November 29, 2009

Unlike many people, I don’t actually have a problem with X Factor.  Yes, I find the way they humiliate people in the early stages of the contest annoying to say the least, and yes, I’m fed up with the way they draw out announcing the results, but no, I don’t see any problem with having a talent show on TV. I can’t help thinking that some of the ire directed against it is due to the fact that everyone can participate in it, and not just the privileged few who have attended stage school.

Anyway, this is a very roundabout way of getting to the fact that I saw Kerfuffle on Friday night in Stockport.  It was an odd (though very enjoyable) event.  I can’t remember the last time I went to a folk gig where they put cashew nuts on the table, and I’m sure I’ve never been to one in a boat club before.  There was something reassuringly and authentically folky (and I’m not being sarcastic) about the raffle at half time and the support act that had an almost Music Hall feel to it (I haven’t sang Cushy Butterfield for years).

Anyway, the band themselves are young and very talented.  Hannah James has an assured touch on the accordion and a wonderfully clear voice, Jamie Robert’s guitar playing put me in mind of John Renbourn.  The group played an eclectic range of music, whilst remaining firmly within the tradition.  Definitely a group to watch.

But what’s all this got to do with X Factor?  Not that much, I suppose, except to note that this is a group of young people who have been immersed in music from a young age and who came together after entering a folk competition at the Derby Assembly Rooms (the place where Alt.Fiction has been held!).  So there you are are.  Talent shows for Folk Musicians.  I wonder what Simon Cowell would make of that?

Incidentally, posts have been a bit slow here recently as I’m busy working on another project.  More about this in the new year…

Books I didn’t Expect to Enjoy

November 17, 2009
People sometimes ask for my favourite books, or the authors that most influence me.  The following are neither of these.  They’re the books that were recommended to me that I didn’t want to read because they looked dreadful, the books that I picked up because I was bored or because there was nothing else to hand.  Never judge a book by its cover, be wary of its reputation.  I really enjoyed the following…

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

When my daughter recommended these to me I was like  no way,   but when I started reading them I was like hey these are soooo cool.
Actually, I found the books really funny.  Like all the best fictional diarists, Mia’s perception of herself is not that of the reader, and a lot of the comedy stems from this.  I like the fact that you could read these as teenager and then again as an adult and have a completely different view of what went on.
There are also links to online tips on how to be a princess on the jacket, but I haven’t used those yet.

Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNab

A number of friends (all male) recommended this, and I read it in the end mainly to keep them quiet.  I’m glad I did as it gave me a completely different perspective on army life.  The book deals with fighting and incompetence and torture, but it’s the small details that stick in the mind, the events that take part away from the action, like the author walking the streets with his girlfriend the night before he set off on his mission as they neither of them knew what else to do.

Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes

Chick lit of the highest calibre.  Yes, its a rom com, but with a twist as the heroine gradually comes to terms with the fact that she’s an alcoholic and drug addict.  Marian Keyes know’s all about this as she used to be one herself. Writing a book that deals with the issue, but keeping it funny, positive and yet realistic is quite an achievement.

Incidentally, the book says Trust Marian on the spine.  I can’t help thinking that I should have something similar on the spines of my books.   How does Trust Tony sound?

Max J Friedländer

November 1, 2009

I came across Friedländer in Michael Frayn’s novel Headlong (which comes thoroughly recommended).

Max J. Friedländer , 1867-1958, was a German art historian who, according to Frayn, warned against the “vanity of attempting to describe pictures in detail”.  Friedländer recommends “the strictest economy of words”, limiting oneself to “aphoristic remarks, put together unsystematically”.  The advice struck a chord with me on reading the book, and, as I discovered on subsequently searching the web, it seems to have struck a chord with others.

The advice reminds me of the eyeball kick, mentioned by the the Turkey City Lexicon,  amongst other guides:

That perfect, telling detail that creates an instant visual image. The ideal of certain postmodern schools of SF is to achieve a “crammed prose” full of “eyeball kicks.”

It wasn’t always thus.  Chesterton opened one of his Father Brown stories  to excellent effect with paragraphs of atmospheric description of  dark and sinister pine forests, but this is old fashioned writing in the days of big budget movies, especially for those of us working in the SF field.  You’re never going to get the reader to imagine the same spectacle as they can be seen on the big screen, but you can arrest them with the small details (It’s years since I read Schindler’s List, but the image that to always comes to my mind from that book is not the barbed wire or the soldiers, but the little girl in the red coat).

Personally, I don’t like passages describing scenery, I like to keep such things to a minimum, but maybe that’s a matter of taste.

Or maybe not.  You’d be surprised how much description a reader fills in for themselves.  Think of Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.  About the only description Austen gives is that he is tall.  The rest is left to the reader’s imagination.