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

Sunday, 3 May 2015



they walked
and did not speak
they walked
neither did they touch.

His face
creased like unironed shirt
and her tired eyes.

That is all,
so why do I moralise?

23 October 1979

Fodder. Often cannon fodder. It’s a word, like so many words, I’ve used for years and never really thought much about:

Fodder, noun:

1. Feed for livestock, especially coarsely chopped hay or straw.
2. Raw material, as for artistic creation.
3. A consumable, often inferior item or resource that is in demand and usually abundant supply.

My current novel is about a writer who spends much of the book—decades, in fact—sitting on a park bench watching the world go by. Of the people who wander into his crosshairs he says, “they were fodder, ordinary people going about their ordinary lives, food for thought.” And being a writer?

It’s not being ordinary, not going home having your dinner and sitting through some inane made-for-TV movie with a six pack for company and to anaesthetise reality. If you’re not a writer what are you?


That was what he wanted to capture, what it’s like being normal, not being him because he never thought of himself as normal. Were he the norm everyone would be a writer. And they weren’t. Nor were they artists of any description. Normal people went to the football or the bingo, they got married, had kids and affairs and they knew about mortgage rates and credit cards. He was surrounded on all sides by a nimiety, a too-muchness, of normalcy; it was depressing.

Not everyone has a novel inside them but everyone has a story. I read a book a while back by Amos Oz in which an author spends a few hours making up stories about the people he encounters in his day to day life. That book made so much sense to me. I’m not as bad as Oz but I do remember quite clearly the very first series of Big Brother before it got silly. I was quite addicted. Ordinary people doing ordinary things. I could watch them for hours.



Gwil W said...

Jim, typo in line 7 ? is it missing an 'an'?

Ken Armstrong said...

I don't watch people as much as people think I do. I remember being at a wedding once and a fella came up to me saying, "I was watching you there, the writer, seeing everything, taking it all in." Actually I was thinking about going to bed.

Jim Murdoch said...

Actually, no, Gwilliam; the extra syllable spoils the flow. I suppose I could’ve written “shirts”; that would’ve worked.

Jim Murdoch said...

To be honest, Ken, these days I’m renowned for my poor observational skills. I’ll notice some change in the flat and say to Carrie, “When did you do such-and-such,” and she’ll respond, without batting an eye, “Oh, a fortnight ago at least.” Only certain things resonate with me. It’s like when you walk into a room with a hundred people in it and that one woman jumps out at you. Why that one? There’re fifty other no doubt perfectly acceptable women there but they all fade to black and white and there’s only her. Well that’s me. Only these days it’s rarely women. I’m more likely to be captivated by a Coke can or something equally innocuous. The same thing happens when watching TV. A line will jump out at me in the middle of the least arty programme and I’ll scribble it down and stick it in a novel. Of course by the time I’m finished editing it it’ll probably be unrecognisable but that’s neither here or there. Why that line? Why that can of Coke? Why that old couple? It’s all to do with timing, a confluence of ideas and images that can never be replicated.

Gwil W said...

Jim, there is a school of thought that one should not use 'like' although I like to use 'like' myself and obviously you like to use 'like' too.

If we subscribed to said school of though we'd jump straight in the deep end with:

His face
a creased unironed shirt

I don't know why we put words like 'like' in poems. But I still do it. I think I might stop. After all young Americans generally use like only as the last word in a sentence like.

Kass said...

Powers of observation are so subjective and our human ability to misconstrue is without limit, but it's still tempting to use our perceptions as 'fodder'.

I especially like the second stanza:
"His face,creased like unironed shirt
and her tired eyes."

Is the writer on the bench in your book waiting for Godot?

Jim Murdoch said...

I have no problem with ‘like’, Gwilliam. Out of the last 500 poems I use ‘like’ 150 times. That’s a lot of ‘likes’. I remember when I wrote this one feeling a bit awkward that the poem was not grammatically accurate but I also liked the something-is-missingness of that second stanza. It conveys a tone that I could only put into words by leaving words out.

Jim Murdoch said...

No, he’s not, Kass, but one can’t—well, I couldn’t—write a book about waiting and not mention Godot:

“To see what happens next. It is the whole point of existence. Didn’t you know that? Life—in this life and in the past—is all to do with waiting, waiting for all the little Godots to come home and waiting to see what’s going to happen when they do. As long as there’s life there’s waiting. One follows the other as night follows day. Waiting to. Waiting for. Waiting on. Waiting at. Waiting in just in case. It’s all foreplay. For as long as you endure there will always things be that may or may not happen, other shoes to fall and other punch lines to be fluffed.”

Kass said...

Jim, your paragraph is a wonderful reference to Beckett's Godot.

"...waiting for all the little Godots to come home."


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