Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Blind Side of the Heart - a review of the novel.

The Blind Side of the HeartThe Blind Side of the Heart by Julia Franck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a bleak but powerful drama drawn at the personal rather than national level, the events of the interwar period in Berlin sliding past uncommented upon. We live the consequences of them in this novel instead.
Franck's prose is intimate and energetic with a rhythm that accounts for life in its finely textured moments. The main character Helene is the victim of parents who are unable to deal with one catastrophe and the narrative is of her attempts to cope with that and survive another.
If there is something engagingly historical in this story it is the timely reminder that intergenerational human dislocation is inevitable when world politics fails to rein in the bullies.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Yeah but...Who are You?

Over more than six years of blogging I've often felt exposed and sometimes vulnerable as I try to say something of value that is positive or thoughtful in the full knowledge that there are so many better voices than mine to be heard on all the topics that I cover.

After all this time it matters less whether I post regularly because an increasing number of 'hits' are of archived posts on specific topics- and it is a source of amusement and pleasure to see what it is that people are still reading, and noticing from which continent the latest wave originates. So as I write this, there has been a fairly steady 5000 hits per month- although it can go as low as 2500 when I struggle to post something fresh.

If there is a trend that I find frustrating it is that fewer new voices are choosing to comment on the posts and I put this down to the tendency of net surfers to skip about until something of use or of interest pops up, without any real engagement or sustained investment in the message or the messenger. If I was a commercial type this wouldn't concern me, if the product was still moving and interest was maintained.

But I'm not that type and that isn't a valid representation of my motivation for writing. If I'm honest here, I really don't know why I do this beyond the fact that the blog becomes a sort of journal of the things that excite me. Or more particularly, the things that I feel able to share that excite me- there are a lot of personal, family and local and political/environmental things that I stay shtum about. It began because a small number of us spoke to each other online in our posts and these were almost incidentally shared to a wider audience because sharing information freely was a liberating and excitingly new thing to do.

I try (and it is a struggle sometimes) to keep away from politics and  events that divide us. I try to concentrate on the acquisition of a creative life of some sort, and I imagine the reader as someone looking for a project, or stuck in a rut who might be interested in another viewpoint on making this or reading that. I love the idea that ordinary people can make and create extraordinary things, and in doing so they become more wonderful as people. I like the idea that things can always be better if we are more thoughtful in our approach to them.

Almost every two or three months I make the decision that I'm talking to myself  here and should stop posting online. I know nothing about the reader  (who is metaphorically outside my house in the dark looking through my window at my private thoughts-) and that thought makes me feel like a shameful exhibitionist. How do I square that with the fact that I've always been a rather private person- one who would probably be happier doing things than talking to people?

Who ARE you? Does it matter who you are? It matters who I am. Well, it does to me anyway.

My Flickr photo sharing pages are much more straight-forward. They are sets of pics on how to build two particular boats and currently there have been 1.4 million hits on them, and I've tried to be helpful to dozens of builders who have emailed me. That is a simple transaction of sharing. Blogging though is a weird sort of contract where the reader gets to be interested or not without the writer having any clue about the relative usefulness of the postings beyond the fact that people seem to keep looking. But I guess that is true of my books too, thinking about it. I just get figures from the publishers every month telling me that some number of copies were sold, with no idea if they are enjoyed or valued or not. That never seems to worry me...

Oh, and that pic at the top of the page? That's my mum in the 1930's with her two brothers in a boat. I was born of one of them and named after the other two, and if in my sixties I'm still searching for something in myself, it is to find the bits of those boys that are in me since they lost their lives so young.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Not Eric. Not George.

A while ago I was fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of some solid wisdom from one of my children. I had been struggling with some guitar phrases used by the great E Clapton  and I expressed some frustration to my son that I couldn't play these particular licks in the way I wanted, and he looked me in the eye for a second, and with a slight grin  said -'Let me get this right, you started to play guitar at age 59 and you're upset that you can't play like Eric Clapton?'

I don't often try to share what I'm learning, but every so often I'll record a certain piece to be a sort of marker of my little journey, and how good it sounds will be determined by a filter I have in my brain that judges how much time and effort the piece is worth, given how much there is still to learn.

The music piece behind the slide show above is a case in point. I know I could make it sound so much better if I spent another week just polishing it further, but at some point I just 'called it', because the benefit does not justify the time.

This piece was my first played with a slide and I found intonation very challenging, ending quick trips up and down the neck at the right pitch, and  trying to give them pleasant vibrato; all of this took a lot of repetition and refinement. Plenty still to do. The solo is played over a backing track by Brian Sherrill which I re-mixed a bit and sped up 10%.

It is played in standard tuning on a regular guitar and was an attempt to capture something of the feeling that George Harrison expressed very sweetly in his later years. I mention that because trying to do these things is so beautiful in the way that it lets me inside the music, and falling short of the target is OK in that context.

So learning to play has really been an enormous lesson in learning to listen.