I Didn’t Think Carol Singers Would Be This Much Trouble

But evidently I was wrong.  This Christmas story entry, for anyone who doesn’t know, has to be about carol singers.  A month after receiving this assignment, I have largely accepted that it has thrown me for a loop.

I think I’ve finally figured out why, too.  I mean, the humour aspect tripped me up initially.  I had set myself on the idea of something nostalgic and kind of bittersweet as a theme and only discovered the comedy component to the competition after I’d started writing.  I actually quite like my first attempt and, not being of the mindset to force a square peg into a round hole, have decided to finish that story as a separate project and think up something fresh for the competition.  You know, something which is a bit more built for purpose.

I’ve done that now.  Go, me.  But the real headache factor to this story is twofold.

Firstly, there’s the whole issue of the singing.  Yes, I know, singing is a necessary evil when writing about carol singers.  You can’t exactly not mention it.  It would be like writing about an artist and not mentioning pictures or omitting golf courses from a story about golfing.

But singing is a bit different, isn’t it?  Other character pastimes and professions just involve a bit of research and throwing around some well-placed jargon.  By contrast singing, of any description in storytelling, appears to involve spontaneously breaking into italics and defacing good prose with random sections of out-of-place verse to which the reader may or may not know a corresponding tune.

I’ll tell you what it is.  It’s like a musical.  A prose-based musical.  And I’ve never really been a musicals fan.  The closest I’ve gotten to a favourite musical is probably the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  For real.  I just find the whole practice of bursting into highly choreographed singing and dancing a bit… uncomfortable.  I’m inclined to feel the same way about it onscreen as I would in real life: that perhaps I should call a police community support officer to check your pupils, breathalyse you and escort you home.

So, back to my point, how does one present singing in a story in a manner which doesn’t bring back horrifying memories of song fanfiction?  Everything about trying to drop a song into a piece of fiction comes off like it’s been shoehorned in.  Not to mention the corresponding What I Call Miranda Hart Syndrome.  I mean, when do you stop?  Is two lines enough or do we shoot for a whole verse?  Do you throw in the chorus?  Go for the whole twenty verse extended album version?

Can you just cherry-pick the bits which apply to a character’s subconscious or are international treaties forged on preventing such shows of blinding cheesiness?  It all sounds frightfully close to corny, and Christmas carols already flirt with that old chestnut as it is.

Secondly there’s the door to door thing.  It makes the plot kind of bitty if you’re working from the point of view of the carol singers – which I am.  One house, then another, then another.  It’ll take some serious thought to avoid the story becoming too repetitive, the main danger being distributing the characters and events too evenly.  I think the trick to it will be not to focus on anyone but the most exceptional residents and try to make the story as much about the antics of the carol singers between their visits as possible.

I’m getting to grips with it, slowly.  I actually really like my idea, to be honest.  The problem is, as always, execution.

And, with that, I wish all of you a jolly good week, full of words which are spoken, not sung, and journeys unhindered by surprise bouts of back-up dancing.

Old Year’s End

Good grief! It’s Sunday! Sorry folks, the Christmas festivities, for one reason and another, have actually extended this late and sort of made all the days bleed together into one long episode of festiveness.

However, now I am returned, and, in honour of my new iPad technology (courtesy of Christmas), I am using it to write this entire post. Which may or may not turn out to be a tad slower than the usual process, but I’ll have to assess that at the end. Right now it’s not going half badly: I’m watching Blackadder at the same time, for a start.

Anyway! To the subject of this post: New Year’s resolutions. It’s hardly an original topic to the average reader, I’m sure, but to me it actually is an unusual occurrence. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions typically. In fact, for the last few years, my New Year’s resolution, when asked, has been not to make any resolutions. This year, though, I’ve lots to be resolute about and am unusually enthusiastic to make some life changes and stick to them. This is why resolutions should be rare, see? You can’t get to be sceptical with yourself so quickly when you aren’t breaking them annually!

So, here we go. My resolutions for 2013:

1. Give 200% to this internship. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime and I’m going to give it my all.

2. Finish the book I started last term at college. It’s a damn good idea and there is utterly no reason why I shouldn’t finish it this year.

3. Start an exercise regime and improve my diet. Time to get physically active, tone up and eat better. I might learn to meditate, too. Bring on the health kick.

4. Read at least one book per month. The last couple of months have allowed me to get back into reading (thank you, long train journey to Bath…) and I really want to keep it up, get to know more authors and acquire some more influences on my own writing style.

5. Learn to drive. I’m almost there technically. It’s time to think about my tests and finally start operating a vehicle without supervision. My menace rating could skyrocket to a proud and hardy twelve out of ten when I pass. Every girl’s dream…

So, 2012 is almost over and I’m soon to find myself another year into my golden decade of twentysomething-ness. Time to embrace being a grown-up! And, hey, this iPad posting is working out pretty darn well thus far!

The End of the Wor…king Week

Christmas is a time of love and niceness and other such clichés, so I am not going to make any barbs about the Mayan calendar.  Other than the title of this post.

I am sure you will all continue to sense an underlying garnish of sarcasm to my words but that is because I am British.  I can’t help it; I was born this way.  In fact, I maintain that all British people should have a sticker on their cars featuring a man with a pointy tongue spitting acid so that everybody knows a permanent sardonic tone is actually a social impairment which cannot be turned off.  But I digress.

So, in order to demonstrate some Christmas goodwill, I am going to talk to you about something which had really happened to me by the end of the working week.  That’s right: I am attempting to retract the jab in the title.  No catch.  So, here it is.  Enjoy it; it will probably never happen again:

What’s happened is that the dentist and I have pooled our wisdom and concluded my wisdom should be removed.  Wisdom tooth, that is.  As of two days ago, my first new chomper in over ten years has gone rogue and is now digging quite unpleasantly into my jaw muscle because there is no room at the metaphorical inn that is my gum.  Until its highly anticipated exile from my mouth, this enamel treachery has resulted in three dire consequences:

  1. I am now on two lots of antibiotics, one of which apparently gifts me with a spectacularly violent adverse reaction to even a drop of alcohol.  As such, I cannot break into my box of chocolate liqueurs or my birthday box of whiskies for at least another week.
  2. Conveniently, the limit to my jaw movement is just enough that I can no longer eat a Ferrero Rocher, my staple Christmas chocolate.  Late this morning, I had to actually take out a knife and cut one in half in order to make it manageable for me to eat.  It was truly a pitiful affair.
  3. The meds intermittently render my brain a squishy ball of cotton wool whilst the pain itself has nested like a warm nagging hedgehog in my left ear.

All of these problems, of course, pale in comparison to the procedure itself, which I am sure will be awash with tie-dye kittens and candy-flavoured flowers and gingerbread houses with free Wi-Fi.

Still, I have five hundred words of my Christmas carol story now on paper.  One good thing.  I fear it has deviated from the original plan insofar that I appear to have forgotten the ‘carol’ part of the task but, hey, at least it has words in it now.  Turns out I do actually have four bits and pieces to produce for the group, too, but I have until 24th January to pull it all together.  Tons of time.

Oh, wait.  Says here the Christmas thing is meant to actually make people laugh.

…Interesting.  I’ll, uh…  I’ll have to work something out for that.

Anyway!  Merry Christmas, one and all!  Drink your beverages and munch your chocolate, and think of me with my Diet Coke and pots of strawberry jelly.


I will keep my victory dance to a modest bum shuffle and head bop for the sake of politeness and good British decency.  But I did get it.  Yay!  Just got to dot some Is and cross some Ts in the paperwork department and I’ll start sometime in the New Year.  So happy!  Merry Christmas indeed!

And what a Christmas!  It feels like it’s crept up on me this year but, somehow, I have all my presents a week in advance.  I’m not positive how.  Perhaps it’s one of those sci-fi/thriller storylines where I’m having blackouts and being mind controlled, waking up with more and more shopping bags as my handler steers me towards a rare state of festive readiness.

Meanwhile I need to write that Christmas carol story for the writing group.  The plot has now completely changed to something more straightforward.  Essentially I’ve simplified it because the more I researched the harder it became to glue together the setting, characters and situation I had intended.  Instead I took my research in a completely different direction and got a touch preoccupied with the traditional local carol singing which takes place in pubs across Sheffield.  Given that Sheffield’s close to my heart I’ve decided to use that as the new basis for my story.  Christmas is all about heart, after all.

Well!  I’d better get a move on!

Nearly there, folks!

Good grief!  Several hours of research, writing and editing later and my article for this magazine is almost ready to fly electronically to the desk of an editor to be judged.  With a final read-through I can put the finishing touches on it… and then think relentlessly about what the frig I’ll wear to my interview.

I’ve really enjoyed rising to the challenge this week but I’ll still be glad to have sent it off.  Not just because it’s a box ticked and brings a feeling of achievement .  It’s also because my class and group have both ended for the Christmas period.  I feel edgy, like I need to write some fiction.  I need my fix, man!

It’s actually quite nice to feel that way, though.  Not nice that I’m fidgeting like a drug addict; just nice to know it’s in my bones now.  Finally writing has gone from being a passing activity to being some kind of creepy, unsettling addiction.  It means I’ll always keep busy and always keep adding to my portfolio – whether I like it or not (and writing tends to be 99% “or not” by definition).  I feel like I’ve got the bug and that I’m growing up.  Two good things.

I’ll let you know how the interview goes whenever I can, but expect delays as I’m seeing friends and family from Thursday until Saturday.  (Don’t worry, it’s just fallen that way. I’m not arrogant enough to organise a four-day ‘Got the Job’ rave party weeks in advance.)

Fingers crossed!

Final Project: Check. Bunch of New Stuff: Your Time is Nigh.

Seven thousand words refined for my final piece.  Seven thousand words.

Seven thousand.

Okay, I’m over it.  So, yeah, my final piece challenge has ended in the formal sense and I got to perform some of my work in the last session of class.  Not enough time to read all that much of it, but reading aloud is most definitely getting easier.  Give me some animated dialogue and I’m well away performing a one-man pantomime.

Now, that’s it: last lesson over until the new year!  Still, my time reading it aloud may be up but one thing’s for sure: I’ll be continuing this piece every chance I get.  It flows so well and I think it’s got some serious potential for publication.  I know everyone says that but, really, it does!

It’s kind of sad the class is over, but in another way I’m a bit relieved.  I have plenty of other stuff going on which needs my attention right now.

For a start, I have a Christmas competition with the writing group on top of my standard five pieces of work.  It has to be something to do with carol singers so I’ll have to pull my finger out if I want to avoid it being cheesy.  Let’s face it: in the writing world, lactose intolerance is a good thing.

Plus I’ve been asked to prepare a short article on a specific topic.  It’s part of an application process for an internship with a new magazine based locally to me.  I hear I’m one of the remaining three candidates and I’m heading to an interview with them in two weeks’ time.  Got to get my research skills on, as well as a haircut.

Nervous!  (For the interview, not the haircut.)  Wish me luck!

Flash Fiction

Hello all.   The final piece progresses nicely.  In the meantime, however, a lesson has taken place: it was about flash fiction.

Flash fiction, for anyone who doesn’t know (which seems unlikely because we are on the internet) is really short fiction of up to only a couple of hundred words or so.  There’s also Twitter fiction, where you fit a whole story into a single Tweet.

I was tasked with coming up with a few Twitter fictions.  I rather like writing them, in the same way I like writing text jokes and funny haikus and thinking of ridiculous puns: because I am an entertainer.  Not really, I’m just super immature.

So expect more tidbits of fiction and humour from me from now on – I plan to write them whenever my heart pleases.

Also this week, I have received 100 likes on this blog.  Yippee!  Thank you to everyone who helped me achieve it!

Until next week!

P.S. See what I did there?  I wrote a flash blog post.  It just seemed right somehow.


I jest.  I’m not doing my finals.  I’m British, I don’t even have finals.  I’m not even one hundred percent sure what finals are.

Nope, I’m talking about my final piece for class.  Basically, I have been tasked with coming up with a larger writing project, like a complete short story, to put together over four weeks.

So I sit down and realise that I do not have a clue what to write for this hypothetical short story.  Then I have an epiphany for a much larger idea which would most definitely take longer than four weeks.  With nothing else leaping out at me, however, I go right ahead and write the synopsis I was asked to put together on the off-chance I won’t end up presenting it.  Then I end up presenting it – and get unexpectedly inundated with collective enthusiasm.

So I have to write it now.

Not that this is some huge burden.  I mean, it’s still huge, but it’s not a burden.  It’s actually fun to write.  Funny but twisted, and really easy to fill with snappy dialogue – all aided by my recent, and curiously powerful, desire to watch old Buffy boxsets with their witty one-liners and loveable characters.  So this weekend I went ahead and got started writing it.  I started out a bit slow – a couple of five hundred word stints of dialogue in no particular chronological order – and then something happened: 9,000 words in three days.

It was scary not just because of its sheer quantity.  I’ve actually been writing everything in order this time, from the very first scene.  That never happens for me!  I mean, sure, it’s a first draft, so it needs a heck of a lot more work to be properly cohesive, but I’ve actually carved out a bunch of plot points I didn’t have a clue how to approach this time last Friday.

So, what have I learned, aside from that I am on freakin’ fire this week?  I’ve learned that nothing makes a person more productive than an embryonic concept.  The more you think about an idea, the more solid it becomes – and as Iris Murdoch said, “Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.”  So if you don’t get too attached to an idea in the first place, you’ll have less expectations of the finished product.  The fewer the expectations, the freer you are to just wing it in prose – and the more pleasantly surprised you are with what you create.

I’m also finally getting into the swing of writing first drafts.  It’s so cool, this almost free-writing task of just moving the story along without getting stressed about syntax and plot and characters.  There’s this passiveness to it, where your brain and typin’ fingers just crack on with it and don’t fuss over the details.

A good week.  A very good week.

Doctor Phew: Going Back In Time

I would like to contribute a groan as I extract myself from the joys of historical fiction, returning to the throes of good science and technology and women’s rights.  And blinding, unbridled consumerism.  I re-enter the 21st Century stage right.

Yeah, this was the latest writing task on the cards.  To place your ancestors – actual or imagined – at an important historical event.  Ouch, I tell you.  Ouch.

My family is not one of those clans where there’s a big helping of exotic blood in the mix.  Nor are we chock full war heroes – not that I understand warfare or military rank enough to wax easily about it, anyway.  For all intents and purposes, my folks most likely haven’t strayed from the Black Country in several hundred years.  There’s Welsh in here somewhere.  (You can’t see me, but I try to point to my blood, grow confused, and wave a hand over myself in a vague gesture towards my circulatory system.)  But that’s not exotic.  And there is every logical chance that they were just coal miners migrating from Montgomeryshire.

Also, I know nothing about Wales.

I’ve never been up on social history either, really.  I studied it once, back before I realised I had to invest my visualisation skills if I hoped to understand any of it.  I roll my eyes at the adorable sixteen-year-old version of me who studied those history notes so hard.  Who thought – took for granted, really – that all that knowledge would have more longevity than a tattoo transfer sticker.  So I couldn’t go back too far in time, Doctor.

I settled on the Wolverhampton area and picked a pretty neat event – a woman who was allowed to vote in a local election ballot before women’s suffrage was obtained, all because of a clerical error.  I placed her on the same street as my family and drew up a chance encounter.  Then I cracked my neck and knuckles, rolled back my shoulders, licked my lips and channelled the Black Country accent of days gone by.  Didn’t even have to buy a new Wolves strip to get into character.

It was painful to write.  It wasn’t a little piece but a full-on 2,000 word story by the end.  However, it was weirdly grounding.  I didn’t get to read it aloud because of how long it was.  But I looked around at my classmates, knowing many are from further afield, and felt pride.  The suburban town I live in now is a mongrel town, really.  It stands in one county but draws commuters from Birmingham and the South and other parts of the country.  I like the knowledge that I’m not just passing through; that I’m one of those playful, loud-laughing working class locals.  I look at my long miner’s palms, holding pens instead of pickaxes, and carry myself on the small miner’s legs which used to carry my forefathers into mines.  I admire the stories of my classmates, but admire my own equally.

It’s not Christmas yet.  But I feel kind of Christmassy.

Here’s a link to the delightful blog, Lost Wolverhampton, where I obtained some of my research.  If any of you are ever interested in the local history of Wolverhampton and the Black Country, it’s a great place to start.

The Mouse Speaks. At the… Mouse Conference

Alarming news, folks!  I am back in education.  Well, evening classes anyway.  That’s right, a creative writing class – as well as a monthly meet with a completely different posse.

(I apologise for, ‘posse.’)

Anyway, this has led me to practise an activity no good capitalist enjoys: sharing.

Yes, sharing.  I have to say, the idea of speaking aloud in front of a bunch of strangers is not something which has ever appealed to me.  I still get the residual palm-sweats from my schooldays, being roped into talking at a bunch of people who didn’t care what I had to say.  Plus I get the residual heartquakes from university presentations – where people did care what I had to say and would readily point out if I was wrong.

It’s also the nature of my personality to remember every unfortunate encounter with the demon of personal self-expression I have ever had.  Every screw-up and poorly fielded Q&A bounces back to me as vividly as the birth of my firstborn.

Okay, an exaggeration: I’m not that bad.  And a fabrication: I have yet to grace this planet with my spawn.

However, it is in my nature to hate expressing my feelings – at all – let alone my creativity.  I don’t even like spouting facts, let alone the dingy recesses of my part-of-the-job-description shadowy writer’s mind.  (I’m sure there is a minimum score one must achieve on a psychosis test to get into a writers’ guild.)

However, all that said, it’s actually turned out to be very rewarding!  After a few weeks I am finally beginning to improve my confidence – in my public speaking and my actual work.  Every time your comedy succeeds in making people laugh, or you manage to get a message across subtly without beating everyone over the head with it, it’s a damn good experience.

I’ve also had a chance to build my portfolio far more effectually than I was managing alone.  You see, these two groups both produce a lot of homework.  Class produces one piece per week; the meet produces five optional pieces per month.  Which, obviously, is pretty much another piece per week.  Working to short deadlines is really pushing me to complete work without dithering too much on the details, whilst still polishing it enough to feel comfortable reading it aloud.  It’s a balance I’ve struggled to establish under my own steam and I’m grateful for it.

Also, the groups help you to find inspiration in places which wouldn’t have occurred to you.  My teacher had one exercise, for example, where you pick a coin from your wallet and write something that happened to you during the year it is dated.  I had never thought of money like that before.  Makes me love it even more.

The groups also help you to gain perspective.  It’s amazing how varied other people’s work is and how differently they write and approach tasks.

It’s not just the writers, either: the two groups do things differently, too.  The class has a specific aim, topic, technique or medium in mind for each homework.  By contrast, the monthly meet involves several short improvisation exercises to get the noodle working.  Then the homework is an entirely different story.  They basically say, “Here are five themes to choose from.  Make them work in a piece of writing.”

Time to conclude.  I guess, what I’m saying is, join a group if you can.  No matter how ill-confident you are or how private you view your writing to be, it’s very important to go out and listen to other people.  It can boost your ego, help you improve and give you tons of new ideas.  Plus it gives you another life experience and lets you tap into other people’s – always a valuable tool.

Final note: the title of this post reminds me of the United Nations meeting between mice in The Rescuers.

Have a good week, guys!