Archive for December, 2008
Only a week or so ago, I posted a blog here entitled, what I learned from Ernest Hemingway. In it I said that Hemingway was good writer because he let the dialogue of the characters do most of the heavy lifting-that is the writer could convey emotion, mood, feeling etc., to the reader. To do otherwise was tantamount to having an annoying stage director come out in the middle of a scene to comment on what the characters were thinking and feeling. (more…)
As I said the other day, I thought I’d post a few articles about my musings about writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Sometimes critics speak of a writer’s voice. But what do yousuppose they mean? I think of it as a goal to be achieved on a very long road. It’s that uniquely personal “way” you have of expressing yourself to the world in word and thought-the sum total of yourself as a human being. You might say it’s the Holy Grail of writing. (more…)
Right now, where I am, it’s about 2:30 in the afternoon on Christmas eve day. What I really like is the quiet which sometimes descends at this time after all the running around for food and gifts. Just a moment for quiet reflection before celebrations get going.
I’m going to start posting [today]some articles on writing and assorted topics and so, I hope you drop back in soon.
This short story is the debut of Harry Jenkins, Toronto lawyer, hero of The Osgoode Trilogy. If you like Harry, try Conduct in Question, Final Paradox and A Trial of One. Harry came into being after my practising law for thirty years in Toronto.
In his law practice, Harry Jenkins frequently visited the elderly and infirm in their homes. Occasionally, he attended upon the wealthy in their mansions. Today, he was visiting Miss Alicia Markley and her friend of many years, Sarah Carmichael. Affluence and infirmity were married in one appointment.
The Rosedale Valley road was an isolated stretch winding through a deep ravine in the centre of Toronto. Dirty slush spattered his windshield, forcing him to slow down until the wipers had cleared his view. Opening his window to clear the mist, he heard the hollow boom of traffic on the span of concrete bridge above. Forests of branches, waving against the bleak winter sky, reminded him of wild spirits fleeing the night. He checked his watch. He was already late.
The two women shared a stone house wedged between the mansions of Binscarth Road in Rosedale. Alicia had called to say they wanted to some sort of open a business. Harry thought the inquiry unusual, since both of them were well in their sixties and financially well off. Known for their charm and devotion to charity, the ladies were paragons of social propriety. Harry smiled as he tried to visualize them, sleeves rolled up and embroiled in the daily mess of business affairs. But he knew torrents, raging beneath a calm exterior, could silently foment major upheavals. Solicitors usually touched only the surface of life and remained unaware of dark currents which often guided events.
He frowned in recollection. Last year, Sarah had suddenly taken to her bed after a funeral to remain there ever since. Perhaps she had miraculously recovered. Otherwise, a business venture did seem strange. Such enquiries were often idle notions created by bored minds. Harry sighed and struggled to maintain his optimism.
He slowed down to catch the turn into Rosedale. His bleak thoughts were mirrored by the dismal February afternoon. He had seen the ladies last year at the funeral of Ronald Hobbs, city councillor. His funeral was a side-show, partially paid from the public purse. (more…)
A quick Google of the title The Sun also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, brings me pages upon pages of articles. With scads of information and opinion out there, what can I possibly add?
But before I answer that question, here is a photograph of the River Seine in Paris which I took in 2004–just to set the mood for the book set in Paris in the 1920’s
Most critics discuss at great length themes and characters of this novel. But my question is this: how does a writer create such a palpable, all pervasive mood in a novel.
What is that mood? (more…)
AUTOMAT, by Edward Hopper
I have a fascination with the paintings of the American artist, Edward Hopper. Somehow-whether by technique, imagination or subject matter-he is able to create the most compelling and evocative scenes, which stir my imagination.
One of my favourites is Automat an oil painted by him in 1927.
A young woman with a yellow felt hat sits absolutely alone in a barren restaurant drinking a cup of coffee. I look at this and immediately feel her isolation and loneliness as if it were my own. Is she running away? What thoughts are in her mind as she stares into the cup?
Right away, Hopper has got us speculating, as he does with all his paintings. Where did she come from? Where is she going? You’re caught right in the middle of a story which you can “read” backwards or forwards in time. I was so taken with this painting that the woman in it became the inspiration for a character in a short story, The Thief, and now a novel which I am writing. Struck by her isolation and self-containment, I called her Celia.
I search the painting to see what emotions Hopper creates and how he does it. Behind the solitary woman is a large window, blackened by an impenetrably gloomy night. The lights or reflections of lights recede into the background giving a murky, tunnel-like effect, leading to nowhere. The radiator, crouching at the left of the painting, seems just as isolated as the girl in the composition, but almost looks more communicative than her. The lonely,solitary moment is caught in time-permanently engraved on my mind.
Just think how many stories could grow from this one painting! Will someone, a boyfriend or family member enter that door, hoping to bring her back? If no one comes, where will she go as soon as she drinks her coffee? To a dingy hotel room? Onto a train to New York? That would be just like so many other Hopper paintings, which so often depict hotel lobbies, motels and railway cars. Or maybe she will change her mind and go back home.
Perhaps this painting speaks to me of the apprehension of the unknown as we proceed moment to moment through life. So often, we are unsure and tentative, fearing to venture out into the unfamiliar. Then again, maybe the girl is incapable of reaching out to others. After all, for me, Celia-the character in my story who was inspired by this painting- grew into a character that was desperate to get free of her self-imposed isolation from the world. And so, for me-art, painting, sculpture, and photography are so often an inspiration for writing. Of course, all art [whether it is painting or writing or music] speaks of its own time-that is, the time and place in which the artist lived.
Hopper painted much of his work in the twenties, thirties and forties of the last century, when rapid industrialization and urbanization were forcing people from their old dwellings and old ways of living. Consequently, so many people felt lost and displaced. And yet, the emotions evoked by his work are universal, whatever the time and place. Great art transcends time and place and touches a nerve in us all, which communicates those universal emotions and ideas to us. Just like a photograph, Automat is a permanent moment in time existing in a world which, at the same time, seems so transient.
And that is why such a painting as the Automat inspires me even today.
Osgoode Hall is a beautiful building in downtown Toronto, where the Ontario Appellate Court is located. When I began practising law in 1973, I can tell you that this was a very imposing building to all young lawyers. In fact the Law Society of Upper Canada was also housed there and that body oversaw the conduct of practising lawyers. And so, it is from that fact that I got the name of the first novel in The Osgoode Trilogy Conduct in Question.
Engraving by Walter R. Duff
If you would like a full tour visit www.osgoodehall.com
Engraving by Walter R. Duff
Writers always want to write a better novel or short story. And so, we naturally turn to writers we admire. I like to use images in stories and so, I often wonder how a writer can develop an image which governs the meaning of the whole story and breathes life into it. After all, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a mental “word” image must be worth at least five hundred.
No Man’s Meat is a novella written by Morley Callaghan, one of my favourite Canadian authors. But no commercial house would touch it. It had to be published privately by an avant-garde house in Paris in 1931. And soon, I will tell you why that was so.
But, first to the story. Bert and Teresa Beddoes are a reasonably well to do married couple from the city [probably Toronto]. Frequently they stay at their cottage somewhere up north where the farming is poor and the farmers live a hard-scrabble existence. The Beddoes are laughed at as city folk.
Their marriage [they say] is one of peaceful contentment, loving and respectful, but it is clearly lacking in any sort of passion. They sleep in separate rooms in the cottage. (more…)