Friday, 30 December 2011

Last post of 2011

The end of the year approaches!  I suppose this is the point where I should ponder on what has happened through 2011 and assess my decisions.  What was good, what was bad, that sort of thing.  But frankly, my dears, I can't be arsed.

Instead, you're in for the same sort of rambling waffle that you've got every other week of the year.  Well since February, obviously, as that was when this blog burst spectacularly into existence.  And it is rather astonishing that I've even managed to keep it going that long.  Fingers-crossed for my carrying on so in 2012!

I'm hoping that I'll be able to continue this blog in much the same way that I've written it this year.  The main purpose - for all that I wander off in merry little tangents - is to discuss my writing.  As I do not intend to stop writing next year, I fully intend to have plenty to splurge onto the internets next year too.

One of my New Year's Resolutions (yeah, I have at least three at the moment, though right now I can only remember two of them...) is to get one of my novels edited and sent off to agents, ready to be rejected and for me to sob bitterly over my failed little darlings.

With this lofty aim in mind, I have just started editing the novel I wrote before doing my MA.  It doesn't have a firm title yet.  In my head I think I call it 'Fall' but my marvellous friend Lottums (the first to read it) still refers to it by its tentative first title 'Live Free Die Fighting'.  I think I'll refer to it as 'Fall' on this here blog simply because it's shorter and I'm lazy.

So Fall started life in a third-year module for my BA.  I submitted the first chapter for one of the assignments, got a mark I was pleased with (shock, I know, but it does happen) giving me enough motivation to continue.  I wrote it while working full-time, finishing just before starting the MA in September 2010.  I wanted to get it done by the MA because I had a vague notion of using my MA time to edit it.  Then I realised that was a stupid thing to think because I would need to be writing stuff for my assignments rather than something that was already written.  My rewriting process rarely involves major changes so I couldn't in good conscience say that I'd done the work for the MA.

Now, with the first draft of Hide and See done and stewing away nicely in the background, and my brother's latest fantasy instalment given over on Christmas Day, I'm now finally back to Fall.  I'm editing it chapter by chapter, finding bits I like and bits I don't.  Generally I think I'm still quite pleased with it, which has made me worried.  Does this mean I'm not able to see the flaws because I'm too attached to it?  Quite possibly.

Once edited, I will therefore be flinging it left, right and centre in the hopes that any lovely people might have time to give it a read.  There are certain elements to this story which are quite personal and while I can feel moved reading them back, I don't know whether the emotion translates to the page.  It makes me appreciate just how valuable those workshopping sessions during the MA were, and the feedback I've gained from various lovely people for other works.  So ta muchly everyone!

There are no wild parties in store for me tomorrow.  I'm getting much too old for those kinds of shenanigans.  Well, I probably always was.  I think I've always been a little old lady really.  So tomorrow, rather than planning for a night of drunkenness, I will be reading (Kelley Armstrong's Bitten), rewriting, staring lovingly at my new bookshelf that my father put up for me today and drinking copious amounts of tea.  Oh, and dodging calls from sales companies who keep trying to recruit me.  I don't trust anyone who tries to give me a job that I haven't applied for.  Or whose only contact number is for a mobile phone.  Anyone got any tips for how to get them to leave me alone?  Because I cannot think of anyone less suited to a role in sales than me.

"Would you like to buy this?  No?  Oh, okay, sorry to bother you.  You're probably right, it is a bit shite."

All of this said in a tentative near-whisper, while straining to hear what they're saying on the other end.  Because I'm a deaf bint too.  Nodding and smiling doesn't work quite so well over the phone.

Right, enough of the rambling tangents.  Chapter Five is calling for an edit and the Dark Knight movie soundtrack is paused and waiting.  And despite the fact that two dozen books are now on a shelf rather than the floor, my room really still needs tidying.

Toodle-pip and have a Happy New Year!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Concentrate... Don't get distracted by the pretty lights...

Three days to go.  'Til Christmas?  Well, yes but also to the deadline that Christmas creates.

I have until Christmas Eve night to finish this latest part of the secondary-world fantasy trilogy, print it out, wrap it up and pop it under the Christmas tree.

I suppose it's going okay.  Some days are better than others.  Sunday and Monday, for example, were pretty darn crap, resulting in me writing a note to myself on Monday night which simply read: 'WRITING!! F'ING DO IT!'  Seriously.

The note seemed to do the trick for Tuesday, though, as I managed to churn out over three thousand words.  Wednesday let to another thousand or so.  Today... zilch.  But the day is yet young (or rather the evening hasn't properly arrived despite the darkness) and I'm sure I'll manage to get something done.

So for all that my writing has been more irregular than I'd hoped, I am at least progressing.  Again - as ever - whether it actually makes any kind of coherent sense is an entirely different matter.

I think part of my problem with that two-day block lay in the fact that what I needed to write was something I have been planning for years (so no pressure then) and was a greater level of fantasy than I've ever written before.  I'm not even sure if that makes sense.  See how much it has turned my brain to mush?

And I still have a few Christmas presents to wrap - which I will probably do tonight while watching Antiques Roadshow.  Yeah, I'm cool.  And if I manage that (the wrapping, not the antiques-show-watching) I might even be able to walk around my oh-so-cluttered room without doing some bizarre impression of those action-film-folks who are trying to pass through the laser-maze without triggering an alarm.

Hopefully I won't have to resort to writing angry notes to myself to get it done.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

First Draft Complete!

I have finished the first draft of Hide and See!  Yipee!  *Confetti*

On the whole, I think I'm pretty pleased with it.  Of course I haven't read it all the way through yet so that might well change as soon as I do.  But I'm letting it stew.  If I go back and read it now I'll read what I wanted to have written, not what I actually have.

And so now I've moved on to writing the latest chunk of the secondary-world fantasy novel (or trilogy of novels) which I began about seven years ago.  I started it on my older brother's request and have given him sections of it for special occasions ever since - birthdays, Christmas, that sort of thing.  I normally gave him some when he went to the US and came home again, as he did every summer for several years.  This year was the first that he didn't go so there have been rather fewer chapters than normal.

The last time I wrote some of this novel was in March for his birthday - and I left it on quite a bit of a cliffhanger.  Major character death.  Oops.  And I really hadn't intended to leave it so long but the whole Hide and See thing happened and here I am, nine months later, and I need to dive right back into the story again.

I re-read the last section on Monday night, ready to use my train journey up to Bath on Tuesday to plot out what I was going to write.  The original plan I wrote several years ago has morphed a fair bit since then so I tend to re-think a lot, although the major events and the ending have pretty much stayed the same.

The planning flowed quite naturally, I am pleased to say, and I managed to plot not only the section I'm going to write but also the rest of the novel (which, being the third, would complete the first draft of the trilogy).  I don't know when I'll actually get round to writing all this but planning it out in my weird little flow-charts did make it seem a little more manageable.  Or maybe I've just got into a finishing-first-draft mood lately.

I started writing the actual section this afternoon.  I've only got about 700 words in but it's better than nothing.  The sections I write tend to be around 6-7k and I should imagine (fingers crossed) that I'll be able to get it done by Christmas Eve.  This is providing that Real Life doesn't get in the way.

Because, alas, it looks like that might be a possibility.

I have a job interview tomorrow.  Now, this is the point where I should be going 'YAY!  A chance at employment!  At last!'  Unfortunately, I am a neurotic head-case and thus have been a churning mess of anxiety since the recruitment agency phoned this afternoon.  I have only had one proper interview in my life before and I didn't even apply for that job.  I wasn't really that committed to getting it.  I figured it'd be good experience and just went along for the ride.

This time, it feels like there's rather more at stake.  I've been out of uni and among the (growing) unemployed masses for several months now.  I really should be getting a job and not being a bum.  And yet the idea of the interview and the possibility of a subsequent first day at work fill me with something rather close to terror.

And I'm worried that I won't have as much time to write.  Which makes me grumpy.

So in summary: I am stressed at the idea of the interview, grumpy at the thought of not writing, and annoyed at myself for not being happy about finally getting a job interview.  Good times all round.

And there's an opportunity to apply for an internship (paid or unpaid, I don't yet know) at the Jane Austen House Museum coming up early next year which, let's face it, pretty much sounds like my idea of bliss.  But if I have to be a grown-up-type-person I probably won't be able to do that.  Seriously: Jane Austen, all day.  In her house.  Jane Austen.  That author who I tend to randomly drop into all other subject matters or go crazy-ranty if someone calls her work chick-lit.  Yeah: I want.

Okay, I think that's me done whinging for now.  Let me check... yep, I'm done.  Blogs are like free therapy.

To conclude with an upside, did I mention that I'd finished the first draft of Hide and See this week?  Here's me, ending on a 'Whoop whoop'!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

MAs and Chapter Countdowns

I got my MA results through the post today - several weeks before I was expecting them, that's for sure.  Not only did I pass, but I also got a Merit!  I may or may not have squealed in excitement and yelled 'yes!', complete with fist-pump in the air.

Needless to say this is beyond what I was expecting and a lovely surprise to get through the post!  And I do love surprises!  (Nice surprises, obviously.  Not like 'Surprise, there's cat sick on the carpet.  Again.')

Now I just have the agonising financial expense of getting them hard-bound.  Probably wouldn't be too much bother to someone with a job - alas that I don't fall into that category.

But yay I officially have a Masters!  Stick with the positives here, people.  And I also managed to buy some things for Christmas today in Romsey which I have been looking for since around September.  So good day all round chaps :D

As for the writing shenanigans, I'm still on schedule.  I started Chapter 49 today.  After that, it will only be two freaking chapters left.  Of this book, obviously.  When I was writing out my more detailed flow-chart planny businesses for Chapters 48-51, I was already thinking 'and then in the first couple of chapters in the second book I could...'

No.  Stop it.  Finish the first bloody book first.  Sheesh.

Yeah, that's so not going to work is it?  Dear oh dear.  And I now need to maybe get a polished draft of Hide and See done by March as I'm considering entering the 'Good Housekeeping' novel competition as recommended by Reb.  It all depends on whether I can actually force myself to do some meaningful editing.  Hmm, miracles do happen I suppose...

Right, back to Chapter 49.  I've left them all smack bang in the middle of a gunfight.  Oops.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Not long now

The end of November seems to have snuck up on me very quickly.  The weather has been playing tricks, keeping the leaves green on the trees and the sun relatively warm, thus fooling me into thinking that it's a lot earlier in the year than it actually is.  I've barely got any Christmas shopping done - I'm normally very efficient with that sort of thing - because December feels ages away (as opposed to, you know, TOMORROW).

I'm off this afternoon to Yateley in order to be a bridesmaid tomorrow.  I will return home in December and realise I am shocking behind.

Fortunately, my writing schedule doesn't take account of the weather.  I am doing it week-by-week and have still (a little surprisingly) managed to stay on track.  I've written two of this week's three chapters, and will hopefully get the third done when I get back from the above-mentioned wedding.  I haven't really done any meaningful job searching so far this week (apart from an interview with Barna Shields recruitment company) so you can see how my priorities arrange themselves.  If only writing were a real job.

It's quite a scary thought that I've only got six chapters to go.  I just recounted it on my fingers.  Yep, definitely six.  It doesn't really feel like the end though.  Book two is already starting to take shape in my head, even though I know I probably won't get round to actually writing it for a while (she says).  Other things have to take the lead first.  Like actually properly finishing book one, for instance.

Right, back to packing/ironing/fussing/panicking.  Why panicking, you ask?  Because I have a fear far more terrifying than the idea of only have six chapters to go - that I will trip over walking down the aisle in front of the lovely bride tomorrow.  I can really see myself doing that.  Vividly.  In full colour, live action detail.  Ah, the joys of a writer's imagination.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Not forgotten; just...stewing

I'm still on schedule in my goal of finishing Hide and See before Christmas, which is just as well because I've got something else to write before then too.

It's a Secondary-World fantasy fiction, started when I was in college.  I began writing it at my brother's request and have produced instalments for him on special occasions - Christmas, birthdays etc.  I started it with perhaps a vague idea of it just being one novel (I say vague because I didn't really have any idea how to plan back then) but it has since morphed in a trilogy.

Based on the word count and where I am in the story, I am on the third book.  I always said I wanted to get the whole first draft done before going back and editing the beginning.  This is my policy for everything I write simply because otherwise I'd never finish anything.  However in the case of the fantasy trilogy, it has been something like seven years since I wrote that first bit of the novel and I'd like to think that my writing ability has evolved since then.

Translation: the beginning of the first novel (or perhaps the entire first novel) is mostly bollocks.  It really does need some major editing and it's not something I'm looking forward to.  As I like to rant on a fairly regular basis, I don't like editing.

But, according to my own self-imposed rule, I don't have to worry about that just yet.  It's the actual writing which will need my focus before Christmas.  I left the last instalment on rather a massive cliff-hanger and that was in March.  I usually write more than two instalments a year but my brother has had less special occasions than normal so I'm blaming him.  That and the fact that I've been writing Hide and See.  Although I'm normally writing numerous different stories at once.  So no, I'm blaming my brother.  All his fault.

So for now, it's back to Hide and See.  According to the Mystical Schedule of Amazingness I should be finished with the first draft by Saturday 17th Dec, thus giving me one glorious week to write around seven thousand words of the novel I haven't looked at for nine months.  Yeah, not difficult at all.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Deadlines, good; Word limits, bad

My self-imposed writing schedule is working quite well.  It seems as if I'm only capable of getting significant amounts done if I've got a deadline to meet, even if it's one I've created myself.  I'm sure that says something profound about me as a writer but I can't be arsed to figure out what.

I passed the 75k mark last week which is - as so many things are - both good and bad.  Good because yay, progress!  And bad because I think I'm waffling too much.  Or, to phrase it in a slightly more positive way, I'm going into too much detail.

I have my chapter plan and for the most part I'm stuck to it, though I've had to re-jig a few things and cut out a couple of conversations which I had planned because I'd reached my limit on that chapter.  I'd figured I would probably have to do that, though, so it's no big deal.

The problem potentially exists in the amount of words I'm doing per chapter.  I've created a limit of 2k.  In most of the chapters, I have gone over this by around one- to two-hundred words.  My university-brain says 'well that's okay, it's within the 10% margin' - but my actually-we're-not-at-uni-anymore-brain points out that these extra words mount up over all the chapters.

As a result I'm trying to write a few slightly smaller chapters.  I aim for around 1700-1800 words - and come in closer to dead on 2k.  *sigh*  So should I therefore be aiming at that all the time?  Or should I get my act together and actually produce what I bleedin' well say I'm going to?

Despite the above whinging, I'm not actually too worried about my excess words.  It's been a habit of mine to go over on word counts for several years now and I always manage to cut it down in the end.  In fact that's mostly what my editing process consists of.  If I took that away, I'm not sure I'd know what to do.  Which doesn't exactly bode well for the uber-editing-session I have planned (for my other novel) once I've finished the first draft of Hide and See.

Who reckons that I'll just end up starting another novel instead?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Time to get serious about not growing up

I bought some Christmas paper today.  And some bows.  This is scary for two reasons:

1) It is only November 6th - what the heck am I playing at?


2) I have vowed to get the first draft of Hide and See completed before Christmas and buying Christmas-related products is making that seem awfully close.

When I wrote my chapter plan and made my above-mentioned-vow, I set myself the task of writing three chapters a week.  After having numerous deadlines for the MA it felt a little strange and unproductive to suddenly have none.  Therefore, I am turning myself into my own little university-lecturer-deadline-setter.  Except, you know, without the university qualification thing at the end of it.

Thus far (one week in) it seems to be working fairly well.  I have completed this week's three chapters.  Gold star for me.  Whether they're any good remains to be seen.  One chapter I'm not very happy with, one I think is okay, and the third I'm quite pleased with.  Not bad really.  At least I don't think all of them are utter bollocks.

My new book arrived a few days ago but I'm only one chapter in.  This isn't because the book isn't any good - on the contrary.  Much of my time this week has instead been spent looking for jobs, not finding them and then stressing about said lack of progress.  That stressing part has been done with particular gusto.

This is part of the motivation behind completing my first draft before Christmas.  If I really am serious about doing the whole novel writing thing and hoping to publish one day (fingers, toes, everything crossed) then I'd better crack on.  No use sitting around wishing it would happen.  Here's me being proactive.  Or delusional.  Or both.

The fact of the matter is I go a little insane if I don't write - I might as well try and get paid pittance for it.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Chapter plans and floors of books

I am fed up with starting my blogs posts by declaring how many chapters I've written this week, so this time I'm not going to.  I'm taking a stand.  So there!  That's shown my own brain who's boss.

I pondered in my last blog post the merits of writing a chapter-by-chapter plan for the rest of Hide and See.  This week, I did it, plotting out chapters 32-51 in a lovely neat little table.  My previous plan - just a handwritten flowchart jobby which didn't have any sense of length/word count etc - fitted in surprisingly well.  I was worried I'd have to cut out various chunks in order to get to the point I needed to reach by the end but (so far!) this hasn't been necessary.

Now I guess I have to see how it all comes out when I actually write it.  I've done these table-plan-thingies before and have had to alter them mid-story as plots change or my inability-to-shut-up kicks in again.  There's lots I need to fit in with the background mythology (how much do I include?) and characterisation (oh how I loathe thee) but I guess it's all a question of balance.

With my vague ideas of a sequel (or is that a whole trilogy my mind is whispering about?) colouring my thinking, I know that there is plenty of opportunity to say less.  With the mythology, for instance.  My characters - from a plot point of view - can't know everything in the first book, or else what more would there be to discover?  And yet I can't leave my (imaginary) readers thinking 'what the bloomin' heck was all that about?' (Because, yes, my imaginary readers are all clones of Dick Van Dyke).

I sometimes wish I had spare wall-space so that I could hang a pinboard, to plot out my story in a well-organised and coherent manner.  Then I realise that could never happen for the same reason as it hasn't happened: every spare patch of wall is, and probably always will be, covered with bookshelves.

I bought a new book today and I didn't even leave the house.  Oh Amazon, why are you so easy to use, even for a dinosaur like me?  And where shall Shiny New Book go?  Probably on one of the growing floor-piles now that there is no room on the shelves.  Who needs to see the carpet anyway?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

We need to plan this, people!

This week's chapter total is... *drum roll*... 2 and a bit!!  Woo!!  Still a bit crap but, if we're doing the positive thing again, more than double what I did last week!

I quite enjoyed these chapters too.  While they started off in the slower pace I'd established, we're now back with the action - right in the middle of it at the moment actually - and I'm glad it's returned.  Talking as if it's someone else who is deciding the story rather than me.  Because I'm a little crazy (but I think we covered that last week).

I'm slightly worried that I might be going into too much detail though.  I've had this action bit planned out for a while but, although the bits preceding it haven't felt superfluous, I do feel like it's taken longer than I expected to reach this point.  I get too into the descriptions or conversations maybe.  But - second voice-in-my-head argues - those conversations imparted some very important information.  AND a frequent criticism of earlier chapters was a lack of description.

So the conclusion I've almost come to is to write a chapter plan, stating clearly what I need to happen when.  I'm aiming at fifty-one chapters (why not fifty?  Because I'm strange, we've been through this!) thus bringing the unedited word count to a approximately 100k.  Unfortunately (sort of) I've just started Chapter 31 which means I really don't have that many left.  And while I have already started planning vague ideas for the sequel (again, me = insane) I still need to get to a certain point at the end of this novel.

This chapter plan should, therefore, make sure I don't go rambling too much.  Note the word 'should' there.  Fingers crossed and grab the rabbit's appendage.  I think some major rewriting - or rethinking - is going to be needed before the end.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Writers are Bonkers

Last week's disappointment at having written only one-and-a-bit chapters has been beautifully overshadowed by my having written less than one chapter this week.  I basically took the 'bit' from last week and finished it off to make Chapter 28.  Should I wallow in a pit of self-loathing at this pathetic lack of progress or should I continue to go with my mantra of 'well at least it's better than nothing'.

Despite what many people (or perhaps just my father) seem to think, I do have a tendency towards optimism so I'm going to go with the latter option.  It is better than nothing.  It's a lot worse than what I would have hoped to do (say, three chapters) but it's still something.  And when I completed said chapter this afternoon I was pleased with how it went and had that little post-writing glow which I've been experiencing all too infrequently of late.  But it was there.  Yay for the glow!

I would like to be writing more - and will once more optimistically aim to do better this week - but given my state of mind at the moment I'm pretty lucky to be producing anything.

And why have I been the Queen of Grumpiland this week?  Job-hunting, that's why.  I knew the job market was bad but seriously?  All the jobs out there seem to fall into one of three categories:

1) Jobs I am not and will never be suitable for (e.g. truck driver, doctor, accountant)

2) Jobs I may well be qualified for in ten years time (e.g. archive assistant, museum worker, historical researcher, librarian)


3) Jobs I could perhaps be qualified for now but will most likely bore the living crap out of me (admin assistant, receptionist, secretary)

Why did I go to uni again?  And why did I go back to uni again?  Oh yeah, because I'm INSANE.

Not that I regret going to uni, or going back.  Because I embrace my insanity with open arms, ladies and gentleman.  It would appear that I enjoy nothing so much as studying.  If only it were a job.  I have plenty of experience (having done little else for my entire life), I like doing it and I'm not too bad at it (although some recent MA marks have made me doubt this last part).  So, does anyone know of a way to get paid for going to uni for the rest of my life?  Anyone?  No?

If only writing was an actual proper job - you know, one with which I could produce an income in a reliable, consistent way.  Won't stop me doing it, mind.  Because this is me, embracing the insanity.  Come here insanity, I want to give you a hug.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Slow-Moving Chapters

This week I have written one-and-a-bit chapters.  If I'm being honest with myself, this is rather crap.  But hey, bright side and all that, at least it's better than nothing.

So much for last week's excitement about writing Hide and See.  This hasn't disappeared completely - I haven't collapsed into a never-ending vortex of writer's block depression - but my enthusiasm for it has diminished a little.  I still like my plot and my characters (despite their apparent lack of development) so I'm hoping I can keep pegging away at it, even if it is at a painfully slow pace.

My dissertation contained some fairly action-packed scenes but the story has slowed down a little now.  This needs to happen - it would be too much to have a constant state of near-panic - but I can't help but feel a little deflated.  Everything's just... quieter.  No gunshots, no explosions, no mad-dash escapes through enemy territory.  Now it's time for more thinking (hopefully this will help towards characterisation!) and the start of explanations about the new world I'm bringing my character into.

It's not only the change in pace I'm struggling with.  I'm also wary about just 'telling' the reader all the background information.   Likewise, I don't want to fall into the trap - as I did in earlier chapters - of explaining everything through dialogue.

I'm tempted to write a chapter-by-chapter plan of the rest of the novel.  The plan I wrote before covers what happens in the later chapters but is simply a flow chart.  I haven't decided how much detail I'll be going into for each part.  I'm worried that I might get too involved in the exposition and waffle away until my (imaginary) readers fall unconscious through sheer boredom.

So, is the chapter-by-chapter plan a good idea?  Or am I just procrastinating?  Delaying the actual writing of the thing?

I miss my writing splurge from August.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Dissertation - stay gone!

I handed in my dissertation last Friday.

Wow, that's scary.  A whole week.

And what have I done since...?  Well nothing productive, it seems.

In my defence, it was my birthday on Tuesday, thus apparently giving me the excuse to be lazy for several days either side.  I attended a hen party and had a meal with friends last weekend... but other than that, I've not been up to much this past week.

I've been doing a little reading, finishing off a book I read for the dissertation and reading a few others I got for my birthday.  Nothing especially exciting in any of that.

I also wrote a plan for the rest of Hide and See.  I figured, up to the end of my dissertation, I'm a little under halfway through the novel.  I do (at the moment, anyway) want to finish it, and then edit it for several million years until it's decent enough to maybe publish one day.  I say 'at the moment' because I'm sure that as soon as I get my dissertation marks back I will once more hate it and never want to see it again.

Me?  A pessimist?  No.... I like to think of it as being a realist.

I can't help but feel frankly terrified by the prospect of getting back my marks for the dissertation.  Every single mark I've got back for the MA has been a disappointment.  I know I'm looking at it from a geek/over-achiever/perfectionist point-of-view but the fact remains that I've just not looked at a mark this year and been happy with it.  I really don't know where it all went so fantastically wrong and am thus dreading getting my results.

And so this is why I am resolving to get as much of Hide and See written as I can before the results are given.  After writing the plan for the second half of the novel I feel quite excited by the idea of writing it.  I had a vague idea before of where I wanted it to go but now that I've written out a more specific timeline I think it's got potential - at least in terms of plot.  I should imagine my darling characters will still be defying me at every turn.  *Sigh*

I'm starting to get that grumpiness from not having written in a while.  Methinks I'll have to get down some words this weekend - in between all the dreaded job hunting.  Ugh, I miss being a student already.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Technology: How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways...

It seems a little like taunting a wild beast - going *poke poke* with a pointy stick - to write a blog moaning about technology.  I expect at any moment the computer will shut down, preventing me from spreading my grievances across the interwebs.  I swear it has a consciousness - why else would it bollocks up so spectacularly on the one freakin' day I need it to work?!

So much for handing in my dissertation today.

I planned to print it off this morning to hand in this afternoon.  Not much of an extravagant hope, surely?  It was when it comes to me and technology.  The first printer never even got going and the second printer managed to print all but ONE BLOODY PAGE of the first copy of my dissertation.  Then I had to drive down to Argos to buy Printer No. Three which managed to finish off copy number one... it printed copy number two... then, with 119 pages to go of copy number three it ran out of ink.

As there was no printer ink available in the entirety of Rotten Totton, my father (computer fixer extraordinaire) drove us into Southampton to buy the cartridge.  It took us three different shops, but we found one.

Finally, at 3:30pm, the last sheet was printed off.  It's just a shame that the Faculty Office shuts at 3:30pm.  So now it'll be tomorrow morning to get it bound and submitted.  Unless of course my computer decides to randomly blow up during the night, destroying all my printed copies but sparing my life just so I can feel the agony of my loss in the morning.

Don't even get me started about the internet connection.  It took me two hours to get a telephone number.

Yeah, technology pisses me off.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Characters, why are you doing this to me?

This time next week, I hope to have handed in my dissertation.  Isn't that a scary thought?

It isn't due in until the 30th but, ever since I found out the date, I said I wanted to get it in before my birthday, the 27th.  Then various things got organised for the weekend before that - birthday meal with friends, a hen party etc - and I figured I wouldn't be getting any work done over those days.  So I concluded that I ought to get it done before that... which leads us to the dreaded date of the 22nd.

I've been working on the latest draft of the creative part today, going all the way through it three times in order to make various alterations.  I've sent it back to my supervisor but I really don't know whether I've managed to accomplish what I aimed for.

Characterisation has been a big problem for me during this project, though I never noticed while actually writing it.  It's only when I get feedback from my supervisor that I realise it's somewhat lacking.  Even when I tried to talk about it in my rationale I didn't get it right!

It makes me wonder whether I've always had a problem with it or whether it's just an issue with this novel in particular.  It's certainly never been mentioned to me before, so I'm leaning towards the latter.  I'm hoping that the editing I've done today has helped some but I'm not feeling too confident.  The fact that I didn't even spot the issues in the first place makes the problem harder to see, even when I'm looking for it.

I wrote a diary from the point of view of my main character.  It's not ever going to be included in the novel but I was trying to get into her head.  I found it fairly easy, in a way, her motivations and thought processes coming quite naturally.  It made me feel like I knew her, that she wasn't just an empty shell for me.  So why can't I show this in the novel itself?

Maybe I should have written Hide and See in the first person.  The third-person-limited perspective still makes it from Rhonda's perspective, but there are times when it feels too detached.

Bit late for that now, though - and there must have been a reason why I didn't do that in the first place, even if I can't remember why now!

On the reading front, I got through Alex Bell's The Ninth Circle at the beginning of the week.  It was a little bit of a struggle, not because the writing was bad - in fact, it was quite good, especially in drawing the reader into the emotion of the story - but because the subject turned out to be much heavier than I was expecting.  Angels, demons, God... it all got a little much.  I certainly didn't expect it from the blurb.  I think I might not have chosen it if I'd known how disturbing it was going to be.  Or maybe I'm just too over-sensitive when it comes to religious stuff?

Now I'm on to Ann Aguirre's Blue Diablo.  I'm only about a hundred pages in but it's going well so far.  I probably won't get to read much more until the weekend - I'm drowning myself in rationale-editing-gloom tomorrow - but I'm hoping it'll prove to be one of the better primary world fictions.  Fingers crossed, because it feels like I've read an awful lot of drivel.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Writerly meetings

I had a meeting with my dissertation supervisor today.  All in all, I think it went quite well.  I don't have an urge to sit in a corner and weep, so it's definitely an improvement on the last one.  (Okay, this might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point)

I came away with a bit of a sore throat, though.  This shows two things:

1) I did at least have some input, whether useful or otherwise, as opposed to sitting and nodding at random intervals as I think I have a habit of doing


2) I really am too much of a hermit if talking for less than two measly hours is enough to wear my throat out.

And said sore throat must be from the meeting, and the chat afterwards with Boz, because I engaged in surprising few obscenity-screaming sessions on the motorway on the way home.  It wasn't too bad today: a couple of people even flashed to let me in.  It's the small things that make me feel all warm and fuzzy about mankind.  How easily pleased I am.

Anyway, back to the point (yes, there is one floating around here somewhere) - the meeting with my supervisor helped make me feel slightly more confident about the academic worth of my piece.  I also now have a vague idea about how I'm going to approach the accompanying essay.  Note the vague part: let's not go crazy, after all.

I'm still carrying on with the writing of the story beyond where I reached for the dissertation, though my writing splurge has slowed to more of a trickle.  Oh well, at least the river hasn't dried up completely.  And now I'm going to stop with the metaphor.

Chapter 26 has been started and I ought to try and finish it tonight, which will probably end up being tomorrow.  I don't really have a valid reason for this prophesised laziness/incompetence, apart from the fact that my latest Lovefilm disc has been sat on my desk for too many days now and I should probably send it back fairly soon.

I've managed to finish Cassandra Clare's City of Bones.  It was quite good: not fantastic but certainly not awful.  I really got into the last sixty pages or so - in that must-read-it-don't-care-about-dinner kind of way - but I don't have any desire to go hunting out the sequels.

Right, time to stop waffling.  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Chapters Galore

The writing splurge continued beyond last week's blog post, allowing me to reach the new designated end-point for the second version of my dissertation.  This end-point came after rather more chapters than I'd originally intended, meaning that it's quite possible that my dissertation will be made up entirely of material written this month.

And so all the chapters I wrote back in June/July are feeling all gloomy and neglected because I'm all excited about my shiny new chapters from this past week or so.  This will presumably be the state of affairs until my dissertation supervisor emails back to say 'no, I'm afraid this is all complete bollocks' (in a much politer, non-British kind of way).

Yes, shiny new chapters have been sent flying over the interwebs to my unsuspecting supervisor who will probably be unimpressed by my presenting her with almost twenty-thousand words of new material, almost completely out of the blue.  Surprise!  *Balloons*

Since sending off new-and-shiny dissertation chapters, I have written two more.  These result from the pleasant delusion that it might actually be publishable one day.

I also took a trip into uni today to use the library.  Critical research ensued, to the distant sound of some occasional but very loud burping from a different area of the library.  Quite impressive, really.  The burp volume, that is, not the research.  My research remains less than impressive because I'm not entirely sure I'm getting the right material.  My Publishing Project rationale was rather woeful and, given that it's on the same novel, I really think I ought not to use it as basis for the dissertation's essay.

Therefore, until I can get some advice from my supervisor, I shall be wading through as many texts as I can find with the word 'fantasy' in the title.  Sounds like a winner to me.

On the fiction-reading front, I have for now abandoned Andrew Neiderman's boob book and started on Cassandra Clare's City of Bones.  It comes highly recommended by Stephanie Meyer, but I'll try not to hold that against it.  Madam Meyer does, after all, like Jane Austen, so I can't utterly condemn her taste in reading.

Two chapters in and we're doing okay.  It's not quite enough to grip me but I haven't had the urge to throw it out the window.  There have been several snippets of unique and quite lovely description so I'm keeping positive - though a real determination to read it might have to wait until the writing splurge fizzles out.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

All Aboard the Writing Train

Since my last post, I've managed to write five new chapters of Hide and See, my dissertation novel.  I can't help feeling a little proud of this, regardless of whether or not the chapters are actually any good.  I've managed to do something, which is more than I did the week before.  Progress!  Woo!

I'm finally getting into the story too.  I'm having that need to write.  I've missed that - the feeling of getting a sliver of conversation in your head and just having to get it down before it disappears.

This of course does have the unfortunate side-effect of being furious if someone interrupts my thought process, as my poor father can attest to after asking for some tissues while I was mid-sentence.

With only a month to go until the dissertation due I have thought that perhaps this is a little late in the day to be writing new material but I'm just not happy with a lot of the earlier chapters.  I mean they're alright, but they're not good.  I want to feel proud of my work, even if I can't get the grade I want.  I've obviously given up on the whole wanting-a-distinction-thing - that evaporated at the end of the first semester and was difficult for little over-achiever me to get over at first.

So I'm going for (not-quite-a-)job-satisfaction.  If I like it, maybe that will make me more inclined to work on it and improve it in the long run.  I've certainly had a productive few days and I only hope it will last, at least until I get to the point in the story I plan to use as the end of my dissertation.

All this writing has meant that my reading for the dissertation has taken a back seat.  Good news for my word count, bad news for Totton Library, who must be tired of me renewing books so often.  I read another chapter and a half of Curse by Andrew 'Boobs' Neiderman, but after having to read through another needless description of nipples I gave up.  I might go back to it at some point but I'm starting to think it's unlikely.

When this sudden writing splurge peters out I'll probably move on to a fresh book - hopefully one where the female characters wear bras.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Aiming for better

It was on a dark and stormy night... that I finally got round to updating my blog again.

Okay, 'stormy' might be a bit of an exaggeration.  Apparently we had one instance of lightning and thunder this morning but I was in the Asda car park at the time, doing my best impression of a drowned rat, and thus missed it.  But it has been frickin' miserable all day.  I'm hoping for a better weekend (Bournemouth Air Show!  Whoop whoop!!)

As you can see, I am celebrating my first blog post since coming back from France by doing the British Thing and talking about the weather.  I have also, since Sunday, been eating a ridiculous amount of marmite.

In my previous post I ranted about my reading options for the holiday.  In the end I didn't take The Curse with me, which is fortunate as I didn't actually get round to finishing The Magician's Apprentice until this past Monday.  This isn't to say that the book wasn't good - far from it - but it is a bit of a brick.  Seven-hundred pages of brick to be exact.  And I was reading for pleasure this time so there was none of that speed-reading Middlemarch-in-three-days kind of shenanigans going on.

I'm very happy that I bought The Magician's Apprentice from the nice fellow at the car boot all those months ago.  I haven't been so impressed with a book in a fair while.  It made me realise that all of the primary world books I read so far for my dissertation have been alright, but nothing special, and often with gaping plot holes or character inconsistencies that I've just sort of ignored.

It's difficult to get out of the workshopping mind-set, I think, especially with those novels which could do with improving.  I often found myself making alternative suggestions in my head, rephrasing sentences so that they flowed better.  This is all very well in a student's work but in published novels?  Maybe I'm just not reading the right books.  Anyone have any suggestions?

By contrast, the biggest criticism I had for Trudi Canavan was that her characters smiled 'crookedly' a little too much.  Or maybe this only bothered me because it reminded me of Edward 'Twishite' Cullen?

I'm back to writing now.  My first draft of the dissertation is still making me unhappy so I'm continuing on, hoping that the following chapters will be better.  I've been thinking about them a lot and even had that real urge to get some dialogue down (sat on the footbridge at Ashurst train station, forcing the commuters to squeeze round me) - this, I'm choosing to believe, is a positive sign.

Friday, 5 August 2011

The Magician's Apprentice is fighting the Curse

I'm off on holiday tomorrow.  All my clothes are packed and all that's left to go in is cosmetics and my phone charger.  I should hopefully have plenty of room to bring back oodles of chocolate which, let's face it, is the top priority.

I've packed my secondary world fantasy novel (The Magician's Apprentice by Trudi Canavan) in my hand luggage.  I have been contemplating bringing along the primary world one I'm currently reading (Curse by Andrew Neiderman).  Despite my resolution at the beginning of the week, I've not managed to complete the measly task of reading one more book for uni.  I'm only about six chapters in.

Responsible Me says I should take Curse to France and at least read some more, even if I don't finish it.  Non-Responsible Me says if I haven't read it this week, as I was intending to, I'm unlikely to find the motivation when I'm on holiday.  I will probably be too busy trying to ignore the inevitable rain and wishing my badly-glued boots didn't have so many holes in them.  I will be wanting to read about the Magician's Apprentice, which after ten pages already had me hooked.  I will not be wanting to read lots more descriptions in Curse of the main female character's breasts.

Curse, copious boob descriptions aside, isn't a bad book.  It's interesting and is different to most of the other primary world books I've read so far.  I'm glad I picked it up and I think it will be useful for my dissertation, either the creative part or the much-feared essay.  The fact remains, however, that it is for uni.  Uni is stressing me out at the moment.  I do not want to be stressed on holiday.  Holidays are for chocolate, croissants and pain au chocolat.

I'm sorry Andrew Neiderman, but Curse is staying at home.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Car Boot Books

This past week I have been trying to do some more reading for my dissertation.  I've read two fiction books, both (supposedly) within the same genre as Hide and See.  The first book I quite liked; the second was approaching good in the middle but tailed off to such a disappointing end that the first words out of my mouth on finishing it were 'ugh, lame book'.  Not exactly positive criticism.

When I say that they are 'in the same genre', I have basically been searching for any primary world fantasy novels.  The only problem is that a lot of these seem to be just romance novels with fantasy elements chucked in.  Quite often I think that if the fantasy bits were taken out and a few scenes were jigged around, the novel could still exist and sit within the 'romance' genre.

Hide and See, from my point of view anyway, isn't about romance.  There will probably be some towards the end of the book but the primary driving force of it is the supernatural abilities of the characters and the world surrounding them.  (My markers for my second chapter would probably disagree with this though - first time I've ever written something which was compared to Bridget Jones.  Oh dear, shoot me now.)

I therefore went to the local car boot sale today on the search for more books (poor little unemployed students can't afford to buy new).  I found a couple and will hopefully read at least one this week.  I'm trying to keep the effort going on the dissertation if only by doing reading.  All motivation for actually writing anything went swiftly out the metaphorical window after above-mentioned chapter two comments.  I'm planning to head into uni to use the library this week for some critical reading - got that dreaded 3k essay after all.  Another thing to make a pig's ear of.

But it's less than a week until I go on holiday - and I'm going to be a complete rebel and take a secondary world fantasy fiction to read.  Just for fun.  I know, I live dangerously.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Rant Vacuum

I'm rather late for this blog post.  I'd vowed to write around once a week (the 'few times a week' thing never materialised) but I'm a few days over.  Whoops.

I was waiting for something to say.  I still don't really have anything important (like I ever do!) but I figured something might emerge if I started spewing random words onto the page.

Dissertation update: my full draft (it's not really the 'first' draft because I've already messed around with it a lot) has been sent off to Madam Supervisor.  I think I felt happier with it after reading it all through - I had forgotten a mildly exciting bit which improved the whole thing in my mind after my 'it's-all-incredibly-dull' rant.

I've not written any of the story since which may or may not be a problem, I haven't decided yet.  I have a vague idea that I might write a little bit of a different story, at least until I get some general feedback on the story so far.  I seem to have spent my last few days thinking about writing a lot, but not actually doing any.

As has often happened, perhaps pouring useless words into the interwebs might be of some assistance.  'Write anything so long as you're writing' - isn't there a saying that goes something like that?

I'm also spending a fair amount of time stressing over my upcoming holiday.  A holiday isn't something you should stress over really, but I'm doing a marvellous job of it so far, if I do say so myself.  I think part of the problem is I'm terrified that I've forgotten something crucial - like having a place to stay or something (I haven't forgotten this, don't worry, though it doesn't guarantee that the place we've got is any good).  Oh well, if everything goes horribly tits-up in France, at least it might make for an interesting story.

Although as I doubt there'll be any superpowers, explosions and epic battles of good versus evil, I'm guessing it wouldn't be anything I'd write about.  Sounds like a literary fic kind of thing to me and you know what I'm like with those.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Comparing my Leading Ladies

I've had quite a productive day today in Dissertation-land.  I can tell by the fact that I have the beginnings of that sharp pain in the back of my head which tells me I've been staring at my computer screen for too long.

I think the pain is worth it though.  I've been feeling horribly unproductive this week, only managing a few hundreds words a day, if that.  I'm still not connecting with my story as much as I'd like, though it is getting better.  I've still yet to figure out exactly why this is, although I have a few ideas.

The action is starting to move along a little bit now and I think this is helping some.  After writing the first draft of a novel last year where my main character spends most of her time shooting people and blowing stuff up, it was a little tricky to go to Hide and See's main lady, Rhonda, who thus far hasn't done much besides working in an office and having a natter with Joel, the main guy.

Obviously this is my fault, not Rhonda's, so I can't blame her.  The adventure stuff is coming round the corner though and while it's not very good for poor old Rhonda, it will hopefully help from the writing point of view.

I can't help but compare Rhonda to other main character in other novel (called Renarde) even though the books are very different.  Renarde is brave, daring, sharp, skilled... but very emotionally damaged.  Rhonda must grow into her courage throughout the course of Hide and See and while at the moment I wouldn't go so far as to call her a wimp (she definitely isn't), I do sometimes wish she were a little stronger.

Again, I'm talking about it as if it's all her fault.  It's not like I bloody created her or anything.  It's not like she is, in fact, nothing more than a product of my very weird imagination.  I'm one of those crazy writers, you see, the ones who find their characters running away on their own, rather than those sane authors who manage to remain attached to reality and are fully aware at all times that their characters are not actually real.

It would probably be better for my sanity if I could inhabit this second group.  Alas, my leading ladies are all too real and tend to go off on one before my fingers are really aware of what they've typed.

Anyway, back to the point (yes there is one lurking in here somewhere).  Today, I managed to finish the first complete draft of my dissertation.  This needs a WOOHOO! and an OH NO!  My problem has revealed itself in one of the above convoluted paragraphs (Gold Star to anyone who can find it).

The answer: I am only just getting to what I call 'the beginning of the exciting bit'.  So this raises two issues:

1) Does this therefore make what I've written so far (i.e. two assignments and my dissertation) boring?


2) Will I have sufficient motivation to carry the story on?

I don't know the answer to either question.  Maybe I should buy a magic-eight ball.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Report on Friday's Mission, Captain

The beginning of the week was a struggle.  It wasn't until Tuesday that I actually managed to write a fresh word for my dissertation, after Friday's uni extravaganza.  I'm not sure that there was anything specific from that day that made my inspiration dry up so spectacularly but nonetheless, it happened.

The supervisor meeting went okay, despite being in a room with noisy air-conditioning.  Being a naturally very cold person (or 'a corpse' as my father puts it) I have a great dislike of air-con.  Add to that the fact that it makes me even more of a deaf bint than I am already, and needless to say I decided by the end of the afternoon that I don't like the Learning Café at all.  Of course this may also be due to the fact that said Learning Café was very much without the 'café' part, meaning I was very caffeine deprived.  No coffee = grumpy dinosaur bouf.

I managed to write a few words of Chapter 5 both before and after the supervisor meeting, though even as I was writing it I could see that it was all total bollocks (a sentiment reaffirmed when I type it up on Monday evening and Tuesday morning).  After giving up with the whole writing thing soon after the meeting, I spent the rest of the time on the internet, replying to a few emails (and sending some to my sister detailing just how bored I was) and just generally wasting time.

I then went to the Writers' Panel which was part of the writing conference (with half the panellists only having been roped in ten minutes before, though were very good nonetheless) and afterwards had the dreaded reading for the Litmus Launch.  Well, I am pleased to say that I managed to get through it without vomiting or fainting, so that's something at least.  I did manage to bash into a table leg on my way up to the front but all things considered, it could have been much worse.

So all in all, not a terribly awful day - so why the sudden writers' block?

On Monday, after agonising over Hide and See through much of the weekend, I re-read a chapter from a different novel I've written the first draft of.  While this other novel is in desperate need of editing, I found myself liking it more than my dissertation.  I don't dislike my dissertation, I just don't find it exciting.  I came to the conclusion that there's too much thinking and not enough doing.

Conclusion: I need to move things along a bit.  Have I succeeded?  Well, I've written a few thousand words these past couple of days, but it doesn't really count if it's drivel.  I think there's a rise in tension but still nothing much has actually happened.  And I'm realising that I really need something to happen.  I mean, if I'm finding my own novel a bit dull how the heck are readers supposed to like it?

Maybe I should just make something explode?  Seems to work for Michael Bay.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Friday 1st July = Official Mumbling and Stuttering Day

The first drafts of chapters three and four are done.  Woohoo!  Now I need to start on chapter five, then decide whether I'm going to do chapter six for the dissertation as well.

I've had the figure of '15,000' in my head for a while now when thinking about the dissertation but it wasn't until last week that I thought I probably ought to check that, and only at the weekend did I actually get round to doing so.  As it turns out the word count for the creative part is 15,000-20,000 giving me, potentially, another five thousand words.  So here's the question: given that I am aiming for my chapters to be 5k each, do I do an additional chapter?

I've got a loose plan of chapter six, so there'd be no problem there.  I think the issue is in my inability to shut up, meaning that despite my aims for word limits, the reality will inevitably be different.  This can already be seen in chapters three and four.  Chapter three is just over 5,200 words.  Chapter four is just over 5,400.  If this trend continues, I'm going to be over 20,000 words if I choose to do chapter six as well.

Of course there's the delightful editing process, where I read through my pieces again and again simply trying to cut the word count down.  Do we get a 10% margin for dissertations?  I do love my 10% margins...

I guess I'll just have to run this by my supervisor on Friday.  The first meeting!  *Dramatic drum roll*  This is the point in the process where I try to talk about my work, end up making very little sense and probably sound like I didn't even read my piece, let alone write it.  At least I can take comfort in the fact that said exercise doesn't count towards my mark, otherwise I really would be doomed.

The Litmus launch is also this Friday.  I believe the idea is for us to read our pieces aloud.  This is the point when I realise there's a horrible jarring sentence in a crucial bit of the story, which every agent and publisher in the world will see.  I will be put on some sort of black list and any time I try to submit a manuscript big warning buzzers will go off and my efforts will be automatically discarded.

Or something like that.

What I will have to keep in mind is that even if I do find a mistake, it's too late to do anything about it now anyway.  Crying/spilled milk and so on.  To be honest, as long as my surname has been spelled right for once I'll be as happy as a bird with a french fry.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Battling my Brain

This time last Sunday I was gearing up for a whole week of dissertation writing, where the words would flow effortlessly onto the computer screen and my characters would come alive in my mind.

That's what I get for having high expectations.  Long live the pessimist!  You're either always right or pleasantly surprised.

My wonderful plan hasn't exactly matched up with reality.  I did manage to complete Chapter 2 (which, due to restrictive word counts for the PP assignment, was over a thousand words shorter than it needed to be) and I have written around 1,500 words for Chapter 3.  I suppose I ought to be thankful that I wrote that much, but the number of words isn't really my main problem.

In theory, I like my story.  The subject, plot and main characters are what I want them to be and it is something I would normally find no problem bringing to the page.  And yet, here I am, not having written a word of it today because I just don't feel inspired to do so.

I was writing something else earlier in the week - just some mindless drivel that could never be used for anything vaguely meaningful - but I was nonetheless motivated to do it.  I got that feeling of needing to write it, of being so into the story that I just had to get it down.  I wrote around nine thousand words of this in one day.  And yet in a week I can only manage a fraction of that for the thing which is important.

Perhaps this is the problem.  My subconscious mind is so damn contrary that it will not, under any circumstances, allow me to do something which might actually be useful.  Because I must write this piece for my dissertation, suddenly I don't want to.

It was the same in my first term of undergraduate uni.  I barely spoke to my housemates because there was this huge pressure (in my crazy head) to make friends.  As soon as I made the decision to leave, the whole idea suddenly became much easier and the last week I spent in halls was the best of all the months I'd lived there.

Unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion that telling my brain to 'stop being insane' isn't really going to work.

I want to try and get something done with it this evening, if only just a paragraph or two so that I actually feel like I've made some progress, however minute.

Because I've just spent this entire blog post having a whinge, I want to end on a positive note: last night I saw X-Men: First Class and it was AWESOME!

Yeah, I'm a nerd - and damn proud of it.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Another one bites the dust

My non-fiction assignment has been sent off into the world to arrive, Royal Mail willing, on Monday at uni.  I'm fairly happy to see the back of it, with the one exception of a moment last night, as I was trying to get to sleep, thinking I should have mentioned why there were still new things to say about the Titanic in my rationale.  Yes, this is apparently the most exciting thing in my day that I think about (or try not to think about) before I go to sleep.

Now I am trying to adopt the same method for this assignment as I did for my Publishing Project one - i.e. not think about it at all.  I'd rather forget the things even existed rather than remember all the parts I forgot to include (see above pre-sleep panic attack as an example).

Seeing as my next assignment is my dissertation - due in September, which is probably not as far away as it's pretending to be - I will have to think about the PP assignment much sooner than I would hope for.  In saying this, though, I have been doing a little work on it this past week without any devastating consequences.

For my PP assignment I handed in chapter 2 of my new novel Hide and See - but due to uni word limit it only came to around 3000 words and I was aiming for between 4k and 5k for each chapter, to make it nice and neat and to satisfy the little OCD fairies in my brain.  So before I can start writing chapters 3-5 for my dissertation I have to finish off chapter 2, all the while not looking at what I've done for the rest of chapter 2 lest I notice that on the second page I've missed out an apostrophe and will, therefore, fail my entire MA.

And don't even get me started on the whole job-hunt thing.  I haven't even started.  I don't want to start.  I want to sit in my room and make up stories for a living.

But I don't particularly want to be impoverished so I'm guessing I might actually have to grow up and be an adult one day.  Whoever came up with that rule is a big poopy face.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

One down...

So my first assignment of this semester has been sent off to uni.  I can't decide whether this fact causes me relief or more nerves.  I'm glad it's out the way and everything but I'm now terrified of looking at anything relating to the story (Hide and See) just in case I realised I've done something wrong.  'Twould be too late to correct it and I would, as a result, have a metaphorical heart attack.

The unfortunate result of this new fear is that I am supposed to be continuing said novel for my dissertation.  I'm not really sure how to go about working on something while also avoiding it completely.  I'm not much of a science-type-person but I'm pretty sure that would violate some sort of law of physics.

Fortunately (in a way) I have another assignment due first: my Titanic piece for non-fiction.  I'd been feeling fairly relaxed about the whole thing until I handed in my Publishing Project assignment - now, the next deadline feels awfully close.  I need to rework the main body of the piece and I haven't even started on the rationale (ah, 'rationale': possibly the most hated r-word in all the world - or for Arts students at least).

I've written a plan for said rationale but the whole thing seems at risk of just turning into a rant.  It doesn't take much for me to have a rant, as evidenced by this here blog.  Not that my Titanic rationale plan seems particularly angry (can a plan seem angry?) but I think there's the possibility that I might go too far into my personal reasons rather than the technical method behind the piece.  Unless this is what I'm supposed to do?  Or was I only supposed to do this in the actual creative part?

Conclusion: I probably have no idea what I'm doing.

I think I may have gone on a bit of a mini-rant for my PP rationale as well, although I promise I did try to minimise that section.  I was basically defending fantasy against critics and/or academics who turn their noses up at it.  It's a bit of a sore subject for me, given that I have never written a 'Literary' novel and don't ever intend to.  It's not my thing and I don't appreciate being told that I have to appreciate something just because the experts tell me to.

How lovely it was to be sent this link (thanks Natasha!) about author Stephen Hunt defending genre literature for us plebs who like to read such trash.  I'm glad someone's saying it.  I don't know what I'd do if the only novels around were about middle-class, middle-aged professionals who have lots of feelings, don't really do much and have rather weird ideas about sex (Ian McEwan, I'm looking at you).

Okay, methinks I've ranted for long enough.  I wish I could put some sort of 'final thought' which sums up everything I whinged about in this entry but it's so all over the shop I don't think I'd manage anything coherent.

So instead I'm going to do a Craig Ferguson and ended on an awkward pause.


Friday, 27 May 2011


It was my last MA lesson on Wednesday and I have been too grumpy about this to write a blog before now.  Don't get me wrong, the grumpiness hasn't magically disappeared, but it has reduced in size sufficiently for me to think that I might be able to write a post which isn't entirely full of whinging.

As you can see, I'm off to a cracking start.

This last lesson was quite interesting.  We had a guest speaker: the biographer and art historian Bevis Hillier.  He had plenty to say - some of it useful, some of it amusing - and certainly knew what he was talking about in terms of biography, not only from the technical point of view but also due to the fact that he has an (I think on-going) feud with rival biographer A.N. Wilson.

This seems to be some sort of rule in academic-writing-land - that there has to be an all-out word-war between biographers or historians on the same subject.  Some even came up when I indexed the TLS last year - Orlando Figes anyone?  (I can't hear his name without giggling like the big nerdy moron that I am: alas that no-one else I know finds it funny.)

We spent the second half of Wednesday's lesson going through rationales, leaving me with a moderately better idea of what I'm suppose to be doing.  This optimism is likely to disappear once I actually start writing the bugger but it's nice while it lasts.

But that can wait for a few days.  The focus of my little brain is now switched to the Publishing Project assignment, which is due first.  I seem to have written a couple of thousand words and yet have not really described anything.  I'm rather bemused at how I've managed to do this but I plan to rectify this issue forthwith.

Again, with the optimism.  Note the use of the word 'plan'.  I really wish I could have used the past tense for that sentence ('I have rectified...') but unfortunately the motivation part of my brain has gone to sleep and throws a pillow at me every time I try to wake it up.

So I figured writing a blog was half-way between doing something constructive and wasting time.  Wake the motivation part up slowly, like wafting a warm cup of coffee under its nose until it crawls out from under the duvet.

I'm going to stop waffling now.  Well, on here at least.

Friday, 20 May 2011

The Titanic and Me

We spent a good portion of Wednesday's Non-Fiction session discussing our assignments.  I was grateful for this use of the time because, while I wasn't feeling particularly anxious about this piece, I felt I hadn't quite cracked it yet.

My problem lies in that, unlike the rest of the class, I haven't chosen to write about something which involves my own personal experience.  I chose to write the last ten minutes of the Titanic.  I'm more obsessed with the ship than any normal person should be so I figured I might as well pick it as a topic rather than something I'm only mildly obsessed with.

In the criteria for the assignment, however, there seems to be a significant emphasis on 'the personal'.  There's the obvious issue that the Titanic sank 75 years before I was born, so I can hardly give an personal account of it without wandering into the realms of fiction.  And then there's also the thing that stops me from updating my facebook status more than twice a year - I barely even care about what I think, so why should anyone else?

I've therefore decided to change the structure of the piece a little.  Rather than having just the creative (yet factual) description of the sinking, I'm also adding something in about my interest in the Titanic as a whole.  I'm slightly concerned that the two styles won't marry up but I'll have to see what everyone else thinks.

Either side of the piece's main body, I go on a mini-rant about museums and how I find exhibitions underwhelming.  (Basically, I unleashed the grump.  That'll teach them to ask for my opinion again.)

And yet even this added bit hasn't really explained why I'm so interested in the Titanic because, quite frankly, I have no idea.  I can't tell you why it intrigues me so much.  The idea that it's some sort of morbid fascination doesn't quite fit because there have been plenty of other historical events since with far higher fatality rates.  I don't think there's some sort of conspiracy attached to it.  I don't see it as a symbol of western complacency destroyed.  I don't think it was signalling the beginning of the end of the golden times, with WWI just around the corner.  Any of these would be reasonable explanations, but they're just not mine.

So no, university-criteria-writer, I'm afraid I don't know what this piece means.  I don't know why the Titanic enthrals me.  Maybe I'm just a bit odd.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Return of the Workshop

Yesterday's Publishing Project reverted back to its afternoon slot for this week and we spent the majority of the time workshopping three pieces of work.  I have to say, this is probably the best Publishing Project lesson we've had all semester.

I understand that the whole purpose of this module was supposed to be learning about publishing and marketing etc but it has been, quite frankly, utterly depressing for the most part (with the exception of Lorella Belli who was so delightfully positive in comparison to the previous harbingers of doom).  I don't blame the speakers for their lack of cheery forecasts because what they said was simply a reflection of the market itself - all in all, it's pretty bleak.  No-one knows what will happen and they don't know how to prepare for these ominous changes which are sweeping in on the wind.

So it was lovely yesterday to actually get back to the writing.  It rather reminded me why I was there, doing this course, and paying all that money.  Writing is what drove me to quit my job and while this was financially an imprudent decision, I can't say that I regret it.  I would have gone wacko by this point if I had stayed.  As pleasant a company as it was to work for, my tasks were hardly very intellectually stimulating (I spent the last month of my full-time employment checking spellings).

Regardless of what happens at the end of this course - and how quickly that milestone is looming! - I really hope I continue writing.  I don't know what the market is going to do but, as Candy Gourlay said last week, in whatever form stories appear in the future, the world will always need storytellers.

Unless technology becomes self-aware and rises up against us, forcing us into a state of mindless servitude.  In which case I will have break free using my natural aversion to all things technological, join the resistance and fight using my awesome computer-destroying-error-creating-static-skills, which have already claimed four laptops to date.

Then, if I survive, I can tell that story.  Sounds like an excellent life plan to me.

Somehow, I doubt the university careers advisors would be too enthusiastic.

"Have you ever thought about teaching..."

Yes I have and my conclusion is: give me a techo-war any day.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Author vs Hermit

For the Publishing Project session yesterday evening our guest speaker was Candy Gourlay.  I wasn't sure what to expect from this talk.  I'm not really interested in children's fiction - but not through some ridiculous elitist viewpoint that somehow children's fiction is less worthy.  I am, in fact, rather intimidated by the idea of writing children's books.  I was nonetheless concerned that I wouldn't get much out of this session if that was her area of expertise.

I am happy to say that my fears were groundless.  Candy gave an informative and entertaining talk, with a lot of focus on marketing and self-promotion.  Her point of view as both a website designer (she was 'webmaster' for the SCBWI) and as an author who has really embraced the idea of self-promotion, made for an interesting combination.  She showed us numerous examples of her websites and blogs, all of them looking so swanky that it made little dinosaur-me despair somewhat.  Writing a blog on this here site is one thing - anything more than that is rather beyond me.

One of the main things I took away from the evening was her belief that authors have to draw attention to themselves.  This thought has been enough to lodge that sickening wad of fear right into my stomach, where it has set up shop and now refuses to leave.

I was rather a freakishly tall child but fortunately slowed down the whole growing thing when I got to my teens.  But certainly habits remain from junior school, one of which is to try and be as small and unnoticeable as possible.  Now I suddenly have to start leaping up and down shouting 'LOOK AT ME!!  LOOK AT ME!!'

Hmm, maybe I don't want to be an author so much after all.  If it weren't for the writing I really don't think I would bother.

There must be some caves around here somewhere.  I think I'd make rather a good hermit.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

*Hangs Head In Shame*

I'd known that my blogging frequency was bad but I hadn't realised it was this atrocious.  One blog in the whole of April?  ONE?  Seriously?  Ugh, I'm rubbish.

So here I am again with fervent apologies to my non-existent readers and will once more pledge to do better next time, all the while wondering whether I actually will manage to be anything more than useless.  Just at blogging, obviously.  I'm sure there are things in the real world that I can do ok.  Like baking cookies.  Although I haven't even done that for a while either.

The Easter non-holidays have now disappeared and we are back to university lectures.  I had a bit of a fright yesterday at the start of the Publishing Project session when I wrote 'Week 9' at the top of the page.  Only three weeks to go... cue panic attack.

The Litmus anthology is still ongoing and causing a fair amount of stress for those involved.  I just thank my lucky stars that I'm not overseeing the whole thing or I would have gone utterly round the metaphorical bend by this point.  I'm part-way through my current allocation of copy-editing and will be muchly relieved when I can send it off into the world and never have to look at another full stop in such detail ever again.

I've now got to start thinking more about the assignment for Publishing Project.  I've known what I'm going to be doing for a while - since the start of the module, in fact - which is the second chapter of my newly-started novel Hide and See, the first chapter of which I submitted for last semester's Advanced Fiction workshop.  I know what I want to do and I'm quite happy with the story overall, so motivation hopefully won't be a problem.  I guess my only reservation is that I won't get the same level of feedback from everyone that I had last time, something I found very useful.

Welcome to the real world, I guess.

The real world was never something I was a fan of - hence this fiction writing malarky.

I've got Advanced Non-fiction this evening.  We talked about our assignments last week so I don't feel quite so at-sea with that one.  I'm chose to do the Titanic, because I am both lazy and a massive nerd.

(I’ve just re-read that paragraph and noticed the pun.  Apologies.)

Right-ho, I've ranted enough.  I think I sound like a right whinger in these bloggy-babies but I promise you, imaginary readers, I am not.  I'm really quite a cheerful fellow.  Honest.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Go, be free!

I've sent my two short stories off to the Litmus Anthology fiction editors (not to myself obviously: that would just be silly) and now wait to see if either of them is any good and/or if they even qualify as 'short stories'.  After some lovely feedback on both stories from my wonderful friends Lottums and Laura I am slightly more confident that I have in fact managed to write a couple of self-contained pieces within that horribly tiny word limit.  Yay!

In my last rant - I mean, blog - I stated that I only ever seem to write fantasy.  And yet, just to prove myself wrong, I seem to have not written fantasy for my second of the Litmus submissions.  I wish I could provide some reason why I did this but I really have absolutely no idea.  As with the first story (now called 'Blood in the Sand', for want of anything better) I started off with an image: a market.  For the second story (now called 'Buying Time') I started off with a scarlet ribbon tied to a tree.

I have come to the (half-baked) conclusion that in order for me to write a short story I need to start with an image rather than a character or an event, like I would with a longer piece.  Because it seems to me - and I could be completely wrong in this - that a short story is in itself just an event.  A huge, life-changing event perhaps, but only one single event nonetheless.

My second poorly-thought-out conclusion is that there is a reason why I don't only write in the fantasy genre and why I am capable of writing something which could possibly exist within the realms of possibility and/or doesn't defy the laws of physics.  Given that the tiny interactions of every day life which seem to make up most of literary fiction really do tend to bore me, I think I must still surmise that I am only able to write that which could never happen to me rather than what could never happen to anyone.  This, therefore, includes historical fiction I suppose.

This might go a little towards way to explaining why I love Jane Austen despite the decided lack of spies, explosions, magical powers, battles and secret organisations.  The world of Persuasion could never happen to me thus it interests me as a story.  On the other hand it is possible for me to witness a hot air balloon accident and then be the victim of a stalking.  Unlikely but possible.  Therefore, no thank you, Mr McEwan, it's not for me.

I think I've ranted long enough.

Now I must wait to see which of the two stories the editors will choose.  Nail-biting all round, methinks.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The difficulties of knowing how to shut up

I have managed to write a short story... I think.  The piece comes in within the 2,500-3,000 word limit (at 2,999) and I have tried to make it so that it feels self-contained.  There is, I believe, a beginning, a middle and an end.  But does that a short story make?  Is there some special magic ingredient that I have somehow missed?  Because for all that it feels complete to me, I'm worried that it feels like the beginning of a story to the reader.

This seems to be a problem with other attempts at short stories in the past - that what I'd hoped sounded like the end actually seems to be the beginning of a much longer piece.  Goodness knows I prefer writing something with a 100k word limit but that just isn't an option this time.

It seems I just don't know how to shut up.  I wonder whether I pick the wrong subjects?  This story I've written began life as a description of an exotic marketplace and ended up about a magical war and oppressive rulers and a falling city.  This highlights two observations (problems?) I have noticed with my writing:

1) I pick very large themes for my work no matter how much I try to keep it small


2) I end up writing fantasy whether I intend to or not.

In Publishing Project lessons this semester the idea of an 'unalterable core as a writer' has come up a couple of times - in what seems to be a developing theme at the moment, I didn't have a clue what to say - but although it seems unlikely that these two points count under that weighty heading, they do at least show something consistent in my writing.  What that says about me, I have no idea.

But that's not really my point ("She has a point??") - the fact is that these two things make short stories rather difficult, or at least the first point does.  The small or the mundane don't interest me when I read so they sure as heck aren't going to interest me enough to write about them.  I honestly don't know how to write about them.  No matter how much I try to make a story out of something tiny it always ends up exploding into some high-flung extravagant adventure romp thing.  Most inconvenient when you've only got 3,000 words.

I guess I'll have to send it off to the editors and see what they say and try to write another in the meantime.  Fingers crossed.

And, if she should happen to read this drivel I be pouring onto the interwebs, a big thank you to Lady Laura for reading and so kindly commenting on my story.  And for driving today.  (But if you can't see, I really don't mind taking a turn).

Off to go and find reality not boring... hmmm, wish me luck...

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The non-holidays are approaching...

...and I have so much to do - and so little motivation!

A classic example is this here blog.  I glanced back at my previous post and - to my horror - saw that I wrote it on the 5th March.  No, I don't have anything against the 5th March - I'm sure it's a perfectly pleasant date - but that means it's over TWO WEEKS since I last wrote and that is just ridiculous.  So much for my resolution to write every few days.

But anyway, here I am, trying to turn over a new leaf etc etc.

Incidentally, the Easter hols will be 'non-holidays' because I seem to have more work to do as soon as they start than what I have had thus far during term-time.  Or is that me just being poor at planning?

Our first 'Litmus' anthology deadline is approaching.  We need to have sent all of our potential pieces to our respective editors by 8th April.  That means me writing two short stories by that ominous date.  And considering I've only written two short stories in my entire life I think I have just cause to be somewhat apprehensive.  I've written a small chunk of one - it is turning out to be filled with all my usual cheeriness: blood, death and so on.  Lovely stuff.

The second story, however, is still cowering in some dark corner of the nether-worlds, terrified at whatever monstrosity I'll turn it into.

I'd intended to write a short story for this because it makes so much more sense than submitting part of a novel.  It is much better for the reader to have something complete and I know that I would feel frustrated to read part of a story.  This was then made a rule for submission - all stories must be complete.  And suddenly the thing seems so much harder, because what if (as has happened in the past) I intend it to be a short story but readers/editors think it sounds like the beginning of a longer piece?  Then it will be deemed illegal in Litmus Land.

I guess I'll just have to give it a go and hope for the best.

At the end of my previous blog I had intended to write something a bit jollier.  Alas, I don't think I've achieved it - although on the up side, at least I'm only whinging about my work rather than my whole life.  Woohoo!

Also, in relation to the task mentioned in the last post, Carole agreed that I have no life.  Hey, at least I was right!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

What if I don't have a story yet?

I've been meaning to write a blog for several days now and have quite thoroughly failed at it.  It wasn't as if I didn't have plenty to write about - on the contrary.

I had thought about writing a review of the last of the Sebastian Faulks series with his episode about 'the villain'.

There was Tuesday's Publishing Project session where we heard Marcus Sedgwick talk; an evening that was both enjoyable and informative.

I could have talked about the ongoing 'My Life in Books' series or about World Book Night which the programme is based around and the implications of the event on booksellers.

I could even have pondered over what I was going to say in next Tuesday's lesson.  We have to define what 'Our Stories' are - to devise an interesting story from our lives which would be a great selling point for a publisher.

Ah, perhaps it was this last thought which silenced my fingers.  That and the general feeling of hopelessness which creeps into my soul drop by drop during pretty much every lesson I have this semester: that sense of despair that, given how heartbreakingly difficult (i.e. near-impossible) it is to get published, why the heck am I even bothering?

Because the fact of the matter is that I don't have a story.  I have thus far lived what could quite accurately be called one of the most boring lives in history.  What could I possibly say that wouldn't send everyone listening into a state of unconsciousness from the sheer mediocrity of it?

It's not like I'm wishing for something tragic in my life - far from it.  I love my life which is precisely why I haven't felt the need to do something mad or dangerous or 'defining'.  I haven't felt the urge that other people my age did during college and uni to get smashed out of my brain on alcohol and/or drugs, sleep with random strangers, wake up in a puddle of my own vomit, regret everything and swear never to do it again, then do it all the same in a few nights time.  I really must be some sort of social moron that, for some reason, this really sounds very unappealing.

So what do I say when everyone turns to me expectantly, waiting for some charming anecdote which shaped my very existence.


I literally can't think of anything to say.  At all.  Nada.  Zilch.

Why is it necessary for me to have done anything?  The very fact that I spend so much of my time writing about made-up stuff is surely because I live so much in my head.  Quite frankly, if I'd done all these exciting things which Carole is expecting I wouldn't have had time to write anyway, and would therefore not be on the course in the first place.  I'd be off saving baby leopards in Africa or something.  (Do leopards even come from Africa?)

So my plan at the moment is to sit in dumb silence.  Unless I can do something life-changing in the next 3 days.  Wish me luck.

I've heard that the titles of these entries are somehow important in some way (I don't know how, dinosaurs don't do computers) so my randomness shall have to disappear.  Alas.

My, what a cheery blog post this was.  I'll try to do better next time.