New for 2020 – Podcasts!
From January 2020 I’m recording each post as a podcast, in addition to the written version which you can continue to read as usual. I’m also gradually adding selected posts from the archive (going back to 2009) as podcasts. Click here or on the Podcasts tab in the navigation bar.
This blogThis blog is called A Few Kind Words because the word kindness originally meant being kin, or kindred, or of the same kind. And since we are all humankind, we should remember to be kinder to one another when we communicate. The alternative is to be unkind, to use language which fails to connect or even alienates. The choice isn't hard.
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How we need rhythm in our lives. For the last four months, John Simmons and I have been batting back and forth chapters of Room 121 on an almost daily basis (a form of exchange, and therefore of book, it occurs to me, that wouldn’t have been possible before the advent of email). Now, apart from pulling together final details like blurb, biographies, photos and the all-important endorsements, it’s over and I feel as flat as the proverbial pancake – appropriately enough, I suppose, since next Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday.
As it happens, this week has been quiet on the work front, and although I have a list of things to do that’s longer than my arm, I’ve felt tired and listless and have found it difficult to focus. End-of-winter blues, I started telling myself until the penny dropped: I’d got used to a particular rhythm and now it was gone. But it’s not just the routine the rhythm provides that I miss, it’s the energy I derive from it. It’s as if there was a little drummer somewhere inside me, whose beat was pulling me along, helping me to march purposefully down the road. Now he’s not there and all the steam has gone out of my legs (I suppose if you think of legs as pistons that just about works as a metaphor).
He’s not the only rhythm-maker now absent from my life. The newly be-Oscared Aaron Sorkin, writer of The Social Network, has been transporting Sarah and me almost nightly for well over a year with his magisterial West Wing. We watched the final episode a couple of weeks ago with the feeling that we might have been emigrants bidding farewell to a family we’d never see again. The triumphs and tribulations of President Jed Bartlett and his White House inner circle have lodged so deeply in our connubial consciousness that we sometimes found ourselves discussing their dilemmas over dinner as if they were old friends – which, in a way, they became.
These big, beautifully crafted American TV drama series raise storytelling to a new level and I have no doubt we’re the richer for them. Not even Charles Dickens or Victor Hugo were able to exploit their plots or develop their characters on such a scale. These shows answer to our deep thirst for stories, and they serve them up with a long pulse that corresponds more closely to that of our own lives than any other form of narrative except perhaps soap operas.
That said, I’m also now very close to the end of another long cycle, Michelle Paver’s spellbinding sextet of children’s novels The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. Set in the northern forests of stone-age Europe, these tell of fourteen year-old Torak, his four-footed companion, Wolf, and their battle with the evil Mages who threaten to blight the natural world and the harmony with which the different clans of forest-dwellers inhabit it. As well as spinning an extraordinarily gripping tale, she evokes a lost landscape and way of life with such apparent authenticity that it fills me with yearning and I feel as if the connection with my hunter-gatherer ancestors might have been forged only yesterday, rather than millennia ago. And when Torak and Wolf triumph, as they surely will, possibly on the train on the way to Wales to see my granddaughter tomorrow, another cycle will have come to an end.
But spring is on the way and renewal with it. New cycles will take hold of me. New stories beckon. I’m ready for them.