Monday, April 29, 2013

Jane Austen – my theory

by Natacha Dudley

Michael Chwe, is an associate professor of political science at the University of California.  It was while watching  “Clueless,” the 1995 film based on Jane Austen’s “Emma” that he first realised that the film was all about manipulation. On April 22nd, Princeton University Press published his paper “Jane Austen, Game Theorist,” In it he states “Anyone interested in human behavior should read Austen because her research program has results.”  He argues that Jane Austen should be regarded as the unacknowledged founder of the science of Game Theory. Whilst I understand that Austen was indeed a shrewd observer of the social lives of the landed gentry, to describe her creative output as merely a research program is surely to miss the point of her appeal as an author.

To my mind, Jane Austen’s enduring popularity lies ultimately not in research or strategy, but in her ability to create strong characters. Take “Pride and Prejudice” for example. It regularly features in lists of favourite books, Top 100 books ever written, etc. etc. A significant part of that success is due to its feisty protagonist- Elizabeth Bennett. She is a young woman who is not only independent but also attractive. Like another strong female character I encountered in my youth- Jo March (Little Women) Lizzie Bennett is a rebel. She rejects her parents’ plans for her to marry Mr Collins and pursues her own path.

Of course, I could not discuss Elizabeth Bennett without mentioning her strong male counterpart -Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy.  Initially portrayed as an arrogant figure, by the end of the story he has managed to see beyond her social class and love Elizabeth Bennett as a person. The protagonists’ interaction and compelling journey towards self -awareness is the beating heart of the novel.

Two hundred years after it was first published, Pride and Prejudice continues to inspire other authors. It has been used as the starting point for a zombie parody-“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Seth Graham-Smith and a murder mystery- PD James “Death comes to Pemberley”. This is all due to Austen’s magnificent characters not clinical research. Well that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What Is Important For You?

by Gary Tinnams

I have recently moved house and was going through all my various bits of writing from long forgotten folders when I found the novel I wrote at the tender age of 13. I’m not going to say how old I am, but let’s just say I wrote this novel more than a decade ago.  What was it about? Ha. Well it was about a master thief on some fantasy world who slowly becomes more when he discovers a magic sword and is tasked with defeating an evil sorcerer. He meets and befriends companions along the way, etc... etc. Yes not entirely original, but what is? Also the writing style isn’t that bad for a 13 year old, in fact it’s not that different from my writing style now.

Excerpt from The Crystal Sword – 19??, by teenager who had read a few books.

‘Elborn with his free hand found a pouch and he eagerly opened it to reveal the seeing stone. With it he saw his brother and the somewhat battered troops that followed him. The storm he had created to stop them had done more than good. Then Elderon seemed to face him and grinned, Elborn was baffled completely, how did Elderon know he was being watched? Then the picture on the stone flickered and then ceased.’

It’s not that bad, is it? I am surprised at the age of 13, I could master ‘baffled’ and ‘reveal’, oh I was good.

At the time I wrote this escapism was definitely the order of the day, escapism and emulation. I was writing like someone who had read too much Dragonlance, David Eddings and Raymond E. Feist. I was having a ball just trying to figure out what the hell I was doing, and what the rules were.

It was all about the plot then, creating and moving characters around with only the slightest impression of their inner workings. As time moved on, I read more out there books. On my book shelf now I can see such diverse books as ‘Generation X’, ‘Ender’s Game’ and ‘Spares’, books which are very different, following their own separate rules, their own formulas.

Over time I came to the conclusion that my characters were just as important as my plots, in fact they were my plots. First it was their suffering. All my characters suffered, they still suffer, they still chafe under the weight of their own mistakes. But that suffering slowly changed from self indulgent teenage angst to something with dimensions. Suffering could also be overcome, characters triumph over their circumstances, they look for hope.

What is important? You can read a million books, live a million lives vicariously, but in the end you have to figure out what is important to you. What rules are you going to follow? No-one should be afraid to find their own way, because what we are taught and what we learn are not necessarily the same thing.

I know what I like, and it is pulpy adventure, conflicted characters and hard decisions. I’m not the best writer on the Planet, not even close, and maybe only my mother loves what I write, but I like to think I’m getting somewhere.

I’ll end with something I wrote a few years later, I’m not saying when, but it may have been at the beginning of this century: On purpose I have left it unedited just to show you just how bad my editing skills were. (Still are...)

Take The Risk

‘Old man!’ My Grand-daughter shouted down the stairs at me. I was standing in the hallway ready, my shoes on, my shirt tucked in to my beige trousers, and my cap covering hairless head. I was ready, which wasn’t bad considering I was pushing sixty-seven. Kara wasn’t, which was just awful considering she was just twenty-two.
‘Kara,’ I said loudly, not shouting, in response. “We’re going to be late.”
‘I can’t find my... Oh! Why did you put my keys in the wrong handbag?’

Of course I hadn’t.

A few moments later she came bounding down the stairs, casual jeans and pink top matching the pink highlights in what should have been long auburn hair.

‘Old man,’ she smiled.

‘Not for much longer...  I hope.’

She took my arm, and we left the terraced house we had shared since Kara’s parents had died. I remember clearly this tear stricken toddler in her black dresses, always sinking into dark corners. She had changed so much, bright, alive, and she had worked hard, so very hard, to earn the money to buy me the treatment.

We waited at the bus stop, and I did wonder what would happen if the bus didn’t show, was I leaving too much to chance. The street was quiet, but it was an old street, populated by old people I had known for decades. Some of them had returned from the treatment, some had not. But still, that was the chance the seekers of youth always took.

The bus came, of course, I had ignored Kara’s request for a taxi. Why should we spend more money when there was a perfectly good bus service? We arrived after a few changes at the clinic. Jumping off on what appeared to be an old country road, more grass and trees than concrete. We walked up the path, and there it was, like an amphitheatre to the Gods, a white marble temple, round and panelled, gleaming with promise, offering the proverbial manna from heaven. The Sandman Corporation had become rich beyond imagination because they owned and built this fantastic structure on a natural spring that could turn back the years themselves.

We walked into the spectacular ovoid reception, Kara clutching my arm more tightly than she had done at her parents’ funeral.

‘We can still go home Grandad,’ she said. ‘You don’t have to do this.’

I stared deeply into her begging green eyes. She had wanted this because of the cancer, but even with that terrible disease I still had a month or two. By taking the treatment I could be dead a lot sooner.

I hugged her close. “I love you little Kara, and I want to be around. To see you get married, have children, the whole kit and keboodle.”

She kissed me on the forehead one last time and then we turned to face the waiting Doctors. 


The end


Monday, April 1, 2013

Woolfian Shoes

by Dorinda Guest

On March 28, the 72nd  anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s death, my thoughts returned to her writing and, in particular, Jacob’s Room. In this experimental novel we are asked to step inside the protagonist Jacob’s shoes, and use them as the key to the whole book. 
Shoes tell us where a person has been and where he or she wants to go; they tell us the story of who people are and who they would be.  Worn and tattered shoes, like faces, are drawn into signatures, inscribed through time and experience with identity.  New shoes tell the story of desires, of aspirations written, not only on the heart and soul but, just as intimately, on the body.
Jacob’s shoes are a signifier of both presence and absence; while the reader is given to understand that Jacob has died in France, his shoes contain his bodily imprint, casting them as a temporary private memorial in the absence of a lasting tombstone. The empty shoes are especially poignant, since Jacob is often seen walking in the novel, hiking up Olympian Hills, or climbing the path leading to the Acropolis, never doubting for a moment that he will get somewhere.
Woolf’s novel reminds us that the empty shoes of Jacob are there for repeated lacing and re-lacing, for multiple repetitions which alter and produce new effects.  We are forced, by Woolf’s verbal painting of the empty shoes in Jacob’s Room, to retrace our steps and re-evaluate the entire novel, in the process stepping into Jacob’s shoes in his absence.  Woolf delights in contradictory pairs, as Jacob is repeatedly described as clumsy yet elegant, awkward yet distinguished. Like a provocative pair of mismatched shoes the narrator and character are deliberately out of step.  For the most part Jacob stands superbly aloof, silent as a statue, beautifully and contemptuously out of reach. 
It is in these shoes that Jacob has made his imprint, not in any gesture of momentary heroism.  Woolf confronts the reader, via the tangibility of the empty shoes, with the intangible and at times inexpressible vagaries of loss, longing and desire.  This final unforgettable image remains with us long after we have put the book down.  We hear the spectral shuffle of Jacob’s shoes in our ears, their mutilated music continuing to lament, having taken that step into the void.