that we have been indoctrinated with for nigh on 2006 years.
For the 2007 Wickerman, however, fire burns and life is bollocks!

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Who’s listening?

My daughter had to choose a poem to critique for a school assignment and came to me, admitting that she didn’t know any poems.
I am astounded. Poetry, especially by the 19th century romantic boys, is one of my fortes and best loves, yet how could I have left my children so bereft of this important knowledge? I have forsaken them. What a bad mother. It appears that, owing to time constraints and a full-time job, I have forgotten to teach my children the power and passion of the written word. Whether in verse or prose, words have the ability to convey another dimension of human existence. Words can be described as dirty, magic or buzz. They can be meaningful, operative, spread or breathed. A man is his word, take my word for it, and, for want of a better word, a word can be taken out of the mouth.
This is where it all goes wrong for the word, for meaning and intention can be lost to time and subjectivity of the reader. As a writer of a full-blown epic fantasy, I often get carried away with words: moods, time of day or even hormones have a powerful role to play in how and what I write. A certain scene or reaction of a character, for instance, may spark a profound philosophical aside, just because I happen to be feeling particularly idealistic that day. There is little sense in delving into the rationale of why I wrote it: suffice it to say that I just did. Sometimes a writer says something just because he does; often things are left deliberately vague to fuel the imagination. Occasionally rhyme and reason depart to leave behind the nonsensical — take the freckled and frivolous cake or a Jabberwock with eyes of flame and try to understand the rationale behind them. No doubt, some ambitious critic would say that the authors were having an existential moment; that their nonsense was charged with meaningful philosophy. I say who cares? Writers have their own reasons and there is no amount of expert, didactic deliberation or narratology that can exhume true intentions — no matter what erudite formula is applied.
And so I come to my daughter’s poem. Having pondered long and hard over a number of verses, she eventually chose The Listeners by Walter de la Mare. Not having studied it for at least 30 years, I was surprised that I could quote it line by line, word for word. I could talk about metre, rhythm and rhyme. I could remember what the words “alliteration” and “onomatopoeia” meant. What I could not digest was the Wikipedia’s alleged understanding of the plot. It says: “The story of a mysterious man coming to a house in the night on horseback, and subsequently failing, to deliver a message and fulfil a promise.” Excuse me … The person who wrote the entry could not have read the poem properly. “He felt in his heart their strangeness, their stillness answering his cry”. Message received. Over and out! Plunging hooves, thundering into the distance … why else would this lonely traveller leave? Which one of us is right? Would the author really give a damn?
Personal interpretation can make or break a writer and so-called expert critics often do both. Perhaps the best way to get your message across to the reader is to make certain your words are clear; that meaning and intention are unambiguous; and leave nothing to the imagination. Where, however, is the creativity in that? Imaginative literature is the very essence of fiction. In turn, fiction is written with intent to affect perception. Successful writing is therefore dependant on its listeners, who's listening and whether or not they really hear you.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

The F word

Before anyone writes in to complain or express disagreement or outrage, the following blog is solely the opinion of the blogger and any similarities to fact are purely coincidental.
There are loads of words beginning with the letter F that, when blurted, can cause serious offence depending on the temperament of the recipient. In the world of publishing, there is a certain F word that prompts violent reactions from all mainstream editors and literary agents when spoken out loud during a telephone query or appearing in a covering letter. From the odd raised eyebrow, to the derisory sniff; from the stifled titter, to a broken nose by a slamming door, there is no other word more anathema to a publisher than the one beginning with “F” and ending in “antasy”.
“Fantasy” — there, I have said it, and the furious bolt of lightning has seemingly missed me. It appears that, despite a big presence in the movies and many established authors still selling well, few readers are enamoured with the new stuff. In fact, according to one literary agent, Sci-Fi (a genre that was considered passé about 10 years ago) is in and new fantasy is struggling to survive in the book world. Apparently, the British readers are gorging themselves on a three-course menu of thrillers, crime and diet books — enough to give anyone a serious dose of indigestion. I jest, of course, I really need to go on a diet. Add to this the difficulties, frustrations and humiliation an unsolicited author (especially one that has no dubious celebrity status) faces in breaking into the publishing world, and you have a recipe for probable disappointment.
So, what is wrong with new fantasy fiction? First, I think, perhaps, that there are too many people doing it. Whether they are writing it badly or not, most precious fantasy submissions — and they are legion —end up at the bottom of the dreaded slush pile, many without even being read. Secondly, fantasy readers are Orced-out. Elves, dwarves, dragons and ethereal faery creatures of shadow and light have all been done to death and are simply becoming variations on a jaded theme. Thirdly, there are relatively few literary agents and publishing houses that actually deal in fantasy — most expressly forbid it. Fourthly, those literary agents that do work with fantasy generally stick to the same formula that has brought them success in the past (go back to point 2).
A bleak picture indeed, but that optimistic streak I find cowering in a corner inside me (the one behind the disheartened murmur) tells me that, like every dog, a good book will eventually have its day. I just hope that it will not be a posthumous one.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Time and place

As we are limited by the incessant ticking of the clock, so do most of us constrain our lives by location. In turn, it is the place where we live that provides or denies the opportunities by which to thrive.

The area known as Southern Scotland incorporates the counties of Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders. It is a land of dramatic hillsides, sweeping rivers, tumbling falls and long, sandy beaches. This part of the British Isles has had its fair share of historic drama and its border towns have been won and lost to vying conquerors for millennia. Robert Burns, the great Scottish Bard, lived and died here. King Robert the Bruce was born here and it is here where he committed one of Scottish history’s most famous criminal acts —the murder of the Red Comyn at the altar of Greyfriar’s Kirk in Dumfries. This region has many famous sons as well as a long, vibrant history.

Much of the scenery of Southern Scotland has remained unravaged by man mainly owing to the fact that outlanders know little about it. For those who are confused as to where Southern Scotland actually is situated, it is the place to the left and right of you as you drive up the M74 from Hadrian’s Wall to the Central Belt and the Highlands. For the more intrepid traveller, it is the area mainly to your right as you head towards Stranraer for the ferry to Ireland. Despite attempts by VisitScotland and the local councils to direct visitors to turn left or right off the motorway, this part of Scotland tends to be by-passed by most tourists travelling to Scotland.

It is not surprising to find that large industries, transport networks, the mass media, important educational establishments and government cash also tend to by-pass Southern Scotland on their way to the north. This area apparently boasts the lowest wages in the United Kingdom and possibly the least available jobs and business opportunities. There is a rampant drug culture, mass unemployment and all the associated socio-economic problems that come with hopelessness. A quiet, relatively cheap, housing market has led to an influx of retired couples from more prosperous areas of the UK seeking comfort and serenity during their final days. This has bumped the house prices up threefold over the past few years and many local first time buyers are finding it difficult if not impossible to compete with their richer adversaries. Most of the land belongs to a big business heritable duchy and affordable housing is becoming a privilege of a distant past.

Southern Scotland, however, is probably no worse off than many rural areas in the UK and is considerably better off than most other places in the world. People, in general, have a way of overcoming obstacles and the survival instinct inherent in all forms of life enables us to endure.

The plus factor is that this part of the world stimulates the senses of many artists and craftmakers; of musicians and writers; of ramblers and hermits, who all find inspiration and significance in the quiet serenity of the hills. This region fires the imagination with new ideas and provides the opportunity with which to nurture it and fulfil aspirations.

My preparations for glory in five years can therefore begin. I have established my time and inadvertently my place. I have the space within which to carry out my work and the bedrock upon which to build my dreams. All I need now is the energy to see them through.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

NO MATTER how hard I try to manage my time, there is never enough of it to complete life's tasks. In my proverbial house, there are many mansions — some of them partly furnished, most of them derelict and all of them half-built. The words "If only I had more time," have haunted my life as a wistful refrain. We mere mortals can interact with time by playing for it, biding it, taking it, telling it, buying it and even killing it but we cannot control it and, in the end, it runs out for us all.

The time has come to stop the clock, to take a long breath between the short moments, and prepare to make the most of time while it lasts. The only way to do this is to enjoy it and manage it properly. I, however, must strive to achieve order out of pure chaos. I am that pickled specimen in a dusty jar in the British Science Museum labelled "Living Proof of Chaos Theory". There is such a place as Bedlam, because I have lived right in the middle of it for all of my life but I have somehow managed to endure inside its crowded halls and crumbling walls to achieve quite a lot in my shortish lifetime.

My career has spanned the breadth of the employment market with various jobs including a waitress; a sales assistant; an admin assistant; a receptionist; a postgirl; a conference organiser; a computer teacher; a tutor in Chinese cookery; a journalist; and a barrister. My academic accomplishments include an LlB Hons; a professional legal qualification; achievements in photography, British Sign Language, advanced web design, computers and lots more that do not immediately spring to mind. I am at present (and this is not necessarily in any order) a journalist; bread-winner; wife; mother of not-one-but-four teenagers; web designer; photographer; epic fantasy author (unpublished - for the moment); and now blogger. I juggle these tasks with mixed degrees of competency but aspire to succeed in all. In the effort to achieve excellence, however, I often end up accomplishing little within the limitations of a day: tail-chasing can be an exhausting pastime.

So comes the reason for this blog site. Despite the orderly chaos of my life and despite the limitations of time and money, I am going to achieve the goals set out in the standfirst to this site and I am going to do all of them within five years. I wish to use this space as a record of my achievements - a time line of events - and something that will encourage me, and hopefully others, to succeed in getting time just right.