Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year and New Beginnings

New Year has always been a bit depressing for me in the past. As I've mentioned elsewhere in these ramblings I've always ended up being disappointed with where I am, compared to where I wish to be. Well, this year has proven to be a bit different. I look back at the goals I made for myself, on this very blog, and I am content with my progress;

Goal 1 - to submit three short stories to competitions.

Done, sort of, if we include Flash Fiction (which I do). I may not have won anything yet but I can see how my writing has improved from this time last year. For the moment that is more than enough of a reward.

Goal 2 - to finish the novel.

Sort of done. The first draft is complete and though it's a mess it has given me the building blocks for draft 2, which is already looking much better.

Goal 3 - To move out of the homestead.

A very big "done" next to this one, and it was the best thing I did all year (apart from finishing the first draft obviously). I am in my own version of domestic bliss with my boyfriend - even if it has meant I'm washing a lot more socks than I used to.


So what will 2012 bring? Maybe the Mayan's will suddenly turn up in a spaceship and say "Psych! We totally made up that whole end of time nonsense." Or maybe the Olympics will turn out to be the best thing to ever happen to London, and not the nightmare all us native Londoner's are imagining. Personally I hope it will be another year of progress and achievement, and in that spirit here are my three aims for 2012:

  • Get the novel draft 2 complete and edited.
  • Beg/convince/bribe beta readers to read it and give me feedback.
  • Get three short stories completed and submitted to magazines or any publication that pays.
We'll see where I am in a years time. I can say though just writing down goals has been a huge help, giving me a real sense of direction and points to focus on.

All I have left to say is; have a wonderful, drunken, fun, joyous New Year's Eve, and may your 2012 be bright and beautiful. See you next year peeps.



Thursday, 22 December 2011

Happy Solstice - My Top Films of 2011

As Christmas approaches my days at work seem to be getting busier and my internal battery is starting to run out of juice. Unfortunately I don't get any time off apart from the national holidays, but that's more than can be said of those poor souls working in shops.

I'll likely be off the grid after tomorrow so I want to take the chance to wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy Solstice, and a Happy Hanukkah. I hope you get to snuggle up with loved ones, tolerate the crazy family members without knives being drawn, and get totally stuffed on food and drink. I'm planning on getting in touch with my Pagan ancestry by totally overindulging in both this season (the food and drink that is, not the knives and snuggles. Depends how the holiday weekend goes.)

I'm also hoping to catch up on some films over the festive season, to recharge my power supply, and thinking about this made me realise that I haven't done any film posts in an epoch. So here I will bring you my top films of 2011, based on those I've managed to see so far, plus a list of films I still really want to see (I was going to do a top Christmas films list, but as I did that last year - and it would be exactly the same list - I decided against it).

Friday, 16 December 2011

A Contentious Voice Silenced Forever

Today I heard the news that Christopher Hitchens had died. I have to say it surprised me; I knew his cancer was progressing but weirdly I hadn't thought about how ill he was, likely due to how busy he's been this last year. I have a lot of mixed feelings about the man, and even more about his opinions, but it saddened me nonetheless. His writing style has always impressed me, and I can't help but admire someone who can infuriate me so much and yet force me to reconsider my own point of view in light of their arguments. But the biggest reason it hit me is he is one of only a handful of writers I found in my teen years who were expressing an atheist perspective without fear.

A quick background; I am an atheist and know now that I always was. But there was a stage in my teens when the notion scared the shit out of me. I couldn't accept that there was "nothing" out there, or any purpose to life/the universe/everything, but I also couldn't accept that there was a sentient being in charge or some mystical energy binding us together. I was a bit spiritually lost, to put it simply. My parents are atheists too but I wanted to work out  my position on my own, lest I be accused of just copying them. I read a lot about magic, vampirism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Paganism, Gnosticism, Druidism - anything I could get my hands on. But none of it helped, as I never thought any of them were coming close to "reality" (as I perceived it). None of them felt right. Then I came across atheist writings and among them was Christopher Hitchens. It was a revelation. I realised I wasn't alone, nor the first to question the reality of religion and the nature of faith. They were asking the same questions I was asking. They (and all the science related stuff I read and watched) led me to have an epiphany that there didn't have to be a point to the universe, there didn't have to be a reason for my existence, per se. I could instead create my own purpose, my own reason for living. For me, that was an incredibly freeing moment and I've never looked back.

I was already an atheist, but those writers allowed me to articulate why. Hitchens was one of a small group willing to be unpopular, prepared to say things no one wanted to hear. I turned away from him and Dawkins over the years, as I have no bug bear with those who have faith, and I found their constant attacks on those with faith tiresome and their attitudes were far too morally superior for my tastes. However I appreciate and admire them for showing me that there was another way, as well as showing me that it is possible to agree and disagree (vehemently!) with someone's opinions at the same time.

I know Mr. Hitchens isn't aware of this, or looking down from on high (unless he got a VERY big surprise) but nonetheless: RIP.


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Hauntings and Parties

Christmas madness has officially begun and I'm already exhausted just thinking about all the things I need to do before the big day; presents to buy, cards to get, wrapping to be done, food to buy, parties and dinners to attend, and public transport to contend with. I don't know why all that stresses me out, as there are countless people in this world who would be more than happy to swap with me, and yet I feel my brain about to pop if I think about it all too much. A part of it is that when December starts rolling by I can't help assessing my life and thinking about 'where I am' versus 'where I want to be'. Inevitably there's a gaping chasm between the two, and the December depression begins. So instead I focus on action and what I have coming up and then I wonder when I'll find time to work on the life goals, and the whole sorry cycle starts again. As much as I love Christmas, I can't wait for January.

The last week has been easing me into the month of activity; the flat is now decorated (sorta) and the tree is up and pretty, if I do say so myself. Last Friday I went to see The Woman in Black at Fortune theatre in London and was totally blown away. The original book relies on the fact that the main character, Arthur Kipps, is reciting his experiences in a novel he's written for his family. The play has him do this through the form of a screenplay, which he has taken to an actor to be taught how to perform it for his family. It's a little change but one that has incredible consequences as the story unfolds. I highly recommend it and it was perfect for my taste in spooky stories around Christmas time. Maybe it's the pagan ancestry in me but I love ghost stories at this time of year. And yes, I've already read Christmas Carol this festive season, and will be watching both Scrooged and the Muppet Christmas Carol at some point too. Christmas wouldn't be the same without them.

The other notable event was the second 30th birthday party in my circle of close friends, and it was a blast. It amazes me to think that (a) we're all turning 30 within the next 10 months, and (b) we've all been and stayed friends since high school (and, in some cases, even longer than that). The road of life may have taken us all in surprising directions but we've somehow all managed to stay in touch and to stay good friends throughout the intervening years. Here's hoping it will continue for the next thirty, and beyond. I can't even imagine where we'll all be in the future. No doubt I'll still be doing my yearly assessments of my "progress" - and though it can get me down I'm not sure what I'd do with myself if I ever think "Oh, I actually am exactly where I want to be." Now that's a scary thought...

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

How To Destroy Your Writing Career - The Writer Responds


Some weeks ago I posted about Quentin Rowan and the plagiarism scandal he was caught up in. Well, he has responded in the last couple of weeks, the most interesting (and exhaustive) being on the blog of the man who revealed his deception. It makes for fascinating reading, if you're interested in the mind of someone who does an act that seems totally nonsensical to everyone else. 

To give him credit he doesn't try to deny it, or make out that it was okay. But he does try to excuse it (I think) by suggesting it was some kind of compulsion, or addiction if you will, that drove him to take more and more risks instead of stopping and writing something from scratch. Some may find his arguments convincing, but I think there's a lot of self-justification going on in his replies. Like the rioters who here in the UK have recently voiced their "reasons" for looting, burning and generally acting like arseholes, I suspect that Rowan's reasons have more in common with his own vision of what happened, rather than reality. It's a very human response to not take the full blame for our actions and instead try to explain them in a rational way, that paints us in a more positive light. I was particularly struck with his admission that he didn't copy and paste - he actually typed out by hand the lines from other people's books! He certainly has the patience of a writer; it's just a pity he had to write other people's words and pretend they were his own.

What really came through to me though was a sad picture of a wannabe writer who lost his way. He chose the easy way, because of a lack of belief in himself, as well as a desire to succeed quickly. He didn't want to work at his craft, largely due to fear; fear of not being good enough straightaway, fear of working hard and still not succeeding, fear of discovering he just wasn't cut out for writing.

There are a lot of lessons for all us wannabe's in Rowan's experience: do not doubt your voice, do not damn your work as pointless or mediocre when you only just started. Writing is a skill that can be worked on and improved - and most of all, don't be afraid of trying and failing. 

I believe the path to success is full of potholes and we have to fall into them, climb out and fall in many more before we get to Camelot. And you know what? It's half the fun of this crazy thing called writing. I hope Mr. Rowan can one day see that and experience it for himself.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Bullshit Bulldozer Bonus - A Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge

The flash fiction challenges over at Terribleminds continue, with the latest being to write a story under 1000 words where the title uses alliteration. Oh, and no vampires allowed. Head on over if you want to have a go, it's open until December 10th, and top prize is a copy of Mr. Wendig's very own Double Dead novel.

Please to enjoy. (Warning; features profanity. In case the title wasn't a clue)

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Protest, Progress and Da Vinci

Yeah, I had to mention protest. Seems only fitting given today saw the "biggest" protest of public service workers in some time. I put that in inverted commas as I was disappointed that more didn't turn out. I had imagined miles and miles of angry teachers, nurses, firefighters, lecturers, doctors, and dinner ladies descending on parliament and demanding Cameron and Gosbourne's heads. Sadly this didn't come to be (estimates I've seen say around 25,000 were out in the London march, which is tiny compared to the anti-war protests in Blair's day), but good on those that did go out and march (rather than go shopping instead).

It will be a surprise to no one that I support the strike Britain saw today, though I don't believe it will do any good in the long run; the public sector are going to get shafted the way the private one did over a decade ago. It isn't right, but I don't see how it can be avoided. And, being British, we will whinge and complain about it but nothing will actually be done. On the upside we will eventually get over the anger and it will be just another grievance added to the thousands we already have simmering away. But it was right, in my view, for them to go out and express their discontent - if for no other reason than to stop the Con-dems being able to pretend that everyone is okay with their proposals. That, and I'm a sucker for the underdog.

In other, more writing related news, the novel is coming along nicely - the revisions make a hell of a lot more sense than the initial draft, and I'm generally getting through three to five scenes a week. I've started counting my progress in scenes, rather than words, and have discovered I do more work that way, when I sit down to tippity-tap for the evening. Mind games are apparently the key to writing success.

I also was incredibly lucky this week to go to the Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition, at the National Gallery. I only got this opportunity thanks to a friend who had an invite to a "networking" event; there was a lot more looking at paintings, chatting with acquaintances and drinking of champagne than actual networking going on. I kept my feet on the ground by being one of the few with jeans on. Take that you bourgeois fools (she says as she drinks said champagne and chats to thoroughly nice posh people. Hey, I am a good old fashioned socialist after all).

It was wonderful to see the work of such a magnificent artist, and to have so many of his paintings in one place was marvellous (though it shouldn't be so hard to do as he didn't exactly do that many paintings). We walked past impressive works that he never finished, sketches of pieces he never started, and I thought, "that's what I want to avoid - starting and not finishing, because something shiny came along and distracted me." So my zeal for the book has been renewed and I plan to carry on at a steady but do-able rate.

Who knew a renaissance artist, dead for nearly 500 years, could do that. Thanks Da Vinci.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Anne McCaffrey Goes Beyond the Between - RIP

The sad news reached me Wednesday this week that science-fiction/fantasy writer Anne McCraffrey had passed away on Monday, at 85 years of age.

The news was a shock; I've long admired and enjoyed a number of her stories, but more importantly she was one of the female sci-fi/fantasy writers my Mum introduced me to from the age of ten, creating my long love of the genre. She was also in the group of female fantasy writers who I felt wrote stories that I, a girl keen on having adventures of her own, could enjoy from a female point of view. Though I wouldn't go so far as to say she was an outright feminist writer, in the way Sheri Tepper was for instance, she nonetheless put women in the centre of things, just as Andre Norton, and Tanith Lee did. Women weren't just add-ons or passively experiencing events; they did things, right and wrong, and were as much a part of the story as any male character (or in her own words, as reported by one of her sons, "I was so tired of all the weak women screaming in the corner while their boyfriends were beating off the aliens. I wouldn't have been—I'd've been in there swinging with something or kicking them as hard as I could"). This may not seem like a big deal nowadays but a number of stories, even by writers I admired and enjoyed, had female characters not doing a lot or just being victims (i.e. Isaac Asimov and his Foundation series. Brilliant, but women don't feature all that much. And they still make the tea, even that far in the future). It felt sometimes like the boys got all the adventures while the girls waited for them to come and rescue them. McCaffrey, among others, showed me it didn't have to be that way, and I will love her for that for the rest of my life.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Flash Fiction - "We Can't Win Them All"

This is my entry for the feminist flash fiction competition going on at Mookychick. If you're not familiar it's open to everybody (male or female), internationally, and entrants are tasked with creating a piece of flash fiction or a haiku under 200 words based around an aspect of feminism. It's free to enter and the top prize is £100 (or your country's equivalent) and a year's subscription to Bust Magazine. See their website for more details if you'd like to have a go.

My entry is below, and ended up being about more than I originally intended... please to enjoy.

~~~~~~~~~~

“But he’s a rapist.”
“Not exactly, he paid them didn’t he?”
“The girls were underage – and don’t even speak English.”
“He wasn’t to know that.”
“How could he not know that?! He screwed them and he doesn’t notice they can’t speak English? Oh, and that they’re obviously children.”
“I know you’re frustrated, but you can’t prove any of that. Especially not against a man like this. Don’t take it so personally.”
“I’m not… He paid for sex, which is a crime, he smashed a girl’s face in, which is a crime, and he raped who knows how many underage girls. How exactly am I meant to be okay with the case being dismissed?”
“You need to calm down, take a long term view. We’ll get him for something else – looks like he’s been embezzling for years, so once that case comes round we’ll get him behind bars.”
“And what about the girls? Looks like all but two of them are being deported and we both know they’ll just end up back here, pimped by someone else.”
“You really need to not get so hysterical about this. I know it’s frustrating, but we can’t win them all.”

This is an entry for the Mookychick blogging competition, FEMINIST FLASH FICTION 2011. Enter now.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Plodding On

Over a week since my last post - oops. Time flies when you don't pay attention, and between work, writing, life and a migraine from the depths of Hades itself I have definitely not been paying attention. So here are some updates of recent events and non-events;

- The blog has just reached 7000 page views! I don't know if that's good progress for a 1-year-old blog, but I'm pretty happy about it. I recently set up Google analytics as well to see what exactly all you lovely people do when you come to my little online space. Big sister is always watching.

- With the novel all plotted out it's been a far more relaxing process in writing the second draft. I've completed the first few scenes, though it remains to be seen if they stay or not; they're a bit more of a prologue than anything else, and I'm a believer that sometimes it's best to use reflection and flash backs for events prior to the main story. They might work though, as the mood is perfectly expressed in those early scenes, which runs through the whole story. I'll only know when it's all done.

- I have a few writing competition entries lurking on the horizon, the first of which should be live here on Friday. The others... well it depends if I make the time to sit down and come up with something for them.

It is amazing how little you can get done when you don't have your eye on the prize - I definitely need to start making all my technology bully me into getting more words down, through the use of "reminders". Otherwise known as picky, pushy, prodding pilickers. That's what I call them anyway.(ed. Spellcheck really hates the word "pilickers")

Hope all of your own projects, writing and otherwise, are plodding on nicely. Write on.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

How To Destory Your Writing Career

Plagiarism. The big no no of writing, whether that's a mid-term essay, a song or a story, nicking someone else's work and pretending it's your own is a sure fire way to get admitted into the fiery pit of condemnation. Odd then that it appears to have pulled off for one writer until a few days after his novel was published, when intrepid readers got more than a strong sense of deja vu. Q.R. Markham (real name Quentin Rowan), saw his spy novel "Assassin of Secrets" recently published in America, with much acclaim and positive comments from reviewers and the publisher Little, Brown & Company. On Tuesday the book was pulled by that same publisher when it came to light that parts of the book were copied verbatim from other spy and thriller novels. Things got even worse today, as the scale of the plagiarism is becoming clear, and even earlier works from this same author have now been found to be plagiarised versions of other people's work. If you thought you were having a bad day, Mr. Rowan is having a far worse one.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Flash Fiction; The Marketeers



It's that time again when Chuck Wendig has a Flash Fiction challenge on his blog Terrible Minds and yet again I couldn't resist. So here is my contribution. The theme this week is "Corporate Abuse", in keeping with the current Occupy movement and general dissatisfaction with the Capitalist system as it stands. A good excuse for some dystopian fiction in other words. I humbly present my piece, called "The Marketeers".

Monday, 31 October 2011

Happy Halloween

Unfortunately I don't have a lot of time to do a post today to honour one of my favourite festivals, as between a dentist appointment and visiting my parents I don't think I'll get a chance to throw a spooky tale together (some would say that the dentist and parents is scary enough). So instead I thought I'd express my love for Halloween in the best way possible; with the Snoopy gang. As some of you know I am a huge Snoopy fan, and Linus waiting in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin is one of the most vivid recollections I have from childhood. If you missed it there's a clip of it below. And, the funny Charlie Brown comment "I got a rock". They don't make cartoons like this anymore.

Happy Halloween and don't let the blood sucking, non-sparkling, ferocious vampires bite.





Thursday, 27 October 2011

Top 10 Things I Learned Writing a First Draft

I've been busy plotting out the second draft of "Where Wolves Run Free", and a big part of the process is reading over what I covered in the first draft (Draft 0) and seeing where improvements can be made. The plot has undergone some extreme revisions, though funnily enough the core events still happen, just in a different way. I also thought about the things I've learned for the next time I do a first draft of a novel (or any story really) and thought I'd share my top ten lessons from completing my first draft ever;

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Wire; A Retrospective

Okay, I know - it came out ages ago. But I only recently had the pleasure of watching all five seasons of The Wire so I thought I'd talk about it. If you too have not got on the Wire train yet, then do it. Do it NOW! You will not regret it. Somehow I managed to entirely miss it when it was TV here in Britain, and then never got around to renting the series. But, with the insistence of my boyfriend, we both sat down to watch it from beginning to end over the last few months; me to see what the fuss is about, and him to watch my reactions. What I saw was a prime example of fine storytelling and excellent character development, from beginning to end.


Monday, 17 October 2011

Draft Zero is Complete - Now Onto Draft 2

Exciting news - I have finished the first draft of my novel. At a whopping 98,000 words or so, it was a trek to get there, but get there I did. I'm calling this a Draft Zero as it is very, very rough, but it's all there and now just needs to be sifted through a careful refining process to create something intelligible and, I hope, enjoyable. The first stage of that has already started as I have plenty of ideas on how to improve the original.

For those interested in what I know I've got wrong, this is what I know I need to fix already:

Sunday, 16 October 2011

City Living

Living in a city like London can sometimes be a test of patience. The public transport lets you down when you need it most (especially at weekends, during "maintenance" work) and when you do get on a train or bus no one looks at each other, or acknowledges your existence. People are short tempered, particularly in rush hour, and it's easy to get a bit depressed about city life. Now and again though something comes along that renews my love for the place, and this weekend was one of those times.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Fruitfulness and Cake Whores

It occurred to me today that it's been nearly a year since I started up this blog, and then I thought about how far I've come since then. Starting out I had vague dreams of having a writing schedule, getting a first draft finished and learning more about this self-flogging thing called writing. I haven't quite got the draft done yet but I think I'm only a few thousand words away now (it's going to be shorter than I thought, likely about 90,000 words rather than 100,000). I have a definite schedule (most of the time) and am definitely conscious of getting words down every day. But the main difference I've felt is in my confidence. I don't think I'd have been up to submitting stories for flash fiction competitions, like on Chuck Wendig's blog, or chatting to people on twitter about writing a year ago. It's amazing how much we change without us really realising it.

Progress on the novel has been slow but good. I have the beginnings of an outline for the second draft so can make a start on that as soon as the first draft is finished. As those of you who follow me on Twitter know, yesterday I had a bit of a revelation when I finally realised what the theme of the novel is. I must admit I was beginning to have concerns about that. Here I am, I thought, at the end of the draft and I still have no idea what this damn story is really about, you know, under all the drama, gore and magic. What its essence is. I don't even know what it was specifically that triggered the realisation, but I was working on the final chapter of the draft, while writing bits of an outline for Draft 2 when suddenly, out of nowhere, I said to myself,

"Control. Trying to control things beyond your abilities, and the dire consequences of that on yourself and those around you."

Bang! Whizz! Pop! It was like a mini firework show in my head, amid frantic scribbling in my note pad. And then the feeling of pressure being released, pressure I hadn't even realised was there until it was gone. Ahhh.

So although I haven't been getting huge word counts in (only a few hundred each day) I feel like I've moved on leaps and bounds this week. With the theme firmly planted I can see now how to weave that into the main plot and the sub-plots. I can see what it will mean to the characters caught up in its vortex, how it's going to make them do things they shouldn't do, and make decisions that are hard but need to be made. Essentially, my story has gone from being 2D to being a full 4D experience. And I can't even begin to explain how relieved that makes me feel.

One last thing before I go: The aforementioned Mr. Wendig linked to this story today on Twitter and I thought it was one of the best short SF tales I've read in some time. The kind of story that makes me slightly envious but encouraged to try to do something as good. It also has a fantastic title. Ladies and Germs, I give you, "Cake Whores of Mars".


Saturday, 8 October 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Brand New Monster

As some of you may know I follow Chuck Wendig's blog over on terribleminds.com. I love Chuck's writing style, and his advice is at once punishing, truthful, and always from his heart. I also love the challenges he comes up with every week, and I liked this one so much I wanted to give it a go. So, here we are, in 1000 words, a story about a monster that no one has ever seen before. Vampires, zombies and werewolves - get lost. Your kind aren't wanted 'round here.


Enjoy!
Progress

A glum little gremlin sat at the bottom of Sheryl’s bag. Technically he was a wingless fairy, but none of the gremlin’s would ever admit that they were related to those annoying fluttery creatures. Always so full of themselves and, worst of all, smiling all the time. Even while they tangled up peoples hair as they slept, and pushed coins and pens down the side of the sofa, they always smiled and laughed. Bag gremlins rarely smiled, or at least not in front of anyone. This particular gremlin hadn’t smiled for a long time. You see, he was bored.
Dan (his parents liked human names so inflicted him with the dullest they could find) had not had anything to do in a long time. Day after day he sat at the bottom of his human’s handbag, waiting for something to be put in there that he could work with. When he’d been a youngling, and appointed as Sheryl’s personal bag gremlin, everything had gone fine. More than fine in fact. If Sheryl was on her way to school he got the chance to fold up all the corners of her books, and rubbed the spine until he was sure the pages would fall out. He punched the front covers so they dented, and lost their shine. And it was even better when she covered her books in paper and pictures; so much to rip apart! Not to mention the assortment of pens he got to open so they’d leak everywhere. When she got a bit older she got a “walkman”, some strange human device that played hideous sounds. But oh, the delight of tangling up the string attached to it, with the semi circle of plastic attached at the end. Then he’d discovered that on either end of that crescent were two soft and removable coverings. The joy of pulling them off every time she stuffed those “headphones” (what odd creatures humans were) into her bag, so that the next time she took them out he got to hear her grumbling and watch her hand rummaging around the bag to find them. He didn’t know why they were so important, but he knew it was a big deal if they came off, so he made sure to do it at every opportunity. Actually, that wasn’t entirely true; he sometimes left them on, and other times didn’t tangle up the attached cord. It meant the next time he got a much better result from Sheryl, who would swear and sometimes even tip her whole bag out! He could laugh on that for weeks. Only to himself of course.
Now, things were not the same. Where before there had been books a plenty to scrabble and scrape, now there was some hard and resistant thing, which even had a cover over it made of leather to stop him getting at it. But it wasn’t like normal leather, all soft and animally tasting. It was hard and nasty to bite on, so Dan quickly gave up on that. He didn’t know what it was called, but it seemed to have replaced the books. There weren’t even any pens to push into the lining of her bag, or a notepad to scrunch paper up. The only thing left was a piece of cord, though this one only had round things at it’s end, without the removable bits. Though he made the most of it, tying it up into the trickiest knots he could manage, it wasn’t the same.
The life of a gremlin wasn’t what it used to be. He’d heard that others were having this problem too, in the few times he poked his head out the top and chatted to another clan member from their own bag.
Maybe I should take up vacuums, he thought, that gives you the chance to use dirt and hair to block it up, even make it spew all the filth back onto the floor. But it wasn’t the same. There wasn’t the daily amusement in it, and was more for gremlins wanting to retire than those only in their first half century.
Suddenly a thought occurred to him. Why should the fairies get the chance to tangle up hair, and move things around while human’s sleep, when he could easily do it too. Yes, he couldn’t fly, but he could climb and he was always in the house anyway. Just think of it, all that stuff in the bathroom, in the bedroom, all those pens left lying around, all waiting to be hidden in the most inconvenient places. Dan covered his wide mouth with his taloned hands, holding in a giggle. He mustn’t lose it, he had to stay focused on the plan. The fairies were not going to like this, but he was bigger than them. Anyway, he’d tear their wings off if they tried to stop him.
Later that night Dan crept out of the bag that had been his home these past five years (the bag before had been far more comfortable - until he ripped the lining apart) and he scurried to the bedroom down the hall. Sheryl was asleep, and didn’t stir as he pulled himself up the bedding covering her. He sat on the pillow next to her head and set about tying her hair together. And he suddenly realised he was grinning. A fairy spotted him before long, flitting in unannounced as was their habit. He threw it the finger and it sped away. Nothing was going to distract him from the sheer joy of doing something again. He actually let out a high pitched (and far to fairy like) laugh. Once he was done he moved the hair pins from the side table onto the floor and began to search for other things to work on.
In this way the great war between fairies and gremlins began. Dan had no idea it would come to that when he started, but when it did, he couldn’t help himself. He smiled. 

Monday, 3 October 2011

Creativity and Unseasonal Sunshine

As some of you may know the UK has been experiencing some extraordinary weather the last week or so. Here in London at this time of year it's normally all gales, and cold, and falling leaves. But for the last seven days we've had hot sunshine, so it's felt more like July than September/October.

Making the most of it I got out the flat on Saturday and went for a wander around Romford, and ended up outside the church, pad in hand, and did a forty minute sketch of the church tower. I haven't sketched like that in years and it felt wonderful to let my old instincts take over for a while. Even if I did get a few funny looks from people. As anyone who's ever done sketches or paintings in the street knows, you learn to ignore the stares and after a while don't even notice them. So below are some pictures I took of the church, as well as the sketch itself. Enjoy!


This would have been a perfect picture if it hadn't been for
the bald bloke walking into my shot...

I liked the details on the front of the tower so focused on that for the sketch.


The sketch: It's a bit wonky, but I like the window details I got.
I plan to go back and do a better drawing in the future. Weather  permitting.








Thursday, 29 September 2011

School Reading Lists Suck (aka Childhood Torture Through Books)

I know it's been all quiet on this Western Front for a while. I think my brain is still in holiday mode and is taking a while to get back into gear. But I am slowly returning to my writing schedule. Slowly.

Today I saw an article about books that deserved to be banned. Swallowing my automatic reaction of "How dare they!? No books deserve to be banned" I read on to find that it was a discussion about the books that would be better to not include in classrooms and schools as mandatory reading. And not due to any religious, moral, or ethical concerns but purely because the books are no fun to read when you're a kid. I can definitely relate to that. I recall being inflicted with tortuous books in High School and College. I've purged the books before that from my mind so have no idea what they were anymore. So here is my list of books I was forced to study, and why I hated them, as well as the ones I loved (y'know, for comparison's sake):

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Traveller Returns

I am back from my week long excursion in Las Vegas and I can safely say it is an experience I will never forget. Me and my boyfriend were only there for seven nights but I think I have seen and learnt more in that one short week than I could cover in dozens of blog posts. So to avoid bombarding you all with multiple posts I'll condense it all into one (slightly long) post. Neatly subtitled so you can skip to the bits of interest. I didn't do much in the way of gambling but I think we both experienced a full and exciting visit to Vegas with a lot of unexpected and educational experiences. If you've never been I can't recommend it enough.



Monday, 5 September 2011

Holiday!

I'm now on holiday for two weeks, seven days of which I get to spend in Las Vegas. It's incredibly exciting as I've always wanted to go to America, and Las Vegas was one of the places on my list to see before I die. I think most people have that list somewhere in their mind... if not then I guess it's mainly me. I also have New York, New Orleans, and Washington top of my list of American places I want to see, but at least next week I can cross off Las Vegas. This excites me enough that I've had to hold in squeals of delight - and may let one loose when we land.

I'm slightly concerned about how long the flight is, as I've never done a long haul before. But so far I'm loving all the things Virgin Atlantic include on their flights. There are a number of films available (they say) that I haven't seen yet, so those should help to kill a few of the eleven hours I'm in the air for. I also have my Kindle, a DS and my MP3 player. And maybe, just maybe, I'll get some sleep. As we land at around two in the afternoon Las Vegas time I really hope I sleep a little; just so I can stay awake until something approaching night time there!

Activity on the blog will be a bit quiet while I'm away, but services should continue as normal from next Thursday onwards. And I may even have a few pictures to share with you all - hopefully including one of me striking it lucky at the casinos and winning a fortune. Hey, a girl can dream. I will have my Netbook with me while I'm out there though (as Internet access is included in the resort fee so I figure I better use it) so I should still send a few tweets out at some point while I'm there.

Watch out USA - here I come!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Book Review: Mockingjay (Hunger Games, Book 3)

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins - 2010 - 448 pages

Wow. Just... wow. I was expecting an explosive finish to the trilogy and Mockingjay more than delivers. The writing is as punchy as it has been throughout but Collins ramps up the stakes and shows a vulnerable side to Katniss that has so far only been seen in rare moments. The characters have to make some tough choices and face dire consequences for daring to stand up against the Capitol, and as ever the Games are never far away.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Progress, Growth and Learning

A friend at work said something this week that made me realise how far I've come with my writing. A year ago I had many false starts and bits of stories lying around on my hard drive. I liked the ideas but I lacked the will to finish them, or even to continue with them beyond the first few chapters (or pages in some cases). But when I heard someone else say "wow, you've already written a book with 80,000 words done" it dawned on me that I have done more in the last year to improve and progress with my writing then I have ever done before. The thought scared and exhilarated me in equal measure. I've also started to play around with a new idea which recycles two of those false starts into one story, with the hope I can start a draft on that while I'm editing the first one. I would never have imagined working on two long stories at once but it's given me energy to work on more than one thing at a time and ironically means I get more done.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Book Review: Catching Fire (Hunger Games, Book 2)

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins - 2009 - 409 pages

I had high expectations coming straight from The Hunger Games into Catching Fire, and was a little worried it would be more of the same without any real reason to it. I was wrong to be concerned; the sequel to The Hunger Games is a worthy follow up, and though it also features the kind of death match we saw in the first, the character's are changed by their experiences first time round, making this a different experience. Collins also begins to build on the notion that Katniss' role is more than just the girl who lived.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Harry Potter Hunt Continues

I saw this over the weekend and thought it was an interesting read for anyone into books or writing them. We all know that with the final instalment of the Harry Potter series recently released to cinemas, publishers and studios alike are on the lookout for the "next Harry". Well, the latest to be submitted is The Night Circus, the debut book by Erin Morgenstern. The story goes that this is her first novel, ever, and with not even a short story published before she has suddenly been catapulted into the big time. Not by sales (the book isn't out until September), but by marketing and investment from the publishers, with Summit Entertainment already snapping up the film rights. And it isn't even out yet...

Thursday, 18 August 2011

What's a Grade Worth Anyway?

Those in the UK will know only too well today was A-Level results day. For everyone outside of Britain... it was A-Level results day today, a day typically filled with images on TV of pretty girls hugging each other and consoling the one who didn't manage to get all A*s, and got an A instead... yes, that does happen. (For those not in the know, an A* is a super duper A. It was created because of how many people get As in their exams, to differentiate between those that are excellent and those that are almost godly in their knowledge.)

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Book Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins - 2009 - 464 pages

A friend at work recommended I try "The Hunger Games", so I downloaded a sample to my kindle. No sooner had I finished reading than I bought the whole book and read it in a week. A combination of a dystopian future with the kind of survival to the death contest a number of people are no doubt considering in post riot Britain, "The Hunger Games" is a fantastic read. Exciting, vicious and compelling characters create a work of fiction that really drew me in. The language is simple and the pacing is excellent, making it very easy to get through the book quickly (which is a plus in my opinion; I like long books but it's nice to read something I'm not dedicating weeks to).

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London Burns and the Bleeding Hearts Weep

I am a Londoner, born and bred. I was fortunate enough to live in an affluent area of North West London, where trees line the streets, with a large park nearby. I went to good schools, I had two loving parents who encouraged me without judgement and pushed me to achieve. My love of books, politics and history was grown out of the passion I saw in my parents, my teachers, my friends, my neighbours. Not everyone is as fortunate. There were kids at my school/college/work with far less pleasant home lives, with absent parents, and who had to live on estates where getting stabbed (or worse) was a genuine risk, where drugs were rife, where opportunities were scarce. I won't pretend to know what that's like, because I couldn't even come close. My own family come from a poor background, and it's my parents that got themselves out of it through hard work and determination. I am well aware of my privilege, of the sheer chance that meant I was born into reasonable wealth and comfort. But I have always been reminded how precarious it is, what being poor means, I am reminded of the reality of having to choose if you feed yourself or your child. Being poor does not make people riot. It does not force people to commit arson, and criminal damage. I beseech everyone to stop making excuses for the criminals besetting my fair city. Because they don't understand poverty, and have no desire to. All they understand is greed, entitlement, fear, and arrogance.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Book Review: Talyn

Talyn - Holly Lisle - 2005 - 592 pages

I've had a bit of a break from the writing this week (think I blew a fuse the week before) but have started up again now. So instead of writing I got myself reading again and finished off "Talyn", which I bought a while ago. It isn't a book you'll be able to find in most places, and at the moment it's only seems to be available in the UK as second hand or from sellers. Which is a real shame as this is a very interesting and unusual fantasy book.

I grew up reading fantasy stories, particularly ones written in the seventies and eighties, thanks to my mum being a huge science-fiction and fantasy fan. She especially loved the female writers of those decades, such as Sheri Tepper and Tanith Lee, as they normally wrote adventures with women as the main protagonist. I too loved these types of stories, and though I had no problem with stories with male main characters, the books that have made the most lasting impressions on me generally feature a strong central female role. So when I discovered Holly Lisle's website a couple of years ago (which I highly recommend any would-be author visit - her advice is excellent) I was interested to see that she too seemed to have strong central female characters in her stories. And, as I found her writing advice so helpful, I wanted to know what her own writing was like. I chose to buy "Talyn" as it sounded similar to those works I've enjoyed from others. Having now finished it I can say it bears some likeness to those works (which made me think it was a much older book than it actually is) but it also stands on its own. One thing it lacks that the likes of Sheri Tepper include in their stories, is the feminist message, but it in no way is the worse for this. There are themes a plenty in "Talyn" and these stay with you long after you put the book down.

The tale begins with a soldier called Talyn, using her magical abilities in her people's fight against their neighbour, the Eastils. Talyn is a Tonk, and the Tonks and the Eastils have been fighting their war for 300 years with no respite. Needless to say both of their societies have been shaped by this constant state of war, and Lisle does a wonderful job of fully building this world, and the two warring cultures within it. The Tonks are a scattered people, many of them nomadic and the rest made up of individual city-states. The Eastils however are ruled by one central government, headed by a King, and are expansionist by nature. The people of both lands have only ever known war, and Talyn is no exception with her whole life revolving around her duty. Then suddenly the Feegash arrive from over the sea and broker a deal between the two sides, effectively putting Talyn out of a job but more importantly removing her whole purpose. She has to learn what's left to her without the war, and whether without duty she can find meaning in her life. Before long though she comes to see that something even darker may be threatening Tonk and Eastil lands, and she must choose between duty and honour if she wants to protect her family, and herself.

The most remarkable things about Lisle's writing is the deep and multilayered world she creates. Just as in real life, nothing is simple or necessarily what it seems. The people are no different; we delve into the mind of Talyn and find a woman who is torn and uncertain of her life, but at the same time is incredibly strong and confident. Lisle also uses an interesting writing style that I didn't even notice until half way through. Whenever the action is from Talyn's perspective we are told events in the first person. But when we see events from anyone else's point of view it's told in the third person. This is a bit odd when you first notice it but it seems to work; the reader is drawn into Talyn's mind, and needs to be there for some scenes to work, but we are never sure of anyone else's thoughts or feelings, just as Talyn isn't. Her distrust of non-Tonks is a feature throughout the book and it's interesting to see her wrestle with this, being betrayed when she puts it aside, and being helped when she doesn't.

The themes are strong throughout the tale, with not just honour and duty featuring, but the total divide between good and evil, and how even former enemies need to unite when faced with the darkest of threats. At times these strong themes actually hinder the story a little, as we get internal discussions from Talyn that don't have any immediate relevance to the story. But the effect is cumulative, and ultimately results in a deeper book that stays with you after you read that last page. The only areas where some may struggle is the slow beginning, which sets up the world so when it all gets ripped apart we understand how devastating that is, and the end, which I thought was too sudden. Then again that may also be to do with wanting the story to go on for a little longer as I enjoyed it so much.

Some warning about "Talyn"; this is not a book that is appropriate for children. It features some sex but more relevantly, it includes scenes of sadistic torture, and I was surprised at how much it dealt with how victims of violence blame themselves for their pain, and how they get trapped into thinking about what they could have or should have done differently to prevent it. Not your typical fantasy subject matter, but it brought a solemnity and realism to the story that I hadn't expected and only added to the impact of this book.

I enjoyed Talyn very much, and will be seeing what other works of Holly Lisle's I can find as her writing is excellent and she shows how important it is to create a fully realised world. She has recently announced that she is self-publishing her books, including her back catalogue, so we can only hope that "Talyn" gets a rerelease in a print version, and is made available in an ebook format too. With more access I truly think this book could sell extremely well, and offer something a bit different to us Fantasy fans tired of the same old cliches.


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

What Makes a Good Reviewer?

It sold over 50 million.
It must be rubbish.
A few weeks ago, while I was neck deep and swimming frantically to get through Julnowrimo, I came across a post on Joe Konrath's blog about reviewers, specifically about confusing personal feelings with a product's worth. In essence he points out that if a work has deliberation behind it, in that a creator had a vision and deliberately set out to create that vision with effort, thought, and time, then it can't be totally rubbish. It might not be good but it won't be crap. This made me think of Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code, which many online and elsewhere have reviewed badly, and it is often torn to shreds and posted as an example of how not to write a book. But it sold millions. Why, if it's so rubbish? Because people are stupid? Or is it that Dan Brown set out to do something with it, and he achieved that, and that's what people like about it (i.e. the book is very fast paced and is an ideal holiday read.) This doesn't make it a masterpiece but it does mean it successfully achieves what it was meant to do. (I have read it, I enjoyed it, and I'll likely never read it again. It does what it's meant to!)

Sunday, 31 July 2011

I Did It!!!

Glory days, alleluia, not to mention very frickin' chuffed - I have just completed the Julnowrimo challenge!! A total of 50300 words have been written by yours truly in the last 31 days, and I now have a novel of 77519 words. It isn't quite finished yet but I am damn close, with only twenty thousand words (or four chapters if you prefer) before it is completed.

I have never, in my whole life written as much as I have in the last month - and I've loved it. Even if it is massively stressful. Greatest thing I've learned; how to push on through the blocks so you get something done each day.

I honestly feel like I've just climbed Everest. Excuse me while I go bounce around the room in ecstatic joy.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Emerging From the Cave

Hello readers, I am poking my head out of my cave to say I am very, very, very close to achieving 50,000 words in July. Those of you who have read previous posts will know I signed up for Julnowrimo, and I am exactly 9679 words from the 50,000. In the words of Bender from Futurama, woohoo! So this won't be a long post as I got typing to be getting on with but I wanted to share what my experience of julnowrimo has been like so far.

This last week, while I've been away from work, has been massively helpful  in experiencing what writing large word counts is like. The best way to describe it is; tiring, exhilarating, frustrating and rewarding. The hardest part is getting started each day, but once you tie yourself down to your chair (chains optional) it's amazing how much you can get done when you know you have the whole day to do it. I have also worked out why professional novelists seem to only write three to six thousand words in a day. I always wondered why they didn't do at least eight thousand, or even ten thousand if they have the whole day and that's the day job. Now I know; it would make your brain melt out of your ears. There are times when I got so deep into my story I couldn't actually see anything else, and though it's a great feeling it's also a little uncomfortable when you leave. I'd be walking around with my head still very much in the story, and had to make a conscious effort to get back to reality. Also, I found I started to lose perspective at times when I'd been deep in the writing for three hours (without realising it) and needed to stop to take a break and get an overall view on what I'd just done. It reminded me of when I used to do life paintings; there would come a point where you had to stop and take five or six steps away from your painting so you can see the whole thing. When you did that you could see the bits that worked, the parts that didn't and see what you had to do next. Turns out writing is much the same.

The method of writing I preferred this week was doing a little bit in the morning, only an hour or two and then stopping for about three hours to do what I wanted. Then I'd go back to the story in the afternoon or even the evening and work for three or four hours straight. Doing five thousand words that way is a lot more pleasant than trying to squeeze three thousand words into a late night session after work, and my dreams of doing this full time are even stronger now that I've had a taste of a writer's day.

So I'd better sign off so I can get on with the story. By the time the challenge is complete I should have just under 80,000 words done, leaving me with only 20,000 to do in order to finish the book. And even as I type that I can't quite believe it - I have never finished a long piece like this before, and it still doesn't feel real that I might actually manage it this time. I refuse to jinx it by saying it will be done, but I have a good feeling about this one.

Monday, 25 July 2011

A Week Off Work!

There are few things as joyous as waking up on a Monday morning at 10:00am and knowing you don't have to be at work again for another week. But though I've got this week to myself it's also my chance to get my 50,000 words finished for July. I have just under half of that to do in seven days... my fingers may be hurting by the end of the week. And yet I can't wait. I'm actually really looking forward to just focusing on my story and getting it written, without having to squeeze it into a couple of hours before I go to bed each night. I'm also thinking this is a chance to do a "proper" writing day, that is a good five hours or so of writing, to see what that feels like. In all the time I've been doing little bits and pieces I've never sat for that long just writing one thing. I'd like to give it a go this week to see how it feels. To see how the professionals do it, as it were.

The story is going well, and I'm in the pre-ending section, where all the little threads start to come together and the mysteries are revealed, characters redeem and curse themselves, and everything comes to a close with no loose ends. I'm reasonably sure it will turn out like this, as I've had the conclusion for the story clear in my mind for a while now. This doesn't mean that the plot hasn't changed a bit. I've just finished a chapter that reveals the past of a main protagonist and originally I had intended for him to work against the main character, to the point where he helps others to try to kill her. But after his meeting with his estranged family things got a bit... tense. And now they've tied him up and are going to offer him as a sacrifice. And you thought your family get togethers were bad. Needless to say I haven't actually outlined any of that, and it does mean that the way things play out is going to alter from the plan. But as I was writing I realised this had to happen; his family are hideous and they want the death of the main character too, so it makes no sense for this guy to agree with them. I hadn't thought of that in the outlining process, but it became clear  when I was writing the chapter.

So for any other writers out there trying to hammer their stories into shape I say this; sometimes you just gotta let go and allow the characters to do what they were meant to do, not what you thought they'd do. Trust me, it's probably better than the plan (it certainly is in my case).

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Phrases I've Learned from 'Hackgate'

I think everyone was expecting that the grilling of Murdoch and Murdoch by the Select Committee yesterday would be entertaining, though likely not in the way it actually played out. I had hoped the MPs asking the questions would be tough on the Murdochs, considering the shit their organisation's antics have pushed everyone into, but alas, cowardice and butt-sucking seemed to be the order of the day (except for Tom Watson, who was brilliant). But despite the total lack of progress in sorting out this "hackgate" scandal I did learn some things. Like what to say and do if someone is blaming you for something. So I give you my list of responses to uncomfortable questions, accusations of lying or being responsible for the biggest infringement of private people's lives in living memory. These are guaranteed to get your accusers off your back (not a guarantee).

"Shut up son, I'll handle this... What was the question?"

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Harry Potter Special - The Top Ten Best Things About Harry Potter

In honour of the release of the last film of the Harry Potter franchise (until Rowling realises what a money train she's given up and writes some sequel or even prequel stuff), I thought I'd do a list of my top 10 favourite things from Harry Potter. That's the books, the films, the universe - everything. Narrowing it down to ten has been... tricky, so apologies if I leave out something you consider to be really obvious. So, in ascending order...

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Writing is a Path to Fortune and Glory - Right?

Wrong.

It isn't. It really isn't. I long suspected this but found some really helpful advice and information online about it this week, mainly involving the Google search "How much does a writer make on average?". And oh boy the answers are a wake up call if you see yourself sailing the blue seas on your yacht, or lounging in a hillside mansion while you contemplate your next tome. And because I'm super nice (sometimes) I thought I'd collate my findings here. Actually scrap that super nice crap - this is for me as much as for you. To keep my feet on the dark, dank ground of reality. I hate you reality.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

No More News of the World - How an Empire Slays the Weak to Save Itself

Today is the final run for News of the World after the worst week of it's 168 year existence. Scandal may have been their speciality but when they were put into the headlights they suddenly experienced the kind of hounding and condemnation the paper itself had laid at many people's doors. But a lot of innocent (if not necessarily honest) journalists and support staff have lost their jobs and now must join the 2.43 million unemployed in Britain. Was justice done? Or is this just an attempt by an empire builder to protect his creation. I think you can likely guess what my opinion is...

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

I Am Alive, I'm just Writing

Yeah, yeah I know. I said I'd keep the blog to a schedule of Saturdays and Wednesdays. I lied. Actually, I didn't lie, I was just overly optimistic. Julnowrimo has taken me over a bit so I was running behind with the blog. Like the UK government I had to make cuts, even if they are the wrong cuts to make. But I'm getting used to it all and have so far written just over 7000 words! In a week! (I know I tweeted 6000 earlier - I just used a calculator and it's actually 7000.) This is officially the most I have EVER written in such a short space of time. I've always made excuses before or found something to distract myself and thereby avoid the crushing weight of responsibility when I thought about how many words I had to do. In short I liked the idea of writing but not the reality. Now I'm liking the reality, though I am missing my Xbox a bit. I swear I heard it cry itself to sleep last night.

The one side effect of all the writing is I'm staying up later as I'm finding it hard to stop mid-chapter, which in turn means I am very tired most of the time. And yet this is also giving me some unforeseen ideas for the story, which has started to veer off the outline a tad. Not in a big way, but enough to establish characters a bit more and make it seem like an actual journey, rather than a race. How this will work in the long term I'm not sure - thankfully I have a week off at the end of July in which to work and sleep. In theory.

In other non-writing related news I was super excited to see the first trailer for "Brave", the latest animation form Pixar. And I was not disappointed; it looks beautiful and I love the design of the heroine with her flaming red hair and attitude. AND as if that wasn't good enough it's mainly Scottish people doing the voices - actual Scots, doing Scottish character's voices. I get very tired of Americans putting on awful Scottish accents so the fact that someone has been paying attention and realised this is stupid for this film has made me look forward to it all the more. Trailer is below for your and my amusement. FREEDOM!!! Oh, wait, wrong film...  "Brave" comes to cinemas in June 2012.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Film Review: Transformers - Dark of the Moon (2011)

With a whopping $162.1m (£100.4m) in box office takings so far 'Transformers - Dark of the Moon' is defying the critical panning it's received thus far. Its Rotten Tomato rating is currently at a miserable 38%, but the audience rating is 90%, and some of the most expressed comments about it are "incoherent plot" (Chicago-Sun Times), "mind-numbing special effects" (USA Today) and "an improvement on Transformers 2, but then what isn't?" (Empire). This is in stark contrast to the public's reviews which are generally positive, and reflect that many have enjoyed, and even loved this film. So what's up? Have professional reviewers lost their sense of fun? Or have the public lost any sense of taste? With all this floating around in my head I watched the movie for myself on Saturday. And I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Writing Tips I'll Be Using During Julnowrimo

Only one day to go. One. Bloody. Day. I am wondering what possessed me to sign up to this julnowrimo thing but I'm hoping it will be like school parties; you dread going but once you're there it's not so bad. By complete accident I've just finished reading a book about writing and a lot of the advice has stuck and is going to be written on notes and stuck on my cork board. The book is called "Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey" by Chuck Wendig. If you have yet to experience the unique charm of Wendig head over to his site Terrible Minds - it is full to the brim with writing tips, advice, swearing and much mention of how pants (in the American sense) are not necessary when you're a freelance writer working from home. Oh, and the joys of alcohol. I like it as it imparts genuinely sound advice in a non-pushy, passive-aggressive way. That and it makes me laugh. Reading his book on the London underground I got funny looks at times as I had to stand there and try not to guffaw into the armpits of my fellow passengers while waiting to get a seat.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Censorship - Stupid, Confusing, Necessary(?)

I've been meaning to write about this for a while. As you may (or may not) know the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has refused to give a rating to "The Human Centipede II: The Full Sequence", for home entertainment release. It can still be shown in cinemas, at the cinema owner's discretion, but it can't be released on DVD or Blu-ray for home use in Britain, as it has no age rating. The full statement of why they made the decision is here, and reveals a lot of the plot in the process. Their general reason boils down to that it combines a sexual element with torture, and could thereby be "harmful" to viewers, as well as the possibility that it breaches the Obscene Publications Act. While I don't like the reasoning I have found I have reacted in a most unexpected way to the "banning" - I don't really care...

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A New Challenge Awaits (Or; Never Volunteer, It Will Likely End In Work)

Wow, almost a week since I last blogged. Sorry for being so rubbish lately people, I have no excuses - apart from the ol' classic "couldn't be bothered". I've also been up to other things; I've written an article for a small London online magazine (more on that when/if it's published) and I've been doing repair work on my novel draft, going back and checking/fixing what I've already written. Mainly just surface adjustments, like spelling and grammar but I'm also doing some adding and subtracting, to get what I've written already to match the stuff I came up with in my new outline. Also, character studies, plot ideas, notes etc. And I kind of have a deadline. You see I've gone all masochistic and signed up to "julnowrimo"...

Thursday, 16 June 2011

It's Thursday already?!

Hi all, been another one of those weeks where you're all chilled and looking forward to the week ahead and suddenly you realise the week is almost up and you haven't got half of the things done you'd set out to do. Yeah, one of those.

I've been mainly getting to grips with my Mac, learning how it works and more importantly where everything is. The keyboard especially takes some getting used to after years of PC keyboards, but it's not too tricky. Saying that, the absence of an obvious hash tag key had me stumped for a bit, as I was convinced I'd suddenly gone blind. Tip: alt + 3.

I've also been setting up my first draft of Wolfsbane in Scrivener, a writer's programme for writers. It let's you lay out the manuscript in a much more logical way, with each chapter having it's own folder on the left hand navigation, and it allows you to pick them up and move them about as you like. You can also do a full outline, with each chapter marked out and ready to be filled with lovely words, like jam into doughnuts. Mmmm... doughnuts. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes, Scrivener. I highly recommend it if you want to have a go at a writing programme that is actually trying to help you write. And you can try it for free for 30 days before you buy. (I make no money if you do buy it, I just think it's a really cool tool and I wish I'd known about it years ago.)

The only other thing I did this week of any import was go to the Bad Teacher screening. My review will be on Lost in the Multiplex shortly but thought I'd describe what a screening involves, in case anyone has ever wondered. First off they are not as glamourous as you might imagine. Normally it's a bunch of tired looking, hunching film reviewers all piling into some corridor or small room waiting for the screening room doors to open, before you take your seat and hope to whatever force you believe in that this won't be another Charlie's Angels. But the Bad Teacher screening was an example of how it can, and should, be done. It was in Sony's building in London (how cool would it be to work in a building with your own screening room?) and they have a bar and seating area outside while you wait. I've been there a couple of times with LOVEFiLM but it had been a while and I'd forgotten how nice their building is.

You're given a print out with a lot of information about the film, cast and crew, which you always read if you're on your own and never read if you're not, and then you wait to be let in to the screening room. The difference with this one was there was a minor celebrity there, as Fearne Cotten had also turned up for the screening I went to. I must be honest - I had no idea who she was the whole time I sat in that bar area. I kind of did that thing, where you recognise someone but you're not sure from where. Then it dawned on me "she's on the telly" and the name popped into my head. I then completely ignored her and went on into the screening room, as I've always thought it's weird when people talk to someone just because they've seen them on TV or in films. Now if it had been Stephen King sitting there I would have been having palpitations and kicking myself for not having his "On Writing" book with me. Or a pen for that matter. Always make sure you have a pen.

That reminds me, I really need to put a pen in my bag - so that the gremlin that ate the last one doesn't starve.

So that's been my week of few words but fun experiences. How was yours?

Monday, 13 June 2011

Ooh, shiny

After a very good birthday weekend I waited today for my present to myself; an Apple iMac. I've been wanting to convert to Apple for a while now and have finally taken the plunge. It arrived today, and I'm writing this post on it. If there was sound with this you would hear much squealing of delight.

Why did I want a Mac? Well I kept hearing that they were better for writers, as it has writing programmes that give you more options and allow you to do outlines, background notes, character studies and such, all in one place. And I hate MS Office. Really, really hate it - it just seems to make writing harder than it needs to be, with few options to segment your work or make referencing easy. Writing a 10,000 word dissertation was hard enough in that bloody thing - trying to get to 100,000 words was proving incredibly unpleasant. I also wanted one because, well, they look cool. I am that shallow.

So now I have my shiny Mac set up and so far I'm not suffering from Microsoft fever but have found it to be pretty sensible and well laid out. No doubt I'll get confused over some things but then that's part of the fun.

And while I have everyones attention, I want to give a big thank you and hug to my fabulous friends, for making my birthday so much fun this year. Partying until the wee hours is something I've not done in ages and almost makes me miss being a teenager. Almost.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Outlines - Tricky But Neccesary

I'm not dead, just outlining. I reached a point in my story where I really had no idea where to go (and neither did my characters) so we all had to have a chat. I've been working on the outline again so I have more details and now have a chapter by chapter plan.

I usually don't do much outlining, as normally the things I've worked on have been short enough to not need one (at least in my experience). But I have discovered that for long stories I need some sort of map when the long road starts to get covered in the fog of confusion and conflicting ideas. So I sat down and asked myself the following questions:

  • What is the goal of your story? Not the outcome, the goal. (The goal doesn't have to happen, but it has to be there in the background, acting as the cattle prod to keep the main character going.)
  • What will happen if the main character fails, what are the stakes? (After all failure is an option and has to seem like a real risk to the reader)
  • What has to happen for your character to attain their goal?
  • What could happen to hold them back or stop them attaining their goal?
  • What must they sacrifice for their goal?
  • What changes (internally and externally) does the character have to go through before they can attain their goal? Its best to list both good and bad changes in equal measure.
  • What will change for secondary characters, whether they be good or bad?

With these few questions I punched a hole through the big 'ol clueless wall I was facing and can see where this is all headed. It also means I already know some stuff I've written has to go or be changed in big ways but then you don't get a fine delicate omelet without breaking some eggs. Or rather you don't find the gold without having to first trawl through a lot of sludge.

So expect the word count to be going up soon, as I have a course plotted and will follow it through until I hit some other unforeseen obstacle.

If you too find your writing slowing and stagnating into a pile of rotten goo then I recommend trying out the above. Don't hold back, let your imagination run wild and let your characters stretch their limbs a bit. It's amazing what this one simple act of reviewing can do for your story.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Flash Fiction: An Unexpected Guest

I've decided to have a try at one of Chuck Wendig's flash fiction competitions and this is my first go. The upside is all you lovely people get to read one of my stories, such as it is. Chuck Wendig does these weekly so if you're inclined to have a go (I recommend it, flash fiction is fun) you can find him here: http://terribleminds.com/ramble He's also well worth a read in general as his writing advice is spot on and he is very funny.

So without further ado, here is my entry to the flash fiction competition.

-------------------------

An Unexpected Guest

Wailing pierced Ned's skull, scraping away a little more of his patience. He hadn't wanted to have a birthday party (in Ned's opinion birthday parties should stop after you turn forty-five, at the latest.) but his daughters had insisted. And then brought along their children and newly arrived grandchildren. What a way to make a guy feel young on his ninety-third birthday. They'd all been so excited, putting up streamers and balloons all over the house, which seemed to pop just as any kid so much as looked at them, resulting in the cheerful sound he was now being tortured with. Even sitting out in the garden like this wasn't enough to improve it, with them all floating around him like he might keel over any second.

Finally his eldest came running up and carried away the screeching child from "Great Gran-da". Ned hated that name but was resigned to it, much as he was resigned to his dodgy hip, his aching knees and his inability to go longer than two hours without needing a piss. The joys of aging. Sometimes he wondered why he bothered to wake up in the morning. He'd done as much as he was ever going to. Unless farting became an Olympic sport.

Eventually the party seemed to continue without him, which suited Ned fine. That old ache in his chest was back, but to hell with them if was going to mention it. He was in his nineties for Christ sake, what kind of condition did they think his health was supposed to be in? He bent down to reach for the glass by his foot, his fingers finding a purchase even though they didn't bend as well as they used to. But when he sat back he was surprised to see someone sitting next to him. Surprised because he didn't know him and even more so because a moment ago there had been no seat there for someone to sit on.

"Who the hell are you," Ned asked, in his usual direct way.

The younger man smiled. He seemed to be in his forties, and was wearing a smart pin stripe suit. But no tie. Ned's mouth wrinkled in distaste. What was the point in wearing a goddamn suit if you don't put a tie on?

"You know who I am Ned. I certainly know who you are."

"What are you talking about? I've never seen you before in my life." Ned took a sip from his drink, looking at the man from the corner of his eye.

"Oh Ned, you know better than that. Or don't you remember me sparing your life all those years ago?"

Ned had a flash of memory. Korea, an explosion ripping his unit apart, blood everywhere, some men screaming, some men silent. Ned had been next to Pete, holding the man's guts together while trying to stop the flow of blood from his own leg.  A hand had appeared from behind him, taking his away from Pete, a voice telling him it would be alright, and then his friend was dead and Ned was still alive. There hadn't been anyone else around and Ned had always suspected some other force at work that day. Apparently he'd been right.

"You got a hell of a sense of humour turning up on a man's birthday."

"Well," the man smiled, in a kind but inevitable way, "as they say, when your time's up, it's up."

"Who says that shit?"

"You do, Ned. All the time. Whenever you hear about one of your old friends popping their clogs, off you go with your wisdom."

Ned looked at him for a while, then burst into laughter.

"Well, it's true ain't it? Can't fight what you can't control," Ned replied.

They sat in silence a moment, both with small smiles on their faces. Then Ned asked, "Why now instead of then?"

The man looked down at the ground, as if working on a puzzle, before replying, "It wasn't your time I guess. At least that's what my files said."

"Your files? Since when did you become some paper pushing pussy?"

"Since the dawn of the new age old friend. I don't go around dressed in a cloak or carrying a scythe anymore either. Thanks to the Pratchett chap no one takes that seriously anymore."

Ned had never heard of this "Pratchett" but smiled anyway before turning his eyes back to his family, buzzing around the garden like a hive of bees.

"Does your file say anything about what happens next? Do I get some cloud in heaven? A dozen virgins all to myself?"

"I don't know about all that Ned," his smiled wavered a little, his eyes a little distant, "I just collect you and send you on your way. I never get to go that far so have no idea what lies beyond. You get to find that out for yourself."

"Hmph, figures. In life there's no answers, and in death there's even less."

"Yes," the smile changed again, reaching up to touch the man's eyes, "yes, that is very true."

They both watched the children playing some sort of tag game, which seemed to involve pushing each other over when they were caught and then looking innocent when the other started to cry. The breeze was cool and the sun was bright.

"Well, no point in waiting I suppose," Ned said.

"Don't you want to say goodbye to anyone first? I can give you a little time."

"Nah, I said enough to them all through the years. If they don't remember it, well, it will give 'em something to do when they all get together for the wake. The only people I want to talk to now are the ones that are up there... or wherever, waiting for me. Pete especially. I've missed that old sot. And the wife I suppose. Even if she is still complaining."

"Okay Ned. Just take my hand and we'll be on our way."

Ned reached out his old hand, the veins protruding along the back and even along the fingers and took the man's cool firm hand in turn. He stood up from his chair and walked some way with him, looking back once at the slumped shape he was leaving behind. He turned around and walked into the unknown, his companion by his side.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

A Serious Misunderstanding of Rape

My earlier post “What Feminism means to me” has been very popular (if the number of people going to that page is an indicator) so it turns out that I’m going to do occasional political posts on topics of the moment. I’ll try to share my perspective on things but I apologise now if I come across as preachy at times – it’s hard to keep things level headed with certain topics like the one I’m taking on in this post; rape. Not a topic I like thinking about, let alone writing about, but recently I’ve been reminded yet again how skewed the general portrayal and understanding of rape is. Specifically the still prevalent victim blaming that goes on, and the idea that some men accused of rape may have had sex with the woman but not thought for a moment it was rape. That latter point, I’m ashamed to say, was one I used to think was a likely explanation for some “he said, she said” cases but I’ve since seen some studies that have made me think again. And that are very relevant to the Strauss-Khan situation.

Monday, 30 May 2011

A Productive Bank Holiday

Bank holidays. They're a great day off but, more often than not, end up being wasted around a TV or computer screen. Today though I bought my cork board (a vital instrument for would-be-writers everywhere) and then had a stroll through a local park, which has been enough to get the creative juices flowing. Here are a few photos I took of the place - and only ten minutes walk away from my flat. Not bad.

I enjoy taking photos - it's like painting but quicker. Well, okay, it's not exactly like painting but it does let you try out compositions, and to get a good photo you have to think about colour too. I've never taken it up as a proper hobby though. Maybe one day. If I can ever bear to add yet another hobby to the list.

These ducks were asleep but I think I woke one of them up.

The Geese and their babies being fed by people and their babies.

The park is huge, with a nature trail behind this.

Really like this photo, even with the random man toddling along to the side of the shot.


Now I'm off to do some more words and possibly do a bit of "where the hell am I" work on the novel. Not sure if other writers do it, but I've reached the stage where I need to review what I've written (not change it, just review it) and work out where in the world I'm headed. The cork board will help with this as I can write all the chapter headings on bits of paper and put them up to get a view of what's going on. I think some of my characters have made plans I haven't considered yet so before delving in and getting ambushed I want to work out what they might be up to. If that sounds odd you likely haven't tried to write a long piece of fiction - trust me, characters may be your friends but they're sneaky and do things you least expect at the last moment. And it's normally a million times better than what you were planning on getting them to do.

What about you? What have you been doing with your bank holiday? (If you're having one - if you're not then I hope you're day isn't too bad, even though it's a Monday.)