York Writers’ Festival

Have been very tardy in blogging about this event, but I gadded off to another book-related social happening just a few days after York and have only now – a week later – recovered from the resultant hangover.

First, York…
This was a great event – made all the more so because I met up with Authonomy writing friends, some of whom I hadn’t met before. Between workshops, speakers, one-to-ones with agents and the bar, we hardly stopped for the whole weekend. Very tiring, but informative and great fun too.
On the Friday evening I took part in the Authonomy Live! competition. This consisted of standing on stage in front of 300+ people and reading an extract from my book. Given I’ve never read any of my work to another human being in person before (late-night, drink-fuelled film-making in my shed and reading out loud to the dogs don’t count) it was quite a nerve-wracking prospect.
But… I did it! And without making fool of myself too – which, given the amount of vodka and wine I’d consumed before taking to the stage, was a minor miracle in itself.
You can watch it here, along with the judge’s verdict:

Killing Darlings

I changed the title of my novel at last. It’s now called The Sky is Not Blue.

I think it’s a massive improvement on the old title (The Tipping Point) but several weeks on and I’m still instinctively thinking of my book under its old name. What can I say? I’m a creature of habit at the best of times. Eventually I’ll get used to this new, improved and relevant title.
It comes from a line in the book…
I’m not now sure whether I see Alice as a higher being, a person of such moral strength she can face Truth and look it in the eye without fear; or someone who’s just blind to her predicament, who occupies the same vacuous space as anyone else and finds meaning in each ingrained repetition and never contemplates what her purpose might have been, what anybody’s purpose might have been.

Or perhaps she just craves pain. Some people do.

She said she was rested, we could carry on. She said the view further along was breathtaking. She sounded like an advertisement. She looks across that void and only counts colours, shapes, the lack of concrete. She doesn’t hear the ancient screams lingering in the wind, doesn’t feel the water’s icy shock, the vile suck as Life is dragged down into darkness. The water is not blue. The sky is not blue. I’m not even sure the hills are green.

… but also reflects the novel’s key themes of perception, memory and how these deceive, as well as fitting with the ongoing artistic imagery throughout the story.
I’m happy with it – I just need to get used to it now!

The Night We Never Danced

From Thoughts from the Shed

I made another film. I’m not sure which is most fun, the actual filming (there’s something sublime about An Uninterrupted Opportunity To Talk) or the editing process.

It’s very much like writing – the initial creation of something and the editing to get it right.
And both elements are enjoyable in their own way. Getting an idea on paper is a buzz as is filming random waffle. But the post-writing/filming editing is possibly even more satisfying – hacking at a first draft, working up themes, crafting rhythm & pace for the written text; cutting out extraneous waffle, enhancing with music tracks, playing with effects, for the film.
In this film, I read a short story and talk a bit about characters and how they’re inspired (for me, that is – would be interested to hear how it works for everyone else).
Hope you like it..!

Thoughts from The Shed…

I’ve decided, as a little creative aside, to make some films. This has so far been great fun – getting to grips with film editing software has been fascinating… though I’m a long way from being able to produce anything polished – but too polished is not the intent here. I figured a few meandering ramblings could, perhaps, be used to liven up my blog – to entertain, if nothing else.

From Thoughts from the Shed

Along those lines, this first film is intended as nothing more than a bit of fun. I’ve edited the hour-long version… which was, I now discover, FAR too long for a film. Brevity again. I do need to learn the art. However, this is the first third of the original recording – edited, with songs and a grainy black and white treatment which is far more flattering than reality – though for some reason three minutes got chopped off when I uploaded this, so I end a little abruptly (but am not fiddling with this one any further as it was merely a prototype and will probably be deleted once I’ve done the first proper film).

Subsequent films in the “Thoughts from The Shed” series might involve short excerpts from my manuscripts, themed waffle and perhaps a song or two. I have SO many ideas for these films – but time constraints will not permit over-flooding this page with offerings so I shall need to exercise self-control… ho ho ho.

On a roll…

Short story writing is a lot of fun!

I’ve spent the past week working on a couple for an anthology being prepared by several Authonomites under the capable leadership of Mayor Biggie (Michael Wells). It’s been an interesting and enjoyable deviation from my normal writing and has left me wondering why I haven’t played around with this kind of thing more before now.

The main short – State of Undressed – was written as first draft over four days and I’m pretty pleased with it so far. The shorter short – The Night We Never Danced – was written as first draft in under two hours… one of those glorious frenzied Fully In The Zone sessions that make writing such a drug. I’d slept badly… well, not at all… and finally fell into deep sleep around dawn. This story was my dream – give or take a little artistic licence when writing it up – and so I fairly hammered it out before it was lost.

Before starting the short stories, I’d been suffering a mild case of writer’s block in relation to La Folie. I’m finding mood is vital when trying to write comedy and unless I maintain a high which borders on alarming at times, it’s very difficult to get into ‘farce mode’. Taking a break to work on the shorts was a Good Idea and has left me enthused enough to get back on with the two bigger works.

But… The Tipping Point is still with Osiander and I’m not at all sure when I’ll hear back from him. In the meantime I’ve signed up for York Writers’ Festival in April and have booked two one-to-one sessions with agents at that event. This means I have to submit synopsis and opening chapters in advance – by mid March – and I don’t yet have a synopsis.

They’re awful things to write.

Far more difficult and time-consuming than anyone who’s never tried could possibly imagine. So I guess for the next few weeks I’m going to be grumping around pulling a synopsis together, whilst also editing the stories for the anthology… and the poor old farce may have to take a back seat for a little while.

Unless, of course, I suddenly develop a manic Good Mood high – in which case all else will be abandoned and La Folie will get my full attention… whilst it lasts!

Credo quia absurdum…

I love New Year! Can’t abide Christmas but am passionately fond of the aftermath. I’m an Optimist at heart and what better time for such than the start of a fresh new year… the ending of a sullied, old one?

2009 was a peculiar period – a bit of a mixed bag. On the positive side, I’ve learned a lot as a writer, have finished writing a book and, for the first time, am actually happy with what has been created. And, of course, meeting so many interesting and helpful writerly people whose insight has seriously helped improve The Tipping Point has been amazing this year.

I’ve learned much about how other writers write – and the value of this cannot be understated. Not only the realisation that the frustrations and self-doubt are entirely normal for the writer, but also the technical aspects… so many fresh perspectives, tips, styles… being able to bounce ideas off others – all this has been fantastic to one who spent years writing alone in her shed.

I’m very happy with the online (and offline) friends made on Authonomy and think, if nothing else, it has made being a part of that website worthwhile. I now have more writers on my Facebook friends list than any other kind of person and this brings me joy. These are people who will instantly feedback on request to a written scene, idea or even scream of panic… because these are people who understand – which is again, something that I did not have in my pre-Authonomy existence.

On a less positive note, 2009 has shown me that on a personal level I perhaps think too much, over-analyse, cogitate rather more ardently than is wise… and I have been told – several times and by several people – I am too open, too demanding, too bloody transparent… ex abundantia enim cordis os loquitur. If nothing else, it has been a surprise to find in 2009 I am far closer in nature to my youthful self than I realised. However, this is not necessarily a Good Thing.

I became far less cynical over 2009 – and really, I needed that – but, as any biologist knows, a creature temporarily without shell is incredibly vulnerable and whilst I flatly refuse to return to my pre-2009 Cynical State no matter how many mightier creatures try to eat my soft flesh, I will approach the forthcoming year with a more wary eye.

But! It is the 31st December… time for renewal and exorcism of Past Follies. I will enter 2010 far happier than I entered 2009. I start this new year with one full draft of a novel, of which I am quite proud, and which is currently being given the once-over by the Great Osiander; a detailed outline for a new novel – my farce, La Folie – which I am really going to have some fun writing; and some lovely new Real Life writer friends and a whole host of interesting, witty & knowledgeable Virtual ones.

Cheers! And Happy, Successful New Year to all!

Je Suis Libéré!

Free, that is, from the constraints of literary fiction. The farce is proving a real pleasure to work on due, I think, partly to the fact that it’s plot-driven – which is a *lot* of fun – and partly because the characters must be unexplored and so the usual resultant angst from over-analysing the human condition is just not applicable here. It’s a veritable literary romp!

My natural tendency is to delve deep into a character’s psyche – work out why they are so evil/miserable/manipulative whatever – but this is just not required for a farce. Here the characters can be extreme, have serious defaults in their characters, and yet at no point do I, the writer, need to over-think this… the characters just are.
I am having such a lot of fun with this book. Knowing there are no lines which cannot be crossed, knowing that characters can be utterly crazy without explanation, knowing that the unfeasible is utterly feasible, and knowing that the more layers of mayhem the better… all makes for a great writing experience.
Of course I have no idea yet whether a farce *can* work as a novel. The plot to La Folie reads very much like a play – and, in fact, takes place mainly in one location – and there are certain elements which I know would work beautifully on stage or film but which may not be easy to transmit in narrative… but until I begin the actual writing I can’t see how (or if) all the elements I want to incorporate will actually work in novel form.
But I’m having such a bloody good time planning this thing I’m not going to fret about how it comes together until I start to *put* it together. At the moment I’m writing a detailed, scene-by-scene synopsis. Plot is everything – and the complex strands of mistaken identities, increasing mayhem and things just plain old going wrong is my focus right now. The basic plot is quite simple, it’s the layers of additional confusion/relationships that take the effort… far more complicated than you might think to get those elements right and timed to perfection.
Writing should start in a couple of days. I can sense ‘The Zone’ has almost been reached… leave food and drink at the door please and Do Not Disturb!

Congratulations… it’s a Farce!

My new baby has been conceived (after several late nights groping for ideas… and lots of laughter) and it’s a farce.

Having spent the last two years immersed in a dark, dark literary place with The Tipping Point I was ready for something a little lighter and came up with the (perhaps crazy) notion of writing a farce in novel form. Can this work? Farces are best suited to stage/film – sustaining the necessary pace and humour over the length of a novel..?

I’m not at all sure, but the outline is taking shape and I haven’t laughed this much in a long time… it has to be worth pursuing.

Working title is La Folie and I’m having a lot of fun with muddled identities, mocking the world of online relationships and generally creating a cast of hapless idiots to feed my burgeoning Humour Addiction.

Watch this space…

First Draft Blues…

Well… I eventually finished the first draft a couple of weeks ago but am still awaiting the warm glow of satisfaction. That said I went through two pregnancies waiting for the Great State of Blooming to occur and it never did, so possibly I am just not the sort of person who relaxes.

Possibly I am just a miserable git.

Possibly I am a Realist at heart (and if those of you who know me could, at this point, suppress any audible amusement it would be appreciated) and recognise there is still a long way to go with this book.

The manuscript is currently with the Great Osiander and I await his verdict with some anxiety. Firstly he’ll be the only person to have read the entire novel other than me. That in itself is both exciting and nerve-wracking. Exciting because an Objective Professional is going to see the whole and tell me whether it works. Nerve-wracking because an Objective Professional is going to see the whole and tell me whether it works. It’s bound to end in tears… this is clearly a friendship doomed, but hopefully a Better Novel will rise from its ashes.


On a completely different note, I saw my favourite female singer/songwriter recently – Thea Gilmore (http://www.theagilmore.net/). She was brilliant, as expected. Thea’s lyrics and music have been massively inspirational over the years – she’s incredibly dark at times, which is always going to work for me, and lyric writers are so wonderfully succinct. I have a strong belief that *all* writers can learn from this brevity.

And on yet another musical note… I’m listening, as I write this, to Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AO9dbmJ_2zU) which is, I think, one of the most powerful songs ever written. The original by Nine Inch Nails (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjwgYvzQWS4&feature=fvw) is also sublime. I often listen to both back to back – and this, again, provides a valuable lesson for writers in how a shift in voice, style and emphasis can have a powerful impact on any text.

We are glorious manipulators! It’s probably my favourite aspect of writing – the tweaking of structure, pace, words & punctuation for deliberate effect…

… which is why I should now be happier about having a first draft to edit… and I am…

I am.

I think.

Let’s talk about sex…

Sex scenes, that is. I cannot be the only writer who finds them torturous.

Please tell me I’m not.

I’ve just finished – bar the tweaking – the one and only sex scene in my book. It was a difficult process. I cannot describe body parts. I cannot move, on the page, through the bumps and grinds of the physical act itself. I just cannot write these things.

Fortunately I’m well-acquainted with the glorious twins Obtuseness and Metaphor, whose help I have called upon (in spades!) over the last 36 hours. Thank you, girls, you’ve saved my blushes.

I can’t work out whether the reluctance to write sex scenes is solely down to a fear of the reader’s perception and judgement (she must do it like this!) or whether it’s a general dislike of sexual acts written out as processes – or, perhaps, the combination of both.

But there’s no guarantee Obtuseness and Metaphor get it right either. In fact I think I may have been irrevocably damaged by Ian McEwan’s fantasy-killing Sex in the Library scene in Atonement, wherein he extended a mountaineering metaphor well beyond its natural boundaries and made me cringe and shake my head at the very point I probably should have been hyperventilating.

It. Was. Not. Good.

There is no easy route. And yet we persist. What exactly are we trying to capture? What exactly are we trying to conjure in our readers’ minds? These are the questions I asked myself and, in answering them, my scene revealed itself as one (thankfully) requiring those Glorious Twins – and not a biology lesson or an attempt at textual wank-fodder.

I recently saw a Facebook writer friend post the distinction between erotica and porn. It went something like tickle with a feather, it’s erotica – use the whole chicken, it’s porn (though I have to say much of the erotica I’ve read on Authonomy does seem to cluck).

I reckon we need another definition, for a sex scene in reluctant hands – wherein we allude to the feather and its usage, esp. the areas it may touch, with the help of those Glorious Twins.

I’m not going to do it… I’ve worked Obtuseness and Metaphor enough today. But the best suggestion posted below will win a (virtual) prize… go on, you know you want it.