Archive | May, 2013

Words upon Reaching 45,000 Words

27 May

I have now written 45,000 words of my latest fictional project (WIP No. 1). I began work on it at the end of October (though I’d been mulling over the idea subconsciously for the previous four years). For me, this represents rapid progress. After all, my last project took me six years. 45,000 words – it remains to be seen whether any of them are any good… As those who’ve read this blog before might know, I’ve adopted a twin-pronged approach to writing this time around. The 15,000 words of WIP No.2 have been lying untouched since October. And so they will remain while the ideas for No. 1 continue to flow. I’m off to the the writing den with my children in tow, so I may well return with a few thousand words more. Or I may just return with a clutch of cuts and scratches as a result of making dens. We shall see…


The view from the writing desk in winter

Although it shares certain structural similarities with its predecessor, the new manuscript is vastly different in nature. It involves an alternative history of Europe, which is nonetheless based upon real events. And there is almost an element of fantasy to it. It relates a multitude of stories but dispenses altogether with traditional narrative structure. Who can say whether it will work? Nobody has yet seen any part of it, other than those who’ve looked at the two short extracts on this blog, so I’ve been writing in a vacuum. You can tell that I’ve arrived at one of those points, which most writers experience, where you start to question the validity of what you’re writing…

Meanwhile, on the reading front, I’m about half way through Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game (see previous post). I shall be taking it with me to the writing den. At over five hundred pages of small print – I wonder how many words that comes to? – I doubt whether I’ll finish it. I shall give my verdict in due course. At least I’m enjoying it more than the last book that I read, Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, also weighing in at over five hundred pages and to my eyes, deeply disappointing.

All text and image © PSR 2013

Passing Time and The Glass Bead Game

18 May

Unlike my friend Simon who’s read the entire canon, Steppenwolf is the only work of Hermann Hesse’s that I’ve finished reading. It was for his novel, The Glass Bead Game that he won the Nobel Prize in Literature (an award of which I shall be a future recipient – well, according to my Twitter profile, at any rate). I started reading that book a long time ago. I got as far as page 110. Since games are featured in both of my current projects (see my recently posted game-related extract), I thought I might give it another look. I can’t now recall why I stopped reading it but I remember the precise moment that I did so. I was sitting on a picnic bench outside the Berney Arms, a pub in the middle of the Halvergate Marshes in Norfolk, which can only be reached by a long march on foot, by boat or via a railway halt at which trains stop a couple of times a day. Just like me, protagonist, Joseph Knecht was pursuing his studies and by page 110, had reached the same age that I was back then. I’ve just passed that point again. And in so doing I realised that I’d put that book down half a lifetime ago. It had been sitting unread on the shelf with its place marker while all of that time elapsed, as people and events have come and gone. I found the thought a little disconcerting. (Around the same time, I threw Titus Groan, the first book in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy on the rubbish tip, but that’s another story entirely…)

The game of the novel’s title has developed into a purely intellectual pursuit, of which Joseph Knecht is master. Players make connections between disparate intellectual and artistic disciplines. This got me thinking. Perhaps such a game might be played, starting with Joseph Knecht and linking him to three other fictional intellectuals, the inclusion of whom the players would have to justify. It would be called ‘Knecht Four’. I’ll get my coat… The novel actually appears to be a discussion of the validity of dedicating oneself to the life of the mind rather than partaking of the ‘real’ world. It’s a dilemma that you’ll recognise if you spend much time writing, as you look up from your desk and realise that yet another year has passed you by…


Time has elapsed, people and events have come and gone…

‘The Rainbow’ was the opening track on Talk Talk’s sublime album, Spirit of Eden. And it happened to come out when I was reading The Glass Bead Game, the first time around. On first listening to it, I and the other members of The Jellymen were stunned. We loved that band. But this was like nothing else we’d ever heard. And then there were the lyrics. “Oh, yeah, the world’s turned upside down,” they ran, “Jimmy Finn is old. Well, how can that be fair at all?” Or so I thought. They were among the most profound words that I’d ever heard about the human condition, and all the more remarkable for being located within a rock song. As a young man, I projected myself forward to that moment. It’s the instant of recognition as you pick up the book again and register the decades that have passed since you last did so and that in the intervening years your youth has been stolen from you. In reality, the words ran, ‘Jimmy Finn is out’, which almost certainly has different connotations. Such are life’s disappointments… Incidentally, Talk Talk’s main songwriter, Mark Hollis wrote a beautiful song called ‘Such a Shame’, inspired by another book about a game, The Dice Man. Luke Rhinehart’s book has a fascinating central concept but is disturbingly amoral and rather shockingly written. I finished that book, nonetheless. Time will tell whether I shall finish Hermann Hesse’s, at the second attempt.

From time to time, we receive these rather terrifying reminders of the brevity of human existence. They should spur us on to get done those things that we wish to achieve, to participate in both the real and intellectual spheres, to live life to the full. It’s back to WIP No. 1, then, currently on page 151…

All text and image © PSR 2013

Special Guest: Paul Sutton Reeves

12 May

U.S. writer, Tamar Hela very kindly hosted this feature about my writing on her excellent blog. Do take a look at the other fascinating articles on her site.

Poem for the Day

8 May

The Mystery of the Hattifatteners

Why aren’t Hattifatteners fat?

And why do none of them wear a hat?


cute, hattifatteners, hattivatit, hattivatti, moomin

Poem © PSR 2013, image apparently © (but web address no longer exists)

Unusual Time Signatures – New Blog Page

4 May

From time to time, this blog drifts into a consideration of music, one of the great pleasures in my life. And as my Twitter profile suggests, I’m drawn to music that makes use of unusual time signatures. I once even suggested a book on the subject to my publisher. He wasn’t keen… Instead, I’ve sneaked a discussion of 5/4 time into one of my two current fictional projects. I’m not a fan of progressive rock and its myriad derivatives, but it’s probably what got me interested in the first place. It all goes back to Stravinsky, of course, and those other modernist composers. I see it as an indicator that a musician or band is willing to think beyond the obvious, avoiding the temptation always to fall back on 4/4 time, the all-pervasive beat in modern music. As such, I see a distinct parallel with the willingness to experiment in literature. Just as successful experimentation in the novel requires the writer to have mastered his or her craft, so complex time signatures call for a considerable degree of musicianship. Unless there’s some purpose behind it, though, it’s simply showing off. Talking of which… any list of such albums is bound to include the occasional progressive rock title (ah, guilty pleasures!). I must be getting withdrawal symptoms from my previous incarnation as a freelance music journalist because listed below are 21 albums featuring unusual time signatures, spanning the half century from 1959 to 2007, each described in 21 words…

  1. Red (1974) by King Crimson – Okay, so this one is prog rock, but it’s prog rock of the best kind. The title track is majestic.
  2. OK Computer (1997) by Radiohead – Ah, dance music you can’t dance to, as I once saw it described. One of the finest albums ever recorded?
  3. Carnavas (2006) by The Silversun Pickups – Unusual time signatures abound on this assured début album. ‘Lazy Eye’ and ‘Three Seed’ are already classics. A band to watch.
  4. The Raven (1979) by The Stranglers – The Stranglers soon transcended their supposedly punk origins. The tracks here have extended instrumental introductions, frequently played in odd time signatures.
  5. Deloused in the Comatorium (2003) by The Mars Volta – Well now, this band is musically insane. Its début album is manic and beautiful all at once. Check out ‘Inertiatic ESP’.
  6. Illinois (2005) by Sufjan Stevens – Stevens has been the great proselytiser for unusual time signatures in rock music over the last decade. This is his masterwork.
  7. Orpheus – The Lowdown (2003) by Peter Blegvad and Andy Partridge – The early noughties were a golden age for unusual time signatures and this is one of the oddest albums you’ll ever hear.
  8. Yanqui U.X.O. (2002) by Godspeed You: Black Emperor – Most of the tracks on this album are in 3/4 time, not so unusual in classical music, more so in rock.
  9. Time Out (1959) by The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Modern jazz album that had a big influence on the use of unusual time signatures in rock music. RIP Dave Brubeck.
  10. Amnesiac (2001) by Radiohead – Called ‘Kid B’ by some, implying its inferiority to its predecessor, this is festooned with odd time signatures. ‘Pyramid Song’ is sublime.
  11. Song for America (1975) by Kansas – This one’s pretty prog-based too but much more interesting than the band’s later AOR focused albums. Overlooked and beautiful.
  12. Michigan (2003) by Sufjan Stevens – Sufjan may have been listening to ‘Song for America’ when embarking on his apocryphal mission to chart the USA’s 50 states.
  13. Discipline (1981) by King Crimson – On which King Crimson made their triumphant return, in 7/8 time and so on. ‘Indiscipline’ is mad and wonderful. Try working out what it’s about.
  14. Gone to Earth (1986) by David Sylvian – Mr Sylvian had been hanging out (musically) with Robert Fripp of King Crimson. From opener, ‘Taking the Veil’, onward, it shows.
  15. Sons and Fascination (1981) by Simple Minds – Formerly a Euro-electro act, latterly a stadium rock one, in between, Simple Minds were experimental and interesting.
  16. Candylion (2007) by Gruff Rhys – This little known lo-fi masterpiece  contains a number of songs with interesting time signatures. Seek out ‘Painting People Blue’ and listen.
  17. Five Leaves Left (1969) by Nick Drake – Only the cognoscenti knew of this album and only ‘Riverman’ is in 5/4 time. But what other song do you need?
  18. 154 (1979) by Wire – The ground-breaking third album by the post-punk band that found them at their most experimental, both musically and lyrically.
  19. Tarkus (1971) by ELP – Ouch! I’m sneaking the real prog rock in at the end. This is a stinker, really, but the song cycle that took up side one of the LP is rhythmically interesting.
  20. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) by Genesis – Ah, but this still is good, four decades later. For unnerving use of strange signatures check ‘Lilywhite Lilith’ and ‘Broadway Melody’.
  21. Close to the Edge (1972) by Yes – I never liked this band, but grudgingly, I’ll admit, the title track is pretty damn fine. Otherwise, they’re overrated.

Experiments with time