Tag Archives: Jonathan Miller

Whistle And I’ll Come To You

I thought Hallowe’en had come early last week, due to the ghastly media coverage of the mysterious disappearance of Renee Zellweger. The net and press were plastered with images and commentary. The words were downright vulgar and toxic, with one article featuring a microscopic facial autopsy of the plastic surgery supposedly undertaken. It seemed almost barbaric the way people critiqued this individual’s action. It led me to think that perhaps this Hallowe’en there is a new type of mask, that of celebrity.

It used to be the case that theatre held the mirror up to society, to highlight its hypocrisies, double standards and faults. Now it is apparent that the very representative of celebrity, the star him/herself is the mirror to society’s horrors. Essentially the contemporary world, with its fixation on the body and how we look, is the Dr. Frankenstein creating the fame monster. We are, it seems, one step away from the beauty enhancement explored in the dark comedy film, Death Becomes Her, although if Lucifer offered me the elixir of life in guise of Isabella Rossellini, I’d take it.

Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. JamesSo this Hallowe’en, there is no need to wear a zombie/demon/mask of horror, because the so-called ‘natural’ ones that people are choosing to don all year around – paying a surgeon to craft their ideal self – now, that is the real stuff of terror. However, being a traditionalist, on 31st October my choice to scare the bejeepers out of me will undoubtedly be to pick up a book, particularly the short story Whistle and I’ll Come to You by the master frightener, M. R. James.

He was a prolific academic who redefined the ghost story for the 20th Century by scrapping many of the formal gothic cliché’s of his literary predecessors and setting his tales in more realistic contemporary locations. ‘Whistle’ is set in Barnstow, a seaside town on the east coast of England. Published in 1904, this tale focuses on an introverted academic on a golfing holiday, who explores a Knights Templar cemetery on the East Anglian coast. He happens upon an object, a whistle with a mysterious engraving etched on it, Quis est iste qui venit (who is this, who is coming?). Blowing the whistle brings a windstorm and an unwelcome guest.

James is an enigmatic master of the supernatural story. He stated his ambition,

If any of [my stories] succeed in causing their readers to feel pleasantly uncomfortable when walking along a solitary road at nightfall, or sitting over a dying fire in the small hours, my purpose in writing them will have been attained.

There is a fantastic black and white adaptation by Jonathan Miller.  Michael Horden plays the character with grimaces and mutterings. The whole ‘less is more’ approach to the drama creates a chill that strikes up the spinal cord.

James’ writing provides scares that do not just shock, but leave the reader with an aftertaste. Failing that, if his tales do not satisfy your horror fix, another suggestion would be to pick up a tabloid rag, like The National Enquirer and take a peep at the Celebrity Monsters gracing those pages. Fame, oh I would not wish it on my worst enemy!

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Scorcery

ten minutes hate is moving to a new location and, unfortunately, unlike in my dreams last night, my possessions are not jumping into boxes of their own accord to this soundtrack…

Which is one very elaborate way to say that posts here might be light over the coming weeks.  So, in the meantime, why not amuse yourself by catching up with some of the hate you might have missed:

  1. Marvel at the warnings from history that saved the ‘miracle villages‘ of Iwate from the tsunami
  2. Ponder whether writing can ever flow so well as Dudley Moore playing the piano in this clip, as well as the genius of Jonathan Miller
  3. As I reach my 10-month anniversary in the country, why not check out this one written a few days before I got on the plane to Japan
  4. 10mh used to be a political blog, in the days before earthquakes started happening in its vicinity. This is an old but good post from me and Mark Woff, in which I think we predicted the whole Summer of Discontent thing
  5. It isn’t Sunday, but any excuse for some ska

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Quote of the day, week, month, year

Well, I have a deep disdain for them [Tony and Cherie]. I couldn’t bear that grinning, money-hungry, beaming, Cliff Richard-loving, Berlusconi-adoring, guitar-playing twat.

There is plenty more where this gem came from over here.

Sometimes it’s easy to write reams and reams about a subject, to set out a case and argue it fully, leaving any readers (if there are any) in no doubt of the writer’s point of view.  And other times it’s more a case of grabbing people by the arm and saying “come here, look at this, it’s really good!”, which is what this one’s all about.

So click on this video, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

The reason why I love this clip so much is Dudley Moore’s obvious puzzlement when asked to describe something that he does so well and so innately.  He is initially completely perplexed at having to explain logically a skill which comes naturally to him.

I have been pondering this lately, as sometimes the writing goes easy and all is well, the sun shines, the birds fly down low to talk to me about my day and playful baby rabbits gambol around my feet.  Then, just as quickly, the sun goes behind a cloud, the rain tips down in sheets and the wildlife gets savagely ripped apart by weasels as the flow of words dries up.  When I sit down at my desk to work, I never know which it will be.  I am trying to figure out why the good days happen so I can con my brain into thinking a weasel day is a good one and maybe, I don’t know, get more prolific.

It appears that I’m not the only one struggling with this either.  Some of my favourite writers (such a kissass…) Chris Killen, Charlotte Stein, Neil Robertson, all have posted recently about not being able to write, losing the ability to string sentences together, lacking belief in their ability to write.  A couple of them are published writers too, which almost makes me want to give up and throw my half-written book into the sea.  If finishing a book doesn’t make it any easier, what hope is there for me?

So why does the writing flow, when it flows?  Is it muscle memory: I’m sitting at the keys typing, so not thinking about it too much?  Then I can freely pull words from my brain to describe scenes both from memory and imagination, attempting to make them as real as if I was standing in the middle of them, so that when you read them it’s as if you’re standing next to me.  Just as if I was pulling you by the arm, saying “over here, look at this!”

Except that you can’t be there, because however well I paint it, you will always see the scene with your own eyes, your own memory and your own imagination.  Stephen King in On Writing called it magic, the ability to transmit pictures from your head to the reader using words, but when it works it’s more like alchemy, turning what could be a tedious description on a fairly boring piece of paper into the kind of absorbing read that makes you ignore all household duties, neglect a holiday companion or keeps you reading through the night long past a sensible bed-time.

Like Dudley Moore in the clip, I still have no idea why it happens when it does and is so difficult at other times, however, the chance of one day stringing together something as perfectly beautiful as the poetry of that ‘Cliff Richard-loving, Berlusconi-adoring, guitar-playing twat’ is enough reason not to go chucking manuscripts or laptops seawards just yet…

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