Some readers may have noticed that there is a new group amongst my Blog Roll; “Idiosyncratica”. This is a group of blogging writers and readers who have decided to form a group and “do something” together, each month.
This is my contribution to our first effort. “My Fiction and Me”. Each member should introduce the other group members to the kind of fiction they write or enjoy reading and explain a little about how it relates to them — why it inspires/drives them etc. Perhaps I went a little overboard with the “little” explanation.
I began reading before I was four years of age. I taught myself, with my mother’s bemused help, to read the back of a cereal packet. I ate Weeties for breakfast and was able to talk my mother into explaining just how that big word on the front of the packet told her it was “Weeties”. It seemed I had always known the letters and soon I had deciphered the back of that packet. Or, rather, I read a little more with each new box of cereal.
Living on a farm, distant from schools and in a time little removed from the horse and cart, I spent my first year of school learning at home. I gained several bad habits. The worst and most enduring was that I discovered that the writing I was reading was repetetive. So I only needed to look at a phrase to know what it said. Without concously looking at the individual words, from the age of five I was reading in phrases. I could see and register the minor differences without trouble. This habit meant I rarely looked at a word by itself. Spelling and pronounciation were foreign languages to me. They still are!
Comprehension was just something which happened. Once read, a book was remembered. Not the phrases but the salient points, the plot. I had plots and the children of plots running around in my brain from the age of six or seven. Plots which were all action yet I knew they needed and were about people. Instinctively I pulled back from writing people. That early year without schoolmates had marked me for life. I never did get to know how minds work, how people spoke, the differences in syntax and dialect. I heard it but somehow lacked the confidence to use it in a story. Instead I found a love of the predictable, of mathematics and science. I avoided the complexities of humanity. Yet I continued to read. I was still fascinated by the way words followed each other.
In a schoolworld where Shakespeare and Dickens were royalty, I developed a hatred of Dickens. His stories reminded me so much of the flat one-dimensional plots I had rolling around in my mind that I found nothing in him to hold me. Or to convince me that he was a great writer. Indeed, for my Eng Lit examination just before I wasn’t able to go to University, I wrote an essay on why I considered Dickens to be the greatest fraud in the history of English Literature. Somehow I was accidentally awarded a distinction for that paper.
While I had enjoyed my studies of Shakespeare, upon leaving school I discovered the true form of bookishness for a science-based readaholic. I found the realm of the Science Fiction magazine. AE Van Vogt, EE (Doc) Smith, Clifford Simac, Hal Clement and then the big three. Azimov, Clarke and Heinlein. Forget human interest. Here were Space Travel, BEM’s and Interstellar Conflict. There was also the humour of Clarke and Spider Robinson. I began committing more and more puns. In a twisted way they sometimes let me see a deeper truth. Mixed in with all this science was a good dose of Fantasy Magazine fiction. This developed through Tolkein into an abiding love of Celtic and Norse Fantasies. Lovecraft and Poe also had their influence.
My mother had introduced me to Agatha Christie and the detective novel. Where people act according to a formula and while strong emotions cause the murders, the unravelling of the mystery was always clinical, clean and scientific. This lead, somehow, into the action of Hammond Innes and Alister McLean. It was here I discovered the repeated plot lines. Spy tales and thrillers became a comfortable way to read words.
Shortly after I left school, I was allowing my lack of people-knowledge take a back seat to my more confident hormone-driven instincts and a girlfriend introduced me to Gibran and Khayyam. Suddenly there were words which took me inside my thoughts, which changed my view of the world. Not overnight, but over a decade. The progress was slow and inexorable. I had discovered poetry. At the same time I discovered I was not unique. Other people had deeply held feelings and ideas and urges. And in poetry I had discovered a way of expressing myself. I had long since discarded my childish storylines and plots and had decided I could not write. In my poetry I could express myself, and since I was not sharing it, it was safe to expose myself.
Over time I lost my youthful enthusiasm for God and Religion and while I moved, philosophically, towards atheism, I had developed a love of the druidic verbal currents of Tolkein, Lewis and others who wrote tales based on the Celtic magics. After several decades of Science Fiction I was moving towards the poetic and the mythic. Verbally I was punning and inventing silly rhymes yet writing virtually nothing. I was not in an environment where writing was expected. Everything was verbal, instantaneous and discardable. During the Seventies I had found the modern poets, the minstels, Diamond and Kristofferson and Dylan. Rod McKuen was in there as well.
Like much of society I stagnated during the 1980’s. A time notable only for the work of Meatloaf, and a few movies. My Horrors were both Rocky and a little Shopped, my Gods became Crazy and rhinos stomped camp fires. These influenced my world view, not always for the best according to some who knew me. I avoided Abba and the rest of the disco insanity at every opportunity!
It was not until the mid 90’s when I discovered the internet and its usenet offspring, the news groups, that I suddenly found an outlet for decades of pent-up writing. I could rant in groups which discussed current affairs, I could be disgusting in groups which told off-colour and politically incorrect jokes, I could be inventively crude in the limerick group I began to inhabit. I began to relearn skills I had neglected. I found that others placed a value on my words. My writing began to develop a rhythm, a style of its own. Based upon the use of emotive words and images, using myth while addressing current themes. I used my poetic experience to shorten my longwinded sentences. The strict limerick form taught me to condense a thought into as few words as possible and so, while I continued to write mostly free-form verse, the words became fewer and the content denser.
I discovered blogs as a place I could store my thoughts, as a place where I could both practice my own writing and find others writings, and as a place where I could be as self-indulgent as I wanted. At the same time, I discovered digital photography. For years I have used very cheap, always slightly blurred cameras yet I always had a vision of what could be done with photography and its resultant images. About five years ago I was able to indulge myself and purchase some good equipment. As a photographer I am self-taught and, like all philistines, I knows wot I likes.
I began publishing some of the images I had captured with my cameras. As my confidence in this hobby grew, I found I was using those images to fill in huge gaps between the few words I felt necessary to post with the photographs. It is true. A picture is worth a thousand words!
So, am I a reader, a writer, a poet or a photographer?
Sometimes I wish I knew.