Friday 8 December 2023

Fancy a touch of zorbing or wadi bashing?

Time to renew my travel insurance, so online I go to check out a few quotes.

In the past this was pretty simple - around 70 smackers for a worldwide year of insured travel, but well into my 60s, I have several of what insurance types call ‘pre-existing conditions.’

I could of course pretend I don’t, but insurance companies just love not paying out, and I’m buggered if I’m going to give them a chance to nullify a claim.

Say I lost my suitcase and everything therein, but they somehow found out about my dodgy knee.

You could spend several hundred years trying to ascertain what links these two issues, apart from my good self, but link them they will, and then take great pleasure in telling me my policy is invalid.

“But but but my belongings are not lost because I have a torn meniscus!” I cry in outrage.

“Makes no difference, puny human. Be gone before we sue your sorry arse for lying to an insurance company, and oh yes, remember, your call is very important to us."

The initial quote looked very reasonable, but once I’ve told them I had half a lung cut out, and yes, this does affect my breathing, and yes, there’s a couple of other chronic conditions attached to my lungs as well, their premium calculator spins into hyperdrive.

All of a sudden I’m looking at having to fork out several hundred spondoolicks.

As the amount due inflates, so the health issues covered start to shrink. Now they’re saying that they won’t cover me for anything to do with breathing, which includes blood issues, heart issues and, well, y’know, life in general.

Breathing’s pretty high up the old Being Alive Pyramid.

While I wonder why the price is going up at the same time as they’re refusing to pay out for just about everything that might go wrong with a human body, I advance to a page on their website that - s’cuse me - takes my breath away.

We’ve established I’m somewhat limited breathwise, so why on earth are they now asking me if intend to enjoy an insane list of sporting activities on my travels?

Of course it’s reasonable to ask about scuba diving and skiing. Even, at a stretch, not beyond the bounds of possibility I might at some juncture get up on a horse, a camel or even a nellyphant.

But they want to know if I’m planning to attempt any of the following:

Assault course.

Breathing observation bubble diving, maximum depth 30 metres, under 14 days.                                                                                  
(What even is that??)



(Parapenting? Answers on a postcard please!)

Ostrich riding.
(Really? I mean really? Have they seen me? Well, no, obviously not, but I have never met anyone who has wanted to ride an ostrich, or even talked of or mentioned in passing a penchant for ostrich riding.) 

Manual labour at ground level, no machinery or power tools.           
(On holiday? Why why why?)

Canyon Swinging.
(Errrm, wot? Does that mean Tarzanning across the canyon, or having sex with the neighbours near a canyon?)

Dragon boating.
(See above re: Errrm wot?)

Gorge swinging.
(More outdoor nookie?)

Hydro speeding.
(Perchance taking amphetamines while underwater?)

Mud buggying.
(Yet again, no idea)

Tree top walking
(Or any other supernatural or Jesus-like activities…?)

Wadi bashing.
(Beating up a dried-up river bed? Why? Is that really a thing? That river bed has done nothing to me. I mean no harm to dried-up river beds. I’m a lover not a basher.)

And finally…

(Is that the opposite of absorbing?)

I could look up each sport or activity or whatever the hell Cat Skiing is, just to make sure I won’t be doing it by accident on my travels, but hey, you know, life’s too short, especially with all my pre-existing conditions.

Clearly there are people out there who like nothing better on holiday than a few hours manual labour after a good morning’s ostrich riding.

If you ever meet one whilst enjoying a bit of Zorbing, please let me know.

©Charlie Adley

Wednesday 6 December 2023

Two questions every writer should ask!

Having respectively won and been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, I’m certain that Pauls Lynch and Murray will not lose sleep over my criticism.

I’m aware that neither author will pay the slightest heed to my opinion, but that’s never going to stop me saying how I feel.

As a vocational writer who’s made a living for three decades from his scribbling, I have the right to say what I think.

Truth is we all do. That’s what’s so great about the Arts. All opinions are important.

I finished reading Prophet Song a week before it won the Booker Prize. Although it offers more than a pure thriller, its greatest quality is that it is thrilling.

Lynch builds a terrifyingly credible justifiably paranoid 21st century Dublin, and although the political undertones are fascinating, the story sticks to the war narrative like hot tyres on molten asphalt.

Personally I would’ve liked more backstory of how this rightwing autocracy gained power, but that would be a different book.

I did however reach that wonderful point in a reader’s relationship with their book, when I looked forward to going to bed so that I could rejoin the story.

As the book that Lynch wanted to write, it was almost perfect, except for the writer’s refusal to hit return on the keyboard, so that we might know who is talking to whom at all times.

Ever since Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the absence of quotation marks and character identifiers (he whispered, she said) has become de rigueur dwaaahhlinng for the Literati.

So eager are some authors to write in a fashionable style, they forget to ask themselves the two questions every writer must ask, when considering a narrative device of any kind:

Does it work?


Is it necessary?

Students on my Craft of Writing Course inevitably ask

“Charlie, can I do ‘this’?”


“Is ‘that’ allowed?”

to which I always reply

“You can do anything you want, as long as it works.”

The decision about whether the device is necessary comes only after it has been proven to work. When I read McCarthy’s The Road I never had any doubts who was saying what to whom.

Not only did his decision to omit punctuation work, it actually enhanced the reading of what was, essentially a double-header between father and son.

We knew who they were and had no need for identifiers or quotation marks.

It worked, and it was necessary.

When Paul Lynch decided to do away with paragraphs, quotation marks and identifiers, he did his book no favours.

As a reader, I want to be utterly engaged at all times. I want to feel sucked whole into this world on the pages in front of me, enveloped by the author's thoughts, dreams, rhythms and feelings.

I don’t want to be aware I’m on the bus or in bed, reading. I want to be there, in the book, seduced by beautiful simple stunning prose.

What I do not want is to have to read a sentence twice to understand its context, or to revisit a paragraph, so that I can work out who’s talking, when their speech ends and at which point it’s replaced by a narrative voice. 

Does it work?
Yes, it works. It’s stumbling and inelegant, but it works. 

Is it necessary? Does it enhance the reading of the book?
Absolutely not, in any way.

Welcome to the perilous territory of ‘Art with a Capital F’ wherein the writer considers how the book is written to be more important than how it is read.

Whilst busy criticising other scribblers, I’ll now take the risk of disappearing up my own hole, by quoting from the introduction to my Craft of Writing Course:

'Never write to impress.
Never try to appear clever.'

Prophet Song is an outstanding book. I was gripped, and felt sad when I finished it. Very possibly Mr. Lynch employed his block narrative style to create a sense of claustrophobia in his reader.

He underestimates us, and the power of his own language. The device was not necessary. It just felt he was trying to be clever, to write Literature, and in the process forced me to feel disengaged, thrust out of the book, time and time again.

Had he not tried to be clever, it would have read so much better. Just my opinion, for which I make no excuses. I can’t read it as you.

What a joy it was then, to pick up The Bee Sting and encounter simple, hilarious and knowing prose.

What a relief. 

So accessible was Murray’s narrative that I felt my criticism of Prophet Song (oh but how I loathe this word) validated

From Son to Daughter we stray, and then to the voice of Imelda, the Mother and oh, Lordy Miss Maudy, Murray’s at it too.

Maybe he's using the device to portray how frantic and non-stop Imelda is, so her passages have no quotation marks, although, strangely, they do have identifiers. 

Equally odd, while there are no paragraphs, there is a capital letter at the start of each sentence, even though there’s no full stop/period before it, to announce the end of the previous sentence.

It’s a kind of mish-mash half-arsed version of the style employed in Prophet Song and several other contemporary novels. 

Tragically, yet again, it adds nothing to the book, and serially breaks my engagement with the narrative, as I reread a few lines for clarity.

Yet again a talented writer tries something he believes to be clever, underestimating both his readers and his own skills.

Nevertheless I’m thoroughly enjoying the book, and hoping that when we reach the Father character, we’ll be back to using paragraphs, punctuation and all that standard stuff…

... unless Murray tries something else that works, which proves necessary and keeps me more engaged as a reader than ever before

©Charlie Adley