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A week of reading

From the title of this post you can probably guess just how much (or little) actual writing I managed to do this week. Now, I am one of life’s great procrastinators – why do something today when there are an endless stream of tomorrows; right? But, the main reason I haven’t written anything this week is that I opened a book to read. Just a little something to accompany my morning coffee ritual. However, some books are just too damned good to put down and in my opinion Stray Souls by Kate Griffin aka Catherine Webb is one of them.

It has everything I try to put into my own writing – it is contemporary, based in a real place although it has a strong magical element, witty and in places laugh out loud funny. Every sentence is considered, loaded with humour. It is a fine piece of writing and one I would be chuffed to bits if I could manage anything half as good.

It did get me thinking though; is it always a good thing to read material closely related to your own writing?

On the one hand, you can learn from it. see what is possible. Gain heart from the knowledge that others are interested enough in your specific genre and subgenre to write about it themselves. On the other hand, it can point up all your own inadequacies as a writer (when it is this good) which is fairly depressing. Personally and on balance, I think it was a good experience, because it is only by reading writing that is better than you can do yourself and striving to be at least as good, that you can improve.

So ‘kudos’ to you Ms Griffin and back to the keyboard for me…



Change is as good as a rest

Or so they say. This week I’ve changed my writing venue. From the office to the dining room/library. In reality this move is about three and a half yards but in perception it is indeed another country. I now have a large window to look out of; and look out of it I do! So first, here is a picture of my new writing space:

2013-01-20 11.12.20

Now, Scrivener is totally brilliant and I won’t hear a word against it but… it is a tad more complex than I actually require and being a Microsoft boy at heart I don’t find it particularly intuitive (probably because it has Mac origins). I came across a package called WriteItNow 4. This is a much simpler no-nonsense piece of software that is aimed specifically at novel-writing. It has a Microsoft look and feel to it and is so intuitive I didn’t have to refer to help files once. The other good thing (at least in my book) is that it saves your project as a single file – with Scrivener, I am never really sure which files are my specific project ones so I end up saving several of them and hoping.

So new space, new software, raring to go? Let’s look out of the window a little bit more first.

We have a lot of birds in our garden, largely due to my partners diligence in feeding them all year round. I have noticed though that there is one particular (very fat) blackbird who obviously thinks he owns the bird table. When he is not stuffing his beak he sits on a nearby pillar and guards it against the other birds. See the culprit here:

2013-01-20 11.07.48 Of course it is a losing battle and he expends much energy on this hopeless cause. Some of the other birds just watch from a nearby tree, waiting for their chance to swoop down mob handed and raid the table. Here they are:

2013-01-20 11.22.14

Right then, new venue, new software, window looked out of, and on with the actual writing. Well, after I’ve had another cup of tea, updated this blog and checked Facebook, Twitter and G+. Yes, then I’ll be ready…..

Unleashing the beast

OK so this week I need to start with a confession. Ahem. I haven’t actually done any writing – not a word. None. Do I feel guilty, of course mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! So why this sorry state of affairs – well in a word, social media (OK two words). Now you might thing I’m a tech savvie kind of guy, what with blogging and all and writing software that I go banging on about, but you would be wrong. Up until a week or so ago I had resisted the urge to plunge into social media; actually I didn’t even have an urge.

A week or so ago I decided to take a look, more out of curiosity you understand. Here is my experience as a complete newbie so far.

Lest start with Facebook. Now, I have a lot of preconceptions about this. Basically I see it as a raging monster, ready to trip you up – hunting down the most embarrassing features kept on your hard drive and publishing them to the world at large where they can laugh in your face, heap scorn on you and parade you naked through the virtual streets. Given that as my opening stance, I decided to only use it on my mobile phone. I tried to set it up on my phone. It was hard work and I wondered how anyone used this most unintuitive interface to do anything. Eventually I found out that there were some things that simply couldn’t be done on it. So I got out my old computer, and locked away in a room with no other technology in it and the curtains closed, so it couldn’t get at anything, even by osmosis, I set out to tackle the monster. I found out that it was a piece of pie to set up this way but got so over protective about privacy that no-one could find out I was on it nor see any of my posts. I relented (a bit) and voila, was bombarded with friend requests, more friend of friend requests and requests from people I had only heard of.

Then came twitter. No real preconceptions other that it was going to be so brief that I wouldn’t be able to say anything meaningful at all. The reality was – I loved it! got it straight away, and was tweeting with the best of them within five minutes.

Feeling bolder I tackled Google+. This was to Facebook as apple computers are to PC’s. A magnificent edifice of an interface, easy to set up, easier to use and the circle feature a complete revelation – now I could keep my contacts for writing, separate from fishkeeping aficionados and very separate from people interested in granny’s wrinkled stockings (oops, don’t tell Facebook that last bit!).

The problem then became my world was dominated by a phone bleeping, tweeting and generally going demented with updates demanding vital attention – hence the lack of writing. Now I’ve become a complete addict – anyone out there know of a cure….

What do you like in a novel?

For some people it is the genre. A book just has to be crime/ romance/ fantasy or whatever before they get interested enough to read the blurb on the back cover. For others it is the storyline – it either has to be complex/ simple/ linear/ multiple strand or whatever before they reach for the wallet. For my friend I had this conversation with it has to have deep rich descriptions – well, each to their own I say.

For me, well, frankly its the language that matters most. A book just has to have those phrasings, often in metaphor, that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It can be pretty much any genre, it just has to have a plot (although I’ve read some really good writing that pretty much doesn’t) any plot will do, but without the clever turn of phrase it doesn’t really do it for me.

I know this is unfashionable at the moment, and the emphasis seems to be on short simple sentences. I don’t care. Last week, full of intent to write loads, I foolishly picked up a book by Ian McEwan – Enduring love. Its sort of about a person who is being stalked by someone with de Clerambault’s syndrome – maybe. Anyway, the writing is sublime and it ate up my week; ah well…

So, what does it for you. What is a ‘must have’ for your ideal novel?

Sidetracked (again)

As any of my former students can tell you, I’m easily sidetracked. A well-aimed interesting question can send me rambling away on the B roads of knowledge for half an hour or more. In short, I lack focus. Flitting to whatever shiny new idea catches my eye next. Not for me the school of head down and task in hand…

So, this week no writing has happened. Why? Because I bought a book at a car boot and started to read it – ooh interesting. read a bit more, ahh – this is in a similar style and genre to my own, therefore I have to read it to the end in the name of research don’t I? (you wouldn’t believe what I can justify in the name of research).

Well, before you know it the week is done – writing nil books read one. The book in question; The Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. Curse the spider god for drawing me into his web. Ah well, there is always next week 🙂

My new best friend

Well, I did it. After the relentless egging on from last weeks comments (well one comment actually) I went out and got me a Nexus 7. Mind you, getting one wasn’t all that easy – round here they seem to be as rare as hen’s teeth! The first three stores I tried all had demo models – which they insisted on ‘demoing’ for me before realising they had none in stock, and that gets a little old by the third store. But eventually Tesco came to the rescue (who would have thought); the mighty supermarket juggernaut had just one left. So I took their hand off and trotted home with the little beauty.

Is it any good? Oh yes, and then some.

First up comes the avalanche of free apps; apps for just about anything you can think of – I have apps coming out of my ears now, including my old favourites Dropbox and Evernote.  True, some of my favourites aren’t there, such as Scrivener and Mindmaple but I did find a different mind mapping app that imports to Mindmaple and a word processing app that handles Word file format, which imports to Scrivener. No problem.

So now I’m completely mobile – a peripatetic author! me and my best friend Norman the Nexus 7 – coming to a coffee shop near you…


Guilty pleasure

If you’ve read some of my earlier posts you may have gathered that I’m both technologically challenged and drawn to new shiny IT things – both at the same time. I can’t help it; a moth to the flame. Gone are notebooks (paper ones that is), or more accurately, stored in a line taking up real estate on my already groaning bookcase, replaced with Evernote, Mindmaple and the like.

I recently dallied with the idea of buying an iPad for note taking on the move. The more sensible of you pointing out that a netbook would be a better option for what I required; and of course, you are right and I already have one.

But, my eyes have seen the Nexus 7 android and my heart is all a flutter. Its smaller (at a push I could probably get it into my cargo pants pocket) and seems to do everything I would want it too. It’s under £200 (just), ha! chicken feed, surely I can justify that. The wanting is strong. I don’t feel as if I can resist. maybe I’ll just go and have one more look at it. Ahhh, shiny, shiny, want, want, want. Come to me my precious….

Dreaming a novel

Where do you get your ideas for stories from? Me, I dream them up. Nearly all of the good ideas I get come in the form of a dream. These dreams are a different quality from the ordinary every night anxiety dreams; I have come to identify them as ‘story’ dreams. The eventual stories aren’t always an exact replica of the dream, but the dream is the core of it. the advantage of this is that I have a clear visual representation of the characters, the scenes, sounds and pretty much everything else.

I always like to write down the bare bones of the dream as soon as possible after waking, not because I might forget the dream (the quality of these dreams is that they stay with you for a long time – more like memories than dreams), but as an aide memoir for converting into scenes. In used to use a note pad but more recently changed to the PC app ‘Evernote’ as I can combine the notes with pictures, web addresses, video and anything else along the way that relates to the story. Then when I write it I use Scrivener.

I came across a free application this week called ‘MindMaple’. It’s a mind mapping tool. I’ve tried some of these in the past and given up either because they are not intuitive enough, or the display too rigid for what I want. This app suffers from none of the above. If you have ever used any Microsoft app, then you will pick this up straight away – and unbelievably, its free! Now rather than just write a piece of text to represent the dream, I can map it out and add text to support each bubble in the map, which is much closer to how dreams feel. Try it out for yourself, you’ll be amazed…


Good week, bad week

As far as novel-writing goes, this week has been a disaster – nothing written. However, I did manage to write much of an assignment for a course I’m taking, so that was good.

I’ve also been thinking about getting an iPad. Primarily, this is to allow me to write while I’m out and about. I’m really undecided. On the plus side, it is compact and fairly easy to type on. On the downside, it doesn’t have scrivener (yet) and everything I’ve read make it seem like a complete faff to get anything you do write on it to be of use elsewhere.

Does anyone out there use an iPad for writing that will eventually form part of a novel? Is there any good novel-writing software for the iPad which will also link back to MS Word? Let me know.

The storyline

OK, so I’ve decided the novel is about someone who wakes up one morning to find Pan (yes, the greek god) in his back bedroom.  He hasn’t actually seen him, he can’t go in himself because he suffers from panic attacks, and the thought of coming face to face with a deity that can cause these is just too much.  He knows he’s in there though because his friends have told him so and he can hear Pan moving about.

The problem then is how to get rid of Pan?  (and possibly, how did he get there).

The story’s underlying message is that you can only overcome your fears by facing them.

I have a few other ideas on plot development and scenes.  I’ve also been working up possible characters, that may or may not appear in the novel – here’s one provisionally called ‘Bom’:

I’ve always felt there was something incongruous about white people with dreadlocks – except for Bom.  On Bom, the ‘dreads’ looked un-nervingly natural, who knows, perhaps he’d even been born with them.  Like Alan, Bom was thin as a lat, but whereas Alan’s thinness seemed a consequence of his bottled up frustration and rigidity, Bom’s served more to emphasize an ethereal quality, somehow making him less solid and more of a fluid.  Perhaps he was working his way to gaseous and one day all we would see would be the smoke like tendrils of his beloved dreads floating by.

Bom liked his weed.  Actually Bom seemed to live for weed; no, rather he was the weed.  If a cannabis plant could grow legs and put on a pair of crumpled baggy trousers you might think it was Bom’s long-lost twin.  Bom even wore hemp. Hemp tee shirts, hemp trousers (baggy and grey), christ – even hemp boots!  I wouldn’t mind betting even his underwear would be hemp if he could get it.  I suppose practically though, if he were stranded on a desert island he could always smoke his clothes; a sort of walking ‘break glass in case of an emergency’ outfit.

The other quality Bom had, was his ‘laid-backness’; practically horizontal.  Absolutely nothing bothered him.  I once fancied I saw him raise an eyebrow at a particularly controversial remark, but it might just have been a trick of the light.  What is Bom into by the way? Shamanism of course – as he says,” after all, they do have all the best gear.”

What do you think?  I see him as a foil to the main character (called Alan here, but I might change the name).  Bearing in mind this is a very rough draft, what do you think of the overall style of the piece, which is indicative of how I want to write the whole novel?

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