Monday, July 25, 2011

The gospel in Sufi poetry?

Here are some excerpts from a devotional manual popular among South Asian Muslims, picked out by the Christian scholar Kenneth Cragg.

Lo, I am Thy servant at Thy door ...
O Thou Helper of them that seek for help.
Thine anxious one is at Thy door,
O Thou Who dost lift away the care of all the careworn.
And I, Thy rebel, O Thou Who seekest for penitents, Thy rebel who acknowledges his faults is at Thy door.
O Thou Who forgivest sinners,
One who confesses his sin is at Thy door.
O most merciful, he who has erred is at Thy door
O Lord of the worlds, he who has wronged is at Thy door
Have mercy upon me, my Lord.

I have nought but my destitution to plead with Thee for me.
And in my poverty I put forward that destitution as my plea.
I have no power save to knock at Thy door.
And if I be turned away, at what door shall I knock?

--> Kenneth Cragg and Marston Speight, Islam from Within (2000: Belmont, CA,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Shaping a story by the 'rule of three'

Here's an article on writing novels that I found extremely helpful.

It's a way to combat an over-active creativity by keeping a novel focussed on the simple progress of its story, rather than on fun and interesting side-alleys. The three things to steer by are simply (1) a protagonist (2) a conflict and (3) a setting.

It's interesting to see how this plays out in giving books unity and narrative force. For example:

The entire Harry Potter series: (1) Harry (2) Voldemort's struggle to take over the earth (3) the magical world.

The Bible: (1) God (2) Reconciling himself to his errant creation (3) the whole canvas of heaven, the universe and eternity.

I think some stories break this rule by doubling it. So:

Pride and Prejudice: (1) Elizabeth Bennet (2) Overcoming pride and prejudice to marry Darcy (3) Eighteenth-century aristocratic England

(1) Mr Darcy (2) overcoming pride and prejudice to marry Elizabeth (3) as above

Similarly the parable of the prodigal son has two rules of three:

(1) Younger son (2) Returning to the Father (3) the Father's farm

--and --

(1) Older son  (2) Becoming further estranged from the Father (3) the Father's farm.

Either way, sticking to these simple outlines has to give a story narrative energy and stop it wandering off...

Monday, July 18, 2011

The railway man: Eric Lomax

'If I'd never been able to put a name to the face of of one of the men who had harmed me, and never discovered that behind that face there was also a damaged life, the nightmares would always have come from a past without meaning. And I had proved for myself that remembering is not enough, if it simply hardens hate. (last page).

A quietly-spoken true story of astonishing suffering and scarring, taken to another level by the attempts of two old men to bridge their mutual wounds through forgiveness. Lovely, moving book.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 15, 2011

A candidate for the Pretentious Persiflage award

The builders adding a new classroom block to the school outside our house labour under this mission statement: 'Developing high quality education facilities so that children and young people achieve their potential'.