Alliteration and her sisters 

Round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran. (rock not included)

Round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.

We all know that one, don’t we? Though I usually get rugged and ragged back to front. I have to remind myself that whilst a rascal can be rugged or ragged, a rock can pretty much only be rugged.

As we learned in junior school, alliteration is putting together words with the same initial letter. In the case of the above phrase, R, the pirate’s favourite letter.  This repetition is the foundation of our childhood tongue-twisters. English is not the only language to have these:

French ones:

Les chaussettes de l’archiduchesse, sont-elles sèches? Archi-sèches. (translation: The archduchesses socks: are they dry? Very dry.)

Ces cerises sont si sûres qu’on ne sait pas si c’en sont. (translation: These cherries are so sour, we’re not sure if they are (cherries).)

German ones: 

Schnecken erschrecken, wenn sie an Schnecken schlecken, weil zum Schrecken vieler Schnecken Schnecken nicht schmecken. (translation: Snails are shocked when they lick snails because to the surprise of many snails, snails don’t taste good).

Der Grabengräber gräbt die Gräben. Der Grubengräber gräbt die Gruben. Graben Grabengräber Gruben? Graben Grubengräber Gräben? Nein! Grabengräber graben Gräben. Grubengräber graben Gruben.  (translation:  The gravedigger digs graves. The ditchdigger digs ditches. Do ditchdiggers dig graves? Do gravediggers dig ditches? No!
Gravediggers dig graves. Ditchdiggers dig ditches.)

So now you know! Feel free to use these at virtual-parties, to amaze and impress your friends.

Amuse your cat with a large repertoire of tongue-twisters in various languages…

Alliteration can be a useful literary device when writing, and like most literary devices, it is used to make the reader feel, view or interpret your writing in a particular way by creating a mood or appearance. But use it sparingly. The problem with any literary device, is that all too easily it can draw attention away from what you’re writing and turn the focus to how you’re writing. This will distract your reader from your story in the same way you can sometimes fail to see the puppet-show because you’re focusing on the strings.  Having spent all that time gently leading the reader to suspend disbelief, you don’t want to ruin things by breaking the spell now.

Here are a few more literary devices:

Sibilance is the repeated use of an S sound, or a hissing sound. You put together words with lots of S, SH and soft C sounds: Sid’s silly scented snake slithered smoothly across the shiny façade. Unlike with Alliteration, the repeated sounds don’t have to be confined to the beginning of the word.

Assonance is the repeated use of vowel sounds: cut jug, heed beat,   or the same or similar consonants with different vowels: jiggle juggle, dilly-dally.

Consonance is the repetition of matching consonant sounds: ruthless cutthroats, repeated reports. It can quickly descend into Alliteration if only the initial letter(s) are repeated!

”A soldier’s life is terrible hard,’ said Alice.’

These are used to create a certain mood, or an attitude, or making the reader see a character or setting in a particular way. These can also imbue your writing with a poetic or lyrical quality. You might want your readers mesmerised by a particular scene if you are going to follow it with something spectacular: the calm before the storm effect.  Think of movies where there is a soft love scene before the hero goes into battle.

In fact most poetry contains one or more of these devices. Think of Wordworth’s poem I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud, with all the repeated Ls, the Hs, the Ds, the long vowels of wandered, lonely and cloud.  Or  Buckingham Palace by A A Milne, with its repeated lines and rhyming words. 

Or in this, one of my favourite short poems, there is a clever mixture of all these devices – see if you can spot them!

Song by Christina Rosetti 

When I am dead, my dearest

Sing no sad songs for me;

Plant thou no roses at my head,

Nor shady cypress tree:

Be the green grass above me

With showers and dewdrops wet;

And if thou wilt, remember,

And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,

I shall not feel the rain;

I shall not hear the nightingale

Sing on, as if in pain:

And dreaming through the twilight

That doth not rise nor set,

Haply I may remember,

And haply may forget.

These literary devices can have a unifying effect, making all parts fit together with a repetition of shared letters and sounds, or by ensuring the reader remembers certain sounds or words. But like all good things, in prose it needs to be used in moderation.  Don’t make your writing just a collection of tongue-twisters!

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Hiding behind words

This week I have been thinking about words and images and meanings. Sometimes we can’t quite find one single word that expresses the multitude of meaning, or the shades of meaning our imagination conjures up for us. I like to define things: people, words, stories, because I’m not very good at reading between the lines, to use a cliche, and I sometimes don’t understand what a person means if they are not really explicit. I am good at recognising images of shades of grey, not so much with spoken ones.

Someone (Emma Baird!) said that she thinks I am a visual person. And I think she’s right. If I can’t picture it, I can’t write it. But I am always compelled to try to picture ‘it’ – be it a story idea or a cover design or a garden feature, a home makeover.

So when I came up with the absolute vaguest idea for a title and story for book 10 of my Dottie Manderson mysteries, (let’s just remind ourselves, I’ve only recently started writing book 5, so I’m talking a possible publication between 2020 and 2022… I like to look ahead.) I wasn’t able to relax about it because I couldn’t picture a book cover, or a title, and this bothered me.

I was mulling over cold heart, the coldest heart, your cold, my cold, everybody’s cold, colder or coldest heart. It was a nebulous idea that stuck in my head but refused to blossom. A browse through Pixabay’s images usually sets me off in the right direction, but not this time. I was offered images of hearts, literal and metaphoric, and ice cubes. This was not helping.

A thesaurus is often a big help too, so I had a quick look and found suggestions of dead, unfeeling, (yes these were kind of what I was getting at), blue, uncooked (!?) and impassive (again, yes, kind of…). It just wasn’t the kind of thing you could find an image for on the image sites. A dead blackbird, a brick wall, a funeral. Just not quite what I wanted.

Words have so many possibilities, don’t they? Even though a dictionary may define a word, we often use words in a very personal sense, with our own definition overlaying the ‘official’ one. Let’s not forget, no dictionary was beamed down from Planet X with a set-in-stone array of words and their meanings. The meaning of every word in use today – and those we will use tomorrow – has been developed, changed and somehow agreed upon over thousands of years of speech, social interaction, education and writing. It’s really quite amazing when you think about it.

So I was overwhelmed by the possibility of choice and variation of shadow. I set it aside. Uneasily, as it irks me to leave something unsettled.

Then on Saturday I was reading Dead before Death, a sonnet by Christina Rossetti. I love that gal’s poems. And what was the opening line? I’m glad you asked. It was:

Ah! changed and cold, how changed and very cold

With stiffened smiling lips and cold calm eyes

And so, like a tiny bolt of lightning, inspiration dropped on me. The story, and its title, fell into my mind. So, book 10 is to be: Changed and Cold: a Dottie Manderson mystery. Phew. I’m still no nearer to a cover image, (suggestions on a post-card, please) but at least I’ve got something concrete to work on. Now all I need to do is write the next 5 books…

***

It’s a Book Thing.

Reading, we are told, has a host of benefits; it helps us improve our word-power, it boosts memory, makes us more compassionate and caring, makes us more interesting, and it provides a means of escape from stress, anxiety and loneliness. So we ought to read, don’t you think?

Writers, too, are told to read. The received wisdom from most writing tutors and mentors, is as Stephen King says, ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write’. We can learn so much about the ‘how-to’ of writing, simply by reading other peoples’ work. You can learn the grammatical rules, and how to break them. You can learn how to plot, how to create believable characters, you can learn how to create suspense or how to write dialogue. The nuts and bolts of creativity and writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, literary or genre, for adult or children, it’s all there to be absorbed, in the pages of other peoples’ books.

But as we all know, life gets in the way. Apparently binge-watching TV shows is at the moment, the biggest ‘threat’ to reading. I say that in quotes because there’s always some new threat, and nothing ever seems to keep people away from books for good – thankfully.

I’m as guilty as anyone for binge-watching TV shows. I’ve gone from being someone who seldom watches TV to one of those people who says, ‘It’s still early, let’s watch the next one…’ So yes, it’s eaten into my reading time. I can say without shame I have binge-watched the usual: The Making of a Murderer; How To Get Away With Murder; Imposters; The Staircase; Unforgotten; Homicide Hunter; Snapped: Women Who Kill; as well as all the usual British mystery dramas: Vera, Shetland, Hinterland, Midsomer Murders, The Loch, Endeavour, Morse, Lewis, Poirot, Marple, The Coroner (fluffy but likeable, and underrated), Death in Paradise…

I’ve made a concerted effort this year though, to read more than I did in 2018. And yes, it is good to pick up a book and dive in, escaping from the world around me into a fictional place that I have never seen with my eyes, but which I feel instinctively I know in my head.

As a child, I used to think all my favourite characters and heroes knew each other. That they all existed in a collective fictional world, just the other side of my perception. I imagined Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington meeting up for honey or marmalade. I thought that the Famous Five and the Secret Seven got together for the odd ‘case’, forming the Tremendous Twelve. These days we’d call that a mash-up, I think. Fifty years ago, it was just my daft idea. Maybe there’s some fan-fiction out there somewhere in which these things actually take place. (If you write this kind of stuff, message me!!!)

Well you probably know that I love murder mysteries, but in fact I’m really a romantic suspense secret adherent. (We meet up, cult style, by candlelight wearing sheets and murmur the password, ‘You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.’ In a phone box – it’s a small group.) There’s a strong romantic streak in my work, and if I read a murder mystery ‘without shenanigans’, I’m bitterly disappointed!

What I’ve read so far this year:

By Patricia Wentworth:

Grey Mask: the first Miss Silver book, published in 1928, and the Miss Silver character undergoes quite a bit of refining in later books. But I do love this one! A recent reprint.

Danger Point: Another Miss Silver, but published later, in 1942 in the full power of Wentworth’s writing. This is one of her best, in my opinion, although others point to the weak heroine, and it’s true, she is a bit of a wimp, but I love this book. After a long time out of print, it has recently been reissued.

The Alington Inheritance: Miss Silver again, one of the later books, published in 1956, and irresistibly romantic, with a young heroine, lost treasure, and a truly evil murderer that you instinctively hate from the outset.

The Coldstone: older, non-series, not her best work, but ok, particularly good if you want to get a feel for idioms and customs etc of the 1920s.

By Peter Robinson:

Sleeping in the Ground: I’m ashamed to say I got bored with this about a third of the way in and couldn’t be bothered with it. Yet I’ve got most of Robinson’s books, having started collecting them in the later 1990s when we lived in Australia. I used to go into Brisbane city centre to a shop called Pulp Fiction, which sold only genre fiction and true crime. I loved that shop! And that’s where I first met Peter Robinson’s books, and those of Barry Maitland, Marele Day and John Baker.

By Elly Griffiths:

The House at Sea’s End: I bought this book because I loved the title. This is a great book for lovers of murder mystery overlaid with a historical context. The main character is a forensic archaeologist. And there are a few shenanigans between the main character and the second main character (spoiler alert!) Actually this is the third book of the series, so I really should get the first two next, and do my homework!

By Julia Chapman:

Date with Mystery: I love the continuing characters in this series, they are revealed with such affection and depth. I am a bit frustrated by how slowly the two main characters are getting together – if they don’t get together soon, I shall be really fed up! The mysteries are quite good, but the characters are better. This is book 3 of the series, book 4 is out in June. I shall definitely get that. I have done my homework here and read the first two!

And by way of a change: By Rupi Kaur;

The Sun and her Flowers: a book of amazingly touching and vivid poetry – you have to read this if you love language, or the intricacies and nuances of family life. Or life, generally. Absolutely beautiful. I bought it for the cover and the title, and loved it. The poetry is mainly short and very accessible, reflections on what it means to be a wife, a daughter, a mother. Beautiful, wise, and a bit intimate.

Next to read:

Cara Hunter: In the Dark.

M J Rose: The Book of Lost Fragrances.

Peter May: I’ll Keep You Safe.

Chris Brookmyre: Black Widow.

 

What are you reading?

***

Creative, imaginative Winter

For me, it is not Spring, but Autumn and Winter that form my season of creativity. I have no idea why this is. It seems as though the rest of the world is full of new life in the Spring. Is it because I’m an October baby, my life naturally cycles from Autumn onwards? Or because when we lived in Brisbane, October was in the Spring? But how can five years there undo the habits of the other fifty-two years I’ve lived in the Northern Hemisphere? So I don’t know why, but this is not the season for rest and consolidation, but of flights of imagination taking wings.

New ideas are taking shape, even before the old ideas have been put to bed. I’m thinking about what I want to say in a new story. And I’m clueless about a title, although I have a couple of alternatives to ponder. I’m drawn to old stuff, I’m drawn to the past. I’m thinking of all the Summer of Love protest songs, but no, they are all too recent, I want to go further back.

I’m thinking about rural things, villages, fields, water, trees. I’m thinking of sorrow and haunting, of deeds never talked of, of the guilty secrets of the past. I’m thinking of shame and sacrifice, I’m humming old pastoral songs and rhymes, of Scarborough Fair, of the occasional duplicitous nature of the minstrel, wandering, legitimately able to plant one foot in each camp, never on any side but his own.

I’m thinking of myths and legends, hills cloaked in mist, an unseen bird calling in the gloom, of the soft insinuating sound of the wind. I’m thinking about the returning home of the prodigal, about how we carry the past with us, inside, even when we are looking forward and moving on. I’m thinking too of that moment when you come home and you know someone else has been there. Someone who shouldn’t have been there. Your house feels guilty, complicit, hushed as if someone had been speaking and just this moment stopped when the door opened.

I’m thinking of The Waste Land by T S Eliot. I remember snatches of it: ‘Speak to me./Why do you never speak?’ And ‘What is that noise?/The wind under the door.’ Or, ‘I remember/Those are pearls that were his eyes.’

I am thinking, staring at the falling leaves, driven across the grass by a pushing wind, and I am thinking of long ago, of people who may not have existed, but who may come into being in my imagination. I am thinking of a man at a window staring out, his mind working on things he cannot put into words. I’m thinking of a woman, always waiting, wringing her hands in front of the window, her own shadow on the lamplit stones of the yard.

I’m thinking of a boy coming over the hill. Of grass, green, long, dewy. Of the sun, soft, golden, gentle as a mother’s hand, just touching his hair, his shoulder. How long has he been away? How much has changed? Will anything ever change?

‘Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,/And all the air a solemn stillness holds.’ Thomas Gray’s Elegy. Like our current season, in my story it always seems to be unchanging, endless night.

 

***

Fantastic Haiku and Where To Find Them

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I love haiku. I write quite a lot of them, most of them are pants, but sometimes I manage to create a good one.

But what is a haiku, I hear you cry! Well it’s a poem. A teeny poem. (We can all manage a teeny poem, right?)

It has three lines. It has a total of seventeen syllables. Traditionally, and according to style conventions, you have five syllables on line one, seven on line two, then five on line three. Sounds easy, huh? Actually once you’ve had a stab at a few, it does become quite easy to think in 5-7-5.

The haiku is a Japanese art form. I think those guys always seem to like to create things that are small but beautiful (netsuke, bonsai and now haiku!) In Japanese, they tend to confine the poems to one line of three phrases, but in English we like our three lines.

Subject matter in traditional haiku deals with nature and the natural world and includes a contrast with something a bit more prosaic or as a foil or an opposite to the main idea. Such as Basho’s haiku:

Moon-daubed bush clover

Ssh in the next room

Snoring prostitutes

Yes, I know that’s not 5-7-5. That’s because it’s been translated into English. Basho was the haiku boss of 17th century Japan, and his poems contain sublime images of nature and sometimes quite bawdy, very earthy contrasting images. Here’s another of his:

Has it returned

The snow

We viewed together?

These gorgeous works are often collated into a book with fabulous pictures, and make a great book for browsing and reflection. But modern haiku can deal with other issues, not just the natural world as opposed to the man-made one. You can talk about feelings, or events or social issues. In the mean time, here are a couple of mine.

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Unpacking cardboard boxes,

Old dreams, web-covered

World of rediscovery.

 

 

 

 

To renew those long ago dreams,

I stare, blank eyes wide:

The keyboard is silent.

 

Remember sunshine?

Far off balmy days back when

It was summertime?

 

December, and the

Year grows weary and yawns by

The fireside, snoozing.

Why not have a go yourself? If you’re not confident about your ability or the results of your efforts, you don’t need to show anyone. But if you do want to share, find me on Twitter, @caron_allan or #haikuforfunsies

Books of haiku or about haiku:

On Love and Barley: the Haiku of Basho (Penguin Classics)

The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology (Dover Thrift)

The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa

***

These fragments I have shored against my ruin

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I love that line. It’s line 431 from T S Eliot’s The Waste Land. The first time I read the poem, when I got to this line I burst into tears, because it seemed such a beautiful summation, of the poem, of my life, everything.

Our lives are made up of fragments. We are, in essence, a walking talking collection of every experience we’ve ever had. This includes what we’ve read. Words.

So often I am out and about–yes, I escape now and again–and I hear something, see something, smell something which provokes a memory of something I’ve read. Most often it is snatches of conversation I overhear, being nosey and a crime writer, which as we all know gives me special dispensation to eavesdrop on others. (‘I ain’t been dropping no eaves, sir, honest.’) Words seem to lead to more words.

I hear someone say, ‘the wonderful thing…’ and mentally I’ve added ‘…about Tiggers is Tiggers are wonderful things.’ (I didn’t promise it was anything erudite!) Or someone may say ‘wherever I go…’ and I think to myself ‘there’s always Pooh, there’s always Pooh and me.’

It’s not just A A Milne, though. So often snatches of Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, songs, poems, plays, hymns, prayers, all sorts of words come into my head. I can’t look at spring flowers without thinking ‘A host of golden daffodils’ or ‘April is the cruellest month,’ (The Waste Land again!)

If something annoying happens, I hear Miss Marple whisper, ‘Oh dear, how extremely vexing,’ or I hear someone say something stupid, and Mr Bennett’s frustrated, outraged, ‘Until you come back…I shall not hear two words of sense spoken together’ comes to mind. I share his pain.

When I was studying literature ‘back in the day’, I remember The Waste Land was one of our set texts. Critics deplored it, dismissing it as a pastiche, a patchwork quilt of other peoples’ work, revealing only a good memory for quotations. Students shuddered and declared it was one of the worst experiences of their life. But for some of us, there was a sense of ‘wow, I never knew poetry could be like this!’

When I read his words, ‘These fragments I have shored against my ruins’ (line 431), I said to my tutor, I think he is saying that literature, that words, will save us in times of crisis, bolster us when we are at a low ebb. I was told I was wrong, but in spite of that, I still choose to believe this could be one meaning of these, for me, immortal words. These fragments of remembered stories, of words, I have stored up, internalised, to use as a defence, shored against my ruin, my unhappiness, times of want, misery, sorrow and confusion. Ruin.

For me it is a reminder that many things are transient, passing, temporary, but I will always carry within me the sum of what I have read. Just read Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 and tell me I’m wrong.

Looking ahead – surely it will be Spring soon?

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Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with blooms along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride

Wearing white for Eastertide.

 

Now, of my threescore years and ten,

Twenty will not come again,

And take from seventy springs a score,

It only leaves me fifty more.

 

And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs are little room,

About the woodlands I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow.

 

A E Houseman – A Shropshire Lad

Rossetti’s Song is perfect for hallowe’en!

When I am dead, my dearest

BY CHRISTINA ROSSETTI

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When I am dead, my dearest
         Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
         Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
         With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
         And if thou wilt, forget.
I shall not see the shadows,
         I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
         Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
         That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
         And haply may forget

Quote re Poetry

Philip Larkin once said “I think we got much better poetry when it was all regarded as sinful and subversive, and you had to hide it under a cushion when someone came in.”

Is it easier to read or write poetry in secret?  Is it just that with no one looking over your shoulder or asking if you’ve written the next stanza yet, or pointing out that your poem doesn’t rhyme, it’s easier to be free and expressive?  if so, then following on from my remarks a few days ago, it’s easier for all writers to write ‘in secret’, behind closed doors or in my case, in the middle of the night when everyone else has been in bed for hours.

I have not ventured far into the forest of poetry.  I once stood under the first tree and ‘had a go’.  It was not a good outcome for either me or the world of poetry.  I don’t mind admitting this is not my genre.  but occasionally, very occasionally prose will not cut it, usually when I am in a terrible rage (“she’s in one of her black moods again”) and IN SECRET I write a poem.  The first line of one went like this:

B*gger B*gger Sh@t F?ck.

I was pleased with it – it said what I was feeling, did what I wanted it to do, which was to make me feel better.  Sorry to all the real poets out there.  It’s a bit of a mysterious world, this poetry-writing thing.

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