The Most Important Writing Lesson of All

I finally managed to get a galley proof of my book. But the expected euphoria at holding an actual work of art produced by my own self did not appear.

I didn’t like the look of it, the feel of it or the size of it. At 110,000 words I’d expected a doorstop sized whacking big thing, but no. It looked like a thicker version of a half-sized comic. The champagne stayed in the fridge and the party hats remained in their boxes.

And that was just the start of it.

Holding the Book

Holding the Book

But as I’ve learned in life it’s the setbacks that teach you the most. And a very big lesson was just round the corner as I sat down to read my own book in print.

The experience was completely different to the 800+ times I’d read it in A4 size electronic format. It was even different from the version I downloaded from Kindle. It was a revelation.

Every author has probably read their first chapter hundreds of times. Trying to get it right. The one chapter that sets the scene, hooks the reader and foreshadows the tale to come. As I read my first chapter for the first time in print the book took on a different feel. I could almost see the words threading through the page ahead of me, like a narrow pathway leading me into the story. The plot unfolded more slowly, the characters seemed sharper and the hints on what was to come were more subtle.

It was a different book. It was an actual honest to goodness novel, not just electronic words dancing on a screen that one day would become a book. It was real.

I reached for a party hat…..

Then I noticed that some of the typeset wasn’t quite right. The chapter titles weren’t centre-justified. There were grammatical errors even after the two professional edits and the hundreds of searches through the text for missed capitals, commas in the wrong place and quotation marks not closed. The hundreds of hours spent finishing the book for a Kindle upload looked hopelessly inadequate. The book just wasn’t publishable, I’d jumped the gun like so many of my fellow writers. I’d wanted to finish the book so badly I ignored the advice to ‘edit the book to death’ before it went public.

So, on a plane last night I sat with a pen and a highlighter going over the text once more. I edited it backwards so that I wouldn’t get wound into the story and end up being more interested in the hero’s arc that the punctuation.

It’s going to take some time to fix. No-one said it would be easy.

But, to date, it’s the most important writing lesson I’ve learned.

And it’s a lesson that we all probably have to learn at some point.

Leonardo Da Vinci and the Secret of the Mona Lisa Smile

More art from Jambo. And the unveiling of the secret of. ‘Hush’. Mona Lisa. You’ll like this, it’s an interactive post.

I’ve seen both paintings (yes there are  two Mona Lisa paintings, and it’s rumoured there is a third. All painted on blocks of wood)

And I experimented with the concept of ‘The Smile’. It’s been described as everything from ‘Enigmatic’ to ‘Wind’.

I probably discovered the secret by accident but I’m insecure enough to claim it was the end result of a studied methodology over many years. It actually was by accident and it took 3 hours.

This is a painting of my beloved. ‘La Rubio’.

Take a piece of paper and cover the left side of the face, then move the paper to cover the right side of the face. Try it a few times and see the effect.

The Mona Lisa Smile

The Mona Lisa Smile

OK. If you haven’t figured out what you’re looking at.

The face on the left hand side of the picture is happy, the face on the right hand side is sad. Put the two together and you get ‘The Mona Lisa Smile’.

Leonardo Da Vinci knew a thing or two about painting.

Opera and Contextualisation

All performance art is deepened by context – watching your favourite artist play a song as part of a bigger picture – say Live Aid, heightens the experience.

The more layers you add the deeper the contextualisation goes until the effect overwhelms the senses.

Opera is one art that overwhelms but is alien to most people on the planet. In most cases its too elitist at best and completely incomprehensible at worst.

But, if you understood what you were watching and listening to, it would transform your views on an art form that sits at the pinnacle of human experience. There is no greater or higher art form than opera.

Of course this is only my opinion, it cannot be anything but that. But, as I always ask, please indulge me for a moment and read these words before you click on the video.

The setting for this piece is Dresden. Dresden sits at the heart of European minds. Britain destroyed it one night, one terrible vengeful night. The opera is Madame Butterfly, it’s set in Nagasaki, the site of the second nuclear strike on Earth. Both of these contextual backgrounds set the scene.

The story is set in the early 20th Century where a US Navy Lieutenant called Pinkerton decides to marry a girl called Chiochio San (Chiochio is Japanese for butterfly). Although in Japan at that time  a marriage contract lasted for 99 years he knew that it had to be renewed each year.

Chiochio’s father, in the past, committed suppuku with a razor sent to him by the Mikado (the emperor) and she treasures it in a little box she carries. After her father’s death she became a geisha to support her family. And even now she is only 15 years old.

Pinkerton planned to dally with ‘Butterfly’ until he found a suitable American woman to marry. Needless to say it ends badly when he leaves then returns with an American wife to find that he has a son by Chiochio.

But that is going too far, let’s go back to the night where he declares his love for the girl and she gives herself to him.

To add further context the two artists are Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu who were married at the time of the recording but divorced soon after.

And so we have the faithless Pinkerton and the hapless Chiochio San…she sings, ‘love me with a little love’….

Puccini wrote an opera to break the heart.