The Sandal in the Door


EMBRA 004

At the long table next to ours sat a group of a dozen or so  insurance salesmen, sober-suited youngsters who looked a little like these mild-mannered Mormons you see going around  in pairs, and a senior salesman, American-looking, going grey, lean, doing all the talking.
You know whyou’ve been so successful? ” he asked and without waiting for an answer “I’ll tell you why, ” he told them ( I gathered later they were the regional winners in  some national salesperson competition). “Because you’re like me. Yes, because you’re so like me. When I started in this business he leant back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head),  yes, way back when I started as a poor door-to-door salesman, a bit like Willy Loman,  what I earned was linked to what I sold yet when I walked into a house and saw a couple barely coping, with a couple of hungry kids, apologising for the mess the place was in, offering me a cup of tea, the last thing on my mind was my commission.”  He unclasped his hands and leant forward. ” You know what was on my mind? ” He waited until he had everyone’s attention before he told them what had been on his mind. “I’ll tell you what was on my mind. There’s a car crash, the husband is killed, it turns out he has no insurance and the next thing I see is that poor woman and her poor kids without a home, out on the streets, without help, without a future.”  He tapped his chest.  ” That’s what I felt. In my heart that’s what I felt. The need to save these people. It was a moral thing, not a money thing at all, purely a spiritual thing. How could I best help these people whom I hardly knew but somehow felt responsible for? ” He swirled the ice in his glass and gave it his serious consideration before looking up. ” I’ll tell you how. By making them take out insurance, that’s how. Yes, it was a spiritual thing. In fact ( he put his glass down on the table) in fact…. in fact if Jesus was to come back today, you know what he’d come back as?” He looked from one face to the other, waiting. ” I’ll tell you what he’d come back as.”  Once again he leant back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head before he told them. “An insurance salesman,” he told them. ” An insurance salesman.”

Titles and Opening Sentences


Ghost writers in the sky

I’m starting on an updated historical novel about Joseph and Mary with the working title:  “We need  to talk about Jesus“.

I’ve just finished a short story about witchcraft set in a 17th century Scottish village at carnival time with the title:  “Fowlis Fair” ( Fowlis is a village in Macbeth country)

My last novel – a complicated narrative about a feckless young teacher who was marooned on Ibiza with a plane-load of mostly upper-class schoolchildren and who let the school (and himself) down but came out quite well in the end – was called:  “Lucky Lord Jim of the Flies“.

And so on.

But you can spend ages trying to find a title for your writing, whatever it is.  Or for your painting. I don’t like it when a photograph of  a sunset over the sea has as its title “SUNSET OVER THE SEA.”  On the other hand, if Picasso hadn’t called his painting “Guernica” what would critics have made of it? And someone pointed out that ‘untitled’ is a title. Is “Catcher in the Rye” a good title? ” Moby Dick”?  “Pride and Prejudice”? How about one-word titles like “Departures”, “Distances”? The book I’m reading now is called ” A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In”. I think good titles tend to be a touch ironic, or metaphorical, or even poetic in some way. I’m not even sure they are all that important but you can spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to think up a ‘good’ one.
I’d be interested in your views on titles ( or opening sentences for that matter  – there’s another time-waster. Or is it? I get the distinct feeling after having read the opening sentence(s) that I’m going to enjoy this (or not).
Jane Austen  hits  the right note and tone from the very beginning: “It  is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife…..”
And similarily J.D. Salinger did pretty well in his opening to ‘Catcher in the Rye’:
” If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
The same applies to the opening shot(s) of a film. After the first few seconds I know whether I can settle back and be transported for the next hour or so or keep glancing at my watch and listening to the rustling of  the chocolate eaters.

C’est le premier pas qui coûte

Schubert


FICTION PROBLEM

And Schubert. What shall I say of Schubert? That he taught me to turn a deaf ear to tittle-tattle? That he told  really funny jokes? That he must have done something wrong? Only that last one, I’m afraid, only that last one was true. But his jokes weren’t too bad either:
” When he was at the airport it occurred to Peter that  Gertrude, his usually reliable neighbour, hadn’t come round for the dog. He tried calling her on her mobile  every day but got no reply. And when he got back, a fortnight later,  what did he see waiting for him on the doorstep? “And of course you say, ‘the dog’,  and he says,   The 14 bottles of milk he had forgotten to cancel.”
That was one of his jokes. Not really funny? Perhaps it’s the way I write them. They were certainly funny the way he told them. Wry. Dry. He was fond of one-liners, he was good at themDid you hear about the dyslexic guy who walked into a bra?
He could rattle off a dozen or so in the time it took you to down your pint.

So I asked the man if I could join his aerobics team and he said it depends how flexible you are and I told him I couldn’t make Tuesdays.
We all had composers’ names: I was Mozart; my London contact was Bizet even though she was a woman. Blond. Big-boned. Wagner would have suited her better.
Where  did I meet Schubert for the last time?  Oddly enough at midday under that outlandishly huge astronomical clock in the main square with all the tourists waiting for the clockwork Jesus. Noon or midnight were the real treats when Jesus popped out followed by all his faithful, brown-robed disciples. People applauded as if they were real characters.
As usual Schubert was late, not that that worried him in the slightest. He never apologised however late he was, never explained what had kept him, just breezed in with some joke that made you smile.
When I left home, my mum said: “Don’t forget to write.” I  remember thinking: “That’s unlikely – it’s a basic skill, isn’t it?”
We were taken by Schubert  to the sleepy little town of  Strakovica  where we picked up Sibelius (and where Stevenson got the idea for Markheim, his short story about a murdered watch maker). We had a beer at Ticktalk’s, the pavement cafe which had formerly been the shop of the unfortunate watchmaker (whose murderer was never found). The sun was shining but it was cold enough for Schubert to put on his big black overcoat.
After that we went on to the very stylish glass and chrome building in the town centre where I was to give my lecture, a strangely transparent place for such secret shenanigans. At the ornate glass door, Schubert put an arm round my shoulders and said, ” If I don’t see you through the week, I’ll see you through the window,” his last and by no means his best joke.
I never saw him again.  

Titles and opening sentences


 Ghost writers in the sky

I’m starting on an updated historical novel about Joseph and Mary with the working title:  “We need  to talk about Jesus“. In Aramaic.

I’ve just finished a short story about witchcraft set in a 17th century Scottish village at carnival time with the title:  “Fowlis Fair” ( Fowlis is a wee village outside Dundee)

My last novel – a complicated narrative about a feckless young teacher who was marooned on Ibiza with a plane-load of mostly upper-class schoolchildren and who let the school (and himself) down but came out quite well in the end – was called:  “Lucky Lord Jim of the Flies“.

And so on.

But you can spend ages trying to find a title for your writing, whatever it is.  Or for your painting. I don’t like it when a photograph of  a sunset over the sea has as its title “SUNSET OVER THE SEA.”  On the other hand, if Picasso hadn’t called his painting “Guernica” what would critics have made of it? And someone pointed out that ‘untitled’ is a title. Is “Catcher in the Rye” a good title? ” Moby Dick”?  “Pride and Prejudice”? How about one-word titles like “Departures”, “Distances”? The book I’m reading now is called ” A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In”. I think good titles tend to be a touch ironic, or metaphorical, or even poetic in some way. I’m not even sure they are all that important but you can spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to think up a ‘good’ one.
I’d be interested in your views on titles ( or opening sentences for that matter  – there’s another time-waster. Or is it? I get the distinct feeling after having read the opening sentence(s) whether I’m going to enjoy this (or not).
“It is a truth universally acknowledged….” Jane Austen can hit the right note from the very beginning; and

” If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
The same applies to the opening shot(s) of a film….C’est le premier pas qui coûte.) After the first few seconds I know whether I’m going to be riveted or bored by the next hour or so.