Initial Criticisms: Three Questions of Flow

Here we are then – 2018: Part 2. The post-Solstice blues and sure, Summer was a nice break. I let myself relax just long enough to stop worrying about the book, but by exhaling in relief I’m now out of breath. The next step, the event that should have snowballed into my life on the heels of the pre-Summer momentum, has simply petered out. Entropy has taken hold and the ball has stopped rolling…..

Oh dear. Instead of results there’s a stasis, and I hold my hand up and say yes, I know, what did I expect? The reality is, as many successful writers will no doubt tell you, that even if you’ve finished your book you’re still only half way there. You can’t just wait for the universe to drop success in your lap without putting in the hard work.

Acknowledged, but…… how does one get that momentum rolling again. It’s not even writers block, more that I’m just not writing what I want to write. Instead I’ve tried to focus on typing up interviews for a biography that I’ve been commissioned to write. Whilst it’ll be nice to get paid (i.e. yeah, I’m not much of a materialist but….), it’s not really what I want to be doing, nor is it particularly satisfying (even if I have discerned the narrative structure linking my client’s disparate sub texts – yes, there IS a pattern hoorah!).

So with my first (near) fully fledged novel languishing in a state of semi-preparedness, and the beta readers are at the task, I’ve been given to thinking about how to break the stalemate.

And the best way to do that is to throw away all the serious considerations and get down to doing what I actually enjoy…..

GET THE BALL ROLLING: OF SEQUELS AND BLOGS

Yesterday I set about writing for the fun of it and sketched out the initial elements of the next book in the series, lovingly entitled “Local Talent” (strictly WIP!).

And it worked. The creeping stasis was dissipated and I got a sense of enjoying the act of plotting and envisioning the way that the characters are going to interact, in working out what the pay off for the narrative will be and how it ties up to the next book. The key experience was to enjoy progressing instead of waiting around, and although I wont be committing to the full writing until my son starts school, I think there’s room enough to start sketching. It’ll give me something to do until I can get the final edits done for Red Star Rising.

What it allowed me was the feeling that I enjoyed working. For those who write, we know that working on our projects can be hard work, but it’s enjoyable in its outcome. Instead I was working hard on transcriptions, and it had taken me over a week just to do three quarters of a two hour interview. Not fun, and the kind of thing that you put off doing. Nor had I written for my blog, but now I was feeling the old magic coming back I felt more like sitting down and writing to the wider world about something.

Thus was the question begged, what shall I talk about today? In the past I’ve written with little notion of a specific demographic; should I focus on articles regarding fantasy or sci-fi? Should it be personal? My first posts were a way to explore procrastination, and then I wrote about the writing process. So why not turn our attention to exploring some of the thought processes that have come with the first round of feedback?

AND THE GOLD STAR GOES TO…..

A big thank you to Mike and Sasha (who got the gold star) for their initial feedback, and Chris who was very positive on the initial chapters. Also thanks to Dan who only had time to read the prologue but was enthusiastic about the style.  I’ll be drawing on these initial reports in the following, as well as one or two others who are in the middle of reading.

Firstly, the initial feedback has been very positive. I might be overstating here, but I think I can say that I’ve written something that people are taking seriously as a professional work. Secondly, there hasn’t been any real complaints about the narrative itself. Therefore, assuming that the narrative functions to deliver a story which is a). not riddled with holes and b). provisions the reader with a satisfactory experience, there are the considerations of how the narrative is delivered and whether or not this delivery flows. The the skill of the narrator lies in conjuring the world without dislodging the reader from their immersion in the flow of the story.

To break it down, we might frame these considerations as three questions:

#1 Exposition (or how much do you spoonfeed?)

The challenge of informing the reader without writing a wall of text is often tricky. Too little and the progress of the story is hindered by a lack of understanding. Here we have the issue that the characters take much of their immediate world for granted and so we must be sparing in the use of text to explain things. Too much and it bogs down the narrative with unnecessary details and can make the author look amateurish.

So, just the right amount…… easier said than done.

This task is arguably made harder in fantasy and sci-fi where there are often many more things that are regularly taken for granted: aliens, technology and magic. However, I would argue that one of the appeals from these genres is the explorations of new worlds, that they provide a sense of discovery as you uncover the layers of reality within them. This exploration is what heightens the sense of adventure. Therein lies the skill of giving the explorer just what they need at each stage of the narrative. Given that this will be a series, there will be plenty of time to explore the wider world, so for now I will have to follow my own advice and investigate this flow of information.

One final note: additional solutions to fleshing out the world might include a glossary of popular terms (perhaps rendered as a pamphlet for new city visitors), a map of the city and its environs, and the oft used trope of exerts from imaginary academic journals, historical documents and mythological quotes.

#2 Description (can you see it/them in your mind?)

The flip side of explanation is the more direct appeal to the reader’s senses via descriptive language. We use the senses to conjure up the feel of a scene or the representation of a character, and again, too much description slows the pace, but too little and it’s just a vague sketch. To keep the pace we must perform a balancing act once more.

What is important is that the reader can get a good sense of a place or character in their mind. One of the criticisms that I received was that I was overly sparse in some of my description, and here I think it’s important to distinguish whether it’s the environment or the characters.

Typically I like to focus on a characters key points with only a brief description because the reader should be able to see the character in their mind given that the palette of character types is usually a replay of similar tropes.

But where I suspect I have been ovelry sparse is with some of the descriptions of the environment, and this goes hand in hand with the explanations of those places. It is the city as character that has not been given due exploration and I’ll be paying special attention during the next round of edits to colouring in those outlines just a little more.

#3 Text (do you need a dictionary? (because my ego doesn’t))

As a writer it might be nice to use sophisticated words, but you’re asking for trouble if your readership isn’t….. ahem, as literate as you are. But seriously, unless you’re writing a philosophical essay, it’s just not needed because if there’s one thing that jars the flow it’s having to whip out the dictionary in mid sentence. You want your reader to be immersed, and those long words are just obstacles.

It’s a criticism that I’ve had from a few people, and every time someone has told me that they needed a dictionary there’s one word that instantly springs to mind: “Mordaciously” (adjective: 1. biting or given to biting, 2. sharp or caustic in style, tone, etc.) No doubt there are others but this one is the one I recall. 

Remember, it’s not necessarily what you’ve got (a giant vocabulary) but rather how you use it (did the reader understand?). If the reader didn’t understand then you’re shooting yourself in the foot. You’re writing can still be artistic, poetical and edgy, and in this it is likely better served by keeping it simple.

And don’t forget, the reader isn’t going to remember every little word, but rather the overall feel and experience of the narrative. It’s best to eliminate the lumps and keep the final product smooth.

THE FINAL PRODUCT (results may vary)

The end result of these initial criticisms has therefore been a nice little framework for looking at the overall form of the narrative, and as writers all over the world know, you will not succeed without constructive criticisms. By taking a step back, putting the manuscript out there and opening yourself up, you should be rewarded with the knowledge of just where you need to focus.

It shouldn’t be too much longer before the rest of the beta readers finish the manuscript, and with the framework outlined above, I have a structured means to interrogate them. No doubt that there will also be things that fall outside of these three categories, but I feel that these are probably the most pertinent to moving forward. So I hope that this might have been some help to those of you out there who are writing.

That about sums it up for now. There’s plenty more to be addressing but for now I’ll leave you with a little video from a series I’ve been enjoying. Please feel free to comment or make a suggestion. Until next time, stay cool.

DJC

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Letting It Go

Anyone would have suspected that some kind of happiness would follow the completion of the revised draft, but for reasons unknown it been an anticlimax. It all came together so fast, tied up nicely and then just dropped off. I had arrived at the destination with such speed no one else was there yet. I blinked and looked around, then scratched my head. What now?

LETTING IT GO

I knew it had to be done. I had to let go. It needed reading. Easier said than  done. Just making the announcement was difficult. It’s the acknowledgement that you’re lowering your defences, that the fear inside you is saying “come on, savage my efforts.” It should have been a moment of triumph, but instead was an exercise in gritting my teeth, waiting for the kicking to start.

I sent out the first copy  and the first thing I did upon sending it was spot a small error. Nothing really. Just wording, but I set about fussing over it with a will until I forced myself to stop. So crazy, to have finished yet knowing that I still had work to do….

It reminded me of a video I had watched where the gentleman says of scriptwriting: “Show me someone who is happy with what they have written, and I will show you an amateur.” Just got to remember – IT’S NOT PUBLISHED YET DAVE!

So, resisting the urge I sent out a couple more; paper copies went to friends, family and assorted others. A nice age range and a mix of fantasy/sci-fi fans and people who weren’t. Different perspectives and all…..

I’d let it go. It was out there. All I need do is sit back and relax.

Right?

PRAISE!

Wrong. One of the first readers enthused that it was “bloody good” and that he was “impressed with the writing style.”

Oh my days! I tried to keep calm, but what came to grow inside me wasn’t more confidence. It was the reverse. It was anxiety that it was all going to fall apart, that days later he’s said nothing , well, that first bit, yeah that was awesome! But then you went and did this thing and the story went over here and it all kinda sucked arse in the end……

I’m constantly waiting now for any word, checking email and social media, but more often stopping myself from checking. It’s only been a week I say to myself. People have lives that don’t entail the same level of obsession about the book as I do.

Got to let it go. Sit back, and relax…….

LIMBO

Instead of relaxing, I’m waiting. This is the impatience of completion. It’s a limbo where I don’t know where to direct my efforts, like the energy has sort of bled away now that I have arrived at that point. The party wont start until everyone’s caught me up.

So here I am, floating around in space, directionless. I consider that the reason it’s so hard is that I’ve been travelling in one direction so long it takes time to realign myself.

And it’s certainly not improving my mood as I find myself regularly standing about, wondering what in the Hell am I doing? I’m short tempered and impatient. Worse, I’m resenting my partner even though I have no right. I’m relying on her to not only give me criticism, but to help me gauge how much work I need to do for the book to fit its niche/genre. Her understanding is key…..

But like I said, I have no right to be angry about it. I’m just so impatient because this feedback will be the decider. It’ll determine the next step……

Publishing. Which path to choose? I’d like to say, that with the nice things that have been said by one or two people, that this work deserves to be taken up by a specialist publisher in the field of fantasy. It means they soak up some of the cost (as I have no real money to undertake self publishing) but I’ll need to find a literary agent. It equally means not receiving most of the revenue from sales, but balanced against that is the promotion and returns over time of a series.

It should be exciting, but instead the feeling seems to have drifted off into that limbo zone….

AND IN THE MEANTIME

So, in the meantime? What to do? Time to turn to a task that needs some love. I have dubbed it the Newman Project: several years ago I was approached to write a biography. It’s a long story, but the core of it revolves around false imprisonment, a contract killing and a vendetta, all mixed with a little reincarnation, petty crime and a hangman’s noose outside of Mitcham police station.

I’d put transcribing the interviews off because they’re a real pain in the arse to do, and like most people I hate the sound of my own voice.

But…..

Needs to be done. I couldn’t turn the work down, because it was free material that, no matter what, is gold dust for a writer. It was mainly that I needed to finish my own work first, and that I hadn’t been paid for what I had done so far (there’s often problems of cash flow when your income is from a questionable source and you’ve never had a bank account).

On top of the monotony of catching up on this admin, there’s the next book in the series to contemplate. I’ve got a few neat ideas, a set of characters and a situation that stems from the book I just finished, so it’s already shaping up in my mind. The circle is complete: back to the drafting process. As Burroughs says “destroy all rational thought.” Do it as fast as you can and don’t think about it until you’ve finished.

It’ll be my new rocket to ride, speeding off into my own little kingdom of clouds inside my head…….

OH, ONE LAST THING

I said I’d learn People Are Strange didn’t I? Well, the splint is off and I’ve been getting involved in the local music scene in the nearby town. I’ve made some new musical friends and I’ve started playing guitar again. So, no more excuses. Time to step forward. In much the same way as the book, it’s no good sitting at home practising. I’ve got these songs (even one or two I wrote myself) and if I don’t let them go, if I don’t let people experience them and (hopefully) enjoy them, then what’s the point of it all in the first place?

DJC

(PS, why Parquet Courts? It’s just been on the radio lots. Love that bass!)

 

 

 

 

A Self Reflective Inquisition

Here we are, on the cusp of a new venture for me and only three weeks on from the last post. This will be the first post that goes up on the new Facebook page I’ve created. As much as I’m happy to be pressing on, being proactive in the manner that authors must be, I can’t say that I’m thrilled at the prospect of social media. It’s the hermit in me, and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard about the introvert writer, but as hackneyed as it sounds, there is a shred of truth in it for me.

It’s a question that I’ll return to in good time.

Severed

Three weeks ago I might have made (somewhat) light of cutting my finger. In typical fashion I hadn’t gone to A&E, being blasé about just taping it up. “It’ll be fine.” It wasn’t. I’d severed the tendon and wouldn’t be able to straighten it. The lovely NHS lady that saw me at Caterham Dene was shocked that my GP hadn’t referred me. I sat waiting for news, reading HP Lovecraft in the hope that other-worldy horrors would take my mind off the prospect of having my finger cut open and the tendon sewn back together.

It didn’t happen and I was referred to the finger specialists at Queen Victoria in East Grinstead. But no operation. I was splinted up and waited for Physiotherapy to contact me. Another week. By now I was deep into No One Here Gets Out Alive (the Jim Morrison biography) in the waiting room. Not long and I’m sat down for the good news. The tendon is apparently only partially severed and give it about eight weeks of being in a splint and it should be okay.

Probably…..

I went home, frustrated, but with a discrete, molded splint. At the end of the week I was in Brighton at the Concorde for Jonathan Wilson, drinking Blue Moon on tap and trying not to break down in tears……

The Inquisition Begins

As this situation developed I became increasingly unbalanced, and it triggered a difficult, depressive state that left me much awry. Attempts to communicate this were met with frustrating disinterest.

And as I began to question, those questions seemed to go deeper and deeper…..

Firstly, I considered whether or not I would play music again. In something like self pity I considered that it might just be a signal to give up. After all, I hadn’t really done much with it in the 15 years I’d been playing guitar.

It was, very clearly, all or nothing. Moreover, what began to surface were the historical moments connected with it, going back to when I was at school. I remember being made to do a talk in front of the school that damaged my confidence, and then how a friend turned on me just as I was gonna play bass in his band. Years would go by and perhaps my musical highlight as a performer was a karaoke rendition of I’m The Urban Spaceman (which was included in my current repertoire, of course).

It wasn’t until I returned from New Mexico that I picked up a guitar proper, and over time my aspirations developed; I picked up bass again and I eventually started trying to learn and write songs. I could be in a band…..

But now I was faced with the reality that my aspirations might not only be unobtainable, but might have just been wishful thinking all along. Why hadn’t I done more? I didn’t get out there and play, I was barely trying to do anything about finding a band. I was afraid. I fully realised the nature of my hermitting, that fear was part of the hermit in me. I was cut off, had done so with some intention, and now I was wondering where all my friends had gone, why I avoided people and whether it was just the nature of home life.

Therapy

So it was with great relief at the end of that time that I actually went out, kicked back and cut loose. I remember checking into the B&B, sitting in the bay window and feeling the faintest hint of lingering unease. Then  Sam and I walked up the road, checked out part of Brighton I’ve not really visited before. We ate in a great restaurant then hit a local bar called the Sidewinder for a pre-gig beer.

I was beginning to get into it.

We strolled down to the Concorde, down at the sea front, a place where I’d seen many bands in the past (most notably Love). It was damnably cold, but there was no queue and we strolled in to find the place quiet. Two pints of Blue Moon and no support band, just straight into two hours of Jonathan Wilson.

And goddamn it went fast.

I bathed in that sonic goodness, and it was a catharsis for me because I always feel a real connection with JW’s songs, as if he’s one of those artists who’s caught a glimpse of life’s deeper aspects, of what’s just beyond the door of everyday life and although he can’t quite explain it, he hints at the greater wonders that he found there, like a great vivid dream or strange trip……

I had more beer.

And I loosened up, all the pent up angst and memory that was bottled found vent, and as it was washed away I felt elated and emotional. It was a healing experience.

And when the encore was over we were wandering back to the bar for another round where a DJ with a Misfits t-shirt on played a variety of music at great volume (but no Misfits – bummer). Sam and I spent some time talking (or rather, shouting), getting things off our chests. This time I was listened to which was a relief, but also, I got to hear about my partner’s fears and anxieties. We purged it all in a drunken shambles that helped reaffirmed the strength of our bond, as partners who work together to get through the weeks and months.

We are, after all, a team.

Through The Door (The Guide)

And as this new wave of energy rolled on I fell into reading No One Here Gets Out Alive. I’d had it for years, bought in a charity shop for 80p, but I’d never got around to reading it. At this point I was past the childhood story and into the formation of the doors.

So entered the Lizard King……

Reading about him, about the rise of the Doors, it was like the next step in the mental process. Jim reminded me that I too had set out looking for something and yet I’d become somewhat negligent.

Jim Morrison was so social, always out drinking with others, and he seemed to understood people. I wondered then that perhaps the cliché of the introvert writer might be a bit of a problem. I had hermitted away, and that can’t be good for those of us who are writers. We lose something of the reality of people, and perhaps the need for just a little more thought and tolerance that rounds us out as individuals. Perhaps I had just forgotten how strange and multifaceted people were. It was, after all, one of the reasons I studied anthropology, so that I might meet and better understand people, and by extension know myself a little better.

So for the past week I’ve been listening to the Doors a whole lot, and I fell in love all over again with their music. I don’t think I’ll grow out of it as I recall one journalist saying she had, “that it was cool when she was young but then you grow up and see it for the pretentious twaddle it is.” (I might have misquoted, but that was the gist)

Nah! I’ll always remember that People Are Strange was once something of a theme song for me among certain friends. Who knows, now I’m on Facebook I might even see one or two of them again. Whether that’s good or bad I don’t know just yet.

And as to the question of whether I’ll play music again, I know that I have to follow Jim’s advice and break on through to the other side. I’ll find a way, keep playing and once this finger is healed up I’m gonna learn People Are Strange, resist the hermitting instinct and go down the open mic.

Who knows, I might even share a video of it in a post some time this year.

DJC

Absence, Exposition and Pitching

Pardon my absence dear reader. I have been busy, I promise. It’s what everyone says, I know, but the truth is that I’ve been deep in the revised draft. Day and night! Well, at least when I can and I’m not bingeing on Altered Carbon and it isn’t half term for my little boy and I’m not nearly cutting my finger off on a baked bean can…..

It was the Branstons baked beans. It amazes me that in this day and age there are still cans without ring pulls. Lesson learned – always cut the lid off completely.

So, in honour of my wonky finger, I thought I’d stick Dr. John up there as his”fickle finger of funk” has been on my mind of late (I believe that he had it shot off and surgically reattached.) I’m hoping that it will heal up straight and wont effect my guitar playing too much. Hell, Tony Iommi lost the tips of his middle and ring finger and he did alright…..

But enough of that. I thought I’d get back in the groove with a quick update on how things have been going.

Hunting Down Exposition With An Orbital Laser

So, well into draft v3.1, going through my work with a fine tooth comb, teasing out the snaggled prose and working out those little narrative knots. It’s slow going but I’ve found a great amount of reward so far and I think it’s much richer, and it’s in part thanks to the advice I was sent: how to make exposition my bitch.

I received this under the premise that I would find it interesting and useful. The result so far? I’ve been fascinated by the exposition that I have found, and while it certainly didn’t destroy the story, there is little to lose in cutting it out. It sounds strange but removing sections of exposition did little to really deflate the progression of the narrative, and even better, once you know it you can tease it in with references and flash backs and characters remembering that time when this and that happened. Overall, the process has been a great workout, both educational and satisfying.

The funny thing is that when he says remove the back story, well, that’s what I did and it turned into a whole book, the one that I’ve just written a pitch for…..

Pitchapolooza 2018

So I had a go at writing a pitch for my book as the Book Doctors (in conjunction with Nanowrimo) were running Pitchapolooza 2018. Twenty pitches are randomly selected, critiqued and voted for. The winner gets an introduction to a publisher suitable for their manuscript.

Might as well give it a shot right?

I worked tirelessly on iterations of this and then repeatedly sent them to my partner who was busy at work, asking her thoughts on this version and that. Her response was pretty much always “too wordy?”. Every time.

But it helped me. I tried to boil it down again and again, editing and reducing until it retained the flavour without the bulk.

(I mentioned this in a comment on the Book Doctors video about the pitch – they replied with: “You’re partner is a smart woman. Excellent advice!”)

Anyhow, I just want you to know that I’m thinking of you here! You, the reader, checking a copy on the bookshelf because I know you don’t have much time and you want the nitty gritty in under 200 words or else you might pick something else up.

So here it is!

Welcome to Asclepius, trading hub for more than a hundred worlds…..

When a smuggling operation is busted two petty criminals must find a new way to recoup their lost investment. Shale wants to sign up for a prospectors ‘dive’ but her best friend isn’t so sure. Unimaginable riches might be theirs, or at the least a quick death if they’re lucky.

Meanwhile Harlech Truckle, leader of the Birdeaters, makes plans for another illegal shipment or else face the displeasure of his mysterious benefactor. But just what is it they’re being asked to bring in, and who’s toes might they be stepping on this time?

As the consequences begin to unfold, a street hustler, a possessed automaton and a hapless warehouse technician will be drawn into a spiral of duplicity and revenge while in the shadows of the Shining Spires there are those who’s designs had yet to be fully understood…..

Red Star Rising is the first in a series of exciting, modern pulp fantasy novels set against a backdrop of lost epochs, cosmological improbabilities and strange destinies.

So, what do you think? Needs some work perhaps……? Damned if I know. Hell, it was harder to write than the damn book is!

The Future?

With that all out the way I want to say a little bit about future posts – yes, I actually do have some sort of plan – and while I don’t want to say much more, I should put up a post about Alter Ego’s in response to JA Allen’s post and the comment I made. Hope to see it within a fortnight.

I also have a sketch for a pair of world building posts that I’m rather excited about, but – yes, sigh! – it’ll be consigned to the vagaries of the crystal ball as to when those will appear.

So, for now, I’ll sign out and wish you all well.

DJC

The Festive Chasm, The (Alleged) Snub and The Bio

With a toast to you my readers, and a merry commencement of 2018, we begin afresh the vital work of storytelling with renewed vigor. This is going to be the year that I get something finished and out, the year that I move forward with projects to a new level, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll even play an open mic. Meanwhile, on the horizon, there already a few treats to look forward to. Jonathan Wilson brings his new songs to the UK in March, and award for Best Christmas Present 2017 goes to Sam (you better be reading this!) for getting me a ticket.

It certainly perked up the festive period as in recent years I’ve found Christmas to inspire in me a certain attitude of humbuggery, and whilst not being a total curmudgeon, what I usually sense is the yawning chasm of the holiday period in my mental calendar, that dark void of inactivity where I’m in limbo. Thankfully this year there was also a certain levity to it as my little boy reminded me of what it was like to actually be excited for the festive period. Master Bruce oft seems to reveal things that I had forgotten, to clear away the jaded cobwebs of middle age. He is enthusiasm personified.

In the run up to that point I had been working hard to conclude the draft and as I came to the final confrontation between protagonist and antagonist I needed to give shaped relative to the themes of the book. This would make it feel meaningful. So I stopped writing and printed the whole lot out, feeling that by going over it from the start I would be able to simply roll into the resolution with all that I needed to sculpt a satisfying ending.

But…..

I thought I’d find it made more sense. It’s the weirdest thing because I know the story, yet reading it back gave me no idea of whether it worked or not. Certainly I found errors to correct and small plot details to tighten up, but it was strange that it felt so ephemeral. I assume that my understanding of the narrative took away the enjoyment of building an unfolding narrative in my mind. So, with it all marked in red, I’ll just have to go through the rewrites and edits and then give it out to my test readers in the hope that their feedback will furnish me with the knowledge of whether it works or not.

Anyhow, with everything on the shelf for the holidays it was into that temporal chasm I dived with sweet surrender to the festive spirit and nary a thought to liver nor waistline. Amid the tinsel, wine and mince pies I unwrapped a copy of Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, a book that was recommended to me by Kat (the writer I met working for the Council). I’d seen Hobb’s books many times and got the impression that she was another cornerstone of the fantasy genre, but never picked her up.

Then Boxing Day rolled around and off we went to visit my partner’s family where I received two more books: the first was The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway, for reason’s of which I am unsure – it’s fantasy (from the New Weird subgenre)? Or perhaps they had read it and thought I would like it? It’s popular? I don’t know. The second was written by, ostensibly, my brother-in-law and self published through Amazon. It was comprised of two short stories. My first thought was to wonder if it was some kind of snub or dig, inspired by my belief that my partner’s sister in particular is somewhat ambivalent towards me.

Of course I dismissed the notion almost immediately, suspecting that I had just stung myself because of the pressure I feel I’m under;  both from that which I heap upon myself and that which I perceive (rightly or wrongly) to come from the expectation of others (my partner, my family, not to mention ALL THE PEOPLE WHO I EVER TOLD I WAS A WRITER!).

Yet it had sparked a momentarily brief amusement with the initial allegation because I felt a certain….. bulletproofness. It didn’t matter to me if it was a snub because I knew one very important thing: my voice is unique, and that’s what counts. No one can write what I have written. In that sense I’m untouchable, and although it doesn’t mean my work is necessarily good, it did help to diffuse the sullen impatience with not having my work published.

Typically the swirl of thoughts bled into each other as I sat on the Boxing Day couch and whiled away the wait for lunch. Flicking through the two books I read Nick Harkaway’s bio, and then was surprised that the self published book didn’t have one because from what I’m given to understand is that one’s bio will be like a shadow, a spectre haunting a writers every move. It’ll be in my submissions, it’ll be on the inside cover of my book, it’ll be online via social media (and on this blog when I actually settle on what I’ve written) and it’ll be in any press releases about me.

So it appears that I’d better make it good right from the start…….

The inevitable question then is what do I say about myself? Can I make myself sound interesting without come across as a pretentious twat? So begins the examination of my life, and just how interesting a person I am. It feels a little strange to rake across all that has come before, sifting memories and achievements in order to (modestly) boast about them.

And writing the damn thing is almost harder than writing the book itself, despite there being plenty of advice out there. At it’s core I think this is piece of advice is pretty key:

…..your bio should not be a dry, dusty affair. Even more important, it must make the case for why you are the ideal person to write this book and to sell it to the reading public……The bottom lines is, if you don’t toot your own horn (albeit in a way that drips of humble sincerity), who will?

From The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published

So, by way of example, let’s look at the biographies from the two books I’ve mentioned:

Assassin’s Apprentice:

Robin Hobb is one of the world’s finest writers of epic fiction. She was born  in California in 1952 but raised in Alaska, where she learned how to raise a wolf cub, to skin a moose and to survive in the wilderness. When she married a fisherman who fished herring and the Kodiak salmon-run for half the year, these skills would stand her in good stead. She raised her family, ran a smallholding, delivered post to her remote community, all at the same time as writing stories and novels. She succeeded on all fronts, raising four children and becoming an internationally best-selling writer. She lives in Tacoma, Washington State.

And The Gone-Away World:

Nick Harkaway was born in Cornwall in 1972. He likes deckled edges, wine, and breathtaking views. He does not like anchovies or reality television. He lives in London with his wife and two children.

What the fuck, may I ask, is a deckled edge? More importantly, who cares? This bio seems to reflect the book itself, my first impressions from the first couple of pages being that it was all too damn smart for its own good (and perhaps worth mentioning that I later found out he’s the son of John le Carré and had a good amount of money spent on his publicity).

So the big question then is which one sounds better? Which one sounds like someone who’s story is worth reading? It’s amazing to think that there is so much emphasis on building a one paragraph persona that will be your projection into the literary world, and it must clearly be done with some finesse if it is going to shadow my every move.

It’s tempting to put the problem on a shelf for a time, but I suspect that it would be best to keep it in mind and jot down any ideas that crop up during the days, week and months ahead.

And there’s always one’s friends and family to ask about just what it is that makes you interesting…….

Then again, maybe not eh?

Suffice to say dear Reader that if you stick around here long enough you’ll find out just who I want you to think I am.

DJC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Uneasy Question of Why I Write

Salutations once more dear reader.

Upon the return from a little holiday I found that the postman had left some extreme technical black metal in the post box. Not everyone’s cup of tea I’m sure, but a part of me always feels a sense of awe at the effort that lies behind being able to perform such musical gymnastics.

Such an aural assault requires, surprisingly, skill……

Anyhew, as I mentioned I had the good fortune to have a holiday, a feat only made possible via friendships and those small windows of opportunity where busy people can organised a respite. I hoped I would finish the basic draft before hand but with the finale playing hide and seek I couldn’t quite close it. However, the end isn’t far off now and then I can begin one last round of edits and alterations before Christmas. Then into the New Year with the first round of test readings.

Updates aside, I thought I’d write a little something regarding a conversation I had during my sojourn. I became (inadvertently) embroiled in a grilling about my goals and aims as a writer, partly because of my attitude towards JK Rowling and George RR Martin (no, I’m not a big fan of either). What interested me were the notions of fame, envy and pride that came to my mind. I found these worthy of consideration as I wended my way through the wine sodden days.

What it prompted was a question I’ve considered before: why do I write? For fame, for fortune, for recognition or some sense of superiority? Do I care how much money either of these authors made? Maybe I have some romantic notion of “seeing myself in print.”

Let’s start with the money, and the obvious; If I wanted to be rich then writing probably isn’t the best option to making my millions. There are certainly less risky endeavours. But that isn’t to say I don’t believe it unreasonable to consider it as a means to securing some kind of financial harvest at the end of the day. After all, we all have to pay the bills.

Still, I’m certainly under no illusions that I might never be a big earner. Let’s just say that money isn’t the driving motivation, more of a back seat driver. That isn’t to denigrate anyone who writes professionally as a career. We all have our place in the world, but I would suggest that if all of us only created with the aim of profit, then it would certainly stifle creativity to a point where every creative endeavour was completely homogenous. With reference to the above video, there would certainly be very few bands like Inferi. It would no doubt dull the palette and we would never get see such quirky gems for us fantasy/sci-fi readers like: The Iron Dragons Daughter, Little Big, The Anubis Gate, The Year of Our War, Lord Of Light, Rogue Moon, Roadside Picnic, To Stand On Zanzibar, the Blue World etc.

Otherwise every book would be dystopian futures and medieval swords and sorcery…….

(Curious thought here – sci-fi is perhaps far less generic than fantasy in that respect and with regards to the public arena………)

Anyhew, so if I’m not in it for the money, why do I write? One idea that came to me was that, as a fan of the genre, I care about it. I’m in a relationship with it. It is why I feel bad for fans of Game Of Throne who started reading the books  and wondered if they’d ever get a written conclusion. No one likes to be left hanging, suspended, just as in a relationship where you’re waiting for that resolution to the moment, for that message that says,  “I’m safe”, “see you at 8” or “I do.”

And we get passionate about it just like anything that we care about, and yes, maybe there is a sense of egotism, a superiority to me that says I can do better, but moreover I want to bring something to the table that’s worth reading, something that as a fan I would enjoy reading myself, something that would invest me in the characters and their exploits, in their highs and their lows.

So maybe there is a sense of self satisfaction to my creative endeavours. I like to think that my ideas are, if not special, at least good enough to praise – otherwise there’d be no point trying to create something.

Now, I’ve already written about the origins and inspirations of these stories but I’d like to add to it. Bill Fay (a bin man turned musician) once said that good songs aren’t written; they are discovered, that the musician is in themself an ear to the cosmos listening for melodies to write down.

Begging the essential question: “Who is the sender?”

This seems to me to be salient as  to where my ideas come from. When I’m writing I’m in a flow and often it all just seems to pop out of me into existence. In this moment of creation, there is no sense that my objective is fame or money or recognition. Nor is there, initially, a sense of a plan, and so I wonder if I act like a vessel waiting to be filled, an antenna to creativity, a radio operator waiting to hear the crackle of signal over the cosmic airwaves.

Which leads me onwards to the (perhaps overdue) conclusion: the question is itself irrelevant. All attempts to answer it require raking over the muck of vanity and egotism, over notions of accomplishment and respect, over fame and material accumulation. To me the question is moot because writing is something that I have done and continue to do as a process now as natural as breathing. I might be better at breathing of course, but I’m getting better at writing every moment I spend working on it.

So maybe I act as a relay for the stories floating around in the aether, catching them and transform them into words that can be delivered to those that want to read it, hoping that I might get paid and just enjoying the creative act.

After all, it’s all out there, and all I need do is keep listening with the volume dial turned up a notch.

Please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear some thoughts on the subject.

DJC

 

Kat’s Manuscript Revival and the Denouemont

Greetings Reader,

Last week I mentioned that I was working for the Council as an ‘electoral canvasser’, the goal of which was to visit homes and verify the names of the residents against the electoral roll. According to the handout I received it’s an “interesting and rewarding job”. Mmmm hmmmm…..

It’s also a lot of walking.

Well, chasing up people who haven’t filled in their Council paperwork wasn’t the worse job I’ve ever done – at least I’m not sitting in an office – the last time I did that I got harangued for “making [the job] look too easy”. Surprisingly, menial labour and data input wasn’t exactly a challenge compared to my lunchtime spent creating the original material for my current project.

Back to the canvassing. I’m working a road and I come upon a housewife with her little boy and I introduce myself – she asks to see my I.D. card and I explain that although I sent the Council a current photo they seemed to have given me an I.D. card with my old picture on it (three years younger, no beard, long hair). This conversation drifts into topics like centralised computers and the inefficiency of bureaucracies, how the left hand doesn’t talk to the right hand (Council departments don’t seem to share and correlate data). When I explained that I was a part timer and my real job was writing fantasy it turned out that she too was a fantasy writer. We talked for about an hour (all part of customer service right?) and she explained that her manuscript had been dormant for a two years.

She’d let it rest and then just couldn’t get the impetus to go back to the beginning and start over on it. It can be tough, and I don’t doubt that it’s a common problem for writers the world over, to know that your work isn’t finished after putting all that effort in.

As I near the denouement of the draft, that grande finale! I too can feel that spectre hovering in the shadows. I’m sooooo close, one final chapter to shape out of the wet clay of my imagination etc etc….. But I know it’s not the end because there’s always more work to do despite my confidence in my own writing. It’s going to need to go through some rewrites, to be edited and proof read, to be checked for consistency and tightened up before being re-editted and rechecked. It’s just something that’s got to be accepted.

Of course, there is help at hand in the form of YouTube videos. Take the one I’ve posted below for example. It came up randomly in the side bar and after I’d given it a watch I took a section of my own work for a little test drive. Sure enough, there was tightening up to be done.

The question of whether your work is ever finished might be another matter entirely, but we’ll never arrive at that question unless we go back to the beginning and start over.

And this was what I hoped that Kat did,  that she got that old manuscript out and resume work on it. I’d like to think that our chance meeting was one of those moments where a random event or meeting might turn you around or inspire you. After all, who knows what masterpieces lay in the raw material that’s been stashed under a bed or that are lingering in digital purgatory, just waiting to be rediscovered?

We certainly shared the opinion that there were some real turds out there that had actually made the shelves, so if we believe that we can do better, why not give it a shot. What have we got to lose, right?

DJC