One Month In; Two Books Down

Right.  I finished both Idoru and Miranda Hart’s first literary romp, Is It Just Me? this week. This may sound like I am a powerhouse of reading, but the truth is that I burned through at least half of Miranda’s book over a couple of days during the Christmas season.  It had been bought for me and I didn’t have Gibson’s to hand to finish first before starting it.  That’s right, I have been polyamorous with my books.  Polyliterate, if you will.

It was a good book, but has been something of a bad influence.  There are now just too many new ways to wreak havoc now.  I am quite competent at being insane by myself without help, ideas, a role model or instructions to go about being insane in public.  Soon the mental hospitals of the world will be filled with Mirandites, mistakenly picked up by people in white coats for galloping in art galleries and hiding in the stationery cupboard.

So!  What’s a girl to read next?  I’m a bit sci-fied out right now, if I’m honest.  I’m also somewhat serioused out after Miranda’s incredibly dark exploration of the psyche.  Looking at my predominantly sci-fi and/or serious collection, I have decided to opt for May Contain Nuts by John O’Farrell.  It’s a funny look at extremely over the top middle class parenting, and it’s already made me giggle to myself one chapter in.  Teach me the ways of comedic timing, John!

Meanwhile, next week I am starting my internship and going to a meeting of journalists for a local paper.  This makes May Contain Nuts my very first commuting book.  Oh yes.  How professional of me.  Just have to hammer out that accursed Christmas story before my articles take up all of my attention.

Good news, though.  I have concocted the characters on the other side of the door to my carol singers…


Idoru

The snow has arrived with the force of a billlion snowflakes.  Because it is a billion snowflakes.  The implications of this for me are a morning shovelling snow and the writing group being postponed for another week at the least.  Which is really bloody convenient because, quite honestly, I am way behind in my assignments!

I blame William Gibson, in part, but in a loving way.  I’ve been reading his novel Idoru as part of my resolution to read a book a month.  I almost finished it twice in the past three years or so before biting the bullet this time.  It’s a good book, but it just seems to catch me at points in my life when it is destined to not be finished.

Gibson writes sci-fi I assume is classified as soft but refuse to verify online at this point for fear of spoilers.  It is stunning in that the future he paints is something feasible and well-conceived; it’s modest enough in its projections that it doesn’t age itself but makes big enough leaps to be an interesting read.  In fact, it didn’t dawn on me it had been written in the late nineties until I suddenly noticed they were all jacking in with wires rather than without them.

There’s a Ghost in the Shell edge to it, for sure, but it doesn’t slap you around the head with cyborgs – normally the first calling card of the dated sci-fi.  .  He also paints a future which is neither dystopian nor utopian, which is immensely refreshing.  The world he shows us just is, the same way the present day world is, with its good points and its bad points.  Though I’ll admit, the good points are very good.  He makes me wish I owned a Sandbenders computer like Chia’s, or could see nodal points in a sea of internet data like Laney.

I’m most impressed with the representation of Japan.  Gibson captures the feel of the place incredibly well: the manic Japan of bright colours and cutesy things and the Japan of feverish overwork and obsession with technology; the orderliness and reservation of its traditional culture versus its capital, the insomniac metropolis.  Even the obliqueness, almost opaqueness, of its bureaucratic circles comes through.  He shows Tokyo being rebuilt with nanobots after an earthquake, which sounds quintessentially Japanese.  It’s truly impressive to properly capture a foreign culture, anyway, but to predict its future in a way which makes someone who knows a lot about Japan, like me, go, “Yeah, probably.”  That’s in a whole other class.

His style is very distinctive, too.  Sentence fragments standing alone.  Whenever he describes any person or small action, it makes you feel that you are his character, observing details as they are happening in a split-second communication between the optic nerve and the brain.  There’s something almost passive about it which makes it feel more real.

His characters are also first class.  Chia, a fourteen-year-old fan of a band, is delightfully competent, thoughtful and not obnoxious in the slightest, and yet Gibson doesn’t forget she is a teenager at any point in his portrayal of her.  Maryalice is completely awesome, the flighty, slightly crazy southern belle of whom we just don’t get to see enough.  Not to mention Kathy, the orchestrator of celebrity at TV network Slitscan, who believes avidly in a natural order of fame and its decline.

I knew Gibson was a legendary sci-fi writer, but reading his stuff really raises my ambitions.  I want to achieve what he does in his work and take what I can from his very distinctive and gritty style.  My only problem right now is that his very distinctive and gritty style is all that’s in my typing fingers when I’m trying to write a comedy!

With that, I shall leave you.  But only with my favourite quote from Kathy Torrence:

“[Slitscan’s audience] is best visualized as a vicious, lazy, profoundly ignorant, perpetually hungry organism craving the warm god-flesh of the anointed. Personally I like to imagine something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It’s covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth, Laney, no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote. Or by voting in presidential elections.”


Where to, Guv’ner?

Every once in a while, one sits at one’s desk and one wonders where one’s characters are wandering off to next.

Try saying that after a couple of whiskies.

Having made a New Year’s resolution to finish my book, it occurred to me on Monday that I was one week into said New Year and had not so much as glanced at it.  Then I realised in a cold sweat that, after fifty-one more weeks of similar progress, I’ll have failed my challenge.  Thus, I set to work, addressing the snag I knew was going to catch me one day.  For the sake of simplicity and larks, we shall call this problem, “Where to, Guv’ner?”

I think the journey aspect of any adventure is the hardest part to write.  If you’re anything like me, you can write a beginning, you have some vague but flexible ideas about the end game and you know a couple of pivotal points along the way.  It’s making the in-between bits a) connect these events together, b) lead to new plot points and characters and c) interesting.

Alas, I knew the time had come: I was going to have to get to grips with the landscape – the actual physical journey my characters are making.  Time to forge a map.  However, I was so stumped as to what I wanted this world to look like that I began to seriously doubt a paper map was going to be the way forward.

To this end, I started using a free app I shall recommend to you now.  It is called Idea Sketch.  It’s nothing groundbreaking: a large canvas and some bubbles of various colours, shapes and text sizes into which one may enter a title and description.  If you’re feeling truly sprightly and innovative, you might perhaps attempt to connect these bubbles together with arrows – as if they are related.

Granted, this practice is a bit fiddly.  Not only did I find myself unable to delete said arrows; I found myself inadvertently creating extra arrows in my attempts to do so.  Perhaps the arrows element would better serve a person building a regular mind map, where the precise connections between concepts aren’t likely to randomly move about.  However, for me, trying to squeeze in extra place names in a sort of linear geographical affair, it went a bit pear-shaped.

I decided to resolve this issue by simply not joining the bubbles, keeping them separate but close enough together to remember my routes.  This worked out far better.  I suggest you learn from my mistakes, and do this right from the off, rather than assume you are cleverer than me and can harness the arrows’ awesome power.  I make this suggestion out of love: when I tried to abort the arrows fiasco, I discovered that deleting one bubble deletes every other bubble joined to it, as if they are sharing organs or have made some kind of suicide pact.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: it sounds like trouble.  Why not just use Word or PowerPoint?  Well, to use Word or PowerPoint, I’d have to have to be sat at a laptop, which sort of stunts the creativity in the ideas stage.  On the iPad I can lounge about, looking at my map thoughtfully over several hours, whilst handily continuing with my life at the same time.  Multitasking.

Another advantage is that the iPad makes for more efficient zooming.  Plus the larger canvas means you don’t have to wrestle with page sizes to keep all your bubbles together.

Also, Word and PowerPoint’s shape functions, whilst eventually able to get the job done, do tend to fall down at key moments for no readily apparent reason.  Considering the money and research behind them, I do find any set diagram – though good in principle – simply can’t cope if I delete a box or try to move things about a bit.  It’s as if it was placed in charge of a psychotically needy relative as a child and now breaks down screaming, “What do you want from me?!” if you ask to borrow its pencil sharpener.

Also, when things go wrong on the iPad, I either blame myself for having butter fingers or forgive Idea Sketch its sins, because it’s just a little tiny baby free app and, coochy-coochy-coo, aren’t you cute with your limited capabilities and inexperienced developers?

By contrast, Word and Powerpoint… upset me.  Quite frankly, the idea of a mainstream word processor, on its umpteenth version, having a panic attack when I try to place a text box a few pixels to the right, fills my tantrum meter so fast you’d think I was a toddler, in an itchy sweater with too-long sleeves, dropping an ice cream cone in one hand and holding a complicated big kid toy I can’t work in the other.  With a tummy ache.

What was I talking about?  Oh, yes, my map app.  (Sorry.  Didn’t mean to rhyme quite that hard.)

Idea Sketch has its flaws, but, provided you avoid the arrows and make good use of the undo button, it can be quite a helpful tool for plotting your characters’ journeys.  Good if you don’t want to spend hours refining a drawn map, or buying new computers because Microsoft Office’s I’m-sure-very-attractive-if-it-found-the-right-person traits have rendered you a serial hardware defenestrator.

In my case, it was actually very helpful.  I’m much further along in my characters’ journey and am getting a feel for my setting.  Now I just have to keep writing and work out what comes next.


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.


Success!

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!