The Novel Game.

The Novel Game - Aussie Rules pic
Australian Rules Football

After I finished my 4th novel, well, the 3rd draft of it, who knows what needs to be done to it and at what time it needs to be done, I sent it off to my ‘agent’. He’s not really my agent as we don’t have a writer/agent relationship, he doesn’t have a relationship with me but with a book of mine, my 3rd novel, Johnny William & the Cameraman. However, what’s a writer to do after finishing number 4 but send it on to someone and an agent who has a relationship with number 3 is as good as any. He said he was looking forward to reading it. He said he liked it. With number 4 out of my hair, I felt like my pet budgie had flown away, a little lost. I scanned two abandoned pieces of prose, both over 20,000 words, one set in a declining rural town that seeks its survival only to have that thwarted by the media; and a story of a group of people who witness a tragedy on Sydney Harbour. Neither re-tickled my novelistic fancy.

But then, I found an old note on my Notepad App called The Owls of Kensingtown. The idea was to chart the reactions and romances of a small group of queer-minded people after the sentencing of Oscar Wilde in 1895. I changed the name to Arcadia Lane, but the title is still up for grabs. Actually Up for Grabs isn’t such a bad title itself. The Owls are metaphorical (“Who is that?  Who? Look at them, Who is that one? Who? The one in the hat. Who are you? Who? Who? Who? ….” a chorus like a parliament of Owls. Oh, and A Parliament of Owls isn’t a bad title, either).
As I read through my very brief sketch a scene occurred to me, a scene that has become the opening of this new work, a scene that also sets up a need, which in turn will become the narrative. I have no idea, yet, where the story is going; I only have a direction, not an outcome.
Because of the first scene one of my characters, I’ve called him Henry, leaves his employment. I have no idea where he’s going, but a quick look at Google maps of rural England leads me to a village of Cockley Cley in the east – very obscure, very small – so Cockley Cley becomes his destination, where his peasant parents live.
Along the way he helps a farmer fix a broken down dray and gets a lift from him (This scene isn’t written yet, just mentioned, but as I write this I’m beginning to understand that it needs to be fleshed out. Later). They spend the night at a hogsman’s barn. I don’t know if there was such an occupation as hogsman, but a quick ask of Ms Google tells me that it’s a family name, so an occupation it could’ve been; anyway, I like the sound of it, so hogsman it is.
I don’t believe that a potential reader will stop and Google ‘hogsman’ and then complain that it’s an occupation that doesn’t exist, and has never existed. The sound of it alone fits the times (late 1800s)  and it’s also self-explanatory. It is within the realm of possibility and so I believe a reader will accept it.
With the intention of Henry continuing his journey in the morning, I open the next scene early in the morning
with him pissing behind the barn. As he is returning a small girl comes running around the corner and almost knocks him over. I did not plan this. It was as if I was watching this scene, like an audience, and then the little girl appeared. She is strange, precocious, and manic. She is followed by the hogsman, a character I had not intended to draw. The relationship between the hogsman and the girl is ambiguous, and even a little sinister. The hogsman attempts to get the child back into the house with the help of Henry but the child bites Henry on the arm and screams, “He’s a prince!”. This also wasn’t planned. But, serendipitously, (and serendipity plays a very great role in novel-making) a reason for her outburst occurs to me. Henry, a gentleman’s valet, has left his employment because he was having a sexual affair with his gentleman employer, a very satisfying and loving relationship, but the morning paper’s reporting of Oscar Wilde’s sentence of two years hard labor scares the young man and he leaves, leaving the gentleman bereft and without anyone to cook his breakfast. Henry is therefore dressed and groomed very well, courtesy of his employer/lover and his appearance, especially to the little manic girl, seems that of a wealthy man, maybe even a prince!
I continue to ‘watch’ the scene and write down what I ‘see’. The hogsman invites Henry into his house to tend to the wound, shoving the girl into a room where the voices of other young girls can be heard. As the hogsman tends to Henry’s wound the young man looks around the house and notices its two fires, one in the sitting room, one in the kitchen, its heavy wooden and polished furniture, and its decorations, rugs, and paintings. This is not the house of a lowly pig farmer, unless my unnamed hogsman has a very lucrative side business.
The hogsman tangentially suggests a deal: he is willing to pay the young gentleman a tidy sum for his silence about the presence of the little girl/girls in his house. He knows his guest doesn’t look like he needs it, but a deal is a deal and an exchange of money between men who can afford it is as good a deal as most. Henry remains silent, a little character trait I just happened to give him earlier when he saw the wisdom of remaining silent when the truth, which is his usual trope, might do more harm than good (serendipity again). Henry takes the £5 silently, money he, now unemployed, sorely needs.
Understand that this scene may not make it into the final cut.
What has occurred to me since beginning this novel, if that’s what it is, is the similarities between writing prose and playing football. Writers take courses and listen to experts and go on writers’ retreats – players listen to coaches and go on training camps; writers read other writers – players watch other games; writers hone their skills, trying out ideas, different voices – players go to training, honing their skills; writers are disciplined – players are disciplined; writers know and understand grammar – players know and understand the rules of the game; but when it comes to doing the work, writing the thing, playing the game, there is no time to think about rules, advice, examples, and should I write this, should I tackle that; you just write it, play it, and hope to kryst that all the rules, advice, examples, and shoulds have oozed into your intuition, become your default mechanism, and what comes out is eventually a readable novel, a win. 
 
I’m not yet convinced about the veracity of this work but I keep ‘seeing’ scenes, and as long as the scenes keep coming I’ll keep writing. Wish me luck. 

Gulliver’s Travels (working title) by Michael K Freundt. A work in progress.

Robert Gulliver Cover picAfter sex years I’ve finally finished the first draft. I’m letting it rest for a while. Here is the Prelude and the first three chapters … a teaser.

Prelude

If you ask a family member – of any family – if they are happy, they would invariably pause, not wanting to simply say “yes”, and try to think of a word, or words, that would accurately describe their … but they would all so quickly realise that they have no idea how to describe how they feel so they say, “Yes,” usually adding, “of course.” You know this is a lie, but politeness and fear forces you to acquiesce and you smile and say something limp in acknowledgment, like “Good.” This is an example of two lies being better than none. You can both now get on with whatever you were doing; conditioning your hair, mowing the lawn, doing your tax, without upsetting the balance of the universe, happy in the nameless knowledge that you have successfully bypassed the slippery dip to yelling, tears, and/or the breakdown of your world as you know it. This is the bedrock of why families survive; sometimes, even when they shouldn’t.

 If you realise at any time that you have somehow been perplexingly born into a situation, a family, where you don’t fit in, or if circumstances render your situation suddenly, or slowly, unacceptable to you, you need to – or may be forced to – do something about it.

This is a story of a boy who did just that.

1

Off to School with Daddy.

In the early Monday morning pre-light, a masculine hand hovers over a digital clock’s green numbers as they inescapably eat up time: 5:57, 5:58, 5.59 … It taps the ‘off’ button. Waking up is as close to birth as us humans can get; and we do it every day. If only we could remember to think this, maybe we would then try to make this day better than the last. 

Robert Gulliver, fifteen years old but who has suffered a heavy dose of puberty much earlier than most, desirously handsome and dark, raises his arms, hands clasped over his head, and stretches while he flexes and rotates his feet, clockwise then anti. He lies still for a moment listening to the sounds of the house. All is quiet except for the living hum he hears in his ears: the sound of himself. He flings back the covers of his three-quarter bed, swings his naked body over the side, scratches his hirsute chest and yawns. He stands on tip-toe, raises his arms above his body, and stretches, making sure he breathes normally. Hold. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. He then walks out of his room to the bathroom down the hall confident no-one is around at this hour; his parents are still asleep. He is up early because there is so much to do: the day is his first at a new school, the third this year, and it’s only June.

He uses the toilet. Drinks a handful of water from the tap, washes his hands, rinses his face, and dons running shorts, with inbuilt support, then T-shirt, socks, Nikes, and Raybans. He heads out the back door of the suburban family home, down the drive and through the front garden where a neglected, immense, and loathsome stand of Strelitzia reginae, bird-of-paradise, dominates a sparse and neglected garden. He thinks about its place, the family’s face to the world, and wonders if he should get stuck into the garden as no-one else will, but he knows he won’t. He is scared of the garden. He’s never said this and never will, and certainly not tell anyone. Even now, he is only vaguely aware of an aversion to it. But it is fear, nonetheless. 

A Sunday morning only a few years ago when he was still a boy, a real boy, a hairless little boy, he was watering the garden and he let the curved force of the water from the hose in his hand linger in a spot of dirt. A muddy hole appeared and gurgled and mesmerised him, spoke to him. Yes, the sound became voices, the words were unintelligible but the conversation, was definitely hostile. He was caught by the sound, pulled by it, but repulsed by the tone. He strove to catch the words. Who belonged to these voices? He concentrated to understand but it was impossible to discern any meaning or purpose; they didn’t even sound like words, but there were two voices and they were full of hate, unmistakable hate. He yanked himself away despite the tug of perverse curiosity, but the fear was worse; a fear that at any moment he would be dragged into the hateful dialogue and have to explain himself. He never had anything more to do with the garden, any garden.  

Now that he has looked at his own garden, well, Ewan, his father’s, garden, with the eyes of a stranger, he glances up and takes in the whole neighbourhood. A straight street of single storey houses all built the same distance from the road, as if there was a plan, or at least, an intention or will. They all are of different designs, nothing matched, but the predominant feature of the vista was the low fences and walls, that separate each front yard; all different too, like personalities, but in this neighbourhood not very stylish personalities. Some in tact, some falling down or covered in weeds pretending to be ground-cover, or ground-cover that has escaped the ground. It was all built well before the brief social experiment of no fences, vast lawn-scapes that was supposed to be egalitarian but ended up being separatist. No one had a fence to talk over so nobody talked. But here no-body talks much anyway. Everyone’s life is pretty much like their neighbour’s. He knows the neighbours to the left, Joe and Betty Dodd, nice people but Betty looks at him too hard sometimes, like she’s weighing things up, and he used to have a yen to catch a glimpse of Joe Dodd in the shower, which was possible since their respective bathroom windows faced each other; and he did – he had to stand of the bath-rim to get the angle he needed – but once he did he didn’t want to anymore; so now he avoids any close association with them; the ones on the right are renters and are rarely seen. Both left and right gardens don’t seem to be tended much either, but they are infinitely neater than the Gulliver’s. If location defines you, he’s not too pleased about this location and what it might say about him. Cromer, northern beaches, but annoyingly inland from the beach and so a little suburban self-loathing has crept into the street, called an Avenue but looks nothing like one. He thinks about doing something about it – the garden? – the house? – the suburb? – but not sure what, just yet. 

He sets ear-phones to his smartphone, opens the National Broadcaster, and chooses News. He walks briskly at first, gearing up to a power walk, and then a more energetic lope; but never a jog. He concentrates on the news wanting to hear something to agree with but well aware that that won’t happen, but, news, somehow, is addictive. He’s a left-leaning moderate while the government of the day is conservative although led by a broad-spectrum party failing to come to terms with its outdated conservatism and led by a centrist ditherer desperately trying to maintain his leadership until attrition and bi-elections foster in new blood and through which he can bring the party to where he wants it to be. Wrong! Meanwhile he is hounded by the media and old far-right-old-boys on the back bench in equal measure. He plods two steps forward, two steps back, but smiles at the cameras confident that he is making headway; and sometimes he does, but less of a step and more of a shuffle. He frustrates Robert as does the opposition leader who is too much from the old-school believing politics not policy will be his way to the top-job. Those days are over. Ewan is a backbencher in the Labor opposition but the State scenario is pretty much the same as the national only smaller, narrower, and pettier. 

As happens when exercising, the brain can sometimes randomly rove. Robert, despite the battling political voices dishing up platitudes into his ear, remembers, or tries to remember, this morning’s dream that suddenly impinges itself on his mind. He is aware of a blurry Arcadian scene, of countryside, picturesque vistas, streams with verdant banks, but where farming has disrupted the living cycles. Machines have turned the sod, oblivious farmers have planted horizons of alien grasses, and tend ignorant creatures from other climes. Through this he walks becoming increasingly bereft at the damage he sees – you know what dreams can be like – but finally he discovers a field that looks at peace. The headed grasses have been cut, waiting he knows for another machine that will thunder over them making enormous round bungles of what now lies peacefully where they grew. But not now. Not yet. He feels a calmness and an incredible urge to lie down with the fallen stems and all the other naked men where he knows he will find serenity, and an odour akin to kindness wafts over him and … and … but the rest is gone, buried within the maze of neurones and synapses, hibernating, but ready to return unannounced at any inconvenient moment in the future. Or lost forever. But, he knows enough about the mysterious process of writing fiction, practiced by his mother, sometimes with his help, to know that such neurone memory can serendipitously splutter into his fingers as they dance over the keys in a red-hot spurt of creativity. He shares this glorious, but untetherable creative agility with Edith. It binds them. 

By 6.30 as the day brightens Robert is back home. He shaves slowly, his beard is thick and dark: his hormones belie his age. Personal attention takes time. He showers, with an olive oil based gel, ‘washes’ his hair with conditioner, and then pat-dries himself thoroughly. On his face he uses a liquid cleanser, exfoliant, and moisturiser; for his short thick hair – but longer in front, he likes the floppy look, especially late in the day – he uses Aesop Violet-Leaf Balm. It’s the best. He’s tried them all. He believes soap on the body is as evil as sugar in it.

Back in his room he dons a pair of white Giorgio Armani briefs; always Giorgio, never Emporio. He used to iron his shirt the night before but he now prefers to do it in the morning; for a fresher look. There is something meditative about ironing in the quiet. The ironing board always stands waiting in front of his curtained window, under which stands his broad dresser which holds several photographs of himself as a child, so long ago it feels historic, but really it’s only two years, not ten. There is also a photograph of a youngish Sean Connery. Robert’s clean but creased shirts lie in a deep top drawer. It takes him seven and a half minutes to iron a shirt. He cleaned and polished his shoes last night. He takes his new grey and blue school uniform and tie out of their dry-cleaner plastic and dresses. He always uses a full Windsor Knot and a shirt with a cutaway collar: he likes their proportions which he believes suits his facial geography. Robert Gulliver cares about these things.

So there, in his full length mirror on the back of his door, a model for Everyman; fifteen going on thirty two, in more ways than age; a man in a school uniform which, on any other man would look silly, but on Robert? It’s a head-turning magnet of a look.

By the time he enters the kitchen, his parents, Ewan, the back-bencher, is already at the breakfast table. His mother, Edith, an eBook novelist who produces a generally lucrative line of novellas about a woman called Veronica and her sex and work life – sometimes intermingling, – is, as usual, already at her desk, down the hall in, what was, the third bedroom but is now Edith’s writing room.

Ewan looks up from his newspaper, runs his eyes slowly over his son, and gives a frustrated sigh, or is it something else? “You’re going to school dressed like that?”

“Good morning, Ewan!” says Robert, sarcastically as Edith, pencil in her mouth, comes into the kitchen. “Morning, Mother Dear.”

Through teeth clenched on the pencil she says, “What? Don’t talk to me. I’m not here.” She goes to a cupboard, opens it and takes out a packet of Bushells tea. “Ah, two els.”

“You know, Mum, you could’ve googled that and saved a trip.”

“Ssh! I’m not here.”

“Ewan doesn’t like my uniform,” says Robert.

“Oh, come on, Ewan, you know Robert likes to look neat.”

“And does he like having his neat little head punched in as well?” But she’s gone.

“So how would you like me to dress, Ewan?” says Robert cheerfully as he carefully drapes his jacket over the back of his chair and sits, “flapping shirt-tales, a tie skew-wiff and loose, and a crotch dangling to my knees?”

“You could at least try to fit in this time.”

Edith’s head appears around the door frame, “Your toast is in the toaster. Ah! And Ewan, you know Robert needs a cloth napkin.” She disappears again.

“I’ll get it,” says Robert as he retrieves one from the dresser drawer. As he drapes his napkin, edged in lace and ironed stiffly, carefully on his lap, sits and contemplates his Swiss muesli, Greek yoghurt and red papaya, he says “Oh, and while we’re on the subject of fashion, your national leader dresses exactly like you seem to want me to. You’d think with such a glamorous wife she’d help him out; he could, at least, wear clothes that actually fit him.”

“I have no concern for the federal leader, it’s my state leader I’m focused on.”

“That’s the trouble with the Left in this country: all the branches looking out for themselves; and can’t agree on exactly the shade of left they want to be.” Edith appears and goes straight for the cupboard again. “So, what’s Veronica up to these days, Mum? Bonking a client again?”

“What? Oh, she’s bonking a builder,” she says as she takes the Bushells tea packet out again and takes it with her. At the door she turns and says, “Well, she had to, really. He caught her staring at him on the bus. And she was staring but not because of him, but because of who he reminded her of. She tried to explain that to him while he rubbed up against her in the crowd, but no man want’s a woman he fancies to talk to him of another man, does he? She’s having a little bit of a crisis over this one not because she should’ve known, which she should’ve, but because she quite liked being rubbed up against in a public place.”

“Ha!” guffaws Robert, “I love you Mum, for all your distance, you must have a never-ending treasure trove of unfulfilled fantasies, wouldn’t you say Ewan?” And he throws a look at his father who refuses to look up. “And what does this one look like?”

“A bit like you. Can’t chat. Must go,” and she disappears with the packet of Bushells tea but pops her head back and says, “I may need your help later today, Robert. I’ll text you,” and she is gone again.

“I suppose you know most of Veronica’s roots look like you,” says Ewan without looking up.

Robert ignores the comment. “And what has this Monday in store for you, Ewan?” says Robert making family morning chit-chat.

“I have a party meeting at 9.30 so I can take you to your new school if you like.”

“Isn’t it wonderful that all the world starts their work at 9 but politicians like to start at 9.30; makes them feel so, so, special.”

“No, so fathers like me can take children like you to school. I could also have a word with the principal which may, at least, postpone the inevitable.”

“Nothing’s happened yet.”

“It will. You’re a shit-magnet, Robert.”

“And you think dressing like shit will help?”

“At least you’ll fit in.”

“Oh, yes, that old blend-in philosophy; don’t stand out, be grey and everything will be alright.”

“At least it may save your pretty face being smashed in.”

“Nothing touches my face unless it’s out of a beautifully designed and expensive tube.”

“Be ready in 25 minutes,” says Ewan and he downs his coffee, folds the paper and leaves the kitchen.

“You know he loves you, Robert,” comes Edith’s voice sailing down the passage from her office, or was that a voice from a god somewhere?

Robert says quietly, “And so do you, precious.”

 

The car, a Volvo, faded Green and far from the the latest model, is always in the drive, never in the garage as the garage is full of rubbish, sorry, storage. Robert stands with his jacket over his arm waiting for Ewan who eventually emerges from the house.

“When are you going to tend to this Strelitzia?” asks Robert.

“I planted it for the very reason that it doesn’t need tending to.”

“Have you ever read John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids?”

“No.”

“You should. It’s very prophetic.”

“Come on. Get in. We’re late.”

“Get real! We’re only late because you’re late.”

As Ewan backs out of the weedy driveway and joins the morning traffic Robert tends to his seat belt. It takes him five blocks to make sure there are no shirt creases under his seat belt straps.

Robert has for some years been aware of his dislocation within his family and the precarious position, both emotionally and financially, it holds in the weave of the society in which they live: his mother writes salacious novels, self-publishes them online, and receives payment, eventually, via her online publishing platform straight into her bank account which a debit card gives her access to, therefore rendering her daily working life free from any human contact outside her husband and son; his father sits on the back-bench for a major political party, now in opposition, who does nothing but sit in the seat he is elected to – and continues to be elected to – but should he attract any attention from the media, and therefore the world, which in the realm of political life is more likely than not – the state of his front garden alone – and let’s leave out, for the moment, his proclivities, history, and immediate future – would be enough to send worrying waves to his party, the media, and constituents. Robert seems to be the only one, of the three of them, who understands this.

“Later this morning, Eastern Standard Time, the state opposition will gather for a party meeting behind closed doors to try to wheedle three backbenchers, Thomas Undershaft, Marion Heath, and Ewan Gulliver, into supporting the contentious vote on euthanasia,” the car radio says.

“Ewan! You’ve made the news! Wow. Now you will have to do something about the front garden.”

“Whatever for?”

“It’s the first thing the paparazzi will photograph and the first story the journos will write about. Next thing you know the producers of “Celebrity Makeover” will be banging on our door to bring our front garden into the 21st century. And once the journos dig, Ewan … well, you know.”

The radio continues its morning roundup of news, weather, and not-so-current affairs. Father and son sit in silence in the heavy traffic. Ewan’s knuckles begin to turn white, he indicates, pulls over, and stops the car.

“Ewan! You can’t park here. It’s a bus lane.”

Ewan replies by covering his son’s hand with his own.

Robert quickly pulls his hand away. “If you get picked up by the traffic police they’ll start asking questions and next thing you know your face will be on the front page of some gutter tabloid, and you know what they…

“Robert,” interrupts Ewan, “we have to talk.”

“No, we don’t and there’s a bus coming.”

“Baby.”

“Don’t call me that and that bus is not a figment of my imagination. Ewan!”

Ewan checks his rear-view mirrors and pulls out into the traffic again. It is slow.

The Volvo eventually pulls into the curb outside the high school with a yard empty of children. The men sit: Robert waiting for, but not wanting, Ewan to say something and worried about why he himself is so confused about this.

“Sorry about the traffic,” says Ewan.

“Not your fault.”

“You remember the principal’s name? Mr Steen?”

“I know. It’s tragic.”

Ewan has more important things to say. “… Robert,” begins Ewan in a different, soft, but alarming voice that causes Robert to angrily interrupt.

“Ewan! Stop! We are going to be like a normal, well, normal-ish, family and tonight I’ll tell you about my day and Mum will tell us about Veronica’s day, and you’ll tell us about your day; and while we’re on the subject of your day, do what you have to, to stay out of the media’s sites. And you know perfectly well why.”

As he gets out of the car Ewan says irritably, “Oh, so you want me to blend in, do you? Don’t stand out, is that it?”

“Exactly!” Robert prepares to slam the door.

But in a swift move Ewan, held by his seatbelt, leans low on the passenger seat where he can feel the still, but fading, warmth of Robert’s body and holds the door open, looks up at his son and says pleadingly, “But I don’t understand, Baby, why you are so afraid of what you did. I didn’t mind; don’t mind.”

“I was underage,” says Robert harshly but in a whisper, foolishly, as there was no-one around, “I wasn’t responsible!”

“And you’re still not,” says Ewan with a calm inevitability that renders his son shocked and speechless. Robert abruptly turns, leaving the door open and walks rapidly away and into the deserted playground. He hears the door close and the Volvo pull away but doesn’t turn around. He stands in a sea of black asphalt. He knows he’s late, but since late is late, later is still just late. He might only be fifteen but he’s also a man; he thinks of himself as one, and one that feels responsibility even if the law won’t let him. But here he is; a man in a playground. Its implications belie its flatness. Another school. Let’s hope this one is a little more … accommodating.

2

Pretty Straight Back

Familiar noises and the habiliments of school architecture, direct him into a building and a short corridor turns him down a longer one. He can see up ahead a teacher’s aid in a lab coat mopping the floor next to a free-standing, yellow, warning sign, and heads for him to ask directions. But as he approaches he becomes gradually aware that this man has the potential to be incredibly attractive; not in a conventional sense he thinks, but craggy, well built, and to Robert’s well developed sexual senses, luscious. Dearie me! Look at that! Robert can’t help a sensuous smile begin to teeter on his lips as he excitingly anticipates gazing into this man’s eyes; but just as the smile is involuntary so is the rest of his face and as the man hears Robert’s approaching steps, he looks up and locks eyes on the lad. Robert chucks him a lascivious wink. The man’s shocked reaction has its altering affect and Robert lets his momentum propel him past without being able to utter a word, much to his annoyance, but he can’t help looking back. Be still my beating heart! What is it about those deep creases, like parentheses around a sensual mouth? The man is staring after him, standing next to the yellow sign: caution.

It’s as if another Robert, the man, vies for space in his body and mind of Robert, the boy. He looks like a man, thinks like a man, his penis certainly behaves like a man, but although the chemical cocktail that unleashed the man in him was spilt way too soon there are still boyish elements lurking beneath his adult exterior that bubble up at times sending his mind racing around a traffic clover trying to find the nearest exit to rationality and a calm breathing pattern. Robert has adapted to these moments of libidinal confusion by taking, as he likes to call it, my rational pill: the sensical, almost female, attribute of  attending to the stimuli of reality around him at this present moment: the smell of a school corridor, finding the Principal, being a school boy.

He finds the Principal’s office where he notes the man’s name on the door as C. E Steen: Principal. He knocks and enters and sees the man rise from his desk. He is grossly fat and, when he speaks, flummoxed by a seemingly random stammer and a casual link between tongue and intellect. His desk is messy. A good sign, thinks Robert. A laptop, stacks of papers, a small secretaire of ancient polished wood, and a small photo frame. He’d love to see what it holds. 

“Ah, yes. Am I expecting you?” the man says with a frown.

“Yes, I think so. I’m the new student transferred from Sanderson High. Robert Gulliver.”

“Oh! Is that so? You’re late! And I was expecting someone a little, well, you know, younger, and not so w-well d-dressed. Your file says you’re fifteen, but” Robert’s slightly annoyed look has its effect, “ well, you know what b-boys can be like these days. Yes. Well, now. You’ve got a little reputation stuck to your b-boots, my lad. But Elliot, that’s Will Elliot, the Councillor – old friend of mine from w-way back, says you’re a bold lad, or some such thing. Ah, yes, my lad. Yes. Yes. E-expecting you. Yes, G-gulliver. R-robert. Yes. Robert, I think. Come in. Sit down. Here’s a chair. I’m the boss around here,” and he laughs rather sillily.

“Pleased to meet you sir.”

“Now, no need, no need, you know, around here to be so, well, formal. You can call me Mr Steen or P-principal. Everyone d-does. Someone called me ‘Prince’ once and I quite liked it. Now, there’s a form somewhere around here. Somewhere. For you to fill-in, or is it fill-out? Silly language at t-times,” and he chuckles to himself.

“I filled in all the necessary forms online. I’m sure we don’t have to do them again,” says Robert, trying to help.

“Yes. Yes. Certainly. Of course. Of course. The office staff will deal with that, that you know, computer stuff. So. W-what can I do for you then?”

“What I don’t have is the weekly schedule and …..”

“Yes, of course! Of course. That’s here too, somewhere. Somewhere. Oh yes! Here it is! Glory be! Here’s the whole d-damn thing: a folder with your name on it. Robert Gulliver. This must be yours,” and he hands Robert a full manila folder. “W-what else do you need to know?”

“I was hoping you could show me to my first class. but Sir, Mr Steen, you need to keep this file, I think.” He hands it back.

“Ah, yes. Of course. But now, what? Oh, yes, come with me,” and the Principal rises with difficulty from his seat and leads Robert out into the corridor, talking all the time. “Your home teacher is Mr Luff. G-good bloke. Very knowledgeable about literature and all that. English, I think, is first up this morning,” and on and on about Mr Luff and his string of qualities until they get to a closed door. He knocks and enters. The entire class shuffles to its feet, but the Principle waves them down. “Thank you, people, thank you. Good morning, Good morning, Adrian.” Everyone sits. Robert follows but his view of the room is almost completely restricted by the bulk of Mr Steen. “This is the new chap I told you about, Adrian. Robert Gulliver,” and as Mr Steen steps aside a breathless “Oh shit” escapes Robert’s lips. Mr Luff is the craggy-handsome teacher’s aid minus his lab coat.

There is a pause, like a stop-frame, as Adrian Luff takes in Robert Gulliver, especially his clothes as does the whole class. “You? Mr Gulliver? We’ve been expected you,” says Adrian Luff with a touch of irony in his voice.

“Good morning, sir,” and he looks around the room. It is as expected: students in various states of hormone-induced dishevelment all around fifteen loll on their chairs, or against, or over, their single and double desks, as if to belie the furniture’s shape. Three rough-pretty boys up the back attract his attention as they lean into each other like conspirators, like the trio from Macbeth. One of them, a lanky lad stares at him and mouths a word with derision: an unmistakable ‘Poofta’. Ah, yes. Here we go again, thinks Robert but his attention is taken by a very pretty girl who, of all of them, is sitting up straight.

“Not so formal here, Mr Gulliver. Mr Luff is all that is needed.”

“Fine. Where would you like me to sit?”

“Why not over there, third row back.”

“Ah, a window seat. Thank you,” and Robert walks to his seat, takes off his jacket and hangs it neatly on the back of his chair. All eyes are locked on him as he sits.

“We’re talking this morning about A Passage to India. Have you read it?”

“It’s on the syllabus.”

“Yes, but have you read it,” says Adrian Luff in a tone that suggests that everybody should, but nobody has. There’s a few chuckles of acknowledgement.

“Yes, I have. Twice,” and a few groans punctuate the dying laughter.

“Ah, then you might like to enlighten us on your theories of what happened in the Malabar Caves.”

“I think I’d prefer to sit this one out, Mr Luff, if you don’t mind. It’s my first day. I’ll just gauge the lie of the land, if you know what I mean. But thanks for the offer.”

“Oh, come now, Mr Gulliver. You must know I’ve read your file.”

Oh, fucken hell. So much for starting with a new slate when the one he’s given is already scratched and bloodied. He can feel the look of mischief from Adrian Luff; a little pay back probably for Robert’s audacious wink in the corridor.

“So, come on, Mr Gulliver. Enlighten us with your opinion,” and his soft-looking lips form a little challenging smirk.

I know what I’d like to do to those lips of yours. Stick my tongue through them and press them hard against mine as I run my hand up and under your shirt and then down behind your belt. Robert smiles and says “Do you mind if I stand?”

“Not at all Mr Gulliver. Be our guest.” And it is something about that reply, a little too smug, a little too all-inclusive – us against you, too condescending and challenging with a hope of failure no doubt, that Robert doesn’t just stand but also grabs and dons his coat as he walks to the front of the class – into Adrian Luff’s territory – turns, and boldly and unflinchingly begins – but first he tugs on his cuffs and buttons his jacket.

“Miss Adela Quested, rather plain, has led a slow and very ordinary English life, but despite very little happening in it she has found herself rushing past, at an alarming rate, her marriageable age. No female then would ever contemplate being left on the shelf. However, she is now engaged, probably hurriedly so, to be married, but to a rather pompous and dull prick who has been all this time in India while she has been, all this time, on the other side of the world, being plain and un-noticed.” And then staring at Lanky Lad up the back says, “She’s a virgin, wouldn’t you say?”

The dumb lad falls for the trap and says rather cockily, “Yeah, but I reckon she’d like a bit of the old rumpy-pumpy,” and his two off-siders punch each other and giggle like twits. “Because, you know, she gets all moist and gagging-for-it just lookin’ at all those Karma Sutra statues humpin’ each other, like all over the place.” And the twits giggle some more.

“Ah, so you’ve seen the movie,” says Robert egging the boy on.

“Yeah, I have. Twice!” and the class laughs with him as his chest puffs up like a gobbler.

“But you haven’t read the book, laddy!” The laughter dies. “Because if you had you would have known that scene is not in the book. It’s a little invention from Mr Lean, the director, just to make it a little easier for people who aren’t comfortable just with words on a page, or even pictures on a screen, but need a little extra to help them understand what’s going on.” Lanky Lad sinks a little in his chair and fixes Robert with a hateful stare, although Robert can see that the lad isn ‘t quite sure why he feels put down. Robert’s eyes move from Lanky Lad’s to Pretty Straight Back. She’s smiling at him. “So,” Robert continues, “Miss Quested is a virgin, sexually repressed and about to marry a bore who is also sexually repressed. A disaster in the making. Missionary Position 101 with the lights off. But then she spots the good man, Dr Aziz, with his swarthy good looks,” Robert prances before his audience letting his own attractiveness work for him, “a handsome, exotic, and friendly man,” – he tosses a smiling “Hi!” to Pretty Straight Back – “and poor Adela is hooked. It’s Dr Aziz she wants, although wanting a man isn’t something she would ever contemplate; more like, wanting him to do something to her. So, in the cave, the dark and eerie cave, just the place for a randy man to take advantage of an inexperienced but willing virgin” – and Robert rubs his nipples – “Mmmmm. But Dr Aziz is not with her: he’s somewhere else in the labyrinth with the other tourists. She’s alone in the gloom, exotic, and sensual place with nothing but her imagination” and his hands wander again. “So, what does she do? She lets her imagination go wide to a point where she can’t help herself. She masturbates” – he demonstrates, “Breaks her hymen, gets blood on her hands, -Ah! – panics, runs from the cave, and stumbles into a convenient bramble bush. Now! The real question here – and much more interesting – is not what happened in the cave – I just told you what happened, end of mystery – but, did she accidentally stumble into the bramble bush or did she do that deliberately to cover up her vaginal blood; blood with more blood? Right! I want 500 words from each and every one of you on your opinion on the bramble bush equation, on my desk by 3.45 this afternoon. Thank you for your attention.” Pretty Straight Back leads the mediocre applause. He smiles back at her as he walks back to his seat and, removing his jacket, replaces it on the back of his chair and sits. Adrian Luff takes an unsatisfactory amount of time to get the class back and under his control so he can proceed with the lesson he has planned.

Eventually, a harsh sound of an electric bell, left over from when Brutus was a boy, pierces the air and as the class room erupts with eager but underdeveloped bodies scrambling to get out of here, Robert gathers his things and finds he is the last to leave.

“I’d like a word with you, Mr Gulliver,” says Adrian Luff.

“Certainly, Mr Luff,” says Robert as he alters his momentum and leans against the desk immediately in front of Mr Luff who sits watching Robert’s every move.

“Are you aware of what is in the report from your previous school?” asks the older man.

“No,” says Robert, “but I’d like to be.” And I think there’s a few other things I’d like to be aware of at this very moment, Luffy.

“I’m afraid that’s not possible.”

“You mean, I’m stuck forever with my crumpled past?”

“Aren’t we all?”

“Oh! So you have a crumpled past too, do you Mr Luff?”

Mr Luff chooses to ignore the question; so instead he says, “My job is to make sure you fit in well to this school and keep – incidents – from happening that we’d rather not happen.”

“And how do you suppose to do that?” asks Robert cheekily.

“By understanding a little bit of what’s going on in that head of yours.”

Robert can’t help a smirk distorting his lips, “Oh, Mr Luff, even if you did know what was going on in this head of mine, you may not understand it” which I would greatly regret as I run my hand up your naked body to a nipple and squeeze it ever-so gently while I grab your erect penis in my fist and guide it, expertly, inevitably, into my waiting mouth “Sorry, did you say something?” asks Robert snapping out of his little reverie.

“No.”

“Oh,” and then coquettishly “would you like to say something?”

“Mr Gulliver,” begins Mr Luff in a slightly exasperated voice but he is prevented from continuing by a knock on the door.

“Yes?” calls out Mr Luff.

Oh look! It’s Pretty Straight Back. “Excuse me, Mr Luff, but as Mr Gulliver has a free-period this session, as I do, I thought I’d take the opportunity to show him around.”

“A very good idea, Ms Lately, as it seems he needs a bit of looking after.”

“Oh, Mr Luff,” says Robert, “why don’t we forget about our crumbly pasts and start afresh?”

Again, Mr Luff ignores the question. “I’ll see you back here for the last session de-brief.”

“Oo! A de-brief,” says Robert as he collects his bag, “I look forward to that,” and he pushes himself off the desk and heads to the waiting Ms Pretty Straight Back, sorry, Ms Lately; but then he stops, turns back to Mr Luff, walks over to the man still sitting in his chair, stands a little too close signifying an intimacy that apparently the older man does not object to – Mmm – and says conspiratorially, “What where you doing dressed as a teacher’s aid mopping a corridor earlier this morning?”

“It was a lab coat. I also teach Junior Chemistry. I broke a beaker. I mopped rather than swept to make sure I got every shard of glass.”

The men stare at each other, one looking up, one smiling down and then “Very sensible,” says Robert who then turns and continues towards Ms Lately waiting at the door.

A few steps from the recently closed door Ms Lately says, “Are you always that arrogant on day one?”

Robert looks at her with some surprise as her question was, well, surprising, and then quizzically as if her question consolidates the basis of their relationship and so he consolidates it even more by saying, “Yes. And are you always so abrupt on first meetings?”

“Yes.”

“We are going to get along just fine.”

“Actually, I’m not usually that abrupt…”

“So, you lied?”

“No. There’s something about you that elicits – honesty.”

“Something, what exactly?”

“Something in your face.”

“What about my face?”

“Well, apart from it being incredibly handsome …”

“I know.”

“… really!” with a sigh, “it’s also incredibly open.”

“And it gets me into a lot of trouble.”

“Being open?”

“No, the other bit.”

Ms Lately ignores that. “A virgin doesn’t necessarily bleed when she masturbates.”

“She does if her hymen breaks.”

“Not necessarily. I didn’t.”

“Oh. It’s a good story though, don’t you think?”

“What other theories do you have about Ms Quested?”

“I don’t want to talk about Ms Quested.”

“What do you want to talk about?”

“Adrian Luff.”

“Do you fancy him?”

“Of, course!”

“He’s off limits, I’m afraid.”

“Well, we’ll see about that.”

“I may not know what’s in that report about you, but I can sure as hell guess. You really …..”

“Ah!” gasps Robert, “I haven’t yet asked your name.”

“I wonder why that would be?”

“And you haven’t told me.”

“It’s Penny.”

“Ah, Penelope.”

“No, Penny.”

“Why not Penelope?”

“It’s so old fashioned.”

“But with a noble pedigree.”

“And you’re now going to tell me all about it.”

“She was the wife of Odysseus, better known as Ulysses, who stayed loyal to him for more than twenty years while he was away fighting in the Trojan wars.”

“Was she dull?”

“No, she was very beautiful and had over 180 suitors, but she shunned them all, aching for the day when Ulysses would return to her. And he did. She is known for her connubial fidelity.”

“Why do you know so much stuff?”

“I have an uncanny ability to remember everything I see, touch, smell, hear, and taste.”

“And make-up.”

“You have a healthy skepticism. I like that. We’re going to be very close. Anyway, I’m calling you Penelope.”

“Must you?”

“It’s your name, just like my name is Robert. Robert.”

“Robert. Not Bobby?”

He looks at her as if she just farted. “Robert.”

“Robert.”

“Penelope. Penelope Lately. Nice. And where does the family Lately come from?”

“It’s the English version….”

Anglicised is the word you need, if it’s the adjective you want.” Robert can be incredibly annoying.

“It’s the Anglicised version of some Eastern European name with too many zeds and not enough vowels.”

“You mean like Latzkowzkizitzky?”

“Something like that.”

“So, Penelope Lately, I think you were about to tell me all you know about the delectable Adrian Luff.”

“OK. Ermm … he’s a teacher.” 

3

Rough Pretty Boys

Penelope Lately is tiny with a luscious crop of very bark brown hair, almost black but not quite. Her small stature belies her intellect and sense of humour. It’s as if, when aged seven, all her growing energy was transferred to her brain leaving her frame stationary. 

Robert said one morning, “You have gorgeous hair.”

“Would you like to touch it?”

“Er … No!” said Robert a little taken aback. “Why would I want to touch it?”

“Well, I just thought, since you liked it, you might want to, you know, touch it.”

“No. I just like looking at it.”

“Oh.” Penelope doesn’t quite know why but she’s a little disappointed.

“The Mona Lisa in the Lourve in Paris is covered by a sheet of glass so when you look at it all you can see is the reflection of the boards of people staring at it.”

“And why did you tell me that?”

“Nobody wants to touch it.”

“Well, you couldn’t touch it, even if you wanted to.”

“That’s right.”

” … you’re weird.”

During that first meeting of Penelope and Robert not a lot of ‘showing-around’ went on, which Robert didn’t mind as school-yard geography is very much the same the world over: building, asphalt, building, asphalt, boutique bushes, demountable, worn grass, asphalt, building. But it did set a precedent and all their subsequent free time between classes and other annoying educational commitments were spent together. Robert, basically self-educated, simply is marking time until he comes of age when his real life, he believes, will begin. Robert makes no other friends; he adopts a friendly but sarcastic, slightly belittling tone to all others which they can’t actually recognise as such but know it isn’t welcoming. His feelings for Penelope quickly grow close to love, brotherly love that is, and his feelings for Adrian Luff stay frustratingly close to lust-from-afar; not a feeling Robert is comfortable with. He usually gets what he wants.

“Look at them!” says Robert after a short pause that ended a satisfying but exhausted discussion about the modern uselessness of royalty. “Horsing around like children.” The rough-pretty boys are tagging each other; their shirttails blowin’ in the wind.

“They are children,” says Penelope chewing on her apple core.

Lanky Lad and his two accomplices are energetically teasing each other some metres away, chasing and grabbing each other for no apparent purpose or gain.

“Who are they again?”

“Don’t you know their names?”

“I only remember the names of people who interest me.”

“The tall skinny one is Lenny, Leonard Averset. His family owns a delivery business. Gio Chang is from Korean parents, they have two restaurants in the inner East. He was born here not long after his parents arrived from Korea and they chose what they thought was an English name for their new little boy, Giovanni. He’s the brightest of the three; and the other one is Tommy Masood, Lebanese I think. Don’t know about his family.”

“Look at him trying to get his hands under their shirts, flesh on flesh.”

“Play isn’t all about homo-eroticism, Robert.”

“Wanna bet?”

“You’ve got your hand on my knee.”

“I’ve always got my hand on your knee, your hand, your arm, your neck. That’s got nothing to do with eroticism.”

“What is actually erotic for you, Robert? Humour me.”

“Oh, a mustache, hairy chest, with a truck outside.”

“Does it ever worry you that your sexual fantasies are such a cliché?”

“Constantly.”

“Mr Luff is none of those things.”

“Ah, but Mr Luff has the flavour of all of those things? He’s in a category all of his own.

“So why don’t you want to move your hand further up my leg?”

“I told you. It’s got nothing to do with eroticism.”

“What does it have to do with?”

“Love and affection.”

“Aah, you’re sweet.”

“I know. But, look at them. He’s got his arms around his waist, under his shirt and his crotch smack up against his arse. And loving it.”

“Leave them alone. I’m more interested about why you don’t want to move your hand up my leg.”

“You know perfectly well why.”

“You could still try.”

“Why?”

“Because I want you to.”

“No, you don’t. What you want is a boyfriend.”

“I’ve got a boy, friend.”

“A fuck-buddy then.”

“I’ve tried that. It didn’t work out.”

“No no. What you need is a straight me.”

“And where am I going to find one of those?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll find you one.”

“So, if I have you and a straight-you, how would you feel about that?”

“Fine. You’d have me for 90% of the time and him when you feel horny.”

“And where did you get that statistic from?”

“The point is, he’s there when you need him.”

“And what if he falls in love with me and wants to marry me?”

“And what if you get hit with a plummeting piece of burning space junk on the way to Social Science? Come on!”

“Are you saying that the chance of me …..!?”

“Relax! You know what I mean.”

“No, I don’t exactly. Take your hand off my knee.”

He removes his hand. “My point is, seriously,” says Robert pulling her chin around to look at him to prove he is serious, “you are gorgeous, funny, caring, self-ware, and intelligent but finding a bloke, a straight bloke, to match you is not going to be easy; not if those three are anything to go by. But I promise you, Ms Penelope Lately, I will find him. Where ever he is.”

“…you can put your hand back on my knee, if you like.”

The New Novel

The New Novel
There’s a story there somewhere.

On my dining room table. Each post-it note is a chapter and/or plot point. Over the last 4 years I’ve been spewing out scenes onto my screen in some, but generally no particular order. Today was an attempt to find the narrative arc. Initially it looked a mess – well, it still is a mess, but it’s now a mess with a little more order. It also gave me some idea where the holes are. There are many.

Here’s the Prelude to give you an idea of what it’s about.

PRELUDE

If you ask a family member – of any family – if they are happy, they would invariably pause, not wanting to simply say “yes”, and try to think of a word, or words, that would accurately describe their … but they would all so quickly realise that they have no idea how to describe how they feel so they say, “Yes,” usually adding, “of course.” You know this is a lie, but politeness and fear forces you to acquiesce and you smile and say something limp in acknowledgment, like “Good.” This is an example of two lies being better than none. You can both now get on with whatever you were doing; conditioning your hair, mowing the lawn, doing your tax, without upsetting the balance of the universe, happy in the nameless knowledge that you have successfully bypassed the slippery dip to yelling, tears, and/or the breakdown of your world as you know it. This is the bedrock of why families survive; sometimes, even when they shouldn’t.

If you realise at any time that you have somehow been perplexingly born into the wrong family, or if circumstances render your family suddenly, or slowly, unacceptable to you, you need to – or may be forced to – do something about it.

This is a story of a boy who did just that.

I needed an idea of what this boy might look like and I found this photo on the web and immediately I knew it was him:

Robert Gulliver?
I don’t know whose face this is, but to me it’s now Robert Gulliver’s.

He’s a fifteen year old boy who was hit by puberty ridiculously early and hard.

 

He’s a very naughty boy but affectionate, intelligent, and often annoying

… and he’s still at school.

A boy in a man’s body.

 

Potential titles: Knitting with Fog, Gulliver’s Travels, or just Gulliver.

 

3 Minor Crime Writers of the 20th Century.

Arthur Gask pic
British born, Australian crime writer, Arthur Gask

Arthur Cecil Gask (1869 – 1951)

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gask/arthur/

Arthur Gask was a British dentist and agnostic. He divorced his wife in 1909 and later that year, married his children’s nanny, and emigrated to Adelaide, South Australia in 1920 with his two children from his second wife, and one from his first. There’s a story there. He practiced on North Terrace and was one of the first to use gas on his patients. While waiting for them to arrive he started writing stories and paid for his first novel, The  Secret of the Sandhills (1921) to be published. It was an instant success.

Thirty of his thirty four novels feature the detective Gilbert Larose. From his first success he, on average, published a book a year until his death; the last one, Crime Upon Crime, came out in 1952, the year after he died. His works were successful in the UK and Europe and many were serialised in newspapers, including the Adelaide Advertiser.

He was  greatly admired by Bertrand Russell and H. G. Wells, who thought The Vengeance of Larose (1939) as his “best piece of story-telling…It kept me up till half-past one.”

All the clues and information are expressed throughout the story in the time-line of when they happen; none of this denouement in a drawing-room when the hero explains everything – Agatha Christie-like – to an assembled crowd every one of which could be the murderer. There is a murder plot, drug smuggling, stolen submarine-plans, corrupt diplomats, fiendish villains, and, of course, an exemplary, multitalented, detective, a master of languages, disguises, and deduction. There are few women either mistresses or wives, and all the men are either a knights, aristocrats, or have a house in the country. The style is full of coincidences and some quite unbelievable: in order to hatch a plan with his Japanese co-accused the undercover detective says – within ear-shot of their captors, “You understand Italian? Ah, I thought you would.”

If you have a habit of waking up in the middle of the night with an overactive brain and find it hard to get back to sleep, these novels are the perfect solution.

anna-katharine-green-pic
American poet an novelist, Anna Katherine Green

Anna Katherine Green (1846 – 1935)

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/green/anna_katharine/

Anna Katharine Green  was an American poet and novelist. She was one of the first writers of detective fiction in America and distinguished herself by writing well plotted, legally accurate stories. Born in Brooklyn, New York, her early ambition was to write romantic verse, but she was unsuccessful. She is credited with shaping detective fiction into its classic form, and developing the series detective. Her main character was detective Ebenezer Gryce of the New York Metropolitan Police Force, but in three novels he is assisted by the nosy society spinster Amelia Butterworth, the prototype for Miss Marple and other creations. She also invented the ‘girl detective’: in the character of Violet Strange, a debutante with a secret life as a sleuth.

I am not an inquisitive woman, but when, in the middle of a certain warm night in September, I heard a carriage draw up at the adjoining house and stop, I could not resist the temptation of leaving my bed and taking a peep through the curtains of my window.

So begins Green’s first Amelia Butterworth mystery, That Affair Next Door (1897), and because of the narrator’s insistence on her incuriousness you know immediately what kind of woman she is.

This work is a delight. An intriguing story and a delicious character. Another perfect read for that long holiday flight.

G.K. Chesterton pic
G. K. Chesterton, English writer.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874 – 1936)

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/chesterton/gk/

English writer, poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist, orator, lay theologian, biographer, and literary and art critic. But the most successful association of fiction with social judgment is in Chesterton’s series on the priest-sleuth Father BrownThe Innocence of Father Brown (1911), followed by The Wisdom… (1914), The Incredulity… (1926), The Secret… (1927), and The Scandal of Father Brown (1935). In spite of his literary accomplishments, he considered himself primarily a journalist. He wrote over 4000 newspaper essays, including 30 years worth of weekly columns for the Illustrated London News, and 13 years of weekly columns for the Daily News. He also edited his own newspaper, G.K.’s Weekly. Chesterton was equally at ease with literary and social criticism, history, politics, economics, philosophy, and theology.

Father Brown is introduced to crime fiction in a short story called the The Blue Cross, which became the leading story in the first Father Brown collection:The Innocence of Father Brown (1911). The main character in this story, and the second, The Secret Garden, is a French instinctive detective, Aristide Valentin, head of the Paris Police, possibly the inspiration for Christie’s Hercule Poirot, who first appeared in 1920. The master villian, M. Hercule Flambeau, similar to Sherlock Holmes nemesis, James Moriarty, is also introduced and appears in 48 Father Brown Stories. Father Brown is a minor character in both these stories but takes the main role in the third and subsequent works because … because … well, I won’t tell you why in case you read it; no spoilers here.

The crime is usually seemingly unsolvable: a corpse with a severed head found in a walled, inaccessible garden while the dinner guests mingle and smoke cigars. The victim is a stranger. How did it get there? Who is he? How was his head severed so neatly? How did the murderer get into and out of the garden. The solution rests on a single piece of information the reader isn’t initially told but one that mild-mannered Father Brown deduces.

Fun and good, if flowery writing – typical of the period, and curious as these stories contain many elements of crime fiction that we now take for granted.

All the works of these three writers can be obtained for free from ebooks.adelaide.edu.au

This archive contains a dizzying collection of a wide variety of genres, styles, and writers, all of which are now in the public domain. I highly recommend this addition to your library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new short story …

A work in progress …

I was curious about writing in the second person. The first person (“I went to ….”) and the third person (“She went to …”) are common, but the second person (“You went to …”) is not. It is hard to maintain since the narrator is either talking to the reader or to another character, and in either case eventually the narrative takes over. Elliot Perelman begins his excellent novel Seven Types of Ambiguity with the second person and it has a disquieting effect. I thought I’d give it a go.

I’m sure there must be somewhere in your past, a person, a place, that screwed out a little knot of fear in your little child’s mind. You know what I mean; where a young child’s untamed immigration is let loose by an overheard adult conversation in hushed tones with shaking heads. Remember that fear and let it mingle with another memory I’m sure you have; of an adult that was introduced, innocently enough, into your family but that you wondered what the hell they were doing there.

I added the word anyway, “Anyway, remember that fear …” to make the tone more friendly, more intimate, more conversational.

However, if there is anything I’ve learnt from reading it’s that writers want their readers to believe that what is being written is true. Such truth, created truth: verisimilitude, is achieved with the use of detail, among other things; so let’s do this again:

I’m sure there must be somewhere in your past, a person, a place, that screwed out a little knot of fear in your little child’s mind: the old man with the cleft-lip who lived in an old bus, spoke to no one, and ate nettles on toast – so the story went; the falling-down shop-front, boarded-up and silent since a little girl had her throat cut by a mentally deranged greengrocer all those years ago. It was in all the papers. You know what I mean; where a young child’s untamed immigration is let loose by an overheard adult conversation in hushed tones with shaking heads. Anyway, remember that fear and let it mingle with another memory I’m sure you have; of an adult that was introduced, innocently enough, into your family but that you wondered: who is this person? What are they doing there.

I wasn’t sure where this was going but I kept on

So, now that you have these two mingled memories you may understand how I felt when …

I needed to tie it all up and have it lead to something, someone; so I found myself writing …

 … Mum brought home a bag-lady one day and told me I had to call her Auntie Marge.

Now I have a possible title: Auntie Marge. One of my father’s sisters was called Marge, and I called her Auntie Marge. She wasn’t scary but it was the first name that sprang to mind. I hardly ever spoke to her. Maybe I was scared of her. But now I have a character that I need to flesh out a bit.

I don’t know why I thought of her as a bag-lady, she didn’t have any bags with her …

This is another ‘trick’ I’ve learnt from reading: the admission by the narrator that they don’t know something or don’t remember something. It adds verisimilitude.

… but it was the first time I had ever seen a woman with uncombed hair so I thought that’s what she was. I got a slap around the legs for using the term so I only said it once but that’s how I always thought of Auntie Marge; a bag lady.

I first of all had Kathy Bates (from Misery) in mind.

Kathy Bates Auntie Marge

 

 

I googled “scary aunt” and found this,

Scary Aunt Marge.

 

I think this is Geraldine Page. The hair is too neat, but the look is perfect. So with a mixture of these two images, but with messier hair, I had my look: Auntie Marge.

When she first looked at me she smiled down, unclasped her fingers and held out her hand and when I hesitated just for the briefest moment her face changed ever-so slightly like she suddenly knew exactly what I was thinking and I saw hatred in her pinched little eyes. I took her hand – I held my breath, I distinctly remember holding my breath – and she shook my hand and gave it a squeeze.

I thought my narrator should say something innocuous here, like “Nice to meet you” to which Auntie Marge could say, or say with a look of “Oh really?” However, my narrator is locked into only speaking when spoken to – and they were not alone, so I was left with a description of, of, her hand:

It was dry and scaly.

Now, I wanted to describe an event and an event when they were alone: something that upped the scary tone a bit. I’ve never written anything like this before.

I kept out of her way, which wasn’t difficult as I had been taught to keep out of everyone’s way. Adults didn’t like children hanging around; but one day when I was sitting at the big dining table, I had just installed a little electric engine into my lego windmill and I was trying to fix a jam-jar rubber around a little pulley so the silly thing would at least go round and round. I heard the door into the kitchen close behind me. This door was never closed, except in winter when there was a fire in the living room fire-place. This was summer and all the living-room curtains were drawn to keep out the heat so the room was gloomy but I had my desk-lamp plugged in and I was working in its light. I heard the door close and then nothing. I knew it was her. I knew she was there looking at me with her hands clasped together like she always did. I also became aware that there was no other sound in the house. My Dad was always out doing farm stuff but there were no other noises. Mum was out too. We were alone, Auntie Marge and me. In the house. Just us. And then she spoke:

“You don’t like me very much.”

That’s what she said, nothing else.

I didn’t know what to say. I had been taught to only speak when spoken to, and to never lie, of course, but this wasn’t a question. What was I meant to say? I didn’t know. Besides, I didn’t know what to say to something that was true, I didn’t like her. So I said nothing. Then she said, still just standing there, she said, “Are you sure you’re allowed to have a light on in the middle of the day?” Now, this was a question and a question deserves an answer, I knew that, and I did know Mum didn’t like lights on in the daytime but my lego town was too big for my desk in my room and it was too hot to play outside so I had to play with my lego town on the dining table in the living room and yes the curtains were drawn to keep the house cool so I had to have a light on. Again I didn’t know what to … and then she added quickly, “I could tell on you.” That’s what she said, just like fatty Raelene does when I pick my nose in class. I thought of turning off my desk lamp but then I’d be in the dark, all alone with Auntie Marge in the dark! And then she said it again  “I could tell on you,” adding “and I think I might.”

I’m not sure what happens next. Yet.

How I write.

A story starts with a jump.

When something makes me jump, a line in a book, a caption in a magazine, a phrase overheard, a tone of voice, a dream; a beginning. Short form stories are more personal than long form. I write most days but it can be on my notes page on my phone when I wake up at 3.46 am; on my iPad as I’m watching the news with a G&T at 6; on my desktop after staring at the screen for god-knows how long. Sometimes I’ll experiment. One of my current projects, a short story, I’m writing as a woman. I’ve tried this a few times but this time the woman is very unlikable, in fact she’s awful; the challenge is to make sure the reader understands that she’s awful. The reader has not to be on her side, yet is, in a way. That’s tricky, and more so as it’s in the first person. I test myself like this sometimes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

At a New Year’s Eve party a friend told me a little anecdote about his piano lessons as a boy. I now don’t remember exactly what he told me because I turned it into a story and now, in my head, that story, Prelude, has become the reality of the anecdote. It’s no longer John’s anecdote, it’s Michael’s story.

I’m writing when my partner catches me talking to myself. I’m writing when I don’t answer him because I don’t hear him because I’m wondering what Robert will say when he sees his dead mother. “What? Sorry.” is a common phrase of mine at home.

I spew it onto the screen. I try not to worry about where does this fit or what can I do with this or how do I spell …, I just let it out. I usually write chronologically, but not always.

I’m always aware that I have to trust myself, my imagination, my ideas, my abilities. It’s no good second guessing; I’d get nowhere. What comes pouring out in the white heart of creation I have to trust that it’s right, correct, apt, necessary, true. It’s later when the white-heat is down to warm, in the cool light of next morning that decisions have to be made.

I write on an online publishing platform (Tablo); while the piece is labeled ‘draft’ no-one can read it. I have four or five projects going at once; two novels, three short stories, I think. One of them is dormant until I come across a really fail-safe murder plan. Once it’s finished I ‘publish’ it on Tablo and anyone can read it. I also have the option of posting it to iBooks where it is for sale. Regularly I email my notes, from my phone or iPad, to myself and cut and paste them onto the respective Tablo page. I have an iMac and don’t have Word; Tablo has all the editing tools I need.

When I’m trying to go to sleep at night it’s important to think about only one thing, not 247 things. That’s why counting sheep works. It’s one thing. I also concentrate on one thing: what Robert might do when he sees his dead mother, or any other character or snippet. These stories, half in my head, half on my screen, over time develop their own reality and they always get to a point where it’s imperative that I write them down; I have to write them down because they are the closest thing to the truth I know. If I don’t write them down they just sit there taking up space. Getting in the way. Writing them down is like getting rid of them.

But writing them down has its own responsibilities. I must think of the reader. I must get the process right. The process: my story, my descriptions, my ideas, my images being transported accurately, truthfully from my imagination to the reader’s imagination via little dark marks on a pale background, with no loss of information.

Once it’s in the imagination of the reader, it isn’t mine any more, and it means whatever the reader thinks it means. I have no say in it once it’s there, in your head. If you read the short story linked above, what was John’s anecdote, became my story, becomes your reading experience; and if you seek me out and ask me what did I mean by something, I won’t answer. It’s not my place to answer: it’s not mine, it’s yours now. It’s now you that has to trust your abilities.

The World Broke in Two by Bill Goldstein

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American academic, Bill Goldstein is the founding editor of the books site of The New York Times on the Web, reviews books and interviews authors for NBC’s “Weekend Today in New York.” He is also curator of public programs at Roosevelt House, the public policy institute of New York’s Hunter College.

Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the year that changed literature.

In January 1922 Adeline Woolf, everyone called her Virginia, turned 40 and was very sick with influenza that prevented her from writing; T. S. Eliot, everyone called him Tom, 34, had been over worked, unhappy, in therapy, but now quietly confident since he had started writing again but fearful of returning to the Bank that trapped him between the concrete and the sky; E. M. Forster, called Morgan, 43, was sexually and artistically frustrated; and D. H. Lawrence, called Bert, 36, had the threat of his books being banned  (Women in Love, 1921, ” … ugly, repellent, vile”), and a libel suit against him so wanted to know “For where was life to be found” and thought by going to a quiet place by himself he might find it: Ceylon, New Mexico, or New South Wales.

All four had achieved some degree of literary fame: Woolf had published two novels and the third, Jacob’s Room, was waiting for her final revisions, however her illness kept her away from her work. Eliot had published successfully The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock in Poetry magazine in 1915 and had been a regular contributor of reviews and essays, primarily for The Times Literary Supplement right up to December 1921. Forster had achieved great success with a series of novels, usually about the English abroad, beginning with Where Angels Fear to Tread in 1905 but by 1922 nothing had appeared after the very successful Howard’s End in 1910. Lawrence was more infamous than famous and had had Women in Love published in June 1921. It garnered bad reviews, and low sales. This added to the outrage caused by its prequel, The Rainbow, 1915, when it was withdrawn by the publisher after it was banned under the Obscene Publications Act. Lawrence had also characterised in the latter work, an acquaintance, Philip Heseltine, and thought he had disguised him enough, but Heseltine was not fooled and threatened legal action.

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Adeline Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941

For all four writers 1922 did not begin well.

Artistic endeavour is always trying to solve the problems of the art form itself. How does a writer write an autobiography and make it interesting without using the boring phrases, “Then I went …. she cried and so I said …., Then I said, and he went ….”? Novelists for centuries have been using description and dialogue to draw a character; but in an autobiography how do you create an image of the narrator? There must be another way. Yes, there is, and one of the first writers to find another way was James Joyce who began his autobiographical novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) like this

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.

First of all he writes not in the first person, but in the third (very radical, this is an autobiography, remember) and the above opening is not dialogue, it is prose; it’s not said by the protagonist but by the narrator using the language that the little boy, James, might use to describe what he sees and what he sees is himself! It’s as if the third person narrator is not some all-pervasive, god-like know-it-all but an imp sitting on the shoulder of the little boy seeing the world through his eyes and hearing the thoughts in his head. This literary device has become known as free indirect discourse, or as the literary critic of The New Yorker, James Wood, calls it, ‘close writing’; and it’s as common today in contemporary fiction as Vegemite is for an Australian breakfast. But it can’t be used in the first person. Or can it? Now, there’s a challenge for an adventurous writer!

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Edward Morgan Forster 1879 – 1970

Painters  sought to bypass the ‘real’ bit in order to paint, say, serenity, by trying to paint serenity with just the paint on the canvas, not trying to be something else, a face, a landscape, to ‘portray’ serenity. In other words, they painted not what they saw but what they felt. Writer’s similarly de-focused the ‘real’ bit and concentrated on, not what the characters did – the plot – but what the characters felt and thought. The plot became internalised.

Before January 1922 was over Eliot and Lawrence had succumbed to the influenza that brought Woolf so low and was rapidly becoming an epidemic to rival the devastating outbreak of 1918-19 that killed more people than the Great War. At least for Eliot the influenza kept him away from the bank and, despite the disease, hard at work on his long poem. His ill wife, also being absent, was yet another and usual worry out of the way.

On his way back to London from the unsuccessful trip to India Forster bought and read Proust’s first volume, Swann’s Way in French. He was “awestruck” and marveled at Proust’s use of memory to drive the narrative. Later in the year as the weather warmed he used Proustian ideas, and a poem by J. R. Ackerley, Ghosts, to impinge on him the truth that there is life after tragedy. His tragedy was the slow death of his unrequited lover in Egypt, whose death he almost wished would be sooner than later, as he was slowly re-reading the abandoned pages of his Indian novel, making notes and yearning for his tragedy to be behind him.

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Thomas Stearns Eliot 1888 – 1965

Woolf, with her illness almost past, read Proust too, in the spring while working on an essay about reading and dabbling with a minor character from her first novel, The Voyage Out, Clarissa Dallaway, weaving her into a short story called Mrs Dallaway in Bond Street.  Woolf too was enthralled with Proust’s use of memory to evoke the current state of mind of a character. In the opening scene of the short story, which eventually evolved into the novel Mrs Dallaway, Woolf has Clarissa arrested by the chiming of Big Ben which announces the convergence of the past and present, not only in the character’s mind but also on the page. Very Proustian! Clarissa Dallaway in Woolf’s first novel is described by the narrator but Woolf was determined in this one, this modern one, to have Clarissa think everything the reader needs to know about her. As Woolf wrote later to a friend, she didn’t mind being sick as “Proust’s fat volume comes in very handy.” Woolf, who wrote that she wanted to write like Proust, didn’t of course, but it was because of him that she began to write like herself again.

Joyce, for her, was different. Woolf and Joyce were both British, they were both the same age, and Joyce in 1922 had “a novel out in the world, a massive – expensive – box of a book”, Ulysses, and Woolf had not published a novel in two and a half years. She was jealous. Besides, Ulysses didn’t impress her. She thought it was “underbred” by a “self-taught working man.” What she failed to realise was that Joyce had a degree, she didn’t; it was she, not him, who was self taught.

Lawrence left England in early 1922 for Ceylon, but found it unsatisfactory, then Perth, Western Australia, very unsatisfactory, then Thirroul, south of Sydney, where he transferred his thinking back to what he called his ‘interim’ books, short stories and journalism. Could he write a novel like those, in a month, or less, using nothing but what he had around him, namely Frieda and himself, and what he thought and felt? He decided to give it a go and the novel Kangaroo was born, but this too stalled. It was the third novel in a row that got ‘stuck’. However, without the help of Proust, Lawrence turned to memory, and chapter 12, the longest in the book and the only one not set in Australia, describes the fear he and Frieda experienced at the outbreak of World War I (she was German and had abandoned her first husband and children; he was excluded from service because of his frail body). Lawrence had instilled in his protagonist, Richard Somers, a ‘fear’, exemplified by the vastness of the Australian continent, and it was Lawrence’s explanation of this fear, via his personal experience, his memory, that ‘unstuck’ his progress, and he got the thing finished.

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David Herbert Lawrence 1885 – 1930

T. S. Eliot finally saw his long poem, The Waste Land, the poem that had battled with his job, his contemporaries, his wife, his past, and his health, finally published. Goldstein spends a lot of time, too much you may think, on the procrastination, arguments, letters, late replies, betrayals, that stall the publication; and all concerning people, publishers, agents, friends, supporters, who want it published.

For a year that started badly for all of them, 1922 ended like a new dawn: Virginia Woolf had a new novel, Mrs Dallaway; E. M. Forster was well on his way with his Indian novel, the one that had caused him so much anguish, A Passage To India, (1924), and would become his most celebrated; D. H. Lawrence had written a new novel, very different from his previous works, no sex, but had also been vindicated by the courts: The Rainbow and Women in Love were judged not obscene, although some passages were, but the press-obsessed trials led to a resurgence of sales and interest in his work; and T. S. Eliot finally saw his long poem in print, and received the accolades he thought it deserved.

For readers who are interested in literature and its history this book is a must-read. Goldstein has sculptured a surprising and complex narrative, esoteric and detailed, yes, but intriguing, stimulating, and fascinating.

In the year 1922 these four writers, for various reasons, had already been chipping away, with varying intensities, at a ‘crack’ in the English literary world, hoping their artistic challenges and vaguely-inspired experiments would lead them in a new and exciting direction. Then came the thundering blows of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past and Joyce’s Ulysses which, along with The Waste Land, caused the ‘break’ and English literature did indeed cleave in two and took off in a new direction. However, the ‘piece’ that remained behind kept the majority of readers with it and it was those readers who demanded, and got, a whole array of plot-based genres, the names of which you can see topping a multitude of racks of books in any sizable book shop today; and over there in the corner of the shop topping a not insubstantial, but nevertheless alone, book-stack is another sign: literary fiction.

You can find the book in various formats here.

Gulliver’s Travels

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I don’t know who this person is – I found the image on the net – but to me now he is the reason for this work. The look, the attitude, the knowingness, and even the colouring all add up to my image of Robert. Robert, never Bobby or, heaven-forbid, Bob.

This is Robert Gulliver, and he’s in the process of being born.

Over the last few years, longer probably, I have sketched out a story about this curious character in script form. Because that’s how I originally saw him, it. I don’t remember where he, the idea, came from. He is sixteen but the rigours of puberty landed heavily and early on dear Robert; that, and given his unusual parenting, and intellect, he is very much a round peg in a square hole. In fact, he is a man still in high school.

I was inspired to re-visit Robert recently as circumstances are that I don’t have the luxury of blocks of hours at my disposal to give long-form writing the wealth of time it needs. I have a few long-form projects that need just that. I thought polishing and cut & pasting an existing work would be a much better use of the time I have. Unfortunately I had written 80% of Gulliver’s Travels on a script-writing program called Final Draft; my subscription had expired, the update was expensive, and I was locked out of the program. However, although Robert has been sitting there, locked in the ether, he has been a lot on my mind: the story is well formed and remembered, and re-remembering it, but in a different form, was an interesting and challenging idea to dive into.

Robert’s story is about family. And the moment I wrote that word ‘family’ Leo Tolstoy’s famous opening line from Anna Karenina sprang to mind:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.     (Translation by Constance Garnett)

And a comment by Patrick Gale, a British and favoured author of mine, in which he said he likes page one to hold some sort of key to the whole work itself.  It’s not that Robert’s family is unhappy or that I need a cryptic smack of the whole thing to begin, but what those two thoughts inspired was this,

Gulliver’s Travels

a novel

by Michael Freundt

Prelude

If you asked a family member – of any family – if they were happy, they would invariably pause, not wanting to simply say “yes”, and try to think of a word, or words, that would accurately describe their … but they would all so quickly realize that they have no idea how to describe how they feel so they say, “Yes,” usually adding, “of course.” You know that this is a lie, but politeness and fear forces you to acquiesce and you smile and say something limp in acknowledgment, like “Good.” This is an example of two lies being better than none. You can both now get on with whatever you were doing; conditioning your hair, mowing the lawn, doing your tax, without upsetting the balance of the universe, happy in the faceless knowledge that you have successfully bypassed the slippery dip to yelling, tears, and/or the breakdown of your world as you know it. This is the bedrock of why families survive; sometimes, even when they shouldn’t.  

If you realise at any time that you have somehow been perplexingly born into the wrong family, or if circumstances render your family suddenly, or slowly, unacceptable to you, you need to – or may be forced to – do something about it. This is a story of a boy who did just that.

Let’s see how it goes.

Merciless Gods by Christos Tsiolkas: a short story collection.

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Australian writer, Christos Tsiolkas.

These stories are masterful, enlightening, moving, shocking, blasphemous, erotic, breath-taking, and scary: some of the best I’ve ever read. They are so good, they could render a yearning writer silent.

The opening, and title, story sets the bar. A group of young Australian professionals, close friends, at a deliberately over-indulgent dinner party thrown to celebrate an important new editing job in San Francisco for one of their number is destroyed by another: his ego, self-importance, and jealousy – he wanted the job – combine with a silly game to allow him to dominate the room and shatter these long-time university-born relationships forever. The story has a tricky structure: a story-telling within the story, and set-up information is economic enough not to turn you off or lead you to wonder where it’s going, but detailed enough that you understand what’s happening. Tsiolkas also tells the story from a more recent time reminiscing about a lost past, lost friendships, and lost innocence. This creates an expectation that the point is big: it is, even though on the surface it’s a bunch of mates boozing, snorting, talking, and toking at, and after, a dinner party. Thinking back on the story a day later some of the necessary plot-points seem over-stretched but at the time nothing jarred. There is nothing for the reader to do except go along with it. This, I believe, is a sign of a good writer: the reader will believe whatever is thrown at them even if, on reflection, some things are a little bumpy; but in the moment, while reading it, the reader is completely in the thrall of the writer, ready for anything. It’s what a reader – well, this reader – craves.

“The title story of Merciless Gods is stunning and should be read by everyone in the country who cares about fiction. It is worth the price of the book alone.”                   Sydney Morning Herald

Saturn Return is about dying. And grief.

When the door finally opens again, Barney rushes out sobbing and falls on me. I hold him tight. It is not as if he his crying exactly; rather, sorrow is pouring out of him, from every heaving breath, from every lacerating tear. The warm lounge room is suddenly freezing and the only heat comes from where our bodies touch. I strengthen my hold on him. I’m scared that if I let go,not only the room, not only this city, but the whole world will go cold forever.

I cried. Not bad for a story of twelve and a half pages.

Tsiolkas has never shied away from writing about sex, particularly in its extremes. His novels Loaded (1995) and Dead Europe (2005) are testament to that.   There are stories here that may curl your toes; this book may not be a good idea as a Christmas present for Gran.

A reviewer at The Guardian labeled Tsiolkas as “the master of the stain”.

The Slap (2008) was his breakout hit; publication in Europe and around the world set him up as one of Australia’s premier writers. However, he had already established a small group of fans in Australia with challenging works like, Loaded, – adapted for the screen in 1998 as Head On – Dead Europe – which some considered the best book of 2005 – and The Jesus Man (1999). The television series of The Slap (2011) in Australia and the US version (2015) consolidated his reputation and broadened his readership. His 2013 novel, Barracuda, was also adapted for television in 2016.

Read these stories. You won’t forget them.

You can get the kindle edition here.

 

 

Is This a Poem?

poetry pic for WP

In the musical play Carousel, a spruiker called Bill, and Julie, who works in a mill, try to tell each other how they feel. They don’t have the words to be true to such feelings so they sing it to make it real: what “if I loved you?” The scene needs the music to supply the emotion and for the would-be-lovers to be who they are, not for writers to give them words they would never use. Songs in musicals happen when words are not enough. Poetry happens when prose in not enough. To describe a spectacular tree, you can try to write it realistically as best you can but if it is truly spectacular you will get to a stage where you have to forget what you see and write what you feel; what it reminds you of; what the words are for: sense, surprise, and metaphor. When Auden wrote “As I walked out one evening, walking down Bristol Street” he described what he did, and then what he saw, but what he saw was so such more and he had no words that did justice to the scenery “The crowds upon the pavement” so he slipped into poetry, “were fields of harvest wheat.” And this adds meaning and insight; yes, and there’s rhyme and rhythm of course, a tune if you like.  What confuses poetics for the readers of verse is that so often with the text, it’s so personal, perverse, and has no meaning, no revelation; but like masturbation, it may satisfy the writer, and, no one else! I’m going to stop beating up on myself, for being a fool since it isn’t a test, so I’ll read more poetry, treasure those words that light something up, and dismiss those that maybe a gas for the poet, but hot air for the rest of us.