Writing a Difference

I’ve previously praised Grey’s Anatomy for dealing wisely with tragedy, and given my opinion on its patronising portrayal of male (but not female) bonding. This American TV series won an award for its ‘colourblind’ casting and it’s refreshing to watch a series that deals with social issues and doesn’t making an issue out of (for example) a Black man running a hospital.

Suffering from (mild) medical colourblindness may perhaps make me less inclined to see social colourblindess in a totally positive light. I do, strongly, affirm its anti-racist intention. However when there seems to be an almost total absence of patient couples of the same ethnicity in Seattle, it is hardly something that viewers can be expected not to notice on a visual medium. Especially if we are also expected not to notice that the protagonist just happens to be a slim, blonde, able-bodied, monied, middle-class, middle American, tertiary educated, professional White cisgendered heterosexual female with no chronic mental health challenges and no police record. In other words, in every single dominant category apart from one. It’s this one we’re supposed to notice, as it puts her in a vulnerable position with all men. Obviously. And absolves her from any responsibility for being in all the others.

I’m not knocking the screenwriting or directing of Grey’s Anatomy. Other popular TV series could take a leaf out of their book. An episode of Murder She Wrote is set in an exclusively White Paris (Montmarte) that has never existed. Many American films set in ‘foggy London’ have exclusively White Anglo-Saxon characters, unless the protagonist happens to take a trip to meet a Scottish Highland laird, to consult a Gypsy fortune-teller, to visit an Irish bar or boxing club, a Jewish pawnbroker, a Chinese opium den (an addictive drug which Britain fought China to push) or a Black American jazz club. So the ethnicity of a character who isn’t a White Anglo-Saxon becomes their defining character trait and a convenient plot device.

When it comes to novel writing, which is not a visual medium (unless it happens to make it to the big or small screen) I tend to avoid explicitly labelling ethnicity but sometimes that’s not possible. In Shades of the Sun I drew on a mnemonic tradition of European occultism which functions precisely because of its strikingly memorable visual images. Among these are:

‘a woman, outwardly cloathed with a red garment, and under it a white, spreading abroad over her feet’

and

‘a black man, standing and cloathed in a white garment, girdled about, of a great body, with reddish eyes, and great strength and like one that is angry’.

The tradition seems to assume that the woman is White.

I tend to describe my main characters’ complexion and hair colour in every book of the Bruno Benedetti mysteries, which gives clues to their ethnicity, and I also at least indicate their age, nationality, familiar and romantic relationships, sexuality, friends, values, politics, occupation and interests. I’ve previously blogged about describing characters by their books, which is one way of doing some of that. An advantage I have is that my protagonist is also my (unreliable) narrator. So rather than suffer the death of a thousand qualifications, I allow Bruno to rant at will about a variety of causes and obsessions and let other characters argue with him.

This point of view is also useful when transcribing BSL (British Sign Language) which is the main means of communication of Simone who is deaf and a major character in both Shades and Qismet. As Bruno isn’t very fluent, he experiences this communication rather like a series of flashcards, so I write this in capital letters inside square brackets. A more assimilationist linguistic politics would translate BSL as any other language but I want to highlight how strikingly visual this experience is, as it’s this aspect which makes Bruno stop and think.

On the issue of sexuality, I see no need to visually describe heterosexual lovemaking. In Tìr nam Bàn, this was an option but it’s simply not necessary. Whatever our sexuality or sexual experience, we are flooded with heterosexuality daily and have been all our lives. Describing homosexuality is a different matter. I haven’t watched all the TV series, but the seven books of the (otherwise excellently-written) very graphic series of fantasy novels A Game of Thrones contain not one instance of gay male lovemaking and the two female characters who allow female lackeys to pleasure them are written as otherwise heterosexual.

Whereas romance in lesbian fiction tends to the political, that in gay male fiction tends to the erotic. These novelistic tendencies can both be read as empowering, especially by those in situations where neither personal political power nor social romantic expression is possible. They can also become rather annoying. Fiction that reads like a pre-Blair Labour Party manifesto, or a post-AIDS sex manual, is neither particularly entertaining (though some may find it stimulating!) nor moving. Fiction that portrays the lives and loves of people who are normally written out of the script can be both.

Writing difference is fraught with danger. Writing characters whose age, class, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality or ability differs from your own is difficult. Sometimes those attempts fail, and may attract criticism. I find writing the character Dave (who first appeared in The Lovers) challenging, not only because his working class Scotophone hyper(homo)sexuality is a shadow energy in the Scots assimilationist milieu but because that shadow is in my own psyche just as much as Clara’s upper middle class pretensions or Boris’s whacky conspiracy theories. It’s just that I find him more troubling. This recent blogpost may explain why.

Writing diverse characters, novelists reveal our own monsters from the Id, as explored in Tricks of the Mind. We can never truly write anything that is outside our own experience. But we can try.

And that makes a difference.

colored-pencils

Thanks to George Hodan who has released his photo ‘Coloured Pencils’ into the Public Domain.

How to survive Christmas

(Contains blatant advertising, sage advice, bleeding hearts, stereotypes, humbug, nuts)

I don’t have the stats, but I imagine the number of Americans shooting family members goes up during the festive season. We can hardly blame them. This post focuses on that annual family horror called Christmas but some parts may be applicable to other feasts involving relentless and compulsory goodwill; the forced proximity of adult siblings, in-laws and outlaws; sleet; treacherous pavements; overindulgence in stodge, sugar and alcohol; and the worst TV.

So how can you survive Christmas?

  • Get the good food in first. That’s the basic advice of Body-Logic, so you don’t need to buy it now (but if you do, it’s available as an eBook). You’re less likely to nibble if you’ve feasted first. And let’s face it, it’s the one and only time of the year where anything as sickeningly nutritious as Brussels sprouts makes you feel sentimental.
  • Plan your TV/DVD/online watching. It can actually be enjoyable to watch a film all the way through with selected family or friends. It is even possible to do so without addictively checking your phone for such urgent texts as: wotcha doin am wachtin fillum sborin? This countercultural practice may even increase the attention span of your hyperactive progeny to a length marginally greater than that of goldfish.
  • Retreat to your room/ broom cupboard with a good book. Some discerning readers have decided to catch up on the Bruno Benedetti inclusive mystery series (in print or eBook). And who am I to stop them? The benefits of reading an up-and-coming author is that it’s dead cool and you can shame your friends who have never even imagined that a mystery series could be inclusive. This will then activate FOMO. So you can be quietly smug.
  • Announce to the festive fiends frequenting your living-room and drinking all your sherry that, unfortunately, you have a paper/report on [anything but try Education, Philosophy, Alchemy, Sports Science, Social Work, Renaissance Studies, Quantum Mechanics, Music, Art, Motorcycle Maintenance, Zen] to hand in at the start of the new year. So you just have to read Alchemy at the Chalkface: Pirsig, Pedagogy and the Metaphysics of Quality from cover to cover (in print or eBook). In the airing cupboard, the only place that’s warm.
  • Dance. Seriously. Relocate the coffee table, push back the chairs, forcibly remove all the headphones from all the teenyboppers under 50 and elect yourself DJ Dictator. Command the stereo/ space-age musical docking device and get the tunes on. Jumping up and down, even gently, is THE BEST THING for lymphatic drainage. It’s the new blood pressure. It sorts everything. Google it. Ask your doctor. Get with the programme.
  • Walk. Take the dog. Take the neighbour’s dog, if you don’t have one. Believe me, this is a very welcome gesture. Yes I know old Mrs Biddy next door has taken the trouble to clear the pavement outside her prefab and hasn’t put down salt so it’s now a popular neighbourhood slide. But (hu/wo)man up [told you I was inclusive] and cross the road where the pavement’s less treacherous. That’s sidewalk for our North American readers. You can even seasonally greet your neighbours. This is compulsory all over Scotland after midnight (AND NOT BEFORE!) on New Year’s Eve and voluntary during the year. It provides a nice alternative to shooting them.
  • Limit the time you spend together. Less is far, far more. Don’t say “come for Xmas”, say “come for Xmas dinner, we’re at church in the morning and out in the evening so we have the whole afternoon to spend with you”. Relief on the other end of the phone. Even the most trigger-happy relation should be able to keep it together for four hours. That includes time taken to unwrap presents and visitors and bundle them back into the car. God will forgive you for lying about church-going. She’s like that. And if you do do church, do one that preaches love, not hate.
  • Watch White Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life if you must. Once you realise that one’s US military recruitment propaganda and the other a hymn to that oxymoron ‘compassionate capitalism’ it rather takes the sheen off the screen. I much prefer The Muppets’ Christmas Carol or The Bishop’s Wife for nostalgia. If anyone suggests The Grinch ask them, seriously, whether they would like to be trapped in a lift (elevator) with Jim Carrey. The correct answer is “no”. Don’t, whatever you do, make snow angels. This unbearably middleclass act of kinderkitsch is only allowable under coercion of a loaded firearm – and even then needs a careful weighing up of the pros and cons.
  • Act out your own murder mystery. Use one of those DVD & flashcard boxes if you wish, or use this wee festive freebie HERE. It may serve to sublimate those homicidal tendencies.
  • Give thanks. Use it as an alternative grace, sat round the table eyeing the fair-trade veggie feast (no harm to no fowl). Introduce it with “let’s all mention just one thing we’re grateful for this year. 10 seconds each. Clockwise. I’ll start”. If there’s 10 of you that’s already more than a minute and a half.
  • It’s only once a year.
  • Put these numbers on speed dial: 999/ 911; Childline; RSPCA; The Samaritans.

Good Luck.

christmas-crackers-13551354239vo

Thanks to George Hodan who has released his photo ‘Christmas Crackers‘ into the Public Domain.

Murder at the Manor

 Murder at the Manor

A Festive Murder Mystery in 1 Act

By Alan McManus

Murder at the Manor was first produced by my friends and family, at home in Paisley, on Mother’s Day, 2012. These several pages containing the play, Murder at the Manor, and list of publications may be distributed online or in print form, together but not separately. The play may be edited. No charge or voluntary donation may be requested for any copy or performance of this play – unless the whole sum is donated to the Dr Hadwen Trust (drhadwentrust.org)

COPYRIGHT Alan McManus 2012

Dramatis Personae

Miss Marple          Acute Observer                       Older lady

Olga Volgavitch    International Jewel Thief      Younger lady

Brigitte                   Movie Star                                Younger lady

Hank                       Film Producer                          Younger gentleman

Mrs Bantry            Lady of the Manor                   Middle-aged lady

Col Bantry             Lord of the Manor                   Middle-aged gentleman

Buttons                  Butler                                         Younger gentleman

Andrea                   Police Photographer               Younger lady

Inspector Japp     CID                                              Middle-aged gentleman

Revd Green           Vicar                                            Middle-aged gentleman

(roles may be doubled)

The action of the play takes place over 24 hours, in Bantry Manor.

Time: The Present

 

Scene 1 – Diningroom. Dawn.

Everyone (apart from Inspector Japp, Buttons and Andrea) sits round the table, at breakfast.

Buttons                (knocks on door, comes in) Excuse me, Sir.

Col Bantry            (surprised) Well speak up Buttons, my breakfast kippers are getting cold!

Buttons                (coughs) There’s some body in the Library, ma’am.

Mrs Bantry          (annoyed) Well bring them in, Buttons!

Buttons                (grimaces) Can’t, Ma’am. She’s been murdered.

Brigitte                 (screams) Murdered!

Hank                     (pats Brigitte’s hand) It’s fine, baby. I’ll handle it!

Miss Marple        (looks at Mrs Bantry) Perhaps, Dolly, we should call the police.

Mrs Bantry          (sighs) Oh, very well. Murder! At breakfast! With guests!

Revd Green          (hopefully) Is there any more tea?

Olga Volgavitch   (frozen in the act of getting more food) I vosss here all ze time, eatink ze kipper, niet?

Everyone looks at Olga Volgavitch, suspiciously.

 

Scene 2 – Lounge. That Morning.

Everyone is present, having tea. Miss Marple is knitting. Andrea snaps snaps, snappily.

Japp                        (stands at fireplace, hands behind back) The name of the deceased is…

Miss Marple         Inspector, I don’t think we should say the name of the body in the Library just yet, you know.

Japp                        Miss Marple, who is in charge of this investigation?

Miss Marple         You are, Inspector, naturally. I just wondered if you had considered the begonias.

Japp                       (shakes head, ignores Miss Marple) The name of the body in the Library is… (chokes, falls to ground)

Andrea                  (screams, snaps a snap of the Inspector) Someone do something!

Miss Marple        (looks up) Has he turned blue, dear? (Andrea nods) Well I expect it’s cyanide. He’ll have about three minutes.

Col Bantry           (looking round wildly) The police photographer’s right! Someone do something! He’s only got three minutes!

Buttons                (helpfully) I could boil him an egg?

Brigitte                (screams) Murdered!

Hank                    (pats Brigitte’s hand) It’s fine, baby. I’ll handle it!

Olga Volgavitch   Izz too late! Heez goose is cooked!

Brigitte                (stops screaming) Goose? I thought it was an egg!

Buttons               (to Mrs Bantry) What, eggactly, would you like me to do with this one, Ma’am?

Mrs Bantry         Oh shove it in the library with the other one. Honestly! What will we do now?

Revd Green        (clearing throat) We could always have more tea?

Hank                   There’s more tea in that pot.

Miss Marple      (looks up from her knitting) How do you know that, dear? Who was the last to touch that teapot?

Everyone looks at Hank, suspiciously.

 

Scene 3 – Diningroom. That afternoon.

Everyone (except for Inspector Japp, Andrea, and Buttons) is present.

Brigitte                 So we’re all trapped here in this haunted house with a maniac running round murdering people in their beds till the police get here!

Hank                     (pats Brigitte’s hand) It’s fine, baby. I’ll handle it!

Col Bantry           No one has ever been murdered in Bantry beds! That unknown woman who had the cheek to turn up uninvited and get murdered has nothing to do with any of us!

Miss Marple        Are you sure, Colonel? Are you forgetting that incident in India?

Mrs Bantry           Not Bombay Lil, Arthur, surely! I thought all that was in your dim and distant youth!

Olga Volgavitch   But Bombay Lil was hunged by ze mob in Zaint Peterzburg!

Miss Marple         Really? That was certainly the official story, but according to that nice Orthodox bishop down the road, she was rescued by her anarchist sister and died a sainted hermit in Siberia. And, according to Somerset House, you were that sister.

Hank                     (laughs) I’m not buying that! You haven’t had time to take do a roundtrip by train to London.

Miss Marple        No dear. But I did have time to check online.

Revd Green          Russians make great tea. They boil it up in a, whatssit…

Hank                    Samovar.

Everyone looks at Hank, suspiciously.

Hank                    Darn.

Brigitte                 (pats Hank’s hand) It’s fine, baby. I’ll handle it!

Miss Marple        (looks at Brigitte) The way you handled the begonias, my dear?

Everyone looks at Brigitte, suspiciously.

Buttons                 (knocks on door, comes in) Excuse me, Ma’am.

Mrs Bantry           Not more bodies, Buttons!

Buttons                 No, Ma’am. Not more. Less! It’s the Inspector’s body. It’s gone!

 

Scene 4 – Lounge. Early that evening.

Everyone (except for Inspector Japp) is present, having drinks.

Col Bantry            Well this is preposterous! One of us must have murdered both Bombay Lil and the Inspector and moved his body! And when I say ‘one of us’ I mean ‘one of you’! It’s definitely not either myself or Dolly!

Revd Green           The bridge across the river is down. We won’t get out of here till morning!

Hank                      And the telephone wires have been cut.

Miss Marple         Hank, dear, you really must get a mobile. How do you know the bridge across the river is down, vicar?

Olga Volgavitch   Because he vent out ziss mornink, early, before brekfasst.

Brigitte                 And how do you know that? Spying on people, eh?

Mrs Bantry           Actually I think she was stealing the silver. I was going to mention it but with all the murders I found I really didn’t care!

Olga Volgavitch   Ok, I giff eet bak. Da?

Mrs Bantry           Oh don’t worry. It was a wedding present and I never liked it. It’s all insured, naturally.

Buttons                Good. Now I don’t have to polish it.

Mrs Bantry          That will do, Buttons. Haven’t you got chores to do?

Andrea                  Chores! Silver! How can you, when my secret love the Inspector’s gone and been and got murdered and been and gone!

Miss Marple         (puts down knitting, slowly) Well. ‘The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things.’ Many things that people wanted to talk about but were afraid to air. There never was a body in the library, but now Dolly has found out who’s pinching her silver, and that Arthur’s past is really past. Brigitte and Hank know they can rely on each   other through thick and thin (as long as he gets a mobile). Olga realises that – apart from her dodgy accent and kleptomania – people are quite fond of her really. Buttons has discovered he’s a very good actor. The vicar now knows that he might be vegetarian but he’s a terrible old ham… and the Inspector…

Inspector Japp     (comes in the door) … has discovered that it’s in the midst of all the drama that you discover the constancy of love! (gives Andrea a wee peck on the cheek). And what better day to discover that, than today!

FINIS

 

Also by Alan McManus

FICTION

Plays

Mrs Atkins remembers

Redemption (Scots and English versions)

Novels

The Bruno Benedetti Mysteries

Tricks of the Mind

The Lovers

Shades of the Sun

Qismet

Tìr nam Bàn (forthcoming)

NON-FICTION

Ethnography

Dreaming Anarchy: a shut-eye view of a utopia

Inclusive Theology

Only Say the Word: Affirming Gay and Lesbian Love

Nutrition

Body-Logic: the little book that makes a BIG difference!

Philosophy of Education

Alchemy at the Chalkface: Pirsig, Pedagogy and the Metaphysics of Quality

Religious and Inclusive Education

Masculum et Feminam: ‘Time for Inclusive Education’ and the conservative Catholic

(All sold on various Amazon country sites, in print and Kindle formats. Most in other formats on Smashwords and distributers: Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Nook etc.)

dr-hadwen-trust