Month: April 2015
Want to write a story but stuck for ideas?
Every Saturday for six weeks I’ll be posting a writing prompt to get you writing.
I’ll be joining in and writing and my draft too here.
At the end of each prompt you choose via a poll where you want the story to go next.
If you follow the prompts, you should end up with an idea for a short story.
If any of you are old enough to remember the 90s, you might remember the whole crazy New Age belief in Indigo children.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll briefly explain: back in the 1990s, there were a group of people that believed that the year 2000 would signal an age where a new species of ‘enlightened’ children would be born. They would be of superior intelligence and were highly emotional. They would probably have psychic powers and they would transform the world for the better. (If you want to read more about this, Jon Ronson documents the phenomenon brilliantly in his book ‘Lost At Sea,’ where mothers of ADHD children were led to believe by some crackpot or other that their disruptive offspring were actually Indigo children.)
In Clemens J. Setz’s book, Indigo children suffer with an illness. It has no symptoms for them…however, all the adults that surround them become affected with dizziness, vomiting, intense headaches. The intelligent children are society’s outcasts, sent to live and study at the remote Helianau Institute in the mountains where they are cared for by the rather dubious character, Dr. Rudolph.
The book tells the story of…wait for it…Clemens Setz who trains as a teacher at the institute. Yes, the author is a character in the book. This in itself is an interesting concept.
After a number of incidents (which I don’t want to spoil for anyone) Clemens is asked to leave. He continues to investigate into the methods of the school which the reader explores through various documents included in the book. There are photographs, interview transcripts, snippets of academic reports and newspaper clippings.
The multi modal aspect of the book is one of the features that makes the book so intriguing. The reader feels like they are part of this investigation, trying to piece the plot and mystery together through the various artefacts.
Alongside Clemens’ story there is a second narrative; that of Robert, a former Indigo child of the Helianau Institute. An often unpleasant and unsettling character, (he loves nothing more than taking photos of animal experiments for his artist’s portfolio) Robert is also investigating… an incident his former teacher Clemens Setz is reported to have been involved in.
And so the reader is simultaneously trying to piece his story together, on a slightly different timeline to Clemens’. Are you still with me?
So, is it any good? Well, yes…and no.
There is no doubt that the author Clemens J. Setz deserves every accolade he has been given for this book. The ability to write in all manner of styles and tones to produce this book is a feat in itself. The variety of documents adds credibility to a situation that you may otherwise struggle to suspend disbelief for and some of the studies he writes about are entirely based on fact, (I know because I checked) which shows how it has been painstakingly researched and put together.
The plot is interesting, although it drags at times, particularly in the first half, until we come to a revelation about one of the main characters. The switch in narrative focus between Clemens and Robert keeps up the momentum.
Book groups would probably go wild over it as there are lots of themes it addresses: parenting, social responsibility, racism, medical research, trust, educational approaches. There is also the issue of whether or not the children are actually suffering from a real disorder or whether the parents are just ‘burnt out’ by looking after their demanding offspring. Certainly it is easy to spot traits of other conditions in some of the child characters: attachment disorder, autism, depression.
So if this book is so interesting why use the word ‘infuriating’? I don’t want to give spoilers so all I’ll say is that some of the seemingly most important threads of investigation, are never resolved. I’m sure it is a deliberate move by Clemens J. Setz to leave some questions unanswered so it leads to discussion, but all it did was make me feel like I’d been played!
However, for the next two days, the book was all I could think and talk about.
Which is why I find it impossible to give it a rating out of 10. I might feel infuriated but you can’t deny the man’s genius.
If you want to hear Clemens J. Setz talk about the book and why he put himself in his own story, there is an interview with him in the second half of this Guardian Books Podcast about literary dystopias. (At about 14.48 mins in)
I’ve come to a bit of a standstill whilst editing my novel. Parts of it feel a bit bare, so I’ve decided to reread a book that was an important text during the initial research phase almost three years ago to see if it will inspire me when trying to flesh it out a bit.
Part of my book is set in the picturesque village of Staithes, in North Yorkshire, and whilst there is plenty written about the filthy city of Victorian London, it seems that rural England has been largely forgotten, despite the impact that the railways and factories had on rural towns.
However, after much searching and a second visit to Staithes I found this book which is a reprint of an *actual diary* of a young lady called Enid, who spent her Summers visiting Staithes and mixing with the artists who would go there to paint the landscape.
It makes fascinating reading and whilst reading it again this morning I realised how many of my own characters and events are inspired by some of the events described: the waves outside the Cod and Lobster threatening to sweep children away; Enid’s fascination with the more bohemian residents such as Charlie and Sidney; the constant worry of how your behaviour will affect your reputation within certain social circles.
And the details about Yorkshire itself are wonderful. This is an extract of her writing about a particularly violent thunder storm:
…I could watch, to my full satisfaction how the great ribbons of pink and blue lightening shot across the cliffs, and how the pelting rain came down almost in bucketfuls, ploughing up the sea and covering it with a steaming white and grey mist, and washing the Staith as clean as if it had been mopped with soap and water. Then a strong wind sprang up, all of a sudden, and blew as if it would blow the whole of Staithes into the sea…I stood in the porch and watched it, in spite of mother’s repeated warnings, as I felt absolutely stifled inside.
The diary includes some of Enid’s own sketches as well as handwritten pages from the original text. It gives a great insight into what Staithes was like in 1901.
For those interested, Enid’s diary is available to buy here.