Send No Money by Philip Larkin

I’ve always had the blessed facility to learn poetry by heart. I don’t have a favourite poem; I feel a little challenged by those who can name theirs with certainty. For me, the poem of the moment varies with how I happen to feel. I can, though, say which poets I turn to most often: Auden, Eliot and Larkin. Last evening I found the lines I thought wanting unfair/ It and finding out clash running through my mind (don’t ask why, because I don’t know) which had me running through my Collected Larkin till I found it:

Send No Money by Philip Larkin

Standing under the fobbed
Impendent belly of Time
Tell me the truth, I said
Teach me the way things go
All the other lads there
Were itching to have a bash
But I thought wanting unfair
It and finding out clash

So he patted my head, booming Boy
There’s no green in your eye
Sit here and watch the hail
Of occurence clobber life out
To a shape no one sees
Dare you look at that straight?
Oh thank you, I said, Oh yes please
And sat down to wait

Half life is over now
And I meet full face on dark mornings
The bestial visor, bent in
By the blows of what happened to happen
What does it prove? Sod all
In this way I spent youth
Tracing the trite untransferable
Truss-advertisement, truth

There’s an element here of the essential What makes a writer? question; the writer stands back a little from the daily hurly-burly of life. S/he is more interested in looking, in watching what happens and recording it, than in being involved in the action. Or so it seems to me. I’d be interested to know what you think.

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

How do you compete with Charles Frazier? Nightwoods is a wonderful book—one of those rare novels that you’re glad you’ve read; wish you hadn’t so you could have that first-time delight again; and that have changed the way you look at the world in ways that cannot be undone. How does he make such bizarre characters not only believable but convincing? Real? I don’t know. What I do know is that, if you haven’t read Nightwoods yet, you must.

Into the Woods by John Yorke


I’m reading Into the Woods, A Five Act Journey into Story by John Yorke. Yorke is Managing Director of a UK independent film producer (Wolf Hall among others). He’s been Head of Drama at Channel Four and Controller of Drama Production at the BBC. This is a man who understands Story.


So far I’m up to page 3 in the Introduction, and already I’m excited.

The quest to detect a universal story structure is not a new one. From the Prague School and the Russian Formalists of the early twentieth century, via Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism to Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots, many have set themselves the task of trying to understand how stories work. In my own field it’s a veritable industry – there are hundreds of books about screenwriting (though almost nothing sensible about television). I’ve read most of them, but the more I read the more two issues nag away: Most of them posit completely different systems, all of which claim to be the sole and only way to write stories. How can they all possibly claim to be right? None of them ask ‘Why?’

Why? I’ve never seen that question addressed before. I’m reading on, and I’ll be reporting here.

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