New shoes

Stick, twist or fold? The angst of the unproven writer. With apologies for navel-gazing and lack of tomfoolery.

I’ve been struggling a bit for motivation recently – I haven’t written anything new for a while and I haven’t been running in almost a month. The burden of freedom is choice – I hope someone more eloquent (or leoquent, as I originally typed – I had a vision of someone with Leo Sayer-sized hair ‘lalalaing’ at their keyboard) said that at some point and I’ve just assimilated it. Otherwise, I’ve got a cork up my backside. Anyway, one of the unforeseen problems of being self-employed is that I must make my own horizon, chart my own path. Sometimes I can see for miles, other times it feels like I’m standing at the mouth of a labyrinth.

It’s funny how weekends and bank holidays become meaningless. Even the hours in the day lose their impact – it’s really a matter of how much others expect to interact with you (says the wannabe hermit).

The major writing dilemma I face (the running one is simply manning up to running in the rain/snow/sub-optimal mud/road/tarmac mix) is over Tom’s Universe. If, as seems increasingly likely, I can’t garner any interest from agents – let alone publishers – then I need to make the classic poker decision – stick, twist or fold? Do I simply send the same material out to other agents? Revise what I’ve done? Or start something new? I’m not really sure which is harder (I’m usually drawn to the most unlikely or difficult course of action), but for once in my life, I’m just a little fed up with it (writing) – as the song suggested by Meg in the previous post joyfully proclaims in the chorus, ‘give me a break, for fuck’s sake’.

There are so many ideas and stories in my head that sometimes I get stuck as to what to write next. Everything seems to be in a constant state of drafting – and the queue gets longer and longer. Should I spend some time on my short stories? Start the next novel to take a break from Tom? Try and find someone to work with to create a ‘game’ story / app? Am I really a writer, or am I simply pretending to do this while the more socially difficult work (getting and retaining clients) is neglected? Ultimately, rightly or wrongly, as anti-social as I become, I can’t call myself a writer until I’m paid to write. (And yes, I know I do copywriting and other corporate writing, but that’s simply not the same – for a start it’s simpler, and it’s more lucrative).

I had hoped that finishing the novel, or sending it off, would make me feel like a writer. But it doesn’t. I still feel like the amateur I am. I know that sometimes I write well, and sometimes I don’t. I know that sometimes I expect too much of my readers, and other times I’m folding a paper aeroplane in 27 steps (did you ever do that as part of a training session – write instructions for how to perform a seemingly simple task? I was never very good at condensing those into the ‘right’ number of steps).

Anyhoo, I don’t mean to moan. I just haven’t written anything (anywhere, not just in this blog) for a while, and I needed to get the fingers moving – I will probably simply unpublish this entry later.

I am very lucky. I have a very supportive wife and friends, and despite my best attempts at doing no marketing whatsoever, I do have a little trickle of paying work that keeps me in rye bread and roobois tea while I sit on my increasingly large arse and contemplate my navel. Hmm. Maybe a run is really the best option now. Although it is raining….

Perhaps it’s the winter blues.

Ok. Enough. I think today is the day for some new shoes – a new short story in the series (as opposed to the four in draft). Although Colm Toibin would apparently disapprove (the Guardian’s Top Ten Tips for Fiction were some chicken soup for the soul on Saturday). And while we’re at it: The Delgados – If this is a plan

Rejection song

Reminiscing about rejection songs, as I mark yet another step in becoming a writer – my first rejection letters from literary agents.

When I was younger, I had a ‘rejection song’ – for those times when the bottom of a pint pot wasn’t quite dark enough, or there was still an ounce of joy (see previous post) hiding meekly in my boot, or under an armpit or something (not so much  ‘ode to joy’ as ‘eau de boi’, but I digress). For most of my ‘lost’ years when I should have been in lectures or practising some coruscating wit on my tutors (students were, and are, sheep, for the most part) it was ‘Is she really going out with him?’ by Joe Jackson (no, not Michael Jackson’s father, the other Joe Jackson – the talented one).The genius of this song is that the chorus is a genuine ‘pint aloft’ celebration, while the verses are ‘smack the pint pot on the counter’ miserable (and you can do it on or off the beat, depending on how much tequila you’ve drunk). You can even, if the need arises, scrum down and spray the words at your fellow neanderthals in a shuffling ruck near the quiz machine.

C’est la vie, c’est la guerre.

I guess, looking back, I didn’t really have many problems in life, so I decided I should simply concentrate them all on the girl with purple hair not liking me enough to make kissyface, or at least not liking me so much as she liked other boys (and more memorably, girls – although tuppencelicking merely added to the ‘ecstacy of the agonies’ or whatever teenage male hormones become. Sweat and zits, mostly.).  As the initial jaunty chords of Joe’s magnum opus blared over the jukebox, I would narrow my eyes and scowl meaningfully over at the corner where the cool kids sat, and perform some kind of astral projection, willing the lyrics to reveal some kind of epiphany to the girls that my personality (if there was one at the time) simply could not. Meanwhile, the girl with the purple hair would make a discreet exit and go somewhere infinitely cooler with her boyfriend. Who, you know, probably had a car or something. Or didn’t spend every night getting smashed into oblivion while listening to adolescent anthems in the SU bar.

Sigh. Music to bring you down. The forgotten album of forgetting. I had an entire ‘festive top seven’, as I termed it. Seven slices of miserable pie to share with the rest of the bar, all for the princely sum of £1 and a little pride. What’s that Arthur? Oh yes, same again please….

Anyway, the point – today at least. My mail today was self-addressed – my first grown-up ‘rejections’. Jobs come and go, house near-purchases can sting a little, even relationships-gone-wrong lose some of their bite after a while. But today I received my first Rejections (capital R) in a long time – from literary agents.

I have been expecting them – statistically I think I should eventually rack up around 22 (although I only have one more query out in the wild at present).  And I can snatch a crumb of comfort from the fact that the agent I really want hasn’t rejected it – yet. But it’s coming, I suspect. And opening these letters reminded me of coping mechanisms of the past. And how I should really prepare a ritual song for situations like this. It’s a little more forgiving than chocolate.

But what should this song be? What, dear reader, should I greet my ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ form letters from literary agents with?

I need something angry, yet veined with self-doubt, and perhaps some form of subtle rebuke hinting at their inevitable recognition of my genius. (Yes, a different form of genius from Joe Jackson’s. Although perhaps I should simply put all I have learnt while sitting on bar stools watching purple-haired girls make kissyface with other purple and non-purple-haired folk into song-based form, and make millions. Millions I tell you. Although now that I think about it, I am the most likely target market. So I would have to sell the song for a million pounds. Which entails having a million pounds to spend on a song. Which might require selling some books first. It’s complicated, financially, I guess. Which is why I never had a car to attract purple-haired girls in the first place. Though, I could always afford £1 for the jukebox).

So anyway, if you can think of any suitable songs, do suggest them in the comments below – I’m genuinely curious (and it might cheer me up a little)….

Joy

Aural hallucinations and the strange attraction of Mogwai for writers of dark, comic fiction. Contains tea.

I have been listening to Ikon: Music for the Soul and Spirit (Harry Christophers & The Sixteen) a lot recently. When I’m writing fiction, I like to listen to instrumental music – preferably with a lot of white noise – such as Mogwai (and I have to confess here, that like drinking Highland Park, this is inspired by Ian Rankin’s habits – but a little bit of mindless hero-mirroring never did anyone any harm. It’s not like I go around trying to grow beards, eat dogfood or make wasp factories or you know, act mostly harmlessly, or anything. (‘Mostly harmlessly’? Seriously, Ivan, sort your -lys out.).

The white noise element – loud, shapeless or distorted guitars – helps to empty my head of other imagery so that I can focus on the scene in hand. It’s one less distraction in the process. If I could, I would probably write in the dark. Although being unpublished, I cannot afford the special ‘see in the dark’ eye transplants that I hear all the top authors are getting nowadays. I’ve also just realised that I  tend to chew a lot (gum, I know, disgusting habit, but it’s healthier than biscuits) when I’m writing.

Together, these sensory deprivations/restritions all add to the blank canvas for me – the act of listening to the same thing, chewing the same taste etc all helps to create the environment for me to focus on creating new sights, sounds, tastes, smells…

Occasionally, I break my own rules with music with vocals in other languages – the only rule is that it can’t have easily identifiable English words in them – in case I type them by mistake. So I also listen to a lot of Scandinavian music, like Sigur Ros. I also tried branching out with The Necks, remembering a recommendation from someone whose opinion I value, but it took too long to arrive (as noise), and distorted the writing flow.  I sometimes wonder if you can tell what I was listening to when I wrote a particular piece. I think you can, but then I think a lot of things about my writing that aren’t obvious to other readers. In my head, most of what I write is full of many coloured threads, whereas most readers just see black. And matt black, at that. C’est la vie… c’est la nuit.

Je digress.

Where was I? Oh yes, ‘joy’. When I’m doing my freelance work (which tends to require a pedantic, analytic mindset, rather than what I feel is ‘creativity’ (others may disagree))  I tend to listen to classical music – or opera if I’m feeling very Morse-like (he is the Uber Pedant, at whose feet we proto-grumpies all worship). I’m a bit of a classical ignoramus (in all senses), so I forget what I do and don’t have, or what composer I like etc. I’m one of these dreadful people who tends to associate the ‘better’ classical pieces with adverts or moving images, so associations and memories tend to blend into one another, regardless.

I guess this simply reinforces the idea that listening to classical music is, traditionally, a form of penance, or devotion.

Which leads me to Harry Christophers & The Sixteen. I’d forgotten how much I like choral music. It can be both deeply soothing and yet uplifting at the same time. And it has obvious appeal for anyone who has an interest in monks and monastic life (more on this in the blog, soon). Choral music is aural tea, basically.

Somewhere in the Ikon collection is a song that repeats the refrain ‘Joy’ several times – with each part of the choir singing it at a slightly different cadence (sorry, I forget the technical term for this, but it’s effect is like a wave of ‘Joy’ with different frequencies – peaks and troughs of sound that ripple around the room). It gives me goosebumps. An amazing surge of endorphines rush around my body and I have the overwhelming urge to join in (but for the sake of my neighbours, I don’t).

It makes me think of cliff tops, and druids, and darkly lit cathedrals and the sea and the birds swirling and viking warrior parties returning from a raiding voyage, and…so many other things, all wrapped up in a few precious seconds. It’s just magical. For those few moments, time stands still in my head and I am lost in a maelstrom of images and feelings.  I can see, touch… smell things that aren’t there – like an intense narcotic experience.  It’s a beautiful piece of music.

And you know what? I’ve listened to the collection umpteen times since, and I can’t find that refrain again. It’s an auditory hallucination. Has that ever happened to you? There’s something peculiar about music – this doesn’t happen in the other senses (I think, am I wrong?).

Of course, in writing this post, I’ve had to check again, and I have finally found the segment in question – it’s two minutes into ‘A Child’s Prayer‘ – and is nowhere near as impressive as my memory of it. Funny that, isn’t it? I almost wish I’d not found it, now.

Becayse, it’s there in my head, clear as a bell. ‘Joy’. Perhaps someone’s trying to tell me something.

Join in, everybody – ‘joy!’.

On clothing

Waiting for feedback, remembering what it’s like to be a freelancer and the ghosts of clothing mishaps past and present.

One of the things I like most about my writing ‘career’ is that I get to wear what I like while I’m ‘working’. Being a man, this usually equates to the bare minimum of dignity, no concern for cut, style or even cleanliness of the garments, and fasteners, if any, must be loose and preferably elasticated. This is to accommodate the classic ‘writing’ positions – standing to stare out of the window, leaning back in the chair to stare out of the window, chewing religiously while staring out of the window or shuffling up and down stairs to the kettle without upsetting the wife or neighbours too much (we have that modern curse – large expanses of glass – covering 50% of the kitchen exterior surface).

Today is a little different. I am wearing my Not Quite West London But Close shirt, and some khaki pants (sorry, trousers) that get worn once every 18 months because they are hideous enough for me to notice that they’re hideous (which is a lot of hideousity. Hideousness? Hidelity?) As an example of how little I notice these things, I have, in my time bought and worn the following: three monks’ habits (the longest of long stories), am aberdeen-angus coloured blazer/jacket (sans horns), a nuclear-yellow long sleeved shirt from Banana Republic (I loved it, but eventually spilled purple nail varnish on it – another long story), tweed trousers at least four inches too short (another very long story), a rubberised macintosh (from a second-hand shop, no fetishism intended – I ripped it to bits in a moped accident), compression socks (for running – similar to those Paula Radcliffe wears although I suspect my feet and calves are twice her size), lycra shorts (for the gym, worn under another pair of shorts for modesty – thereby defeating some of the purpose of owning said item, although they do feel nice – but again, no fetishism intended) and umpteen fluorescent or otherwise gaudy items emblazoned with the Fetcheveryone logo for running, plodding and pootling in.

So, as you’ll observe, I have little ‘taste’ in clothes, and a blissfully under-developed fashion sense – to the extent that one of my mother’s favourite stories about me is the time she refused to be seen with me while out shopping together, as my holey jumper made me look like a vagrant, or that she was neglecting me. I had to shuffle along six paces behind. Which suited my teenage self fine, I suspect. Although I couldn’t really see through my fringe, so it was all moot anyway.

But put me in a suit… and instantly I feel uncomfortable. Partly it’s a size thing – I’m built like Spongebob Squarepants (nice legs, with a slab of butter for a torso. Ok, so that’s not Spongebob, but if I said Butterbob no-one would get the reference), but it’s mostly an attitude thing. I was a film student, briefly, and so I learnt about ‘tippage’ (the act of casting people who look like the profession they are portraying) and know the barest minimum (barely above pub quiz) about existentialism (something to do with Sartre and jumpers for goalposts). And whenever I put on formal trousers, or worse, a tie, I feel like a fraud. I feel like I’ve jumped class, or abandoned punk or something – although truth be told I’m the most conservative non-comformist you could find.

I have a similar problem with sunglasses. I can’t wear them. My pavlovian reaction is ‘ooh, look at me’, whereas the intent of the item is usually the exact opposite. I feel like I’m lying. I feel compelled to take them off and show the world what I’m feeling. Apprehension, mostly. I’m pretty apprehensive about most things. I used to think I was miserable, but now I mostly think I’m apprehensive. It’s progress, but only if you count it on some infinite scale of Marvins.

And I’m sitting here, with a fresh haircut, smart-ish clothes and feeling much worse than if I’d slipped on my Very West London Darling jeans (bought under duress, and with much flustering of the shop assistants in Gant with my utter cluelessness about the proper seat-riding/bottom positioning of ludicrously overpriced denim leg coverings). Because it feels like I’m trying. And I hate that. I like to be flip, and cynical, and think ‘yes, I could have got that/done that, but you know, next time I’ll try’. And the smart clothes, to me, are a very public sign of trying.

And why am I dressed up? Well, I have a meeting. A Nice Person has offered me some paid work (potentially), and it would be fun and interesting to do – and more importantly take my mind off waiting for the rejection slips to come back from the agents I queried (it’s funny, I’m almost willing them to be rejections – so I can wear them like a badge or something. Again – it’s a ‘trying’ thing). And with typical inverted snobbery, I have dressed up to meet my expectations of them – without really knowing much about the company. I do that a lot, and it’s something I thought I’d grow out of.

Anyhoo. Here I sit, trying but not trying; researching, but not learning; typing, but not writing.

Waiting, and yet not waiting.

What is done, is done, and cannot be undone. Or it can’t if you post the badger.

In which the author wibbles on about querying agents, and is happy that the Royal Mail has no Apple-Z or CTRL-Z function. Or does it? Please say it doesn’t.

So, my glorious non-existent readership, I have done it. I have queried N number of agents today (where N is any number greater than 1 but still within the realms of taste and decency. Let’s call it three. And you can be Queen of Decency and I will be the Tasteful Prince. Or Lieutenant Consort. Big grand chief poohbah (I still get traffic for that phrase, not entirely sure why)).

I have queried before – I sent a rather desperate letter to PFD in 2001, I think. And in the circumstances (rubbish writing, sans clue) they wrote back very politely, but I haven’t had a finished novel behind it. I haven’t spent weeks agonising over revisions. I haven’t spent a week on the first chapter, re-drafting till I felt an anxiety attack approaching and went for a run instead. I haven’t spent three days writing and re-writing and re-writing and, oh you get the picture, the synopsis (still too long, but I am. Just. Too. Tired. Of. It. All. Now.). I haven’t spent a day agonising over my four /five para query letter. I haven’t….

…changed the title in a last-minute wobble. It’s back to the original title – Tom’s Universe. The Quixote angle was driving me nuts, although I suspect that Tom Quixote will be where it ends up (well, it would be if I could stomach the re-writes).

I even remembered to check the client list of each agent to give them a nudge as to who my writing is absolutely nothing like. Sigh.

In some ways I’ve got the most difficult bit of my writing career out of the way now. I finished the debut, edited it, tried to make it more appealing and I’ve finally put it out there for rejection by the professionals. Because that, statistically, is what’s going to happen. One agent takes on 3 clients a year. Another agency mentioned 6000 queries a year. The maths isn’t hard. And I’m not being down on myself. I like the book. I freaking hate chapter 2. But them’s the breaks. There are some bits that are better than others. My favourite character, should you ever read it, is the nun. I liked her.

And while I’m not ‘free’ of Tom yet –  I still have some tinkering to do, after all – assuming that no agent will touch it, that means I can finally write something else. I’ve been writing this sodding book, in one manner or another, for eighteen years. And it’s not an 18 year-wait kind of book. And I’m not an 18-year-wait kind of author. I’m hoping to complete at least two more novels this year. The stories are buzzing, the environment is right.

I just needed to go through the process. And I really do feel like I’ve put myself through the wringer. I’m quite lucky in some respects to write on a computer (that also backs up in umpteen places) or I strongly suspect I’d have burnt the manuscript.  In the re-writes for the submission package, I think I wrote 12k words for a 9k segment that I already had. It felt like I was adding more and more colour – and yet it was staying the same resolutely shit brown colour, like there was nothing left I could do.

Just for fun, I held done the ‘Undo’ keys in Scrivener as I replayed the editing I had made to the blurb yesterday. 5 hours of my life replayed in 60 seconds as text marched around the screen for seemingly no purpose. Have you ever seen a speed-painting video? It was like one of them. Soul destroying – to see so much imprecision and uncertainty – to know it’s me.

Anyway. It’s done now. I will never be able to query these specific agents for the first time again. Not unless I invent a time machine. And if I did that, I’d probably spent far too much time trying to work out what colour to paint it.

And I guess I should probably earn some money, seeing as if all does go to plan, I am on the road to being a poor author.

Pobre Ivan.

Thank you to everyone who helped along the way. (Yes, I know it’s just the beginning, but it’s the end of the beginning, isn’t it?)

Tease me, tease me

Update on the re-draft and preparations for the agent submission process.

The (long) first chapter is edited and waiting for its chums to hurry up and catch up. It’s grown a little in revision, which is not entirely desirable, but I think it now establishes the key themes in the plot a bit better. And as it’s moved forward in the reading order, it makes sense for the establishing scene to be the longest in the book.

I’ve been up since 5:30 – once I get in the novel mindset I tend to be pretty consumed with it. Not good for conversation (as I tend to mainly want to talk either in or about characters), but very good for productivity. I really feel like things have finally clicked into place, and the creative engine, which was a little temperamental – perhaps it’s a diesel brain – is now purring along nicely.

Thanks to Laurence for the comment yesterday. I do appreciate it when people speak up from the ether. I’ve revised the long blurb (offline) to make things a little clearer and I have produced a condensed version more in line with the tone of the book, and so suitable for a teaser.  What do you think – I keep tinkering and tinkering, and I’m still not entirely satisfied?

~o~

Tom Esher lives in a world of his own. Well, two, if you count the time he spends as Monk Quixote – itinerant knight, occasional hero and entirely virtual. Maggie, his girlfriend, tells him that there’s a third – the space between his ears. These worlds – his universe – are governed by strange rules and rituals that he makes up to help him keep the Gods of Irony at bay. It’s mostly harmless fun, isn’t it?
Tom’s comfortable muddle of a life is turned upside-down by the dying wish of Frank, his estranged father – a request that will lead Tom on a very personal adventure – a quest for understanding, forgiveness, and redemption that will span his entire universe.

~o~

I don’t know if I need the further description of Monk Quixote (he’s a character in an online game, but I’m not sure you need to know that if you’re just reading the back cover. He’s also a silver cheetah, but that’s by the bye). I’m also not happy with ‘comfortable muddle’, which smacks a bit of ‘ooh, look at him trying to write fancy’. I know, the irony is crushing. But hey, everyone learns eventually, eh?

Rien ne va plus

After much faffing, huffing, displacing and stressing, the second, agent-ready, draft begins.

No further bets. I’ve had all the reviews and commentary I can use on my first draft, and I’ve thought and mulled and pondered and teased and rubbed and rung bells and talked and thought some more. I have the revisions I want to make to the plot in my head. Having had to describe the novel to lots of people in the past few weeks I think I finally have the teaser and the synopsis reduced into words that might prompt a reader (or agent, in this case) to pick it up.

~o~

The long blurb

We all have our demons to fight; we all have our burdens to bear. Monk Quixote is the story of how two estranged men – father and son – deal with theirs.
Tom Esher’s comfortable muddle of a life is turned upside-down by the dying wish of Frank, his estranged father – a request that will lead Tom on a quest – for understanding, forgiveness, and redemption.
He travels from his safe, private, unique universe of rules and routines that exist mostly in his head, into Frank’s world – full of strange, chaotic people in unfamiliar places – where myths and hopes are bound up in near-sacred objects, talismans and books…and people drink a lot.
At the same time, he will try to juggle his job, his ‘not sure where this is going’ relationship, his ‘normal’ friends and the minimum of basic housekeeping with the amount of time he spends in an entirely virtual world – where he re-invents himself as Monk Quixote, a silver-furred hero that is everything that he is not.
Through a series of journeys, intoxications and chance encounters, Tom uncovers secrets about his father that paint both of them in a new and occasionally startling light – including discovering a treasure more precious to Tom than, well, levelling up as Monk Quixote will ever be.
By finally accepting the series of coincidences and their consequences that have led to his present, Tom learns to forgive himself for some of the choices he has made in his life. In doing so, he frees himself from some of the chains he has unwittingly tied himself to…
How much of this is deliberate on Frank’s part, and how much is simply the Gods of Irony playing with Tom, is left to the reader to decide.

~o~

So now all I have to do is take my writing axe and go lop down some adverbs, hone some characters and clear the path for my plot a little.  On the plus side, there’s relatively little re-writing. On the minus side, my track record with tweaking is not great – I am one of the few editors I know whose word count increases when they edit.

I have been listening to a Spanish language Don Quixote audiobook, so I must try not to write the word ‘castanets’ too often in my editing window. I have also just started the excellent The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas, so if I suddenly introduce some apostles and beech trees, well, we’ll know where they came from…

Ok. Enough now. Prevarication upon displacement avoidance upon avoidance tactic. I have five days to get this draft out to agents before my 38th birthday.

Ladies and gentlemen, no further bets.

Wish me luck.

Words, words everywhere and nary an editor in sight

Writing about the editing process, and pondering the ironic feedback loop of how much better this post would have been had I edited it….

The manuscript has sat, a paper hippo wallowing on my kitchen table, for the past six weeks. I have prodded it, wrapped it in rubber bands, poked it with a pencil. I have picked at it, shouted at it, threatened it, with no result. The title page sits, unflappable, calm, presumed dead.

Various friends and family have given feedback, and I have sought solace and inspiration in the words of others. I have tried, and failed, umpteen times, to describe what it is meant to be about – and been corrected at nearly every turn by my readers. Layers are all very well, but you have to make the initial wrapper attractive – and not in a Rowan Atkinson Love Actually way. So, I’ve gone back to first principles – the book that started it all (Don Quixote – a children’s version; and just last night I finished my skim re-read of Self-editing for fiction writers, which is still the best creative writing ‘how to’ book I’ve read. Once I finish this draft I will go back to Carole Blake’s From Pitch to Publication… just in case, you know…).

I’ve been stuck. A lot of the problems with writing long-form, I’ve found, are simply mechanical… procedural. How do I find the time? The will? What tools should I use? How do I work best? How much should I (attempt to) write each day? Revise as I go or at the end? Etc etc.

Well, the same problem has hit once I finished the first draft. How much effort in polishing now, before comments? Who to send it to for first impressions? How long to wait? What to do with what people say? Learning how to receive criticism from friends has been interesting – trying to distinguish between kindness and genuine praise, learning to weigh personal preferences against each other (even if it’s just for me to say ‘no, that character/word/plotline is fine as it is’).

And now, having run out of, well, desire rather than patience, for any more feedback, I’m stuck as to how to edit. I made one unwitting mistake in software choice. I use Scrivener for creating stories, which does exactly what I want it to do and no more. It helps me create and it helps me structure. It doesn’t do page numbering, or other formatting things, so I tinkered in Pages (I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about using Microsoft or Google tools). And, this is the bit I need to remember not to do again, I corrected typos in my Pages version.

Pages, however, won’t let me easily make the further formatting changes I need to make to ensure it’s in standard submission format –  it’s screwed up first-line indents, chapter heading spacings,  added hyphenation for some unfathomable reason etc. All of these a little harder than I could bear to correct one by one.- it’s the wrong tool for what I want to do (or my knowledge and the time I’m willing to invest is poor – either way, it doesn’t get the job done). So I tried editing on paper, but it just ‘feels’ wrong. I know – blasphemy – but I’ve only ever written or edited on screen before. Proofing works better on paper, but I can’t move things around – or write in that peculiar manner I have (I write like other people paint).

So I’ve ended up back in Word, which tastes a little like defeat, but at least it’s a pragmatic defeat. And being me, it’s given me ample time to faff, to huff, to puff and allow myself to be too easily discouraged.

And I have my list from the Self-Editing book:

1. How am I controlling time?

2. Resist the Urge to Explain

3. Don’t explain dialogue that doesn’t need it (dialogue qualifiers)

4. Check where and when speaker attribution is necessary (I’ve used it religiously, throughout)

5. Ellipsis for gaps – dashes for interruptions

6. Allow dialogue to stutter, stumble and flow with commas. (Remove some of my staccato full stops)

7. Check for repetition (of phrasing, plot, dialogue/narrative)

8. Are all my incidental characters really necessary?

But today I have run out of further excuses. Other than I’m tired. And Marek the carpenter is butchering the garden door as I speak. And I want to change the title of the novel. And I haven’t read enough of Riskglossary.com.

And.

And.

It’s a little scary, really, isn’t it? The longer you take to finish, the longer you can pretend it’s a good read, that people will like it, buy it, and that I will earn enough to live off my writing. That some mad fool might make it into a film. That I could direct. And write the music for. And win a simultaneous Bafta, Brit and Booker.

You know. Dreams. Dreams are only ever shattered by real things. If the real thing never exists, you can cling on to your dreams….

And so to bed. I mean, work. See you on the other side of the agents’ draft.

Feel free to chastise me or give me tips in the comments….

Mouldy peach sunrise

I wake and decide to go for a chilly early morning 5 mile run along the Thames. I jog along dead man’s beard pavements covered in frozen chewing gum and dog turd

I wake and decide to go for a chilly early morning 5 mile run along the Thames. I jog along dead man’s beard pavements covered in frozen chewing gum and dog turd. I reach the river and turn towards a beautiful mouldy peach sunrise, bands of purple and orange and crimson, topped with dark wisps of cloud. Streetlights – reedy metal pensioners – sucking on an amber fag, huddle together on corners and avoid all the really dark places. The underpass is lit, and less threatening than during the day. Even the litter is frozen to the spot.

On the horizon, I can see planes stacking for Heathrow. Even they look beautiful in the sunrise, sleek black metallic swans picked out perfectly against the bruised sky. They are relentless, a factory of new arrivals, soon-to-be-memories and occasionally, hope. I wonder if each successive plane carves the path a little deeper, like runners on a trail.

I wave at nothing in particular and carefully blow my nose into a hanky while running. It is an idiosyncracy of mine, I know. But it does not feel right to make snot projectiles. Once a catholic schoolboy….

My only companions are fellow travellers in fluorescent clothing – poking in drains or sitting hunched up in misted up Transits, willing the clock to go slower. I wonder about the vans, parked up in an area of dim repute, and pity anyone who has to work this early. As for working girls, well, I cannot imagine the desperation. Or from the man’s perspective, the satisfaction. I plod on.

A car stops several times on the road alongside me – about 20 yards or so across the riverside scrub. I fancy I’ve interrupted something illicit, and that the car’s occupants are sizing me up, or are looking for clues to find me again – they can hunt me down by the insignia on my running hat. But it is just a woman  trying to get a signal on her mobile phone, leaning out of her metal cocoon wrapped in coats, gloves and furry hat. The call must be important. Or she is quite madly in love with the view across to Barnes.

A flock of geese trundle overhead, flying in perfect formation. I wonder if geese aspire to be the pilot, the navigator, or whether they’re quite happy to be ‘Right Goose Three’? I suppose they’re just happy to be alive. Flying in formation. ‘It’s what we do’, say the geese. That and ruin the grass. A lone parakeet skirrets across the sky. I hope it’s cold. Then maybe it will go home. They don’t belong here. Perhaps it could hitch a lift from Heathrow.

I pass several hardy runners. Most are resolutely doing the five yard stare, the learnt mistrust of apparently smooth surfaces all too apparent on their unhappy faces. All are plugged into their own private world, tell tale wires dripping from their ears – perhaps they are running androids, and this is their feeding mechanism? They are wrapped, like me, in layers of synthetic clothing, while doing very real effort.This isn’t fun. This is duty. Like flying in formation.

I listen to Underworld and try to ignore the pains in my legs. I move my hips forward but my shoulders slump. I try to elongate my stride but I appear to be doing a fast duck walk. I settle for old chinese lady running, all pitter patter feet and hip wiggling. A brief memory of favourite races I’ve done – marathons mainly – flits across my head like the parakeet and my eyes moisten. Bloody weather.

I’m nearly home and the light is spreading. A tower block somewhere in Mortlake is bathed in a pool of fiery gold, but my homeward streets are still flecked with frost spittle. Security guards from the brewery move as slow as is humanly possible. There is not much beer rustling in Chiswick. A woman’s hair catches my eye, ribbons of gold bobbing up and down as she marches to work. I pass and steal a look at her face. All I see are a mole and a nose. Goodbye mole-nose-hair lady.

I’m turning for home now. Schoolchildren ignore me, and the post van tries to run me over. He’s lost. The scent of de-icer hangs heavily in the air, and I can smell the thickness of the ozone near the roundabout. I make my last road crossings and into my road. I need the loo. I speed up – I always like to give the neighbours the impression I am faster than I really am. Of course this ignores the shuffling shambles they will have witnessed 45 or so minutes earlier huffing and puffing in the other direction.

But here, with 100 yards to go, I am imperious. I am a running machine. I am the joginator. And here, here is my home. My door. I switch my Garmin off. My legs respond to their digital prompt by shouting a miscellany of complaints to me in muscle and nerve language. But it’s immaterial. Here is my home. Here is my not-running place. Here is my hot shower. Here is my tea.

Yet my thoughts continue to pile into each other. No machine tells my brain to stop running. Well, not until the hospital – at some unspecified point in the future.  For now, it’s just me, tea, and the memory of a mouldy peach sunrise.

Learning the process

Hello blog. It’s been a while. I wasn’t very well. And real life is just so ‘gosh darnit’ real at times. The novel remains unedited. My diary remains unfull – I am practising my positive spinnery in anticipation of paid marketing work. Hence not ’empty’ – merely ‘unfull’ – which suggests that at any moment it will become full. Overflowing, in fact. So full that it may well need recycling.

Anyhoo. Some other folk have now read the friends and family draft of the first book. And they’ve been polite and said some of the right things, and some of the wrong things. I had the slightly surreal experience of five of my closest friends turn on me in the pub to deliver their verdicts on bits read to date. And the very surreal experience of two people disagreeing (not exactly arguing) about some part of it in front of me… hello! Author here!… which goes to show – once the book is out of your head you don’t own it any more.

More importantly I learnt a few lessons. I learnt that it’s not enough just to ‘make things up’. You have to ‘make them up believably’ – so if something could happen in the way you describe it, you should really check whether it does or doesn’t. I failed on two counts –

  1. Not doing enough research. Simple things like timings, costs, and on to more complex things like gambling systems and whether or not there is any sand on Hastings beach.
  2. Not being clear enough as to what I want to say. There are so many mixed herrings and white rabbits disappearing down holes that sometimes basics like characterisation and plot have suffered. I need to ask ‘why’ a lot more… ‘why is this incidental character here?’, ‘why does my character do this?’, ‘what makes my reader want to turn the page?’. I think I’m reasonably good at the plot movement – in the sense that there is always something of interest to turn the page – but less so on ‘do I like the characters?’ … and the end impression on the reader.

In short, I need to turn it from something that is ‘readable’ to something that is ‘talkable’. I have yet to make my readers think – they are merely along for the ride. And for the moment, they ride because they are friends and family, not because they want to read what I write.

I’ve started reading again, to try to broaden my horizons:

  • Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go . Beautifully written, with a very strong narrative voice, but I preferred the same concept’s treatment in @ememess‘s Spares, (but then I’m biased). The kind of book that people want to talk about. Hence jealousy.
  • a bastardised version of Don Quixote
  • currently reading Jonathan Lethem, You don’t love me, yet. Enjoying his use of language, and some of his kooky ideas, although it feels like an Hernandez Bros Love and Rockets novel. Which is no bad thing.