10 Signs a Book Has Been Written by Me ‘“ a Meme

Gautami has tagged me for this meme. As I haven’™t written a book this is difficult. If I were to write one, thinking optimistically, it would:

1.be historical fiction
2.be romantic
3.have a mystery to be solved
4.be philosophical
6.and mystical
7.focusing on the power of memories
8.and the intricacies of the mind
9.be well researched
10.and be a bestseller.

The only publication to my name (well my maiden name) is a bibliography on the ‘˜Massacre’™ of ‘˜Peterloo in 1819’™ that I compiled and was published by the library where I used to work. So more realistically my book would be:

2.well researched
3.structured and methodical
4.based on facts, not on assumptions
5.detailed, but clear and concise
7.referenced with footnotes, not endnotes.
8.It would have an extensive bibliography
9.and an index.
10.It would be a bestseller ‘“ I wish!

Gautami, you have no idea how long this has taken me, or how much thought has gone into this post. It has been a pipe-dream of mine to write a book. I have bought and borrowed many books on writing and nothing has come from my pen, or more recently my computer, that in any way, shape or form resembles a book! I’™m an expert at reading how to write fiction, but faced with doing any of those exercises they say will help to write a novel I dry up completely. It’™s like putting me in a group of people and being asked to name five interesting things about yourself that nobody could guess from looking at you. Or dividing up into little groups to discuss something and then reporting back to the big group – my mind goes blank immediately.

So at the end of all this I know that the book I would like to write is buried deep within me but will probably stay there, well hidden, too shy to come out. But on the other hand if it starts out on this computer, it may just begin to relax and make itself known ‘¦

I’™m supposed to tag another five people now. Stuckinabook, A Work In Progress, So Many Books, Of Books and Bicycles and In Spring It is the Dawn, I’™d love to see what you would write, so I’™m tagging you. Please let me know how you get on.

W. Somerset Maugham

After I’™d finished writing the previous post I went to the library and found a Book Club Associates’™ volume containing six stories by W. Somerset Maugham, which includes The Moon and Sixpence. This has an interesting Preface written by Maugham in 1933.

Maugham wrote that he had been living in London, working hard but not earning much money. He had written four or five novels, two of which had not been very successful and he was unknown to the general public. In 1904 he set out for Paris, where he was born, and it was there that he became aware of Cézanne, van Gogh and Gauguin. He met men who had known and worked with him and he read the only life of him that existed at that time. It occurred to him that here was the subject of a novel and he kept that in mind for over ten years.

When he went to Tahiti it was with the idea of finding out what he could about Gauguin’™s life and again he came across people who had been more or less connected with him. The Moon and Sixpence was written in 1918 in Surrey whilst he was recovering from the tuberculosis he had contracted earlier in the war.

For the experiences of Charles Strickland in Marseilles he had used a travel book, A Vagabond Journey round the World by Harry Franck and as he had not acknowledged the source in the novel he was condemned by an angry gentleman in an article in a magazine. This did not bother Maugham, who gladly acknowledged his debt to Franck, but pointed out that he thought it is an absurd notion that a writer should pretend to invent everything he writes out of his own head. He considered

‘œThe novelist cannot know everything. A great deal of the information necessary to him must be got from other people or from books. ‘¦ The writers of the past took from one another want they wanted. Many went further and without a sense of shame copied whole passages. This would be reprehensible now that to write books is a commercial proposition, but to make a fuss because one author uses an incident that he has found in another’™s is nonsense. By turning it to good account he makes it his own. Books of facts are legitimate quarry for the imaginative writer.’

He then referred to an article a young man had written in which he had copied almost word for word from a chapter in The Moon and Sixpence. He continued:

‘œIt contained not only all the passages I myself had used from Mr Harry Franck’™s book, but others that I had written from my own observation in the less reputable quarters (now alas, owing to the economic situation deprived of their garish vivacity) of the ancient city of Marseilles. I calmed the editor’™s fears (he saw me bringing an action for infringement of copyright) and begged him to congratulate the writer of the article on his ingenuity.’

Thinking of copyright law (which I confess I don’™t really understand) I wonder if there are there many authors who would have the same attitude today?

The Moon and Sixpence, W. Somerset Maugham

I’d read one short story, Honolulu by W. Somerset Maugham before, which I had enjoyed, but I knew very little about him or his work and when I started to read The Moon and Sixpence I thought I could understand why Maugham is considered an ‘outmoded’ author. I don’t think it has a good beginning; at first it didn’t grab my interest and make me want to read on. The first chapter introduces the main character, Charles Strickland, an artist, giving details of other articles and biographies that had been written about him, philosophising on the nature of art criticism. I nearly abandoned it to look for something else to read. But I’m glad I persevered because by the time I got to the second chapter I had got into the rhythm of Maugham’s style – long and sometimes convoluted sentences in long paragraphs – and found he had a sense of humour. This passage amused me:

‘I forget who it was that recommended men for their soul’s good to do each day two things they disliked: it was a wise man, and it is a precept that I have followed scrupulously; for every day I have got up and I have gone to bed. But there is in my nature a strain of asceticism, and I have subjected my flesh each week to a severe mortification. I have never failed to read the Literary Supplement of The Times. It is a salutary discipline to consider the vast number of books that are written, the fair hopes with which their authors see them published, and the fate that awaits them. What chance is there that any book will make its way among that multitude? The moral I draw is that the writer should seek his reward in the pleasure of his work and in release from the burden of his thoughts; and indifferent to aught else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure or success.’

Whilst this doesn’t progress the story at all, I began to warm to Somerset Maugham. Eventually he gets onto his subject – Charles Strickland, who was a stockbroker, a boring, commonplace man who was large and clumsy looking, ‘just a good, dull, honest, plain man’. This boring man then left his wife and family after seventeen years of marriage and fled to Paris, because he wanted to paint. His wife and friends would have found it more acceptable if he had left her for another woman.

I couldn’t think from the story why it was called The Moon and Sixpence but apparently the reason is that he took the title for it from an excerpt of a review of the earlier novel in the TLS in which the earlier novel’s main character is described as “so busy yearning for the moon that he never saw the sixpence at his feet.” Strickland yearns and lives to paint so much that I don’t think he sees anything around him at all. He’s a character who lives purely for himself and, obsessed with the desire to paint, just couldn’t care less about anyone or anything else.

After some years of living in Paris painting, living on bread and milk, in poverty and nearly dying he eventually moves to Marseille and then on to Tahiti. In Tahiti his painting flourishes. In contrast to his life in Europe Strickland is accepted for what he is, ‘a queer fish’. In Tahiti they took him for granted: ‘In England and France he was the square peg in the round hole, but here the holes were any sort of shape, and no sort of peg was quite amiss.’

After the First World War Maugham had travelled to the South Seas. His description of Tahiti paints a beautiful picture of the island:

‘Tahiti is a lofty green island, with deep folds of a darker green, in which you divine silent valleys; there is mystery in their sombre depths, down which murmur and plash cool streams, and you feel in those umbrageous places life from immemorial times has been led according to immemorial ways.’ 

This book is roughly based on the life of Gauguin, which led me to look at Gauguin By Himself, a massive book that contains copies of his paintings, drawings, ceramic, sculpture and prints together with his written words. This is a beautiful book which I had almost forgotten was sitting on the bottom of the bookshelves, largely unread.

The photograph is of his painting The Thatched Hut Under Palm Trees (1896-7) and as Maugham had visited the place where Gauguin lived I suppose that his description of Strickland’s hut was based on this hut. In the novel Strickland paints the inside walls of his hut with beautiful and mysterious paintings, giving the impression of being in a ‘great primeval forest and of naked people walking beneath the trees.’ Looking at Gauguin’s paintings one has the same impression.

I wondered how the book had been reviewed in 1919 and found this article in The Guardian 2 May 1919, which concludes:

‘Technically the whole thing has great interest. But as an illumination of the nature of bizarre and uncompromising genius, ready to sacrifice every person and every association that stands in the way of its fulfilment, “The Moon and Sixpence” fails through its literary accomplishment and its lack of true creative inspiration.’

I disagree. After its unpromising start I think the book succeeds. Maugham has conveyed to me the passion to create beauty behind Strickland’s (Gauguin’s) life. It has revived my interest in Gauguin’ work and makes me want to read more of Maugham’s novels and short stories. In my opinion he is not an outmoded author.


Booking Through Thursday … But, enough about books’¦

Okay, even I can’™t read ALL the time, so I’™m guessing that you folks might voluntarily shut the covers from time to time as well’¦ What else do you do with your leisure to pass the time? Walk the dog? Knit? Run marathons? Construct grandfather clocks? Collect eggshells?

Although I do love reading and always like to have one book or more on the go, I do like doing other things too. I’m later than usual writing Booking Through Thursday as Thursday morning I go to the course (it’s only for 6 weeks) on Dante’s Florence, so you can guess from that that I like art history, Florence, Italy and history. I like to visit anywhere with historical connections, castles, stately homes, churches, museums, etc etc and take photos. I’d like to learn more about photography and improve my photos.

I’ve written before that I do cross-stitching, but recently I haven’t done much – too much reading and writing. I suppose writing does take up more of my time now than it used to, so perhaps I should say writing. Then there is family history – that has been very time consuming recently. I like going to the theatre and cinema too.

I have several Keep Fit type DVDs but the last one I bought has proved to be really hard. It’s Strictly Come Dancersize. I love the show and was so impressed with the fitness of all the dancers and celebrities that I bought the DVD. It is so hard. First of all you have to be able to dance a bit before you can start to follow the routines. Karen and Erin go through the moves and I think I’ve got it until the music starts and some of it is fast! They go through the Salsa, Jive, Quick Step Samba and the Cha Cha. I thought I knew how to jive at least, but no I couldn’t do it – the quick step and the salsa aren’t too bad. I shall persevere.

Also to keep fit we do a bit of walking, although we’re really only fair weather walkers. Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day, although a little cold, so we did get out and walked to the lake shown in the blog header. There were swans, ducks and Canada Geese on the lake and as we walked up a heron flew up onto its nest at the top of one of the tall trees at the side of the lake.

Being with the family is one of the best ways to spend leisure time. We have three grandchildren and we love doing things with them, or just being with them. So for example, we’ve been on farm visits, parties, ten-pin bowling, which I love but am terrible at, watching the ballet. Of course one of the most enjoyable things to do is going out for a meal, although after watching Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares progammes I’m not so sure I should!

Book Meme – Page 123

Sam at The Life and Times of Me! has tagged me for this meme. The rules are:

  1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages)
  2. Open the book to page 123
  3. Find the fifth sentence
  4. Post the next three sentences
  5. Tag five people

The nearest book was The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham, which I’™d just finished reading.

This passage on page 123 tells of Stroeve’™s reaction to his wife’s death:

‘œHe was absolutely exhausted. His volubility had left him at last, and he sank down wearily on my sofa. I felt that no words of condolence availed, and I let him lie there quietly.’

The Moon and Sixpence was inspired by the life of Paul Gauguin. This quote from the back cover sums it up:

‘œThe Moon and Sixpence is at once a satiric caricature of Edwardian mores and a vivid portrayal of the mentality of genius.’

More about this book will follow in another post.

I do find it difficult to tag other people and I know that a variation of this meme has done the rounds a few months ago. So if you’re reading this and want to do the meme please consider yourself tagged. If you do please let me know.

From The Stacks Challenge

The Overdue Books Challenge came to an end on 31 January 2008. The idea was to read 5 books from those you had already purchased, had been meaning to get to and haven’t read before. There was to be no going out and buying new books and no getting sidetracked by the lure of the holiday bookstore displays.

The books I chose were:

Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie
Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bowers
The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson
Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom
The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers

On the first count I didn’™t do too well because I only read two of these books, namely The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson, which I wrote about on 13 December 2007 and Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom, which I wrote about on 30 January 2008.

Although I started off quite well it wasn’™t long before I began to buy more books so I failed dismally on the second count. Still, I’™m pleased that I did read at least two books from my To Be Read List, so I’™m counting it as a mini success and I will read the other books this year.