All change. Mind the gap.

Goodness, gracious me! Another ten years, and such a lot has happened. Talk about Fred Astaire and his, ‘Won’t you change partners and dance with me?’ Sandra has dumped Frank and ridden off into the sunset with Norman in his open-topped sports car. Frank has married Marjorie and become a father in the process. He got his doctorate, moved into production management, but is now staring possible redundancy in the face even as he gazes down at his newly born son.

It all started out so gently today. Sandra and Frank, girlfriend and boyfriend, travel by bus to the city (un-named to protect the innocent) to start the second year of their quite different degree courses. They meet at every free opportunity to savour the cultural flavour of the city. They go to the bookshop together to buy their textbooks. Everyone is so happy and loving in this demi-paradise. Until… yes, it isn’t quite paradise.

Towards the end of term, as Christmas nears, Frank and Sandra, not being completely joined at the hip, go out clubbing with some of their respective course peers. If only the two groups had chosen different clubs. You know what’s coming. A girl, who is sat next to Frank, chooses to wrap herself around him, while she tries to persuade him to join everyone on a foreign trip in the year to come.

Oops! Just at that very moment, Sandra’s lot waltz in. Someone points Frank out to her and, before you know it, Frank has been royally dumped.

Meanwhile, back in the land of the wealthy, Norman has passed his degree with honours. He starts his professional development in the family business. This requires some study for his exams, and he chooses to do some of it in the local library. Meanwhile, as he is on his way, Frank and Sandra sit at separate tables in the library, ignoring each other. As Norman arrives, the only free chair is at the table facing Sandra. Wouldn’t you know it! He asks her permission to sit there. She recognises him as having been to the same school, even if he was two years older. He recognises her book titles, and it turns out he had just finished the same course as she’s doing. No sooner said than… they walk out of the door together, leaving poor Frank open mouthed. He watches through the window as his mini-skirted ex swings her long legs into Norman’s Goodwood green sports car and they disappear, apparently out of his future.

I was in the groove by now so I pushed on to start the next chapter where wedding bells ring. I imply that bit: two weddings happen without bells and whistles in my story. A baby is born and all is looking good – except for Frank who is sure that redundancy is just around the corner – with a wife, a baby and a mortgage to support in the manner to which they’d like to be accustomed. Add to which, he’s now a bit long in the tooth for the jobs market as it is. Lucky Norman: poor old Frank. Frank’s job – for the time being anyway – is as Production Manager at a factory, so today’s featured photograph is of a factory: not the one in the story, I just made that one up.

I’ve added another 4,000 words or so today, but I suspect that I shall need to revisit my original plans for how the accountancy practice has developed and will continue to reshape itself. I need to rethink the dynamics of the relationship between Norman’s parents and grandparents as they age and how that is affected by relationships between them and the other partners.

I used my Pentax KP cropped sensor camera, using a 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at 16 mm and f/9. The ISO was 100 and the shutter speed 1/800 seconds. The shot was taken handheld without any filters. In Lightroom I used the auto transform feature to straighten things up a bit.

Onwards and upwards

Today’s featured photograph is of one of the buildings on the Liverpool University campus. I took time out from writing this morning, expecting news of a local lockdown, to drive into the City to take some of the photographs that I felt might accompany this blog in days to come quite soon. By late afternoon, the limit on social activities and mingling had been confirmed.

Why a University building? Well, it’s now September, 1965, in my time and in the time of Frank, Sandra and Norman. Although Norman completed his LLB (Hons) degree in July 1965, Frank and Sandra are just embarking on their second year. The couple have travelled together on the bus today to collect their timetables, renew acquaintanceships and to look in the university bookshop for the textbooks they will need.

As they begin this new academic year, they are now boyfriend and girlfriend and plan shared cultural visits in the city.

Norman has started work in the family firm and is beginning to find his career feet are being pulled apart by the go-getting junior partners heaving on one end of the rope, while ageing Percy, the senior partner and his Grandad, has tight hold of the other end. How will this end?

Despite the trip out and a bit more desk research, I managed to write 2,000 or so words about the year 1965 today to contribute to the 8,500 words drafted so far.

As for the photograph, I took it with my Pentax K-1 using a 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens at 53 mm and f/11. The ISO was 100and the shutter speed 1/40 secs. I lightly cropped out a waste bin. No filter was used but I did employ a tripod.

Dèja Vu

Come on! You can’t have forgotten already. I used this photo only two days ago because I didn’t think that I could make it fit my timeline. Norman (who was Bert – do keep up at the back!) was always intended to be two years older than my main romantic leads. He does fit the profile of a first year boy at Codmanton Grammar School, and with his family connections, he fits in very well. I had been dreading writing the chapter that I finished today because it revolves around two ten year olds and one twelve year old. Where did the past sixty-five years or so disappear to?

I finished tonight 3,000 words further on, and much better satisfied with how it has turned out than I had any expectations of it being. Anyway, the image is now a good fit with most of the chapter.

I am a bit concerned that I may soon run out of apposite photos. I do have lots of stored photos, but I don’t envisage many of my blogs about progress on chapters (if any) requiring images of mountains or lakes. It is also looking as though another lockdown may be imminent, so I won’t be going very far to take new shots.

I could do with getting out, if opportunity permits, to photograph another library, a chemicals factory, a garage, a large office block or two, an accountancy office, a solicitors office, an FE college and a sixth form college. If I could get all these in one day that would be great.

Otherwise, perhaps you could use your imaginations if I were to submit a shot of a bridge, a staircase or a landscape. Perhaps, you could picture a bridge as leading to one of the above, or that a garage is just the other side of a mountain ridge or that a spiral staircase is the lift in a tower block.

Family fortunes – or not!

I only added a little more than 1,000 words today, but they were all part of a planning exercise. I have decided to try to confine myself to twelve chapters, through which I expect to trace the history of three characters – from their births to their divorces and renewed relationships.

The planning has required me to think carefully about all that is likely to have happened to them during those sixty years. This was particularly taxing in the case of one of the three. He is the third generation of his family to have served as a partner and senior partner in a local accountancy practice. He hopes that his son will become the fourth. The practice has for more than 100 years always had at least two partners.

I had expected this to be a trivial task, but it required me to plot year-by-year timelines to correlate not only births, but additionally, war service, marriages, deaths and retirements. With new entrants and promotions, the name of the firm has changed often to reflect those of the then current partners. This was a merry dance.

The next task, given that each chapter relates only to a given year or decade, was to map from the spreadsheet to the chapters, the names, ages, marriage changes, births, deaths and other specific events that would have happened in each period.

The last piece of the jigsaw, one that I have been looking at tonight, has been the impact of political and legislative change upon the possible life events of the people in the book. This will be, I imagine, particularly true in respect of the lives of the women. Property rights, rights to open bank accounts and obtain mortgages, independent taxation: all these added to equal pay, abortion and treatment in divorce. The list seems nearly endless, yet almost all of the above rights have been won, in the UK, only in the eighty years to 2020.

I took none of today’s photos, they are all of older generations of my family, and are intended to convey some of the changes and generational dependencies that would have been typical in the period I will be trying to portray. Incidentally, the gentleman in the bowler hat – I doubt that you will guess – my maternal grandfather – was a coal miner.

The pains and pleasures of being 12 years old in 1955

As I wrote here yesterday, I’m restructuring what had been ‘A New Tangled Tango’ into something new – provisionally entitled ‘Sixty Years’. It will follow Sandra and Gareth (remember them?) at ten year intervals from being born in 1945 – Gareth in September and Sandra in November.

I started off yesterday having prepared a timeline to make sure that all my event dates would be correct, but I’d forgotten how school years work. In September 1955, they would only have been ten years old. I’d wanted them to be starting grammar school that month but, really they’d need to have been twelve.

The 11 plus means what it says. They’d only have taken the exam in the SCHOOL year (the one that starts September 1st) that they become eleven ie 1956-57 and so, it would be 1957 that they started big school.

I’d already written 2000 plus words today about their first year in the grammar school, and taken a trip out to take a photograph of a local school that once was a grammar school, before I realised my mistake.

I could have rewritten what I did yesterday, and have them born in 1943, but then I’d’ve had to describe life during World War 2. I chose the coward’s way out and went with Plan A. I’ll have to scrub today’s part-completed chapter and keep the decades ending in five – my preferred option. I’ve now reworked my timelines in more detail.

Since I’ve made a special trip to photograph a secondary school that looks like the one I’d imagined in my story, I hope you’ll forgive me if I use that image as my featured photo. It’s the school that they would have been going to in 1957 (if I’d been going to write about that year – which I’m not!).

I took the photo with my Pentax K-1 camera using a 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens at 24 mm and f/11. My ISO was 100 and I shot it at 1/25 seconds on a tripod.

Now I just need to find a photogenic local university.

Please mind the gap!

OK, as I said, I peeked. I believe that there’s a saying that those who peek through keyholes never see what they want to see. A critical review of my draft showed that there were parts from which living individuals could be identified. Apart from a breach of GDPR that kind of thing doesn’t make for lasting friendships or relationships.

The first thing I thought was, “Perhaps I could simply prune those bits out”. Further examination suggested that such action would cause mortal damage to the patient and unfillable gaps. Do you see a possible link with today’s featured photo?

I shot this image in December 2016 with my now defunct Pentax K50, using an 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens at 37.5 mm and f/11. The ISO was 400 and the shutter speed was 1/400 seconds. The photograph is of the Mersey Gateway crossing from Widnes to Runcorn as it was in the early stages of construction.

After due deliberation, as they say, I decided to start again – almost from the beginning. I’ve retained the names of a few of the previous characters – though they’ve aged a bit, and their relationships are different. I’ve also kept the fictional town of Codmanton and its geography. Other than that, the plot is totally different. I’ve produced new timelines to check that they will have aged correctly – not suddenly appearing to be ten years older or similar. I then constructed a chapter timeline to lay down who gets married to whom and when; at what age children are born; and a skeleton of their academic and career progress. The chart ends with who divorces whom and when. All that I need to do now is to add 40,000 words or more of flesh, muscle and bone to to the skeleton, so as to create something worth reading. At close of play today, I am 2,000 words into the creation stage of the game. Once written and proofread, it will then be for others to judge its readability.

A day of rest & reflection

Sunday, a day of rest, well for part of the day anyway. I did do some gardening in the morning, but it was a break from writing – except for this blog post. Where did these exceptions come from to deprive me of my relaxation?

I did do some reflection too. Why, when I speak, can’t my brain find the words that I want to say? I never used to have that difficulty. I can usually choose the words I want when I’m writing – and, these days – I’m sure that I can write as least as fast as I can speak. I don’t have any difficulty understanding the words that I read. They are definitely the words that I want to use when I’m talking to someone – trying to join in a conversation, or to ask for something. But I’m finding it more and more difficult to understand the speech of others at the speed that they speak. Are people speaking faster now?

It must be one of these age-related things – like my back which won’t straighten up when I get out of bed, or my hip that complains when I want to turn over in bed. If that’s what it is, it sucks. Being able to express myself orally has always been a part of me – like my hand – and I feel handicapped. I’m only in my late seventies and that doesn’t seem any age these days when I see ninety year olds paragliding or running marathons..

But my brain seems to fog over when I seek the correct words to say. Thank God that I can still read and write. Reading has always been one of my greatest joys in life. From being a small child I loved books and comics. My favourite Christmas presents were books. My wife laughs at me still. She says that she’s thinking of having words tattooed on her forehead to stand a better chance of me looking at her. An exaggeration! She laughed, when, on holiday in Switzerland, I walked away from her to read a steamer timetable – in German (which I don’t understand anyway). I read labels on bottles and tins if there’s nothing else handy.

It’s reading that makes me want to write. I’ll never be a great writer, but seeing something that I’ve thought, written on a page, brings a lot of pleasure – even if nobody ever reads it. But I love to read something that’s been written well. There are lots of examples. I can read over and over the argument in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ between Eliza and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The Bible also yields some wonderful pieces of writing, whether it’s Paul’s Epistle13 to the Corinthians about love, or John’s Gospel account of the woman taken in adultery. While angry scribes and Pharisees try to get Jesus to agree that the woman be stoned, Jesus kneels and writes in the dust, before inviting any of her accusers who is without sin to cast the first stone. One by one they leave and Jesus refuses to condemn her. That has to have been an eye witness account. A mere few words but the meaning is so powerful and so easily seen with the mind’s eye.

Words help us to reflect: what would our reflective thoughts be without them. Until our minds can encapsulate our thoughts, using a vocabulary and grammar of words, we cannot convert them into action of any type. We would be powerless to persuade others or to defend ourselves. I can read words and write them, but inability to conjure the words stored in my brain, into a form that allows me to speak them coherently, is a form of disability that I fear greatly as I age. I now understand something of the frustration people with Alzheimers or stroke-caused dysphasia must feel.

Relaxing gives me time to think and reflect. Perhaps I should just sit and think more. But I remember Bacon’s quote – which I use on my About page:

Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man and writing an exact man.

Unless I engage actively in conversation, I cannot be a ‘ready man’ – but unless I have the toolbag of words to speak, my capacity for active converse is crippled.

The photo that I have chosen today is of my daughter’s dog, Ted – a Japanese Spitz – sleeping on our hearth. He can relax on any day of the week: most of any day of the week, but can he think? If he can, what does he use for words? If he has a doggy language, his ability is also limited to a few types of incoherent barking. Ted, you and I are growing more alike by the day. Woof woof!

I took this photo on a smartphone and I can find no exif data.

Okay. I cheated. Sue me.

I said that I wouldn’t peek, but I did. Yesterday, I reported on my blog that I wasn’t going to look again at my draft for a week or so before I started proof-reading it. Nevertheless, I decided that it wouldn’t do any harm if I just checked through for a couple of inconsistences that I suspected were in there somewhere. Just a quick glance. No one was looking. Isn’t it surprising how easily we can rationalise doing things we shouldn’t do?

So, anyway, I peeked, and today’s photo shows the Sun peeking through early morning mist at King’s Moss, St Helens, Merseyside. I’m not trying to equate what I did with the Sun: It’s just my excuse to include a favourite shot of mine.

I took this photo in September last year using my Pentax K-1 camera plus a 15-30 mm f/2.8 lens at 28 mm and f/18 (to catch the starburst effect). The ISO was 100 and the shutter speed 3/10 seconds. I used a tripod but no filters.

I knew where to look for the inconsistencies in my draft and corrected them, but I also used the opportunity to have a look at some of the areas that I thought might need fleshing out. Well, why not? For example, wouldn’t Sandra have had family photographs on display in her house? And wouldn’t Gareth, while she was upstairs getting ready, have had a nosey? Wouldn’t it have been natural for him to say something about the photos – for example of her late husband – and for her to have said something in reply? I felt justified in filling in a couple of gaps like that – and it gave me another chance to say hello to them again.

So, yes, I peeked. Don’t be surprised if I do so again. Just don’t tell tales on me.

I’m being pulled in two directions

Having finished my first draft of A New Tangled Tango, I want to read it from the beginning to see how it has emerged. I probably won’t do that until I’ve had a first stab at proof reading it – and I need to establish some distance from it – perhaps wait a week or so. But I don’t want to start something new until I’m sure that this current book is done and dusted.

Today, I cheated a bit. I haven’t started reading the story as such, but I took time to begin reformatting the Word text for Kindle. I got rid of my page numbers, used Styles to format paragraphs, I chose and formatted my headings and then auto-checked things like spellings, grammar and conciseness. Finally I used ‘Find and Replace’ to get rid of hard to spot things such as double spaces, space-commas and comma-stops. I saved the file and now I must wait.

I feel bereft. I’m going to miss being with my characters. It’s not long since we met, but now I know their dreams, and feel their regrets, their anxieties, their hopes and their love. I hear their voices in my head. I didn’t know them until they suddenly appeared on my monitor and now they’ve disappeared onto my hard drive. What will happen to them now? They’re in limbo until my keyboard kisses them back to life. I worry for them and for myself.

The photograph today expresses my dilemma. It shows two giant horses heads – The Kelpies – near Falkirk in Scotland. I was on holiday and had taken my Pentax K-50 (RIP) using an 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens handheld. The settings were ISO 100, f/16 1/100 seconds and 18 mm.

A town named Codmanton

The featured photograph today is of an industrial scene in the blue hour – actually at Cannington roundabout in Ravenhead, St Helens, Merseyside. I chose this scene because, having finished writing my story in draft, I realised that I could create a context by writing a prologue – essentially a chapter about my fictitious post-industrial town , Codmanton, in the North of England.

I took this shot last December, from a bridge that overlooks a roundabout, but I took the shot in the opposite direction in order to capture the industrial flavour of the vicinity. Additionally, the light trails are reminiscent of a motorway – my fictitious town is close to a motorway roundabout.

I used my Pentax K-1 camera using a 15-30 mm f/2.8 ultra wide angle lens at 15 mm and f/16, with an ISO of 200 and a shutter speed of 10 seconds. I used a tripod but no filters. The image has been cropped in Lightroom to clean the photo of some of the sensor dust spots that showed up at f/16.

In the Prologue, I take the reader on a drone’s eye view of the town from North to South and East to West, identifying where the key characters live and work.

Something else that I have started work on, is listing the many scenes that take place over the eighty days described in the book. Some of them take up less than half a page of A4. I am trying to rationalise this structure by combining the scenes into phases of the drama, even where they take place across different sites. I’m still not decided how to describe each phase – as dances, dance steps or the role that the phase plays in the plot. I’d prefer to do it by dance name or step type to reflect the dance theme of the story.

I’ll sleep on it.