Monday, 29 March 2010

Can't stop

Since printing out my novel, things have changed. I've completely failed at writing a blog a day, although it had pretty much become two every other day. I'm slipping back into old ways.

When writing my novel, I'd try and start around 9.30am and keep track of how much time I had until I had to leave work. I'd feel good if I had anything more than 5 hours in which to write. Now without a project on the go I find I'm looking at the clock trying to work out ways to kill time before work.

I've got a short story that I keep meaning to write but I'm just not feeling it. I think it's a decent enough idea and it's all planned out and it's worth my time but in many ways it's too similar to my novel. What i mean is that it's sci-fi but not excessively so and I feel inside me that what I want to write is something incredibly, indulgently sci-fi. I want to write a story with robots and spaceships and hovercars and laser beams. I want to lash on helping upon helping of cyberpunk and tech noir motifs.

I've got such a novel planned but that's just the thing; it's a novel. I can't be getting into writing another novel with my first one still on the go, can I? And yet I'm being drawn to it. Planning and writing little snippets of this new novel is brilliantly addictive and it's the only thing stopping me from wasting my mornings.

I guess if I've gotta write, I've gotta write.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

73 - Ink

I printed out my novel today ready to hand to my ladyfriend this weekend. I'm also emailing a copy to another friend and I could easily have done the same for first friend but it feels good to actually hold a physical printed out copy. It looks good, seeing all those pages there. I can see that I've achieved something. It looks like a big, hefty, long story. You know what? It looks like a novel.

I used pretty much an entire ink cartridge printing it out. Actually I used two. I bought one, took it home and it must have been faulty because try as I might, my printer wouldn't accept it. It was incompatible one minute, then it wasn't present the next and occasionally it was empty. Of course rather than go right back down town and return it, I sat for a good half hour taking it out and putting it back in again.

And I swore. A lot. I got incredibly angry. Nothing frustrates me more than a computer that doesn't work. I was fuming. The air was very blue around me and eventually I resorted to insulting my printer. This didn't work and I felt a bit bad about it afterwards, so I apologised.

Eventually I went down town, exchanged the cartridge and printed it all out. So yeah, a vaguely eventful day and I have something to show for it, kind of. In the future I'll just email it.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

72 - Two little three-letter words

I'm still riding a vague wave of euphoria having reached the end of my second draft today. I'd been aiming to finish tomorrow, maybe Thursday but the words couldn't wait to get out today. I feel good about it. Better than I did at the end of the first draft. I feel like I've achieved something. I didn't until now.

When I finished the first draft last year I felt as though I still hadn't written a novel. As I was typing the final 500 words today I could already sense that anti-climactic feeling returning. I expected to feel similarly underwhelmed and not any sense of achievement. Yet as soon as I wrote those two little three-letter words I felt good. Pretty bloody good.

In part this is due to the fact that the first draft trailed off. I wrote 'The End' but it wasn't really the right place to finish. I wrote a half-arsed epilogue that I eventually cut. Today I wrote a finite last line. Also, the first draft was really closer to a half draft. There were frequent parts where I'd written, 'Put in description in later draft.' 'Emotional scene here.' 'Sort this bit out.' It wasn't complete. Okay, so it's still shoddy and needs a lot of work but at least it's complete. I feel like I can honestly say I've written a novel now as opposed to before where it felt like I was still writing one. Hopefully with each redraft the sense of euphoria and achievement will become more intense.

Monday, 22 March 2010

71 - Who am I?

author n 1 a person who composes a book, article, or other written work. 2 a person who writes books as a profession; writer. 3 an originator or creator.

creator n a person or thing that creates; originator.

novelist
n a writer of novels.


storyteller n a person who tells stories.

writer n 1 a person who writes books, articles, etc., esp. as an occupation. 2 the person who has written something specified. 3 a person who is able to write or write well. 4 a scribe or clerk.

Can I say that any of these accurately describe me?

Sunday, 21 March 2010

70 - The end is nigh

When do you end a story?

Someone told me once that you should write a story until it naturally ends, then go back and remove the last paragraph, page or chapter. Many of us have a tendency to overwrite. Novels can often be compared to songs with endings that fade out over a very long time when often they need to end with an explosive drumbeat.

My story originally had an epilogue. I knew it had to be there. After the first draft I realised it was completely superfluous and unnecessary. Writing chapter 19 the other day I typed a couple of words that I realised could be the new ending. The novel could end there, two chapters earlier than expected. There'd be a whole lot unresolved but is that such a bad thing? For the time being I'm going to continue up until ch.21 but I'll keep this earlier ending it mind. It definitely pays to think about it all in a new light from time to time.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

69 - The mind boggles

I love a bit of Boggle. Actually, I love a lot of Boggle. I get the guys over, crack open some beers and play some Boggle. For those that don't know, it's somewhere between Scrabble and a wordsearch. You have 3 minutes to find as many words as possible, but you only get points for words you've found that no-one else has.

Among my friends, I pwn. The secret lies in the 3-letter words. They're only worth 1 point compared to 5 points for a 7-letter word but they're so easy to find. Most 3-letter words can be spelt backwards too or rearranged and, throw an s into the mix to pluralise them all. Most people overlook them. Crackin'.

We played 3 rounds the other day on the super-size cube.
Nick got 41 points.
Matt got 48 points.
I got 75 points.

In fact I got 35 points in round 2 alone. I need to find some more competition.

Friday, 19 March 2010

68 - 11 > 10

I just saw an advert for the new series of Doctor Who and I'm pretty sure I already prefer Matt Smith to David Tennant. I could quite easily write thousands of words as to why only I can't be arsed. I can very easily say that I definitely prefer Stephen Moffat to Russell T. Davies as a writer.

The little ad gave me a shiver down my spine, quite literally and I really can't wait for the series to start. With a far, far, far, far, far superior writer at the helm and, in my eyes, a much more suited actor playing the part of the Doctor, I can't see how this series shouldn't be the best yet.


I might eat my words in a few weeks time, but I'm pretty excited. I think I'm almost as excited about this new series of Doctor Who as I was excited at the prospect that David Tennant and Russell T. Davies were finally leaving the show.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

67 - Murder

We give birth to characters. We give them life. We grow up with them. We give them back stories. We get inside their heads and they become a part of us. And then we kill them.

Why?

Because they annoy us? Because it's their time to die? Because it's necessary in order for the plot to continue? Or simply for a shock tactic that will keep readers/viewers interested?

A character's death should serve a purpose. Okay, sometimes that purpose is to not have a purpose. Sometimes killing off a character simply for shock value can be a great way to breathe new life into a piece, but only if done well. Generally character deaths should give birth to something else, no? We can't just go around killing off character after character. Spooks quickly got into the habit of introducing characters just to kill them off and generally it's more of a shock if a character survives.

Like everything else in writing there's no exact formula for killing off characters. I know there are many examples where it works brilliantly and many where it doesn't. We can all think of a TV series where they kill off one of the audience's favourite characters. Sometimes it works. Often it reduces the audience.

I think the best way to know if a character has been killed off well is if we regret their death but we don't regret the decision to write them out. If done expertly, we actually mourn these fictional people's deaths. We feel like we want to go into their world and save them and yet, we know the piece is better for their death. We know that these raw feelings that have been awoken in us should be treasured. For fiction to make us feel like this is phenomenal. We're glad and yet we love these characters. We want them to survive. We want them to have happy endings.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

66 - Words etc. #2

Seeing as there are words I love, it's unsurprising that there are words I loathe too. Strangely enough a lot of these seem to be popping up recently. These are some of them:

eclectic - This is a word that is thrown about with creative magazines. I hate it because it's a word that tells you pretty much nothing but is used constantly in these types of situations. It's a word used to give credence and uniqueness and yet does neither. All it tells us is that this particular creative magazine is a mishmash of various things which is pretty much the least you expect from such a publication.

enthusiastic - This is a word that constantly comes up in job ads and we're probably all guilty of using in cover letters. Point is most people find it hard to be enthusiastic about their job and we're going to fake enthusiasm in order to get a job. It adds nothing.

should of - It's fucking 'should have.' Think about it. If you said, 'I should of gone out' and then went out you wouldn't then say, 'I of been out.'

'adverbs' - I don't hate the word 'adverbs,' I just hate adverbs in general. More specifically I feel they are overused in fiction. 'He slammed the door loudly.' Can you slam a door quietly? 'He whispered quietly.' 'The phone rang suddenly.' 'He raced quickly down the road.'

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

65 - Yellow

Aberystwyth had a shitload of fantastic bookshops. I spent many an hour and many a pound in them. In one I bought A Wreath of Stars by Bob Shaw. It was a book I'd never heard of written by an author I'd never heard of and, if being honest, about 90% of the reason behind me buying it was the striking yellow dust jacket.

I loved it and found another two of his books in another bookshop just down the road from the first; The Palace of Eternity and Orbitsville. Neither were published by Gollancz and they both had fairly standard '70s sci-fi covers.

In fact I hadn't come across another classic yellow-cover Gollancz book nor a Bob Shaw book since leaving Aberystwyth in May 2008. However, down in Brighton over the weekend I found two more Bob Shaw books both with beautiful, simple yellow covers. One was The Peace Machine and the other was Night Hawk. The latter was signed and therefore quite expensive and I'm now feeling gutted that I didn't buy it.

Point is, I can't quite wrap my head around the fact that both Bob Shaw and these beautiful yellow books only seem to pop up in bookshops in coastal university towns.

Monday, 15 March 2010

64 - Free roaming

I've been playing the Just Cause 2 demo and I've developed a bit of a crush on it. Not because it's a particularly good or original game, but because of its environment. Okay, so only a small portion is available to explore in the demo, but videos show lush jungle, waterways, cities, snowy mountains and suburban towns. I can't wait for the full game.

I'm a sucker for open world games. I like the idea that an entire world has been created and the missions only take you in a jagged crisscross through it; there's a whole other world out there to explore. My favourites of the genre aren't necessarily the best, but those that provide the most satisfying places for exploration.

GTA: San Andreas stole hours upon hours of time. I never completed the missions. In fact I never got off the first island, I just waited for my brother to complete it. I'd spend hours driving around Mount Chiliad, or over those huge fields trying to find all the farms. I'd happily take a cycle through every alley, or fly a helicopter round and round looking for banal, boring places where I could stand and watch the sun rise, and just let the world go by.

Red Faction: Guerrilla provided some unparalleled destruction but just not enough variety. Everything was built on repetitive red rock that couldn't be damaged with the otherwise phenomenal destruction physics. The city of Eos merely provided a different set of vehicles driving by than the town of Dust. Although it had a few little gems hidden away, they were too few and far between.

Driv3r was the king of alleys. Like in Driver I'd drive for hours obeying the rules of the road. I'd stop at red lights, watch my speed and I'd look for car-parks that I could explore and parks and observatories well off the road. I'd go into back-gardens and see swimming pools and swing-sets.

Assassin's Creed, though severely flawed, was beautiful in places. Seeing a tower in the distance, running over to it, climbing it and pressing the synchronise button to get a soaring view over the city was one of those breathtaking moments in games that will stick with me forever. Again, it was tempered by a lack of variety but I could overlook that.

For my money Far Cry 2 suffered from many of the same problems as Assassin's Creed. Ignoring the missions which became a bore, there was some real jungle to look through. Problem was, I'd often wreck my car miles from civilisation meaning I'd be lumbering along on foot for miles. Quite often there'd be not a lot around for miles. Shacks in the middle of the wilderness, though awesome, were sullied by the fact that diamonds were littered around them, giving you a reason to go there. Also, there's nothing worse than going on a relaxing sunset drive only to stumble across a guard tower and get ripped to shreds my bullets.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

63 - Chris Rea(lly good)

Last Monday I went to see Peter Green with my dad. Last night I went to see Chris Rea with my dad and boy was he fucking phenomenal - Chris Rea, not my dad, though my dad is pretty great. It was all a bit civilised sitting at a gig, but Chris had amazing energy and really rocked the place out.

Similar to Peter Green, I was the youngest there by about 30 years. However, unlike Peter Green's audience which topped out around the age of 60, there were people at Chris Rea in their 70s and 80s.

His energy, his awesome solos and his extended versions of songs really meant he was one of the best live performers I've seen. Okay, he didn't play Driving Home For Christmas, but it's March so fair enough.

However, when he played Stainsby Girls just before the world's most half-arsed encore (they walked off the stage, didn't even reach the exit, then turned right back), a whole load of mums and dads got up in front of the stage and danced. There was a whole procession of mums dancing their way forward then jiving out in front of Chris. It has to be one of the funniest moments in a gig I've seen. It was excruciatingly awesome.

He finished his encore with Let's Dance then left. However, someone forgot to turn the lights back on. Everyone was cheering for a second encore that seemed certain seeing as the lights were still out. After about two minutes, the stage door opened and there was a huge roar only for everyone to realise it was just a techie. A few moments later the lights went on and there was a collective groan. Aces.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

62 - For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

So the title of this entry is thought by some to be the shortest story in the world. It was allegedly penned by Ernest Hemingway. So, can you really tell a story with just six words?

To consider "For sale: baby shoes, never worn" to be a story, I guess we look outside of the words and to the picture they conjure, right?

We think of a couple who were having a baby and bought some baby shoes in anticipation and then the wife had a miscarriage.

Or perhaps, in a slightly less harrowing interpretation, the baby was adopted just after birth because the husband left the wife and she couldn't cope on her own.

Or maybe it's a whole lot more banal than that and the couple decided they didn't like the baby shoes they'd just bought and couldn't return them because they'd lost the receipt.

Then again, perhaps on a drink-fuelled night, a student went to an all-night supermarket and bought some baby shoes for a laugh. When sober, he decided he wanted to salvage some money from his misadventure so put out an ad in the local paper.

Alternatively, maybe it's only a six word advert that simply doesn't qualify as a story.

Friday, 12 March 2010

61 - Stubborn bastard

So there's this arts competition that runs every month that I've been entering since the beginning of the year. Each month there's a brief or theme and you simply have to create a piece that somehow fits the theme. The number of participants varies, but some months it's a couple of hundred, other times it's around fifty, so it's not exactly an overwhelming amount of competition.

Each month I tell myself I'm going to write a very simple piece that somehow relates to the theme and yet, for the third month in a row, I'm experimenting. One month I wrote in a bizarre, stilted phonetic style. The next I created a fake magazine article. This month I'm writing a spam email for my entry. Oh, and they're all sci-fi pieces of course.

Now I'm not sure if my stubborn refusal just to write a simple straightforward story is some belief that I'll only have a chance of winning if my work does something bizarre. Or maybe it's no more than it makes a nice change to writing my novel. I should either congratulate myself for allowing my need to write to takeover, or I should castigate myself for getting too carried away and not being able to write something simple and straightforward.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

60 - Clone this

Thought the one-liner in Timecop was bad? You ain't heard nothing 'til you've heard the beauty Arnie quips in The 6th Day.

Now I love one-liners. They're a fine art and I reckon some of the best deserve Academy Awards. In fact there should be a new Oscar introduced for best one-liner of the year.

The best one-liners are generally:
  • short
  • comprised of monosyllabic words
  • puns
  • relate in someway to the events that just occurred.
A case in point is this little beauty from Predator:

It's just so perfect.


Not so in The 6th Day. Now the original trailer had Arnie quip, 'clone this' as he killed someone (the film's about cloning btw) but this line was scrapped from the final cut, probably because it was shite. Not as shite as the one they replaced it with however.

So around halfway through the movie Arnie is captured by evil baddie Drucker. Arnie in no-nonsense-style says, 'go screw yourself.' Nothing wrong with that. However, in the big confrontation Arnie has a fight with Drucker and a clone of Drucker. First he knocks out one clone, then he knocks out the other. The first falls flat on his back. The second falls face down on top of the first and what does Arnie say?

"When I said you should screw yourself, I didn't mean for you to take it literally."

Quite.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

59 - TV's greatest dickheads

Heroes are great and everything but sometimes all you want is a good dickhead. A selfish twat who causes more problems than they solve. Characters who probably fall more on the bad side of the line than the good, but those you want to come out on top. Here are some of my favourites from TV.


Vic Mackey - The Shield
Corrupt, selfish, murdering, torturing, blackmailing, extortionist, adulterer, bully, thief. But he almost always gets his man and, you know, make the streets safer - just.


Jimmy McNulty - The Wire
Gaping asshole, alcoholic, adulterer, with a serious problem with authority who bends the law and will go out of his way to piss off his superiors. But he's an excellent detective.


Gaius Baltar - Battlestar Galactica
Self-obsessed, arrogant, selfish, cowardly, scientific genius with an extraordinary sense of self-preservation. Will never do anything that doesn't in someway benefit himself.


Eric Cartman - South Park
Selfish, greedy, spoiled, foul-mouthed, racist, manipulative, deluded, evil genius who once killed a boy's parents and fed them to him in a chili just to get revenge on him for taking his $16.12.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

58 - Where am I?

The pace has slowed a bit on my current redraft. I'm drawing closer to the big climax which is, as it almost always is, the most fun to write. It's difficult, but fun. Everything comes to a head and it's addictive, shaping the way your characters' journey come to an end.

But in many ways it's the part just before the climax that is most important; the quiet before the storm. These lulls in the action before that final act have to be pitched just right. They have to slow the action down enough to let you get a breather and let you take in everything that the characters have achieved so far and what they're soon sure to achieve. They also provide a well-needed break and stop the action rolling forward in an unmanageable, indistinguishable rush. But too slow and you lose all sense of rhythm you've built up and end up boring your audience. Either way, you don't want the scene to feel like it's been awkwardly crowbarred in there to provide variety.

I'm struggling tremendously with this at the moment and though I'm still erring too much on the side of deadly slow and boring, I'm sure (as I keep reassuring myself) that I'll fix it in a later draft. Rather than turning to books or movies for inspiration, I've found the best examples of these 'quiets before storms' in videogames.

One such is in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater when just before the climax, you climb slowly up a ladder (it takes about 3 minutes) as a beautifully haunting vocal rendition of the theme song plays. It's a staggeringly simple and mind-blowing way of slowing the pace.

Even better is in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. You've just charged through a warzone, fought your way on to a train, fought your way along the speeding train, crashed the train, climbed up the train's wreckage hanging precariously off a cliff and battled a hit squad before finally collapsing. When you awake, you find yourself in a Tibetan village. You can't run, jump or climb. All you can do is slowly walk towards the end of the village taking in the amazing scenery and the almost tangible sense of sun on your skin. It's not only a perfect way of slowing the pace before the huge final act of the game, but it's easily the best moment in the entire game. And that's how you set up a ending.

Monday, 8 March 2010

57 - Oh well

I just went to see Peter Green with my dad. Cool, huh?

I was the youngest person there by about 30 years. 90% of the crowd was male and about a 1/3 were wearing leather jackets and bobbing their heads along to the music as though their neck muscles had been replaced with springs.

Peter Green himself sat perched on a chair constantly looking like he was trying to work out where he was, which I guess at the age of 63 and a 'well-lived' life is fair enough. He had what looked like his lyrics book out in front of him and he lost his page a few times. When he spoke it was more growl than words.

Still, when they played Oh Well and Black Magic Woman it was pretty special. The saxophonist stole the show, being phenomenal in places coupled with the fact that he looked like an overweight Eric Morecambe. It was an experience. Oh, and for the record, I still bloody hate Albatross.


Sunday, 7 March 2010

56 - Enjoyable nonsense

There are three films that I have to watch if they're on TV; films I can't bring myself to turning off even if I watched them the night before. They are The Rock, The Thomas Crown Affair and Evolution.

I think it's fair to say that each of these films falls into the 'enjoyable nonsense' category. None of them is particularly heavy on plot but they're all loads of fun, effortlessly cool and, in my eyes, severely addictive.

I watched Evolution again last night and it never fails to get my sci-fi sense tingling. I don't know much about science but I do know that all the science in Evolution is nonsense. It's not the funniest comedy and the special effects are dated but I bloody love it.

A whole word is created and evolves throughout the course of a 90 minute movie. We see the creatures start as single-cell organisms, become flatworms, insects, animals and finally primates. It's one of those experiences that unfortunately I can only describe as 'rich.'

It's another one of those films I want to live in. I'd love to go down into that cave with the meteor and hang out with all those aliens. So even if everyone else hates this movie, if it's on TV tonight, I'll definitely watch it.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

55 - Get lost

  1. Hong Kong - Gorillaz
  2. Stop The Dams - Gorillaz
  3. We Just Won't Be Defeated - The Go! Team
  4. Neighborhood#1 (Tunnels) - The Arcade Fire
  5. Beercan - Beck
  6. Keys To The City - The Go! Team
  7. Venice Queen - Red Hot Chili Peppers
  8. Once Around The Block - Badly Drawn Boy
  9. I'm A Cuckoo - Belle & Sebastian
Lacking inspiration, I just knocked up a quick playlist and went for a walk. Having lived in Farnham for about 22 years, there are plenty of walking routes I know and so decided just to go for a random wander. I only had one rule: if I saw a public footpath, I had to go down it and follow it until I either found another footpath or got to the end and then went searching for another.

As a result I trod down some brilliant little overgrown passages. I saw the backs of many of the hidden-away mansions of South Farnham. I got lost. I found some amazing quiet roads. The weather was perfect: cold enough to make the cheeks tingle and yet with a blazing bright sun and an almost completely blue sky. With the music, it was amazing. Like really fucking awesome. I'm in such a good mood now.

In the end I was only gone for about 45 minutes and try as hard as I could to get lost I somehow found myself back near my house pretty quickly. No matter, I'll get lost again in the future.

Friday, 5 March 2010

54 - Like magic?

So I just saw a car vanish into thin air.

I was walking along and saw a car parked on my side of the road, facing towards me with no-one in it. I looked away for a moment and when I looked back, it was gone. There were no driveways or roads between me and the car. I was confused enough to swear quite loudly.

I walked beyond the place where the car had been parked, and about 50m further on there was a driveway with a car parked in it - a car that looked like the one I saw. So what probably happened is there was someone in the car, only I couldn't see them due to the sun's glare on the windscreen. I then looked away for longer than I realised and in that time they reversed into their driveway.

But I don't believe that. I believe the car disappeared. Why? Because I like to think there are things in life that can't be explained. Demystification can make the world a boring place.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

53 - Bloody stupid

I've tried to reserve this blog for posts about writing and/or sci-fi, however, sometimes you just have to write and in this case I have to write about milk bags.

My mum (yes, I live with my mum) returned from the supermarket with a milk bag. It took me a while to work out what it was. Why the hell would you buy milk in a bag? After much deliberating, I was able to answer this question and decided that it's one of the stupidest purchases my mum's ever made.

The point of milk bags is that they produce far less waste. You simply pop them into a special milk bag jug and then pour yourself some cow juice. I quizzed my mum quite why she had suddenly become so eco-conscious and a fairly lengthy discussion ensued in which we summed up the good and the bad points of milk bags. Here's what I concluded:

Plus points:
They produce 75% less waste than milk bottles
By buying one, you got a £2.50 milk jug for only 80p

Minus points:
They leak
They can't be stacked
They're more likely to split than bottled milk if frozen
They cost about the same as bottled milk
The jug doesn't fit in our fridge's milk compartment
There was no full fat in stock, so my mum had to get semi-skimmed - something we both hate

Okay, so all the minus points in no way outweigh the environmental benefits but it soon transpired that that isn't why my mum bought the milk bag. Indeed she bought badly-packaged milk in a variety we don't drink simply because you got a, 'good little jug for only 80p.'

So whatever else you think, my mum's decision to buy a milk bag and her reasons for doing so are bloody stupid.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

52 - Last action weirdo

When we create characters, how much responsibility do we take for their actions? Sometimes we create characters who have a set path and a set purpose; characters who are defined by their actions. But really we should be hoping to create characters that are so fleshed-out that we should know how they'll react to any scenario; characters whose personalities defines their actions, not the other way around.

Some of my characters have started behaving like dicks, and I think that's a good thing. We all behave like dicks from time to time, and to have characters behave thus makes them that little bit more human. I'm beginning to get a feel for how my characters will behave in certain situations, but how much is their reaction my responsibility?

I've been thinking of Last Action Hero in which the hero, Jack Slater, learns that he is fictional and, not only that, has been forced to live a hard life in which his son was cruelly murdered. He hates the films' writers for this.

When I purposefully dangle something good in front of a character, then snatch it away and torture them, that's my fault. I'm being sadistic to these people, even if they are fictional. But when I've created a character and know that they'll now start behaving like a dick to another, is that my responsibility? Or once my characters have become fully fleshed-out, do they have to start taking responsibility for their own actions?

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

51 - Will this ever end?

Over the Summer months last year I pushed to write the entire first draft of my novel. Frequently throughout I would doubt my ability to get to the end. I wondered if I really would get the satisfaction of writing those two little three-letter words, and yet I did. Rather than taking a step back and feeling pride in myself, however, I threw myself straight back into reading it over and making notes.

I spent the following few months trying very half-heartedly to redraft it. Over that time I was firmly under the impression that I might never get the second draft finished.

So I've been pushing hard this last fortnight and although the end of this draft is clearly in sight, I'm beginning to doubt whether I'll ever complete a final draft. Sure that'll be a long way off but I just can't picture myself ever being so satisfied with it that I'll consider it 'ready.' I don't see myself giving up - I see myself getting caught up in the process of redrafting it again and again for eternity.

But here's hoping, eh?

Monday, 1 March 2010

50 - Ring. Ring.

I went through a bit of a crime fiction phase a few years back and one of the best I read over that time was James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice. More than being a simply fantastic novel, it has one of my favourite titles of any novel ever.

Along with Flowers for Algernon and The Catcher in the Rye, it was one of those novels I'd known about for years merely because of its unusual title. Wordy titles, to me, are far more appealing than short, snappy ones.

What's most intriguing about The Postman Always Rings Twice is that the title has no relation to the story whatsoever. There's no postman in it. Cain has said that it refers to his friend Vincent Lawrence who would always wait nervously for the postman to arrive bringing news of submitted manuscripts. He'd always know when the postman arrived as he always rang twice. This can be seen as a metaphor for fate and as suiting the lead character's situation in the novel.

Personally, I don't really care as I think an enigmatic title that has no bearing on a novel's plot is far more intriguing. The working title of my novel at the moment isn't particularly great but is pretty wordy and refers to an event no longer in the novel. Now it only sticks around because: a) I can't think of a better title and b) it's my poor man's allusion to The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

49 - Is this a spatula or not?

So I was just in the pub with some of my friends and for some reason or the other, we started talking about spatulas. It soon arose that what me and my friends were referring to as spatulas were different things. What they referred to as a spatula is what I'd refer to as a fish slice. See below:What I'd refer to as a spatula they'd never heard of, or at least had no idea what I was describing. I researched this online and apparently this is a cake spatula or a frosting spatula or even a scraper. See below:Only a few hours before this my friend was discussing her gilet with my sister. Now I was ademant that a gilet was a nightdress. But it was quickly pointed out that what I meant was a negligee.

Basically language is a tricky thing. You can use the wrong word and still be understood and you can use the correct word and have people look at you like you're making words up as you go along. So what's right? Should we use words in contexts we understand even if the meaning we ascribe them is wrong?

Probably not. Never mind.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

48 - Hallam Foe

What a cracking little film Hallam Foe is. It tells the story of a young voyeur who runs away to Edinburgh and lives on the rooftops, spying on a woman who looks like his dead mother. It's as disturbing as it sounds and yet it's an incredibly sweet, light-hearted film. It dances the lines between creepy and sweet very well and Hallam as a character is a very tragic and sympathetic boy. He's a sensitive cool-loser that are so popular in indie films. A social reject but someone we all want to be. And who wouldn't want to live on the rooftops, watching the world go by? Fantastic.

Friday, 26 February 2010

47 - Routine

Sometimes writing is spontaneous. Doesn't matter where you are, you have to write.

However, as much as I love writing, it doesn't mean that whenever I get a free moment I write. Even if I do want to write, it doesn't mean I will. Often I just can't be arsed. I used to think that writing when I wanted to write, when I needed to write, produced far better pieces than if I forced it, so I'd only write when I really wanted to. Maybe I was right, but writing in that way took a long time to produce anything.

So I've gotten into a habit and One A Day has been a huge help with this. By writing something every day I'm now firmly back in the routine of writing. I don't need to force it. I was worrying at the start of this month that One A Day had replaced my fiction writing. It hasn't. It took about 6 weeks of writing a blog a day but now this blogging has become habitual. I don't feel like I'm forcing these blogs out anymore. I now feel that I can sit down and write, in moderation, at any time. Having rekindled this 'ability' to write without needing the flaming desire to, I transferred this routine to my fiction writing.

As boring as this is, this has been my schedule each day this last week or so:

8:00 - Alarm goes off. Press snooze 5 times.
8:42 - Get out of bed. Have tea. Check emails, Twitter etc.
9:00 - Have shower. Put on comfy clothes. Eat bit of breakfast.
9:30 - With coffee, sit down and write.
10:30 - Have cup of tea and variety of cake.
11:00 - Write.
12ish - Finish.

This method's working really well for me. It's not as much as I could write but 2+ hours a day's not bad and I think it strikes a good medium for the time being between forcing it out and wanting to write. So yeah, thanks One A Day.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

46 - Feeling sexy

So I was redrafting Chapter 12 of my novel today and had to write a sex scene. Man, I felt awkward. That's a pretty pathetic attitude to have, right?

I wouldn't include the scene if it didn't need to be there. Unfortunately it does. I don't want it coming across as a desperate attempt to be sexy. As long as it's functional, I'll be happy. Still, I was writing it feeling like a teenager whose dad was trying to have 'that talk' with him.

I tried thinking of other novels with sex scenes and only one sprung to mind as I wrote - American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. If you haven't read it, then know the sex scenes, like everything else in the novel, are graphic but serve a point. They're not too sexy or ludicrous, just graphic. Oh, and they nearly all end with Patrick Bateman mutilating the women involved. Good stuff, but it wasn't much help.

Hopefully by the time I come back to this chapter on the next draft I'll have manned up a bit or done some actual research into better written sex scenes. For now, I'm sure the scene has been imbued with a great sense of awkwardness, and what's sex without awkwardness, right?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

45 - Literary exchange #1

Me and my friend decided to do a literary exchange this year. The plan is to lend each other five of our favourite books that the other hasn't read. To start I lent her Flowers for Algernon and she lent me Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Now I've seen the films and pretty much everyone in the English-speaking world knows the story, but I thought I'd try and read it with an open mind. I can't lie; it was better than I expected.

So I thought in continuing the way I read it, I'd write a few words on the book as if it weren't some huge cultural phenomenon - as if it were an unknown story.

The first thing that strikes is how solid an imagination J.K. Rowling has, and how good a sense she has of what will appeal to children. There's a bit of something for everyone. There's classic escapism. There's a sense of there being more to life. There's some entertaining characters and best of all there's magic.

For a children's book it's a great little read. There are flaws, most of which I overlooked seeing as it's intended for children. Everything that happens is fantastically convenient. The writing isn't exactly brilliant and the dialogue is often clunky and full of clumsy exposition. Most of all I found the sense of right and wrong in the book to be too clear-cut. Characters are either very, very good or incredibly evil and malicious. But as I said, it is meant for children.

Overall I preferred Artemis Fowl. It has a better plot and the character of Artemis is far superior to Harry. Still, I really enjoyed Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and I'm sure if J.K. Rowling ever pens a sequel I'll give it a read.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

44 - 1988.7.16 Tokyo

The only sound we hear is the wind.

The camera pans up and looks out over a huge, sprawling city.

1988.7.16 TOKYO

A pinpoint of light quickly grows and a nuclear explosion engulfs the screen.

All is white.

WRITTEN AND DIRECTED
BY
KATSUHIRO OTOMO

A picture fades in of the city from above.

A drum beat.

31 YEARS AFTER WORLD WAR III
AD 2019 NEO TOKYO

The picture fades to black and the camera pulls out of a huge crater; that of the nuclear explosion.

The drum beats continue and AKIRA in large, red lettering fades onto the screen.

---

That is why Akira has one of the best openings in cinema. That is why novels just can't compete with films when it comes to openings. Everything about Akira's opening is pure and simplistic beauty. It's shocking, powerful and provides the set-up for the rest of the story. My words don't do it justice. Watch the film.

Monday, 22 February 2010

43 - I'm my own grandfather. What?

Writing time travel fiction is a nightmare.

I tried writing a short story about a time traveller once and had to give up due to the fact that I couldn't keep a grip on the facts.

She travelled back in time just after her seventh birthday, lived for twelve years in the past then returned to when she came four years after she left.
How old is she again?


He just met for the first time a man that he's already killed.
What?

For him this is the ninth time they've met. For her it's the third. However she's aware of all fifteen times they've met due to the fact that the second time she met him was the final time of them meeting and he filled her in.
Run that by me again.


Quite.

So I've been playing around with it in my latest story and I think, I think, I've just caused a temporal causality loop. At least, I may have. I really don't know.

I think the key hope as a writer is that your readers won't be able to keep up either and so will just give in and go with the flow. Hopefully.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

42 - Ringworld

Ringworld - Larry Niven (1970)
I picked this up in a charity shop just before Christmas having heard of it before but didn't really know what it was about. The basic premise is pretty wicked; a group of four explorers travel to Ringworld, an artificial world in the shape of a ring (akin to a Dyson sphere) orbiting a sun. Crash landing upon its surface, the four must find their way free of this world, exploring it as they do so.

The whole way through reading this novel, I was reminded of Bob Shaw's Orbitsville (1975) a similar story in which mankind discovers a Dyson sphere. As such I couldn't help comparing the two throughout and I've got to say that I found Orbitsville far more entertaining, was better written and imbued me with a greater sense of awe.

Niven's novel is hard science-fiction and as such frequently explains precisely how things work. Now I have nothing against elaborately conceived worlds that don't dumb down the science to appeal to a wider audience, but in Ringworld I found it pretty intrusive. Most of it was fairly hard to follow for my brain which has very little understanding of science. It also slowed the pace more often than not and I would have been far happier to simply accept that a house could float than have characters hypothesise how and why before finally agreeing upon a theory.

Of the four main characters, Louis and Speaker, were likeable but Nessus and Teela were both pretty annoying. There isn't a lot else to say other than I did actually enjoy it. I just found that the points of wonder were often too far apart and that I've read far better examples of the genre. If you like big adventure, discovery sci-fi and you come across this, give it a read, but I'd recommend Orbitsville and Gateway ahead of it.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

41 - Evil

This man is the embodiment of evil. That's how a drama teacher once described to me Rutger Hauer's character in The Hitcher. Unike other anatagonists, he doesn't show mercy, doesn't waffle on in a long handy monologue. He doesn't have a real motive either. He simply kills because he can and because he enjoys it.

The only thing that comes close to a motive is provided by the character of Jim played by C. Thomas Howell. Being the only person ever to stand up to The Hitcher, he is subsequently tormented and played with for the rest of the film.


It's proof that you don't always need a deep character to make a piece compelling. They don't need complex motives to propel the story along. Sometimes nothing more than evil itself provides the perfect antagonist.

Friday, 19 February 2010

40 - The book inside you

You've got a book inside you, because apparently everyone does, and I want to read it.

I've decided that when I'm older I'm going to have a bookcase reserved solely for books written by people I know. It's one of my bizarre compulsions than whenever I find out that somebody writes fiction, I immediately want to read any and everything they've penned. I want to know what genre they write. What ideas they employ. How they write.

So for anyone reading this blog, if you've ever written a story, I want to read it. This isn't a big plea for you all to send me things to read, but just so you know, there is an audience out here.

Reading a story by some random author is great. Reading a story by someone you know, be that your oldest friend, someone you've gad a pint with, or someone you only know over the internet, is a far deeper thrill.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

39 - Twice as long as half its length

How long is a story? The same length as a piece of string, right? Twice as long as half its length.

I know the generally agreed upon word counts for what constitutes flash fiction, short story, novellas and novels, but when get an idea, how do we know whether it will be a short story or an epic tale told over three books?

Obviously certain ideas lend themselves better to shorter tales than longer ones and vice versa. Sometimes it's quite intuitive. You just know that an idea, even if it's only the bare bones of one, requires a novel to be told or only a few sentences.

And I think you need to stick to your gut feeling initially, at least when planning it. Trying to compress a novel into a short story can result in a piece that reads like it's screaming out for more words. And not enough words won't do it justice. But trying to turn a short story into a novel can stretch a great idea to breaking point. Even by beefing it up with subplots you risk diluting the narrative. Too many words can tear apart a piece.

But then as you write, I think you need to write the length that's right. You might start off with the plan for an 80,000 novel but you soon reach 20,000 words and feel you're already over halfway through. Conversely you might find yourself needing 15,000 words extra for a short story. Don't necessarily constrain yourself to what you originally set out to do. It can be heartbreaking finding your piece won't be as long as you intended, or is far longer, but a story needs be the correct length - it shouldn't be the length you want it to be. It should take as many words to tell as it needs, and not one more

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

38 - Writing music #4

Spotify playlist - 'writing'
This has to be the number one thing I listen to when I write now. It's not a cleverly crafted playlist in which I've obsessed over the order of every song. It doesn't just feature certain genres or indeed only songs I specifically associate with writing. It started off that way, but it soon evolved. I added various songs I hadn't heard for years in that Spotify way. Songs I wanted to listen to as I wrote.

Nine times out of ten when I'm redrafting my novel I'll be listening to this playlist. As bizarre as some of the selections might appear, I've been writing to it for so long that each of these tracks gets my fingers typing, even the screaming melody of In Flames's 'Take This Life.' Wizard.
  1. The Awakening - York
  2. Offshore - Chicane
  3. Now We Are Free - Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard
  4. Saltwater - Chicane
  5. Adagio For Strings - Tiƫsto
  6. Big Love (live) - Lindsey Buckingham
  7. Edge Of Seveteen - Stevie Nicks
  8. All Along The Watchtower - Eddie Vedder & The Million Dollar Bashers
  9. All Along The Watchtower - Francis Lockwood
  10. Never Had It - Flobots
  11. Bullets - Tunng
  12. Bandages - Hot Hot Heat
  13. Sweetness - Jimmy Eat World
  14. The Boys Of Summer - The Ataris
  15. Huddle Formation - The Go! Team
  16. Take This Life - In Flames
  17. Trojan Horse - Bloc Party
  18. Sway - Lostprophets
  19. The Boxer - Simon & Garfunkel
  20. 747 (We Ran Out Of Time) - Kent
Listen to it here if you desperately want to.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

37 - Once upon a beginning

Six years ago I watched an episode of Father Ted. I was too lazy to roll over and turn off the TV so watched what came next; the first episode of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, and so the love affair began.

Due to low ratings a second series was never commissioned. In some ways I don't mind because what we do have are six episodes of some of the smartest and finest comedy in TV history.

For those who don't know, the show concerns Garth Marenghi, a pulp horror writer who created a TV show in the 1980s entitled Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. Apparently considered ahead of its time Darkplace was never shown, until now. In the present day Garth has knocked together interviews with some of the actors and spliced these into the episodes as we watch.

What we get is brilliant comedy from watching this abysmal TV show. Poor acting, out of sync dubbing, poor scripting, poor editing, poor SFX, poor sets, dreadful continuity, errors, sexism and ill-judged musical numbers.

But look past the fantastically observed comedy and the frequent silliness, and beneath there's a dark believable world. We have a pathetically vain and deluded man who, spurred on by a hero-worshiping publisher, created a badly-made and badly-written horror that was deservedly lost for decades.

There's so much to get from the scripts, from the sets, from the actors. I don't exaggerate by saying I'll find something new to laugh at and gawp over every time I rewatch it, which is every few months. The attention to detail is beautiful. I go on about rich worlds in novels, films and games but here's a comedy so rich you can practically taste it. Simply beautiful.

Monday, 15 February 2010

36 - Your move, creep

Robocop is fucking cool.

Although he's created as machine devoid of personality akin to The Terminator he ends up evolving back towards humanity. Unlike The Terminator who retains a monotone attitude throughout the films, Robocop slowly regains his identity.

Though still a machine, glimpses of Murphy, the man he was before, slip through. From his stance as he shoots, the way he spins his gun or the quips he utters, everything's imbued with a real sense of the man who was before.

Peter Weller delivers his lines beautifully, saying them with something I can only describe as 'robotic charisma.' He speaks in a monotone fashion with a supreme air of authority but also includes stresses on certain words and puts pauses mid-sentence.

He's just so fucking cool.

"Looking for me?"

"Dead or alive, you're coming with me."

"Come quietly or there will be...trouble."

"Your move, creep."

Sunday, 14 February 2010

35 - Writing music #3

We Don't Need To Whisper - Angels & Airwaves
I can't honestly say that I think We Don't Need To Whisper is a good album. I don't think I can even say that I like it. But I do enjoy listening to, if that makes any sense.

Like Crystal Castles it was an album I was forced to listen to by a friend, and put it on while I did some writing. So I'd be writing into the early hours night upon night listening to this album. Whenever I hear a song from it all I can think of is those nights I stayed up when the words would pour out of me.

Even if I don't really take it in as I listen, it has great nostalgic value. I'll put it on after 1 a.m., let it wash over me and all I can do is write.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

34 - The Chris-ening

I'm rubbish at naming characters. I don't really know what I'm doing. I know that naming characters should be very important. Names can allude to various texts and can suggest subtle whatsits about your character and the plot. I however take names from wherever because they seem like a good idea.

Generally on a first draft of a story I might decide on the main characters' names but for everyone else I use stock names such as Jim and Jeff in the hope that I'll have decided upon better names on the redraft.

So I'm currently about halfway through redrafting my novel and have met most, but not all, of the cast. What I've got is:

1 character named after the lead from a favourite novel
1 character named after a pot plant at my friend's work
1 character named after someone in The Bible
1 character named after a friend
3 characters named after work colleagues who asked me to name characters after them
4 characters named after work colleagues who didn't ask me to name characters after them
1 character named after someone l met on the train who asked me to name a character after them
1 character named after a character in a video game
A variety of characters given the first name that popped into my head

I'll give them better names in the third draft.

Friday, 12 February 2010

33 - Be afraid

Shedding hair. Peeling off nails. Losing teeth. Growing insect hair. Losing ears. Tearing skin. Ripping flesh. Blowing up heads.
Bleeding. Vomiting. Squirting pus. Giving birth to a gigantic maggot. Breaking arms. Dissolving hands. Dissolving ankles. Tearing off jaws. Turning baboons inside out.

Pro tip: never watch David Cronenberg's The Fly while eating lunch, dinner, breakfast or any foodstuff whatsoever.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

32 - Holes

I've mentioned before that I have a fondness of stories that are brave enough to leave certain things unresolved and unrevealed. Stories that don't tie up all their loose ends. Stories that keep an air of mysticism about them. Stories that favour pacing over exposition.

Of course all this has to be done on purpose, and done right, otherwise you're left with a frustrating gaping mess. All too often a glaring plot hole can ruin a story. But I think a story filled with plot holes is frequently preferable to one that tries to account for everything.

Gaping plot holes are better than:

Stories that stop to dump a shitload of information on you every few scenes.1

Stories that continue for an age after they should have concluded, in order to tie everything up to perfection.2

Stories that take too long to find momentum due to the fact that they explain everything you encounter in excessive detail.3

Okay, I hate stories with paper-thin plots that have been dragged out to breaking point.4 I hate stories that leave a crucial point unresolved to either make a point or simply annoy you.5 But I'd still take either of these in favour of a story that treats me like I'm some kind of forensic reader demanding an explanation for every single detail.

1 - See Ringworld
2 - See Metal gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
3 - See Kushiel's Dart
4 - See Windtalkers
5 - See Broken Flowers

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

31 - Words etc.

I write. I speak. I read. Words occur a lot in all three of these activities. These are some of my favourites. Gripping.

infallible - I love how this rolls off my tongue, and it rolls off it a lot. It pops up all the time when I'm arguing with myself, aloud. Right.

absolutely - I rarely use this as a synonym for 'totally' or 'completely,' mainly to agree. It's more interesting than saying 'yes' or 'yeah' or 'uhuh' or 'affirmative.' It adds a little bit personality to agreement, if you get what I mean.

cracking - Similar to 'absolutely,' I prefer using this than simply saying 'great,' 'good,' 'excellent' or 'okay.'

meat
- I love this because it's vague and specific depending on its usage. Meat pie and meatloaf, fine. 'Is this a meat dish?' Cool. But see a can of Iceland's 'meat curry' and you start to wonder exactly what the hell 'meat' refers to.

facetious - I rarely use this word other than in lists of my favourite words. It's not particularly fun to say, but it has all five vowels in alphabetical order. Whoa.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

30 - Writing music #2

Destroy Rock & Roll - Mylo
Destroy Rock & Roll got me through University. I must have listened to it while writing every single essay given to me. It's that peculiar mixture of being relaxing and soothing as well as being energetic and inspirational. One of my favourite memories of my three years in Aberystwyth is writing an essay, listening to Mylo, next to an open window with a cool sea breeze and coastal sun flowing in.

Unfortunately there's not a huge reason to write essays once you've left uni, so I don't listen to it as much when I write now. I do put it on now and again, but prefer other albums that I associate more with fiction writing.

I'll listen to it on train journeys all the time and train journeys, as other bloggers will testify, are quite possibly the greatest place for brainstorming ideas. I'll sit with a notepad and Destroy Rock & Roll playing, scribbling endless nonsense with a broken biro. Beautiful.

For me, this album is essay writing music, it's brainstorming music, it's travelling music and it's summer music.

Monday, 8 February 2010

29 - Wandering

I can't say that travelling the world appeals to me. There aren't many countries I want to visit. I'm a bit boring like that.

What appeals to me is obscure, boring places close to home. Wilderness, forgotten spots, dull places. I'd love to do a Forrest Gump. Drop everything and go wandering round the UK. A tent on my back, a pen and notepad in my pocket, a camera dangling round my wrist and an iPod full of good music or, better yet, a like-minded companion.

I'd wander around for a while from village to town. Go down all those alleys and lifeless suburban roads that most locals don't even go down. The ones you pass all the time and never have any reason to venture into. Those quiet, leafy streets. Those thin, stinking alleys.

Or get on a train and end up at the far edge of the country and thread my way through forests and fields. That appeals to me. That would be an amazing way to spend a few days/weeks/months. That would be great.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

28 - Stand on Zanzibar

Two months and 650 pages after I started reading it, I finally finished John Brunner's remarkable Stand on Zanzibar.

The novel is set in 2010 where crippling overcrowding has lead to widespread eugenic legislation as well as frequent instances in which people simply go mad and run amok in public, killing dozens. Written in 1968, many parts of the novel are eerily prescient.

But the most fascinating facet of Stand on Zanzibar, in my opinion, is its narrative style. There are four types of chapters. While 'Continuity' chapters follow the main plot, 'The Happening World' chapters do no more than provide snippets of conversations and information that give us the wider view of the world. 'Context' chapters provide just that, often via excerpts from newspapers and
'Tracking With Close-Ups' chapters generally focus on minor characters.

Though the plot therefore progresses fairly slowly, the pace is pretty consistent throughout and the world Brunner has constructed is beautifully rich. This isn't just down to length. I've read novels twice the length that still don't come close to Stand on Zanzibar's depth. It's possibly one of the most deeply constructed novels I've read.

The narrative style, John Brunner's prescience and the dark and philosophical plot are all equally strong reasons for reading it.
It truly is remarkable and I strongly suggest giving it a read.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

27 - Last episode

Last episodes are tough to get right. They have to match the tone and the style of the show and yet go beyond it. They have to resolve enough issues to keep you satisfied and yet not try and tie up every loose end and become drawn out and convoluted.

Most of all, I find that a great last episode of a TV show should stick with you. It should really resonate and keep running through your mind for days after. It should leave you sad that you will never see those characters again in new situations and yet happy that it was so excellent.

Last night I finished Battlestar Galactica and though I see some people weren't too satisfied with the ending, for me it was perfect. It got the tone just right and I can't get it out of my head. It's up there with the last episodes of Spaced, The Shield, The Wire and Arrested Development. Every time I go back to these shows, their last episodes deeply affect me. Cracking TV.

Friday, 5 February 2010

26 - Writing music #1

Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles
Christmas 2008, like every Christmas, saw my brother receiving a heap-load of obscure albums and not a lot else. I have a pretty poor music taste and knowledge. His is apparently overwhelming and vastly superior. He forces albums upon me all the time and generally I never get round to listening to them, because I like sticking with what I know and I just don't like what I hear coming from his room.

Anyway, that Christmas he forced Crystal Castles by Crystal Castles onto me. Determined to give it a go, I stuck it on while I did some writing and it just worked. It fitted perfectly. It's a simply extraordinary album that somehow manages to both play along unobtrusively as I write, and yet affect me and spur me on.
Particular favourite tracks are Alice Practice, Crime Wave and Black Panther.

Unlike other albums I put on when writing, this doesn't have a specific association. I'll play it when I write fiction, when I write non-fiction. I'll play it at night, during the day and especially when I'm sitting on my bed with a notepad jotting down a hundred and one bad ideas.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

25 - Sam & Wikus

My two favourite films from last year were Moon and District 9. Both sci-fi, both made incredibly well and both had a fantastic, original story to tell. But more than anything, it was the central character that made each film remarkable.

Sam Bell in Moon (played incredibly by Sam Rockwell) and Wikus Van De Merwe in District 9 (played superbly by Sharlto Copley) are fantastic to watch. Each man faces a tragic, truly saddening, if far-fetched, story. Both of them are caught up in really dire events that neither of them is to blame for.

These aren't perfect men. Sam has moments of selfishness, combined with a clear deep-rooted anger problem as well as a tendency to be immature. Meanwhile Wikus is even more selfish, self-centred, a coward and as xenophobic and crooked as the rest of his co-workers. All aside, neither man deserves the tragic events that happen around and to them.

We might not be able to fully empathise with each man, but we can certainly sympathise with them. These are very human characters facing extraordinary events and we the viewers are helpless. We can only watch each man 'cope.' This more than anything, makes these films compulsive, repetitive viewing in my eyes.

Faultless, good-looking heroes are great for action films. Amoral/immoral men with sadistic streaks are great for TV* but sometimes the best stories are told with a helpless man at the centre, trying his best to cope with the tragedy of his own existence.

*See The Wire, The Shield, Dexter

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

24 - 4265

As much as I'm enjoying One A Day, it had near-enough replaced my fiction writing. Since starting, I'd only written one short piece and that was it. I love the fact that I'm writing something new every day, but I was using One A Day as an excuse not to get back to the slog of rewriting my novel.

Last Summer I gave myself a target. From June until September I planned to write 500 words a day and end up with 60,000 words at the end of September. I finished September with 59,451 words and a very rough, largely forced first draft of a novel. Though I hit my target, I'd often gone days without writing anything then caught up at the end of the week. One week I wrote literally nothing. Another I wrote near-enough 7,000 words.

The plan was to then read over each of the twenty-one chapters throughout October, taking notes on what needed to be improved, changed, deleted etc. That I managed easily enough in a similar fashion.

The final part of the plan was to spend November, December and January redrafting two chapters or so a week. This was a foolish idea but the plan was to have it finished by February 3rd - today. Why today? Well, it's my friend's birthday today and seeing as she wants to be the first person to read my novel, it seemed as good as any date to aim for.

The end of the year came and I'd rewritten five chapters. The end of January came and I'd rewritten one more chapter. So today I forced myself to write - a strategy that rarely works for me. Today, it did.

I redrafted all of Chapter Seven and part of Eight. A grand total of 4,265 words, which is fantastic by my standards. Now I doubt this is the start of some huge push that will see the novel rewritten by the end of March, even, but I know I can do it. I'm going to keep forcing myself. It won't always work. But if I do it enough, I should get back into the swing of it. Hopefully.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

23 - Klaatu barada nikto

I started this blog with the hope in the back of my mind that it would help me achieve something. What? I don't know, but it fits in with my greatly delusional life view that everything's leading up to something big. That there's something out there. That this is by no means all there is. That I'm in some way special.

The novels I read, the films I watch and the games I play further compound this belief. They're about other worlds, or exceptional events happening, or quite often about a nobody with a destiny.

Occasionally it hits home that nothing exceptional will happen to me or anyone else. We'll never make contact with another world. I'll never mutate beyond my own colourblindness. I'm never actually going to get a novel published. And I'll probably end up becoming a teacher.