NaNo – Hell Yeah!

I mentioned on here last week that I’d committed to the NaNoWriMo challenge. For those who don’t know, this is the National Novel Writing Month, where a bunch of writers needing less caffeine in their lives commit to writing 50,000 words of their novel during the month of November.

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My novel stalled at an early stage. I have written (what I think is) a great prologue, and I have (again, what I think is) an original and funny idea, but actually getting my butt in the chair and getting a draft down… a different matter. So, with reckless disregard for my previous lack of writing of any decent word count, I signed up to knuckle down, shape up, get grafting, and all those other metaphors that should grace a reasonable montage sequence at the end of all this.

My aims are twofold.

First, to develop a style of writing where I can turn off the inner editor. I have no ambitions to actually attain the word count target, but if I can stop editing as I go, allow myself the freedom to write in a more stream-of-consciousness style, and GET SOME WORDS DOWN FIRST! then this will be a huge step forward for me. At present, I am such a perfectionist that only poetry and short forms of fiction are reasonable goals. (Quiet at the back – if you think my writing’s bad now, just imagine how much worse it would be without that commitment!) I need to change my style to allow for this expansion into the longer form. Having just re-read this section a half-dozen times, the scale of this challenge is not to be under-estimated…

Second, to instill more discipline about when I write. I have agreed with my wife a timetable for when I’ll be writing. This will include a few hours BIC time every day (with extra time no doubt for planning and plotting… not that I’m much of a plotter), with an extra top-up session at the weekend. On top of a full time job and family commitments, this is not inconsiderable, and I need to get maximum return from that BIC time. This means, adios internet. Bye bye blogging. Piss off poetry… you get the idea. Focus. I’ll be a lean, mean writing machine. I’m just going to have to miss out on catching up on anyone else’s blog for a month, park my own, and hope that the latest cat videos and memes aren’t as cute as they used to be…

So, that’s me. Will it work? Who knows… but I have to try 🙂

See you in December!

 

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Al! Al! Where are you going? I’ve just uploaded another video onto my youtube stream…

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Checking in

Hi everyone!

I’ve not been around on WordPress much lately. My new job is going well, but doesn’t leave much room for blogging. In the evenings, I’ve been working on what I hope will become my first novel, and have been learning a whole new bunch of skills relating to plotting, planning (this is anathema to me!), character arcs, and all that jazz.

It’s a comedy, naturally, in my own particular style, although I should probably clarify that there are no zombies in this one. Well, not yet anyway. Who can tell where the muse/second draft will take you?

It’s at the fairly early stages, and I haven’t really worked out the plot yet (it’s character-driven)… but that’s what I’m spending my evenings on 🙂

I’ll keep posting the occasional thing on here, just to keep my hand in. A bit of nonsense, some haiku, some limericks, some more serious stuff… the usual range of rubbish from me!

Weirdly, yesterday was my best day ever for follows of my blog… and I haven’t posted anything for ages. Wonder what that tells me…

I had thought about writing some “milestone” posts on having reached a certain number of followers, and reaching my second anniversary on WP (on Sep 14th), but I’m not sure those things mean anything to anyone except me.

Besides, it’s not where you’ve been, but where you’re going, right?

Hope you’re all enjoying your onward journeys. Wherever those winds are taking you x

 

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Picture credit: flickr.com/photos/marcovdz/5397827212

The Ergonomic Limousine

This was inspired by a comment from my new friend Stella… This feels like a first draft more than a finished piece, but hope you like it 🙂

The ergonomic limousine
Pulls up at my door
Past the half-graffiti
And blood stains on the floor

I sprint out of the house,
And rush out to the street
All my problems melt away
Once I settle in the seat

The limousine purrs along
No destination set
We don’t know where we’re going
Because we haven’t thought it yet

Daydreams drift and dare us
Taking on life of their own
A hundred places rumble by
As casually we roam

From beach up to the bedroom
And later back again
Cruising down canals
Rough-riding on the train

Swooping ‘cross the sky
Climbing mountains on the moon
Exploring distant galaxies
And back for tea at noon

The ergonomic limousine
Swallows me up whole
Together we go everywhere
As it feeds upon my soul

 

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Picture credit: flickr.com/photos/pixonomy/5396831353

 

 

Writer Q&A

The lovely Marje has tagged me to join in a writer Q&A – https://kyrosmagica.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/the-writer-q-a-tag/ . Thought I’d give it a go!

1. If you met a sexy vampire what would you do? Hook up, get the garlic and crosses out or run a mile?
Reader, I married her.

2. What’s your favourite genre of book and why?
I read a lot of non-fiction at the moment… rather boringly, most are “how to be an awesome writer” type of books, matching my personal writing ambitions… Stephen King’s “On Writing” is a recent favourite.

Other than that, I read lots of poetry books, in different styles. I just finished Carol Ann Duffy’s Love Poems, and Tim Key’s “Incomplete Tim Key” (the “Incomplete” moniker seems to refer to the fact that it’s not funny, despite intentions… and I had been looking forward to it immensely…) I’ve just picked up Ginsberg’s Howl collection too, and keep dipping into anything by Billy Collins or Shel Silverstein for inspiration. I like studying a range of poetry, even the stuff that doesn’t connect with me, to improve my own limited skillset.

I dip into fiction, but it tends to be author-led, rather than genre. I buy almost everything with Neil Gaiman’s name on it, for example.

3. Who is/are your favourite author (s) , poet (s)? What is it about them that inspires you?
Neil Gaiman is a huge inspiration. He gives great interviews too that are always worth checking out. His slogan of “Make Great Art” is one that I’ve taken to heart.

Billy Collins is an inspiration in a more practical sense. Almost every poem of his that I read has a phrase or an idea in it that sparks something in me, and I have to go away and scribble my own poem to capture it. He has a remarkable way of using humour in his poetry, which obviously fits with my own personal style too.

4. If you had to control a classroom of year 6 kids would you bale, or enjoy the challenge? Would you be (a.) too undisciplined to do so, you’d just join in the general mayhem, (b.) enjoy bossing them around, or (c.) pray in a corner for the bell to sound.
I taught for a year after leaving university, from Year 1 up to Year 12’s… I got on fine with the older ones (they were quite close to my age at the time), but I did find the younger ones more of a challenge. I remember one 6 year old boy who seemed to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of dinosaurs, and being amazed by that… and now, in time, my eldest has become that child!

To answer the question, I did try (b), and probably would again, but didn’t always find the right level. I remember one of the games teachers having “a quiet word” with me about inappropriate language that I’d used. (I told one of the boys on the rugby pitch to “stop twatting about!”… not my finest moment)

5. What made you become a writer/blogger? Do your family support you or do they think you’re crazy, bored, attention seeking, or all of these? Tell us a bit about your current WIP and/or books…
I started writing children’s stories after our eldest was born, and started blogging children’s poems on the back of that. It’s all ballooned from there. Now, I am polishing a book of zombie survival haiku for self-publishing, and planning a host of other releases, poems and stories. My wife is amazingly supportive… she’s even taken the kids out today so I can spend time writing!

6. What is the most awful job and/or experience you’ve ever done/had?
I’ve just had to leave my job, but don’t want to share the details of that. Between the ages of 17 and 21, I worked in a bingo hall. (Yes, I was a bingo caller.) The job wasn’t too bad most of the time, but that was before the days of the smoking ban, and every session in that room would leave you coated in other people’s smoke. Yuck. Plus, there would be occasional live entertainment on a Saturday night… some of the locals would overdo it on the cheap booze at the bar. I may not be able to throw a punch worth a damn, but I know I can take one. Happy days!

7. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Does this spill out onto other parts of your life? Are you generally organised/disorganised?
I’m a total pantser. I just made a to-do list to try and catch up on everything that needs doing, and instead of working through it in any sensible order I’ve started this post instead, which logically would be the very last thing on the list! My wife is the total opposite (she’d probably say that she needs to be). I think we smooth the edges off each other 🙂

8. Do you believe in Ghosts? Fate? Love at First Sight? Fairies? Psychic happenings? Numerology, Mermaids, The Loch Ness Monster, Demons…etc…Make your own observations …. and let me know..
Nope. Not a one of them. But I do believe in love. Is that not mystical power enough?

9. What is the worst haircut/clothes/hats you’ve ever had/worn? Photos please, or describe in vivid detail…
I lost most of the hair on top of my head in my early twenties, but as it was thinning at uni I did make the mistake of trying to dye it red, even though it was really short (like Renton in Trainspotting)… it just looked like I’d dipped my scalp in some ink! Mercifully it washed off pretty quickly.

10. Please finish this sentence with more than three extra words: Life is one foot in and one foot out, you ….
In haiku, naturally:

Life is one foot in
And one foot out, you never
Know which one is which

 

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Ten Things That Writers Can Learn From “Finding Nemo”

At the weekend, I was watching Finding Nemo (again) with my boys. They love it. I love it. It’s in my top five favourite films of all time, which is really saying something bearing in mind I’ve seen it more often than the rest of the top four put together (and probably the rest of any top ten, if I ever went that far with a list).

(Yes, I know the (frankly disappointing) trailer for Finding Dory is out now. I care not for being topical!)

While watching Nemo, my thoughts drifted again to my own writing journey. This is dominating my thoughts at the moment… maybe yours too. And I realised that there are a bunch of things for writers to take away from the film, even leaving aside the obvious “write something even half as good and you’ll probably go a long way” point. I’m sure these lessons apply for many other paths through life too, but I’m working on Chuck Wendig’s principle that the internet is 55% porn/ 45% writers, and writing for the minority.

So, in time-honoured tradition, here are my top ten Finding Nemo takeaways for writers:

  • 1) The start of the journey will not be auspicious
    There may be a thousand writer-eggs born that start the journey, with protestations of “I’ve always wanted to write a novel“, but then the barracudas of life sweep in and suddenly the field thins down to… just you. Damaged, possibly emotionally and physically, but determined.
  • 2) The path to your ultimate goal is not easy, or linear
    There will be numerous challenges along the way. It does not matter how you reach your goal, only that you do reach your goal. If life offers you a chance to speed along on the writing equivalent of the East Australian Current, then take it. (And if any fellow writers have any insight as to what the EAC is for us, then please let me know in the comments!)
  • 3) Strange bedfellows will help you on your journey
    You will come across many types of people that you would not ordinarily hang around with, let alone rely on. These may turn out to be your greatest allies. “Fish are friends, not food.”
  • 4) Push yourself beyond your limits to achieve
    Even if you prefer the comforts of your writer-cave, rubbing yourself continually against the anemone of reassurance before venturing the smallest distance, that won’t take you very far. Embrace new experiences and challenges… You will have to risk rejection, in fact risk everything, to achieve your goals.
  • 5) Trust in your friends
    You cannot complete the journey alone. You will need the support of partners/ family/ critique partners / beta readers / fellow writers to make it. Take a small handful into your confidence, and trust them completely. If they tell you to move to the back of the whale’s throat, you move to the back of the whale’s throat.
  • 6) Understand the industry / agents / publishers
    Rejection is not personal. You are a fish. Those in the industry are birds. As Nigel the pelican says to Marlin and Dory:
    “Sorry if I took a snap at you at one time. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta eat.”
  • 7) Creating a buzz will help you succeed
    If “the whole ocean’s talking about it“, then it may just help you over the finish line when all hope seems lost. This buzz is created organically, without seeking attention.
  • 8) Plan thoroughly
    If your plan is immaculate, and executed to perfection, it is still no good if it leaves you floating on the sea in a plastic bag, with no obvious means of bursting the bubble to finalise your escape. “Now what?
  • 9) Success may not be what you expect
    Achieving your goals may result in you ending up back where you started, physically, but in an entirely different place, mentally and emotionally.
  • 10) Never give up
    The most important lesson of all comes from Dory. “Just keep swimming.”

 

So, those are my top tips for writers from Finding Nemo. Do you have any to add to this list, or advice gained from other unlikely sources?

 

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Picture credit: flickr.com/photos/roome/313385621

A Writer, not a Fighter – Pt 2

As seems to be the rule of trilogies, this one is darker, more intense, than part one 🙂

 

It’s words that pay the writers’ bill…

This starts off fun, but goes downhill,

When books are pulped or in landfill

And critics only make you ill

Putting you beneath the grill

Making sure they get their fill

‘Cuz they’re the whale and you’re just
krill

 

Tune in tomorrow for the concluding part of this epic (ie over-long) trilogy!

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How the SCBWI Conference Blew My Mind

I spent last weekend in Winchester at the annual SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Conference, in the company of nearly 200 wonderful writers and illustrators. I’ve come back absolutely buzzing with inspiration and ideas, buoyed by meeting dozens of new people, armed with a host of invaluable tips on craft, and possessed of new insights into the industry around children’s books.

I need to catch up on family life and more mundane matters now, but here are five things I learnt at my first conference  :

1 – Expect … Anything!
If a well-spoken man wearing a suit and bowtie comes on stage, do not be surprised if he starts with a clip from Pulp Fiction and invites the audience to dance along with Travolta and Thurman. This is apparently completely normal. All three keynote speakers (Sarah McIntyre/Philip Reeve, Jonny Duddle, and David Fickling) were wonderful, engaging, and interesting, in very different ways. I found myself humming the “eep-eep-eep-eep-eep-eep-eep-eep-eep-eep” song to myself many hours later, and again as I type this…

2 – Dare to share…
Scoobies really are the warmest bunch. I met dozens of people that I recognised by name from the Facebook group. I’m a social wallflower, but the atmosphere so was friendly that it was never an issue for me, and I met so many lovely folk, including two of my online critique group who I’d never met offline. (Hopefully all of my crit group can meet up at a future event/conference.) Special thanks to Liz Miller for introducing me to so many people, and being my personal guide (not to mention transport) to the conference!

3 – Writers are people too…
When I realised that the writer of my younger son’s favourite picture book was at the pirate party, I had to box my introvert and say hello. I told him that my son (nearly 3) is a late developer in terms of language, and can’t yet say mummy or daddy… But he does try to say “no ship, no food, no way home” and other lines from Ten Little Pirates. Mike Brownlow seemed genuinely touched. One of the reasons I write picture books is to hopefully one day be on the other end of this, having inspired a similar reaction in a child 🙂

4 – Nearly everyone loves to dress up as pirates
Some had suspiciously good outfits (my personal favourite was Katherine’s treasure map dress, hand-illustrated and wonderfully detailed… even down to the location of Duddle Island)… Are there lots of secret weekend pirates in SCBWI?

5 – I need to raise my game…
The creative energy was invigorating, but a snapshot into a school visit by Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve – complete with songs, games, outrageous costumes, amazing illustrations and bags of FUN – sets the bar pretty high for the rest of us! Inspired by George Kirk (and Reeve and McIntyre), I’ve asked my wife for a ukulele  for Christmas… Neighbours, beware!

Sadly I didn’t get to talk to everyone that I wanted to say hello to… So I guess I’ll need to go back next year and put that right 🙂

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Photo is of the engaging and piratical Jonny Duddle talking about his book, The Pirate-Cruncher

Star Wars countdown… The Phantom Menace

Every Saturday night, my wife and I have a “film night” with our 5 year old son. This can be a mixed bag… for every viewing of an Avengers film, or the Back to the Future trilogy, we have had to suffer through Spy Kids, or Book of Life. As long as there are snacks, my son is generally happy, and it means we get to spend some quality family time together, without the 2 year old feeling left out, causing his usual brand of mayhem, or demanding Big Hero 6 or Toy Story 2 or 2 again.

In just over six weeks time, the three of us have tickets to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes, we have our tickets already.

Putting these two facts together (film night, plus Star Wars incoming), we asked our son if he wanted to re-watch the Star Wars films before the new film comes out. “Yes. All of them.” he replied immediately, before I had a chance to narrow the options down to the original trilogy…

So, we’ve just re-watched Phantom Menace together. Have my thoughts on this changed over time? Not really. Here are the ten things that suck most about Phantom Menace:

1- Nobody cares about taxation disputes. Sure, it’s possible that there are tax lawyers out there, rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of a major film finally giving this issue the long-overdue attention it merits… go and watch The Firm again, and be merry.

2- Anakin Skywalker is just too young. Imagine if Obi Wan had met him at about the same age as we meet Luke… Then contrast father against son over time as Anakin slowly turns evil. We’ll never know now how this would have worked out. Thanks, George.

3- Midichlorians. Just don’t.

4- Every scene is too “busy“. It’s like a cartoon for kids with ADHD… Whether on Tattooine, or Naboo, or Coruscant, there’s just too much background getting in the way of the foreground detail. Less is more. The financial and technical constraints of the original trilogy made for a far more believable set of locations, all at the outer reaches of the galaxy. We need to feel the dirt.

5- The stupidly stupid racist accents, especially on Naboo.

6- Are you an angel? No, you little pervert. What are you, like ten years old?

7- Yippee! No.

8- One of the most important men in the galaxy can apparently hide his identity by wearing a hoodie, and NO ONE recognises him… I look forward to the day that Barack Obama tries that to slip out for a pizza.

9- Anakin building 3-PO. Really?

10- Comedy droids. Roger roger; I’m out.

All that, and no room for Jar Jar. (He needs his own top ten countdown, but I’m not doing that.)

So, what did work?

That lightsaber finale. Awesome. From the double ended sabre lighting up, to the final sequence between Maul and Obi Wan… Oh, what glory there could have been. Ewan McGregor is patchy in this film (hampered by the wooden dialogue and the silly hair), but he really sells the finale. When he’s itching to get through the final implausible delaying mechanism to get to the man who has just killed his mentor, I’m right there with him, and the following sequence is so well-choreographed and FAST it still gives me goosebumps every time. I’ll even overlook the (entirely unbelievable) way he somersaults over Maul at the end, without Maul just slicing Obi Wan up the middle.

The sound effects in the podrace are amazing, taking you right into the pilot’s seat. Which is a good job, as the visuals are overdone and cartoony.

That Duel of the Fates song is incredible. Up there with the Imperial March for me.

When we got to the penultimate scene, with Qui-Gon’s funeral pyre, my son asked “Daddy, why are they not toasting marshmallows?”… maybe the next step should be to record a 5-year old’s “director’s commentary” DVD extra?

So, onto Attack of the Clones next week… A New Hope seems very far away, let alone The Force Awakens!

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