Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
These emails make me wince and/or gag. They are supposed to be uplifting but, to me, they reek like Saint Albray if not sealed in a plastic container. They clog up your inbox with happy, smiley dribble, tinged with a sense of falsity. Punching the delete button is my usual response.
Not today. This one made me pause. This one didn't make me wince or gag. This one didn't smell.
This one makes me think about all those mornings, in recent times, when the alarm has gone off and I've ignored it, turning back over for more sleep, more dreaming. Dreaming instead of getting up and putting in an hour's work chasing those dreams.
This one I'll remember.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
- Murder in Mind - panel event about the world of psychological crime fiction with Stephen Booth, Jane Hill and a number of others, including a fave of mind, R.J.Ellory. As always, he was a very interesting panel member with great insight and analysis of the topic, and talk of upcoming books and screenplays was food for his eager readers. I missed a chance to chat with Roger at Harrogate, so I made sure I caught him this time, albeit briefly on his way to his book signing and my way to:
- John Harvey - solo event where John read from short stories, poems and his latest novel, and fielded questions from the audience in an entertaining and informative manner. Very enjoyable.
- Mark Billingham and Chris Brookmyre - these two fantastic (and hilarious) authors rounded off the day with a session that ran for over an hour and included stand up, readings from their latest books (and in Mark's case, a sneak peek at his next book) and Q&A, including an unusual question first up about why Mark's beard keeps disappearing("It's called shaving!").
The Reading festival is a different beast to the Harrogate behemoth, but just as entertaining. It's smaller in scale with about a quarter of the amount of attendees, but this creates an intimate atmosphere, allowing for more questions and, in some cases such as the John Harvey event, a more free-flowing structure. The only downside I'd comment on is the lack of time between events, meaning book signings were not an option if you had back to backs to attend.
It's not completely different to Harrogate though, with the key similarities being the attendance of BTZ regulars (Alison, Sarah, Carol, Jez) and a quiet beer afterwards with our favourite authors.
Another festival for the diary!
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Sunday, September 06, 2009
Saturday, September 05, 2009
Thursday, September 03, 2009
That's not entirely true, not yet anyway. The last two days I have looked at my desk or thought about writing and felt a twinge of deep rooted horror. And stepped away.
The source: a disastrous two hours of writing that occurred about two weeks ago, during my "Down" period. For two hours, I worked on my synopsis, encouraged by a second chance received from the agent who selected me in the Dragons' Pen at Harrogate Festival. She had critiqued my first attempt as part of the event, concluding that my work wasn't up to scratch, but kindly allowed me to submit a second effort.
Two hours, I sat there. Two hours working on my synopsis. Two hours and going no where.
My problem: I was stuck on the opening sentence. Everything I tried didn't work for various reasons: too vague; too wordy; inaccurate; or just plain rubbish. There was no happy ending either. After the two hours of pulling my hair out writing sentences and deleting them just as quickly, I gave up. And haven't been back since.
The horror of that late afternoon two weeks ago has stuck with me, making it difficult to return to my study and the blank page.
It's time to take my own advice, which is as follows:
In these circumstances, you just have to accept that you're in a bad place with your writing. Accept it and get on with it. The only way out is to write your way out. Keep tapping away, keep deleting the rubbish, and keep trying to get it right. There's no other way.
So tonight, without preamble or forethought, I am booting up the old Dell and starting my journey Back on that rollercoaster ride to publication.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
No, this high came from a successful Dragons' Pen experience. I stood up in front of 40 other students, a dozen authors and of course, the Dragons (two agents, one publisher and an editor) and pitched my novel. It went well, with both agents and the publisher putting their hand up for more. I was first to pitch and the only one to bag interest from both agents - result. The rest of the festival, I floated a foot off the ground, smiling from ear to ear.
DOWN: The following Monday, I fine tuned my synopsis and first chapter, then, holding my breath, I sent it off to my chosen agent and the publisher.
A week later, I received comments. I would be lying if I didn't say I expected glowing praise and a three book deal. Honestly, I think most people would. No one has read my novel yet (it's not complete) but I think its good and the pitch went well, so I was quite positive. Until someone tells you differently, you always think you are a star performer.
The comments that came back were constructive but mainly of the "needs improvement" variety. The critiques were professional and forthright (which I appreciate) but they did cut deep to the bone. There weren't too many positive statements that I could hang my hat on.
There is a horrible feeling when someone reads your book for the first time and doesn't like it or thinks it doesn't work. You shiver; you feel sick. It's worse when you haven't even finished. Output dries up; inspiration goes walkabout. As much as you believe you are the star performer, part of you also thinks your work is a steaming pile of crap. If the latter is reinforced, even subtly, the world comes crashing down. To progress, you need to find something to pull you up.
BACK AGAIN: I've been given a second chance, another go. The agent will look at a second attempt at the synopsis, as long as it is my best work. This brings with it even more anxiety -what if the second attempt is no better? Could I bounce back from that? But what pushes all of that down is the fact that I have been given a great opportunity to show what I can do and a chance to impress.
And that is enough to pull me back to the computer and start writing again . . .
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
The Corner TV series is based on David Simon and Edward Burns amazing book, The Corner: A Year In An Inner-city Neighbourhood and was written and produced by them. These two, as you may know, went onto achieve greatness with their next creation, the aforementioned HBO series, The Wire.
Initially, I was disappointed that only one episode of The Corner was to be shown at The Renoir event; a major scaling down of the format as compared to the Wire Weekender. However, once the episode finished over an hour later, I didn't hold onto my grudges; all I wanted to do was see more. It was a great first episode (of three) and I will be purchasing the DVD box set in due course to enjoy the rest.
The TV series lacks the depth of the book, but Simon and Burns manage to elicit an impact almost equal to the source material; watching the lives of these West Baltimore dwellers, junkies and dealers is harrowing and emotional.
The episode was followed by Q&A with David Simon, who had also brought along two real life characters from the world of The Corner and The Wire (but I won't reveal which ones). The discussions were interesting and entertaining, as Mr Simon always is, and I look forward to seeing him again in Harrogate. What's more exciting, for me, is that I still have Generation Kill to watch and Treme is on the horizon. Talk of a movie in its embryonic stage also sent the packed out Renoir Cinema into excited anticipation.
The event was a success: a thought provoking episode of quality television, followed by intelligent discussions with a talented writer. Not only that, I left the Renoir wanting more of what David Simon and Edward Burns have to offer.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Ann's new content for the website includes interviews with established authors of the genre, but she was also interested in speaking with aspiring authors and my name had been put forward, sourced from my attendance at the Creative Thursday events at the last two festivals.
I was delighted and more than happy to answer Ann's questions about the dreams of being a full time writer, the benefits of writing classes such as Creative Thursday, and any tips I might have for other budding authors.
I happened to check the website out today (looks great BTW!) and found that my interview has been posted! Check it out HERE!! Very happy with the results and absolutely stoked that I was able to contribute, in some way, to this wonderful festival.
Check out the rest of the website too - Ann has done a stellar job. There are other interviews, including those with authors Mark Billingham, Val McDermid, Laura Wilson, Kevin Wignall and Simon Kernick, as well as fan file interviews with some of the fans that are regulars at the festival in Harrogate (many of whom are budding writers in their own right (and are BTZ members to boot!!)).
Thanks again to Ann Chadwick for the interview and allowing me to contribute to the website, and thanks to Erica Morris for suggesting me to Ann in the first place.
And, just to let you know, I will be attending the festival again this year, including Creative Thursday, so I hope to see you there!
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
All in all, it was a very successful experience. At times it was sublime, other times frustrating, but overall it was something I enjoyed. Yes, my dreams of being a full time writer have not been shattered by endless hours of sitting in front of a computer, not speaking with another living soul, and living off packets of Cheese Doritos.
However, there were a few items noted for improvement for my next foray into full time writing:
- A bigger and better computer. Not to hurt the feelings of my Dell laptop bought back in the heady days of 2004, but staring at a petty 17inch screen for too long ain't good for the old noggin. The Nurofen had to be cracked open a couple of times to erradicate severe mind cramp.
- A reduction in hours worked each day. Some may say 7.5 hours a day is a bit pissweak, but I found I had no time to do other things, like leaving the computer to experience that funny thing they call LIFE. There was a two day stretch there where I hadn't left the house; I found myself talking to bees outside my window and wearing tissue boxes on my feet.
- A comfy chair. Not necessarily a deluxe leather super comfy chair but something that doesn't have a wooden back or a seat that contours to the ass of someone who sat in it in 1979.
Other than that, it all went very well. Thirty nine hours of rewriting and reviewing, 20% of the way through the 2nd draft and, as can be seen from the Noise Reduction meter, nearly 20,000 words culled from the manuscript.
A long way to go but a very, very successful week - both in output and experience.
As celebration, on my last day, I ate a large Pizza Express American Hot pizza and garlic bread right before bed. I read an interview with Jack Nicholson about the making of The Shining from an issue of Empire and then hit the sack. That night, the pepperoni taking its toll on my digestive system, I dreamt that I had looked back on my week's worth of writing and found the manuscript consisted of only one sentence, repeated over and over:
"All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy."
Reality was, I hadn't written anything that good.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Besides using the time off to catch up on getting this second draft done, the next six days will give me an opportunity to see what it's like to be doing this gig full time. I'll get a chance to find out whether I can sit in front of my computer and write for complete days, instead of the one or two hours I catch here and there. Good opportunity to experience the daily grind of the full time writer firsthand - definitely worth giving it a test run given it's a major goal in my life.
Of course, there will be established authors out there saying that being a full time writer isn't just about writing. And I agree - there's book tours, festivals, signings, radio and TV, blogs to update, fan emails to answer, editors, agents and publishers to meet, and all the other commitments a writer has these days. I recognise that I can't really experience those things yet - all that will be a separate challenge when the time comes, but at least I will get a chance to see if I enjoy or loathe the writing process on a full time basis. 'Cause if I don't like that part of it, the rest of it won't mean a thing.
This little exercise raises a few intriguing questions - what if after these next six days, I absolutely hate the full time writer malarkey? What if I yearn for my day job, sitting in the front of the computer, playing with spreadsheets and numbers? What if I can't take the pain? Will I give up?
Nah, probably not. But hey, it's a good excuse to post a series of blogs about the experience - and it's worth it just for the possibility that I'll stand up from my desk on Monday night and scream - I WANT TO DO MORE OF THIS!!!
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Since I completed the first draft to my novel, not a lot has happened. I managed to detail all my chapters on index cards, allowing me to see the whole picture and easily make changes here and there. I'm finding it very useful, but unfortunately, it's not a lot to show for almost a month's work.
Why the slow down in productivity, especially with late July fast approaching? Work. The full time paid variety. Yes, that old chestnut. Yesterday was the first day in a fortnight I've actually sat down at my computer. My day job has become my night job as well. Not ideal, but not the end of the world either. Things have quietened down now, so I will be taking a week off in mid-May to play catch up - a game I've mastered over the years.
The first task for Draft Numero Deux is to reduce that big steaming pile of words you see there on your right under "Noise Reduction." Two hundred and seventy words is just too much (you think?!). So a culling we shall go. Watch with intense concentration and wild glee as that figure reduces over the next month - bottoming out, hopefully, at 160,000 words.
If I can't get the word count down, I will instead release two books - Steaming Pile of Words - Part One and Steaming Pile of Words - Part Two. If it worked for Steven Soderbergh, it can work for . . . oh wait.
Sunday, April 05, 2009
It was a great feeling, typing "The End" into my manuscript; a feeling of achievement and satisfaction. Two and a half years ago I began writing this behemoth of a novel; two and a half years of intermittent writing, frustration with mediocre volumes of output, and moments of brilliance and clarity. From a germ of an idea formed in the early morning hours to typing those two words: it has been a long journey.
It's never just been about proving to myself that I can do it though, my ambitions extend beyond that, but completing the first draft has always been a major goal, appearing insurmountable at times, but, deep down, always achievable.
And I've done it. And I'm happy with the result.
My goal is still to have a finished product (fit for submission to agencies) by the Harrogate Festival in late July; a deadline fast approaching. The achievement of completing the first draft is already a distant memory, but as I wade through the second draft, it's still a memory that energises me each day I sit down at my computer.
I'm not naive enough, though, to not know that completing the first draft is only the half of it: draft after draft, alteration after alteration, the dreaded first read by someone other than yourself, and the mountain to climb towards publication, constitutes the hard work ahead of me. Hard work ahead and the continuing rollercoaster ride of emotion that every writer goes through.
Ultimately, there will be a great feeling of satisfaction and jubilation when the final draft is done and sent off to my chosen agents, but it will never match the pure joy and feeling of accomplishment, devoid of the anxiety of failure or critique, that is felt when those two words are written for the first time.
Something to savour for a long time.
Friday, March 06, 2009
- Introduce new characters.
- Change narrative perspective.
The first one I believe is so as not to cheat the reader - for example: "I've been leading you along about Francis being the murderer; it was actually Johnny from down the road, a character who I haven't mentioned once before in my entire novel, but hell, he's as good as anyone to pin this confusing convoluted plot of a murder on and it fills those nasty plot holes I've managed to dig for myself."
It's a cop out and it's not fair. It's lazy, it's mean and it makes for a wholly unsatisfactory ending for the reader.
The second sin is less of a deal breaker, although it isn't necessarily good form and it stinks of poor writing and it is still kind of a cop out. You've written four fifths of the novel from Gary's perspective (third person, first person, whatever) and then you switch to Rodney's perspective in the last three chapters. Not only is it confusing for the reader, but it's also a bit disorientating and it messes with the flow. The readers have invested time with Gary, read about his thoughts and feelings, been there with him through the good and bad times, taken a journey with him. Now Rodney turns up, talking in your head, giving you his opinion. Who does this Rodney joker think he is, hijacking the narrative?
Grumpiness, followed by disconnection, followed by book in bin.
Hmmm, very sinful . . . .
Well, forgive me Father, for I have sinned. But hell, I think it works! I've committed the sins above but nowhere near the two-fingers-up-to-the-reader atrocities of the examples above. I definitely haven't cheated the reader. I still think the novel flows. But hey, time will tell.
And that time is fast approaching. As I type this, I only have four more scenes to write in the first draft of my novel. Exciting times and about time too. Saturday will be dedicated to those four scenes; Saturday night will be dedicated to celebrating.
I might just pop open some bubbly to celebrate or at least have one or two beers at the pub. I might let the hair down, go a bit wild. That's the exciting thing about sins, you never know which one you'll commit next. And there's loads of fun in the committing.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
With many fires still out of control throughout country Victoria, winds still blowing hard and temperatures set to rise again, the fight still goes on. My best wishes go out to all those affected.
The excellent website The Big Picture at Boston.com never fails to deliver beautiful photos of current events, always breathtaking - these are heartbreaking and devastating.
If you wish to donate to the Victoria Bushfire Appeal, please do so at the address below:
Our thoughts are with you: Kinglake, Kinglake West, St Andrews, Humevale, Wandong, Strathewen, Callignee, Upper Callignee, Hazelwood, Jeeralang, Flowerdale, Hazeldene, Taggerty, Marysville, Arthurs Creek, Eaglehawk, Steels Creek, Mudgegonga, Koornalla, Yarra Glen, Narbethong, Clonbinane, Heathcote Junction.
Sunday, February 01, 2009
A novel normally contains a number of locations: cities, suburbs, streets, establishments. Although keeping to the reality of the chosen location is not necessarily key (a certain degree of artistic licence is allowed and sometimes required), you can avoid glaring mistakes by embarking on a field trip.
This field trip can be performed before (advised) or after (lazy) writing about the location. My novel is set in London, so obviously, as I live there, I have a fair degree of knowledge about the area, allowing me to write reasonably freely about it, especially in my first draft. However, there are certain areas, boroughs, tube stops, used throughout the book that I do not frequent and until yesterday, their detail has been guessed at. Sure, not bothering to check the locations before commencing the novel is a bit lazy, but sometimes its better to keep writing then to wait until you can find time to visit a location to confirm the detail. Finishing that first draft is key.
That said, heading off on my field trip after the fact created a few problems, most notably, discovering that a number of key scenes in my novel had been scuppered by the reality of the landscape. The position of buildings, the frequency of traffic, the layout of roads - all these things created holes the size of the O2 centre in these scenes.
It's not a deal breaker and it shouldn't change a thing, except that I will be required to insert a bit more ambiguity into the location - again, the use of artistic licence means that the detail of a location only needs to be seen as possible, it doesn't have to be reality (although, there will always be someone out there who will pick you up on the differences). At first I was disheartened by the discovery of inconsistencies in my novel, but then later, I decided to change the location slightly, move it further inland, shift a few buildings around and bang! things are back on track. As I said, it's not a deal breaker, but it always pays to know that the differences exist.
Checking out your chosen location can send you back to the drawing board, but in the end, you are the master of your fictional world, and knowing the detail of the location allows you to make changes within the realms of possibility, reality be damned.
On the flip side, checking out your location can also allow you to add texture to your prose and give you confidence in your writing, giving you comfort in the knowledge that you know the detail of your location and can tweak it as you see fit, within the blurred borders of reality. Field trips are definitely advised and remember, they are tax deductible!
Yesterday's itinerary: Shoreditch, Bow Common, Limehouse and Hoxton.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Sunday, January 11, 2009
I was having issues with the plot; one scene in particular which occurs very close to the end of the book. The scene had to be bloody, nail biting, sneak-a-peek-between-your-fingers type stuff. But it also had to portray a pivotal moment for two of the main characters.
The problem was this: I knew how I arrived at the scene and I knew how I wanted to leave it, but bugger me if I knew what went on in between. I've found you really can box yourself into a corner sometimes, plot wise, and finding a way out can prove difficult.
Anyway, I decided to step away, take a break and let the mind sort out my conundrum while I performed menial household chores like washing the dishes.
And it worked. At the time, I was very, very pleased with the solution that I had come up with.
I finished up the dishes, returned to my computer, and sketched out a rough plan for the scene. Reading back over it, I smiled and deemed it pure gold.
Stepping away from your novel helps a lot, especially if you find yourself in a sticky situation. Sometimes typing your way through it can work, letting the fingers run free, trusting in the magical power of prose that you have at your fingertips. However, more often than not, it can be difficult to arrive at a solution while sitting in front of your computer, staring at the words (or lack thereof) on the screen. Shutting down the computer for an hour and concentrating on something else can do the trick. The subconscious mind is an amazing thing; while you are mopping the floor or completing your tax return (ahem, 31 January people), it can busily and quite happily piece the puzzle together and work out the intricacies of the scene for you. Cue the dishwashing.
Conversely, however, taking time out can kill a scene or idea. This is what happened to me. After jotting down my idea ("pure gold" remember), I headed off to Greenwich to watch some cricket on Sky at a mate's place. On the train ride, I managed to convince myself that the scene, as it played out after my dishwashing session, was not right. It had the wrong feel to it; it was completely out of sync with the feel and tone of the novel. The scene did need to be significant and stand out from the rest, but my idea was too extreme. So I binned it.
Which lead me back to the drawing board and I have just spent the last 45 minutes, sitting in front of my computer, thinking about how the scene could work, and getting no where. If only I could come up with the answer.
I think I'll iron my shirts.
BTW - for those of you who are interested in what my ditched dishwashing inspired scene was all about, it involved a mincer and a severed little finger.
If you are now disappointed that the scene was canned, it's probably a reflection of your good self. But fear not, sick puppies: if ironing the shirts doesn't work, the mincer might find its way back in.