Friday, 14 September 2012

On Borders (No, not the defunct bookshop)

SVA news section:
  • Sadly, Clive has decided to leave the group. He may possibly return in the future but in the meantime we wish him well.
  • Annie has written the text for a children's illustrated book and hopes to submit it to a specialist agent shortly.
  • Tony is working on more mental health articles for specialist magazines.
  • Linda is at the literary equivalent of the marathon runner's 'wall' with her novel. She is being nurtured through this by her mentor from Gold Dust. Linda worried all of us by retelling the advice she has been given that a rewrite should be exactly that - a full rewriting of the whole book not an edit or selective re-drafting.
  • Chris's publishers for Why Don't You Fly? have sold the Chinese rights and the initial print run is 12,000 copies! He also has an essay being published in New Zealand. Chris always was a globe-trotter.
  • Rob is working on the final edits for No Mean Affair. He gave as an example that the one-page sex scene has been edited down to three lines and Linda remarked that this would be much more realistic.
Politics raises borders and economics demolishes them
In the main part of the meeting we critiqued another extract from Chris's project, Karl Marx and Careful Driving. Linda, employing the 'feedback sandwich' praised the piece's flow and informative content but she is still doubtful about the density of parts of the philosophy. Tony noted the excellent aphorism: Politics raises borders and economics demolishes them, and Chris modestly owned up that it was all his own work.Tony and Annie spoke with high praise about the vivid descriptions and clever technique in the driver experience sections and Rob joined them in saying that the philosophical content is much more easily understood now Chris has relegated Marx's turgid text to the footnotes.
At some stage during the discussion, we compared the progress of crabs and their sideways scuttling with chessboard bishops and their diagonal peregrinations.
In response, Chris gave a short account of the opposed philosophies of Plato and Marx - the all-powerful state versus the no-state. He continued to the end of our allotted time with an explanation of the irony that the Russian cold-war system was Platonic rather than Marxist and we left the meeting with Annie's yawns ringing in our ears. (She was forgiven, this being her first week back at work as a schoolteacher.)

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Al Fresco at Tony's

Rob and Clive were absent for this meeting of the SVA due to other engagements, so there were only the four of us. Remarkably in this vile summer the evening happened to be quite pleasant so we accepted Tony's invitation to hold the meeting in the garden.

We exchanged news over the usual cups of tea and chocolate biscuits. Tony has been on a short holiday to the Peak District. Always one with an eye for an opportunity to earn some extra cash from his writing, he sent a review of the hotel to Lonely Planet magazine, which apparently pays contributors handsomely. Annie has suffered an injury to her leg by running backwards in long grass in flip-flops while trying to fly a kite - we've all done it. Linda and I reported that we spent a week camping with friends on the Long Mynd and it rained almost continuously. We went home a day earlier than planned.

Annie read the first chapter of her book, which hasn't yet got a title. It is a book written for children. The ambitious idea is that it combines a fictional story for entertainment with a mathematics text book for instruction. We all felt that it was a great idea but we were a little unconvinced about the execution at this very early stage.

Tony felt that it was engaging, insightful and had flashes of humour, but outlined some areas of concern. He felt that a balance would have to be struck between pleasure and instruction and was concerned that some of the vocabulary was a little difficult for the age group at which the book was directed. Stretching children's vocabulary by introducing the odd word that might be new to them is all very well, but it can't be allowed to spoil the entertainment. He suggested that writing a blurb for the back cover might help Annie get a feeling for the correct tone or pitch of the book.

Linda expressed concern that the story wasn't one that most kids would want to read because the main characters were too, well, nerdy. They needed to be more cool. A book directed at real children needs to be about real children. Like Tony, she felt that words like 'conundrum', 'conceit', 'prowess' and 'scribe' might not be understood by ten-year-olds. However she did like the idea of the book.

I felt that the idea was a little like Sophie's World, a bestselling book by Jostein Gaarder directed at teenagers. Sophie's World combines a fictional story about a schoolgirl with a text about philosophy - the idea to entertain and instruct. I think that with any such endeavour, the balance between fiction and text book, entertainment and instruction is crucial and must be very difficult to bring off. I suppose the idea is ultimately to make mathematics fun - and if Annie can succeed in doing that she'll have her own bestseller.

It certainly provided us with plenty of food for thought. There was no early finish, despite the reduced attendance, and it was getting dark when we finally adjourned the meeting at the usual time of around 9.30 pm.