Lack of Progress Report

This.

This handsome creature is to blame.

me and nick

My NaNoWriMo is progressing slowly. These next 4 days are much less busy than the previous week, so there’s a reasonable chance I’ll get a good bit down. But I’m massively behind my target.

I figured I could post extracts here to spur myself on, not just to up my word count, but also to make something of some quality. Unfortunately, quickly scanning what I’ve got doesn’t seem to reveal a great deal of merit.

The scene for my story is Barcelona, which is actually a pretty smart move for me. I seem to be quite bad about writing about the place where I am – it’s places where I’m not that draw my creative eye. So this is a good experience, in that it gets me to observe my surroundings and try to describe them. Also, if I ever get stuck as to where to take the story next, I can pick a scene, somewhere in Barcelona, and hopefully while I’m lavishly detailing that scene, some ideas will come to me.

Here’s a description of an apartment in the story, hopefully the scene of many interesting events to come…

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It was one of those big-rooved, small-corridored, dingy little places you see, with two shuttered windows out onto the thin grey street, and two or three more that opened out on to a dark, close, inside balcony.
For those of you who don’t know Barcelona, they’ve got these inside balconies all over the place, and sure, they let in a bit more air and don’t take up to much space, but they’re depressing. In the centre of a whole block of house, there’ll be this big open column that’s like a hole in a donut. People hang their washing out in here so it dries, so there’s often a smell of warm soap, especially in the summer. Then they open their kitchen windows, so it smells of garlic and salted cheese and whatever else they’re eating that’s got a strong enough smell. Then their windows and blinds are open and up, and the lights are on, so you can see across and see what they’re doing, with their equally poky grimy kitchen and their balding heads and hairy arms. And of course, you can hear them all. The couple upstairs who aren’t speaking Spanish or English, but something more foreign, and their screaming kids. The dour wife of the working man, who frowns at her washing and her cooking. The unemployed guy. Those Swedish music-lovers across the way. A couple of quiet ones, I suppose, but mostly, it’s this claustrophobic tunnel of darkness and light, noise and smells, and most of all, no privacy. I suppose the feeling of never being totally alone is a comfort to some – in fact, some of my friends love it, and it seems to be pretty Spanish to me. But me, I can’t stand the lack of silence, the peace, the time to be yourself with no one judging.
So, this house. It was the middle of autumn, so it was often dark outside anyway, but inside, what with the shutters and the indoor balcony, it had a dark corners even when they had the lights on. The furniture was probably brought in from the street – more wood with a cloth cover on it than anything comfortable to sit on. A few plants. A rug on the wall, and darkly painted rooms to absorb what little light was left when you turned on the floor lamps. Perfect for when you’re hung over, don’t get me wrong. And a little white neon-lit kitchen. Of course, Tom wasn’t much of a chef at the time – now, at least he’s passable – and I imagine the kitchen was a bit of a mess of dirty dishes and bowls.

Right. Back to work. See you on the upside of 15,000, I suppose.

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Third Times the Charm (Or How I Cheated And Learnt About Myself)

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This year will be the third time I attempt to do NaNoWriMo, and as it draws closer and closer, I’m starting to feel that I should really get some ideas in place before I start. What’s going to happen? Who, at the very least, is my protagonist? …. No idea.

The first time I had a go at this crazy old scheme, where you have to write 50,000 words in the month of November, it was 2005. I was living in a big old student house in the middle of the icy, dangerous outskirts of Durham, with barking Alsatians, a barbed wire fence opposite my bedroom window* and 12-year-olds smoking out of the front door**. I was cheating. By which I mean I was still out to write 50,000 words, but it wasn’t new fiction. It was a novel I was trying to write (and one I still haven’t finished). I’d got about 20,000 words written up. I was using NaNoWriMo to get me further on the same old story. Gasp, that’s breaking the rules, you say. Well, it didn’t work anyway. I ran into a writer’s block, and as the story was precious to me, I couldn’t just bulldoze through it with some new idea / character / plot change like you can in a “proper” NaNoWriMo. So, I think I got about 22,000 new words down and stopped.

I tried again last year. Only this time, I cheated big style. See, I wasn’t really into the idea of writing a whole novel. I wanted to write a long short story or two, so I was using the word count as an impetus to get me tapping away on the keyboard. I actually got a complete short story down, one passage of which you can see here. (I should actually go back to that story and re-write it. It’s been a year now, I’m sure I’ve got fresh ideas for it. Also, there was always a scene missing.) I also decided that any poetry I wrote would be worth a triple word score, like Scrabble. And STILL, with all that cheating, I made it to 35,000 and no further.

Despite this blatant bending of the rules, I don’t regret either decision. Both ways, joining the NaNoWriMo scheme made me write more. When I saw other people from my local area bumping up our collective word score, it gave me a sense of nationalism (Woo! Come on Spain, we can beat Italy!). When I had friends doing it, too, it gave me someone to compete against. But most of all, it got me in front of a computer doing something I love – being creative. And I can look back on the things I wrote in those times and look at them with pride. A lot of it is pretty good, and I like feeling good about achieving something physical.

This year, though, I’m doing it properly. It’s going to be a new story idea, something I come up with hopefully in this week before November 1st. I´m going to try and write 2,000 words a day, because I know there’ll be missed days along there somewhere.

And I’ve got people to compete against and encourage. Some Barcelona teachers, past and present. My boss-and-friend-and-mother-of-my-future-godson, Claire. And quite possibly my twin brother, too. And as we almost never compete, it’ll be quite nice to get some rivalry going.

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Especially as I’m going to win.

* I lived opposite a huge Tescos. the fence around the space where the lorries dropped the goods every morning.

** It was the only place they could hide from security cameras. Also, they climbed up our walls and peered in at the windows.

Clarity and My Own Voice

Today, I am sorry to say, I have no new work for you. But that’s okay, because I feel like I’ve learned a few things about writing this week anyway, and that’s kind of the point of this blog.

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My Voice

This week, I’ve been working on an old poem of mine, confusingly called “Shark”, about my Grandmother’s ocean-blue carpeted staircase. I’ve been updating it, taking that old poem and putting a twist on the end – that we are getting a stairlift put in after her stroke.

While this is progressing quite well, I came up with this image for the final lines –

“….. in the construction of your slow, tedious ascent.”

This is causing me problems, because I like the image, and think it’s powerful, but with the heavenly connotations of “ascent”, calling it “tedious” in respect to my own grandmother’s health is callous and not what I truly feel.

So what do I do? Do I sacrifice an image because it’s not my voice, or keep it for its strength and feel bad about the sentiment it portrays?

I’ve decided, for now, to keep it. Hopefully the controversial interpretation will shock people into a positive reaction from this poem, and learn from it. But your input is appreciated. I’m still wrestling with this one.

Clarity

Gathering dust on my computer is a novel that I started to write years and years ago, that I really need to settle down and GET DONE, just so I can go back through it and fix it. I don’t want to tinker and tinker with an unfinished work – it needs the plot, on the page, so it can get messed with. Every now and again, I get little ideas connected with it. This lesson is actualy one my mother tried to teach me years ago, and I partially disregarded it because I thought “she just doesn’t get Sci-Fi and Fantasy”.

A key ingredient of Fantasy, and to a lesser degree Sci-Fi, is escapism You are reading to enter another world, not your own. A key ingrediant of Sci-Fi, and to a lesser degree Fantasy, is to reflect our world, by providing a different one and making a point about our world through it.

Here is an extract from the start of a chapter of “Matter”, by Iain M. Banks, a gift from my brother. It’s four chapters in, but it-s a total swtich in scene, and style from everything to this point

“Utaltifuhl, the Grand Zamerin of Sursamen-Nariscene, in charge of all Nariscene interests on the planet and its accompanying solar systerm and therefore – by the terms of the mandate the Nariscene held under the auspices of the Galactic General Council – as close as one might get to overall ruler of both, was just beginning the long journey to the 3044th Great Spawning of the Everlasting Queen on the far-distant home planet of his kind when he met the director general of the Morthanveld Strategic Mission to the Tertiary Hulian Spine – paying a courtesy call to the modest but of course influential Morthanveld embassy on Sursamen – in the Third Equatorial Transit Facility high above Sursamen-s dark, green-blue pocked Surface.”

Holy moley, that’s one sentence. At this point of the story, none of these words meant anything to me. This is the kind of passage that would put off someone new to Modern Science Fiction – like me (I read H.G Wells and Jules Verne and utterly devour them). The whole chapter was a blur, but for those who are interested, let me explain:planet-plum

Sursamen – planet of the story (didn’t know it’s name before this)

Nariscene and Morthanveld – two freaky-deaky alien races that don’t much care about the planet, but are in charge.

I’m many chapters further into the story now, and that’s all the relevant information in that terrifying first sentence.

My mother’s lesson was this – “don’t overload on the names”. Names are thought to be the lifeblood of Sci-Fi and Fantasy and THAT IS TOTALLY WRONG. Sure, you might want it to sound official, but there’s no real need to. It almost made me put this book down, and Iain M. Banks is internationally recognised as an excellent storyteller with masses of well-known books. So why the total alienation of the reader?

So when I do go back to my story, I’m going to keep it simple. Sure, there’ll be titles and place names, but too many places and you’re lost (maps can almost fix this), too many names and you’re confused, and too much politican-speak, and the reader will lose interest.

If you want to see lots of names and places done well, I recommend you look at Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide”.

And that’s all from me for this Mid-Week post.