24 July 2008

Vonnegut on good writing

I’ve just come across a helpful article by Kurt Vonnegut on ‘How to Write with Style’. A couple of excerpts:

Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound.

If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.

Hans Küng revisited

Over at Living Wittily, Jim Gordon of the Scottish Baptist College has just finished an interesting series on the second volume of Hans Küng’s memoirs, Disputed Truth. Such a warm endorsement from someone who stands in a very different theological tradition from Küng makes me think I should go back and re-read him. (I have to confess that I was put off Küng by my attempt to read On Being a Christian many years ago before I had sufficient grounding in theology to be able appreciate him.)

21 July 2008

Back to the grind

No blog entries for over a fortnight for the very good reason that I was away on a silent retreat for a week and then had to catch up with work, etc.

I have just finished editing another book for Solaris: The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Vol. 3. It is another fine collection of short stories including contributions from Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, John Meaney and Paul di Filippo.

Interestingly, ‘finishing’ the novel seems to have been the catalyst for fresh inspiration. I am beginning to make notes for a science fiction thriller set in the asteroid belt in the relatively near future. The heroine doesn’t know it but she holds the key to a discovery that will transform human technology (and ultimately open the way to the stars).

05 July 2008

Winter is over

Within the past five minutes I have actually reached the end of Winter (the working title of my novel). This draft weighs in at just over 144,000 words, which is too long (but I intend to take Stephen King’s advice and cut between 10 and 15 per cent during the revision).

I realized the other day that I have been working on this novel in one form or another for almost exactly ten years! At least, the first glimmerings of the idea which became the novel began to form during the summer of 1998.

The next step is to export it from yWriter to Word and tidy it up a little before submitting it to the tender mercies of the Writers’ Circle.

03 July 2008

The average Anglican

Contrary to popular belief (at least in the UK), the average Anglican is not middle-aged, middle-class and white. According to Canon Gregory Cameron:

‘The average Anglican is a black woman under the age of 30, who earns two dollars a day, has a family of at least three children, has lost two close relatives to AIDs, and who will walk four miles to Church for a three hour service on a Sunday.’
Canon Cameron's entire lecture can be downloaded from here.

02 July 2008

Franciscan spirituality

I have been pondering the distinctive features of Franciscan spirituality recently. Benedictine spirituality has lectio divina and, of course, Ignatian spirituality has the Examen and the Spiritual Exercises. What is it about Franciscan spirituality that makes it distinctively Franciscan?

The first thing to come to mind is that Franciscans are concerned for the well-being of God’s good creation (particularly since Francis was proclaimed patron saint of ecology). Franciscans also tend to take life less seriously than the followers of some other Christian traditions. Since creation is seen as good, it is something to be enjoyed (although that doesn’t exclude self-discipline).

More fundamental to the Franciscan tradition (but perhaps rather neglected in recent decades) is an emphasis on building up the Church. This is rooted in Francis’s own experience: his vision of Christ on the cross, calling him to ‘build my church’ (which, at first, he took very literally indeed). So the Franciscan way will include encouraging our fellow Christian to grow in the faith, but on a larger scale it will also include working for the unity and the (continual) reform of the Church.

But there is also something unashamedly personal and relational about the Franciscan way. If you pick up a book on Franciscan spirituality you will not find a set of techniques enabling you to live the Principles of the Order. Instead, typically, you will be introduced to Franciscan principles and ideals by way of anecdotes from the lives of Franciscan saints (from Francis himself to the contemporary Franciscans).

I have very slowly come to realize that Franciscan spirituality is learned by example – from the great Franciscan saints of the past, from our First and Second Order brothers and sisters, but most importantly from each other with all our flaws and shortcomings. This is important because modern society is obsessed with technique and the impact of that obsession on spiritual traditions has tended to depersonalize them (think of all those books on how to pray/meditate in ten easy steps).

Peak oil

I’ve just come across a useful overview of the notion of peak oil (here). It makes for scary reading and is vaguely reminiscent of the Club of Rome report, The Limits to Growth, which terrified me when I was an undergraduate. Unlike Limits to Growth and the more apocalyptic versions of peak oil theory (e.g. Olduvai theory), this overview does recognize that technological development is working to mitigate the effects of declining oil production. But the picture it paints is of a race between declining oil production (and rising food and fuel prices) and the development of new energy technologies. Lose the race and the price paid by humankind is likely to be a catastrophic Malthusian die-back.