Friday, April 29, 2011

Inspiration

Sometimes I get asked where I get my inspiration from, so here's a list.

Music. Songs that tell a story, an instrumental piece with a theme to it, or just a congruence of thought, music and memories.

Life. There are times when I wish I could do something, so I write a story as if someone could...like travel to the future and find a better world, or execute a boss.

Kids. Children are inventive, crazily inventive, and when my three are on a roll I let them get on with it and make notes.

Acting. When playing a character on stage, occasionally I come across one that leaves me asking 'what would happen to this character in a different situation?'

Books. Heinous crime I know, but the story in another book can inspire me to write a different one, using the same basic idea: Man is put in a situation he can't handle and has to fight to survive.

Wallpaper. Yes I did say wallpaper. Staring at plain wallpaper, or a painted wall, allows me to picture the scenes of a book like a film.

People. Watching people in action, or inaction, and wondering what story lies behind their lives.

There you go, all my secrets. Just promise not to tell anyone else.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Something Else

Nothing to do with writing...you have been warned.

The next play I'm in, A Kind of Vesuvius by Gillian Plowman, will be performed by KATS on 12-14 May. In it, I will be playing a gun-toting, psychopathic encyclopedia salesman (type casting again), and I have finally managed to get my head around the lines.

They weren't too difficult in and of themselves, but because of the nature of the character, he has four different moods and four different subjects in the space of 20 words. It wasn't easy to learn, but now I have a handle on it, I am sooooooo looking forward to this play. I've had to ad-lib a few things and may even drop a Sean Connery impression into one part: "It's in the blue folder miss Moneypenny."

On Saturday, I also learnt that I will be taking part in the St Albans festival playing an alcoholic. Another strange character (sigh) in a play about a place in the Caribbean called Famous Island. I read the play a couple of months ago and liked it so said to our secretary that I was willing to take part.

The writer, probably getting desperate at that stage, asked KATS if any of the company were interested in performing in the play and a few said yes. She has never met any of us, and the first time she will see what we are capable of is when she comes and sees us in May. The festival is in June.

Let's hope she hasn't forgotten how to pray.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Reach Out

An author is one who writes in a specific field or genre, whilst a writer can turn their hand to anything.

What do you know? You may write SFF, Horror, Crime, Romance YA, but I will bet that you know a lot about another subject. I write SF Comedy, but I also know about Computers as it is my day job. I have run training courses on various subjects, one of which was titled, 'Does Your Business NEED a Website?'

I have decided to turn this into an eBook to be published on Kindle. Why? I want to earn my living as a writer/author, and if the fiction isn't going down too well (2 sales and counting) I shall diversify. This will be my first non-fiction book, but I doubt it will be the last.

I'll let you know when it's done.

What could you write about and publish on Kindle?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Iain M Banks: So Far

I've now read nine of Iain Banks' SF books and one of his general fiction books. So far, I can honestly say it's been a mixed bag.

Out of the ten books, I've not finished four of them, yet friends of mine have enjoyed those same four books (Against A Dark Background, Feersum Endjin, Look to Windward and The Steep Approach to Garbadale). Why?

Banks does not do happy, he writes misery and in the four books above the misery comes at you by the bucketful. I have read at least 100 pages of each before giving up and still not cared what happened to the main protagonists and found the books dull and misery laden.

But I don't think it's just the misery that puts me off. The Player of Games is another book full of misery, and ends badly for most of the people, but I enjoyed the book and still remember it in some detail. The problem with the books listed is the heavy reliance on description rather than people, story and plot. In Look To Windward there were whole pages of elegant, and eloquently written description, but nothing that grabbed my attention.

I don't regret attempting to read any of these books as they have shown me what it is I like and I intend to keep that in my own writing. Nor should this be taken a criticism of Banks as writer or a rejection of his work. It is simply that you never know what reaction people will have to your work in whatever field of the arts you involve yourself and that this rejection by most people is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, it is normal and so are we.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ebooks Are Coming: And Quicker Than You Think

This blog is not mine, I've half-inched (pinched/nicked/stolen) it from Prospect magazine's website. It's about the planned closure of libraries and how youngsters are currently using ebooks. Read and think deeply.

...........................

Austerity shows up a nation’s soft spots like lemon juice on cuts. The British, it turns out, are a people who will accept the sale of their water, but not their forests. Radio 6 Music, we have now discovered, is one of their most cherished institutions. And libraries? Well, perhaps some very strong resistance there was always on the cards. For many years, these places have been a progressive totem, a route to betterment for the motivated poor and, more importantly, their children. Among all the public services, libraries occupy a unique position: their clients are neither forced to use them, as they are hospitals and schools, nor capable of overusing them, as the indignant right so loves to claim of benefits. Libraries, in short, are almost unbegrudgeable.

Which makes the councils proposing to shut more than 450 across the country look like vandals. In response, successful authors such as Julia Donaldson have come forward to describe their own debt to libraries. Alan Bennett called it “child abuse” to close them. In a frothy attack that became a viral battle cry, Philip Pullman even compared the idea to “the fanatical Bishop Theophilus in the year 391 laying waste to the Library of Alexandria.”

Although an admirable man in many ways, Pullman is prone—and perhaps partial—to hyperbole. But the heat of his rage does spring from a wider fire, evidenced by the 22,000 people who have spread his words on Facebook, and the thousands more who have staged sit-ins and shush-ins at dozens of different protests across the country.

In many cases, the protesters are surely right. Although libraries often look dowdy and half-loved, many are also used and useful. Children’s borrowing is increasing year-on-year. Yet the case for preservation can be oversold. It must be at least imaginable that the benefits of some libraries cannot justify their cost. I also wonder whether the protesters, in trumpeting the joy of reading, might do more harm than good. Listening to a declaration of how wonderful books are (World Book Night, on 5th March, was one recent example), what I hear most loudly is a group of people feeling they have to say so. No one troubles to declare this for computer games. Instead of making books seem fun, the well-intentioned merely spread a whiff of burning martyr round the act of reading.

The kernel of this attitude, I think, is the idea that all books—even bad ones—are endangered objects, and therefore intrinsically virtuous. As rival electronic entertainments encroach on long-form reading’s patch, people have begun to see something wholesome in Pullman’s stories of a boyhood spent in libraries, while it is conventional to see the opposite in a child devoted to his Xbox. One might argue that books offer a better education than games, but they are also more isolating—there are no two-player books—and just as prone to being overused. “Human beings can lose their lives in libraries,” Saul Bellow wrote in Him with His Foot in His Mouth. “They ought to be warned.”

The talk of a future in which children cannot access books is also not just wrong, but backwards. E-readers—already available for £52, and falling—offer an incomparably more convenient way for anyone to find good things. While defending libraries, surely there is also time to promote the fact that, thanks to Project Gutenberg and Google Books, every child in the country can now download virtually any out-of-copyright book for nothing. (Piracy will doubtless do the same for most in-copyright books too, as may digital lending, though this is less cause for celebration.)

The thought of reading books on screens does not make everybody comfortable, of course. The campaign group Voices for the Library even hosts a poem denouncing the Kindle on its website. But look who loves it: youngsters. A survey for World Book Night found that 58 per cent of teenagers have already read a book electronically. Freed from paper in this way, books have a much better chance of becoming cool again. When I was a teenager, it would have been laughable to suggest that the next generation’s favourite activity would be reading and writing—yet texting, Facebook and the rest have made it so. Likewise, I doubt my parents’ generation could have imagined that hip-hop, a ghetto upgrade on rhyming poetry, would become the world’s most popular style of music. Such transformations in an art form’s image are possible, but only when the medium is modern.

The switch from page to screen is certainly a radical one, however, so the over-my-dead-bodiers should not be mocked too caustically. Instead we should remind them, gently, that they have become obsessed with crockery instead of food. If they won’t listen, and start talking about Alexandria again, then we should rub our hands and say this: the Royal Library of Alexandria was almost certainly not destroyed by Bishop Theophilus, or any other fanatic, in 391, or any other year; it is most likely to have decayed slowly, thanks to a mixture of perishable book technology and lack of interest in its contents. Digital storage, we might add, means that any comparable loss is now more or less impossible for the rest of human history. When the children of 2011 look back, they will not see this as the year their local libraries were taken away. This will be the year they all got libraries of their own.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A New Start

It's Monday, it's a new week and, for some reason, I'm not feeling grumpy about it.

There may be several reasons for this. Work is on the up, having had more enquiries than normal and a possible job on Wednesday. The play is near its performance date and I am REALLY looking forward to playing a gun-toting, enthusiastic, sexually active encyclodpedia salesman. Most of all though, my WIP is coming on nicely.

I wrote an introduction to chapter 6 yesterday in the style I've been trying to write for some time and succeeded. I've also stopped trying to make every chapter 5000 words long and have decided to just let the chapters be as long/short as they need to be.

Today, I shall write some more, eat properly, do some exercise and when I am happy with what I have done, treat myself.

Have a great week.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Where Did That Come From?

I love words, especially odd ones, and finding out where words and phrases originate. Then there are the word myths.

There is no word in English that rhymes with Orange. WRONG! Lozenge and Scavenge for starters. Rhyme does NOT mean that the word is spelt the same at the end, just sound the same. You could put a case for binge and whinge to rhyme with orange too.

Phrases can have interesting histories. 'Beyond the pale' dates from the 14th century. The Pale was an area of Ireland around Dublin, within which English law was to be obeyed and enforced. Outside of this area it could not be enforced and was beyond the pale. Pales, in this sense, also occurred around Calais, in Russia and in parts of Scotland.

So there you have two useless bits of information that you can bore people with this weekend. Have fun.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Another Year, Another Chin

Today I turn 48. Not particularly old, but older than two thirds of the planet's population and my life is not the one I imagined when I was young.

I have three children, which is about right, all of whom I have a great relationship with. I am on stage, albeit in amateur productions rather than blockbuster hollywood movies and prime time TV shows. There's also four published short stories and a book on Amazon to my name, but no billion selling monsters...at least not yet. In short my life isn't how I thought it should be, though the seeds of it are there.

Birthdays are not my favourite days. Partly because I am reminded that time is running out, but also because they remind me of the unfulfilled life I have. This year, however is a little different. For the past twenty years I've looked back over the previous year, as is my habit, and not liked what I see. This year I have reasons to be cheerful.

I'm no longer in a draining relationship, my ex-wife is long gone from my life and I have very little contact with her, and I finally have my own place where I can be me and live my life.

Then there's the artistic side of me which I have developed, not just in writing, but also on stage and in ink/pencil. I may even get back to my guitar and start playing regularly.

The writing in particular is something that I am proud of. In the past year I have had just short of twenty book reviews published as well as another short story, a story of which I am very proud. I've also published a collection of stories on Amazon. More to the point, I have finally discovered the style with which I am happiest: tragic-comedy.

On stage I have taken a lead role in a pantomime and played four characters in one play, in both of which I got to make people laugh.

One of the difficulties with making other people laugh is that there are those who only see you as a comedian and not as a person with their own problems. I am blessed with some good friends with whom I can be serious, but still no one that can share all of life with me.

In short, I am pleased with the direction my life is now taking and with the successes of the past year. The next twelve months will NOT be make or break, but they will see further gains and more improvement.

One of the songs from my younger days that I have never forgotten is 'Its A Long Way Up', by Big Bad Barry Manilow. It's a song that has come into my mind a lot recently, as the lyrics sum up how I feel at the moment.

Enjoy today. I will.

...................................................


Once you find what matters in your life
Keep on pushing through the darkness
Till you see the light
You're gonna find it
You're no longer behind it

Once you learn what you've been doin' wrong
You can make the change
You need to make to carry on
Now and forever
The sooner the better, just remember now . . .

It's a long way up
When you're coming from nowhere
It's a long way up
When you're coming from nowhere
You gotta fight a little harder
You gotta push a little more
You gotta gamble everything you got
To get you through the door
'Cause it's a long way up

You've been down before but that's okay
You can rest assured
That every dog will have his day
And life is a jungle
But you ain't gonna crumble, remember now . . .

It's a long way up
When you're coming from nowhere
It's a long way up
When you're coming from nowhere
You gotta fight a little harder
You gotta push a little more
You gotta gamble everything you got
To get you through the door
'Cause it's a long way up

Don't give up the dream
Hey don't you know it's dark before the dawn
When you think you just can't take it
That's when you'll make it



.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Easter Holiday

It's friday, the boys are all off school and they're with me until Tuesday. Bliss.

This week, I have added another chapter to my novel, had a brainwave for said novel, had an idea for an article and know where I could place it and been generally nice to myself.

In other news, I've put up some shelving on one wall of my bedroom and now have oodles of space for yet more books and still have enough MDF left over to put up more shevles in the front room for my copius amount of DVDs.

The sun is out, the sky is blue, the windows are open and it's warm. I may even smile later on.

Have a great weekend one and all.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Are You Disciplined?

When becoming a writer one of the words most used by others is discipline: If you haven't got it, you won't make it. Don't let it put you off, because you've already got it.

Discipline is such a hard word and is normally used to try and put people off from doing something. Yet we all have it. 'No I don't', I hear you say. 'Oh yes you do', I reply. And I can prove it.

Do you get up at a regular time every day for work/children etc? Do you cook for others? Do you organise clubs/societies? Do you turn up on time for those clubs/societies? Do you clean your home regularly?

List what you do on a regular basis, daily, monthly, weeky, yearly without being prompted by others. Go on, do it now. Surprising isn't it. Still think you're not disciplined?

What people usually mean is not disciplined, but organised. If you can organise half an hour a day to write, or three occasions a week, you are organised and, therefore, disciplined.

There will be times when something gets in the way of the organisation and you will have to rearrange things, but they won't occur too often and you already know how to deal with them.

So give yourself a pat on the back for your organisational prowess and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Aids and Helps: My Bookshelf

What books have you got on your bookshelf that help you in your writing? Here's my (incomplete) list.

Dictionary (duh)
Thesaurus (double duh)
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
Why Do We Quote?
Dictionary of Changes In Meaning
From Pitch to Publication
Wicked Words
i before e except after c
an apple a day
Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology
A Word in Your Shell-Like
Good Writing Guide
Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes
March Hares and Monkey's Uncles
Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins
Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language

What's on your bookshelf?

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Sex

When men write sex scenes it usually involves multiple positions and multiple acts all in the space of a few hours, and the woman is ALWAYS satisfied. When women write about sex it usually reflects on the intensity of the one experience in mental, physical and emotional detail.

Admittedly, those are generalities and there are always exceptions, though I can't think of one at the moment, but sex is part of life and, therefore, part of literature. So how should writers approach sex in their work? By using a cliche: only if it's necessary to the script.

If you're writing bodice-rippers, Mills & Boon, erotica and such like, then sex scenes are a must, preferably in a lot of detail. It is also a (probable) requirement in books that are about two people who fall passionately in love, whichever genre the book is written for. In short, if the story makes less sense without the sex, then you need it.

But what if you can't write sex scenes? You're not alone. There is an annual prize from the Literary Review given to the worst sex scene in a novel, a prize that has been running for 18 years. So don't worry too much about your ability to write about sex as even the best authors come up short sometimes...or most of the time in some cases.

There's also a couple of comments from writers that you may want to take note of. The first comes a documentary entitled 'Sex and the Sitcom', that was broadcast on BBC Four recently.

In it, one writer states that people who write great comedy scenes involving sex don't have good sex lives themselves. I'm not sure how serious he is, but we all write what we know.

Another comment that comes from an unknown writer is that people who write a lot of sex scenes don't have sex at all and survive on these fantasies. Judging by some of the sex scenes in SF novels, I can believe it.

To sum up, write sex scenes if you need to (and that includes if the audience needs it), otherwise, leave it alone.