Oct 20th

You cannot be serious

By AlanP


A physical description is something that many writers include when introducing a character. I guess it’s a shorthand way of telling the reader what the character is like. Hence Raymond Chandler’s description of Moose Malloy, “a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck” should tell us what we need know about Moose, he's a big bruiser. In fact it turns out that is a wrong impression, because inside Moose is a great big softy. The nasty piece of work that does the dark stuff, one of them anyway, is Velma, who is not given a physical description; rather she is “as cute as lace pants”. (In passing, perfect that!) 

OK, it’s noir and that sort of thing happens in noir. Also, Chandler is one of my heroes, so I choose to believe he did it deliberately. My point is that physical descriptions persist in being thrust on the reader and they don’t always work properly. Further, there are examples where  a character’s physical appearance is likened to a celebrity who is popular at the time of writing. That irritates me because it’s lazy and also because it assumes I watch X Factor to say someone looks a little like Simon Cowell. Not that there’s anything wrong with X Factor of course, but other there are other media based visual impressions available. I have yet to read a character likened Dr Alice Roberts. In many books a character who is a renowned academic wouldn’t usually be as hot as she is; not if the character is about being an academic. 

That last part has just been demonstrated to me as being seriously flawed. In a significant about turn, my business life went from a severe downturn to a tyre screeching “Now Now, we need it Now!!!” kind of shock. I was recently in Edinburgh for a meeting with people I had never met when Nigel Farage entered the room. Obviously not Nigel Farage, but the physical resemblance was remarkable and he wore the same style of suit. When he opened his mouth he even sounded a bit like him. He was so like Nigel Farage that I had to restrain myself from climbing over the table and beating him severely. 

It turned out that Nige (let’s call him Nige) was untruthful, disingenuous, quite slimy and somewhat incompetent. As I travelled back I reflected if that was fair or if his unfortunate resemblance to a man I would gladly dismember had coloured my view. On reflection I still think it was a fair assessment. I wonder though. 

I kid you not, lightning has struck me twice. For a different client in the last two weeks I had to work with Mark. Mark is the living image of PC Penhale of "Doc Martin". It turns out that Mark is highly competent, very bright and extremely professional. Even though I been recently calibrated by the Farage incident I still had to endure the first few moments expecting him to say something ridiculous in a cod Cornish accent. But that passsed, we got along fine and achieved everything we needed to in good order. 

I am left wondering if physical descriptions serve a purpose; if they do, what that purpose is exactly; and certainly that likening a character to a celebrity is probably best avoided.

Oct 18th

Bob Dylan - Nobel Prize

By AlanP

SM has just reminded my of my irritation that Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature - for ‘having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition’.

He's written some good songs, but try reading some Springsteen lyrics for stuff that fits that description. Maybe The Boss will be up next year.

In the meantime, how about this for poetry:


It's a still life watercolor
Of a now-late afternoon
As the sun shines through the curtained lace
And shadows wash the room

And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference, like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar

In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
The borders of our lives

And you read your Emily Dickinson
And I my Robert Frost
And we note our place with book markers
That measure what we've lost

Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm
Couplets out of rhyme
In syncopated time

And the dangled conversation
And the superficial sighs
Are the borders of our lives

Yes, we speak of things that matter
With words that must be said
"Can analysis be worthwhile?"
"Is the theater really dead?"

And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow, I cannot feel your hand
You're a stranger now unto me

Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
In the borders of our lives


Lovely, innit? It's a song - by an American. But read it as a poem. For me it works. Better than any Dylan lyrics read out of context (or in context for that matter).

Just saying.

Oct 17th

Write Place, Write Time.

By settlednomad

The right place and the right criteria to write – but is it all a load of old codswallop?

For the past two years (yes, I have been on here for two years, yikes) I have been dipping in and out of The Cloud while other things have been going on in my life. Some of these other situations were of great importance, others, not so much. However, I have never lost the desire to want to write. I know that one day I will produce something that I will be extremely proud of. But having that desire doesn't seem to be enough. Not for me, at least. Am I alone?

To immerse myself fully in the process of writing, and to enjoy it, I have to be in a certain place. By this I mean my surroundings need to be conducive to writing. But here’s the crunch: no two places are ever the same. An outside café table in a French market town, surrounded by noisy Frenchies smoking Gauloises, has been just as productive as a boat bobbing at anchor; or an apartment high in the mountains in eastern Europe, many miles from the comfort of home, has been as productive as the back of my van, which lacks comfort! These places couldn’t be any more different in setting and style. Yet in these places I was able to write, and more importantly, enjoy the whole process. I have tried libraries, quiet corners of a house, the train, a plane and all other manor of locations too. But they just didn’t work.

And there’s more. If writing on paper I much prefer to use a fountain pen. More recently this has become more specific: a Kaweco BRASS sport fountain pen with caramel brown ink. Yeah, I know – don’t ask!! If I am typing away in Word, or some other word processor platform on the computer, I choose to write in an old style font. It just seems to make sense as I type (slowly). Current font of choice is Travelling_Typewriter, freely downloaded from the internet.

We all know that to write one needs nothing more than an idea a scrap of paper and a biro, or an electronic version of the same thing, and away we go. But for me that just doesn’t seem to work and I wonder if that’s the same for others here on The Cloud. Do you need a certain set of criteria to be in place before you are able to write? Am I simply going bonkers in my old age. Has OCD and procrastination combined forces to make writing impossible for me. Is it a mindset that I haven’t yet managed to understand and adapt to any given situation?

So my question is this: do others here have similar writing issues when it comes to time and place? Or do you require certain things: a cup of tea, a morning walk, the right chair, complete silence etc. before you can begin, and if so, care to share them?

Stephen Mark, I know, it’s a writing mojo-type-blog-thingy for which I am deeply sorry! I will revert to travel blogs shortly :-)



Oct 15th

To infinity and beyond (Buzz)

By mike

      Would this sort of synopsis be of interest to  anybody?  Of course, not  this version!    It is rather long but there is a query.

     Is blasphemy still a problem for writers?  Perhaps there is a taboo, even if there is no blasphemy law?

    As I have had this material physically flung at me - writing to agents etc;,  is a bit of a problem   There is little point.   But there are a few academics  writing on the subject   Richard Holmes, for example.   He has written a major biography on Shelley. 

       A few weeks ago I posted a blog about  Baird’s experiments in television  transmission at the Crystal Palace.  Baird might  have influenced a novel about mad monks and strange television thought screen.  This novel had been self-published by a grandfather.   Over the past  two weeks,  I have typed out the novel and the word count is 80.000 words.  There is now an editable text and a lot can be cut.  Up to 20,000 words?

   The internet did not exist when the author wrote the book, and it did not exist when I researched his life,  All one can say is that he had considered all the imaginative possibilities of a television transmitter  and receiver - much of which has now come to pass!

      But the novel is blasphemous,  Could  this be a problem?   The first version is a religious fantasy on the theme of ‘The Holy Trinity’  The second version is this theme,,with the TV apparatus as backdrop.  The monks, and the TV thought apparatus, are mentioned in the first novel which was written between 1934 and 1937, but the idea is not developed.  The second version was written between 1937 and 1948.   Neither book really had a publisher and few copies will now exist.  The author’s publisher had been Grant Richards, who  had, presumably, turned down the book?

       In  typing out the novel, I have isolated the main plot.   It concerns the relationship between an author and his conscience.  The author is writing a blasphemous book and the conscience is the witness.  It is the sort of plot that might have been written by Woody Allen or Bernard Shaw.  But the humour  is buried away in the prose style.  The conscience is rather like ‘The Terminator’ and there is a rather horrific attempt to kill him at the climax (the fourth attempt.) 

    There is a fifteen page sex scene in which nothing happens.  Presumably, Mary Whitehouse would be delighted, but it is an immaculate conception.  When I first read this, I thought it rather tedious but it is carried off with some panache and the iconography comes from Renaissance paintings.   The conflict is between the soul and the flesh, which certainly dates the novel. It really belongs to the Victorian era.-as does the romance.  I had called this romance, the rhetoric of romanticism but others might consider it cosmic flapdoodle or interstellar psychobabble.  Much  of  this has to go, but similar ideas are still peddled by theologians

    There may still be some sort of taboo about this sort of  religious blasphemy, but the novel has, almost certainly, all the elements of a classic ‘gothiic romance’ Nothing ventured - nothing gained!   

     My own opinion is that the author had believed in God and, for that reason, cannot have written a ‘truly’ blasphemous book but this may be open to question.

   The TV apparatus in the subterranean glooms of a monastery does rather recall ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ and film directors such as Tim Burton,or Terry Gillhiam would have great fun with mirrors and the religious iconography.   It is all done with mirrors!


Oct 15th

The chemistry of candles

By Bric

Fire requires two elements. Fuel and oxygen. As the fuel is burnt, the flames gradually die down. But if you remove the oxygen, the fire is instantly extinguished.


Picture the scene. An elegant room with bay windows framed by velvet curtains, pulled back to reveal a moonlit lawn and a river snaking away towards the stars. A dinner table set for many, crystal glasses sparkling in the candlelight. The scent of freesias from a vase on the mantelpiece beside a slow ticking mechanical clock. Your feet sink into the soft pile of the Persian carpet and you smile as soul food is served.

This is a place where you feel safe and relaxed. It is not your home, too grand for that, but the house of immensely generous friends who always make you welcome, appear genuinely interested in what you have to say, treat you as an equal, but also tell you—respectfully but firmly—when you are on the wrong track.

True friends.

But tonight the eclectic mix of guests fails to warm to one another. The hum of conversation turns to awkward silence as the scent of cumin announces the arrival of velvet-smooth pumpkin soup, the tick-tock of the clock and clink of silver spoons on porcelain suddenly loud. An argument flares up as the roast is carved and by the time the apple and blackberry crumble is melting the vanilla ice cream, the conversation around the dinner table has descended into silliness and bad temper.

It would be possible to signal to the guests that the party is over by extinguishing the candles. An old fashioned candle snuffer—an articulated brass bell on the end of a long wooden handle—is perfect for the job, but it leaves a nasty smoky smell. All those unburnt hydrocarbons.

And when there is no shortage of fuel—an endless supply of candles in the sideboard, an ample supply of matches in the drawer—or the fuel re-ignites easily because it is so unstable (like Lithium metal in air) or confined and hot (like diesel in an internal combustion engine heated above its auto-ignition temperature by compression) then perhaps it is time to visit one of the other rooms in the house.

There is a log fire in the sitting room, the smell of terpenes, hiss of moss and crackle of bark. A dog in his basket, ears pricked as he monitors the interplay between new guests. And there’s work to do in the kitchen, all that washing up.

And then look outside—see dawn is breaking—a mist rising from the camomile lawn.

In the dining room the candles are still burning and the conversation is meandering. Candle wax (C25H52 and other hydrocarbons) plus oxygen (20.8% O2 in air) gives water (H2O as steam), carbon dioxide (CO2 essential to plants for photosynthesis but also a greenhouse gas), carbon monoxide (CO toxic to humans above 35 parts per million) and carbon (C soot). It’s getting pretty stuffy in there.

You open the front door. A creak of brass hinges as the heavy oak swings open with a rush of cool, damp air. The friendly dog gallops towards you, dragging a leather lead in his mouth, tail wagging at the prospect of a walk in the fresh air.


What to do? The choice is yours.

Oct 14th

An anniversary and two new Cloudy novels

By Daedalus

A very happy conquest-by-foreign-invaders day to you, fellow Cloudies! It seems an auspicious moment, on the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, to mention two novels co-written by Jillybean and myself that will be published in the next few months by US publisher Penmore Press.

The novels take two different POVs - William of Normandy himself and Aelfgifa, youngest sister of Harold Godwinson - from the late 1040s to the aftermath of the Norman invasion. Researching and writing them was eye-opening in lots of ways. It can be difficult finding anything new to say about something so well ingrained, in British culture at least, but we think we've managed to find a fresh take on things, even if we say so ourselves.

I've written a short blog about it here, and will be adding more information as it is available. The manuscripts are finished and have been submitted to the publisher, and we're waiting on a publication date while sorting out the myriad bits and pieces that surround any new release.

William, the impetuous and headstrong young duke of Normandy, faces treachery, assassination attempts, and open war as he tries to cling to power over his own ducal fief. Meanwhile in England, Ælfgifa, the malformed and unwanted youngest sister of Harold Godwinson, finds herself caught up in intrigues and political manoeuvring in the court of Edward the Confessor as powerful men vie for influence. Their paths will collide as England and Normandy’s fates collide, and both must fight to shape the future.

Oct 13th

WRITE NOW programme

By Donna

Penguin Random House is offering to mentor new writers from under represented communities. You could be the next "big thing"...

Apply now: http://www.write-now.live/

(Question: Why hasn't anyone mentioned this before? Am I the only "clouder" to have spotted this one? Or maybe... we don't like to share anymore. I've been told that writers are most selfish and suspicious, and never share anything with others for fear of competition. Well, if true, I'm afraid I will never be one of those. As soon as I see something interesting, I've got to let the world know.)

Let us know if you found this post of interest and if I should post more similar tips...


Oct 11th

Tactics In The Tatras - Mission: To Seek And Capture.

By settlednomad


Reveille – 0700. A lonely time when not all team members appreciate the finer hours of the day. Cafetiere for one! Hot water drew out the best of the bean as I meticulously went over the route, again. Eleven kilometers of various terrain: metaled roads, forest tracks, a small urban area, mountainous forests and open pasture. Perfect.

We finally left the safety of our base and headed in a southerly direction. My orange Meindl boots led the way, perfect for the urban phase, as were the purple wellies – which just happened to match the purple North Face jacket - of Field Marshall Fanny! A couple of escapees from a Skittles packet! We left the steaming krator, its water barely warmer than the surrounding air, at the edge of the village and were soon onto a low-lying metaled road tracing its way through no mans land: it followed the course of the local river. Our route steadily rose into the forest; the metaled road gave way to a gravel track as it wound its way deeper into the darkness. Snow began to fall as a cold mist descended. Disorientation comes quickly when something alien is introduced.

We plodded on. As scout I had looked for all the telltale signs that had been there just days before: deer feeders, rotting veg and fruit, hunter’s towers, kinks in the track, a fallen tree, a stream... Eight to ten inches - a true measurement and not just from a man’s perspective! - fell overnight. Trees heavy with the white stuff hung low over the track. Some, unable to carry the load, had let go their branches. Obstacle crossings were plentiful.

The forest had grown around us as we continued on. A blanket of pure white below our feet was matched only with an off-white mist above our heads. Your senses will adapt; give them time. Sounds are more distinct and directional. Shadows have definition. Whiteness has colour. Trust your gut.

We headed south again – the general direction for home. We didn’t have a compass or GPS, but some things make sense when you are forced to rely on instinct, gut and where you can add an ounce of logic.

Enemy territory. We broke track and took up all round defense: a listening halt. I was on point covering east to west through south. Fanny covered my six. We knew this was likely terrain for an encounter so took the time to make final preparations. Fanny snacked on biscuits and took a long slug of water. I checked my equipment one last time: ISO 100, aperture priority, full battery, RAW quality and EV -1. I gave the signal – prepare to move.

We pushed out once more and headed along the track. It was many minutes later when we finally came to a junction on the route that looked familiar from the sun-filled walk that had been just 72 hours previous! Our location was confirmed – I had never (well, almost never) doubted it.

The snow revealed sign, and lots of it. Unless you have a hover board from 1985 and go by the name of Marty McFly, leaving sign is inevitable. Tracks ran away into the distance as well as those that crisscrossed our path.

With a new sense of purpose we continued stealthily onwards. We descended out of the mist. I came across fresh tracks and called FA forward to have a look at them. The imprints had water and specks of forestry needles and dirt in the bottom suggesting something had passed just minutes before. Remaining in the crouch I pushed to the edge of the track, and scanned the lower slopes. Using a tree for cover I rose to a standing position to improve my arcs. Nothing seen. Then, a rumble of hooves and the swish of disturbed foliage. I turned to my left to see that a large female deer had broken cover and had ascended to the edge of the track. Fanny had it in her sights.

We held these positions for some time – neither one of us sure what to do. Finally the deer gave in and with a single bound disappeared into the bushes on the lower side of the track.

This was what we had come for. With smiles all round, and a sense of achievement written on our faces, we snapped back into patrol mode and headed off again. Deer cries from the right. Another listening halt. The female deer was either alerting others to our presence or she was trying to call out for support.

We hadn’t gone but a hundred meters before I saw something move up ahead. One of the military ‘why things are seen’ – movement - had proven itself in that moment. I had picked it out beyond a fallen tree that covered the track. Don’t look at cover, look through it. I went down on one knee and raised my left hand in a fist, just above the shoulder but below the head: enough to be seen. Halt – an international signal – no need to be trained. Fanny stopped dead in her tracks. Looking through the fallen tree I saw a female deer feeding at the edge of the track. I stretched my arm behind me, in the direction of Fanny, some 20 meters behind - and held my hand flat, palm uppermost. I slowly curled my hand into a fist and the let it out again. I repeated this several times motioning for Fanny to come forward to me. She did all this without a single word being spoken. As she dropped to my side I briefed her on the scene ahead. We watched in amazement as the deer continued to feed, totally oblivious to our arrival. Cover can be a double-edged weapon.

I assessed the lay of the land, and noted that the natural relief to the right of the track would give best cover: I motioned Fanny to move forward and try for a shot. It must have already been on her mind as she was up and away before I had finished my sentence. Remaining in the crouch she pushed forward to the fallen tree, coming to rest under its autumn colours. This is how we stayed for some time. To the lower side of the track two more deer gathered. These are the ones that had earlier been calling out. Fanny was still in the crouch, motionless! A light sleet and the sound of melting snow falling off the branches masked our movements, sounds and smells. It wasn’t enough to mask her purpleness!

Something spooked the deer and they were off. The one that had been eating at the side of the track turned and in a few short bounds was across the track and into the evergreen forest. The other two followed on though it took them a few more strides. Magical.

I moved forward to Fanny and asked if she had managed to capture a photo. No, came the reply! After failing to take a good photo of a salamander just days before she remembered that video may work better. She had caught the grazing deer on film, and for a good period of time, too. She had zoomed in for the detail and so missed the others when they all high-tailed it across the track.

Patrol tactics were forgotten as we made our way home laughing, chatting and recounting the whole episode.

Mission accomplished!!

(Link to YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0Q90BmnaFw)

Oct 10th

FREE online writing course from the University of Iowa

By Donna

Hi Folks!

You may be interested to know that you can sign up for a FREE online writing course from the Univessity of Iowa. You can follow it at your own pace and time.

Here is the link https://novoed.com/how-writers-write-fiction-2016 






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