Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 25 March 2015



The eyes
of Men
are filled
with birds.

Often these
falter and

The birds
stand for Hope
and for Freedom.

22 December 1978

I’ve always been drawn towards the parabolic and the epigrammatic. I can think of two sources for my love of the short and the pithy. The first is obvious: the Bible, particularly the book of Proverbs. Whether you believe any of it or not it’s still a great source for writers. I mean Shakespeare’s good and all but he was only one man. The book I’m writing just now references dozens of scriptures which lends the public speakers treasure chesttext a familiar tone even if you’re not quite sure why it’s familiar. Expressions like ‘the prodigal son’ have been absorbed into the English idiom and so why not use them when so much of the work’s been done for you? I still own my father’s bible—such a cliché I know—despite the fact I’ve never opened it in something like eighteen years.

The other source of inspiration is the book of quotations I devoured growing up: The Public Speaker’s Treasure Chest. My copy dates back to the sixties—it was my dad’s originally—but the book keeps getting reprinted. Later, when I started working myself, I supplemented this with my own copy of The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations. I still have both books despite the fact the Internet’s stepped in and now attends to all my quote-related needs which is a shame because I have an emotional attachment to these books that I will never have with BrainyQuote.


Kass said...

I love the twist on 'the eyes of man'. Being filled with birds is much better than never being satisfied (Proverbs 27:20).

I feel the same about all my books of quotes. I inherited my Dad's (Barlett's and others) and they're dog-eared and quite tattered because he used quotes in a lot of the talks he gave as Bishop of our ward.

Jim Murdoch said...

A few years back I asked some of my online friends for help with a blog I was trying to write, Kass. I asked them to provide a quote from a piece of their writing and only one person gave me anything and it really wasn’t what I was looking for. I read books and poems all the time where lines jump out at me and I think, Ooh, that’s a great quote and, of course, we forget it. There should be a site—there probably already is—where you can submit new quotes rather than having to rely on the same old ones. I’ve just finished a book my Matt Haig and I should be working on the review but I thought I’d get this reply written first. Anyway it’s a book on depression and there are several decent quotes like this one: “There is no standard normal. Normal is subjective. There are seven billion versions of normal on this planet.” You could probably get away with the last sentence. The book I’m editing just now has some great quotes in it. My favourite is probably, “Writers don’t have real lives; they have ongoing research.” In this modern age we need quotes more than ever. It’s all most of us can remember.

Kass said...

Oh so true, Jim. Love that last quote. How about this one from writer, Nora Ephron’s mother, Phoebe, “Everything is copy.”

Jim Murdoch said...

Everything is copy and everyone is fodder, eh, Kass? Thankfully I’ve never been the kind of writer whose friends need to be afraid to open up to lest what they say ends up in a story of a novel. Maybe my friends just don’t do very interesting things. Lucky for them it’s not why I write. I’ve never been a storyteller. I was watching a short documentary last night in which the writer William McIlvanney talked about why he wrote and I liked his choice of expression very much. He said he wrote to “clarify” things. Not a word I would’ve chosen but I would have to agree. That’s why I write, to work things out on paper that are too complex to work out in my head. The distance helps immensely.

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