Archive for the ‘writing’ Tag

Hunter Wears Chuck Taylors

There’s a star-studded brochure of laments in the new Hunter S. Thompson biopic:

‘What could he contribute if he was still alive now? What would he make of it all?’

hunter-s-shoot-typewriterLooking at the last footage in the film, I picture him at a typewriter. Still. Bristling against that machine and gnashing at deadlines with a thousand news wires jacked into his hollowed sinews.

Always at a typewriter. Until the confrontation turns ugly – and the machine makes a window exit.

Thompson battles the typewriter to earn his spoils of the phony war. With each clack in the film’s audio, you hear intent.

How could this crank-guzzling dope fiend settle down to a night on the MacBook, or even MacBook Pro? These are the motherboards of therapy, swelling the gentle waves of comfort and adulation (yes – this went viral):

As sensitive psychopaths go he could relax. He seemed at home in shorts and Converse All-Stars. But could he be that minimal mellow on the job, at his desk, writing?

When you work on a typewriter it’s no collaboration. You need to know what you want before you sit down. Then say it, and say it without compromise.

I’m not convinced Thompson would write much now if he hadn’t put a bullet in his head.

He grew obsessed with his celebrity status, from the accounts in the film. He could be happy to chew on fat endorsements while an iPod shuffles the best shards of a shattered, glorious past.

Converse co-opted Hunter S. Thompson this year. He’d already lost his war. He was not in a position to negotiate.

Hook or You’re Slung

I start a vast many books. But often at once. And it’s a small wonder when I get to the end of one.

For both bookstore browser and attention-deprived verbivore, the first paragraph is your blue Smartie. A tasty hook in the gob, attached to a few thousand reeling lines.

Short stories have to be particularly delicious with their opening gambit. Take the first paragraph of Donald Barthelme‘s ‘Me and Miss Mandible’:

Miss Mandible wants to make love to me but she hesitates because I am officially a child; I am, according to the records, according to the gradebooks on her desk, according to the card index in the principal’s office, eleven years old. There is a misconception here, one that I haven’t quite managed to get cleared up. I am in fact thirty-five, I’ve been in the Army, I am six feet one, I have hair in the appropriate places, my voice is a baritone, I know very well what to do with Miss Mandible if she ever makes up her mind.

Donald Barthelme, ‘Me and Miss Mandible’, Sixty Stories (available to browse on Google Books)

I’ve been reading Borges lately and get all kinds of excited in his first paragraphs. But he operates in a completely different way from Barthelme. He doesn’t hook. He’ll start you on one path whilst suggesting a myriad of alternatives. You need a ball of string to get out.

Then there’s this opening paragraph. One that made me read a novel cover-to-cover yesterday:

Not everybody knows how I killed old Phillip Mathers, smashing his jaw in with my spade; but first it is better to speak of my friendship with John Divney because it was he who first knocked old Mathers down by giving him a great blow in the neck with a special bicycle-pump which he manufactured himself out of a hollow iron bar. Divney was a strong civil man but he was lazy and idle-minded. He was personally responsible for the whole idea in the first place. It was he who told me to bring my spade. He was the one who gave orders on the occasion and also the explanations when they were required.

Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman

Completely contrary and utterly brilliant. O’Brien feigns to give away the plot but hooks you on the narrator. Who’s writing this?

And who wrote your favourite first paragraph?

Incidentals on Being Back Home

But what’s beneath the well-upholstered face of Cheshire?

One porcupine (hedgehog?). Dead. Roadkill. Did not puncture car tyre? Cartoons may be inaccurate.

Small boy said “thank you”. I stepped to curb to let him pass on scooter. Astonishment.

OUTRAGE. Coca-Cola at £1.15 per bottle? Emo cashier speechless when I handed him £1 coin. Although that may just be his “look”.

Best tombstone in graveyard? For couple who died two centuries ago. Their dates don’t match. But thoroughly modern stonework. Pimp my ancestry?

NORTHERN MEN. Cropped hair. Blunt tone. Constant threat of warmth. Tends to strike around the sixth pint.

Leather-skinned hags with silver bags. Jackets to match. What’s the catch? Internal organs. Poisoned by cocktails and bile.

So what’s the punchline, and can I get it with chips? There’s no conclusion to this miscellany. But I re-read T.E. Hulme’s Notes on Language and Style this weekend. And he was responsible for how I saw these incidentals.

All emotion depends on real solid vision or sound. It is physical.

A man cannot write without seeing at the same time a visual signification before his eyes. It is the image which precedes the writing and makes it firm.

Writing for Play Time

Meant to share this a long time ago but I foolishly moved flat and left my internet behind.

I’ve been writing for a microsite all day and trying to get system language out of my head. Because it’s not how people speak, and it can take the fun out of playing with a website.

This is a slideshow by Erika Hall, co-founder of Mule Design Studio (via PSFK).

I think she hits several nails on their different shaped heads. Think of the websites you enjoy visiting most. You don’t even notice the interface language – it’s all part of the place’s personality. You’re playing, and you’re in conversation.

When it feels like a machine’s barking at you, you know you’re in the wrong place. And chances are you’ll leave pretty quickly. So the writer’s challenge? Help people play better.

Adventures of A Grandad

George Glencairn Urwin wrote for Sparky comic in the 1970s.

In the 1990s, he made Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle weapons out of wood for me and my brother. He looked striking with a pipe, and was sharp with a pen.

I’m proud of my grandad.

The thumbnails above are his stories (a list at the end, if you want to see every comic he did). I got hold of the old annuals today, and it was a pleasure to see how his creative mind worked.

Related: Les Barton, the artist who originally drew I-Spy, passed away recently.

I was saddened to read the news, but grateful to learn more about the comic strip they created together.

Thank you John Freeman for your research and hard work at downthetubes.

Mystery on Isle of Dogs

There were suspiciously few dogs on the so-called “Isle of Dogs” last weekend. And I only hope to dear God my camera read this wrong.

Must have blinked and missed a word. Either way, there are absent pieces in this sordid puzzle.

Meanwhile downtown, a White Horse has gone missing. He left this eloquent note to explain his absence:

Phew. No need to fear animal disposal this time. “Kick up the arse” sounds horsey enough to me, too. It can’t be some shadow-written sham.

Two valuable lessons in animal conversation.

1. You’ve got to watch which words you miss out. Or you’ll be misread between the lines.

2. It’s best to be clear and direct. Especially if you’ve got nothing to hide and something relevant to say.

Previously: talking to chihuahuas. Seriously: Chris Wilson’s Human Talk. Sincerely: responses to bad, automated humanspeak.