W4W:The Weirdest of the Wyrd

Silhouette of witch riding a broom

Image: Pixabay

 

I was struggling to think of what word to choose for today’s Wednesday Word Tangle. Yes, I know, it’s ridiculous as English has thousands to choose from. But I needed something I’d be inspired by and I was in the mood for something other, something different … Something weird. And that’s when inspiration struck like a well-cast magic spell. Let’s see what

WEIRD 

has to offer.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, weird might now mean ‘peculiar or unusual’, but in the 14th century and later it meant ‘having the power to control fate’, from the Old English wyrd – ‘chance, destiny, the Fates’. It literally means ‘that which comes’.

The dictionary also states that our understanding of the word to mean ‘uncanny’ comes from the phrase ‘Weird Sisters’ to describe the Norns, beings from Norse mythology who controlled the destiny of man and god alike.

Does the phrase Weird Sisters sound familiar to you? Damn well hope so, because it’s from this mythology that our old pal Bill Shakespeare shaped his Three Witches in Macbeth.

If there’s any other single work of literature that’s shaped how we imagine magical ladies, I’d like to hear about it. Their sinister conversations, the use of rhyme, the way they finish each others’ sentences, as if their minds have a supernatural link, all go to making the ‘sisters’ the epitome of corrupting evil.

Shakespeare lays his stall out with these harpies as they open the play.

When shall we three meet again

In thunder, lightning or in rain?

Are there no bright, sunny days in medieval Scotland? No possiblility of meeting on a warm, balmy afternoon for a cuppa and a chin wag? Not really. These crones do like to brew up concoctions, but they’re rather more imaginative than slinging a couple of English Breakfast teabags in a pot.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

All followed by a barrowful of antacids, I should imagine.

As so often happens with Shakespeare, there is an element of currying favour with the monarchy in the play.

James I & VI came to the English throne in 1603. Macbeth was written in 1606 and features the wronged ghost Banquo – who James I was supposedly descended from. James also had a bit of an obssession with witches, having written his Daemonologie on the subject in 1597. Clever old Shakespeare, stirring all of these elements into a witch’s brew which was sure to be popular and gain him some Stewart Brownie points.

In its turn, of course, Will’s Weird Sisters inspired others. There’s a band in the Harry Potter stories called Weird Sisters (though what makes them extra odd is that they’re all men).

My favourite is the Terry Pratchett Discworld novel Wyrd Sisters which follows the witches Magrat Garlick – very wet and New Agey, prone to burning candles and wearing tassels: Granny Weatherwax – hard as her own hobnail boots, exponent of ‘headology’ and prone to riding in the minds of passing wildlife: and Nanny Ogg – terrible mother-in-law, flirt, drinker and singer of lurid songs like A Wizard’s Staff has a Knob on the End.

If any doubts remain as to whether Wyrd Sisters might be a nod to the Bard …

As the cauldron bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: ‘When shall we three meet again?’

There was a pause.
Finally another voice said, in far more ordinary tones: ‘Well, I can do next Tuesday.’
© Terry and Lyn Pratchett, 1988

 

 

 

Caretakers, spies, jockeys and journos – that’s what novelists are made of

'Hi-ho! Hi-ho! It's off to work we go!' Image: Pixabay

‘Hi-ho! Hi-ho! It’s off to work we go!’
Image: Pixabay

Ever fancied slipping into an alternate career?

Something out of the norm. Something different.

You could become a lion tamer – if there is such a thing anymore – or a gold prospector in South Africa. Maybe you’ve a yearning to dig up the tombs of the Pharoahs in the Valley of the Kings or hunt for new species of invertebrates in the sticky depths of the Amazon (The jungle, not the online retailer. No one should ever explore Amazon’s sticky depths.)

I have a few ideas for myself:

*Secret shopper at the world’s most glamorous 6 star hotels (warm locations only, please.)

*Professional ‘IT’ Girl (not entirely sure what and ‘IT’ Girl is – and at my age, I’d probably have to be the world’s first ‘IT’ Woman – but it seems to involve wearing designer clothes, posing for paparazzi and falling out of exclusive London nightclubs in the early hours, off your face but still looking totally gorgeous. I’ll give it a go.)

*Oh, and chocolate taster (Obvs.)

Of course, the sensible answer for my alternative career is author.  Although this might seem a switch for someone who goes home at the end of a working day smelling of eucalyptus leaves and mouldy water, moving from florist and previous ladies undergarment salesperson to writer isn’t that much of a stretch. Compare it to how some well-known literary names earned money before Lady Success came calling …

Ian Fleming, author of the rather successful Bond books was in Naval Intelligence during the Second World War. He was involved in the planning of Operation Goldeneye. Goldeneyes was also the name of his house in Jamaica. Now, where have I heard that word before

Before discovering The Discworld, Terry Pratchett started his career as a journalist on local newspapers (journalism being very popular with budding novelists) but became Press Officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board (a body that controlled the production and supply of electricity) for 7 years.

Dick Frances, author of 40 bestselling thrillers based around racecourses and horse training, was a steeplechase jockey who won over 350 races and rode for the Queen and the Queen Mother.

Charles Dickens was also a journalist as a young man but his first job at the age of 12 was pasting labels on jars in a blacking factory, something he was forced into when his father was imprisoned in the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison.

J. K. Rowling, worked for Amnesty International, the Chamber of Commerce and in Portugal, teaching English as a foreign language before finding success with her Harry Potter books.

John Steinbeck, was an apprentice painter, fruit picker, caretaker and a construction worker at Madison Square Garden before he found success.

Stephen King was a caretaker in a high school whilst writing in his spare time. According to Writers’ Digest, this period of his life inspired the oh-so memorable opening scenes of Carrie.

But the final word goes to William Faulkner, who worked (by all accounts badly) as Post Master at the University of Mississippi. He displayed his mastery of the written word in his resignation note.

As long as I live under the capitalist system I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp. This, sir, is my resignation.


If you’re a budding author, what interesting past careers would you be able to include in your biog?

How a respect for blogging could lead to world peace

The Librarian says, 'Shut up arguing and eat a banana.' Image: Pixabay

The Librarian says, ‘Shut up arguing and eat a banana.’
Image: Pixabay

Humans are weird creatures.

I mean apart from obvious peccadillos that some of us indulge in (piercing every bit of skin that flaps, having whiskers implanted in your face and turning yourself into a cat – bus spotting) and despite the fact that it seems an obvious solution to many of the world’s problems, we just can’t get along, can we?

From what colour someone’s skin is, to which gender partner they choose to share their bed with, to which god they worship, human beings always have to look for the difference in others, not the similarities.

You’ll see it in microcosm every time you leave the house.

You’re in the supermarket queue. You’ve put your shopping on the conveyer belt. You’re waiting for the person in front of you to be served. What do you do while you’re waiting? Well, you could listen to the music drifting over the vegetable aisle (usually something cheerful, often something nostalgic – something that will stupefy you enough so that you don’t stab the nearest person with a cucumber out of sheer consumerist overload).

So, you listen to the music but your brain’s starting to melt, so your eyes wander to other people’s shopping. Look at the guy in front – his purchases do not include fresh fruit or interestingly shaped veg, just a tower of frozen single-portion ready meals, a bucket of Ben and Jerry’s Karamel Sutra large enough to drown a kitten in and a six pack of beer. And you look up to see a middle-aged man who needs a shave and who’s trying to pay with vouchers and a collection of small change and fluff he’s emptied from his pocket. Now, if you’re not standing there thinking ‘lives alone – possibly divorced,’ I’d be very surprised.

It’s the same with writing – we’re always searching for the difference.

Now, I’ve read a few comments online that state that blogging isn’t ‘proper’ writing, that there’s little skill involved and you can dash a post off as quickly as you could heat up one of that chap’s Roast Chicken TV Dinners. Some people think stories – specifically novels – are the only ‘real’ writing and that writing for a blog ‘doesn’t count’ in some way.

Now, to an extent I get what they mean. I would never claim anything I write on here is comparable to great fiction. But then, it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be bright and brief and hopefully entertaining and then you’re supposed to forget about it and go back to drilling for oil or conducting deep ocean surveys on the sex life of the cuttlefish or whatever it is you do when you’re not hanging out here.

But that doesn’t make it worthless. It just makes it different.

I read a piece in the Guardian about Terry Pratchett by Jonathan Jones, published after the author’s death, decrying the public out-pouring of grief and the fact that so many people regarded him as a genius when he wasn’t. Jones claims it’s a waste of life to read Discworld novels when there are better ones out there – whilst freely admitting he’s only ever read a few pages of Pratchett’s writing himself.

I think Jones is rather missing the point. I’m pretty sure Pratchett never intended or wanted to be a ‘literary’ genius. But he was a great ‘genre’ writer. He was damned good at what he did, he did it for a long time, produced a lot of books and sold a lot of copies.

And isn’t it the variety of books available that’s so wonderful?

I love Dickens and Austen but I don’t want to read them all the time – my mind would implode eventually, bent in half by the circumlocutory patterns of speech. I love Christmas, but I’d count myself psychotic if I chose to keep a tree in the window, tinsel festooning every crevice and Bing Crosby pounding from the stereo all year round. (If you can say Bing could ever ‘pound’ – prr-rup-per-pum-pum.)

Stating that Terry Pratchett is no Gabriel Garcia Márquez is – to put no finer point on it – stating the bleeding obvious, but it doesn’t mean I need to ban one or other from my life.

As for blog writing – no it’s not writing the Great American (or even the Great Bristolian) Novel but it can still have merit.

If people could get over the idea that one thing has to be better than another, and accept things can be worthwhile but different, the world might just be a whole lot better. 

Lynn Love.


And if you don’t know why I chose an orangutan to illustrate this post, then maybe you could read some Discworld books. They’re a charming ‘waste of time’.

Wednesday Word Tangle: Diamond Dentures VS Fury Underpants

'Which way camera?' Image:Pixabay

‘Which way camera?’
Image:Pixabay

I’ve never been a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s  acting.

To be fair, using the word ‘acting’ to describe his habit of standing woodenly in front of camera, moving stiffly from mark to mark, reciting lines in his heavy Austrian accent as if he doesn’t actually understand what he’s saying, is stretching the term slightly.

Comedy does not come naturally to him, as anyone who’s had to endure Jingle All The Way will attest.

When every organ in your body is gradually being poisoned by a noxious cocktail of goose fat, fermenting mincemeat and half a box of sticky, sickly sweet Famous Name liqueur chocolates, you do not need to sit through a degrading reconstruction of the consumerist treadmill you endured on the run-up to the ‘Big Day’, with the kind of appalling acting, violence and oversentimentality that only Hollywood or a primary school Nativity Play can bring.

Schwarzenegger’s strengths as an actor (and he must have some – his career has lasted for over thirty years) lie in more muscular roles. No matter what you think of the films – and if you’re not keen on glib, throw away quips, flying body parts and large explosions then don’t bother exploring the ‘Arnold Canon’ – he’s been most successful when fighting.

Actually, in my opinion, he’s been most successful when playing a robot in the Terminator films, where his odd vocal inflection, lack of subtle facial expression and stiff body movements make the most convincing portrayal of a metal man since Jack Haley in The Wizard of Oz.

It wasn’t his first movie appearance, but Schwarzenegger’s  break out role was as Conan the Barbarian, where his large, unnaturally bumpy physique and long shiny wig did most of the acting. I don’t remember him giving much of a performance per se, but he didn’t really need to as we were totally convinced that a bunch muscled fighter who wore little else but an interesting selection of leather goods and fur underpants and lived in a quasi-Medieval, polystyrene landscape, would have little in the way of brain cells or emotional range.

Today’s Wednesday Word Tangle is

BARBARIAN

I remember being told the derivation of this word when I was studying Roman history with the O.U. It comes from the Ancient Greek word barbaros and is snobby Hellenic onomatopoeia ‒ a term high status Greeks used to belittle other races, whose languages apparently sounded to the educated ear like ‘bar-bar-bar’.

If Schwarzenegger is the most famous Barbarian, my favourite is Ghenghiz Cohen, or Cohen the Barbarian, the wonderfully fearless and exceptionally violent geriatric hero from Terry Pratchett’s Interesting Times and The Last Hero. He and his friends Mad Hamish, Truckle the Uncivil, Caleb the Ripper et al, steal hoards, rescue maidens and wind up the gods of the Discworld by trying to destroy their home, Dunmanifestin.

Who’d win in a fight? Always put your money on the stringy octogenarian with a penchant for diamond dentures.


Thanks always to Kat, the founder of W4W

Does reading damage your writing?

Finally, my new Writing Magazine has arrived

Finally, my new Writing Magazine has arrived

I’ve read a lot over the years.

I’m not trying to show off, but if libraries ran schemes encouraging adults to read like they do young children, I’d have earned all my certificates by now, I’d have gold stars and ‘I’m a Star Reader’ posters covering my walls. It’s something I’m good at.

My tastes are eclectic. I’ve read Classics – your Austens, your Hardys, your Dickenses, your Swifts. Though I have big, gaping holes in my reading arsenal too.

Okay, you’ve twisted my arm. I confess – I’ve never read Hemingway. Yeah, yeah, I know, I should be drummed out of the Aspiring-Writers Club for that omission, but I’m no masochist. Generally, I read what I want to and Hemingway’s muscular, masculine subject matter has always sent me running for cover behind a pile of plumped up, lacy cushions. He’s all war and fighting and bull runs and hunting, isn’t he? Please correct me if I’m wrong.

The only thing of his I’ve read is the famous six-word story:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Which even I admit is the pinnacle of flash fiction.

So, I may not have read Hemingway, but I’ve read a lot of other stuff. Mainly fiction, but lots of non-fiction too. I went through a few years where I read little but historical autobiographies, from Henry VIII to Oliver Cromwell, from Mary Queen of Scots to Samuel Pepys by way of Dickens himself. (If you want a biography that reads like fiction, may I recommend Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser. In fact, send me the postage and I’ll pop my old copy in the post box for you.)

I’ve read a fair bit of YA in preparation for writing some myself. Some I loved (yes, I too want to be The Hunger Game’s Katniss Everdeen) some not so much (if I ever meet Twilight’s Isabella Swan, I’ll slap her soppy, self-obssessed, twinkly backside for her.)

I read fantasy, historical fiction (of course), a tiny bit of crime, though I confess to being squeamish when it comes to serial killers and extreme, sadistic violence. Firstly, I get truly fed up with the fact that much of the kidnapping/ torturing/ murdering in increasingly inventive ways is performed on females – Woman as eternal victim does none of us any favours. Secondly, there’s enough horror in the world. Turn on the TV and you’ll see worse acts being performed in real life.

A catch up with the news in the Middle East always takes the shine off torture-porn for me.

Just let me clamber down from my high horse. Hang on a minute. There I am, back on terra firma. Now where was I? Ah, yes.

I’m a sucker for magazines. Not the true confessional, ‘Aliens took my hamster for medical experiments and now he’s running my son’s PTA’ kind of mags, but history ones (well, BBC History Magazine) and Writing Magazine, the latter I read cover to cover every month, in hope of finding the magic ingredient that will turn me from Blogger-Babbling-Nonsense-Into-The-Ether to Multi-Million-Selling-Author-With-Lucrative-Film-And-TV-Deals-Under-Negotiation. I’ll let you know when that issue comes out.

But …

Does all this addiction to reading help my writing? To write we must … well, write – we all know that. And there is an argument that to be a good writer you must read  your genre – a lot. But is this valid? Doesn’t reading other writers just muddy your own voice, confound and confuse your way of telling a story?

The late, amazingly great Terry Pratchett’s  advice was:

If you are going to write, say, fantasy – stop reading fantasy. You’ve already read too much. Read other things; read westerns, read history, read anything that seems interesting, because if you only read fantasy and then you start to write fantasy, all you’re going to do is recycle the same old stuff and move it around a bit.

Sound advice?


Are you a writer who reads nothing but your own genre? Does it enrich your writing? Or do you abstain from reading altogether while you write?