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Two Pages (05/11/16)

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I shifted to a lower gear this morning, five pages against the previous sessions of ten, although I might get back into it this evening.  I’m now into the second act, which is where I really start to put my protagonist through the wringer. We test our characters because in adversity, we find out who they are.

You can get away with any number of sins, if you avoid boring the reader. I read a great deal, and if I find myself starting to drift into the dance of my words, I take a step back and look at the grid, see if there’s something missing that can drive it forward. When I used to write from a single idea, then I would, if stuck, look back and see if there was something unresolved that can generate tension in the work.

So, I’m 54 pages into Strange Lights now, and it’s a challenge, a balancing act between trying to capture what I like about the culture and aesthetics without it feeling too blunt and curated. It’s fiction, not based in anything other than an idea about the culture, allied to a strong story. I hope. We can never tell whether anything we’ve written is any good.

I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s short fiction books, which is always an education and a revelation. There’s fantastic imagery and ideas, but they’re always welded to a knowing, melancholy awareness of people. I’ve said before that in terms of fiction, monster can be metaphor, and Gaiman does that better than a lot of other writers in the genre.

I’ve got another collection of Joyce Carol Oates to enjoy, and a bunch of fiction to plough through. After Pynchon, everything feels faster than normal, but I will ramp up my interest. I read so often because it feeds the writing, grants a courage and eloquence that can easily get lost in the focus on task. I haven’t heard back from the agent about Until She Sings but as soon as I do, I will let people know. I’m ahead of the curve in terms of my workload but that’s part of my whole approach, to have work to show people who are interested in it. I work at my own pace, but it’s constant and consistent.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

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Two Pages (31/10/16)

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This morning’s pages were really strong, robust and inspired. Yesterday’s work was getting the ideas out onto the paper, today was about playing with that material, like clay or paint. You can communicate a large amount of information through the application of action and interpretation. That is done entirely by the reader, if you’re good at it. There are scenes and images that can pay off later. It usually comes through editing and organisation, and I’ve often found that the theme and idea of a book comes to my attention as  edit. Subsequent edits then become a matter of uncovering and illuminating the argument for and against the ideas, which is where you get the dynamics of the book emerging. I am now 15 pages into the new book, I’ve sent She’s Here to the agent and I am awaiting feedback from that. Things are going well.

I am now halfway into Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. There is a point where it all just clicks together and you’re lost in the torrent of words and images that he wields. He writes with such courage and potency of execution, allied to phrasing that’s just exquisite and ribald all at once.

I will be posting more fiction today. A poem and a short story, to acknowledge that it is Halloween.

Thank you for reading.

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Two Pages (28/10/16)

 

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I am making good progress on the new book. It took a little adjustment but the changes in setting and language have allowed me to develop in ways that surprised me this morning. It is a balance between serving the story, avoiding cliche and not doing service to the culture that I am using to give colour and texture to the story.

Fortunately, I know where I am going with this, and although there is room for exploration, which I always allow myself in order to give a maximum amount of expression to the work, the path is clear and I walk it each day, two pages at a time. I know that I am wilfully vague about the details, but it’s been my experience, that if I tell you what it’s about, then I lose the incentive to write it.

It is important that the work I do, reflects the influences and person that I am at that particular point. The amount of reading I do influences the quality of it. I do not plagiarise, because it is pointless and too easy. I feed off the reading that I do, see how a particular writer goes about achieving an effect or works out a sequence and then look at it in the context of my own writing. The old maxim of ‘write what you know’ is oft-discussed and misinterpreted, it can be an effective block of the creative impulse but I think that it’s a nuanced discussion.  I write whatever is in me at the time, about the things that can sustain interest for an entire book. I know who I write for, and that allows me to focus on the simple act of turning up each day and doing it.

Thank you for reading.

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Two Pages (26/10/16)

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I started writing a new piece in longhand, having finished editing She’s Here. I won’t start on Lawful Evil in 2nd draft until enough time has elapsed that I can go back into it with a new perspective, transcribing and editing as I go. The work continues for me, always.

At my writing group last night, we discussed NaNoWriMo and one of our members is doing it this year. I did try it once, and came away with a graphic novel script called Ghost Limb Palm but it was not an experience that I felt benefited me personally or professionally to any degree. My work routine is constant, and it allows me to write to a constant degree, to detach the process from the achievement and to still achieve.

Every month for me is NaNoWriMo because I don’t stop working. I am either editing or working on something new, and that’s when I am not working on short stories or poetry. I am not disdainful of it in the slightest and I applaud anyone who takes it on. It’s important to know what you don’t benefit from, as much as what you do.

I went to the library as well yesterday, picked up a book called Spark by John Twelve Hawks which was a techno-thriller, with a lot of pulp energy that I finished this morning and I am now reading Night Music by John Connolly, which is lovely and perfect for the time of year.

Thank you for reading. I continue to grow and thrive, as I always have. Writing gives me courage, to see the worth in those who do not see it within themselves and to take flight without forgetting where you start from. I wish that for everyone.

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Two Pages (24/10/16)

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The above picture is the completed exploratory draft of Lawful Evil. I finished it on Saturday in a mammoth writing sprint. Whenever I finish a draft, it’s a bittersweet experience, a mix of relief and regret. A lot happened during the three months of writing it, and the work reflects that. It’s the first book where I worked from a story grid, so it has more of a structure from the first. Now, it goes away for a couple of months, I’ve set a reminder to dig it out then and start transcribing it from longhand to the computer. During that time, I am editing as I go, making sure that the themes and ideas ring true, fill in any gaps and generally polish it up until it shines. I will be looking for beta readers after that, and sending it to the agent for further notes and feedback.

She’s Here is going really well, in the editing stages where I am looking at things like sticky sentences and overused words rather than the story itself. It’s an education and I always feel like I develop my craft when looking at my own flaws and correcting them. You will, of course, make new mistakes but they’re only tragedies if you fail to learn from them.

After that, I will be starting something entirely new again. The projects will require a little bit of research, but that’s a pleasure in and of itself. I am always writing, or thinking about it, and there’s nothing that stops me. It’s a great relief that I have this purpose, it keeps me upright when the world wants to kick me in the stomach.

I finished a couple of books at the weekend. Robin Wasserman’s Girls On Fire which was stunning, reminded me a little of Megan Abbot’s writing, but had it’s own sense of urgency and passion. It does not spare you, in it’s telling and I was genuinely moved and invigorated by the books.

I also read Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, which was a noir novel that reminded me of Patricia Highsmith. It had some compelling moments but the elements that have perhaps been its selling point ultimately became it’s downfall. It takes too long for the big reveal to occur and when it does, the ending afterwards becomes too abrupt. It is beautifully written, the narrator/protagonist has a strong and well realised set of flaws, and there is a willingness to acknowledge the flesh in the book.

I am now reading A Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen, which is very enjoyable, essentially it’s Buffy In The Wild West but it works really well in terms of worldbuilding, letting the western elements breathe and it’s quite interesting how the two genres work together. I’ve got the sequel as well, so will be reading that.

Books and writing get me through. My passion and purpose remain unabated.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

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Two Words (21/10/16)

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Lawful Evil is now into it’s third act. I’ve got another few obligatory scenes to work through, and the climax but I hope it will be finished within a few weeks. I’ve got two solid ideas for whatever I work on next, so it will be a toss up between them, or it maybe something new that comes to mind. I know that whatever happens, I can start and finish something.

I have now edited 80 pages of She’s Here, it’s been a pleasure to work through and I am pleasantly surprised by how little I need to change. Some grammar and narrative colour, but the story still works well. It’s poignancy does not escape me at the moment, and finding the emotion and making it sing again. I have always enjoyed the idea of using the supernatural/uncanny as metaphor and it applies here. Deliberately so, in this case.

I finished reading Perfidia by James Ellroy and The Divide by Matt Taibbi yesterday. They talk from different perspectives, but share similar observations albeit the latter is non fiction and angry with it. I am now reading We Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong which is a wonderful, interesting book about microbiomes.

Thank you for reading.

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Image: http://www.kentrogowski.com/projects/bears/

It was about momentum, trying to lift the weight of my process against the resistance of anxiety and depression. These times are when all the bland, fat days of getting it done reap their reward.

It isn’t about external validation, or money in the bank a lot of the time. You do things that you would rather not do, in order to make it through testing times and write. I hit the 270 page mark this morning, after ten pages yesterday. I am close to the end now of Lawful Evil, two sequences or perhaps three, and it’s followed the story grid pretty closely. Once that is done, it will go away for a while whilst I continue editing on She’s Here, possibly Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere, and developing two new projects, both of which I’ve pitched to my agent.

I finished reading A History of Seven Killings yesterday, Marlon James’ award winning book about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley and the intercession of the CIA in the country at that time. Nowadays, Marley is a meme, a signal of virtue that never captures the purity of the man and his music still carries that rawboned elegance. No Woman, No Cry is Dylan with a joint on the go.

I started Perfidia by James Ellroy yesterday, which has a thematic relation to James’ book in that it uses the swirling undercurrents of personal ambition, corruption and politics to show us a point in the past and teach us that history shows who we are, not who we say we are. I’ve been reading Ellroy for a long time, enough to see how his work has influenced later authors. Lawful Evil probably bears some of his ideas, because he has found the corruption in Los Angeles and found the poetry, the humanity within it.

Reading and writing help, and even the sentences that bring tears to my eyes, do so in the spirit of healing.  Same with the poetry too, they’re all tools I use to build an idea bigger than can be contained within me. I am not at peace anywhere, but on the page, there are moments where it calls to me and offers that hope. It’s a long slog, isolating and polarizing sometimes, but the feeling of being done is always good.

She’s Here is benefiting from a solid line edit. There is less to change thus far than I expected, but am still reading and editing it like I hate it, looking for the bits that would stick out, that feel like affectations or moments of ‘hey look’ which survived the first draft. The pain and the grief are there, and I am now into the haunting sections which represent my first attempts at the genre and hopefully don’t suck too badly. Chewing through the rind of time, sucking the bitterness away and hoping there’s enough nutrition to keep you moving for another moment, another hour, another day.

So I keep breathing, meditation to alleviate the worst of the symptoms and working on myself to find my centre again. Thank you for reading.

 

 

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Two Pages (19/10/16)

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I wrote two pages of Lawful Evil, the second section of background exposition narrated in first person. These pieces don’t go always go into later drafts verbatim because sometimes I cut them into pieces and seed them throughout the work. With these, and an earlier section, I like the voices that I used here. It’s a perspective that I have seen done in other books and it lends weight to the different textures of the book.

Editing She’s Here was productive this morning, cut some extraneous details and tidied up some of the language. I tend to work to a rule of cutting around 10% but sometimes it has been more, and that gives me an opportunity to put forward the intention of the scene. I am putting more narrative colour in terms of talking about Tommy’s emotions and relationships. Finding where the pain and emotion within me lives and putting it onto the page.

The writing makes me feel pretty. There are a lot of times in life that you need that place where you are kind to yourself, especially when circumstances deny you that opportunity and my writing allows me to do that. It’s keeping me upright a lot of the time, and allowing me to function at points when I otherwise would not.

It does not mean that I put anything less than my all into it. I focus on making the story sing and mine whatever quality is within me.

I am reading A History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. It is the first Booker Prize winning book I’ve read. Awards attract my interest but my passion for reading is too inclusive, I know what i like but I am always willing to give different genres and stories a chance. We all have our favourites, but I enjoy trying, failing, succeeding with different authors. The book itself is intense, challenging but it moves at a breakneck pace, moving in all sorts of different directions before returning with a controlled mastery of history and setting. I am reminded of James Ellroy, who has always combined history, crime and the ambitions of others into blistering, exhausting stories with a similar amount of skill.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

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Two Pages (06/10/16)

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  • My throat is healing well. I ended up writing another two pages of Lawful Evil last night, and I find that when I get into it, the focus provides a lovely and effective distraction from my discomfort.  It also helps that these scenes are dynamic, carrying a lot of plot and narrative weight which demanded some focus. I take pleasure in the work itself and I can only hope that subsequent drafts refine what I’ve done so far.
  • I am gearing back up to go into Until She Sings, ahead of the next batch of notes from my agent. I have said before that the quality of the work is the only thing I can control, which is why I am happy to go over work again until I cannot see where it can be improved. That is not to say that I am arrogant about my talents, but different perspectives see things that I will miss. What I can do, which is a manifestation of self-appointment, is to go over it until I am happy with it. If you can answer the questions before they are asked, then it shows you’re someone who takes the work seriously. I do.
  • I finished The Night’s Watch by Sarah Waters this morning, and that was after reading Fingersmith by the same author yesterday. She’s fantastic, and reading a few of her works one after the other, allows me to see her approach, the things that she talks about in the work. We all have our obsessions, our themes and the things that occupy our writing lives. Recognising that is not formula, but focus. Knowing yourself is key to knowing others, same with acceptance and writing is a fantastic method of doing it.
  • So much of what I do, comes from trying a bunch of different things, and seeing what makes me productive. I’m part of a writing group and we set ourselves exercises which challenge us in different ways. I am not fond of the seam of writing exercises which feel like frippery and distraction, a slightly jejune approach that doesn’t feel like anything other than an indirect call for attention. You can choke creativity with hashtags, and the whole industry of ‘writing about writing’ and smattering it with an air of ‘woo’ doesn’t appeal to me. I can talk about the inherent magic and power of the process, but I cannot convince you to feel it. I prefer to talk about the work in pragmatic terms because that’s what works for me. Sweep the floor, wash the plates and put them, write the pages. No one cares about your feelings, they may care about the work. However, if you enjoy it, then enjoy it without concern for the feelings of others, especially me.
  • A general rule of thumb is that I discount anyone who has done more writing about writing than actual writing. It’s still a book, but it’s theoretical to me. I will not deny the expertise or diminish someone’s subjective experience but you can successfully avoid doing any actual writing with a good prescription of conflicting, unwieldy writing advice.
  • Blogging can offer immediate gratification in a way that the traditional process cannot, but to me, the latter is where the true purpose lies. I don’t talk about marketing or SEO because it’s oftentimes an attempt to define the undefinable and it bores me, feels mechanical and rote. It’s all well and good getting people to your blog but what have you got to say when they’re there. I write about what I know, and what I feel. There are no mission statements here, just my talking about what I am doing and thinking about.
  • Westworld was promising. Some interesting concepts, anchored in lovely performances and the leading lady, Evan Rachel Wood is mesmerising, holding her own alongside the likes of Antony Hopkins and Ed Harris. It raised questions and hinted at some disturbing plotlines going forward. I really enjoyed it.

Thank you for reading. Please leave comments, questions and missives below.

 

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Two Pages (04/10/16)

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  • It was a good two pages this morning. I’m always wary of these scenes, they’re important and I try to balance the need for pace and information with the tenets of solid writing. The one applied to this morning was that if you have two characters talking, they should not tell one another things that they both know. Revelations matter in the context of the book, and I have this nagging suspicion that the scene is too early in the book, but it needed to come out and so it did.
  • I chose the quote above, as much because I agree with it’s sentiments and Sarah Waters has become part of my lexicon of ‘go to’ writers, in that I will read anything of their work. I include:
  • Joyce Carol Oates
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Stephen King
  • Joe Hill
  • Paul Tremblay
  • Alice Hoffman
  • Warren Ellis
  • Chuck Palahniuk
  • Don Winslow
  • Stephen Hunter
  • George R R Martin
  • Jason Arnopp
  • Justin Cronin
  • Neil Gaiman
  • John Connolly
  •  Benjamin Percy
  •  Gillian Flynn.
  • John Niven
  • John Irving
  • Barbara Kingsolver
  • In terms of writers who’ve no longer offered up work on account of, y’know, death I have started to explore Charles Dickens, Vladimir Nabokov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Jane Austen.  There’s so much to learn and I am finding new authors all the time. Yesterday, I found out that I can take up 15 books out at a time from the library and it was such a relief because I could do that twice over and still find things to read.

 

  • Non-fiction, the stuff that informs the books and hopefully shows that I am speaking from a place of relative confidence in the details, that’s more a matter of finding the material that gives me the best information. The quality of the writing matters there, because I don’t enjoy struggling through stilted, if earnest writing to find information. Google is a modern miracle but I retain information from books in a more organic way.

 

  • I am not a pretentious person. I can be quite stoic, I enjoy being a man, which is an odd thing to say these days but I do. I like how my mind works, I enjoy seeing my work progress, even the wrestling with doubt that afflicts me about my talent is still enjoyable because it means that I am progressing, I am fighting myself for an ideal that I may not achieve. There are amazing books on shelves that no one reads, no one can predict what sells and what doesn’t. I’ve said it before, but I make my success about the process for now rather than the outcome.  Making myself write every day is a pleasurable practice, as much meditation as work. It’s like gardening on a sunny day, sometimes all you get is scratched and dirty, but when it’s done and you take a step back, it feels wonderful to have done it.
  • Writing has changed me, and the writing has changed as a result. I used any number of identities when I was avoiding writing, political activist was one of them and when they all hit barriers, I gave up. Writing is, and I remember the comedienne Bethany Black, the thing that I have found that I don’t want to fail at anymore. I write for, and about women because that was what came out on the page and I like to leave a certain amount of the reasoning and process in my subconscious. If I started to truly analyse myself, there are limits that we apply in the journey. What comes up is what gets put out there, and so there are women of all types in my books, and there’s no manifesto to that other than to tell a good story as well as I can. To get good at it without necessarily defining what good is other than the reaction of the reader.

Thank you for reading. Please leave comments and questions below. You won’t because no one reads this but I do it regardless. We all need to create and sit in what Hakim Bey called ‘Temporary Autonomous Zones’, liminal spaces where we can think, speak and play without fear of judgement or scorn. This is mine. Tell me yours.