Slow

I’m currently listening to an audiobook that I started at the beginning of the first lockdown, so it’s fair to say that it’s not entirely grabbed me. A gap of over six months is partly explicable by my discovery of certain podcasts, which eat into book-listening time, but that’s not the whole story. And firing it up again has sharpened my discontent and made me try and put my finger on the problem.

I think it comes down to this: the whole thing feels slow.

It’s not that nothing’s happening. There is action and there is drama and there is mystery, and it’s also fair to say that, at two and a half hours’ in to a 14hr story, I’m still only scratching the surface.

But the whole thing seems slow. There is little room for nuance as everything is spelled out for us. All decisions are shown, clearly and without room for error, and in a way this is a good thing. But it really does sabotage any sense of momentum and imperative.

Who am I to be saying this? After all, I am the one who’s been outed as an over-writer in recent months; I have my troubles with quiet scenes. So it’s not like I think I’m any better.

Perhaps recognising the condition in other writers is a sign that I am learning. I am seeing in others what I am guilty of myself, and the first step towards solving a problem is to admit you have one in the first place. In a way, this particular story has come at the perfect time for me, when I’m examining my own flaws and looking at paring back my writing in general.

Perhaps it’s just that this audiobook has flaws sharp enough for even me to scrape my numb feet upon, but I don’t think so. It’s not bad, not that I would like to determine it thus.

Anyway, isn’t it possible to learn from weaker stories just as it is to find inspiration in masterpieces? I think so, though I don’t go so far as to seek out bad books in place of quality; I have (sadly) limited reading time and my primary focus is on pleasure, even in my non-fiction.

And, on that note, let me recount my experience with 50 Shades of Grey. Whilst walking to work one morning I chanced upon a copy sitting on a bench by the river. Aware of its reputation, and in search of cheap (free) thrills, I picked it up and started to flick through it as I strolled onwards.

I abandoned it on the next bench I came to. That was enough for me.

I happily imagine the life of that copy as it journeys along the riverbank, one bench at a time, as it passes through many hands from sea to source, and then, and then…

What next adventure can a poor lonely copy of a truly bad book have? That, dear reader, is entirely up to you.

Waxing lyrical

I sit here writing this with music on in the background. Laura Marling, if you must know, which isn’t the best choice as the lyrics are too good. Rather, they’re too much in the forefront of the song and don’t do their job as background to deeper mind processes.

I always write to music. It’s usually a lot quieter than silence, which has a deep sucking sound as the background is vacuumed into your soul. Music provides a sort of creative bubble around you, the rhythms strumming your creative core in a way that nothing else can. Not for everyone, sure – how much of a theme of this blog is that? – but that’s how its always been for me. It’s really no surprise that my writing really springs from the same creative well as all these songs.

I got into words via music. Caught up with depression and a stupid misdirected urge to create, I dreamt up hundreds of songs when I was – what, 16 – 22? Never heard outside my head, I became a prolific writer of lyrics; I still have most of them, now sadly shorn of context – hundreds of scraps of paper all carefully stored away in the spare room, too poor, too painful to be re-examined but too personal to be thrown away.

Slowly, after many, many trials and more errors than you can possibly imagine, these lyrics slowly became less attempts at poetry and more what they should have been all along; accompaniments for music. Some of these, I maintain, are pretty good. I’ve always been pretty cocky at my ability to write a good lyric. I’m certainly more confident about that than I am about my full-length writing. What infuses both, however, is rhythm. I can never measure it, but there’s a rhythm to novels, a pacing, and I think total immersion in a head-bubble of sound can really help bring that to life.

For me, music and words are almost the same thing. The mood that’s created in both can be totally detached from the actual ‘story’; the same plot can be given a totally different feel by the way it’s told (compare Neil Gaiman’s American Gods with his Anansi Boys: both set in the same world and with the potential to create the same emotions – but one’s an adventure filled with a sense of anxiety and foreboding, the other almost a comedy). Whereas in music the same lyrics can be given a totally different feel by the arrangement behind it.

Anyway, here’s some song lyrics for you to mock. I remember the first stanza of the first work as being the first thing I ever wrote. In my mind I was still a child but I’m imperfect: could’ve been anywhere from eight to fifteen. It came to me so complete and so perfect rhythmically – the nursery rhyme-ness of the measure – that I’ve never been entirely sure that I haven’t stolen it from somewhere, some half-buried memory from my earliest days – but if so I’ve never tracked it down. So I’m claiming it.

The second one remains almost mystical, magical to me. It’s the sort of thing you can get away with in lyrics that you can’t with poems and certainly not with prose. A sense (to me) of personal truth that transcends the actual words. I don’t exactly – not quite, not 100% – know what it means. It just felt right; again the first stanza coming to me in one big chunk in university halls, and then at a later date (on a train between Belfast and Bangor, I remember that) the second verse falling from the stars and striking me right between the eyes.

Both of these have actually been performed live with bands, which just goes to show.

Time 

When I was young I’d often sit and wonder who I’d be
But now that I’ve grown up I’ve come to find that I am me
But who am I and what am I and who am I to say
I won’t wake up to find I’m someone else another day

When I was young I’d often sit and wonder what to say
But now that I’ve grown up these feelings should have gone away
Timing isn’t everything, but when you’ve lost your voice
These isolations multiply and soon you’ve got no choice

When I was young I’d often sit and try hard not cry
And wish that I was older so I wouldn’t have to lie
But tears come and fears go and tears still abide
And everything that I once was is carried deep inside

Crush

And a force to crush me sweeps across
And a memory of what I lost
And who I was; but that’s all gone
You were here but time moves on

And seismic shifts in prose and poetry

And this does not mean the world to me
And who was there to wash me clean?
Gravity: my cruel machine
And here comes the rain

And to touch the truth; the story dies
And so we rip out future cries
And all that’s been will come again
You were here to ease the pain
And here comes the rain

And a force to crush me sweeps across
And all that I once was is lost
And here and now; you and me
The weight is gone and we are free
And here comes the rain

And a force to crush me sweeps across
And a memory
Of what I lost…

This article has been brought to you by Laura Marling and Scheer and edited in association with the Levellers, Metallica and Richard Thompson