6th June 2015
There’s a theme of opposites running through the responses to titles. In the same way that the ‘Beginning’ title inspired ‘ending’-related pieces, ‘More Than Life’ brought forth a host of pieces about death. I usually send out a short note to the users of the site telling them about the inspiration for the title and last week’s was paraphrased from William Boyd’s quote of Virginia Woolf talking about photographs, used by Boyd to sum up the short story and its ultimate potential achievement – a literary magnifying glass, microscope or telescope on a piece of life, depending on the perspective required.
Despite their focus on end of life, the pieces submitted were excellent and choosing a winner was genuinely difficult. Worthy of special mention I feel was the piece – 902 - representing a series of letters or emails from ‘A. Neill’, an unhinged scientist conducting research with shocking consequences. The impact on me as the reader was significant – I felt rather on edge as I read the final message, and the way the progression and position of the reader were handled was masterful:
I am very disappointed with the threatening tone of your latest email and answerphone messages. Reporting me to the licensing board? To the POLICE? Do you have no respect for science? What we have found could not only lead to humane executions and voluntary terminations of life but, I believe, also has the opposite possibility of extending human lifespan if the mechanism can be reversed.
That was what the grant you originally awarded was for. It is not, I repeat, not unreasonable for us to still request that you pay the grant you already agreed to. …’
Piece 901, the one about Richard III, also deserves special mention for creating a hugely attractive after-death scenario, in which an unsociable PhD student gets to chronicle history as it happens with Shakespeare, Marx and a few others. It’s a brilliant opening setting, and I could see it running to a few entertaining episodes on radio. It also appealed to me because one of the roles I see for Hour of Writes is that of a ‘literary chronicle’ of the times in which it is written.
The winner achieved that trick we were strongly advised to aim for in Finals: of writing a compelling opening sentence and paragraph, postulating some interesting and original theory. ‘They [the examiners] won’t spend more than 5 minutes reading it, and most of that will be on the opening paragraph!’ we were told. A picture was painted of our long-suffering examiners, sitting grudgingly in their sunny gardens, resentful G&T in hand, coaxing the willpower to put a number next to the précis of our three years of work, only wakening from their stupor at the sniff of a controversial essay. The winner of ‘More Than Life’ began:-
‘My friend Mrs Jones is
now an artist's mannequin.
You will be thinking, quite correctly, that she cannot be a close friend if I call her Mrs Jones, and you will be right. I know her only by sight.’
Hugely memorable, you want to read on and the piece doesn’t disappoint.
Well done also to our featured entries. One, entry 910, described the funeral of a female artist from the viewpoint of a journalist in attendance along with the artist’s socialite family, and I enjoyed the buzzing attitude to the celebration of death – life, in fact - vibrating brightly through this piece:-
“‘I adored darling Alexandra,’ one of them said. ‘She was the only person I know who could paint a masterpiece, look glamorous and make everyone feel special – all at the same time. Such a tragic loss. She was much too young to leave the party. Much, much too young.’”
Entry 913 beautifully and elegantly paints a picture of life rushing by, movie-style, and asks what is left afterwards. It’s a convincing poem which you want to read again, and it’s gentle enough not to accost the senses with claimed ‘truths’ too hard to bear:
‘When the breath
The feather floating in the air
Fallen softly to the ground,
What remains? ‘
As mentioned, part of the mission on Hour of Writes is to create a literary chronicle of our times which will remain. Watch, and indeed contribute to, this space.
AI June 2015