Tag Archives: literature

Reflections on a certain crime by R.J. Ellory

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Some while ago I was asked by the Wall Street Journal to write a piece concerning ‘unknown’ or forgotten literary classics.  Having recently spent a considerable amount of time in France, I decided to share my thoughts about several French writers, now widely available in English, who seemed yet to be unheard of by my English contemporaries, associates and friends.

Amongst the list of those I chose was Jean-Patrick Manchette, author of La Position de Tireur Couché (literally translates as ‘the position of the gunman lying down’, published in English as ‘The Prone Gunman’).  This book has now been adapted for film and is on general release as ‘The Gunman’ with Sean Penn and Javier Bardem.

Manchette said a very interesting thing about his genre, to the effect that the crime novel was the best way to hold up a mirror to the society within which we live.  That was the central theme of the piece I wrote for the Wall Street Journal, and seems to hold true as far as my own writing is concerned.  Dealing with the wider canvas of ethics, morals, justice, crime and punishment, the motivations and rationales of those who violate the laws of the land and all related subjects leads us – not only as writers, but also as interested individuals – into the subject of psychology, the mind, the very woof and warp of life itself.

And then the other night my wife and I watched a film called ‘The Imitation Game’ with Benedict Cumberbatch, itself a depiction of the life and work of Alan Turing, the man responsible for creating a machine that cracked the Enigma code.  The somewhat romanticized portrayal of life at Bletchley Park, the ‘emotional personalisation’ of the story that was facilitated by placing a brother of one of the research team on a ship that had to be ‘sacrificed’ so as to prevent any possibility of the Germans discovering that the code had been broken, did nothing to obscure the factual tragedy inherent in the tale.  Turing was a homosexual.  At the time, homosexuality was against the law.  Anyone engaging in homosexual activity could be charged with ‘gross indecency’.  Fifty years after the war the truth of Bletchley Park, Turing and the cracking of Enigma became public knowledge, at least those parts of it that the government permitted us to know, and Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a royal pardon.  It was the then-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who stood up in parliament and announced that Turing had been ‘forgiven’.  Charles Dance, commenting in the film extras, said that the greatest irony of Turing’s pardon was that it was Turing who should have been forgiving us for the way in which he was treated, not the other way around.

After the film was over, my wife and discussed the moral and ethical ramifications of that specific situation.  Turing was a genius.  Turing built a machine with wires and valves and cogs that gave us the foundation for all things computer-related that we take for granted today.  It has been estimated that Turing’s machine and the cracking of Enigma shortened the war by two years and saved a further fourteen million lives.  Why couldn’t Churchill have stepped in when Turing was charged with ‘gross indecency’?  Why, after all that Turing had done, couldn’t someone ‘high up’ have bailed him out, saved the day, rescued him for the truly dreadful fate that awaited him?  But no.  No-one stepped in.  Turing was charged, tried, convicted, and not one person came forward to tell the world what this great man had done, how his ingenuity, resolve, courage and magnificent intellect had turned the tide of the war.  They couldn’t.  Such a thought was inconceivable.  Everything that Turing had ever accomplished was bound over and held confidential under the Official Secrets Act.  Had you looked up Turing’s war record, you would have found no record at all.  In effect, certainly for the duration of the war itself, Turing was a man who did not exist.

The judge at Turing’s trial gave Turing a choice: two years in jail or be subjected to horrific chemical castration to ‘curb his proclivities’.  Turing, wishing not to be divorced from his ever-ongoing work and research, chose the latter.  He reported in for a year, taking mandatory injections of Stilboestrol (synthetic oestrogen).  The treatment rendered Turing impotent.  On June 8, 1954, Turing was found dead.  His body had lain undiscovered for twenty-four hours.  Whether he committed suicide by eating a cyanide-soaked apple, or whether his death was caused by inadvertent inhalation of cyanide fumes from a machine he’d set up in his tiny room is still a matter of conjecture.  He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at Woking Crematorium.  His life and work went unknown for decades, but now – notwithstanding the fact that we will never have a chance to ask for his forgiveness – at least what he achieved has been acknowledged and appropriately commended.

However, having spoken to many who have seen the film, there still lies the question: Why did no-one step in to save Turing?  Answer: Because he broke the law.  It was that simple.  The simple fact is that many tens of thousands of individuals gave everything of themselves in the Second World War.  Turing was a genius, no doubt about it, but he did what he was able to do to assist in the war effort.  Others, perhaps blessed with less intellect, nevertheless gave no less of themselves.  Ordinary men and women learned to fly aircraft and parachute into occupied territory; they underwent rigorous training and volunteered for missions deep in the heart of Nazi Germany; they ferried supplies across a U-Boat-riddled Atlantic to bring ammunition and supplies to Allied forces abroad; they boarded landing craft for the invasion in June of 1944, certain that they would never again see home.  And millions of them didn’t see home again, as we know all too well.  Just because someone did something truly extraordinary and heroic did it them give them license to break the law, to perpetrate a crime, to be unreservedly forgiven?  No, it did not.  Did Montgomery’s success in defeating Rommel then give him permission to rob banks and kill innocent civilians?  No, it did not.  The law was the law.  Turing broke the law, and he had to face the penalty.

The real truth is that the law was insane.  A law that punishes a man or woman for their sexual preferences or predilections, save where those preferences and predilections actually render physical, mental or emotional harm to another, is the true criminal here.  It was a ‘sign of the times’, much the same as children born out of wedlock caused not only the mothers, but also the infants to be shunned and despised. My wife, as a girl of eight or nine, told a schoolfriend’s mother that her own mother lived with a man to whom she was not married.  That schoolfriend’s mother barred her own daughter from ever speaking to my wife again.  That was in the early 1970s.

We have grown up in many ways.  As a society, we appear to be more tolerant, liberal, perhaps even forgiving, but as individuals it is a different story.  We all harbour our own personal discriminations, our preconceptions, our unfounded and judgmental attitudes, and they influence the way we speak to people, deal with people, handle people.  I was once asked what I believed to be the fundamental difference between a child and an adult.  It was an interesting question.  My answer, regardless of whether it was right or wrong, was simply that a child appeared to trust other people until they were a given a reason not to trust, whereas an adult appeared to instinctively mistrust until they were given a reason to trust.

The newspapers and television news would have us believe that society is dangerous, crazy, unpredictable, potentially hazardous in every imaginable way.  That is a lie.  The newspapers engender, foster and encourage our cynicism and mistrust.  It seems to be their primary purpose.  How many times have you yourself been involved in or witness to an act of murder, rape, kidnapping, even physical or mental abuse?  If at all, then you are in the tiny minority.  Such things happen of course, but they are far less frequent and prolific than the media would have us believe.

The true criminals here are racism, religious intolerance, misogyny, greed, corruption, vested interest, and all the other ills that plague this society.  Beneath all of these is ignorance, perhaps the greatest crime of all, and a society that permits a decline in educational standards, a society that regards ‘celebrity for celebrity’s sake’ as something of value, a society that promotes the ‘let’s all get something for nothing’ viewpoint that appears pandemic, certainly in the West, is a society not only in dire need of change, but also very possibly on the way out.

We are all human.  We are all ridiculous in our own special way.  That old saw, never successfully attributed to a specific author, regarding holding onto anger being much the same as taking poison and hoping the other person will die, has a relevant place here.  Let others be who they are and they may very well let you be who you are.  If everyone was themselves, truly, and we accepted that others were also different and had just as much right to exist as we did, then wouldn’t the world seem different?

I guess it would.

Try it.  You never know, you might just like the world a whole lot better, and find that world likes you just as much in return.

 

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On numerous occasions people have tried to identify Roger’s work with a particular genre – crime, thriller, historical fiction – but this categorisation has been a relatively fruitless endeavour. Roger’s ethos is merely to work towards producing a good story, something that encapsulates elements of humanity and life without necessarily slotting into a predetermined pigeonhole. He attempts to produce an average of forty thousand words a month, and aims to get a first draft completed within three to four months. His wife thinks he is a workaholic, his son considers him slightly left-of-centre, but they put up with him regardless. His son has long since been aware of the fact that ‘dad’ buys stuff, and thus his idiosyncrasies should be tolerated.

http://www.amazon.com/R.J.-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO

 

On Teaching and literature

Z.Town Crier (2)

 

Four members of The Write Room Blog
talk about combining teaching and literature.

WRITING A LETTER TO THE EDITORIt was never my intention to become a teacher, but you know the old saying, “Make God laugh; tell him your plans.” I had been offered, and turned down, a scholarship to Yale Graduate School of Drama on the merit of a two-act play I wrote, directed, and acted in during my senior year in 1965. I was off to Italy to take advantage of a scholarship to La Universitã di Roma where I planned to study for a doctorate in Italian Literature. No one told me I had to first be proficient in Italian, so I lasted a week. Hear God laughing?

I remained a year with family in Sicily, then flew home to a frightening reality: no income. Life looked bleak. Then my sister Joan informed me that a Catholic school in a nearby city was in need of an English teacher. That began a career that included teaching in middle school, high school, and college for nearly thirty years. If I pasted each day’s lesson plan end to end, I suspect the paper trail would reach the moon!

My favorite lesson I taught incoming college students each summer, and one summer in particular –– 2004. Most of the students were weak in high school English. Many came from homes where English was hardly ever spoken. Believe me, it was a challenge to teach them how to write a letter to the editor.

As it turned out, 70% of all three classes had letters published in the local daily and weekly newspapers of Bergen, Hudson, and Essex Counties, New Jersey. It proved a tremendous ego boost for these new published authors. It provided them with a stronger desire to succeed, a better self-image, and a staunch willingness to work hard. In 2005  Bergen Community College presented me with the Instructor of the Year Award, which hangs on my living room wall.

Here is that lesson.

  1. Read the newspaper and search for a news article in which the writer has taken a stand on some issue. It could be about a local, national, or international issue. Where do you stand? Do you agree with the writer or do disagree? Can you think of two or three reasons why you agree or disagree?2.  Read that newspaper article a couple of times so you understand what it’s all about.3.  Plan the writing of a letter to the editor by writing an outline. Include the following parts:a.  Introduction (Beginning):  In this first paragraph, mention in quotation marks the title of the article, the author’s name, if given, the date of the article, and the page on which the article appeared in the newspaper. In that same paragraph include a statement that tells the reader immediately that you agree or disagree with the article you are commenting about.

    b.   Body  (Middle): This section should be one paragraph or two small paragraphs and here you should give your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with the article. Make sure your reasons are all different from one another and all make sense.

    c.    Conclusion ( End): In this last paragraph come up with a good strong closing to your letter, something that will make your readers think or feel something. Maybe you can give some advice or a famous quote.

    4.   Write the letter based on your three-part outline. Include your name, address, phone number, and e-mail address on the letter because if the newspaper decides to publish your letter, the editor will contact you to make certain it was you who sent the letter.

    5.   Some newspaper do not accept e-mailed letters. You need to snail-mail your letter to the newspaper in care of “Letters to the Editor.”

    If your letter is published, count it among your credits as an author!

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Sal Buttaci is the author of two flash-fiction collections Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts, both published by All Things That Matter Press and available athttp://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Salvatore%20Buttaci

His book A Family of Sicilians… which critics called “the best book written about Sicilians” is available at www.lulu.com/spotlight/ButtaciPublishing2008

He lives in West Virginia with Sharon the love of his life.

www.salbuttaci.blogsport.com

www.twitter.com/sambpoet

www.facebook.com/salvatore.buttaci

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Unmaking Readers through Lessons in Story

A musing by Joyce Elferdink

 

“The change which the writing wrought in me was only a beginning—only to prepare me for the gods’ surgery. They used my own pen to probe my wound.”

What gives me the right to write about love, me a three-time divorcee?  I believe in love, believe I have loved passionately (most recently the protagonist of my novel), and believe I will continue to experience love in at least some of its several forms; and I read–sometimes even stories or essays about love. Does that give me sufficient credibility to give advice on loving?

What I offer today is a painful lesson, one that confronted me after reading a C.S. Lewis science fiction novel, Till We Have Faces. In the reading I was forced to consider how much of my loving—if any—has been unselfish, directed toward the other person instead of my own desires. How can any of us know that? As I try to put in words what I fleetingly and shallowly recognized about myself in the tale of Queen Orual’s awakening,  I know the meaning of her words, “the change which the writing wrought in me was only a beginning—only to prepare me for the gods’ surgery. They used my own pen to probe my wound.” (p. 253)

In her story, which is actually Lewis’ alteration of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Orual loves her half-sister, Psyche, so much that when she meets a changed Psyche after she had been sacrificed to the god, Ungit, Orual feels she must rescue her beloved Psyche even as Psyche protests she cannot leave the lover she adores, the one who gives her unspeakable joy, the god who comes to her unseen in the blackness of night. Orual forces Psyche to betray her lover, justifying her actions by professing the dreadful deed was an act of love and she, Orual, was the one sacrificing to save Psyche from some dreadful thing.

With Psyche lost to Orual’s world, separated from her husband/god and forced to wander miserably alone, Orual threw herself into her duties as queen. Even in her good works, she took all that others would give in the name of love.

As her own death approached, Queen Orual got her chance to complain to the gods for seducing what was hers, those she had loved best. Their happiness should have been for Orual to give. Reciting the speech that had been at the center of her soul for years, she instantly knew that she had been the most dangerous enemy of those she loved most. By acknowledging that their happiness had never meant as much to her as her need to possess them, she became unmade. Only then could she love as she would have thought it impossible to love.

I think I understand, at least in part, the moral of this story. (I won’t repeat the lesson because your interpretation may be different). I could ignore the judgment of another person, but the message in “Till We Have Faces” is much more difficult to reject.

May we as writers use sensitivity, wisdom and creativity to tell stories that “unmake” our readers.

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This ENFP personality thinks of herself as a teacher, traveler, activist and author of thought provoking time-travel tales. Along with being a right brained slave to creativity, her inspiration comes from the life experiences which expose those questions that stir us to action.

Some of those questions are portrayed through her novel, Pieces of You, with the search for answers continuing in the coming sequel, The Battle of Jericho, 2040.

Links

Book trailer on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIacFKaNWe8
Amazon Book Listing (Kindle edition): http://tinyurl.com/927am9u

 

 

use

 

The day we studied “The Highwayman”

a story by Kenneth Weene

 

“So what did you think of the video?” I asked the class.

Jackie Brown, their regular teacher, had asked me to cover the class. There was little I wouldn’t do for her. Some women have it, and Jackie had even more. Would she accept my invite for Saturday night? Dinner and dancing. I wasn’t going to refuse a simple request.

“Third period. Just lead a discussion after they watch it. You’ll only have about ten minutes. They’re good kids, a great class.”

Jackie was going to slip out for two periods.  She wasn’t supposed to, but Phil, the principal, had agreed to it if she could find somebody to cover her  third period A-Track English class. Her next period was free and then her lunch break: enough time for the dentist.

“Damn, Mike,” she had explained to me; “don’t you hate losing a filling.”

The filmstrip ended. Tip O’Malley flipped on the lights.

He was the exception in the class. The rest were already headed for college. Seventh grade, but they were the good ones, the ones every teacher wanted to have. Tip was different: a scruff of a kid from a poor family, but still bright. Phil had personally placed Tip in the class. “We’ll A-Track him for Social Studies and English,” he instructed; “maybe it will motivate him. Maybe he’ll get the idea.”

As Tip’s guidance counselor, I had agreed with the plan. I liked the kid and one can always hope.

Vicky Henderson, already a dark-eyed beauty at thirteen, raised her hand. “It was sad, the way she killed herself for the highwayman.”

I waited, but there was no more. “Yes, it is a sad poem,” I agreed; “but what about her love? Do you guys think you could ever love somebody that much?”

Tip raised his hand.

“Yes, Tip?”

“I was thinking. The robber. He committed suicide, too, didn’t he? Like suicide by cop?”

“Yes, I guess he did.”

“So I was thinking about how much he loved her. How he couldn’t live without her.”

“Mmm.”

There was an uncomfortable stirring in the class.

“Love is kind of a trap,” Tim continued. “For both of them.”

“How does that make you feel?” I asked.

“Doomed.”

A miasma of discomfort hung in the room.

“Sorry,” Jackie said when I asked about Saturday.

“What the heck,” I said to myself and went to IHop instead.

Damn, if Tip wasn’t there with Vicky — the two of them in a back booth, holding hands and sharing something covered in whipped cream.

The wind was blowing when I left IHop. I looked up. Yeah, the moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas. Would those two kids notice?

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Sometimes Ken Weene writes to exorcise demons. Sometimes he writes because the characters in his head demand to be heard. Sometimes he writes because he thinks what he have to say might amuse or even on occasion inform. Mostly, however, he writes because it is a cheaper addiction than drugs, an easier exercise than going to the gym, and a more sociable outlet than sitting at McDonald’s drinking coffee with other old farts: in brief because it keeps him just a bit younger and more alive.

Find Ken’s books at http://www.amazon.com/Kenneth-Weene/e/B002M3EMWU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1409509512&sr=8-1

and listen to him co-host It Matters Radio at http://www.itmattersradio.com

 

 

sharp pencil

 

Creative Writing 101

I’ve been asked to teach a Creative Writing Course for a varied audience. Why would I consider accepting such a challenge?

The first reason is I’ve already written the lesson plans. This is something I’ve given much thought to over the last few years. You see, there are a couple of fundamental choices you can make in this life when it comes to the work you do: you can either create or destroy. As a writer, I’ve chosen to create. But unless I pass on some of what I’ve learned, my creations end with me.
In my course the students will be asked to work on a composition of their choice for the 6 weeks the program will run. Each Tuesday that we meet, new ideas and techniques will be offered to the student so that he or she may add depth and breadth to their work. In doing so, the world will receive dozens of new works of literary art—whether that be a creative letter to one’s boss or a highly polished haiku.

What follows is a program overview…

Week one the students will be asked to write on any topic that comes to mind and in whatever format they choose. For those who find themselves stumped, I will ask the student to write a vignette about a pencil. The idea here is to create a circular idea, one that goes out into the world then returns to where it began. Why a pencil? The student will be reminded that one can write creatively about anything that can be imagined, even a pencil. A final note for the students will be not to attempt to edit the story as they go along. The reason for this is that an idea is a fragile thing. Attack it too soon and it will die. As a writer, I don’t let anyone see my work until I have a complete first draft. The time to edit is once that plateau has been reached.

Week two will focus on editing structural elements of the student’s work. I subscribe to
Stephen King’s idea that a story exists in full the way a fossilized dinosaur exists in the ground. One finds a fragment (the idea), then he digs around the edges of the fossil to find a general shape that slopes off into the depths. Now comes the time for picking and brushing at the lines, slowly working deeper in an attempt to discover the artifact in its whole. This is structural editing.

Week three goes deeper. One brushes the story until each sentence is a clear and visible entity that fits smoothly into the overall structure. We’ll review basic grammar rules as they apply to sentence structure.

Week four takes a closer look at plot. The dinosaur has a skeleton upon which the flesh is hung. The same is so for a story, letter or poem. Now is the time to play God. Does your piece hang elegantly from the structure you’ve discovered or can it be improved upon? We discuss fundamental plotting.

Week 5 follows a similar plan but deals with theme. What is it and is there an apparent theme in your work? If so, are you happy with it? If not, how can you create theme as suggested by your work?

Week 6 will be an in class swap of pieces so that that each person’s work is proofed by a fresh pair of eyes. I will also field questions and encourage general discussion. The student may submit his or her piece for assessment.

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Clayton Bye is a writer, editor and publisher. The author of 11 books and a varied collection of short stories, poems, articles and reviews, he has also published 4 books under the imprint Chase Enterprises Publishing. These books, published for others, include 3 award winning anthologies and a stunning memoir about what it’s like to live with and die from anorexia. Visit his e-store at http://shop.claytonbye.com.
Mr. Bye also offers a wide range of writing related services, including small business management for writers.
Visit his bookstore at http://shop.claytonbye.com
Find him on Amazon.com
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