BEST FRIENDS: A Narrative Problem

In writing fiction, there’s a key narrative  change of direction which, if taken,  allows your characters to live a life of their own or, if not taken,  condemns them to live out some unresolved fuck-up in your own  psyche.

You create characters, try to involve your readers in their lives but you have to decide in which direction your narrative is going to take them – down into the gloomy depths of  thomashardy country or (eventually) up into the sunlit foothills of janeaustenland …..?

They went everywhere together, Charles and Mary.  She, the baker’s only child, very polite and well-behaved; he, the youngest son of  the Primary School Headmistress, lively, confident. Usually they went everywhere at a canter as if they knew that they had to hurry to pack  as much as possible into their  time together.  

Look at them! They are so proud to be with each other, they want the whole world to know that they are best friends.

* * *

12 years have passed and what a handsome, elegant  couple they have become, still in step, not so much in a hurry now but still hand in hand, still proud of each other, still heading in the right direction…….

And at this point you  have a writing problem:  a) do they go on  being happily in love, able to overcome problems because of these  feelings for one another or b)   does  it begin (and continue) to go all  wrong for them in spite of the love, friendship they have for each other?  

The direction the  narrative takes will tend to  reflect your  own life-view unless you steel yourself  like a good parent to let your characters go.

See how Mary is already more aware of being photographed by a stranger than of  being talked to by the ever-charming Charles.


It struck me the other day that triangles have a bad name:- a love triangle; the Bermuda triangle etc. Then I thought of other geometric shapes – the square for example which connotes the ordinary, unadventurous, dull; and the circle which suggests ‘well-rounded’, complete. Then I thought how these basic shapes are used in nature and in man-made constructions…………….

This is Bracklinn bridge. Unusual construction shape for the North of Scotland.                                                                                                                                       

This is the interior of a bothy on the shore of Rackwick Bay in Hoy where I found a lone but not lonely German and we shared what was left of  my bottle of Glenfarclas.

Why the 3-dimensional triangles of the Pyramids? I met a traveller from an antique land who said………

Then I thought I must look at paintings, especially post-modern stuff, and see how basic shapes are used to create structure and balance….mm


The more they eat

the hungrier they become,

these consumers of the world,

till eating,

still eating,

becomes like breathing.

They are body balloons

these window-shop-gazers,

peripatetic grazers,

each day growing a little bigger

each month a lot bigger

until one day….


what they took from the world

the world takes back.


‘Mind has mountains; cliffs of fall/Frightful, sheer, no-man fathomed.’  (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?***

My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief-
woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing-
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief’.


O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep. 

*   *    *

I think I know what Hopkins meant. Eliot talked about ‘objective correlatives’ -“a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of a particular emotion such that when the external facts are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.” Hopkins uses the effort and terrors of mountaineering as a metaphor for life, an attempt to evoke in tortured words what he experienced daily and nightly in his tortured and torturing mind.

I climbed Mount Kenya 3 times. Hopkins climbed his mountain every day.

The Indians are coming

Me (flute and halo warbonnet) Dakota Sioux. Dark Eagle. Me very cold. Long way from home. Squaw not happy. We what you call eleewal emagrans. Play plenty music for not plenty money. Little Proud Mouth (him on  left) him our dancer. We go BOOM pom pom pom Boom pom pom pom and Little Proud Mouth he make two steps. First BOOM he put out right foot. Second BOOM left. Going up. Going down. Going up. Going down.

Next week Tenerife. Squaw happy there.

                                                           *   *   *

Bootes The Wagoner

Staying overnight with friends in Melbourne,  Veronica, my wife,  who usually sleeps like a log, woke me by suddenly sitting bolt-right up, as if spring-operated.

“I’ve got to do something,” she was saying more to herself than me. ” I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to do something.”

While I was still trying to figure out where I was and what was happening, she threw on her white dressing gown and I heard the outside door open before I could even ask what it was that anyone had  to do at this time of night for god’s sake.

I looked at the alarm clock. Its green hands indicated 2.15. How embarrassing! I thought. She’ll wake the whole  household! and I waited for next-door’s big brute of an Afghan hound to start its barking, loud enough to wake the whole neighbourhood!

Next time I looked,  it was 3.10.

I got up and looked out of the window. The street lay empty in the white moonlight.  Empty except for Veronica  standing like an angel in a circle of light from a street lamp,   looking upwards, her dressing gown pulled tight about her.

I tiptoed downstairs.

The outside door was still wide open. I began to shiver as soon as I stepped outside.

Veronica gave me a quick glance  then resumed her upward stare.  I looked up but couldn’t see a  thing.  I looked down at her bare feet.  ” You must be frozen”, I told her. “Do you know what time it is? You’ll catch your death for god’s sake!”

She barely seemed to notice my arrival.

“Look!” she said softly like you try not to disturb a bird you’ve come across singing its heart out. “Just look at that!”

I followed her gaze but  still couldn’t see anything.

“Bootes, ” she said softly and pointed.

“Look.  Bootes the Wagoner.”