A List of Ones

 

There’s something bizarrely satisfying about assembling a list of titles around a suitably flimsy concept, in this case the number ‘one’ in honour of our anniversary month. Here follows a chronological tenner of novels with the word or number ‘one’ in the title. Surprisingly, the resultant assemblage features a variety of genre and style spanning half a century of literature, featuring many authors and novels frequently listed in reputable ‘best of’ collections. Who’d have thunk it? Enjoy.

 

One Lonely Night (1951)
Mickey Spillane
Genre: Noir
Distinguishing Features: Communists, misty pavements, and a trash-talking private eye.

Some place over there I had left my car and started walking, burying my head in the collar of my raincoat, with the night pulled in around me like a blanket. I walked and I smoked and I flipped the spent butts ahead of me and watched them arch to the pavement and fizzle out with one last wink. If there was life behind the windows of the buildings on either side of me, I didn’t notice it. The street was mine, all mine. They gave it to me gladly and wondered why I wanted it so nice and all alone.

 

Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Ray Bradbury
Genre: Dystopian
Distinguishing Features: Book burning, nostalgic imagery, and thought-inducing prose.

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

fahrenheit-451-large

 

The Once & Future King (1958)
T H White
Genre: Arthurian legend/fantasy
Distinguishing Features: Chivalry, swords, and the triumph of human nature over systemic power.

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn.”

 

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (1960)
Dr Seuss
Genre: Children’s Literature
Distinguishing Features: Brilliant rhymes, delightful turns of phrase, the desire to be a kid again.

From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!

 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962)
Ken Kesey
Psychological drama
Distinguishing Features: Nurse Ratched, consistent banning from highschool reading lists, an Academy Award-winning movie.

If you don’t watch it people will force you one way or the other, into doing what they think you should do, or into just being mule-stubborn and doing the opposite out of spite.

 

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962)
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Genre: War fiction
Distinguishing Features: Soviet brutality, prison camp oppression, and a lesson in mental survival.

When you’re cold, don’t expect sympathy from someone who’s warm.

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Genre: Magic realism
Distinguishing Features: Heartbreaking beauty, a fanciful history of Colombia, a certain rebellious twisting of the laws of reality.

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

one hundred years of solitude

 

The Power of One (1989)
Bryce Courtney
Genre: Bildungsroman/historical fiction
Distinguishing Features: Boarding school woes, South African racial tensions, overcoming tyranny with your mind and some hard-acquired boxing skills.

In each of us there is a flame that must never be allowed to go out. That as long as it burns within us, we cannot be destroyed.

 

Once Were Warriors (1990)
Alan Duff
Genre: Quasi-autobiography
Distinguishing Features: State housing, domestic abuse, and Maori dispossession.

Our people once were warriors. But unlike you, Jake, they were people with mana, pride; people with spirit. If my spirit can survive living with you for eighteen years, then I can survive anything.

 

Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000)
David Sedaris
Genre: Essays/autobiography
Distinguishing Features: Ironic humour, melancholy reflection, larger than life characters.

After a few months in my parents’ basement, I took an apartment near the state university, where I discovered both crystal methamphetamine and conceptual art. Either one of these things are dangerous, but in combination they have the potential to destroy entire civilizations.

 

Elise Janes

 

Sam Simon: A Writer’s Life (Taxi, The Simpsons and so much more)

Up until last week, thesimpsons credits reference Sam Simon was nothing more to me than a name on the credits rolls of The Simpsons. I knew nothing of the man, his life, his achievements, and his role as co-creator on one of the greatest animated series ever. Without The Simpsons, I never would have met my wife and my life would be unimaginably different (not for the better).

sam simon

Sam Simon died on 8th March after a battle with cancer, aged 49. It was only seeing his name alongside The Simpsons in online headlines made me stop and take notice. And having taken notice, his story, his life as a writer and producer offers a lot to inspire.

 

Simon wamighty mouses always a skilled and inventive when it came to drawing. Aged 24, after years of sketching comic strips for the San Francisco Chronicle, he got his first writing credit on The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse soon followed by Heckle & Jeckle and Fat Albert. ‘What I learned, honestly, that was so valuable was…they made me a writer. They said we want you to write scripts.’

Over the next couple of years he worked on a number of shows that were either going nowhere or seemed to be leading him nowhere. The measure of the man came in 1982 when he submitted a script on spec to the TV show Taxi (starring Danny DeVito and Andy Kaufmann).

taxi

‘I wrote a script and I mailed it in…I decided as long as I’m writing TV I should write something I’m not embarrassed about.’

How Simon forged a path for himself based on talent, desire and integrity, reminded me of @elise_janes recent post on The Cringe where she got real about shoulda, coulda, woulda and how bullshit that all is – we need to go after what we want.

These lessons and examples are all around us: people who achieve through a willingness to work hard with no guarantee of a return, no guarantee of acknowledgement or success. Those who commit themselves to following through on their creative endeavour, because it matters. Maybe you know someone like this. Maybe this is who are working hard to become. I know I am.

Sam Simon left us writers and creators with three tips. In his own words, this is ‘the best advice ever’:

  1. Story above all
  2. Don’t be afraid of the quiet moments
  3. Love your characters

I’ll give the last word to The Simpsons themselves. On the most recent show, which aired in the US on Sunday 15th March, they ended the episode with a simple and touching tribute:

thank you

 

Ken Ward

 

(Quotes sourced from Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF, ‘Episode 389 – Sam Simon’, May 16, 2013)

Sir P Speaks: The Problem of First-World Problems

Dear Sir P

I’m worried that all my travails are essentially First-World problems. I no longer feel entitled to complain, or even feel aggrieved. This has left a gnawing, hollow sensation inside of me. Which is itself, I suppose, a First-World problem. And so I find myself wandering around in ever-decreasing circles of self-loathing. How do I continue to complain without feeling like a bit of a dickhead?

Adoringly,

Terrance V

 

Well, dear Terrance, we can’t have you loathing yourself. However, it is a tiresome thing when people witter about the built-in redundancy of their iFads or how their favourite charcuterie has just been closed down. While it’s true that people in the Third World suffer from bunions at least as much as people in the West do, it would be fair to say that bunions are the least of their problems.

graveyard_of_indiscretions

If First World Problems Could Kill

Meanwhile, the issue for us Westerners is, when does a particular problem become legitimately whinge-worthy? If say, your beloved girlfriend dispenses with you, it is a bad thing and you are entitled to moan about it. But let’s call that a Second-World problem (and, dear readers, please don’t email me explaining the proper definition of the Second World; even baronets go to school).

But what about when your hitherto excellent wife leaves you for a lion-tamer or similar and takes the kids with her, plus half the house and Augustus, your Labrador-kelpie cross on whom you’ve doted since he was a puppy? Now, that’s a legitimate, bare-knuckled disaster wherever in the world you happen to live. Particularly when said wife then updates her Facebook status to: ‘Free at last from that fat, inbred nutter’.

Though I’m not very insightful generally I have noticed that most people get around the problem you’ve raised, dear Terrance, by not even bothering to do so. If you’ve not spent your childhood grubbing about on a Manila garbage dump then premature hair loss or unusually bulbous earlobes will seem very problematic indeed. You will say to yourself, ‘I can only address the problems that are before me, not the ones I might have experienced had I been incarnated as a Mumbai leper’. It highlights in a way how animal we remain. A gerbil struggling for survival in the desert is hardwired, like all animals, to utterly preoccupy itself with the fact that it is hours away from starvation. It is not interested in the plight of other gerbils. Such matters are not its business, even if it had the smarts to comprehend such things. We do have the smarts but we also have the hardwiring, so coveting my neighbour’s 65-inch 100hz flat-screen 3D TV fills my magnificent human brain to bursting.

However, there may be some value in putting our own issues into perspective. You can start by doing the following quiz. Which of these problems are First, Second or Third World?

  1. The difficulty of finding a band-aid large enough to cover a graze large enough to justify a band-aid.
  2. Reconciling yourself to sharing the world with cyclists and horses.
  3. You want to call your son Tarquin because you’re pretentious, but you know the name will humiliate him.
  4. The presence on the road of silver or grey cars that hover in your blind spot on rainy days (it’s possible I’ve raised this vital issue before).
  5. A man-eating tiger lives near your house. Be careful, or one day it will eat you too.
  6. You’re so exhausted packing for your family holiday to Hawaii it’s almost not worth going.
  7. The excruciatingly awkward nightmare that is Skype.
  8. You would like to wear your tiger onesie out in the street but you are a fully grown man and you would be mocked.
  9. Should you have your child’s 4th birthday at home and endure the appalling mess 15 children inevitably make, or hold it at a soft-play centre and endure the deafening cacophony of a billion screeching children smacked up on pink sugar?
  10. The Patent Office refuses to patent your exciting new invention called ‘Comfort-Go’ – for when you get caught short in heavy traffic.

What are the correct answers, you ask? Who cares? The reassuring thing is that no matter how First-World, inane, self-indulgent or deranged your questions are, good bloggoids, I will always give them the attention they richly deserve.

Devotedly

Gormley

 

Conan Elphicke

Sir Partridge’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

Sir Partridge Gormley Speaks

Hello blots,

When The Cringe begged me to become an agony uncle for them, I sent the word out to my enormous fan base. Naturally, I was subjected to a veritable blizzard of need, most of it drivel. Only this missive struck a chord:

Dear Uncle

Firstly, let me say that I worship you like a god.

Now, listen to this. When I got married seven years ago, a distant relative was charged with videoing the event. He has since returned to his native Fremantle and not a peep has been heard from him since. I’ve emailed him frequently asking for a copy of the video but to no avail. I even sent him a crisp $50 note to cover the cost of postage but the bastard simply trousered it.

I’m going to Perth soon for a mutual relative’s wedding where I will surely bump into him. Rather than endure a ‘scene’, is it reasonable for me to simply lift the money from his wallet, should the opportunity present itself?

Yours in righteous indignation

Egbert T

Well, Egbert, you have been betrayed. I can visualise this strange relative of yours. Perhaps he is in advanced middle age, corpulent, fancies more than the odd tipple and is not averse to leering at the young and winsome. He is a cad, and as such the usual rules of human conduct do not apply.

Of course there may be an entirely reasonable explanation for his failure to provide you with what is rightfully yours. Perhaps he has died. Perhaps he never received your funding, or has been forced to hand it over to a bookie. Who knows or cares?

Therefore the simple answer to your question is yes, by all means slip the bugger a mickey, rummage in his hip pocket, restore the cash to its rightful owner, and why not lift an additional crafty fiver for your trouble? After all, you shelled out 50 of the hard-earned and whether he received it or not the bastard owes you a wedding video, which he has presumably either lost or taped over with something unsavoury.

Huzzar!

Sir P

A man who has long needed an introduction, Sir Partridge Gormley is a baronet, raconteur, bon vivant and genteel nutter. With plenty of time on his hands he welcomes queries from anyone who’s confused and dilemma-ed. Sir Partridge’s verbal emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke 

Conan Elphicke

Have a question for Sir Partridge? Email your query to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

Reject-Me-Nots for Writers: How to Get and Give Rejection Letters

bath time

We all deal with rejection in our own way — take a bath or have a good cry. Source: National Library of Australia (nla.gov.au/nla.ms-ms2852-19-4x).

Like most writers, I’ve had my fair share of “de-successings”, “thanks but no thanks” and “if you continue to send your work to us we will release the hounds” letters. Part of ‘getting your work out there’ is that often it gets bounced back to you, but it makes it all the more satisfying when a reader/editor/intern actually ‘gets’ your work.

To paraphrase one of my favourite rejection letters – their opinions are learned but also subjective. Your work can fall on their desk at exactly the wrong time, be in the middle of a lump of stories on the exact same subject or just be the piece that’s read before an editor has a cup of coffee. Don’t take it personally because there are a thousand decisions between your submission and publication. Some writers develop such strong relationships with their work that a rejection letter hurts like getting dumped.

So like a good break-up, a good rejection letter is clear and concise but respectful. The worst rejection letter I got back in the days of snail mail was a slip of paper that was one line — “Thanks, but we have no use for your work at this time”. It had been torn using a ruler. They’d been too cheap to blow a whole piece of A4 paper and had just torn off several strips — probably with the same handwritten line. It was as flattering as being dumped by SMS.

Conciseness is key. A friend of mine received a bulk email that apologised for the bulk email then rambled on about how incredibly busy the editors had been —before finally getting to the point. My friend summarised it as: “Well then, faceless hordes, you’re rejected!”

No-one’s expecting a personal reply. But personalising the process a little can help the egos of writers. At Cardigan Press when we sent out rejection letters we had a not-quite list to whom we gave some general feedback with a few common reasons why they hadn’t been selected. Telling people how many submissions you got can be a good way to put things in perspective. At Cardigan we once got an email back saying it was the nicest rejection letter someone had ever received.

For writers, any feedback should be good news. If an editor gives any feedback writers should gobble it up greedily and use it to improve the piece. Editors are busy folk with very little time so if they invest a second giving you feedback then it’s because they gave a good goddamn for your piece and want to develop you as a writer. Take any feedback as a compliment.

But if you’re still smarting from a rejection letter try the counter rejection. It’s a cathartic experience, and even if you never send it, writing a rejection letter to the publication that rejected you allows you both to move on. Here’s a template:

 Dear Sir/Madam (I’m far too busy and important to take in your name or gender)

 Thanks for your rejection letter. Unfortunately at this time I’m unable to accept your rejection letter.

I receive several rejection letters regularly and whilst your rejection letter was of a particularly high standard, I’m limited by the number of rejection letters I can receive. So while I encourage you to continue sending rejection letters, I won’t be able to accept yours at the present time.

Instead I’ll be going around inserting my piece into your publication at various retailers using specially purchased industrial glue. I’ll also be visiting the homes of leading reviewers to interrupt their reading of your title by megaphoning in their ears “We was robbed”.

 Please be assured that I won’t stop, short of legal action or violence against your pets as deemed appropriate by myself and the other judges of rejection letters (who are also sought by authorities in connection with several unresolved crime novels).

 Thanks for your time,

Hackpacker

George Dunford   

Reject-me-nots was first published in March 2014 on George Dunford’s website.   

Happy Halloween, Australia

Halloween-picQ: I moved house a few months ago, and I’ve been enjoying my new neighbourhood. That is, until last week when I found a note in my letterbox asking me to put a couple of orange stickers (supplied with the note) on my gate so I can join in Halloween celebrations. I don’t even have kids! And isn’t Halloween an American thing? I don’t want to upset the locals and be the only one not participating. What should I do?

Spooked, VIC     

____________________________________________________________________    

A: Is there anything more un-Australian than our adoption of a not-even-American festival that’s been plucked from the depths of pre-medieval history to become a sugar-hyped free-for-all? Probably not. Yet, since none of us have any real clue what it is to be Australian (and without any re-worked traditions of our own), what else can we do but tag along? (It could be argued that has become our tradition.) But don’t worry because it’s hardly the same thing at all.

Cotton wool strung between ragged gum trees, badly carved fly-buzzed pumpkins perched on picket fence posts, unlit lanterns thrashing in a hot wind, sweaty little monsters swathed in metres of bed sheets — no, it doesn’t resemble anything close to Halloween. Here (thanks to a little thing called geography, and a not-so-little thing known as daylight savings) it’s celebrated under a scorching sun. No spookiness, no ghosts or goblins, no haunting shadows cast by flickering orange-tinged candlelight, no screams of delight or even fear. It’s nothing more than tiny gangs of over-excited and already over-fed children shepherded by over-indulgent parents, who trudge from orange-stickered house to orange-stickered house hoping to snag a few freebies. And where’s the harm in that?

Many years ago, my mother — a schoolteacher who, by the end of every day was utterly fed up with children of all ages and sizes (including her own) — opened the door to a trio of brave trick-or-treaters. After they’d made their demands, she yelled, ‘This is not America!’ and promptly slammed the door shut. I don’t know who was more shocked, and I was still too young to realise the erroneousness of her statement. Australia may not yet be America, but by God we’re trying our hardest.

So take heart and suck it up. Put those little orange stickers on your front gate – hell, paint the whole thing orange; grab a few pumpkins and relieve your frustrations with the biggest knife you have; buy kilos of chocolate (the cheap kind) so by the time the little darlings get home it’s melted to brown goo; pull a sheet off your bed and wrap yourself in it — not toga-like, of course; this isn’t a Roman orgy. And when you open your door to their sing-song voices and their cherubic smiles, smile back and thank all that is Australian that we haven’t (yet) adopted more outlandish traditions.

If there’s any consolation to be found, it’s this: you may never fully embrace or even enjoy Halloween, but you can be sure your role as the Grinch in upcoming neighbourhood Christmas festivities is already firmly established.

Jane Abbott   

 

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