RLLauthor@outlook.com and @RLL_author GO TO AMAZON KINDLE STORE AND TYPE RLL. YOU WILL FIND MY BOOKS.

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

REVISITING GREENELAND. STORIES READ BY WRITERS: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.

Misquotes didn’t mean much to Raven.
   The works of Graham Greene inhabit a strange non-place called Greeneland. I find the easiest way to recall whether or not Graham has an e at the end of it is by reminding myself that he is Graham Greeny.
   Greeneland is not a place: it is a statement of mind.
   To sum it up in one word would be difficult, as I’d aim for the word guilt on my way to the word betrayal. I order the firing squad out of barracks before dawn, with the intention of having one word shot. Guilt dies in a hail of bullets, leaving betrayal on the doormat come the morning.
   Betrayal. I pick it off the doormat and open it up to thorough examination. What’s on your mind, in Greeneland? Betrayal. That’s not the only one-word statement that fits, but it fits so well that it serves as the poster of the movie of the book of the anecdote that furnished the tale initially. I read a Graham Greeny story to another author. 

*

This is a report from a fugitive. Writers, in being writers, should rarely break cover. If you are the grouse, breaking cover is bad for your health. I go about my business, observing things. That’s something I do from a position of cover. And then I write. This puzzles people, from time to time, when I am forced to ask unusual questions.
   I am forced to ask unusual questions, O Best Beloved, on account of my ’satiable curtiosity.
   Yes, I’ll break cover if I have to, and flap my way out of a tricky situation. If I go around asking awkward questions and people want to know who I am, I simply announce that I’m an author and all the difficulty goes away.
   Yes, I sneaked into your nuclear reactor for research into how to sneak into your nuclear reactor.
   Oh, that’s fine.
   This was the case when questioned by the head of special operations at the Federal Reserve Bank. He confirmed to the armed guards that, yes, indeed, my passport was a genuine travel document. They didn’t have to open fire or close the blast doors on me. My excuse for being me, myself, and I? Oh, I’m an author. Shortly thereafter, it’s a case of…
   “And now the highlight of our tour: the gold vault.” 

*

Graham Greene didn’t care for being identified as Graham Greene when out and about. Being Graham Greene certainly opened a few dictatorial palace doors and tent-flaps to him. But being recognised as Graham Greene while on the job, out in the dusty streets, interfered with the work.
   There was a time when I broke cover in the company of friends, which is not breaking cover at all, and I read short stories to them. These events, readings, occurred with or without alcohol in the audience.
   Occasionally, members of the audience emerged to read stories of their own. An opening line about discovering a hatred for children stays with me. I laughed, and I believe to this day that I was meant to find the line funny.
   The author of that piece was then subjected to my work, and declared, rather drunkenly, that my writing was more than parody, more than pastiche, wasn’t it? I’ll admit to going a bit meta from time to time. Let’s leave it at that.
   These were not published stories. I received a letter by way of apology for the drunkenness, and a declaration that my work would find an outlet one day. One day it did, when I took those unseen stories from my readings and published the damned things.
   In the end, I inherited hundreds of volumes from a library as a result of my time in the trenches as a performer of tales. And I am still moving those tomes about, with an eye to the stacks as I type. But I went into cover again, and cut back on reading stories.
   The last time I read an unpublished story of my own was to a fellow author, who laughed throughout. It was meant to be funny, since you ask.
   Filthy author Joy Eileen guffawed at all the dirty jokes she imagined were in my tale. Who was I to stand in the way of a reader’s fun? (Also, there may have been some dirty jokes hidden in amongst the dirty jokes.)
 

*

Now we come to Greeneland. No, I wasn’t betrayed. I ended up performing The Fallen Idol, by Graham Greene. If you haven’t read it, or haven’t seen the film, I’d avoid any introduction by Greene in the text. Skip it. He betrays story details there.
   Somewhere along the way, in unspooling the story to author K. Woodward, I’d agreed to read the tale in a Scottish accent. Luckily, I happen to have a vaguely Scottish accent. This provided only a small difficulty.
   To the distant observer, American in nature, I sound vaguely Irish. And to the close observer, even amongst Scots, I have been called Irish-American. Everyone in town wonders which town I came from originally. Aye, aboot that…
   The small difficulty in remaining Scottish for this reading was that I seemed determined to remain Scottish for this reading. Ordinarily, I’d do different voices for all the characters who strut on the stage of the page. And I’d add one other voice, as narrator.
   I started with unreasonable intent, and found my Rogue Brogue1 possessing characters as I went along. One voice fits all. Betrayed by my own accent? Over a Graham Greene story? How apt. I was eyebrow-deep in Greeneland.
   The story began as The Basement Room, and was adapted for the screen as The Fallen Idol – that’s the title we go with now in print. Viewers may encounter the movie under yet another title: The Lost Illusion.
   Let’s say the original story is bleaker than the film is, and leave it to simmer without spoiling anything. I am reminded of the nasty ending to Greene’s Brighton Rock and the even hollower nastiness to the end of the film adaptation starring Richard Attenborough.
   The not-so-hidden-hand of Terence Rattigan nudged the end of the movie in that direction: the direction of the so-called happy ending. With Greene on the adaptation duties himself, he left that bit in, knowing that certain viewers wouldn’t count the film’s finish as happy at all. Clearly, I’m in the latter camp…
   Read Brighton Rock and find the end bleak. Watch the 1948 movie and find the finish even bleaker. Fight me. Don’t fight me. Not advocating violence…merely the imagery of violence. Again, viewers may find the movie under the title Young Scarface. Why, yes, I do mean the Americans.
   Did Greene betray his own work when adapting it for the screen? The book is the book, and the movie is the movie, and never the twain shall meet. Writing a novel is a solo collaborative process. The author teams up with all the voices inside the scribbler’s head. A book-to-movie adaptation…is under the guiding boot of the production’s budget.
   When writing the script of the original text, first ally yourself with the accountants. 

*

I keep having allergic reactions to Ernest Hemingway. After a particularly painful attempt at reading Hemingway again…
   We shall label this THE HEMINGWAY FIASCO, and ride quickly past the wreck of an old motor carriage dragged halfway into the swamp, for fear of lingering there and unleashing ghosts…
   KOFF KOFF.
   After a particularly painful attempt at reading Hemingway again, I resolved to inflict a divisive writer on the Canadian K. Woodward. I’d marched into the banqueting hall and allowed her to chop off my head with the Hemingway. As the tale goes, I must return and flip that coin to the underside through a sense of fairness. Though what is fair in surviving decapitation by means of faery sorcery, I do not know.
   This is the tale of Sir Gawain and the Graham Greene Knight.
   And so, it fell about that I inflicted Greeneland upon her. In a reading, no less. We tackled The Fallen Idol. Yes, in a very Scottish way. The story pulled me up by the reins when I revisited the racism.
   Greeneland is packed with Colonial Types: short-fused buttoned-down penitents weighed under murky water by the guilt on their epaulettes – ambulatory administrative catastrophes who sail for weeks on end to countries they could never understand, trying to escape what they left behind.
   Those characters understand even less than before, finding themselves waiting for themselves at the docks, and only rid themselves of themselves by reaching for the revolver. Or the whisky bottle. It little matters which, under a hot climate.
   And so, to the editing of the words. Greene uses certain words to show the racist nature of a character’s life overseas. The character brought all of that back with him to the land of pubs and stout and blowsy characters and Imperial measures and no internet.
   Reading aloud, I rephrase the sentences as I go. Greene himself worked the same toil in the fields, when accused of anti-Semitism. I’m not saying he was the George Lucas of his day, but we know Han shot first.
   There’s no escaping the paperwork-fuelled brand-name colonial racism in Greene’s depiction of paperwork-fuelled brand-name colonial racism. Why, then, did Greene toil in the editorial fields to reduce the anti-Semitism in his works?
   It’s difficult to get hold of the original STAR WARS. Oh, it can be obtained. The same is true of Greene’s early work, The Name of Action. If I really wanted to read an original copy, I could buy an original copy for £GASP. Battered by critics and savaged by Greene himself, the author took that early story off the market.
   As for books decidedly still available, I think of Greene going back in and softening the anti-Semitism on his pages. Accidentally, he intensified it. Once you know there are two versions of a tale, you see something worse in what he’d done in going from there to here. To take out a reference to a Jewess and instead to call her a bitch isn’t what I’d call sensible editing.
   The author’s distaste for his own distaste is typical Graham. He’s not called Henry for a reason. Though he will punt the name off to Scobie, a Colonial Type digging deep into The Heart of the Matter.
   Greene disapproved of much in (and off to one side of) his world. He gives us the label of entertainments for his thrillers and lets us know there are other, more serious, literary works waiting in the wings.
   I’m not buying it. Greene abandoned the entertainments position as he filled bookshelves the world over.
   Greene didn’t care for Greeneland, though he was an early adopter of the notion. He alludes to it by referencing Greenland in his work.
   Harshly, he didn’t care for himself, as witnessed by his attempts on his life. Russian Roulette with the revolver. This, from an author who later realised exactly why Hemingway shot himself. Greene wanted out, by any old means, weighing himself under clean water with aspirin on one last swim in the pool. He’d go on to drown, very slowly, in whisky.
   Justly or unjustly, Greene wasn’t exactly a fan of adaptations of his work. He’d pan his own adaptation wearing the hat of Greene the film critic. I have no way of knowing how far into the whisky bottle he was before the self-loathing emerged. I’d venture…as far as uncorking it went.
   Greene did not care to be corralled with a herd of Catholic Writers. And I see why. Even in Brighton Rock and The Power and the Glory, Greene comes across as an observer of that faith rather than as a full participant in it.
   But then, I will gleefully read C.S. Lewis and feel that Aslan is nothing more than a big magical talking lion with superpowers. So what do I know. Hey, if you want to view Aslan as Jesus…go for it.
   On Greene, I could foist digression after digression upon you. To return to the point. I’m reading a story aloud. The language is reprehensible. I cut and stitch and patch my way through the mire, editing Graham Greene on the run. My audience of one gets the idea of colonial repression minus the language employed by the original scribbler. 

*

The Fallen Idol is a story of betrayal. Greene was well-used to that. All writers are spies. Greene wouldn’t be out of place in an Eric Ambler novel. Drop Greene in Weimar Germany with a bundle of notes and the instruction to meddle constructively, and he would dabble semi-enthusiastically.
   One cannot mention Graham Greene and betrayal without starting a sentence with the word one. And that sentence would lead straight to his old boss in the spying game. One cannot mention Graham Greene and betrayal without mentioning Kim Philby.
   Kim Philby. No traitor, he. After all, according to the traitor himself, To betray, you must first belong. I never belonged. Take that one with a pinch of a salt-mine and a samovar-sized gulp of suspicion, Comrade.
   Philby serving some very cold tea, indeed, as he held the platter out to his Russian masters.
   Kim Philby was the charming sort of middle manager who would cheerily hand you a cocktail you’d never heard of at a party he’d call a soiree. All the while, he’d be banging your nanny and telling himself it was distinctly in the cause of Communism, old boy.
   Graham Greene’s distaste for what he saw as Philby’s office politicking, a power-grab fuelling ambition off-the-leash, later fell away with Philby’s exposure. At that point, Greene forgave Philby over appearing to be a bit of a dick in the office.
   Greene realised Kim’s being a bit of a dick in the office was merely cover for Philby’s advance as an espionage careerist of a wholly different kind – a Soviet-controlled one.
   I am tempted to use the word forgiveness when describing Greeneland. But it crouches unseen, in the company of guilt. Betrayal is the Dickensian Spirit, concealing both beneath its lengthy robes.
   The problem with people like Kim Philby is that people liked Kim Philby. Hauling himself out of middle management into the upper reaches of betrayal with a smile, a quip, and oodles of charm didn’t make him any less a bastard when he was sending agents to their deaths in Albania.
   With Greene, betrayal is personal. How much more personal then, is forgiveness? Philby is a traitor. Greene can’t forgive thuggish office politics. Was Philby really as careerist as all that? Hard to believe. Doesn’t sit right.
   But then Philby looks a likely suspect as The Third Man in the Cambridge spy ring. Here Greene’s earlier tale of the same name slots into position as a quirky piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is history. It carries no meaning.
   Philby’s political game in the office was the cover story for the bastard’s infiltration into a position of power and safety for himself. And Greene forgives that.
   Eerily, Greene placed himself in the role of the official uncovering Philby’s treachery and imagined giving the old boy a day’s head-start out of a twisted sense of fair play.
   Just get out of London. Clear off with minimum fuss, why don’t you? What does it serve us to air our dirty laundry in public? The whole point of our line of business is that we conduct it behind closed doors. It’ll be better for all if the fox is already bright in Paris while the hounds hunt dimly through Chelsea. The damage is done. Why hurt some more? Newspaper headlines never get the story straight anyway. Here’s a packet of fags. I know you’re short.
   Yes, that’s always going to be fake Greene-ery on my part, and not a patch on the author himself. No beer references, for a start.
   After reading Greene’s story to a fellow author (and K. didn’t have an allergic reaction to Greene), I was asked if I thought less of Greene in his forgiving of Philby’s treachery. Betrayal, guilt, and forgiveness are all major themes in Greene’s work.
   Greene is also the colour of envy.
   On deep reflection, I’d expect Greene to forgive Philby. It’s in his nature to do that. He’d frame adherence to a political cause, Communism, the same way that he’d frame adherence to a religion without thinking of religion as a political cause. Betray the nation, while sticking to the cause. There’s a whisky priest in Greene. Minus the priest.
   The blurred anti-Semitic character portrayals of the past make way for softened writing championing individual freedoms, with the rough spots ironed out, to the extent that Greene easily found himself in Jerusalem picking up a writing prize. His earlier anti-Semitic statements were raised alongside eyebrows over the nature of the award.
   You may dislike Greene for many reasons. The man forgives the ultimate traitor, Philby. Greene makes betrayal all about the isolated individual, against the backdrop of a revolution or whatever political disturbance is going on in his stories.
   Hundreds might be dying in rioting or unrest, but Greene takes it to the personal level. What of this one man, this one woman, or down in the basement…what of this child in the story…
   Yes, I think Greene’s forgiveness is very Graham Greene. Philby himself characterised Greene as the only person who would understand. Two old Commies, sitting not trading war stories, in a flat in Moscow. Both are fakes. One is faker than the other. Flip a coin to determine which is which. Loser Takes All. 

*

A key feature of my readings was always to waffle and babble at the start. I’d offer explanations. Background information to the writing of a tale. Once, I was asked if I always started story readings this way. Yes.
   Until recently, on reading Graham Greene. I guess a general audience could know of Graham Greene beforehand, but a story out of my imagination, read to a private audience, needs a procession of notes in front of it.
   They know ME beforehand, in the audience, but they know nothing of the story’s background. At least as I type this, I am in a better position to talk about the construction of my own stories than is Graham Greene concerning the fashioning of his.
   Oh, you’ll find his views in printed snippets. But he won’t be waving a whisky at you as he recites his latest scribblings. For his scribblings have been his late scribblings, of late.
   My talk, here…
   And it is talk, as I read my work aloud. (High Five to C.S. Lewis. Oh, he’d go for it, to the onlooking disapprobation of Mr Tolkien.)
   My talk here is the equivalent of the banter that normally goes with a reading. This time around, reading someone else’s work, I saved the notes until after the story. My mentioning of themes in Greeneland is always going to be a talk on betrayal. And so I reached for my thoughts on Greene and Philby. Here we are, with a blog post twice its usual length.
   C.S. Lewis gives great writing advice. Read your work aloud. You can read someone else’s work aloud, too. The world won’t end. Here’s scribbling advice to take advantage of before the world ends: write your work down.



1
The Rogue Brogue is a pending patent, currently © and soon to be ™ author K.C. Karr.


No comments:

Post a comment