Saturday, 15 March 2008


One thing I don't like about this blog of mine is that I can't reply to comments by writing under the comment. Suggestions welcome for a site that is clear and simple but allows replies after comments.

So today some housekeeping. First, thanks to everyone who commented. For me, this is the pleasure of the blog. I'd like to reply to some of you.

Ted: The pencils I used to use were Berol Turquoise 2B. I liked the colour and the softness of the lead. But I think they've stopped making them and am now using an equally nice Stabilo Swano HB=2.5, maroon with a red eraser on the end. I agree that 8 pencils for writing Postcards sounds very few, but I do use them till there isn't enough left to hold them. And maybe I forgot to mention in my notes now and then when I started another.

Linda Newbery: I agree with Philip Pullman about things being discovered in the process of writing. But for me, unless I do a lot of background work nothing much is discovered while I'm writing. I need huge amounts of 'raw material'.

Anne: What I gained from watching my father working was a profound respect and admiration for skilled craft. It seems to me the world - the human world - depends entirely on skilled craft. Everything we use, down to the smallest, insignificant object, has to be invented, designed and made. That was one of my unstated points about the pencil as an example. It was also from watching my father at work that I first realised something else. Everyone is redeemed by their work. My father was at his best, as a person, when he was absorbed in his work. He was at his worst when he had 'nothing to do'. When he retired, he kept an amazing garden. He was one of those people with green fingers. That stopped when he couldn't garden because of his arthritis and failing strength. His mind was alert enough. But because he had no intellectual interests - reading for its own sake, music, art, history, etc - his last years were spent 'doing nothing' but watching TV and complaining about it.

Tracy: Commonplace books. An old name for notebooks that I like very much. The best commonplace book I know of is W.H. Auden's A Certain World, first published by Faber in 1971. It is chock-a-block full of poems, passages from books, pithy sayings, jokes, Auden's reflections and comments. It's arranged alphabetically according to the topic of the entry or some other title. In his Foreword Auden says 'Here, then, is a map of my planet...The bulk of this book will make pleasant reading, but there are some entries which will, I hope, disturb a reader as much as they disturb me.'

Lucy: You mention liking writers who make the mundane and everyday interesting. For me this is the feature I like most in novels, poems and plays. Showing how the ordinary is extraordinary is the quality I'd most like to achieve.


Anonymous said...

“Showing how the ordinary is extraordinary is the quality I’d most like to achieve”.

Yes, I am with you in this, very much so.

Then you give ‘dignity’ to whatever you focus on or write about. Looking at things – including common things – with ‘new’ eyes …
It are not the ‘things’ that have changed but it is the ‘look’, the look of admiration, that makes them special. Isn’t that the reason also why we love to turn back to books we like and reread them with even more pleasure because we seem to discover always new surprising things in them – that were there already, of course, but that we ‘see’ now because we’re ready then at that moment to see them or open enough then to let them in … ?
It works for walks (familiarity breeding interest, cf. your blog of 5 March), travels, books, art in general and so many things, but also very much so with people – even more so for people!!


Anonymous said...

"His mind was alert enough. But because he had no intellectual interests - reading for its own sake, music, art, history, etc - his last years were spent 'doing nothing' but watching TV and complaining about it."

This observation makes me sad, not least because I'm witnessing the advance of my mother's Alzheimer's, that gradual shrugging off of layers of self. There's a wonderful Billy Collins poem on this, 'Forgetfulness'. You can hear Yer Man reading it here:

In other words, Aidan, your father thought with his hands. But it's a time-honoured sense of craft that you've inherited and lives on as a daily practice in your writing.

Reminds me very much of Alan Garner's moving tribute to his father's trade - stonemasonry - in 'Stone Book Quartet'. Authors who write out of the soil in which they were born - Ted Hughes, Peter Ackroyd, Cormac McCarthy. I gather that Garner was a sickly child, much taken by books, so it was his intellect that grew, not his manual skills. No harm in that. Though I see that Philip Pullman takes great pride in his second string, woodwork. Ay, that's a craft. Photo of him in the paper the other day next to this fine rocking horse he's made.

And "showing how the ordinary is extraordinary"? Have just finished reading AL Kennedy's latest novel, 'Day', about the tail-gunner in a wartime bomber, and am astonished at what she has achieved. A real tribute to that generation who found themselves through the cameraderie of the forces, but who struggled to find their feet in a post-war world. My own father among them.

Another thought, then I really must get on with some work. A friend's dad died two weeks ago. A Gloucestershire farmer, he was 85. He only went to London once, and that was on his honeymoon. They took a rabbit with them: one for the pot, for the relatives they were staying with. Picture them on the GWR steam train heading to Paddington and the Smoke with a bun for the oven. They worked with heavy horses. Their farm was world enough, and time enough. How the world has changed.


Anonymous said... lets you comment underneath the comments

Lee said...

I generally reply to my comments by a comment of my own. You can also get a nice little widget which allows the last comments made to appear in your sidebar.

Col said...

I spoke with a more blog-proficient person than myself, and he recommends using WordPress rather than Blogger - "WordPress is superior to Blogger in every way and has a wonderful comment management system".

An example of the lay-out and comments can be seen here at John Self's Asylum:

I don't know whether this helps. I suppose you can always use the Comment box here yourself on repeated occasions.

By the way, I am delighted to read your posts here, however often you choose to do them: I always followed your diary and reading comments on your website. (I was the person with whom you were kind enough to exchange some e-mails about a day or two after you published This is All, Sept 06.)

mathilde said...

Dear Mr Chambers,

I don't know of this information is of any use to you, but I've understood that Prismacolor pencils are exactly the same as Berol pencils. Same manufacturer (U.S.), same quality.

Kind regards,

Mathilde Stein (Dutch children's book writer)