Sunday, 8 November 2015

USA Bound

Work are sending me off to Seattle for the week - I finally get to see the mothership. Sunday has been spent fighting with my hand luggage to make sure it's within the measly 10kg the airline allows. Turns out my work laptop and charger weigh half of that so I can safely say I did not enjoy this game of 4D Tetris. Somehow it all came together and I'm now in the "what have I forgotten" phase.

I've never had a chance to go to the original head office until now. We're kind of big on the whole "frugality" thing and so far I've not had a good reason to go. But at last I get to see where it all began. I also get to see the city I heard about growing up watching Frasier. Though I can't promise I'll partake of the (in)famous coffee - maybe a hot chocolate instead.

The result of my minimalist packing has also been getting some apps on my phone to make blogging and writing easier. This post is entirely written on my iPhone - an experiment to see if I can get more writing practise by removing the need for a computer of any kind. I predict there may be an exponential rise in typos... But it should make it easier to write updates and I'm even going to give writing stories a go, though the thumb typing will either give me arthritis or drive me crazy. Only time will tell. The main point is that I'm trying to stop letting little things get in the way of dreams - it's so easy for mini excuses to pile up and blockade progress. So instead I'm going to remove those little problems one at a time, starting with the whole "but I don't have a laptop to write on" or "my laptop's too heavy to take everywhere". 

Now I just have to hope I get time away from work to actually do the thumb typing. No doubt the jet lag will help with that...

Monday, 26 October 2015

Steering the Craft - The Sound of Your Writing

This is the first in my exercises for Steering the Craft. It was actually really enjoyable, an opportunity to play with language in a way I normally forget to do when I'm writing. What you can discover just by not worrying about the final result is remarkable. There's still progress to make, but I'm pretty pleased with the results. Hopefully you'll enjoy them too, and I highly recommend giving these exercises a go yourself: the discovery alone will make it worth it.

Exercise One: Being Gorgeous

"Part One: Write a paragraph to a page of narrative that's meant to be read aloud. Use onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, made-up words or names, dialect - any kinds of sound effect you like - but NOT rhyme or meter."

When the day is swallowed by the sneaking dark and shadows stretch their arms to share their cloak, that's when the Ingrilin come out. No one sees them, that's their gift, their curse, but they see all. The long fingers slide over the ground ahead, scraping away the soil in the days when forests ruled the land. Now they simply slither over the concrete, their sleekit forms sliding over the tacky tarmac, past the cars careening to their destinations. Around the people bobbing along under their umbrellas, oblivious to the pitch black shadows by their feet.
Ingrilin do not know wherefor they go, only that they must. Each night they depart, only to be concealed in their lairs by the time the first rays of the sun kiss the ground. No one knows what they do in the between time, but even people in the enlightened age shiver and hurry past the black alley, avoid the street where the lamps are off. The shadow, with its languorous stretch across the uneven paving stones, is stepped over quickly. The mind remembers, even if the person does not.
What of those who forget completely? Those who step off the luminous path and into the unlit nook? Mostly, they are safe to trot away, continue their life of oblivion. But some are not so fortunate. And the Ingrilin are always waiting.

"Part Two: In a paragraph or so, describe an action, or a person feeling strong emotion - joy, fear, grief. Try to make the rhythm and movement of the sentences embody or represent the physical reality you're writing about."

There are some who enjoy speaking in public. Those people are mad. Most feel their insides quiver, their tongue retreat to their throat, as though to escape via the oesophagus. Sweat breaks out in all the worst places, and before they know it their nails are nibbled and turned to stubs. The notes so carefully taken are made damp, crushed under the pressure of what's to come. All this before the performance itself when the many eyes stare, expectant.
The voice croaks, the words all trying to beat the others to be heard. The tumbling oratory is matched by the rolling gut, just waiting for it to be over. The many eyes glaze, lost to inner thoughts. But still the vernacular somersaults must go on until, by a miracle of time and space, the notes are read, the words are said. The polite applause releases the speaker to their freedom. As they sit, a rush of comfort settles. And they hope next time will be easier.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Forcing the Muse

Three weeks since returning from my holiday, I'm making myself post something as it's safe to say the writing bug has not been with me lately. It's not that I don't want to write but I'm finding the words are stuck; I need a plumber to remove the blockage with one of those amusingly shaped plungers. Though I have just realised how much I like the word "plunger".

To combat the lack of words I've decided I need to approach this like I do going to the gym; make myself do it at set times, on set days, no matter how I feel. When exercise is the activity this often leads to a lot of internal whinging and negotiation with my inner self; bargains are proposed and regrettably rejected. Wails of "but I can't" are met with "but you must". So far I haven't had a routine for the writing to allow this fun dialogue to happen in my head, but here we are. Now I have two activities in which to explore the depths of my insanity.

I tried to do a bit of writing on holiday but was never that optimistic it would lead to much. In Magaluf there are lots of distractions of the sun, pool, drinks and dancing variety. And as it turned out food poisoning, when me and my man made the mistake of having the hotel's freshly cooked omelettes. I may never eat an omelette again. Couple with a decided lack of sun, grumpy neighbours, and a gym that was more a death trap then a work out area, it wasn't the smoothest of holidays, but it was still fun.

Another aid to writing I'm trying is working my way through Ursula K. Le Guin's "Steering the Craft - A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story". It's a short book on writing, with exercises to do at the end of each chapter, and I plan to post my attempts here. Alongside this I've set out my writing goals for the next three months, broken down into the actual pieces I want to have finished in that time and what should be in progress. Waiting for inspiration just isn't working, so a checklist will have to do. I'm even getting up earlier with the express purpose of writing something everyday, before I do anything else. I really like my sleep, so this is a significant step for me.

Hopefully all of this will mean more words on the page, and more posts on this ol' blog. And maybe, just maybe, some stories to show for it all.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Rachel Dolezal: Is Identity Skin Deep?

Identity. It isn't what it used to be. Religion, gender, sexuality, all have seen the barriers that once existed come crashing down, leading to a more fluid notion of where one group ends and another begins. The most recent challenger is now race, brought to the fore by the revelations around rights activist Rachel Dolezal. This has prompted a furore in the media and online about whether or not she is black and whether you can change your racial identity through desire alone.

Others have written at length about the Rachel Dolezal case but few are diving into the issue of identity and what it means in the 21st century. Self-identity has and will always be important to human beings: it's who we are, what we like, even why we are. Globalisation has massively affected our identity concepts; it would be hard to identify with a demographic if you didn't know anything about them or even if they existed. In fact one of the greatest strengths of a connected world, with open communication available to all, is the opportunity to learn about other people and their identity. But it has it's pitfalls; it's a thin line between self-identity and appropriation.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Reboots, Remakes and Nostalgia

Summer blockbusters this year seem to all be about nostalgia. First there was "Mad Max: Fury Road", bringing the road warrior back to the big screen for the first time since 1985. Then we had "Jurassic World", to enormous blockbuster success. Now we have "Terminator: Genisys", living up to the eternal promise of 'I'll be back'. Like a lot of people my age (let's say, thirty-ish) I remember the original films from the first time around (except for Mad Max, which I watched in the Nineties) and have a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings about them. I was too young to see Terminator until about a decade after its release but I watched T:2 when it came out on VHS and absolutely loved it. Of the three franchises, it was Jurassic Park that held a very special place in my heart; I saw it four times in the cinema when it came out in 1993 and loved every minute of it.

I'll admit, I'm still a little sad that movies aren't all that original anymore and rely on glories of the past to get bums on seats. If it's not superhero movies getting a reboot every two years, it's sequels to franchises that have been out of the limelight for two decades. Saying that, I have been thoroughly enjoying the current wave of sequels. Watching the latest Terminator addition got me thinking about this; I should probably hate all these films, for not living up to my memories of their founders, for trying to ruthlessly cash-in on established franchises with a strong fan-base. But I don't. All have been entertaining, all have made going to the cinema something I wanted to do (it's rare for any film to make me want to spend the cash for the big screen anymore) and most of all, I've felt that all have respected their origins. Some have done it better than others but none have made me feel like they're shitting all over their roots. In fact one of the things I like best about Terminator: Genisys is that it removes films 3 and 4 entirely from the timeline, two films that did not respect the original at all. Still hate the title though.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

No erotica before ten - at least in Germany

Something I find endlessly fascinating are the differences between cultures and countries on this fair planet of ours; the varieties in aesthetics, practices and outlooks is a great reminder to take nothing for granted. However, sometimes you're left boggled by decisions made in parts of the world.

Germany have now introduced a law that prohibits ebooks aimed at adults to be sold before 10 PM and after 6 AM, local time. The German Publishers & Booksellers Association has been told by the Youth Protection Authority that all ebooks are now subject to the same controls that have existed for print media since 2002, which limits the sale of hardcovers, paperbacks, magazines, and graphic novels to minors when those material are clearly aimed at adults. From now on all publishing houses and self-publishers will need to fill in a new field in the metadata calling out if the content is for an adult audience.

The oddness of this decision is mitigated by the fact that it may not in fact be enforced; Germany have a number of rules around what can and can't be sold or shown but these aren't always followed. With the fine being €500,000 for breaking the law though it will be surprising if new adult sections don't start popping up in online book stores across Germany.

From my time in the DVD world, I know that similar rules exist for rated 18 and up movies and TV, to the point where even buying them abroad can result in them being confiscated by customs until you prove your age (though it's a rare occurrence). But books are an odd medium to put these kind of age limits on; reading isn't as easy as sitting back and watching a movie, or playing a video game. Britain doesn't currently (and hopefully never will) have an age rating on books. Graphic novels are also not rated, though there may be an argument for that given they're much more of a visual medium then books. I'm not sure where I stand on this; I read a lot of non-age appropriate books and comics growing up, but then again my mum bought those for me after checking them... 

Is it okay to sell a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey to an eight-year-old, without a guardian present? Do we control the distribution of books by a person's age? And why does the idea of  that make a shiver go down my spine? Worth puzzling over, but I suspect there are no easy answers; and in the meantime each culture will do what works (or seems to) for them. See, I told you cultural variety is interesting.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Tanith Lee - Strange, Magical and Irreplaceable

It was a shock to hear that Tanith Lee died Sunday 24th May at the age of 67. To say she's influenced my reading and writing habits would be a massive understatement. It was her book, The Birthgrave, that was the very first fantasy novel I ever read that was intended for adults. I was eleven and in desperate need of MORE STORIES, particularly anything with a girl as the main character and having magical adventures. There weren't a lot of those kind of books when I was a kid in the early Nineties so my mum gave me a book with a semi-naked woman on the cover:

Written entirely in first-person, it tells the story of a woman who wakes up in a cavern under a volcano that is erupting. Barely escaping with her life she's rescued by some locals, who worship her as a god. Oh, and did I mention she takes one look at herself in some water and is confronted with a hideous deformed visage, so she covers her face for the rest of the book? That happens too. I adored the story, the characters and the epic yet personal themes. I read my way through it and the two follow ups in a matter of weeks. Then promptly read them again. From that point on I became a firm fantasy and science-fiction fan for life.

Lee's books are a wonderful mixture of high-fantasy, urban fantasy, horror and magic; with a large dose of weirdness. And through all of her stories was the ever present female point of view. Her stories were genuinely unique, beautifully written but so strange at times they could be hard to get into. With more than 90 books to her name I haven't come close to reading them all but to honour this great writer, who was sadly much under appreciated in her lifetime, I've listed below some of her works I have read and would highly recommend for all speculative fiction fans. Her high-fantasy books always reminded me of the Conan worlds, but with women as the focus, and there's a strong current of horror running through most of her stories. Her science fiction stories by comparison brought unusual takes on sci-fi tropes to create truly unique stories that I haven't yet found from other writers.

Black Unicorn
Silver Metal Lover

When the Lights Go Out
The Castle of Dark

I'm genuinely saddened that there will be no new Tanith Lee stories ever again, so will be making the effort to read those books of hers I haven't got to yet. For a personal and touching post about the loss of this great writer to the world, I highly recommend this post from her editor and friend.

And in the words of Tanith Lee herself: 

"Though we come and go, and pass into the shadows, where we leave behind us stories told -- on paper, on the wings of butterflies, on the wind, on the hearts of others -- there we are remembered, there we work magic and great change -- passing on the fire like a torch -- forever and forever. Till the sky falls, and all things are flawless and need no words at all."