Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Me and the Chaffinch

I feel so guilty at the thought of the tens of thousands of people who’ve been sitting at their computers for days now, waiting for a new blog to get posted here. They may occasionally click over to Facebook, Twitter, or their own emails just to check but they rush back here as soon as they can, desperate for more wisdom, enlightenment and the perpetual reassurance that life is worth living. (Oh, and for the occasional word to top up their vocabulary – this week it’s 'rebarbative'. I love that word – it sounds exactly right for what it means.)

What makes it worse is that, while you've all been suffering, I’ve had a few of those days which are happy, positive, life-affirming. To begin with, this week came the news from the publishers of The Figurehead that it’s just about ready. The editor and I have been proof-reading the text again and got rid of the 14 typos that were still there. (What’s the betting that plenty more turn up when it’s actually been published?) The techie people are now deciding on such arcane features as ‘spacing and drop characters’, ‘wrap adjustments’ and ‘kerning’. All of which means that I’ll soon be clutching a copy of my latest baby in my grubby palm. Not, sadly, in time for the talk/reading I’m giving about it tomorrow evening, but there’ll no doubt be compensation for that when Stephen Spielberg rings me next week to beg me for the movie rights.

Then, yesterday, an email from another publisher saying she liked a proposal about a collection of short stories which I’d sent, together with some samples. She’s asked to see the whole manuscript. This time it’s not crime but some fantasy/sci-fi type things which I wrote after spending some time looking at Second Life. They’re supposed to be funny and they’re all about the interface between reality and the virtual online worlds. The small problem is that the ones I’ve written so far add up to some 16,000 words and, while that’s fine for ebooks, a paperback needs at least 40,000. So I’ll be spending lots of spare time adding to the collection. But, once again, it’s a great feeling.

And I also need to tell you about the chaffinch.

I sit here with my view of the garden, and my carved gargoyle and eagle just outside. Most of the time, though, I’m looking at the screen or the keyboard, so it always startles me when that bloody chaffinch decides to attack the top of my window. I hear a small bang and there he is, still flying but bashing his beak against the glass. And he does it again and again. I’ve just been outside to take a photo of what he must see when he makes his assault. That's it at the top. I took it from ground level because he always flies up from there for his attack, bashing against the pane at the very top. OK, I'm not a chaffinch, but I see nothing there that would fool me into thinking it’s a good place to nest, so what’s he doing it for?

Maybe the soul of a critic has transmigrated into his body and he hates writers. Maybe he’s practising some arcane act for the next Simon Cowell show – ‘Nature’s Got Talent’ or something. Maybe he’s a chaffinch philosopher and he’s just proving that life is an illusion and ultimate satisfaction is unattainable. Whatever it is, after all his clattering against the glass, he must go home every night and say to his wife ‘My beak’s killing me’.

Anyway, my own busy-ness is likely to go on for a while so why not re-read all the previous blogs and tease out the almost infinite layers of meaning which are folded into them? Remember, feel the swan in your blood.


  1. Firstly, a boring possibility: the chaffinch may think his reflection is a rival male -he is therefore protecting his territory and jealously defending the female. The equivalent of "Oi, you lookin' at my bird?"
    Perhaps more interestingly, it is a metaphor, or even a koan which has been sent to offer some enlightenment. I, as many other of your followers, can surely sense the deeper meaning offered, but it would be unkind to steal the learning opportunity from you. Search for the chaffinch inside yourself.

  2. Back home, we would ask you to place your hand on our heads. To share your luck! :)
    That poor bird. I would hang smth up in that window. He will kill himself one day.

  3. Ron, your response opens so many potential avenues. The reflection theory is out because, from where he launches his assault he can't see any bird in the window (unless there's a crafty rival in the tree which deliberately gets itself reflected in the glass to lure the one on the ground into self-destruction).

    'Oi, you lookin at my bird?' is true genius.

    And never mind the bloody koan - if I could get hold of that bird, there certainly would be a chaffinch inside myself, garnished with roast garlic and a side order of pommes dauphinoises.

    Scary, consider my hand is on your head.

    And I think killing himself is what he's trying to do. Maybe it's unrequited chaffinch love.

  4. It's because you're writing about sparrows, innit?

  5. Personally, I think the chaffinch is Narcissus reincarnated.

    I also agree that the "Oi" comment is hilarious.

    P.S. I prefer "transmigrated" to "rebarbative." I suspect it has something to do with my gender and an aversion to disgusting things.

  6. Aw shucks, Michael - you and your intertextuality.

    Yes, Linda, the narcissistic analysis had occurred to me, except it would be like Narcissus seeing his reflection before he even got to the water's edge. And if you have 'an aversion to disgusting things', how come you're reading these blogs?

  7. I, for one, am happy to know that The Figurehead is finally going to be on sale. Can't wait to read it. As for the bothering bird, he must be trying to get inside to read the proofs for himself. An impatient chaffinch, isn't he?

  8. It never occurred to me he might be a bookworm, Jean. That explains everything. You're right - he's just desperate to read it.

    (Ron - please supply a suitable gag about bookworms.)

  9. Wow, a short story collection. That would be great! Hope they like the other ones. I remember your SL stories very well. I loved them.

  10. Thanks Anneke - yes, it was fun digging them out again. But they may have to wait a while. News today of genuine commissions, but I think I need to take a blog to explain, so watch this space.

  11. Great about the short story collection, Bill. But the poor chaffinch - does he not see that reflection of the tree in your window and is totally confused about reality?

  12. The bird may have a higher calling. Where are you in your writing process each time he tries to kill himself. What if he's trying to divert you from your current path or wake you from dosing when you should be working.

    SO glad your scifi/fantasy stories are going to be published. I look forward to them.

  13. Hmmm, I see. You, Rosemary, are proposing a chaffinch who's read Plato and is reminding me of the real/ideal interface while you, Marley, are suggesting that he's not an independent creature following his own nest-seeking or nest-building instincts but some sort of sign or muse to keep me focused. And I thought it was just a myopic chaffinch.