Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Ongoingness

So, number three in a very occasional set of blogposts about the exciting life of an author hovering at the edges of professionalism. We've done The Rejection (boo!) we've done the 'New Start' (huzzah!) now we are on to writing the new thing (ambivalence!) [1]

Writing about this is hard cos I don't want to give much away about The Uncrowned Heir in case you get to read it one day. So I'm going to try and talk about process rather than content which could be really dull.[2] I don't really read many posts about 'how to write X' because then I think 'well, I don't do that' and then I start reading more posts about 'how to write X' and I don't do that either and then I sit here thinking I am doing everything wrong and really if you think about the odds of having any sort of success at all you realise you are quite likely wasting your time and what's the point?[3] Which means I have been entirely derailed from why I am doing this - I'm doing it because I love doing it[4]. So I'm going to stick with what is the best piece of writing advice I have ever been given and it was given to me by the rather wonderful Chaz Brenchley – 'What works for you is the right way of doing it.'

Follows, is what works for me [4a].

Once I knew what I wanted to do I decided to write it and nothing else. That sounds like nothing but it's not because that's the moment I stop being distracted and commit to finishing what I'm on with.

Then for the next week or so I will annoy my wife by being generally distracted and not paying attention to what she's saying[4b] while I daydream through the entire book. I make occasional notes if I REALLY like something but the aim is just to know what I am doing and where it is going. In this case I knew I wanted to write a crime book in a fantasy world, rather than a fantasy book with crime elements. I also focused a bit on my principal characters and how they would interact and what their relationship is but I knew most of this as it's them that excites me and they are the starting point. I'm a people person and people are what it's about.

Then I made a table that had room for thirty chapters, a brief description of what I intended in that chapter, room for notes if I needed to backfill and a final column for whatever it is I had forgotten to make a column for.[5] I also did some sketches of the castle so I had an idea of the geography as it plays an important part in the story[6].

I fill in what I can in my chapterguide thing, this mostly consists of: the end, the beginning and a few milestone moments that need to happen, it'll be maybe half full by the time I start. I don't bother with sub plots or world or other characters as I like to feel that comes organically[7] from the story. I'm still undecided on whether this bit is procrastination or not.

Then I ignore all the notes and guides and maps and stuff and write. I set myself a target of 2000 words a day, Monday to Friday, and nothing at weekends as family and stuff. I don't sit and write solidly I sort of dither about through the day, coming and going and talking to myself like I have 'problems'.[7a] As I said, It took about six weeks in real writing time as I had a break for Christmas and to be really ill in the middle but I ended up at 85'000 words so I outstripped my target by a fair bit and ended up with a first draft that had plenty of good stuff in it.

Once done. I left it for a couple of weeks and wrote some comedy stuff with my friend Chris[8]

And now we are at the bit I struggle the most with. The rewrite to get something that works. The second guessing, the wondering, the not knowing. It's not quite as bad this time as it has been with other stuff and, as I'm reading, I definitely feel what I've done has a real emotional punch to it and I have a hugely likeable main character. But there are problems and the good thing is that I am seeing them[9].

 I think. 

 Or maybe I'm not.

 Or possibly it was right first time and now I'm making it wrongerer.

 I still love doing this.

1. I'm not actually ambivalent about it I am excited but that wouldn't work as a joke.

2. Eh? What? Sorry, I fell asleep thinking about process.

3. ...which inevitably ends at entropy and the heat death of the universe. SO JOLLY.

4. I may have mentioned this before. Not sure.

4a Or doesn't, judging by my success so far.

4b She is watching Celebrity Big Brother at the moment so I kind of wish I'd timed that bit of the process for now.

5. Ascii pictures of badgers that only look like badgers to me.

6. The sketches also serve to make my wife, who is an artist, laugh hysterically. Of course, if she REALLY loved me she'd do it for me but apparently earning money so we can eat is more important than me. Terrible state of affairs.

7. Organically. Really? Organically?

7a This is why I don't sit and write in a cafĂ©. *Telephone rings* 'Hi, MrsRJ? It's me. No, now...listen...no, I don't care what Keith Chegwin said in the house last night. Listen, I've been committed. Yes, again.'

8. Chris really likes process, and order and planning and things like that and will probably murder me at some point in us working together.

9. Ha! Some of them anyway.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

New Beginnings.


Last blog post was about not selling the book[1]. This blog post is about starting again from scratch. Starting again is like a beautiful flower of possibility opening after a long winter of cold, grey and uncertain weather that rains rewrites, snows line edits then melts away leaving you with a manuscript no one wants[2].

After A Darkness Against the Stars[3] not selling I had a chat with Rob, my agent, about what to do next. He had some suggestions[4] and a couple of editors had some suggestions[4] and my friends had some suggestions too[4]. So I wrote a bit, I outlined five ideas I thought had legs and wrote a bit of a couple of them. I also wrote about ten thousand words on something an editor had suggested might be a good fit for me. Showed it to Rob who though I'd missed what they meant and then wrote another ten thousand words which were nearer the mark. Rob also looked through what I've suggested and told me what he liked and what he didn't[4]. In all I wrote about 50'000 words of experiments and what-do-I-enjoys.

But, picture me at this point. I am in a quantum[5] state. I have four more books roughly outlined that occur within the same universe as 'A Darkness'[4] and a few short stories. I LIKE that universe. I also have five ideas, most of which my agent thinks have legs, and I have quite a bit written on a thing that an editor has suggested I have a go at. I am the proverbial pig in mud. Lack of ideas is not and never has been a problem[6].

So, what do I do?

Can you guess?

The answer is...


Go me.

Let's be honest. I mentioned in my last post about the reason for doing this and the reason is I love it. Although I would no doubt enjoy doing what was suggested by an editor if it didn't sell then I'd probably be a bit gutted. I'd much rather be hung for a wolf than a sheep. If I get turned down again then at least I've spent -indeterminate amount of time- on something I really want to do. I took a couple of elements from things Rob liked and rolled them up with something else and ended up with a thing.

Here's an aside. If my agent had suggested any of the following:-

A coming of age.

A teenage 'hero'.

Introducing romance elements.

I would have flounced off in a huff. Well, I wouldn't. I would have said, 'yeah, I'll think about that.' Which is my version of flouncing off in a huff cos I'm not really a huff type of person. The jury is out on flouncing[8]

However, what I am doing has all the above elements because I am contrary like that. And they are needed for the plot.
At first the new thing was called 'The Jester's Twist' which I really liked but Rob wasn't as keen [4]. As I wrote it though that title made less and less sense - the book proved to be about a something else. So now it has a more definite title, which is 'The Uncrowned Heir'. Its first draft is finished, at 85'000 words. I wrote it in six weeks which is pretty quick. It's either going to be really good as it works, or awful. TUH is a fantasy whodunnit which doesn't seem to be a very popular thing[4] but I think it has really likeable central characters that will pull you along. It's written to be one of three and because I know what I want to do I can pre-seed it with stuff that carries forward to other books.
I let a couple of people read the beginning few chapters and the feedback was that they were pretty excited by it.
Now I've just started my first edit of it so no doubt my next blogpost will be about how much I hate it and what a fool I have been to write such rubbish.

1. Woe, poor me, etc. Feel free to make cash donations if it will salve your conscience.
2. See 1.
3. That title is so dramatic. It really is a pity.
4. Write fantasy. Everyone wants to read fantasy. Don't be too weird.
5. Picture my physicist friends tutting and pointing out this is a very bad usage of 'quantum'. At least I know that. I hope that gives them a Quantum of Solace. Ha ha. Oh my. So angry.
6. Can you say Hubris?
7. I picture my agent shaking his head while saying 4.
8. It isn't. I am practically built of flounce. In imperial measurement I weigh ten stone eleven flounces.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

A Fall.

Ill Considered Poem About MarkeSmith

Mark E Smith is in the bushes
Outside my window.
He's in among the Dahli-a
Peeking out.
I think he's coming to kill me because I don't like his band.

Mark E Smith is in the bushes
Peeking out.
He looks like one of those rubber puppets you put in your fingers
As a kid.
Made it gurn
Mark E Smith is gurning in the bushes.
I think he's calling me a Kant.
In German.
While gurning.

Mark E Smith is in the bushes
Peeking out.
Maybe he wants my teeth
He doesn't have any of his own.
I think he sold them to the devil for cult like acclaim.
And now he's come to kill me because I don't like his band.

Mark E Smith is in the bushes
Peeking out.
Secretly planning a radio 6 retrospective
One he can never bring himself to present
Maybe he thinks I'm Marc Riley
He must be drunk.
I have more hair.

Mark E Smith is in the bushes
Peeking out.
I've gone outside
Because the live experience is always better than the record,
It's cold, no worries for the hard man of the Manchester scene
But I need another jumper
Maybe a scarf and hat.

Mark E Smith is in the bushes
Peeking out.
Not even quoting any Fall lyrics in this.
Just lazily appropriating his most famous speech pattern.
He's not disappointed, just angry.

Mark E Smith is in the bushes
Outside my window.
He's in among the Dahli-a

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Failing at the Highest Level.

Digest Version: Wrote a book, didn't sell. Quite enjoyed the process. Not disappointed.

So, 2014 was a pretty exciting year for me. I spent most of it working on a big concept SF novel named 'A Darkness Against the Stars' with my agent, Rob Dinsdale of Dinsdale Imber. And I loved doing it. Rob picked up the novel on the promise of the first part, wasn't as taken with the back end of it so I ripped that out and rewrote. Then rewrote and rewrote and rewrote. It probably sounds like hard work but it wasn't - yes, occasionally I'd get tired of reading the same bit again or rewriting it but rarely. Mostly because Rob supplied what I wanted, which was a critical eye and an understanding of the business of writing that I don't really have and aren't really interested in. Plus, I really like Rob, he makes me laugh[1] and I keep that at number one on my priorities list with people I have/choose to deal with.

Then the book was set free, sent off to the publishers and Rob was pretty upfront with what he said about its chances in the current market. Slim, was the gist of it. He also used the words 'too cerebral'[2] at one point. Like any neophyte author I heard this as 'not good enough'[3] but again, Agent to the rescue by pointing out if it wasn't good enough he wouldn't send it out.

So it went round the publishers, feedback was got. Mostly it was good, some people didn't like it as it was too slow. Some people didn't think some bits worked, some people plain didn't like it – which is all well and good, I don't really want to write stuff everyone likes as my mind tells me it would have to be a bit middle of the road[4]. But, some people loved it. Really loved it. I had the wonderful experience of talking to people, people whose job it is to know about this stuff, who got it. Who saw the things I'd put in there that weren't obvious, that were hidden in the text, who were excited by the bits in it that excited me.

But it fell at the final hurdle (I say final but I think there are a few avenues left, however, that's agent stuff that I don't pretend to understand). When Rob emailed me with a 'well we tried but not this time,' I genuinely got the feeling he was more disappointed than me [5].

Thing is, I've found out I can do this. I can write, it works. I am not awful at writing. I may not have sold but I'm writing pretty close to a professional level[6&7]. That is worth a year or so of work for me as I've always felt like I'm winging it.

Also, I've always told myself I write because I want to write, not because I want to be a writer, or make money[8] or be known. I'm writing because I love to write and now I know I'm not lying to myself about that. The most painful part of this entire process was between the book being sent out and it not selling. I had nothing to write. Couldn't start a sequel, couldn't start anything else. I wrote shorts to keep my eye in but I prefer a longer form and a huge part of not being disappointed was the sense of relief that cam with being able to start something new[9].

It's only now sort of filtering through that it's unlikely people will get to read 'Darkness,' which is a pity as I think I created a great, and pretty unique, universe and some memorable characters. As I said, there are still avenues to explore and there's always self-publishing - though, if I'm honest, I'm not sure I'm at all suited for that. Freeing it on Amazon is probably the same, for me, as it not being read except I lose first world rights should anyone ever be interested. Besides, I'm a going forward sort of person and that would sort of feel like going backwards, which I'm not into.

The upshot is, 2014 was pretty great really.

Also, a publisher bought me steak. In London.

So cool.

1. *Maniacal laugh* Why once again, Mr Dinsdale, you have failed to understand my genius.
 2. I can actually hear people I know rolling around on the floor laughing at this.
3. I'm not paranoid. Are you saying I am? What about your friend? What did he just say? What about them? You know, them, the others. The people over there. The ones hiding and cringing at this obvious joke? Eh? EH?
4. 'Yes, but what about....' LA LAAALAAA LAA CAN'T HEAR YOU. I AM SINGING.
5. His reply read 'well, that's the most sanguine reaction I've ever had.'
6. Please feel free to point out the grammatical errors in this blogpost that prove otherwise.
7. Either I am writing at a pro-ish level or the entire publishing industry is perpetrating a practical joke at my expense (see 3).
8. Will not refuse money.
9. An, as yet, untitled fantasy thing.

Monday, 23 December 2013

The Groveller.

Another ten minute experiment. This time fantasy.

The Groveller.

My name? You wish to know my name.

Why, Sir, I cannot thank you enough for asking one as lowly as I, as pathetic and small, as wormlike, a mere nematean nothing squirming in the mud at your feet for something as utterly useless to your own magnificence as my name.

And I shall not be slow in giving it as I am sure your time is valuable, valuable as gold, and equally as precious and beautiful and shiny. My name, ugly in the mouth as it is, is Larahill the Groveller, once of the bounteous Kingdom of Varn where I was the son of the son of the son of the very man who started our noble profession. For it is noble. Though I am it's most lowly example, worth little more than attempting to grovel the excrement from the arse of a dog and...

You would know more? Why, I can scare believe that a man of such obvious and clear intelligence as yourself is unfamiliar with the lowly unimportant and only partially well-renumerated as it deserves to be job as that of a groveller is.

Or was.

But we shall come to that.

The position of groveller came to be in the wondrous, tree lined, mountain rimed, sun kissed and water dribbled upon Kingdom of Varn under the beneficent and munificent reign of King Harand the Changed of Ways. When my very own great, great, great Grandfather whose seed would far better have been spent being spilled on the ground or in a handkerchief than begetting the line of one as earth bound and miserable and malformed as I.

Talk less?

Well, what a wise course of action that is, Sir, for indeed I am one given to filling the air with the effluvium of my wo...

Yes. Less. I do understand the word. Though my understanding of words is often...ah, no. Put the blade away good sir. I shall indeed, speak less.

See, before King Harand changed his ways they were somewhat, unwise, some may say, in that he executed a policy of enjoying himself and taxing the populace to such a degree they became blinded to his magnificence and chose to revolt. In the last moments of that revolt my grandfather stood before the mob and grovelled. He grovelled as no man has before or since. Why, he very much invented the forms of abasement; begging, renting and crying, that have become the modern form of grovelling once so worthwhile to the wellbeing of Varn.

Was I good?

I was not my father good, no, not that good. For my father grovelled Agmin the Violent out of a death sentence and not once, not twice, not three times but four times before Agmin ran out of money and into a noose. But it must be said, Agmin truly enjoyed the life my father won him.

Though many others did not.

That is not to say I am without plaudits entirely, Sir. Why, I can see from your wondrous dress and sumptuous, subtly garish fabrics that you are of Iren and was it not I, Larahill who won General Vordice a reprieve after his disastrous defence of the Eastern Isles which are now in the hands of your most glorious and I have heard exotic and curvaceous and bountiful Empress? Although, I am first to admit, that your people may be a little cross at the fact that I freed him to counter attack I am sure that the ensuing destruction of our fleet and your subsequent annexing of our western territories go some way to making up for my actions which were carried out with the best of intentions and at almost Ruinous cost to the general whose estate never did pay up..

But I must not boast, that was only one of my many grovellings and am, was, one of many grovellers. Busily upholding the Varnish way of life which was of benefit to all Varnens.

Until the King, in his wisdom, banned grovelling.

Banned it!

After so many glorious years, after so much tradition.

So, good Sir, this is how you find me here, in this much reduced position and forced to stretch out my had, beg, cry, nay, grovel even, and ask you in all the best faith and knowing of your exalted and most high position.

Can you not provide one of your assassins at a little cheaper price?

As I'm sure you can tell. It's for the good of the kingdom.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Breakdown

I've not written anything here in a while so I thought I'd set myself a quick ten minute story writing exercise and this is what I came up with. As is the way with something written so quickly I have no idea whether it's worth your time or not but it was fun to do.  Kind of sad. Also, SF today.

The Breakdown.

'Hey Bob.

'Hey Arl, what you got for me?'

'This scyther, little guy was out there cutting the lawn and he just got up and stopped on me.'

'It jammed?'

'No, checked everything mechanical, seemed fine to me.'

'Well, probably came across something alive, fieldmouse or something.'

'Hey, Bob, you know I'm no amateur, checked for that too. Nothing living there, just a couple of dead insects and they don't stop for insects do they?'

'No, they usually make enough noise to scare off insects. I'll have a look at its code.'

'You feel anything in there?'

'Well, Arl, I'm in its systems, there's nothing screwy in the code.'

'But he can't just stop. Can he?'

'No, let's have a look through its visual memory. See what the last thing it did was.'

'Okay, he stopped about half an hour before I turned him off properly.'

'Right, let's see. Right, here it's cutting away and...woah. Is that the insect it killed?'

'Yeah, that stripy one.'

'Arl, man, that's a bee.'

'A bee? But bees are...'

'Extinct? Yeah, I thought that.'

'So he killed the bee and then, he...he just stopped.'

'Yeah, Arl, he killed the bee and then he just stopped.'

'Poor little guy. Bob, are you all right?'

'Just got something in my eye, Arl, that's all.'

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

I Have a Dream

Wouldn't it be great if in every one of those huge open plan offices, each chair had a huge spring under it. And utterly randomly, once or twice a week, it would launch people into the air.

Health and safety nightmare, I know. But when I worked in a big office this was what I spent my days imagining and it brought me great joy, laughter and quite a few strange looks. I thought I'd share.

EDIT: Launchees would yelp. the yelping is what makes it funny.