Sunday, 20 November 2011

Give me a title!

It's taken for granted a book has a title, even if some stretch the definition, we're familiar with it and expect it. What about titles for chapters in a work of general fiction? In non-fiction chapter headings and titles frame concepts, serving as a thematic anchor point so what purpose do they have in fiction, if any?

I asked one writer friend why they titled individual chapters, the response was, why only go to the trouble of titling the whole work? You owe your writing more than that. A fair point, writing takes a lot of time, effort, blood, sweat, tears, repairs to partition walls... maybe that one's not universal. So is this a 'must do' for fiction writers?

In historical fiction chapter titles are common, providing information about time and location as this changes during the narrative. I think of this as another type of thematic anchor. With books like Wolf Hall, The White Queen and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob to Zo√ęt, location shifts or character viewpoint changes mean the title is important for separation and clarity.

Why stop at titles then? I've seen short poems such as haiku, and quotations from literature or history as chapter headers. I'm not clear if these are viewed by the reader or author as a device to show writing versatility and knowledge; 'I'm not only a fiction writer'; or if they are simple pretension.

I'm not convinced titles of chapters, poetry or quotations always add anything to a narrative, I don't know a lot about writing etiquette but as a reader I crave clear story-telling, uncluttered by irrelevancies. This is no hard and fast rule, if something makes the main text more profound or brings a particular character trait through then it needs to be included.

I read a book by Marc Nash, A, B & E, the protagonist is a fugitive gangster's moll holed up on a Mediterranean island amid the lager louts and gangs of drunken young women. She's telling her story, amongst other things, to a sometimes distracted bar-fly, during which they both drink copious cocktails. At the end of the chapter are recipes for cocktails, neat. These aren't moving the plot forward exactly but they work somehow in adding to the heady atmosphere of the memoir. Think 'Copacabana' if Tim Burton and Quentin Tarantino shot the video and you're getting to the dark and gritty reminiscence.

So then readers and writers, what do you think? Cocky pretension or subtle plot addition?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A return to writing

It's been a long time since I posted, indeed since I've written anything. I've had the idea for this flash rumbling around in my brain for a few weeks but only today have I been able to find the physical and mental space to create something with it. Just a short piece but after six months of no writing I'm easing myself in; with NaNoWriMo round the corner why overload myself?!

The Wedding Dress

The rustle of silk on plastic, throat-catching tang of naphthalene, a salt stream on her cheek. Barraged by memories Marion looks at her wedding dress hanging on the back of the bedroom door. A small sob escapes her parted lips, Simon looks in from the bathroom. He makes as though to speak, then sees what Marion is looking at and changes his mind. Simon sits on the bed next to Marion, his arm round her waist. Marion feels the warmth of Simon's touch and is grateful for this and the continued silence.

Marion's mother made the dress from ivory silk damask, all sewn by hand. It wasn't a showy dress, simple and elegant with short sleeves, the skirt down to mid-calf. Marion looked so pretty, Simon so handsome in his morning suit. A small wedding in the village church, no-one had any money to spare for an extravagant occasion then anyway, the war was still fresh in people's minds. They had a week in the Lake District on honeymoon, staying in a pleasant guest house over looking Derwentwater. So long ago.

A black and white photograph in a silver frame hangs above the dresser, the young smiling couple gaze out on the room, eyes full of hope and promise. Fifty years stretch to an abyss, the golden days which the young woman in the photograph thought would never end, gone. Then everything was possible.

Marion stands then fetches a tape measure from her dressing table drawer. She measures the waist of the dress, 21 inches, her eyes fill with tears. Simon stands behind her, a comforting hand on her shoulder. He turns away then and goes to the wardrobe. Marion turns too, curious as Simon opens the door and fumbles for something hanging in the far dark. He pulls out a grey suit, clear polythene covering it after dry-cleaning. He hangs it next to Marion's dress, eases the tape measure from her hands and measures waist of the trousers; 31”.

“Granny! Grandad! Everyone's here!”

Michael's head pops his head round the half-open door, a big smile lighting his face.

Simon speaks, “We're on our way down Michael.”

Marion dries her eyes, “Happy anniversary darling.”

Monday, 28 March 2011

Blood and Stars - Episode 8 - The Morning After

I woke, the mid morning sun streamed through the open French windows, a gentle breeze lifting the curtains. My head was a little muzzy, too much bourbon with Him last night, however I didn't think I could refuse him hospitality and to have not participated would have seemed churlish.

A swim was the first order of the day, it would help clear my head. Once more I relished the remoteness of my condo, the cool salt air filling my lungs. I dove into the surf, immersed suddenly in a silent world then broke through the surface and the soft crash of the waves on shore once more filled my ears. I looked up to the sky, it was streaked with cloud and the sun had a hazy appearance. A break in the weather was coming, the wind had changed direction a little and the waves out to sea had white caps.

I swam back to shore and padded up the beach and in through the French windows, closing them behind me. A day to stay at home and edify the mind. The hot water of the shower pounded my back and shoulders. A day for being on my own, no projects, He had given me some time off, “for a job well done” He'd said. Nice to be appreciated I thought, someone taking an interest in your work, noticing the care and attention I lavished on each project. I lathered my body, lemon-grass and ylang ylang, or something like that, I didn't really care, I just liked the smell. Rinse off, towel down, coffee percolator on.

Whilst I waited for the automatic drip, I flicked through my music collection and selected a CD. Soon the enveloping sounds of Mahler oozed from the speakers, me and my caffeine settled on the sofa to enjoy Gustav's best.


A low, loud rumble.

I started awake, it was pitch black, then, a brilliant flash illuminated the room. Silence. The muted glow of the stereo display the only source of light in the darkness. I stood up and crossed to the window, pulling back the curtains to watch nature's glorious fury over the ocean. Streaks of pink lightning tore through the sky, the silence broken by rain falling hard and fast, tattooing the roof. Thunder crashing, the lightning brillianced. Transfixed I stood at the window.


Sharp, searing, twisting pain.

In the silence of the storm, a drip-drop on the floor. I knew it was blood, my blood. As I turned to face my assassin my knees buckled and I fell to the floor. A face came into view, starkly lit by a lightning flash. The smell of cloves and cinnamon.


Master wants a new floor covering for his library.”