To ponder a whispering spirit

THE WRITER’S LIFE | DEAR DIARY

I think about words a lot, and I think a lot about words. My favourite word at the moment, is kintsukuroi, which means “More beautiful for having been broken,” and I apply it to people, as well as to objects. “Whisper” is also a nice word, having many meanings in various contexts, but also suggesting a whisper, or one who whisps…

Lonely Robot
Matt Dixon

My family name is Laker: one who fishes on lakes, as opposed to a Fisher, who might fish streams or rivers. At primary school, I had one matron-like teacher who called me “Ponder”, and she was on to something. I just spent the first 42 years of my life not thinking about it, which is quite a paradox. So too is my departed aunt, to whom Cyrus Song is partly dedicated.

My mum’s sister Margaret, was spirited away in 1993, aged 51, by that bastard cancer. The even more tragic thing is, she’d have loved the modern world, for all it could do for her. She’d have doted on my children, and taken an interest in what I’m doing. And the funny thing is, I believe she’s doing all of those things right now.

My belief that the human soul survives the body is all over this blog. I believe we’re all one day free of our physical bindings, to explore the universe as ethereal beings for eternity (therein lie personal heaven and hell, covered elsewhere on this blog), that what we call ghosts are all around us, in a form we can’t always see, and that Bowie was right: Knowledge comes with death’s release.

Although I didn’t realise or appreciate it at the time, my auntie was just like I was when I took on the role of adopted uncle with all those young people at the squat (also on this blog). She was slightly radical, realising that a 14-year-old boy (me, her nephew) was likely to be bored when visiting his nan and aunt (they lived together, in a war memorial house). So she rented me what were then X-rated (horror) films on VHS. She was wicked, cool and sick, as the kids would say.

Margaret was hugely into royalty and royal history. In her day, her research and reading was through books and libraries. In later life, I’m fascinated by the subject myself, like my aunt tapped on my shoulder. What might she make of the internet? How is she, being a part of it? She has a supporting (and linking) role in my next book.

After much debate, I’ve decided how I’m going to write (to present) my brief history of a family. The intent has always been to give my parents an everlasting gift, made with the hands which they made for me, and which I eventually found out were for writing. Even that has an interesting anecdote behind it: When I began to favour my left hand over my right (in 1971), my mum’s health visitor (as we had in those days) advised tying my left arm behind my back, so that I would somehow realign as “normal” by being right-handed. This was common practice in the day, when being left-handed was considered some sort of sinister curse (thank fuck they weren’t all over gender and sexual identities back then, I’d have been drowned). In later life, I’ve been grateful of my “defects”. I feel kintsukuroi.

As a further aside, when I was at school, around 10% of the population were southpaw. When I was married and taking the kids to school, I asked the head teacher what the percentage was among pupils. It was around 40% (let’s say 42), demonstrating that there were once many potential lefties.

In a funny way, my left-handedness has been linked with my life. Where once I ran companies, voted Tory and was generally a right-wing capitalist arse (and drinking heavily), now I’m a impoverished writer, but a happy one, having found all that’s left-wing, joined the Labour Party and embraced wider communities, where I’ve identified myself (and smoked weed). I’ve written in my stories about fallen angels with broken wings, mainly misunderstood characters, learning about themselves, and it’s always the right wing which is broken.

But back to the book, written with the left hand, which has a heart tattoo on it: It’s the story of two people, who would always be little-known, because no-one had written about them. I was only a part of the story from 1970, and the book will be about the places we lived as a family, and where my parents worked (large country houses, and a couple of schools). With all of the research material conveniently within reach, I’ll just be the curator of the story, putting my fictional character skills to use in bringing the real-life characters in this book to life on the page (given my plaudits, I should be able to pull that off). It is of course of somewhat limited interest, but both mum and dad have their own interests and hobbies, so the story will be sprinkled with QI-style factual stories and anecdotes from periods of history which my two characters saw (at least one of which has a royal connection), and they’re inspiring people, as others will see. And of course, such is the democratisation of writing through digital self-publishing, it’ll be a proper book, with an ISBN and all that represents (a copy filed at The British Library etc.)

As a writer, I can create immortality, for my vain and insecure self, wanting to be heard one day, and for others. I somehow feel I’ll be getting in touch with my auntie Margaret more, like I should’ve done when I was younger. She’s a spirit guide, because she was there in the background too, along with others, some still with us and others no longer. But my belief in immortality and of gaining knowledge permits me the comfort of knowing they might all appear in the book, as characters with depth, not because there’s a part of me in them like my fictional characters (although I’m in there biologically), but because it might feel sometimes like they’re guiding me too. It’s a quiet story, a whisper of the blood.

I’m really going to enjoy this busman’s holiday into a new genre: The sci-fi, horror, and sometimes children’s writer, off to speak with the dead. To ponder and whisper, to think about fish in a pond, and to whisp.

Elk arse vet and more fun with words

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Words are my trade, of course. I use them to inform, scare, amuse and confuse. Cross words and crosswords. Long before I was a writer though, words have always held a fascination for me: palindromes and anagrams especially, and playing around with words for cryptic crossword clues, have always been sources of casual amusement. Obscure word meanings too.

Power of Words

Elk arse vet is of course an anagram of my name, and it’s a rather splendid one at that. Anagrams are one of the many tools of the crossword compiler.

There are a few conventions a good compiler will observe:

  • Cryptic crosswords are typically 15 x 15 grids; concise puzzles 13 x 13 in size.

  • The grid should be rotationally symmetrical along at least one diagonal axis, preferably both.

  • It’s considered bad form to have too many unconnected ‘lights’: a light is a white square – to be filled in – and more than two consecutive orphan lights is generally thought unfair to the solver.

  • Often puzzles have an additional feature or aim, achievable upon completion of the puzzle.

My speciality was always cryptic puzzles and I’d incorporate a little ‘Easter egg,’ in the form of a pun or play on words in the initial two, three or four clues. The title of the puzzle would furthermore hold a clue to the keywords / theme.

Once a grid is filled with words (the solution), the most fun for the compiler is to be had in compiling the clues. Some of my all time favourites (answers to follow):

1. MIX (5,8)
2. GSGE (9,4)
3. (4,3,3,1,4)
4. Powered flight (9)

I still do the odd commissioned or themed puzzle for freelance clients, but fewer of my own. Nevertheless, it’s still fun to play with words when I’m out: I see a word and encrypt it, such is the way of my mind. For example (and any solver of cryptic crosswords will know the conventions, so the compiling rationale doesn’t require explanation):

Original thoughts

5. Five in Christmas story (5)
6. Thoughts confused in aside (5)
7. Authors, pens and pencils (7)
8. Own hospital at end of short road (4)

(There’s at least one anagram in there).

One of the main characters in my latest book (which contains at least two Easter Eggs) has a palindromic name: Hannah. Other, longer palindromes are available, but probably not anyone’s names:

A man, a plan, a canal: Panama! (probably the most well known).
Mr. Owl ate my metal worm.
A santa lived as a devil at NASA
Dammit, I’m mad.
Was it a rat I saw?
Do geese see God?
Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas.

(That last one is a personal favourite).

A few literary devices aside, I don’t seek to confuse with my fiction writing. I’m not an elitist who uses obscure words for the sake of it, when a more accessible one will do. There are rare occasions though, where a word’s meaning is so specific that there’s no better alternative. In those instances, I’ll explain the word within the context of the story. I’ve yet to use them yet, but these have been a few favourites I’ve discovered recently:

Morosoph: A learned fool. Type of: fool, muggins, sap, saphead, tomfool. A person who lacks good judgement (e.g. Boris Johnson).

Epeolatry: An over-fondness for words.

Lalochezia: Relief derived from swearing.

These are some of the things I do, besides actually writing. I read, I learn, and I write, especially when I’m clearing my mind between books. And today I’m starting to plot the next one: The journey of two quiet and otherwise unknown people, who made a real difference to a lot of others.

Cyrus Song is available now.

Solutions:

1. Roman numerals
2. Scrambled eggs
3. Have not got a clue
4. Escalator

5. Novel
6. Ideas
7. Writers
8. Have