Killer Lines

As followers of the Tiny Letter will be aware, the University of Edinburgh’s Creative Writers had their second reading night of the year just over a week ago. I co-hosted with my co-host, the handsome and talented Mr Jacques Tsiantar.

For this event, we only had three minutes for each of our individual slots. That’s about 600 words, which isn’t a lot. But fortunately, the first 600 or so words of my stroke-y memoir of extreme survival stop at a real doozie of a line.

‘And the Scotsman says to the Englishman, “My left arm feels funny!”‘

No, that wasn’t it. It’s

That was the last time I felt rain on my cheek the way a person is supposed to.

Seriously. Killer line, right? I mean, if you read the blog you’ll know that I can live with not feeling the rain on my cheek the was a person is supposed to. But still.

So, yeah. There’s a memoir stuck in this computer somewhere.

Memoirs are weird. A little bit like Alan Spence’s historical novel, Night Boat, by their nature memoirs straddle hard non-fiction and storytelling. Memoirs are weird because facts are weird. As a former lawyer, I’m very aware that fact is, in fact, subjective. Wrangling over whose facts were factier was always a key part of most negotiations. I was reminded of this during #indyref, when I would observe people – no doubt including myself – try to win a point by stepping out of rhetoric and into the world of stats and figures.

“…and Norway’s oil fund is worth NOK 7,000 billion.”

Often, there’s a conflicting stat. Or the existence of the stats give rise to different interpretations, etc.

And people think they own “facts”, as demonstrated by the recent kerfuffle over James Rhodes’ memoir, Instrumental. Subtitled A Memoir of Madness, Medication and Music, it was held up in court for some time, subject to injunctions against revealing even the identities of the parties to the case while Rhodes and his publisher, Edinburgh’s Canongate, fought for the right to publish it. Rhodes’ ex-wife brought suit to prevent publication of key passages of the book, which detailed rapes the pianist suffered as a child, arguing that they would have too distressing an impact on their 12-year-old son.

She had some success at an earlier instance before Mr Justice Cocklecarrot, her lawyers having cited Wilkinson v Downton. (God, the lawyer in me wants to underline that sooo badly.)

Mr Justice Cocklecarrot presides.

In that Victorian case, a man who played a practical joke on an east London pub landlady in 1897 was found to be guilty of the “intentional infliction of mental distress”. There’s room to distinguish. Look it up, if you don’t believe me. Then, last Wednesday, the Supreme Court of England and Wales’  decision “to sweep aside the injunction that prevented the book from appearing was hailed as a milestone in the defence of free speech.” In celebrating his victory, Rhodes declared:

I’m relieved that our justice system has finally seen sense and not only allowed me to tell my story, but affirmed in the strongest possible way: that speaking up about one’s own life is a basic human right.

He was supported in his appeal by the writers’ group, English PEN. I’m a member of Scottish PEN (and am in their latest PENning magazine, here) so it would be dead easy to get all precious and writerly about this. But James Rhodes’ victory does demonstrate an important right. One million years ago, when I took a seminar class in Intellectual Property Theory, one of the bases of intellectual property was explained me as being that, since our thoughts and creations emerge from – might be said to be an extension of – our bodies, and since little or nothing could be more “us” than our bodies, then our rights to our thoughts and creations must be protected.

“I’ve set you some Wittgenstein. Just so you can say you’ve read it.”

Like all the best facts, that feels right.

But, getting back to where this post started, it was nice to see my memoir again. Like a band, it’s always the next thing that a writer is working on that’s the most exciting. And I think that, once I’ve finished the novel the first 17,000 words of which will constitute my dissertation, re-writing my memoir with my newly-attained skills will be the next thing. Right now, though. That novel’s the most exciting thing.

Funnily enough, my supervisor is a little sceptical about the following exchange between two of the lead characters:

     ‘So. Athena. Does that make you the goddess or knowledge or the goddess of war?’
‘Both,’ she growled.

Might be a bit much. But the funny thing is, I was lying in an emergency room listening as an identical exchange took place. (See? Detail. Concrete location. I told you it was real.)

“I also lend a portion of might and wisdom to Mary Marvel.”

OK. She might not have said that last bit.

And who knows, at this point, what happened during those crazy first seven weeks in 2012? I’m looking forward to finding out, from a safe distance.

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9 thoughts on “Killer Lines

    1. Ha! Thanks, Joyce. Happy to have had an opportunity to celebrate Memorial Day here in Edinburgh yesterday, and reflect upon the bonds between nations. A pal on Facebook (h/t Andy!) recently posted something about John Mitchell of The New Torker, and how he came to know the city and his writing by walking through it. As we walk through, and learn and relearn, different parts of Edinburgh, I’m aware of the loss of walking through New York or Philadelphia or Boston.

      But I’ll treasure it next time.

      So, yeah, I’m British. Or at least, a resident of the geographic entity that is the British Isles. (Well done to the England cricket team for an impossibly exciting victory yesterday!) As your fascinating new post (here) points up, this seems to be a boon in terms of avoiding post-stoke falls. I did have a couple of doozies in 2013, though.

      Meanwhile, my .5% American-ness does help me be a little direct from time to time, which is good. Still, best to keep Longsufferinggirlfriendoftheblogbeth handy.

  1. Engaging blog but you should have underlined the precedent. Lsrotbp (heretoafter “me”) noticed

    As to beat one liner
    Q: what’s the difference between mashed potatoes and pea soup
    A: anyone can mash potatoes

    Oh also the new Neal Stephenson book “the seveneves” is cracking good fun, all things considered (note: bad stuff happens)

    1. Oh, that is brilliant and is going in the rotation. Quick, plan a reading night, someone!

      Funny you should mention the issue with Wilkinson v Downton [1897] EWHC 1 (QB), [1897] 2 QB 57. I wanted to mention swithering over whether to underline, and reflect on the lingering jurisprudential cells. But that seemed a little niche, even for Of course, that’s me reckoning without reference to the quality of the blog’s readership (hereinafter, “Lsrotbp“).

      Now that I’m in the back end comments dashboard, an underlining button is not readily available. Just use HTML code, I hear you say. But, no! HTML 5 has abandoned the old code, it would appear. So I’ve had a stab with CSS instead. We’ll see how that goes. Underlining continues along the way of the double space, it seems. Surprised the lawyers weren’t out in front of that, presentationally innovative bunch that we they are.

      Wow, you moved pretty quickly on the Stephenson. Never gotten to him, notwithstanding the universal acclaim from friends and acquaintances. The current in process list, in no particular order and as trailed in the Tiny Letter, is:

      These Demented Lands, Alan Warner
      Black Neon, Tony O’Neil
      Money, Martin Amis
      Then We Came to the End, Joshua Ferris
      Money, Martin Amis
      Tartan Noir (non-fiction), Len Wanner
      Lean Tales, James Kelman

        1. That may not be a terrible thing, if the predecessor, and his debut, Morvern Callar is available. I’ve not read it yet, but it was a bit of a sensation when it came out. And I think that TDLs is written as a second book.

          Dunno if MC is easy to get into, but TDLs certainly has a psychedelic aspect (not that that’s a bad thing). It’s a funny contrast to To The Lighthouse. TTL, while it’s clearly Cornwall and not Skye and is all modernist, evinces an intention to be grounded in that real Cornwall. TDLs is, as I say, an acid trip of a book. Yet, while I’m no expert on the Highlands and Islands, that fits with my childhood memories of the highlands, where seeing a lone figure making their way along a single track road, apparently doing something crazy, was kind of par for the course.

  2. I love your disembodied killer line. I’ve got tons of disembodied killer lines in notebooks and digital files and as invisible memos in my brain. Unlike yours though, they are truly disembodied. They’re random lines that could eventually become a first line of a story, or a line mid way through, maybe a line of dialogue.

    One day some of my poor little orphan zingers will find a home.

    Also, I’ve started writing Novel 2. But I really should go back and finish writing/editing Novel 1. I can’t wait to see your two book-length projects.

    1. Thanks, pal! I’m kind of looking forward to the fast-approaching day when I’ve collected enough rejections in a drawer that there will be a bottomless trove of good little passages of gold to pick out from the dross for other use. Must get back into the habit of eavesdropping, too.

      Good luck on N2. I’ll look forward to your blog on the process….

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