postaweek2011

The festive excuse note

It looks like the post a week thing has finally crumbled, but I’ll let myself off because over the whole year I’ve missed very few weeks. It’s the festive season, specifically that weird bit between Christmas and New Year when everything’s on hiatus. Including, apparently, me.

I’ve been avoiding writing since I’ve been on holiday, too much like hard work. I’ve got the Debut Dagger entry to put together, which is frankly terrifying, and I should tidy up some mostly-finished stories to send off to places. Inevitably of course I’ve been eating mince pies, doing vastly important rearrangements of the newly reinstated bookcase, and generally filling up my days such that I go to bed wondering where the time went.

Thankfully, Neil Gaiman has set me back on track. Not personally, of course, and I haven’t even been reading his usually absorbing journal lately. I have been travelling on trains a lot though, and yesterday I picked up a book almost at random (it had a purple cover, which was enough to catch my eye) from the To Read pile. It was Smoke and Mirrors, a collection of stories and poems by Neil Gaiman, which has a long introduction with notes on each piece.

One of the things I like about Neil Gaiman’s journal is its feeling of honesty (I’m not saying it is honest, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t filtered and buffed up and slanted in particular ways); the illusion that here is this perfectly ordinary Englishman, with the same problems of self-doubt, occasional laziness, lack of inspiration, and looming deadlines as the rest of us. Here, we think, is something I could aspire to, it’s not entirely beyond my reach, no superhuman powers needed. Of course that’s glossing over the ability to write gripping stories well, but that’s not necessarily relevant at this point.

And so to Smoke and Mirrors. I’m about halfway through and though I confess I’ve been more puzzled than anything by the poems (I think I knocked my poetry Off switch a couple of years ago and I can’t seem to accidentally elbow it back into life), almost all of the stories so far have made me berate myself for letting such a book languish on my shelf for six months. Though if I’d read it immediately in the summer, it wouldn’t have been available to provide that much-needed spark of inspiration now. Which it has. The stories themselves have fired me up, but the notes in the introduction have been useful in an Ah, he does that too sort of a way, like a narrowly-focused version of his journal.

Not having a hat with me, I’ll raise my sister’s jaunty Christmas-pudding-shaped hat to Mr Gaiman and wish him a marvellous festive season and all the best for 2012. And that goes for you, too.

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This book should be consumed within six months of purchase

I read a lot, but not as much as I’d like, or rather, not as many books as I’d like, which isn’t quite the same thing. New books emerge every week, I hear about old ones or get recommendations, and my To Read pile (which has now taken over the original cupboard and a small bookcase) keeps on growing. Inevitably some books get pushed to the back – I get a new one that attracts me more immediately, or I borrow a book so I only have a short window of opportunity. There are books on my shelves that I’ve moved off the To Read pile because I’ll get round to them when I get round to them, and they’re taking up room.

Which brings me to my current problem, which isn’t so much a problem as a pang of regret with a lesson attached. Some books have a Read By date.

By this I don’t mean some flavour of the month bestseller that wasn’t very good anyway, so needs to be read during the hype period while all your friends are insisting it’s ironic and subversive – so bad it’s bloody marvellous. What I mean is there are books you grow out of, and not just the ones whose puerile humour appealed at 14 and appalls at 40.

The book I’ve been slowly reading on my daily commute for the last couple of weeks is an abridged (but still hefty) edition of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I bought it, as far as I can remember, with a Christmas book token 13 or 14 years ago and had I read it then I’m sure I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more. I had more uninterrupted reading time, I could remember a lot more Latin (Gibbon assumes, no doubt perfectly reasonably for the time, that if you’re reading his book you must be educated enough to translate the Latin quotes and inscriptions, so he doesn’t patronise his readers by doing it for them), and I had more of an idea which order the Roman emperors came in and what each was usually remembered for. Even 8 years ago when I did a couple of open learning courses on the early middle ages at my (then) local university, I would have been immersed in the period though my Latin was already patchy.

The lesson to take away from this is: don’t keep shoving things to the back of your To Read cupboard.

Unless it’s: don’t buy more books than you can manage.

November ended a few days ago

NaNoWriMo resulted in just over 23,000 words of detective novel, so no winner’s certificate but I’m still counting this as a win of sorts, and so should you if your NaNo activity didn’t make the 50,000 but did get you writing. As well as 2 days selling comics, which I’d planned for, I was ill for a while so in all I had 10 days where I didn’t write a single word. I’ve kept up my habit of lunchtime writing, and I’ve now conclusively shown I can write lots, regularly, without becoming a total stranger to OneMonkey. I am feeling rather pleased with myself.

I lost track of time a bit towards the end of the month, where I was frantically making up for the lost days. So I never got round to blogging last weekend, and I missed 2 short story deadlines right at the start of December, which I’m really kicking myself for – the story submissions have been almost non-existent while I’ve been concentrating on detective novels.

And now we’re counting down to Christmas; I’m limbering up for full-on bah humbug mode, and in the meantime I’m filling up on mince pies and dry roasted peanuts. And planning the long writing sessions I’m hoping to get in over the Christmas break. We’re due our first snow tomorrow, though it’s already been sleeting, but instead of worrying about the rose trees I haven’t planted yet, I’ll focus on the prospect of getting stuck at home – I have a cupboard full of mince pies and teabags, a laptop and a head-full of ideas. Sounds like heaven.

One last thing: my detective story is now up on the Comets and Criminals website if you’d like to check that out.

Those who don’t want to know the NaNo score, look away now

This is turning out to be ScriptFrenzy all over again… But hey, there’s only one (two at the most) more of these NaNoWriMo posts to go, so grit your teeth and it’ll all be over soon.

As this post goes out, I will actually be at (or on my way to – I haven’t set the time yet) the Thought Bubble comic convention in Leeds. With luck, I will be selling comics, but at the very least I’ll be with friends in interesting surroundings and I should be able to find some new comics to get interested in (these events can get expensive).

Where does this leave my frantic novelling, I hear you ask (look, just pretend you asked). It pretty much wipes out two days, but since one of the aforementioned friends is also in the midst of NaNo frenzy, we may goad each other into amazing literary feats on Saturday evening. My total should be at around 16,000 words by Friday night (Friday night itself being scratched out due to the Damned gig – got to get your priorities right) so fingers crossed for a decent total by the end of the month.

I’m enjoying NaNo – after ScriptFrenzy I thought I probably would. I’m taking it slow and steady, not worrying too much about the final total as long as what I’ve got is usable, and it’s taking me down some interesting avenues. I’ve already uncovered a weird antagonism between two secondary characters that needs exploring further, and I may even have got the wrong murderer (how can the author get it wrong?). Very much an enjoyable Sunday drive rather than a satnav-planned A to B dash.

Best of luck for the second half of the month to all those participating, further apologies to anyone who’s being neglected (more than usual). Back to the fray.

The bright side

I’m cultivating a positive outlook at the moment; maybe it’s the cold affecting my inner curmudgeon, but there you go.

Strange, Weird & Wonderful has published its final issue, just before the one that my story was due in. So while that’s a sale I won’t make (payment on publication, not acceptance), a credit I can’t chalk up on my scoreboard, and a story that’s back to doing the rounds, if I was looking on the bright side I’d say at least I don’t have to produce that audio version after all (though I’d actually started to feel good about the challenge).

NaNoWriMo is going slowly, probably even slower than I’d anticipated, but if you know you’re not going to make it to 50,000 words, any number’s an achievement and you don’t end up feeling stressed and guilty if you do other things for a while during November. Such as a 2-day comic convention.

Thought Bubble is less than a week away which is a bit scary (in an exhilirating way). I also know that I’m not going to get an early night before it, and I’ll probably have had to put up with a late-night long-distance taxi ride. The bright side of that one is positively dazzling though: we’re off to see The Damned on Friday. Excuse me while I touch up my black nail varnish.

It’s November and there’s too much to do

Time ran away with me last week and I never made it to my blog. We had a friend to stay for a few days, then suddenly it was November and I had a novel to write. Another one. I haven’t even quite finished the last one yet (a couple of thousand words away from a complete first draft, I reckon) but it’s been put aside so I can participate in the madness that is NaNoWriMo. I’m already behind schedule and it’s only day 4.

However, as those of us who listened occasionally at school may remember, it’s not the winning it’s the taking part. NaNoWriMo is a good excuse to write furiously, without giving yourself enough time for the self-doubt to creep in. I’ll settle for 20,000 words I can work on later. A belated appreciative moment for the support crew of friends and family that make these intensive writing challenges possible – once again, I take my hat off to you all.

And while I’ve got my hat off, consider it also doffed to Chris Packham – anyone that can manage (with a straight face) to work so many Damned titles (but particularly Machine Gun Etiquette) into a BBC Wildlife Programme deserves recognition. Well done Chris, and I apologise for considering you a poor second to Terry Nutkins way back when.

Dystopian inspiration is all around

No, not a comment on the economy, global or otherwise. Though it’s true it should be prodding your muse up the backside with a sharp stick if near-future sci-fi is your thing. What I actually meant was the (presumably temporary) giant bronze statue of Freddie Mercury that’s appeared in Leeds. It’s advertising a musical at a local theatre, but it dominates the square, vying for attention with a long-dead horse-bound royal, fist aloft and looking like something intended to inspire the workers behind the Iron Curtain. The posters that put the statue in context are low down and easy to overlook; visitors would be forgiven for thinking it’s a perfectly serious tribute to a departed icon. Which got me thinking about dystopian SF and the use of revered celebrities as pacifiers of a restless mob – you can have that spark of inspiration on me, I haven’t the time to use it at the moment.

For those who may be vaguely interested, the detective novel slid past the 50,000 word mark this week, and the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger award is now open for entries. Hmm, worth a shot I think.