C.S. Lewis’ Advice on Writing

I’m currently reading C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Children – a collection of the personal letters he wrote in reply to numerous young fans who wrote to him between 1944 and 1963.  It’s an uncut little gem of a book. I’m struck by the trouble Lewis took over his correspondence. It was a daily discipline that took a few hours every morning after her rose at 7.15. The other thing that strikes me (with my copy editor’s hat on) is Lewis fast and loose approach to grammar. Of course, in letters, one is less careful of grammatical niceties, but these words to a young fan are revealing, too:

… Don’t take any notice of teachers and textbooks in such matters. Nor of logic. It is good to say “more than one passenger was hurt,” although more than one equals at least two and therefore logically the verb ought to be plural were not singular was! What really matters is:–

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

Review: 3-2-1 Stop Running and Start Living by Lorilee Lippincott

321 Stop Running and Start Living 321 Stop Running and Start Living by Lorilee Lippincott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are anything like me you have a vague sense of desperation about how cluttered and busy your life is and an equally vague idea that at some point you will go about simplifying it. The problem is knowing where to start. I have found myself wishing that someone would just take me by the hand and lead me through each room in my house in turn and help me to rationalise and minimise. So, Lorilee Lippincott’s book 3-2-1 Stop came along at just the right moment.

In fact, Lori’s approach goes a lot deeper than just de-cluttering the material environment, she takes the reader by the hand through the attitudes and aspirations behind our desire for simplicity, too. This is not simplicity for its own sake but simplicity with purpose that is rooted in our dreams. It is about making emotional as well as physical space in your life.

I think it is Lori’s conversational style and her generous and candid revelations about her own journey that make this book such a pleasant trip. It is exciting, too, because right from the first page you catch her infectious expectation that things can and will change for you. Beginning with some ground rules about attitude, Lori tackles the problem of “stuff” in the first section of the book. She gets down to brass tacks within a few pages. It’s not rocket science, it’s not merely theory, it’s common sense seasoned by experience and practice. Most of her practical recommendations are things I have half-heartedly attempted at some point in the past but I have benefited from having someone saying, “do this” then “do that” – once again, small steps. She even makes you take a step back and think about furniture. She then goes on to look at some of the typically problematic areas for simplification, and this includes personal areas such as money and past regrets.

These words come from someone who has actually walked every step she takes you through and that makes them personable and authentic. This book has become my “manual” for spring cleaning this year (and beyond) and it has renewed my commitment to a minimalism that is liberating and intentional.

Visit the website for 3-2-1 Stop Running and Start Living. 

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Review: Then They Came for Me by Maziar Bahari

Then They Came for Me: A Story of Injustice and Survival in Iran's Most Notorious Prison Then They Came for Me: A Story of Injustice and Survival in Iran’s Most Notorious Prison by Maziar Bahari

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think everyone needs to read this book in order to get a better understanding of what is behind that tiny word, “Iran”, when the newsreader says it.

Maziar Bahari, a Newsweek journalist, was arrested following the Iranian election in 2009. Beatings and solitary confinement ensued as the regime attempted to extract a confession from him that he was a spy.

In spite of the agonising circumstances, he had been expecting to return to the side of his pregnant fiancée in London in a matter of days, Maziar writes with warmth and flashes of humour that betray enormous strength of soul. He comes from a family of dissidents whose love for their nation has forced them to defy three generations of tyranny. His father and his sister and numerous friends were incarcerated and tortured under successive regimes and Maziar uniquely weaves their story into an account of the recent history of Iran since the times of the last Shah.

This is not just a book about his imprisonment and eventual release, it is an insightful and authoritative analysis of the tensions within Iran and a snapshot of a generation that is ready for a change that was quite brutally denied them in the last election.

The author is at pains to bring a journalistic fairness to bear even on his captors and tormentors and the human elements of his relationship with his interrogator are poignantly told with a sense that the man who beats him is, himself, a puppet of the regime. This objectivity gives the author the moral high ground at every turn. The paranoia and ignorance of the authorities is starkly contrasted with his attempts to speak the truth. At one point he is interrogated about his relationship with the dead playwright Anton Checkhov, who they are convinced is another zionist spy.

The Iranians have a beautiful and ancient culture and many of the kindest and most well mannered people I have ever met are from Iran. It is tragic that this is not reflected in all the “bad news” that comes from that part of the globe and it is important that we do not respond with the same blindness that grips the current regime. Please read this book.

“Then They Came for Me” is published by Oneworld.

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Lucky Seven Meme: I got tagged …

manuscript
Photo credit: El Chupacabrito

So I got tagged by Gillian of skybluepinkish …

She’s posted 7 sentences from her current manuscript, “The Dorothy Summer” (check it out), and now it’s my turn:

  • Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 lines, or sentences, as they are – no cheating!
  • Tag 7 other authors to do the same

Most of my stuff is less than seven pages (I put up a fresh short story nearly every week at “Stories from the Borders of Sleep“). However, with minimal preamble, here are the seven sentences beginning from the seventh line from the seventh page of my most advanced work-in-progress, a phantasy novelette entitled, “The Coat and Ring”.

Like a man who has been in the sun all day and who through the night gives off the radiance of what he has absorbed, I felt a strong glow from him. It was impossible to tell his age for his skin was well weathered by the elements rather than age, and he gave off an air of rude health. As he looked at me, I also had the impression that he was about to pounce on me and overpower me in a playful attack, like a young cub intent on tussling one of his brothers into submission.

I introduced myself and asked how he came to be there at Terence’s table on this particular night. I wished to discover if Terence had a continuous traffic of guests to whom the same attentive hospitality was shown or if I had stumbled into some sort of occasional celebration.

Selwyn looked at me with slight amusement under his moustache once again and took a few moments to answer me, as if he was weighing whether to play a joke on me or not.

Delightfully random …

So I’m handing the baton on to a few of my favourite writer bloggers (who may or may not appreciate being tagged), but I recommend you check them out anyway:

Valerie Storey at http://valeriestorey.blogspot.co.uk

James Tallet at http://thefourpartland.com

Rolando Garcia at http://phantomimic.weebly.com

Mandy Eve Barnett at http://mandyevebarnett.wordpress.com

Curtiss Ann Matlock at http://curtissannmatlock.com

Marly Youmans at http://thepalaceat2.blogspot.co.uk

Lisa Wright at http://wrightales.com

Amberr Meadows at http://www.amberrisme.com

Bedside Books: His and Hers

This morning I noticed that my wife and I have a tendency to stack a pile of books next to our beds. I also have a tendency to analyse people by their bookshelves. I have a rude habit of making for people’s bookshelves when I visit them in order to see the sort of thing they are into. There is probably a whole science to this for those that care to develop one. One of the many great things about the 1980s was Lloyd Grossman on ITV’s “Through the Keyhole”, a programme which had Lloyd exploring the houses of famous people, trying to guess “who would live in a house like this?”

So join me as we go “through the keyhole” and take a look at our bedside book-stacks …

His

His

The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter – I got this for Christmas and it’s my next read, a group biography of JR Tolkien, CS Lewis and Charles Williams and writers of their ilk who used to hang out at The Eagle and Child in Oxford.
Bulfinch’s Mythology – For dipping into at bedtime for dream material. I’m working through the Norse section at the moment.
Subterranean by James Rollins – I read about six pages and couldn’t bear the writing style so it’s here to remind me to return it to the owner.
Hindu Scriptures  tr./ed.  Robert Charles Zaehner – I have been meaning to tackle this for a while having read around Hinduism quite a lot, I particularly want to read the Upanishads.
Strength to Love by Martin Luther King – This is wonderful for dipping into, inspiring and crammed with MLK’s powerful rhetoric and memorable turns of phrase.
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny – Classic SF book borrowing heavily from Hindu mythology. Very good. It’s here to remind me to return it to the owner.
Curating Worship by Jonny Baker – Another book waiting to go back to its owner. I think it has been influential. I read it and was a bit “meh”.
Vegan with a Vengance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz – Another one for dipping into, not as much for the recipes (which are great) as for Isa’s punk infused anecdotes.
English Grammar for DummiesGrammar is the main thing that keeps me awake at night so this is here for me to check stuff and get back to sleep.

Hers

Hers

Breakout by Mark Stibbe and Andrew Williams – An account of missional communities based from St. Andrew’s Chorley Wood.
The Seven Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership by Kate Coleman – Recommended to my wife by her spiritual director. Apparently it is very good. I can’t get over the title.
Restoring Your Spiritual Passion by Gordon MacDonald – I have read some of this author and he’s pretty helpful.
The Acts of The Apostles by Jimmy Dunn – My wife is doing a Masters in Theology and Ministry and was taught by Jimmy as an undergraduate.
The Vision and the Vow by Pete Grieg – I think this is a book about “boiler rooms”, centres of prayer in UK cities.
The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan – Presumably an appropriate bedtime read, I don’t know.
Overcoming Fear, Anxiety and Worry by Elyse Fitzpatrick – My wife does a lot of pastoral work and is constantly looking to learn and improve.
One Dog at a Time by Pen Farthing – Rescuing dogs in Afghanistan. I don’t think she has read this one yet but I have my eye on it, too.
Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson – I’m not sure what this is about but Eugene Peterson is one of the few Christian authors I can stomach.
Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom – Classics, I believe, lent by a friend.
World Without End by Ken Follett – Historical fiction. She is working her way through Follett at the moment.

So …

What is by your bed and why, and what does it say about you?

Life, Love and Work

Русский: Сергей Прокудин-Горский. "Лев То...
Tolstoy – one man and his beard

Try as I might, I can’t dampen my enthusiasm for a handful of writers I like to call the “rugged individualists” of the 19th and early 20th Centuries: Henry Thoreau (1817-1862), Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Thomas Paine (1737-1809), Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) and even Jan Smuts (1870-1950). What keeps drawing me back to these figures? I’m not in a position to give a scholarly answer to that. I just find that their philosophy excites me profoundly. None of them were at home in ivory towers and, for them, their ideas were not the intellectual toys that they have become. For good or ill they experimented with life, that is to say they applied their philosophies to the real world and the things they could influence. I admire that and I feel it is difficult to point to equivalent figures in our own time – perhaps that will only be possible for people to do a hundred years from now.

I’m willing to acknowledge that their thought has been so influential on the assumptions that I grew up with that it is not surprising that I should find a sense of spiritual kindred. I would even struggle to name what ties them all together in my mind. They all diverged from the orthodox dogmas of the Church in some respects, they all affirmed some kind of self-reliance based on the divine aspects of human beings and something else about the interconnectedness of all things. They were rugged individualists. I know that our western “individualism” is “bad” but I can’t help feeling these guys had more in mind than the American Dream.

Well, that’s my apology and here’s an excerpt from “Love, Life and Work” by Elbert Hubbard, an influential thinker and practitioner in the Arts and Crafts Movement and a founder of the Roycroft Community. The full text is available from Project Gutenberg and here is an audiofile of me reading this excerpt for the GoingPublic project.

 

 

 Mental Attitude

Success is in the blood. There are men whom fate can never keep down—they march forward in a jaunty manner, and take by divine right the best of everything that the earth affords. But their success is not attained by means of the Samuel Smiles-Connecticut policy. They do not lie in wait, nor scheme, nor fawn, nor seek to adapt their sails to catch the breeze of popular favor. Still, they are ever alert and alive to any good that may come their way, and when it comes they simply appropriate it, and tarrying not, move steadily on.

Good health! Whenever you go out of doors, draw the chin in, carry the crown of the head high, and fill the lungs to the utmost; drink in the sunshine; greet your friends with a smile, and put soul into every hand-clasp.

Do not fear being misunderstood; and never waste a moment thinking about your enemies. Try to fix firmly in your own mind what you would like to do, and then without violence of direction you will move straight to the goal.

Fear is the rock on which we split, and hate the shoal on which many a barque is stranded. When we become fearful, the judgment is as unreliable as the compass of a ship whose hold is full of iron ore; when we hate, we have unshipped the rudder; and if ever we stop to meditate on what the gossips say, we have allowed a hawser to foul the screw.

Keep your mind on the great and splendid thing you would like to do; and then, as the days go gliding by, you will find yourself unconsciously seizing the opportunities that are required for the fulfillment of your desire, just as the coral insect takes from the running tide the elements that it needs. Picture in your mind the able, earnest, useful person you desire to be, and the thought that you hold is hourly transforming you into that particular individual you so admire.

Thought is supreme, and to think is often better than to do.

Preserve a right mental attitude—the attitude of courage, frankness and good cheer.

Darwin and Spencer have told us that this is the method of Creation. Each animal has evolved the parts it needed and desired. The horse is fleet because he wishes to be; the bird flies because it desires to; the duck has a web foot because it wants to swim. All things come through desire and every sincere prayer is answered. We become like that on which our hearts are fixed.

Many people know this, but they do not know it thoroughly enough so that it shapes their lives. We want friends, so we scheme and chase ‘cross lots after strong people, and lie in wait for good folks—or alleged good folks—hoping to be able to attach ourselves to them. The only way to secure friends is to be one. And before you are fit for friendship you must be able to do without it. That is to say, you must have sufficient self-reliance to take care of yourself, and then out of the surplus of your energy you can do for others.

The individual who craves friendship, and yet desires a self-centered spirit more, will never lack for friends.

If you would have friends, cultivate solitude instead of society. Drink in the ozone; bathe in the sunshine; and out in the silent night, under the stars, say to yourself again and yet again, “I am a part of all my eyes behold!” And the feeling then will come to you that you are no mere interloper between earth and heaven; but you are a necessary part of the whole. No harm can come to you that does not come to all, and if you shall go down it can only be amid a wreck of worlds.

Like old Job, that which we fear will surely come upon us. By a wrong mental attitude we have set in motion a train of events that ends in disaster. People who die in middle life from disease, almost without exception, are those who have been preparing for death. The acute tragic condition is simply the result of a chronic state of mind—a culmination of a series of events.

Character is the result of two things, mental attitude, and the way we spend our time. It is what we think and what we do that make us what we are.

By laying hold on the forces of the universe, you are strong with them. And when you realize this, all else is easy, for in your arteries will course red corpuscles, and in your heart the determined resolution is born to do and to be. Carry your chin in and the crown of your head high. We are gods in the chrysalis.