Sunday, 24 July 2016

Perhaps a change of direction

A couple of weeks ago I started writing a new story. It's called "the Writer, Writing". I've mentioned it on here before - comparing it to one of my favourite authors in terms of subject matter (although I will stress again, not in terms of quality). It is a nothing story - a quirky little idea that appeals to me. But I've always had a fondness for stories where the lead character is an author/writer; as well as a fondness for stories where, when you think about it, nothing actually happens.

Well I handed the first few parts of it (a little over 21, 000 words) to my number one test reader and I have my first impressions of what someone thinks about it. On the flattering side she said she liked it and wanted to know where it was going. On the downside she said this was a Stephen King book 30 idea. From earlier conversations I know exactly she means by this.

You see (and I know this depends on how you count but trust me this is the not all that relevant bit) the 30th book Stephen King released was "the Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon". It's not a typical Stephen King book. It's good but it doesn't really fit with the others he's done. But if you've released 29 bestsellers before it then you can pretty much do what you like. For one book anyway; I'm sure if he went off on mad tangents released obscure book after obscure book his readership would disappear but one here and there he'll get away with. (And yes this is a good book in my opinion.)

So the quandary I've been wrestling with for the past day or so is do I continue writing a book I am enjoying writing but can only agree is not a commercial book from everything I've read and heard; or do I shelve it and try something else? It's a tricky one. You see recently I've shelved one or two projects and it's becoming a habit; one I don't want to add to unnecessarily.

I think I am going to follow the advice though. I write because I enjoy writing. That is paramount. This is not my job; I make very little money from writing. If I'm going to sacrifice my spare time to sit in front of this keyboard I have to enjoy what I'm doing. But more than that I have to feel it has purpose.

So far I have finished

Adam's Death
(horror novel - nowhere near publishable)

The Day before Tomorrow
(sf novel - likewise)

Mr. Stinky
(horror novel - okayish - did get a couple of offer so publication on this but ther ewere issues for me with the offers)

Against the Fall of Empire
(alternate history novel - long- okayish)

A Second Life
(weird novella - needs a rewrite if I'm to submit it)

The Patternmaker's Daughter
(fantasy novel - book one in what I would imagine to be four books. I think this is the best I've done so far)

The Intersection
(weird novella - I like this and I did get a publication offer on it - just not good terms so I didn't accept)

(weird novella - this I think is the best of the novellas)

No Man's Land
(bawdy sf comedy - I like some of the ew-factor jokes)

The Town, the Company
(weird novella - could do with a new ending)

The Stairs Lead Down
(supernatural novel - could be start of a series, maybe two series)

The problem is that last of these was finished about three months ago and all I've done since is start stories, then leave them abandoned. I have

Kiss Like Judas
(weird novella - 6,333 words - intended 32K)

I Had to, Don't You See?
(weird novella - 2,424 words - intended 30K)

A World out of Balance
(conspiracy theory sf - 6,597 words - intended 90K)

The Church...
(sf novel - 11,736 - intended 110K, first in a series)

The City and the Mask
(dark fantasy novel - 2,881 words - intended 85K)

(fantasy novel - 9,621 words 0 intended 85K, first in a series)

The Writer, Writing
(nothing novel - slightly weird - 21,413 words)

I've written a fair bit in terms of word count but not finished a single project. For different reasons in each case, they have stopped. Now one or two I can understand. The two weird novellas feature a character and situations that would only make sense if the Intersection had already sold and people knew what was going on. My test reader has read all four of the weird novellas and loves how they interconnect and I love writing them but if I'm not selling them it feels futile to carry on writing them; even if one lets me revisit my university days (at least in my head).

BTW - I have to admit one thing; the central non-plot point about the Writer, Writing relates to this recent activity. It's exploring how novels don't get written and how ideas peter out (for many reasons). I did say it's an SK30 book.

So my issue now is do I go back and re-read the first part of any of the unfinished stories and see if they appeal enough for me to commit further time right now or start something new.

The latter is tempting; especially as I have an idea for a new sf story. And yesterday I came up with a working title - usually the thing that makes me want to write it even more; because I can give the word file a name. I do not like have "unnamed sf novel july 2016.doc" on my hard disk. This story, and the notebook that contains my notes, now has the title, An Avoidable War.

I think it's pretty much inevitable what I'm going to do. I'm going to go fetch the notebook with this story's plot, characters etc and I'm going to start something new despite all the unfinished works I already have. I'll just have to hope I'm not about to add to the number.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

A quick few thoughts (writing)

A few day's ago I wrote a blog entry that was a bit of a meandering passage through some of the my thoughts entitled "Writing and politics, odd bedfellows". In it I talked a little about the new novel I had started writing and compared it in content terms to one of my favourite writers - Zoran Živković.

Well, much to my immense pleasure and great shock he obvious saw it and posted a reply to the posting. As you might imagine I've been a little in shock at it. I'd never expected him or anyone else I've blogged about to see my postings. And to reply to it, well that was incredible. I was probably a little insufferable for a while after that.

Now, a few days later, I have had a chance to fully absorb the thought and I'm still fairly shocked. If you are wondering why just go read some of the man's writing and you might well understand it.

Added to this I have to say I feel relieved. I've encountered one or two of my heroes before and it's not always gone as well as I would have liked. There is one writer I have always admired. His books have been ones I have eagerly anticipated every time I hear of a new release and quickly devour as soon as they arrive in my mailbox. I encountered him some years back and had more than one exchange with him finding he was almost my polar opposite when it came to political opinion and belief. It was a huge disappointment. I still like his books but I can't approach them with anything like the relish I had once.

Thankfully this doesn't seem to be the case this time. Posting on my blog was gracious. It gives me the feeling he is quite a gracious man (confirming some of the things I've read about him). Now all I need is a release of one of his more recent books in English - I think there are three I've not had chance to read as they are only available in Serbian. I might speak one or two languages other than English but Serbian is not one of them. And in any case if I did have a copy in either French or Italian I think the effort of translating it into English as I read would take away the enjoyment. Looking up a word or two every sentence is probably going to spoil the flow of the narrative. I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed someone puts out an English edition soon.

Onto another matter. I am writing again. I've written three scenes for my new novel adding about 2K to the total bringing it up to 9K. It's the first time I've written anything since last Saturday. It might even be the first time I've switched on my PC since. I should probably explain this a little. A little while ago I slipped on a wet floor and since my back has been a little...well, wrong.

I'm managing the situation, hoping it will eventually go back to normal, so it means on work days I am not all that keen on sitting in front of my home PC and typing when I've spent all day in front of my work PC. This is cutting down on the progress of the novel but I do have to put the day job (the one that pays the mortgage) first. I'm rather happy with how its going so will be keeping this brief so I can get on with writing it.

There is of course another reason I've been absent from the keyboard. About a week ago, on a whim I downloaded the first episode of the Channel 4 black comedy Misfits. For anyone who hasn't seen it a group of young offenders are doing their community service when a mysterious storm hits, striking them all with lightning and giving them super powers. Only these aren't your normal super powers and these aren't your normal heroes. And they're not the only ones with powers. It's dark, definitely not PC and definitely not family viewing. Bad language, sex and violence abound all in a wonderfully sick comedic manner.

Well a week on and we've just watched the 2nd episode of season 4. Yeah, I'm hooked. So another thing getting in the way of writing. If you add in the Tour de France having started and its an unholy trinity of obstruction to any desire to write.

On that note I should stop this blog being a fourth. I'm headed back to the novel. A cow is about to turn up.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

A post entirely about writiing

I'm hoping tonight means I have my writing mojo back. With my wife out at a gig I thought there was no point in not giving writing a go. So I loaded up a new document in Word and started typing. It probably helped that I had filled several pages of my notebook with a first draft version of chapter 1 before starting. It certainly didn't hurt to have this kind of head start.

Well, nearly six and a half hours after starting I have 6,935 words of a new novel written and I quite like it. It's different from anything I've written before, in mood and subject; although I will have to admit a fantasy style subplot has taken root in it.

I've had one or two days in the past when I've written more words than that but it's always been in the middle of a pattern of writing. To do this out of the blue, days removed from  previous writing efforts pleases me exceptionally. I'm hoping it means I'm back on track to writing regularly.

Right now I'm not going to overthink it. Instead I'm going to take care of backing the files up and head upstairs to start handwriting the next section. That kind of head start is invaluable.

More expense? Necessary? Well spent?

I've just read a news report on the arrival of the RAF's first two stealth fighters. Apparently each plane costs over £70million. There are plans to buy 48 of these by 2023. Now forgive my crude maths (I only have a university degree in the subject) but that's £3.3billion. Eventually the aim is to have 138 (9.7billion). Am I the only one who says what the...?

Now I am not totally against maintaining a strong military to defend the country but who are we going to fight that would mean we need 138 of the latest generation of warplane? All the countries that come to mind when thinking about that question own nuclear weapons so war with those nations is insanity anyway.

I realise that there have been plenty of small skirmishes we were involved in the last few years and that there will be many more instances when Britain needs to stand up and play its part in ensuring the safety of others in the years to come (and hopefully not many instances of the war mongering we've seen in the past - none would be nice but I'm not that naïve.). But do we really need 138 of these incredibly expensive planes? Are the enemies we are going to face possess weapons advanced enough that we will need them? And need that many of them? I can't see it..

Now I know I might be being naïve here but I'm not sure this is the best way of spending money in the difficult times ahead. You may have already got this idea of my feeling from an earlier blog posting when I argued against spending an estimated £50billion (more likely in my opinion to be in excess of £10billion) on replacing Trident.

Now I am not going to come out totally against military spending. I happen to believe that the 2% of GDP target for NATO members is not unreasonable. What I'm arguing against here is how nearly £10billion is being spent. Are these planes worth their cost? Well, when it comes to technology and military effectiveness I have no doubt these are cutting edge but there other ways we could spend money - many of which would see the spending stay in the UK. These planes are made in the USA and so its money going out of our economy. There are ways we could maintain our commitment to NATO without just shipping billions out of the country.

For one thing there is the size of the army. We now have less than 90,000 regular soldiers in the UK army. Now modern warfare is different to the wars fought in the past but I've heard many military people say this number is too small. Increasing the size of the army would be one way of keeping our NATO promise and would benefit the economy as a good deal of that expenditure would not leave these shores.

Likewise there is the fact we could develop our tech internally. After all the Eurofighter, for all its delays, is a great aircraft. Surely we could produce another one in Europe, one that would mean more money into the coffers of British businesses.

I feel we have to look a little more inwardly when it comes to future spending. I'm not suggesting we build a metaphorical wall around our shores. My suggestion for developing a European plane in a similar way to the Eurofighter implies cooperation. That plane was built by the UK in conjunction with Germany, Italy and Spain. But just going outside our borders and buying that many American made planes doesn't make total sense to me.

And before you think I am anti-USA let me assure you I am not. I consider the special relationship Britain has with the USA to be incredibly important to our future. But you can maintain such a relationship without neglecting your own industry. And we need that industry going forward.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Writing and politics, odd bedfellows

I've tried to get my head back into things post the EU referendum. It's not been easy as I fear for the future of my country (and for my own future - I do not have the luxury of independent wealth to ease me). Watching the Last Leg on television last night helped. If you've not seen this program you should give it a try. It's a comedy show featuring Josh Widdicombe, Alex Brooker and Adam Hills that takes a look at current affairs, often from the point of view of the disabled and other minorities (both Brooker and Hills are disabled).

Last night I laughed so hard at one of their sketches (a puppet show that explained the recent Tory Party shenanigans) that I was finding it difficult to breathe. I needed that release. So if any of the three presenters ever read this (or any of the behind the camera staff) I would like to thank you all. Since watching that I have felt a whole lot better.

So much so I got the writing bug back. Just as well I did as I have the whole evening to myself tonight. My in-laws are on holiday and my wife is at a gig with the jazz band she plays with (baritone saxophone in case you were curious). So I had seven hours to occupy, hopefully productively. The only problem I was having was that the current WiP (as of yesterday) was stalling a little. After a bit of reflection it has one the way of a number of others into the "Maybe at some point in the future" pile. This pile has grown in recent times, fuelled by a growing disillusion I've been feeling (and that I've blogged about before).

Fortunately I had an idea for a story appear and last night as I lay awake I started to write down an opening. Eight pages of A5 later, with my hand in severe camp, I had about half of an opening chapter. Tonight I've converted those handwritten pages into typed up pages - and then added another section meaning I now have 3,682 words of a new novel on the page. One more scene and chapter one will be done. And then all I have to hope is that I can keep the momentum going to the point where the novel takes on its own life and cannot be stopped. I find they tend to do that at around the 20K-25K mark. I've certainly never got that far into a book without finishing it.

Now the interesting thing with this novel is it is not science fiction, fantasy or horror. It has a little bit of weird running through it but not excessively. It's certainly not heading for Neil Gaiman or China Mieville territory. Bizarrely I'm finding myself after nearly five decades of being almost exclusively a genre reader (obsessive?) I am writing a mainstream novel. And I'm enjoying it.

I suppose I should mention the title. It seems only fair. I've called it "The Writer, Writing". I know it's hardly original to have someone writing a novel about being a novelist. After all Stephen King has done it several times. But the idea doesn't work with my central character being anything other than a writer. The closest comparison I can think of in terms of content is Zoran Živković. I stress this is in content terms. I am not intending to compare myself with Zoran Živković in terms of quality. I find the man one of the best writers I have ever read. He's up there with Umberto Eco and Salman Rushdie for me.

He's probably why this kind of story came to mind. Having read every book of his that has, so far, been translated into English I guess I should expect him to influence my thoughts when it comes to my own writing. All I can do now is keep typing and hope that the novels finds its own life before distractions occur.

Back to politics (it's never far from my thoughts), I've found some of the events of the last week interesting - if a little troubling. There is a continuing disquiet on the EU referendum. There are many, many people who are angry at the result - or rather the manner of how it was won. And I can see reason for the feelings many have. After all it was only hours after the announcement of the LEAVE result when some of the campaigners seemed to be distancing themselves from the claims made in the campaign.

Today there were the first demonstrations against the result in London and York. I wouldn't be surprised if these were not the last. I think the summer might see many of them and they could grow much, much larger. And is the claims that seem to be fuelling them. On the report on the BBC website you can see a photo of one protestor holding a sign saying "No Goodbyes Based on Lies". And it's not a young woman holding it. My guess would put the sign's holder into her fifties.

I feel a great deal of sympathy were their feelings. I would have preferred a vote to REMAIN. I have been passionate Europhile as long as I can remember. I go further than many pro-EU people I know too. I feel humanity has many problems that we will only solve by working together for a common good. But I've never wanted to push anyone on this. After all the only thing I could see resulting from such an argument was a further entrenchment.

Well such holding back on my part I feel is no longer necessary. Although going in detail is not all that relevant even if restraint in expressing these views is not needed.. We have voted LEAVE and unless these protest grow to a level which cannot be ignored (and one which I do not believe will be achieved) than we are going to be leaving the EU.

So to put it another way it is time to just get on with things and make the most of what we have and build the best future we can from this point forward. Then if the protests do succeed in reversing public mood then I can rejoice but I won't be wasting the time in between waiting for the unlikeliest outcome.

There is one other thing about these protests though that I fear is not a good thing. After all this whole referendum process has proven divisive in the extreme. Cracks in our tolerant society have widened. We need to seal them and heal ourselves and remember all the things that bring us together rather than those that force us apart. We need to return to the time when you could disagree with your neighbour, brother, partner, colleague or friend without the disagreement resulting in anger and hatred. After all as I heard one politician (a reflective REMAIN campaigner) say, we are all BREXITEERS now. And we need to work together.

But more than that we still have to work with our neighbours and we will rely on much goodwill to be exchanged in all our future dealings to make this happen. Which is why I found Nigel Farage's words in the recent EU parliament session particularly distressing. For one thing the worst thing in the world, in my opinion, is a bad winner. Everyone talks about bad losers and there have been one or two of them, but bad winners trump them (up to you to decide if there's a pun in there) by several factors over.

Farage's gloating to the members of that parliament I found extremely distasteful. And I consider them amongst the most poorly judged I have ever heard form a politician.. All I can hope is that now the UK is leaving the EU that a one policy party like UKIP fades into obscurity. We need people who can bring us together now not drive the edge in further. After all this is a shared planet and we need to work together to take care of it. You just have to look at the recent climate change data to realise just how serious it is we build consensus and cooperate on a global basis - if we want to ensure the species has a future anyway..

The EU was one such step towards this. There was much wrong with the organisation (I wasn't blind to its faults) but at least with 28 countries pulling together then I felt there was a chance to get others to follow.

Seeing it at risk of disintegration (with Frexit, Nexit, Italeave, Grexit and Oexit (Austria) all now seem to be new portmanteau words that are popping up here and there) distresses me. Add in the similar growing sentiments in Germany, Sweden and Denmark and you can see a worrying nationalist trend appearing all across this continent. So far the mood in these countries has not gone as far as it had in Britain - but we always have been a little bit apart from our neighbours, believing that narrow sea somehow makes us different.

I just hope our decision does not lead to the end of the EU. Giving a good kick up its collective arse might not be a bad thing; but not breaking it up. Britain's exit might end up being the best thing for all concerned. If the EU restructures itself and concentrates on what it was set up for (the common market) and rids itself of the bloat factor and wastefulness then it might become something we would want to join again in the future.

Anyway back to writing. It is what I'm supposed to be doing after all.