I have run into a rare form of writer’s block that isn’t usually covered in the literature. Apparently, I really don’t like writing about topics that, well, wind me up. Foolishly I wrote a conference paper last year on just such a red-button topic which I also submitted to a call-for-papers in an edited collection. That proposal was accepted and my personal deadline for submitting the draft is now so close that I am guaranteed to miss it (the editorial deadline is actually in late May, but I want it done, and out my door by early April).
My flailing and floundering is entirely down to my easily provoked tempter which makes it hard to write coherent and balanced prose. It is too easy to turn a nice argument into a laundry list of errors that will bore, or offend, most readers. I’m not entirely sure how to get out of this little pit that my bile has burned into the landscape but I must, and while I’m on the way, write another 5000 words while I’m at it.
What pushed me to this conclusion (that it’s my frustration with the ‘errors’ which prompted the paper in the first place) was this collection of pages put up by the University of Leicester that describe (in achingly sparse detail) the sharp-force trauma found on their Greyfriars skeleton.
Oh, and whatever you do, do not read the comments.
The documents spilled out onto the table like the dusty entrails of some juridical shark. This archival immortality preserved the acts of violence and legal manipulations of a dozen noble gentry. He leaned over the ancient indictment:
…felonice interfecerunt et murdraverunt…
The thought occurred to him that one were careless enough to be caught, this was a nice way to become part of the fabric of history. But he had been very careful, and it saddened him to think of students not yet born, cursing the nameless perpetrator of some insignificant murder, unrecorded in the archives. The feeling quickly faded. (Oxford Noir: Close Roll, Open Corpse)
I hope regular readers of PBS have enjoyed, or at least tolerated, the brief take over by the ether-monkeys of WordPress with their occasional postings from Oxford Noir. I have been trapped in a different sort of Dante-esque place of confinement at The National Archives for the last week and, prior to that, the victim of some wicked ennui that made all non-essential writing a painful ordeal. I will, given time, actually write about my adventures but for now I will simply check in and deposit this fragment from the second volume in the Oxford Noir series, unfortunately titled Close Roll and Open Corpse (somehow, this one didn’t impress the literary agents either).
Harris lit his pipe and crossing his arms over his shovel.
”Do you know what they tell treasure hunters, when they can’t find what they are looking for?”
Burkeley leaned against the chapel wall and sipped tea from the flask.
“No”, he said with reservation. “What do they say?”
Harris grinned. “They tell them that the most common reason why treasure hunters fail to find treasure is that they stop digging too soon.”
Burkeley gave him a dower look.
“So they suggest,” Harris continued, “that they just dig deeper.”
“That’s ridiculous,” snapped Burkeley, “if they all did that, they would dig forever.”
Harris laughed. “Exactly!” He gestured with his pipe towards the sack on the lawn, now oozing noticeably.
“Don’t think we can call him treasure.”
“No” said Burkeley. “Trove perhaps.” He screwed the cap back on the flask and picked up his shovel.
“So what do they advize diggers such as us, Mr. Harris?”
“A foot deeper than the irises, I think.”
“Yes,” said Burkeley, “that should avoid any accidents.”
(fragments from Oxford Noir)
He grew more uncomfortable the more he scanned the don’s shelves. It wasn’t the choice of reading material that upset him, it was the unorthodox method of arrangement.
His inner-librarian couldn’t make sense of it, but neither could the inner-academic. The inner-psychologist was keeping his thoughts to himself. (fragments from Oxford Noir)
Turning to the notes at the back he found this detail.
“Why Dante and Virgil, who have been circling always to the left, suddenly move off to the right remains a mystery; this will happen one other time in the inferno”
Perhaps, he thought, the passage to the left was blocked. Or—and this thought cheered him greatly—Virgil decided to stop for tea, and the cafe was on their right. (more fragments from Oxford Noir)
I will be away from convenient internets for the next week while I enjoy a paid vacation at the charming Kew Gardens. Actually, I will be at the National Archives at Kew, which is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a charming vacation destination. It is true that my time there is paid-for. Thank you AHRC and the Institute of Historical Research.
I have scheduled some short selections from Oxford Noir to entertain and horrify my loyal readers.
The inscription was more a stated preference than a condition of entry. In Oxford one got the visitors one deserved, not the visitors one hoped for. (further fragments from Oxford Noir)
“The librarian savoured the ephemeral calm. This year, like every other, the undergrads would be back after Easter break. The thought occurred that either the Warden was lying when he said he changed the locks again, or the undergraduates had a tunnel into College from outside the walls and the Porters just hadn’t found it yet.” (further fragments from Oxford Noir)
“Oxford post-grads frequently mistake Kafka’s The Castle for a cleverly written version of the History Faculty Handbook.” (Further fragments from Oxford Noir).