tea

Cricket And Other Nonsense

“What are you going to do about your breasts?”

This was the beginning of a brief but earnest discussion between members of my cricket team, regarding the safety of my lady bouncers (top cricketing term) during play. Their concern was touching (not actually touching, you understand) but as this took place in the pub after the match, it was a moot point. Besides, The Girls have come through many a perilous escapade unscathed so I wasn’t too worried about them. Best to let them get on with things on their own, I reckon.

Me bravely seeing off a herd of cows who were after our sandwiches

There really is little more lovely on a Sunday afternoon than a leisurely game of cricket – although you can’t be too worried about actually winning anything if you play for the Rain Men. A nomadic team of eternal optimists, the Rain Men roam the country, offering other cricket teams the unique opportunity to feel better about themselves by giving us a sound thrashing. Two marvellous books written by our brave and fearless leader, Marcus Berkmann, have chronicled the ups and downs (mostly downs) of this illustrious team. Comprised mainly of the eccentric, elderly (they say you can’t beat experience but apparently you can – frequently) and infirm, there are nonetheless a smattering of thrusting athletic types and one or two of them are actually jolly dashing. No doubt fraternisation is frowned upon so I shall restrict my attentions to balls of the leather nature, to be on the safe side.

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Cricket is a marvellous game. For a start, there are no rules. There are laws, true enough, but I am naturally averse to rules where as laws I find appealing, so this suits me nicely. Also, it has a whole language all of its own that sounds vaguely rude. Grown men talk about googlies and yell at each other to ‘go deep’ and no one bats an eyelid. I can compliment a bowler on his lovely length and ball handling prowess without a hint of impropriety. The game involves a fair amount of standing about which allows one time to admire the scenery and have a bit of a think about things. Best of all, after a while, someone from the pavilion calls you all in for tea like they are your mum or something. When no one can possibly squeeze in any more tea, cake, sandwiches, sausage rolls, crisps and whatever else, the match resumes – albeit at a slightly slower pace than before the tea, obviously. Some players enjoy a beer or glass of wine during play. No one minds.

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This Sunday saw a record-breaking performance from the Rain Men, to which I undoubtedly contributed. It was our lowest scoring match ever, with us all out for 36. Pretty terrible, even by our standards. In a shock twist, the opposition invited me to come and play for them, but this was probably due to the fact that one of them recognised me (fame at last!) as opposed to my sporting credentials. They are an absolutely super bunch who wear natty striped blazers and carry bottles of wine on their bicycles, so I immediately agreed. Besides, I need all the practice I can get, so playing for two teams can only improve my game.

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Anyway, I promised you other nonsense as well. Aside from roaming pretty English villages in my whites, I have been interviewed by prolific and world-renowned (he’ll love that) writer and editor Dan Alatorre. Of course, with two literary heavyweights such as ourselves at work, the interview was jam-packed with hard-hitting, intellectual cut-and-thrust about the writing world. But there were still a couple of questions with which we may have struggled…

Oh, and there was news about Who Shot Tony Blair? too, but with all the rambling on about cricket I shall have to get back to that next week… do stay tuned!

 

 

The Thing About Writer’s Block

Not just the scourge of authors, writers and poets – anyone who has ever sat down in front of a blank page will, at some point, have experienced the phenomenon popularly known as ‘writer’s block’. I have come to an important conclusion about this most maligned of conditions and it is somewhat controversial, probably won’t be popular, but I thought I would share it with you anyway.

It doesn’t actually exist.

The natural flow stops not because of some mystical interference from the literary gods, but rather because something somewhere isn’t quite right, the narrative has gone awry or because something just doesn’t work. When the words dry up for no apparent reason and everything comes to a grinding halt, go back and look at it again. Retrace your steps, find out where you’ve gone wrong, look for the bits that don’t fit. There are all manner of things to think about, these are just a few…

Planning

Whilst the debate between ‘Plotters’ and ‘Pantsters’ will rage until the end of time, it’s fair to say that if you don’t know what, ultimately, you are trying to say or where the narrative is going, you’re going to hit dead ends far more frequently than if you have a clearly defined objective or resolution.  You don’t have to have all the details worked out, but you do have to know what the point of it all will be.

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This is me having a think about stuff. Or I might have wind, difficult to tell.

You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About

They say to write what you know and there are very good reasons for this. Writing from your own experience will always be more authentic than relying on imagination alone. But we don’t always want to restrict ourselves in this way, so research becomes very important. Read, watch, listen, visit, converse –  as much as possible make it your personal experience. You can’t write what you don’t know.

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Research is the writer’s friend.

It Doesn’t Work

Not every idea is destined to become a fully-blown, finished work. It might have sounded brilliant in your head when you thought about it on the bus, it could even have held great promise when jotted down in your notebook. But when it comes to properly bashing it out on the page, it just doesn’t gel. Maybe only bits of it are wrong, perhaps the perspective is wrong, or to could just be that it’s a non-starter all round. Don’t be afraid to abandon these lost causes in favour of more fruitful pursuits.

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Consign bad ideas to the fiery pits of hell! Or a wood burner. Whatever’s easier.

It’s You

Not you personally, you are just lovely. But if you’re tired, distracted or simply not in the right frame of mind, it stands to reason that writing will be a struggle. Professional writers have found ways to minimise these effects and have to be able to overcome them in order to produce work to order, often to tight deadlines. That’s what makes them professionals. But even the most dedicated and hard-working professional will sometimes have to admit defeat and either have a break, sleep on it or take a step back.

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It’s not you, it’s me. (But actually it is you.)

It’s An Excuse

No one ever said this writing lark would be easy. Good writing takes practice, patience and lots of bloody work. There are no shortcuts – writing is time-consuming and other aspects of your life will have to be sacrificed. This isn’t for everybody, for a myriad of reasons. But if you really, honestly, want to be a writer, these reasons can only ever be excuses. This might be tough to hear, but if writing is what you really want to do then it will have to become a priority (at least, a lot of the time) and little hiccups like ‘writer’s block’ will have to be wrestled down and overcome very quickly if you want to be taken seriously.

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Writing is hard. Rolling around on the grass is easy.

Getting Over It

There are lots of oft-repeated hints and tips for tackling those times when pen and paper just won’t get it together; oft-repeated because they are good advice. Going for a walk is my favourite. It gets the blood pumping and a change of scenery can jolt a tired brain back into action. Walking is brilliant for thinking. If I’m struggling with a scene I take myself for a good stomp and let myself think of all the wildest and most outrageous things to write – I mean, really let the imagination go. These things will never make it onto the page but it’s better than thinking about nothing and, eventually, the crazy ideas settle down into something much more sensible and useful.

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A nice walk is a good idea.

I am a big fan of tea, although lots of writers prefer coffee. Some even swear by alcohol, but I can’t say I recommend it. Writing is my job and I don’t drink when I’m working. Often I don’t drink the evening before, either – certainly not to excess. You have to treat it like any other job and give it the respect it deserves. Food, too, is very important. The brain needs glucose and all sorts of things to work effectively. Genius is never achieved on an empty stomach.

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A cup of tea is a good idea.

What it all boils down to, is that writing takes time, effort and just a smidgeon of talent. Don’t romanticise it or swath it in esoteric nonsense. Put the kettle on, your bum on your seat and just get on with it.

Hide & Seek – Part Five

The heat of the afternoon sun was unrelenting, broken only by the occasional zephyr of coastal breeze gasping across the terrace as Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings politely sipped tea with Lady Bottomclutch. Poirot noted that the tea set at Somersby Hall was very different to that of the tasteful Wedgwood found at Queens’ College in Cambridge; this was a gaudy gilded affair, probably originating from China and purchased, no doubt, by the family in order to portray an air of exotic stylistic leaning. Hastings, meanwhile, noted that, although the tea was very good, a small gin or similar would be more preferable at this juncture. Lady Bottomclutch had received them both with good grace and had turned her attentions directly to the dashing Captain in a most unexpectedly warm manner. Whilst Hastings was initially delighted to be the focus of proceedings for once, the Lady’s familiarity was becoming unseemly at an alarming rate and he didn’t quite know where to put himself.

Pardon, Lady Bottomclutch,” began Poirot, hoping to deflect another attempt at the pawing of Hastings’ knee. “But did your butler Derbyshire not mention the purpose of our visit?”

“Hmm?” Lady Bottomclutch retracted her wandering hand and hid her blushes behind a tea cup. She was an elegant woman of a certain age, clearly past her best and rather like an old oil painting in need of refurbishment. “About the maid, wasn’t it? She’s very busy at the moment, I’m afraid.”

Oui, madame, so I am given to understand,” Poirot retained his usual charm but his moustache had an edge to it. “We do not wish to intrude on your formalities, merely to pass on the message most important from Cambridge, oui?

“Oh, I say, the good Captain can intrude on my formalities any time he pleases!” Lady Bottomclutch  descended into ribald giggling that caused the sharp rise of Poirot’s eyebrow and a mild terror in poor Hastings.

Just as Poirot began to think that the afternoon was lost entirely to farce, onto the terrace burst a tall and gangling young woman, dancing and spinning and throwing her tapering limbs in every direction. She was a curious sight, dressed as she was in an over-sized tweed jacket that had seen better days and a battered flat cap upon her chestnut curls. She looked to be about twenty-two or so, but she sang and capered like a small child, her guileless eyes limpid pools of pure innocence and joy.

“Clara! My dear girl, can’t you see we have guests?”

Clara ceased her windmilling and hopped into position before Poirot and Hastings, hands clutched before her, bobbing her knees in what she expected was a formal greeting.

“Hello, gentlemans!”

“Good afternoon, mademoiselle,” replied Poirot, raising a tea cup in salute.

“You have a peculiar voice!” retorted Clara, suppressing an embarrassed chuckle.

“Clara, this is the famous detective, Hercule Poirot,” Lady Bottomclutch said gently. “And his assistant, the ravishing Captain Hastings!”

“Oh!” Clara gasped. “Have they come for the party? I do hope you will stay for the party – it’s fancy dress! You can borrow one of my costumes, if you like. I have a great many.”

“I’m sure they would love that, my dear,” soothed Lady Bottomclutch, patting her daughter’s hand. “Why don’t you run along now and see to Pippin? I’m sure that he must be missing you.”

Clara nodded and, offering a little wave to her guests, skipped away back towards the house.

“Pippin is her little dog,” explained Lady Bottomclutch. “She won’t have children of her own, poor thing, but she is a very affectionate girl and don’t we all deserve a little love in one way or another?”

C’est vrai, madame. She is a charming young woman.”

“And she is right, you know, you must come to the party this evening,” Lady Bottomclutch said, with quite some enthusiasm. “My youngest son is returning from the army for a few days and I do like to make a fuss. He will arrive on the train from London this evening. Perhaps you will be able to offer him some career advice, Captain? And I know my guests will be delighted to meet the famous Captain Hastings and Hercule Poirot!”

Poirot shifted a little in his chair, repressing a mutter and reaching for his tea cup.

“I’m not sure we’re properly prepared for fancy dress,” replied Hastings, warily.

“Oh, don’t mind that,” Lady Bottomclutch waved a hand. “That’s just Clara’s way. She has a predilection for dressing up, I see no reason to suppress it.”

“And we will have an opportunity to speak to your maid Maggie, when she is perhaps not so engaged with the preparations?” asked Poirot.

“I dare say,” replied Lady Bottomclutch, her lips stretched into a tight line of vermillion. “But if you want to know anything about the maid, I suggest you speak to my husband. Lord Bottomclutch is very attentive to certain members of the staff.”