I took a look at extracts from:
For each one, I addressed the following questions:
- What kind of text do you think this is?
The AS text is one of autobiographical mourning around the death of a loved one tied in with a kind of a critique of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.
The CR text is a selection of comments on various personal experiences of racism directed towards herself and others (mostly others).
- Can you identify different kinds of writing in it?
AS incorporates criticism and autobiography/memoir into her excerpt.
CR has a little journalism, a little memoir and a little bit of social commentary in her piece.
- How would you characterise the voice and tone?
AS is playful with a hint of rebelliousness and a dollop of acceptance of death/loss.
CR is resentful but very restrained. Very, very restrained considering the type of provocation she is exposed to.
- Can you identify any central themes, and how does the text engage with them?
The central theme of AS is acceptance of death and taking ownership of the things that now belong to her. The text engages with this theme very successfully in that the voice and tone convey feelings in a tongue-in-cheek manner that demonstrates the acceptance and the events of the text describe the ownership being taken.
The central theme of CR is racism and her reaction to it. The text engages with this in a subtle way in that the author’s reaction to the events is non-violent and assertive, i.e. it is subtle and understated. The prose uses words and phrases that are similarly subtle. That said, there’s a powerful undercurrent of strong feelings here that the subtlety undercuts in an interesting way.
You could read/listen to the extracts yourself if you like.
I had to stand on the desk on that summer day as I watched from my bedroom window. It was in my hands. I hardly see that it could have been any other way.
She was there in her garden, fresh from school, lying on the baked grass, eyes alive behind the darkest of shades, skirt hitched above her waist. Transparent lace. Her head could have been turned towards me; or not, but her eyes would have been; seen. She knew I was there. She wouldn’t have done what she did; been where she was; lay in that state there, if she hadn’t been aware.
You should have pulled harder during that long summer that seemed to last a lifetime. You could have been more than the wooden doll you were. The touch and grab of adolescent ignorance. The play that never became our passion. You could have said more than nothing when our eyes were burning into each other. You should have moved. You should have touched. You should have taken what was yours-to-take, on one of those hot summer days.
We could have made it in another life. It was the time, the heat, the hormones, the closeness of you next door as we grew together towards what we became. And all of that worked for us. But then there was the washed-out blonde of your mother’s raggedy hair; your dad storing coke in the back and getting beaten up by our other neighbour because he watched his son beat up the other neighbour’s son; and the rumour that the son was gay; and it was a council estate; and your mom was sleeping with a runt of man who your dad punched once (his due, said the police); and all of those things conspired behind our backs. But we were beautiful; animality and appetite. Not like that. But all the same; like that. We held each other in another world, where we wanted what we wanted enough to dive in. We could have caught it; if only we’d tried. We wanted it all; but not enough
You are a mystery to me now. Your years have passed. The world has become old around you. You’re still and always ever young. But ever’s gone away.
She lay there on the grass. Alive to the world. Open only for my eyes. She glowed.
I threw the tissue of my future in the bin. It’s empty now.
I took a look at extracts (pp. 3–5, 36–40, 67–71) from the three parts of Julian Barnes, Levels of Life (2014) where the author describes … stuff. Actually, if you read what I’ve written below, you’ll get the gist.
- What different kinds of writing can you identify?
The first part consists of reportage: some repeating of historical facts in a matter-of-fact manner. The second part has approximately the same detached tone, but includes a measure of emotion, some little interior-dialogue and a whole heap of (fictional) conversation between two of the people mentioned it the first part. The last part is a monologue on life, love, death and grief. It is personal, heartfelt and affecting on more than one level.
- Do these extracts seem to belong to the same genre?
The extracts are in the same voice, with the same tone and a similar style but belong to different genres in that the first is journalism, the second is historical drama and the third is … I want to say confessional, but nothing is really confessed so I’ll say that it’s memoir in a literary and fictionalised style.
- Can you spot any continuities or discontinuities, whether stylistic (e.g. similar or dissimilar forms of writing, types of voice and tone, or kinds of sentences) or thematic?
There is a thread; a theme that runs through the pieces: that of meetings and … whatever the opposite of that is. Leavings? There are also other, more minor motifs as mentioned above.
The pieces are on a gradient, moving from detachment to connection to separation. The emotion contained in these pieces also follows this curve (from less to more).
The tone seem to remain fairly constant throughout all pieces; there is a kind of authorial detachment even when emotion reaches its peak.
There’s an interesting continuity of voice in that the first piece describes being above (in balloons), the second starts with an overview (from above) and rather detached (using the pronoun ‘we’) point-of-view. This progresses to a more personal feel (pronouns: ‘he’ and ‘she’) as the characters come closer to each other. The last part continues this closeness in that it describes an intimate relationship and this leads to a sundering of the two, which leads to a different kind of emotional closeness that arises from the distance that death creates.
There are stylistic discontinuities, as noted above, but they are mere devices. They enhance rather than disturb the deeper continuities in this work.
Just found a simply wonderful website called Creative Non-Fiction. It is dedicated to something after my own heart: short fiction that is based on life.
I’m reading short stories there that defy definition. They blend and bend genres in such a way that one cannot be sure whether one is reading a memoir, an essay, a piece of journalism, a philosophical tract or a story.
Here are some examples:
- Meander by Mary Paumier Jones. This delightful piece is written in a smooth style that initially seems like an essay on the meaning of the word ‘meander’, and over its (oft (intentionally) meandering) course, it delivers on this promise. But within the bounds of this we are treated to stories, metaphors, imagery, philosophy and more than a hint of the feeling that we are being cared for and gently humoured by a sweet and intelligent human mind. It’s a lovely experience to read this piece and to come away with the feeling that we have transgressed, in such a such a benevolent way, the laws of all that writing involves; and returned with a smile on our face.
- The Heart by Jerald Walker. As I read the title again after chugging down this tale, I automatically completed it. The heart wants what the heart wants. There’s nothing like love to make people do what their minds scream a protest to. A man loves his heroin-addicted wife despite .. well, you’ll have to read the story to find the despites. This is fiction, but it reads like fiction. There’s an opening scene that’s vivid with imagery. That scene contains a question that begs to be answered. Why? Why did she do that and what will he do about it. The structure is event, why did that happen and what will happen next. Classic. You need to read this to believe how closely it follows the strictures of fiction. It’s smoothly-written, compelling, informative and deeply convincing on a psychological level. The characters and fully realised. The dialogue is real. The plot is nicely developed. The link is provided above. Read it.
- Bear Fragments by Christine Byl. This is a list. There are seven items on the list. Each is (as the title tells us) a fragement. A bear fragment. Taken together they make up a bear. Or a story of a bear. Or maybe the things the author knows or found about bears. They are anecdotes. There’s a part of me that wants to say that they don’t make sense, but there another part that stands back a little further and looks at this collection of dots and makes a picture out of them. A story. This part is happy with the story and can close off this piece with a satisfied smile. If’n you want to know more then read the story. It’s creative and it’s non-fiction and it’s as innovative as heck. Nuff said.
I just read the introduction to Margot Singer and Nicole Walker, Bending Genre where the authors talk about the nature of Creative Non-fiction in terms of how used techniques from other writerly disciplines such as fiction, poetry and journalism.
Then I asked myself these questions:
- What different kinds of genre-mixing are identified?
Every mixture imaginable is regarded as fair game in the arena of genre-mixing. Think of a genre, think of another genre (no matter how dissimilar), put them in a (metaphorical) jar and shake until your arm hurts. Then put down your pen, kick back from the desk and make yourself a nice hot drink in the happy satisfaction that you have created something wonderful.
- Why might a writer pursue the kind of experiments with form that are discussed here?
Experiments with form require nothing more than the flexibility of mind to conceive of a unique combination and then begin to write. A truly innovative writer who wishes to push the boundaries of the possible would not ask ‘why should I do this,’ but would, and if not, should, be asking ‘what is stopping me from trying this?’ And the answer is: nothing but fear. Feel it; shiver; and shake it off.
- What appears to be at stake?
The future beckons. Let it be a new future; not one bound to the grease and grime of yesteryear. Throw off the shackles of those who would say that you can’t do it like that. Those who say that history repeats are cowards. Shrug off their kind-seeming arm on your shoulder; clean your ears of the sane-sounding poison they drip into your ears; and move forward into a future that you yourself will shape. Nothing less than the future history of literature waits for you. Make it one that all readers in the years to come will be proud of.
There are organisations in and around York and the UK that give money to writers. Here’s a selection:
And that’s about all I have time (or the inclination) for now.
When I was a kid, I read a trilogy about Heliconia by Brian Aldiss. A planet far, far away from Earth, Heliconia was subject to an ice-age of a thousand years that came about every 2,500 years. Civilisation would die and grow back, die and grow back again cycle after cycle. Imagine that! And all the while, the earthlings were watching via a space station orbiting the planet and sending back video to Earth. Just like Eastenders really.
I was taken by the vision of this alien and yet very familiar race. They were like us and yet not like us. They lived, died, ate, slept, loved and wrote books that had to be burned when the great winter came back. How heartbreaking.
The theme of Stranger in a Strange Land (a book by another Sci-Fi great Robert E. Heinlein) comes up in my thoughts and writing time and time again. Every book I read for pleasure and illumination adheres to this theme. James Clavell’s Shogun is a great example of this. It’s about an Englishman who went to Japan in the 1600s and became a samurai. His progress through the alien (to him) culture of Japan is inspiring in the extreme.
Both Brian Aldiss and James Clavell had successful careers as writers. JC started as a scriptwriter and progressed to novels when the guild went on strike. BA started as a bookseller, wrote some short stories based on his life at the time and sold them to a publisher as a book. When it attained moderate success he was asked for more material at which point he confessed to being a Sci-Fi writer. The publishers knew several people in high places who were fans, and the rest is history.
Both men are dead now, but they live in on their books and in my heart.