Archive for writing

I was writing in the past tense. Now, I am writing in the present tense.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2010 by plumbobrainier

Ok, ok, it’s about four weeks behind the times, but the great thing about the present tense is that it’s always relevant. So, the two Phillips (Hensher and Pullmann) don’t like the present tense, the historical present, and have bemoaned its use in three of the six novels on the Booker shortlist. They call it an affectation, like screaming all the time, devoid of expressive nuance. Well, Jacobson’s ‘The Finkler Question’ won and that’s written in the past tense, so gli due Filipe should sleep soundly from now on.

I have been following the debate, sometimes intrigued, sometimes embarassed (The Observer absurdly and pointlessly recast classic novel openings in the present tense to demonstrate its inferiority, but in the most hackneyed of manners), but mostly with a paradoxical mixture of concern and quiet confidence.

For, you see, the novel I am currently working on, tentatively entitled ‘Raises No Dust,’ is written predominantly in the present tense.

One of the accusations levelled at writers who employ that dreaded mode/device is that it is a hallmark of Creative Writing courses, a cheap gimmick, a ploy to lend a sense of immediacy to a thinly-plotted, insubstantial work.


Is that why I chose it? Do I harbour subconscious suspicions that my novel is lacking in some way, and that it needed sprucing up by being given the narrative equivalent of go-faster stripes? Or was I influenced by a work that I had read, which used the present tense to startling effect? Or was it because MJ Hyland, a lecturer on my course, swears by it and has used nothing but the first-person present tense in all three of her novels, and I therefore thought my work would be more favourably second-marked? Well, no. Although that last suggestion would probably have been a good idea, if I hadn’t messed it up by writing in the third person instead.

I suppose I feel concerned, because it seems like writing in the historical present is a bit of a fad at the moment, and I don’t want to look like I’m jumping on the bandwagon. But, on the other hand, I am quietly confident because that tense just so happens to perfectly suit my subject matter. My novel is about an online relationship, the influence of the past on the present, and time counting down to a life-changing event.

I’ve just made it sound like a cyber-romantic thriller starring Keanu Reeves and his female equivalent (answers on a postcard for who that might be)…

In fact, it’s a tragi-comic novel about suicide, pregnancy, fidelity, internet forums and various thwarted and fulfilled forms of hope. The past tense would, potentially, treat the story and its world as closed off, neat and tidy, when, in fact, it is about messiness and unpredictability. I also like the challenge that the use of the present tense offers. It is a very cinematic way of writing. John Updike’s ‘Rabbit, Run’ (also written in third person present tense) is subtitled “A Movie.” It is this cinematic continuity that creates the challenge, because I find I have to be much more conscious about where I edit the action, otherwise I can end up describing everything in a kind of narrative approximation to real-time.

I can understand how reading the present-tense can be exhausting – it is often exhausting to write, but ultimately more rewarding to me than writing in the past tense has been.

It seems to me that the controversy, or hullabaloo, about the present tense is a load of hot air about nothing, really. If a novel is written well it doesn’t matter what tense it is written in.

I’ll post some links to the key articles about the whole big nonsense shortly…


A Few Words to Fill a Sad, Sad Void… Or, some verbal trailers, if you will.

Posted in Delicious Morsels with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2010 by plumbobrainier

So – yeah.

I’ve not been overly proliferiffic of late.

But there are things on the horizon – OH READER! The metaphorical horizon is metaphorically littered with articles and bluedogposts and ideas for articles and blankhogposts!! These may look like insignificant dots from you’re standing (if they’re visible at all, especially to the young lady with the restricted view from behind the pillar at the back – next time fork out the extra few quid for a proper seat!) but in not too much time at all I hope they will sitting on this webface with disconcerting pride.

These are just a few of the things looking to squelch out of the pipeline in the coming hours, days and weeks:

Arise, Ms. Bullock!

1. A long overdue assessment of the filmographic works and humanitarian achievements of Ms. Sandra Bullock.

2. An in-depth discussion of the postmodernist narratology which pervades the musical output of Mr. Owen Pallett, of Toronto, Canada.*

Robin Hood fell ill - Mr. Pallett dons the tights!

*Mr. Owen Pallett’s latest album, ‘Heartland,’ was called a “firecracker of an album” by Pope Benedict the 16th, and “the soundtrack to my life getting really good then falling apart far too quickly” by Pope Benedict the 16th. These rave adulations make an assessment of Mr. Pallett’s literary value particularly pertinent.

3. A guest feature! The Paris Review has kindly donated an overlong and overtedious interview with an author, whose talent is only matched (and possily even superceded) by his obscurity. Tune in to find out who! (special prizes for the young scamperoo who can guess! Who says literature can’t be more fun than a parade?)

4. A review of page 53 of ‘Don Quixote’; the Cervantes version, not the Menard.

5. A tantalising teaser of Andy Johnston’s forthcoming, sure-to-be-earth-shattering novel, translated into Russian and then back into English.

6. The full publication of the above author’s Bewilderbliss-printed story (which was met with a belligerently hostile review within the four walls of this ettablisement), but with a twist! The English has been translated into Portuguese, and the Portuguese has been translated into English.

7. A 15,000 word description of my face.

Watch out! You’re drooling on your keyboard with anticipation!!


P. R.

The Third Hour of Bewilderbliss

Posted in Good Eve'news with tags , , , , , , , on March 3, 2010 by plumbobrainier

Cormac McCarthy's latest finds him experimenting with plot, form and presentation to a bewildering degree

This is a shameless plug.

If, like me and over 400,00 other human beings of both genders, you live in Manchester, England, then you can get your finger-filled hands on a literary magazine called “Bewilderbliss” (now on Issue 3).

Famous author and elbow rubber, Jenn Ashworth, set a theme of “Untruth” (untruth?) and literally dozens of writers, young and old, rose to the challenge of writing fiction (which is inherently, necessarily, untruthful) that could live up to the diabolical challenge set by that theme. They all managed superbly. But not everyone was chosen. I hear their editing staff is ruthless. And their budget low.

N-E-weigh; the magazine costs FOUR POUNDS, looks nice (unless you leave drinks on it), and has stories, poems and drawings (2 of them) of not inconsiderable quality in it.


P. R.

And here‘s a link to the Bewilderbliss site…

A casual manifesto (outline, and colouring in)

Posted in Introductive Wordsoup with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2010 by plumbobrainier

I am the person who needs no introduction.

[…] & this is a landmass of the cybersphere I have claimed for myself, and propose to fill with words (long ones and short ones, picked indiscriminately).

Aside from a wife (to whom I owe everything), they’re all I have. This is as personal as I will get. This is also as pretentious as I will get (I hope – otherwise, shoot me).

Some of the treats to look forward to in the coming months and years include:

  • Reviews of page 53s from any novel I/you/she can think of. (i.e. I will read page 53 of a novel, and nothing else, then write about it, and maybe give it a rating)
  • Reviews of albums, films, books, sensations, people – as & when.
  • Works of fiction and non-fiction. (No poetry)
  • Pictures with colours and shapes in them.
  • Snide or flattering comments about people I know, but whose names have been changed, so as not to damage their integrity or fragile sensibilities.
  • Newstastrophes, as & when they happen to encroach upon my day.
  • Your chance to contribute! (only for me to take the credit…)
  • Competitions with intangible prizes!
  • Links to matters of great concern!!
  • Discount offers on goods and services rendered!!!
  • An overabundance of exclamation marks.
  • Abrasive sarcasm.


P. R.