Author Archives: brunswick123

About brunswick123

It is time to update my matter of fact and frankly rather boring 'about' description. I spent my working life in universities first as an academic and later as a Faculty Dean and finally a decade as University Vice-President moving steadily further from my humanities background to a commercial and staff management series of roles. University life surrounded by challenging young people and colleagues intelligent and curious [mostly!] was wonderful, but I decided in my fifties that I wanted to focus on my dream of 'being a writer'. I dreaded dying without at least trying to fulfil a childhood dream. So I spent the next five years learning to write fiction, so different to writing academic books! and supported myself working part time as a consultant with universities in Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands and England. Since 2007 I have spent half the year living in Europe and half in Australia and yes, I follow the sun. I do not 'do' winters. Now my time is devoted to writing and to my passion for travel, especially hiking for weeks at a time and usually alone. I am incredibly lucky. I want to connect with people with similar passions - writing, travelling, walking, pondering the big questions - and this is the purpose of this blog. Over the coming months I intend to work on my blog to make it more appealing and accessible. All comments and advice welcome.

My life and death in boxes

First the socks. Black ones bundled together next to the pink in the top drawer. Knickers in the next; everyday white here, black there, special occasion lacy separate. Not that I will need them again unless they bury me in them.  Damn, a blue pair muddled, bloody eyesight worse.

 Where are the wooden hangers for my shirts? So hard to reach, pain tearing my soul.

A place for everything and everything in its place. Once you start tossing your clothes any which way, ironed and unironed together, where does it all end? Like life, keep the bits separate, keep the parts contained. Compartments. Boxes. Control. Survival.

 I’m so bloody tired these days it would be easy not to bother, but what then? What would it say, to have lived my life in boxes and to fall apart at the end? 

 We don’t talk about the cancer. No point, doesn’t change anything. It eats my bones, eats my eyes, nothing to be done, nothing to stop it except time and that will be soon enough. Nothing left to say whereas once I couldn’t be stopped; a fountain of words and with Mark the words and sex binding us like honey. But I was married, still am and still to the wrong man and now I’m dying. You have to laugh. Or cry. Neither of us cried. Rob did, he was always the weakest. 

Damn, my good slacks are still marked, can’t wear them like this, have to wash them again – ah, bending down! That hurts, shouldn’t have done it. Shit!

Don’t leave a mess for others.

Don’t cry.

 Nearly finished, pullovers each folded in their plastic bags and laid in the wardrobe in their proper place, in their snug little homes.

Finished. All in order. Everything in its place.

Knives, forks, spoons, nobody throws them together them in one pile. Clothes the same. Life the same. Boxes each containing their secrets got me through Daddy, helped me survive Mark and it will get me through this. 

He’ll be home soon and I have to be finished.

Well, I was smart enough to keep quiet, not like telling about Daddy.

 We don’t talk about anything much, Rob and me and that suits me; silence fitted me like a glove when I stopped feeling after Mark. My navy blue silk dress and jacket became my armour. The ‘ice queen’ they all wanted to fuck.

He’ll be home soon, there’s leftovers and salad, that’ll do, he’ll be fine. I guess he won’t be hungry anyway.
Just a moment, rest for a moment, so bloody tired.

I learned my lesson and kept it in boxes: big or small, shiny or dull, old or new. Knickers, socks or love, it works the same way. Shove it in a box, push it under the bed where the monsters live and pretend. Simply pretend.

Ikea boxes are perfect. 

 He stopped loving me. Mark, I mean.

A life of boxes and compartments and one final box to unlock before he comes home and starts watching me with those doggy eyes. ‘What do you want of me?’ he asks. ‘I want you to be him!’ I scream silently. ‘Lives of quiet desperation’, who said that? I would have known once or Mark would have, finishing each other’s sentences, ricochet words of love and hate in our own world. 

 One final box, a pretty one. Open the lid, swallow the pills, close the lid and rest. Clean sheets, smoothed pillows. middle class manners to the end. So many words wasted on Mark and so many hours wasted waiting at the phone and now to rest in my box where nobody can touch me. I choose my last box and it is done.

The dance of love in 100 words

We see each other.
I step forward.
You step forward.
We circle each other.
I step forward.
You step forward.
We dance.
man and woman dancing
We move apart, watching each other, eyes locked as we circle the room.
We step to each other.
We dance the quadrille of love, the waltz of love and the tango of love.
We laugh and love, eyes for no other.
You step back.
I step forward.
You step back.
I step forward.
You stand still.
We watch each other.
I turn, you follow.
You stop. I turn back.
You turn away.
I leave.
The dance is over.
dance ended

a modern fairy story of infinite nothingness in 100 words

She brought him back to life. Not the usual chest pumping, sternum cracking, lip-to-lip resuscitation, instead she was kind and caring to him as other women had not or perhaps before he had no ability or experience to recognise and accept it. He began to trust and to feel again; to come from the shadows he knew well into the light which was unfamiliar and frightening.
She loved him in her way and he mistook this, unaccustomed as he was to friendship and compassion. He fell in love with her and told her so.
This time she could not save him.
broken heart

The romantically unemployed and free market economics

I read an article which used rational choice theory within economics to categorise those not in a relationship as being ‘romantically unemployed’. It referred specifically to the construction of the algorithms which underpin online dating sites and the matching of singletons to become couples.

Okay, at one level this is funny. Not ‘single’ or ‘looking’ or ‘not interested’ or’ perfectly happy with my dog, thank you’ or whatever, but unemployed. Romantically unemployed.
Dig a little deeper and it is unfunny. Unemployed equals ‘unproductive’ in free market thinking; that is, not contributing to society or the national economy. In the nasty jargon of the Australian government, these unemployed are ‘leaners, not lifters’ who sponge off the rest of society. imagesFGH768PA economics terms
The romantically unemployed? Do they need to apply like the labour market unemployed for a position/date forty times per month to avoid being pariahs on the economy? Should they be expected to travel far and wide searching for a date/position? Should they be doing productive local community work/dating locals in order not to be socially unacceptable?
At least they receive no government benefits for being romantically unemployed and will not live in constant fear of having benefits reduced or removed to ‘encourage’ them back into romantic entanglement.
Should they be interviewed by government officials every month to check that they are ‘genuine romantically unemployed’ and not simply leaners who have set their romantic standards too high to avoid the perils of the dating pool and the joys of coupledom? Being unrealistic and not genuine in their quest? Not prepared to accept ‘good enough’ or NQR?
What about the free market obsession with ‘efficiency dividends’, which simply means doing more with less? How could this be targeted at the slack ‘romantically unemployed’? Surely there is room for more efficient searching and dating?
Surely a free market can make revenue from the ‘romantically unemployed’? Oh, that’s right. That is what online dating is all about and we are back at square one.
I’m pondering how we can refine this ‘romantically unemployed’ category; the unemployable, the long term, the unskilled, those in need of skills upgrading and further training?
All very funny and all very sad. And guess what? Everything I have poked fun at here is already happening. Think of any absurdity these days and I guarantee it is out there somewhere.

Write like a Spartan: a small rant about rules for writing

No adjectives.
No adverbs.
No exclamations!
No background setting. ‘Get on with it!’
No explanations, ‘show, not tell’.
Short sentences to make it easier for the reader.
Break up long paragraphs to make it easier for the reader.
Start mid-scene so that the reader is not bored and drops the book within 30 seconds.
We live in a digital age of short attention spans so get to the point and keep it simple and fast. Oops, sorry, too complicated Hilary Mantel and as for James Joyce, what’s that all about?
Only one distinctive speech signifier per character.
The plot must be ‘this and therefore this and therefore this’ so no digressions. Sorry, Laurence Sterne, you are out.
Avoid flashbacks and non-linear narratives. Gone, Woolf and Calvino.
‘Kill your darlings’ is the cry. Sorry to all writers who write elaborate, luxurious and expansive prose. Red pencils at the ready.
Stay ruthless; if it does not propel plot or character, if it is merely digression, out it goes. Sorry, Tolstoy, Gogol, Mann, Dostoevsky etc. [and do not use ‘etc’].
Lean and straightforward prose is the mantra. Sorry, Proust, out you go. Sorry, Thackeray, get a good editor. Sorry, Woolf, self-indulgent and lacking in plot and clear structure. Austen? You can stay.
Out the door with the rest of you.
Hemingway? Ideal, albeit spawning countless bad imitations and we need to separate the author from the writing; no problem, we celebrated the ‘death of the author’ decades ago.
And when all too often the critically and commercially successful novel breaks all these rules, we are told ‘ah well the exception proves the rule’ and we odd sagely [note unnecessary use of adverb].
Yes, it is all good advice and it helps prevent the self-absorbed, over-written, neglectful-of-audience stuff I was writing 12 months ago. Yes, it helps to train better writers in the same ways we can train people to be better athletes or dancers or guitarists. There is nothing mystical about writing [except for those authors who inspire awe and I ask ‘how do they do it?’] and rules are valuable: we have to know the rules and then know when to ignore or bend them.
Why this gentle rant? Maybe because I would love to hear/read a creative writer teacher to add the ‘and yet ….’ to these rules and to allow leeway, at least a little encouragement to ‘dare to be different’ to us wannabes.
They are only rules.

Our first anniversary

I was reluctant, but my friends kept telling me that I had to get out there, get in the game, join the million other hopefuls. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? So I agreed to give it a try despite my anxieties that I was too old for this sort of thing and had been to the trough a few too many times; better to put on my slippers and night cap, get a dog and close the blinds. But that has never been my style and, recalling the old adage that you should never die wondering and that remorse is better than regret, I let myself be persuaded.
It was scary and it was exciting getting to know each other; the familiar tingle, the anticipation of our meetings, the world suddenly a brighter and happier place of colour, aromas, sound and sensation. A special connection with another! Sigh. Every poetic cliché of every trashy romantic novel.
She seemed to feel the same and that was wonderful.
After a couple of months, however, I could feel our connection slipping away. Sure, we liked each other, missed each other when we could not meet, but there was something lacking – the age old cry of lovers, no?
In the middle of the year we travelled together for two months and we had the closeness I craved. It did not last. Back in Australia I was ready to give up and she felt the same. It was simply not working and in my heart I knew it was my fault because I was withholding and not being my true self with her. I was playing a role and felt paralysed from acting differently. Nor was it all my fault; there was a guardedness in her, a core of secrets which she was not showing me.
I was losing her and I hated it. Hated my own inadequacies.
Knowing I had to change, I began to reveal more of myself: my hopes and fears, wants and needs, wounds and scars – the usual stuff. I began to find my own voice, becoming recognisable to myself and thus to others. Although she is cautious, I can feel her responding to me as I learn to trust and to share and to be ‘authentic’ [I know, all very new age]. Others do it, so why not me? How hard can it be? Don’t answer that, we know how hard it is to stop pretending and role playing and going through the motions and instead to be truly present and honest.
Early days and I have much left to learn. It is getting better.
Yes, it is our first anniversary.
One year since I began on WordPress in utter naivety. It has taken me a year to get a feel for what I want to do here and what I want to say; in short, to find my voice. Next I must take another deep breath and interact with the blogging community and not be only a passive reader and receiver; I could not do this unless I first found what I wanted to do with my blog.
She has been patient and accepting and you know, I think we’ll make it to our second anniversary!
Wish us luck!

10 things I learned from reading detective novels and one caveat

1.Start mid-scene and keep the story moving!
2.Sketch characters quickly and concisely and unpack their motives and complexities by action throughout the story.
3.Maintain suspense, do not reveal early. If there is sexual tension/possibility, defer, defer and defer the consummation.
4.Action drives the plot and reveals character.
5.No pontificating and explaining until the end when motive, means and opportunity are revealed.
6.No backgrounding and scene setting at the start.
7.Dialogue must be to the point, revealing either character or plot [or both].
8.We must want to keep reading and discover ‘what happens next’ = a good old page turner.
9.The ending is foreshadowed at the beginning and the story is a satisfying whole where it ‘all makes sense’.
10.We want to find out what happens, yet do not want the story to end.

Okay, on the one hand this adds nothing new to what I have been taught in the few creative writing workshops I have done in the last year. On the other hand, becoming aware of what was happening in me when reading a quality detective story and then making this list did give me a fresh insight and a template against which I can keep checking the progress of the fourth draft [total rewrite] of my mystery/romance set on the Camino.
On the other hand, as a former academic there is always an ‘on the other hand’ and always a caveat, how different would these insights have been in the mid-nineteenth century when there was not the same emphasis/obsession with ‘showing, not telling’ and when there was room to stretch out and take our time telling a story without an editor telling us to get on with it because readers get bored after sixty seconds [or is it less?] and won’t tolerate slabs of narrative or description.
More on this question in my next rant – oops, I mean my next post.

When pebbles become avalanches and relationships end

Friends of mine have just split up with no chance of reconciliation and I have conflicting emotions. Part of me is shocked that the ending came abruptly and with such finality and a smaller part of me says ‘that was always going to happen, I saw it coming’.
More accurately, I should say that I was surprised and then began to think about the no-longer-a-couple and understood that I had registered the signs, grown accustomed to them and assumed they would continue together neither truly happy nor miserable, fearful of being alone.
When did the process begin? At what point was the end of the relationship unavoidable and needing only one final pebble – an unkind word, a look, an impatient sigh or a miniscule act of bad faith – to trigger the landslide of recrimination and the decision from which there is no going back?
Those tiny pebbles of hurt or neglect, unconscious perhaps at first and later consciously, maybe deliberately hurtful, uncaring at least, which unearth other pebbles and soon there is a tumble, small and then bigger and finally an avalanche and then silence when the words are over and there is nothing left to be said.
Not always of course, not every day. Rather an accumulation of grit like an axle on a baggage-laden cart rolling along dusty roads day after day in good times and bad and it is not noticeable and anyway it does not matter or we believe it can be rectified ‘later’ [fateful, lazy word] when we have more time or are under less pressure or the kids are grown up or a myriad of other reasons until later is replaced by ‘too late’.
Looking back we puzzle when the pebble became an avalanche and we let it happen.
And yet –
And yet. Is the feeling of the inevitability of the end itself merely an excuse for our self-absorption in the trivia of the narcissistic culture in which we live, a world obsessed with individual rights [happiness, freedom, success, self-expression].

He should not have –

He should not have gone to the cafe that Sunday.
He should not have sat next to her.
He should not have chatted with her.
He should not have been at the cafe again next week and seen her.
He should not have asked her out.
He should not have dated her.
He should not have fallen in love.
He should not have moved into her apartment.
He should not have seen her in the park with him that day.
He should not have fallen out of love with her.
He should not have stayed.
He should not have died at the hand of the girl in black.
But he did.