Tuesday, October 11, 2016

You should pay no attention...

...to those 'famous' writers who claim to be able to tell you how to write, and this includes really famous writers like Hemingway, and Orwell, when they say, constantly, A short word is better than a longer word. 

Nope, a short word is not necessarily better than a longer word. The English language has a wealth of both short and long words, but the former are used on a daily basis and become far to familiar to the ear to appear in place of much more interesting ones...in writing.

I'm going to give you two examples of perfectly acceptable and reasonably bestselling writers who ignore this silly rule. Firstly Reginald Hill, the writer of oodles of Dalziel (pronounced Dee-L, just to be annoying) and Pascoe crime novels, as well as a bunch of other books. Hill was a great experimenter, and seemed to take no concern that his audience might not find his experimentations as interesting as he did. I've started three or four Hill novels, including D & P ones, and given them up because his particular experiment on those occasions didn't appeal at all.

But when he writes well, he is top quality. One of my favourites in the D & P series is Exit Lines, which I've read in print form, and listened to via an audio version. (The audio version is narrated with marvellously apt tone by Colin Buchanan.) This book is full of wonderful writing, and quite a few extravagant uses of large words.

Hill takes great delight in taking the mickey out of the dour policeman, Wield. For example:
'Back door,' said Wield. 'Glass panel broken. Key in lock. Hand through. Open. Easy.'

Sergeant Wield was in fine telegraphic style.  He also seemed to have been practising not moving his lips, so that the words came out of his slant and ugly face like a ritual chant through a primitive devil-mask.
Wield looked at the new acquisition and raised his eyebrows, producing an effect not unlike the vernal shifting of some Arctic landscape as the sun sets an ice-bound river flowing once more through a waste of snows.

There are some wonderful moments of innuendo: 

'Be careful what you say,' objected Headingly. 'He's regarded as a respected member of the community.' 
'We've all got things we regard as respected members,' said Pascoe, 'but we're in trouble if we start flashing them around in public.'

But I began this post because of the use of large words. There are two particular occasions in this book when Hill throws in a totally unnecessary large word or two. Unnecessary, but wonderfully effective. 

The sudden switch away from Pascoe [by Dalziel] took Headingly by surprise and he choked on his beer. This occasioned a usefully cunctatory bout of coughing, but the therapeutic blow Dalziel administered between his shoulder-blades extended this to the nearer shores of death.
A female voice was raised in a reboant cantillation of obscene abuse. 

Cunctatory means prone to delay, reboant means resounding or reverberating loudly, cantillation is a ritual chanting of readings from Scripture, but it's obviously applied beyond that context.

The other writer, Sebastian Faulks, shows his love of language to great effect in his stylistically-near-perfect rendering of 'new' P G Wodehouse story featuring Bertie Wooster, and his inimitable manservant, Jeeves. The book is called Jeeves and the Wedding Bells. Jeeves, the character, has always been known for his love of the perfect word, long or short especially when he's responding to his seemingly dimwitted master. He's no different in this book. 

Early in the book, Bertie asks him: 
'Tallish chap, eyes like a hawk?'
'There was a suggestion of the accipitrine, sir.' 

Accipitrine: relating to or denoting birds of a family that includes most diurnal birds of prey other than falcons, New World vultures, and the osprey.

On another occasion he tells Bertie: 'One suspects that the path of true love has encountered some anfractuosity.'  This word means having many twists and turns. 

So, next time you read some 'famous' writer telling you to avoid long words, tell him or her to pull their head in. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Poor memories for weather

Last Sunday was a mild, pleasant day, one on which you could easily say, 'Winter is over,' or, as Solomon put it rather more poetically: 'For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth.'

Except that Solomon would have been wrong, as were two of our pastors that morning, who both got up and announced - one at some length - that Spring was begun. By mid-afternoon, the warmth had gone (rather than the Winter) and a nasty chill arose, and has continued on since. Today is blustery and wet, after drizzling most of yesterday. In other words, Winter has decided that it's not over and gone, and it has a fair bit more up its sleeve as yet. 

Which brings me to the question: how is it that people have such short memories when it comes to the weather? We'll have a wonderfully warm Summer followed by a lengthy mild Autumn, and a few weeks later people will be saying how miserable the Summer had been - just because Winter has arrived. 

We'll have a mild Winter, with no snow, and by Spring people are claiming it was the worst Winter ever...having conveniently forgotten the Winter of the previous year, in which it snowed ten times, 

Here in Dunedin when a bit of snow arrives everybody shuts up shop, especially the schools, who instantly proclaim a 'Snow Day', (hopefully they make it up later in the year.) When I was a kid, if it snowed, you walked to school, as I did one bitter morning. I arrived, rather late, only to be greeted with some derision by my classmates because I was allowed to stand shivering for a time in front of the one or two bar heater that the schoolroom possessed until some of the chill dissipated.

Nowadays no one would think of sending their little (or big) darlings out in the snow to walk to school. The fact that they stay home and play in the snow is neither here nor there. My mother used to talk about the Big Snow that settled in the city for I think several days, and when even the business district down at sea level was snowed in. Now that's a snowfall, and rare these days. 

In view of all this it's probably not surprising that Climate Change people get away with so much nonsense about increased flooding, severe weather, more tornadoes and the like. It's because people in general have such poor memories for weather conditions that the CC people can say what they want, and those with poor memories will believe them. If you want to know about weather go and ask a farmer. They're much more reliable. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016


There are a bunch of jobs going at Triangle Direct Media, a successful ten-year operation that provides marketing online. Hopefully one of these jobs will update its website, something that is long overdue. The site is very slow, and you have to use several mouse clicks to do some processes.
Still, I can't complain. TDM has provided me with some modest income for quite a long time. In fact, I may have been writing for them for almost as long as they've been going!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

If it's good enough for an expensive TV series

What I like about writing music is that you don't need to work out a plot. Of course you need some structure, but you don't need all the endless tinkering with action A so that it fits in with action B and so that it doesn't unravel action C, or leave unexplained loose-ends.

I'm still trying to finish The Disenchanted Wizard, which may soon be renamed The Disenchanted Author (though that doesn't have quite the same ring about it). I've probably said before in these blog posts that I always knew, somehow, that this would be a complicated story. I didn't know that it would be a story that required the author to lose much more of his hair than is compatible with keeping warm on top. My co-author/editor/jack-of-all-trades person keeps finding that having done something here causes problems there. I'm at the stage where I'd quite happily drive ahead and hope no one notices, but she doesn't work that way.

A typical publicity shot from Fortitude: note how
serious everyone looks. And cold. 
Apropos of that we've watched the first three episodes of Fortitude, a TV mystery series set on an island off the mainland of Iceland. The scenery is magnificent, especially if you like everything to be white or gray, and the cast are top notch. But even they must have some moments of bewilderment in regard to plot holes.

As so often happens with TV series, or even movies, you wonder why no one bothered to tidy up things that were left hanging. For instance, in Fortitude, a girl goes missing at one point early on. We weren't even sure which girl this was. It looked as though it might have been a child, because the story went from this girl getting her supplies from the supermarket pretty much onto what seemed to be a full-scale hunt for the missing person. Except that it wasn't the little girl, we eventually discovered (about an episode or two later). It was a woman, and she wasn't really missing anyway.

But what was weird about all this was the big missing-person-woman-hunt that was shown in one scene, with the main police character telling everyone 'We're paid to do this work, but you're not, so don't take risks.' Or something along those lines. People headed off with guns (because there are polar bears at large on this island - the first episode began with some poor fellow being eaten by one; yuk) and that was the last we heard about the woman-hunt. Next thing the police are back in their warm headquarters and the populace is back to their daily tasks, and the woman is apparently still missing but everyone seems to have forgotten this.

In another scene, the same policeman (who's a very dubious, and bullying, character) helicopters up the glacier with the search and rescue bloke (who spends more time making a fool of himself with a woman who isn't his wife than doing any search and rescue) in order to confront a couple of arrogant guys who've gone up there on snow-enabled-motorcycle-thingees. They confront them all right; the policeman takes the arrogant guy's handgun, leaves him his rifle (in case of polar bears, of course, because a handgun won't do any damage to a polar bear) and leaves them there on the glacier. Umm?

The handgun is then locked in a metal drawer in the policeman's office, and forgotten about. Until the arrogant guy turns up when everyone is conveniently out of the police station (there are at least four police people working there), breaks open the drawer (how he knows the gun is in there is something the writer never tells us), takes his gun and is off. The policeman never notices that his drawer has been broken into.

So with these sorts of things happening in highly expensive TV series why should bother me or my compatriot what happens to the plot holes in my book, which is basically costing nothing but my free time? I sometimes wonder.

Update, 21.8.16 I decided to give up watching the rest of the series (we were about 2/3 of the way through) last night because it had become increasingly violent and sadistic. Fortitude is like hell on earth: brutality is the order of the day, along with ambiguous behaviour, adultery, rape, you name it. This is apart from the spooky stuff as a result of which two violent murders take place by people apparently under the influence of - something. I guess it's revealed eventually what's behind all this, but I don't think I can hang on to find out. I had a particularly nasty nightmare last night. No doubt Fortitude isn't entirely to blame, but I'm not going to feed the flames any further...!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Arts versus Sports

It's annoyed me for years that the Arts in our newspapers get such short shrift compared to Sport. Oh, yes, we have two pages (on the same day, Thursday) each week, given over to the Arts. But wait, Sport not only gets a minimum of three or four pages per day, but a complete and separate section of its own on a Friday. 

Reviews of concerts and theatre events each get a minimum number of words (300) and even some of those may be cut at the sub-editor's discretion, if they get a review at all. And sometimes the reviews are so late that they're no use to someone making up their mind whether to go to a show or not. The Taieri Musical Theatre production of Grease which took place last week from Thursday to Saturday, with four performance in all, got a review, but it didn't appear until Monday this week, after the show had closed. This isn't unusual. 

So I was immensely pleased to see someone else commenting on this issue in today's paper. 

Letter to the Editor in the Otago Daily Times, 28.7.16, page 20.

The ODT (7.7.16) reported in just 87 words the outstanding clean sweep by the New Zealand Youth choir at a recent international competition in Pardubice, Czech Republic. The choir won all four categories and the Grand Prix.
Imagine if this [had] been given an All Blacks’ victory treatment. Front page, with a picture, it would have included: every piece of music the choirs sang, how many points were awarded in each category, the judges’ comments, which choir members had sore throats or mild colds, biographical details of “new caps” in the choir and performance statistics for those who had been in the choir before, comments on their training and preparation, and reactions to the win from singing teachers and choral experts. The conductor would be a household name.
Dreaming, I know, as apparently we are far more interested in reading 500 words on the naming of the Russian Olympic athletic team.

Rosemary McBryde, 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Expression marks

One of my jobs is to transcribe music onto Sibelius so that I can then shift the piece up or down a key or two. (In the old days, when music was still transcribed by hand, with a pen, this was a frustrating job, where you had to not only transcribe but also transpose at the same time.)

I've just done a three-page song which has only four expression marks for the pianist in it, and only one for the singer. There's an fp at the beginning, a couple of mfs and a crescendo mark for the pianist, and a crescendo mark for the singer. I suppose you could count a few odd staccatos and emphases marks as well, but they're fairly minor and hardly to be worried about.

Some songs I've done (I only transcribe songs for other people) have almost as many marks as this per bar, which makes the work of transcribing very tedious. It also means that the composer doesn't trust the singer and pianist to work out how to perform the song satisfactorily for themselves. Most experienced musicians and singers have a feel for how things should go, and don't need all this additional instruction. Most of it will be done instinctively, so for the composer to write it all out is just a bit pointless. Better for him or her to stick to the vital things, the changes of expression that aren't obvious from the music itself. 

It's a bit like a scriptwriter telling the actors in every line how they should say the words. Actors will ignore these things, unless, again, it's something that you wouldn't expect from the words themselves. Shakespeare never writes such stage directions, and people manage perfectly well to interpret his lines. The very few directions he does write are exits and entrances, and the occasional curious one that you'd never gauge from the rest of the script. In fact a lot of his stage directions are written into the dialogue, as it were, and can be worked out from there. 

Compositions are similar to scripts for plays, I feel. While there are purists that claim to know how every note should be played, it's really up to the performer in the end, and the majority of composers will give performers plenty of leeway on this. A very few don't seem to feel that performers have the first idea about how music should be 'done', and clutter up the page with more instructions than any performer will pay attention to in a lifetime of performing the work.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Dance to the Music of Time

I've been reading A Buyer's Market over the weekend. It's the second book in Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time, that astonishing twelve-book series produced over twenty-four years. 
Wonderful writing, though seemingly without any kind of plot. So how does Powell keep the interest up? Sheer word power, pulling us along by making us willing to hear a very interesting person writing about his experiences and the people he meets. Apparently a number of things do come together in a kind of plot in the last three books, but that’s quite some way down the track yet. 
Though it’s helpful to have read the first book, which I have done but can’t remember in much detail, I don’t think it’s essential. By reading on Kindle I can at least refer back and see which characters are referenced in the first book. It doesn’t seem to make much difference really. Once you understand that the books are primarily about four main characters, then all the other stuff is secondary. The way people come alive in these books is marvelous. 
The book is compared by a number of people on Goodreads to Proust’s famous book (variously entitled in English as Remembrance of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time; some prefer Proust, some Powell, some like both. Whatever the case, the vividness of the world created here is extraordinary. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Back in the late nineties, we used to watch an Australian TV programme called SeaChange. It's about a woman, a big city lawyer, whose world collapses - her husband gets had up for fraud, her sister has had an affair with the aforesaid husband, and the partnership the woman is aiming for is given to another woman, one known not to be as smart.

In a moment of madness and as a reaction to all that's come upon her, she accepts a job as town magistrate in Pearl Bay, a little town where life is much slower, where everyone supposedly knows everyone (and all their business) and where she has to relearn what life is all about.

We remember enjoying the programme, though we probably never saw all of it, as used to happen before the days of DVDs and Netflix and the like. Anyway, suddenly, after all these years, SeaChange has turned up on Netflix, and we're getting the chance to watch every episode.

It turns out to be every bit as good as we remembered; in fact, probably better, given that it's survived the nearly two decades since it was first shown, and only very occasionally has any cringe factor. Sigrid Thornton, as the lawyer, is excellent, showing a marvellous gift for comedy, and gradually discovering the warmth in her personality that's been hidden under the hyper-lawyer's ruthlessness. David Wenham, who wasn't nearly as well known then as he is now, is the laid-back jack of all trades, the one with something of a broken past, the man who's mostly as wise as he thinks, and sometimes far more foolish than he expects.

The supporting cast is brilliant. Thornton's two children are played by the then 15 or 16-year-old Cassandra Magrath, with Kane McNay as her younger brother. He was about 14 when the series started, but was short and looked 11 or 12. Both are spot on. Many of the rest of the regular cast inhabit their roles in such a way that you come to accept that this is who they really are.

John Howard plays the obnoxious and devious businessman whose deals are always a little iffy, and who has the idea that he runs the place. His wife is played by Kerry Armstrong as a dithering, flustered woman under the heel (mostly) of her husband. From memory, I think she gets a chance to play the worm that turns in a very late episode in the three season series.

Tom Long plays the court clerk who knows enough about the law to keep the place running, and even more about the people who come in front of the magistrate. He saves her bacon on a number of occasions. Kevin Harrington is the local odd-job man (he mostly hasn't much idea of how to do anything useful); he isn't very bright, but each episode, after the first (I think) ends with him giving his equally not-so-bright son a bit of his wisdom. It's like an abbreviated version of the silly joke sequence that takes place at the end of The Vicar of Dibley, except that here it often says a great deal in a very simple way, showing that being down-to-earth is a virtue rather than a failing. His son (who's about the same age as the magistrate's boy and who's good friends with him) is played by Christopher Lyons. The warmth between these two actors is a delight.

Sometimes the townsfolk are more annoying than pleasant, sometimes they win the day, sometimes the magistrate manages to. Relationships come and go, and secrets arise from the past, but nothing ever disturbs the ebb and flow of the Bay for very long. People here have the ability to cope with the changing moods and ups and downs of life without too much drama.

Incidentally, the episode we watched tonight, the oddly-named Balls and Friggin' Good Luck was one of the top-rated episodes of all the three seasons. It's about a young man who commits suicide - no one wants to state that this was what actually happened, but the magistrate has to face the facts that this was likely to have been the case. In spite of its difficult subject matter, it has a great deal of warmth and gentleness.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Meanings eluding me

If you see a phrase in this post that seems to lack good English language logic, don't be surprised. The Internet is full of surprises, and the lack of proper English is just one of them, though probably one of the minor ones.

Fender Telecaster musicians friend is a phrase which I've been trying to get to grips with for the last five minutes, and I'm wondering if it's poetry of some sort. I know what a Fender Telecaster is: an electric guitar (the kind that tends to obliterate other instruments when it's played). It's been around since the 1950s, apparently, and has been continually improved from its original state as a 'masterpiece of design and functionality.'

I'm not sure that the phrase Fender Telecaster musicians friend is a masterpiece of design and functionality, and the missing apostrophe annoys. It might work in its present state if translated into a foreign language where such curiosities are the norm. Maybe.

So is it poetry? After all poetry is a place where oddities of the language appear frequently. I came across just such a one this morning:

I've been puzzling since what 'a manifold honey' might be, or why the line seems so at odds with normal language. Often such lines come right after repeated readings of a poem, or after you've memorised it and it suddenly clarifies itself when you least expect it. (I find this with poems by Les Murray, often, although sometimes certain lines of his elude me entirely, lines such as 

I have a rough idea what it's about, in the context of the poem, but it's by no means straightforward. However, that's the sort of thing you've got to take with poetry; it inhabits a language world of its own, one in which it surprises you by juxtapositioning words that don't like sitting beside each other, or wrenching the grammar around in such a way that you can't figure out a verb from a noun.

So perhaps what I should do is jot Fender Telecaster musicians friend into a notebook or file, and keep it until one day it suddenly decides it's the basis of a poem. (Though I think I'll be obliged to include the apostrophe, or risk my sanity.)

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Eroica concert

Late this afternoon we went to the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra's Eroica concert, with Holly Matheson conducting. A bit of name-dropping here. When our children were still children, Holly and her family lived nearby. Holly was in the same school class as one of our boys, and my oldest girl was friendly with one of Holly's older sisters.

In the years since, Holly has gradually built up her musical CV and has conducted a number of orchestras not only here in her home town of Dunedin, but also overseas. I hadn't seen her on the podium previously, so it was good to catch her in action, as it were.

She has a kind of balletic style, often up on her toes, and with plenty of movement in her work, often showing by her gestures the kind of feel she wants from the orchestra. This was especially evident in the Bach, where she and the orchestra often seemed to move as one.

The concert this afternoon, which started at five - five was probably once a very fashionable time of day, but seems a bit odd in the New Zealand context - included two performances from Amalia Hall, violinist. She's also a New Zealander. Hall performed Bach's 1st Violin Concerto (accompanied only by the strings and David Burchell on harpsichord), and Saint-Saens' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. Both well-known pieces, and beautifully played, especially the second. (The tuning of the strings in the Bach seemed just a little edgy, but perhaps because it was the first piece for the evening, the orchestra was feeling its way.)

Between these two items were two rather undistinguished selections - or so it seemed to me. The first was Purcell's Suite for Strings, a collection of short pieces without any of Purcell's distinctive flavour. The second was a kind of also-ran piece: Paisiello's Overture to The Barber of Seville. This opera in its day was more popular than Rossini's version, but has gradually been superseded. If the overture is anything to go by, it's not surprising.

The only work in the second half was Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. The name relates to the fact that originally the symphony was dedicated to Napoleon, a man Beethoven much admired during the time he was writing the piece. However, after Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor, Beethoven scratched out the dedication. The symphony isn't 'heroic' in any sense, though the second movement, a funeral march, could easily be seen as connecting to the funeral of some great person. There are various interpretations of the symphony, but a listener needs to take it on its own merits, which are many.

It was interesting to hear a live performance of it with a relatively small orchestra. All the wind parts were there, of course (including the three horns who have a delightful section to themselves in the third movement), but the strings were somewhat small in number: six firsts, four or five seconds, three or four violas (from where I was sitting it wasn't easy to gauge the exact numbers), four cellos and two basses. This is possibly not a small number in relation to the original performances of the piece, but we're used to large forces of strings in modern performances. The upside of this was that the detail from the wind and brass came across clearly, and there were many things that seemed unfamiliar, because they're usually absorbed by the big string sound. The downside was that the strings had to work hard to produce enough tone for the bigger moments.

All in all, however, an enjoyable concert, and a delight to see Holly at work.