Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Secret Society

Joseph K_____, around his twentieth birthday, learned the existence of a secret, very secret society. It truly resembles no other association of this kind. It is very difficult for some people to join. Many, who ardently desire to, never succeed. On the other hand, others are in it without even knowing. One is, by the way, never quite sure of belonging; there are many people who think themselves members of this secret society, and who are not at all. It makes no difference that they have been initiated; they are members even less than many who do not even know of the society's existence. Indeed, they have undergone the test of a bogus initiation, intended to throw people off who are not worthy to really be initiates. But to the most authentic members, to those who have attained the highest grade in the hierarchy of this society, even to those it is never revealed whether their successive initiations are valid or not. It can even happen that a member has attained some real status, in the normal way, following authentic initiations, and that, afterward, without having been warned, he is submitted to bogus initiations only. The object of endless discussion among members is to find out if it is better to be admitted to a low but authentic grade than to occupy an exalted but illusory position. In any case, no one is sure of the stability of his grade.

In fact, the situation is even more complicated, because certain applicants are admitted to the highest grades without having undergone any test, others without having been informed. And to tell the truth, there is not even any need to make application; there are people who have been given very advanced initiations who did not even know of the secret society's existence.

The powers of the highest members are limitless, and they carry within a powerful emanation from the secret society. Their mere presence suffices, for example, even if they do not show themselves, to transform a harmless gathering, like a concert or an anniversary dinner, into a meeting of the secret society. These members are responsible for making, upon all sessions which they have been present, secret reports that are examined closely by other members of the same rank; there is in this way a perpetual exchange of reports among the membership, permitting the highest authorities in the secret society to keep the situation well in hand.

However high, however far initiation goes, it never goes so far as to reveal to the initiate the aim pursued by the secret society. But there are always traitors, and for a long time it has been no mystery to anyone that this aim is to keep things secret.

Joseph K_____ was very frightened to learn this secret society was so powerful, spreading so wide that he could perhaps, without knowing it, be shaking hands with the most powerful of its members. But unfortunately, one morning, emerging from a painful sleep, he lost his first class ticket on the Metro. This bit of bad luck was the first link in a jumble of contradictory circumstances that brought him into contact with the secret society. Later, so as to protect himself, he was obliged to take steps to be admitted to this formidable organization. That happened a long time ago, and it is not yet known where he stands in his endeavour.

Jean Ferry - Satrape du Collège de 'Pataphysique

The Great Magician

There was once a powerful magician who lived in a garret in the Rue Bouffetard. He lived there in the guise of a little old clerk, tidy and punctual, and worked in a branch of the Avaganais Bank on the Avenue des Gibelins. With the wave of a magic toothpick he could have transmuted all the tiles of the roof into bars of gold. But that would have been immoral, for he believed that work ennobles man. And - to some extent - even woman, he would add.

When his Aunt Ursula, an old shrew who had just been ruined by the collapse of the Serbian-Bulgarian stocks, came to live with him and demanded that he take care of her, he could have transformed her at will into a pretty young princess, or into a swan harnessed to his magic chariot, or into a soft-boiled egg, or into a ladybug or into a bus. But that would have broken with good family tradition, the backbone of society and morality. So he slept on a straw mat and would get up at six o'clock to buy Aunt Ursula her rolls and prepare her coffee; after which, he listened patiently to the daily broadside of complaints: that the coffee tasted of soap, that there was a cockroach baked into one of the rolls, that he was an unworthy nephew and would be disinherited. "Disinherited of what?" you might well wonder. But he let her talk on, knowing that if he wanted to... But Aunt Ursula must never suspect that he was a powerful magician. That might give birth to thoughts of lucre and close the gates of Paradise to her forever.

After that, the great magician would go down his six flights, sometimes almost breaking his neck on the murderously slippery stairs. However, he would pick himself up with a faint smile, thinking that if he wished he could turn himself into a swallow and take wing through the skylight. But the neighbours might see, and so wondrous a feat would shake the very foundation of their naive but wholesome faith.

When he reached the street, he would brush the dust off his alpaca jacket at the same time taking care not to pronounce those words which would have instantly turned it into a brocade vestment. Such an act would have planted a sinister doubt in the hearts of the people passing and shaken their innocent belief in the immutability of the laws of nature.

He had his breakfast at the counter in a cafe, taking only some ersatz coffee and a bit of stale bread. Ah, if he wanted to...but in order to stop himself from making use of his supernatural powers, he would swallow five cognacs in rapid succession. The alcohol, dulling the edge of his magic powers, brought him round to a salutary humility and to the feeling that all men, including himself, were brothers. If the cashier repulsed him when he tried to kiss her, pretending it was because of his dirty beard, he would tell himself that she had no heart and understood nothing of the spirit of the gospels. At a quarter to eight, he was in his office, his sleeve protectors on, a pen behind his ear, and a newspaper spread before him. With only a slight effort of concentration he could have known straight off the present, past and future of the entire world, but he restrained himself from using this gift. He made himself read the paper so as not to lose touch with the common language; it allowed him to communicate over an aperitif with his equals - in appearance - and guide them in the right direction. At eight o'clock the paper scratching began, and if he made a mistake now and then, it was in order to justify the reprimands of his superiors, who otherwise would be guilty of the serious sin of having made a false accusation. And so, all day long the great magician, in the guise of an average employee, carried on his task as humanity's guide.

Poor Aunt Ursula! Whenever he returned at noon having forgotten to buy some parsley, that dear lady, instead of cracking the basin over his head, would certainly have behaved differently had she known who her nephew really was. But then she would never have had the opportunity of discovering to what extent anger is a momentary madness.

If he had wanted to!...Instead of dying in a hospital of an unknown disease in a barely Christian fashion, leaving no more trace on earth than a moth-eaten coat in the wardrobe, an old toothbrush, and mocking memories in the ungrateful hearts of his colleagues, he could have been a pasha, an alchemist, a wizard, a nightingale, or a cedar of Lebanon. But that would have been contrary to the secret designs of Providence. No one made a speech over his grave. No one suspected who he was. And who knows - perhaps not even himself.

Still, he was a most powerful magician.
RENE DAUMAL (1908 - 1944)
tr. Charles Warner.
Evergreen Review Vol.4 No 13
"What is 'Pataphysics?"

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Tropes and other tricks for writing

TV Tropes - a fun site to get lost in, I'll let them introduce themselves.

What is this about? This wiki is a catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction.

Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite." In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them.

Cracked's description of the site, and explanation of Tropes, although the site does a pretty good idea of explaining itself.
I made a list of my own essential ingredients, but didn't check out TV Tropes before starting NaNo, as I might never have started writing!
Here, for instance: 






Thursday, 29 November 2012

#Nano Day 29 - completed it!

I probably won't start on the editing and re-write process just yet - I need a break!

I have learned to use Scrivener much more confidently, so will probably firm that knowledge up, and perhaps explore a few other bells and whistles.

Then return to the unfinished autobiography, using Scrivener as the writing tool.

Things to look forward to!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

#Nano Day 28 - about to burst through the tape

I have just 700 words to go, to complete the basic task, and that doesn't seem much for tying up the loose ends, but it will do.  Not that you have to stop at 50K, if you need more to make it elegant.

Like an abrupt Hitchcock ending, though (think Vertigo, or North by North-West) the story is done, the baddies are dead, the valuable MacGuffin is identified and safe, and all is right with the world.  So I might as well stop.

Will take a quick break, as I come into the home stretch, and then come back to wrap it up.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Day 26 #NaNoWriMo - Fool's Gold

I have less than 5000 words to go, and four days to do it in, so barring a complete crash and burn I should complete the task.

It's going to need a lot of editing to match up timelines, seasons, weather, and so on, but basically I am fairly happy with it.  I've snuck in most of the things I wanted.  I don't think I write women very well, and they got squeezed out of this, more or less, and perhaps I missed having an "ex-Special-Forces" type person with a load of macho gimmicks, etc.

Having fun killing off baddies, and the top baddie I feel needs to be humiliated, rather than killed. There's a certain glee for a mild-mannered person in being nasty...

Fool's Gold

Dobbs: "If you're the police where are your badges?"

Gold Hat: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"

Sunday, 25 November 2012

#NaNo Day 25 - beginning to accelerate

I did a bit of work yesterday, and a bit more today, but am feeling that fatigue and destruction of normal social interaction that comes from wandering around with a story in your head, working and re-working plot and scenes, and miles away.

It's unhealthy in some ways, and needs a writing regime to make it acceptable to others.

At this point the fear is not that I won't get to 50,000 words, or that they will make any sense, or be interesting to others.  More to the point is not wrapping it all up too quickly, nor cliff-hanging all the way.

Suddenly you only have 8000 words to tie up all the loose ends, wrap up the various stories, decide whether to have a happy ending, or a twist in the tale, and so on.

I realise other people are approaching 100K right now, having used the 50K marker simply as a motivator, but creating a full length novel.  That might be easier if you don't have a job, I guess.  Others have fallen by the wayside by now - it happens every year, although I don't know the percentages.  Some are behind, but can still thrash their way to the line.  The metaphor of the marathon run still plays.

I use The Tortoise Tactic.  Which might make a better title than the one I have.  These sort of conspiracy thrillers almost all use the same pattern, a three word title, along the lines of:

  • The
  • famous place or person, or mythical place or person
  • teaser word
e.g. The Atlantis Code, The Mozart Conspiracy, The Gaudi Key, etc.     Ahem, yes The DaVinci Code.

Friday, 23 November 2012

#NaNoWriMo Day 23 So far, so what?

I didn't write anything last night, but I had some words in hand, so have hit the target with an average update of words.  Still on track.

I had stalled on a plot move, then realised I had to do something to keep moving, so if I am not entirely convinced by it yet, well, try Dan Brown and you will see improbability is no problem.  Indeed, Douglas Adams invented the Improbability Drive to get himself out of a plot point of having painted himself into a corner, I believe.

Suitably, for Day 23 [fnord] I heard that John Higgs had just released a new book about the KLF, which I went to get on my Kindle, and we have exchanged a few words on Twitter, so he may even link through to my Illuminatus! research page on his Tumbr page.

Little synchronicities always cheer me up, as I consider them signs that I am going in the right direction.  You may, or may not, believe in omens.

And tied in with his book, Radio Eris can be found online, with readings from his book.  Sounds like the perfect accompaniment to writing a conspiracy thriller!

Radio Eris is a response to the burning of million pounds on the Island of Jura by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty on 23rd August 1994.

Radio Eris is an algorithmically generated audio stream that will broadcast for 15 days from 23rd November 2012, and then shut down for good.

Each day, Radio Eris will synthetically broadcast one chapter from the book KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money by JMR Higgs, at 3am, 9am, 3pm and 9pm GMT.

"Pulled up to rest, let the engine cool awhile.
Open the beans, gather wood for the fire.
I hum this tune, to all the girls I've known.
Should I care, about the chances I've blown?

Build a fire, they're gonna build a fire

Build a fire, they're gonna build a fire
They're gonna build a fire
They're gonna build a fire

When daylight breaks, I'll be down that road.
Rockman 'an me, with a lighter load.
We'll stop for lunch, in some taco bar.
Lee marvin on the jukebox, 'wanderin star'.

Build a fire, they're gonna build a fire
Build a fire, they're gonna build a fire"

Thursday, 22 November 2012

In praise of Scrivener for #NaNoWriMo

As I pointed out, early on, I was hedging my bets with NaNo this year, by using Scrivener. 

I figured that even if I didn't get to 50K words, then I might have really learned my way around Scrivener, which would be a good investment.
It felt a little slower to start with (rather like when I started touch-typing, and wanted to go back to hunt&peck) but now I love it, and feel relatively secure that I won't lose something.

I haven't used anywhere near all the bells and whistles (I don't want to get totally side-tracked) but it handled dropping in random research stuff from the net with ease, and while writing I have all those notes and references right there.

It compiles all new writing simply, including or excluding any parts you choose.  It's just great.

It's well supported with helpful text and video, it works on both Mac and PC, it's elegantly designed, and it's even very reasonably priced software. (£27.57, or $40).

You can try it for free for 30 real days, not 30 days from download, so if you used it once a week it would last you (free) for over six months.  How fair can it get?

Highly recommended!

Get Scrivener from Literature & Latte

Here's a blog enthusing about it, from the writer of Scrivener for Dummies.

And here's Dr TimTyson enthusing:

Dr Tim's workspace, not mine - you have a lot of choice

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Later the same day #Nano21

The last update got posted after midnight, so was perhaps a bit misleading.  I worked late on the writing.
Today I took the day off work (will work Saturday instead) and got on with some more, quite quickly.

I think I can see my way to the end, although I can also see stuff that will need tweaking (what time of year is this, again, what time of day, etc?)  Certainly people's movements around the city will need to be compared to a map, to get it a bit tighter and more accurate.

Overall, it seems to be flowing, although I currently can't see a neat way for the goodies to let the baddies get hold of the 'red herring' documents without getting hurt (mugged) or arousing suspicion as to their real value ('accidentally' leaving them on a park bench).

We should get to the gold, soon.

Pushing ahead now #Nano Day 20

I actually skipped a day, yesterday - no moments free at work, absolutely tired from late night, went to bed early.  But I was already ahead, and so it was allowed.

Tonight I got home, turned on the football (non-verbal inspiration) and sat with a clipboard and felt-tip, trying to sketch out a way to go...

I don't only have blind alleys to worry about, but also multiple outcomes/options, both equally difficult to deal with.  The first needs ways to get out of having painted myself into a corner, and the second involves throwing away perfectly good ideas I have treasured since the first brainstorm.

But once I got down to words they went well, in spite of phone call interruptions, forlorn dog, and all that.

As it was 'no more Mr NiceGuy year, I am now planning on how to kill of the bad guys, or leave them so humiliated or helpless they can never retaliate.  Oh, and I have to rescue one of the good guys.

And stuff.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

On a roll #Nano Day 18

 It helps to have a day off, and to get up reasonably early.  The word count is already ahead of the necessary, and it is only mid-afternoon, with 13 days to go (including the rest of today, of course).  Plus, I have a scene or two to write where I think I know where it is going.

After that, I will be out in the wilderness with a future reader, wondering which way it will turn out.

I may even have time to glance at the forums, and the encouraging letters, and maybe even browse through other people's stuff, too.

The fun of being in front is that I could also, if I felt like it, give up for the day.  Yippee!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

...and counting... #nano Day 17a

I could really do with a 3000 word day, to cut myself a bit of slack, but at least I am steadily hitting the numbers, and leaving myself half finished chapters, which give me somewhere to start that is not a blank page.

I've had enough for now, though.  My evening treat will be to watch Hitchcock's Vertigo, because it recently overtook Citizen Kane in some random voting system of critics at the BFI, as the greatest film ever made.

I have to admit, that is not how I remember it, but I am willing to be surprised.  I suspect that it may look different now that David Lynch has increased our sensitivity to atmosphere and Freudian ambiguities.

Hitch doing his walk on, at Pier 70

Excelsior! Day 17 #Nano

"Ever upwards!" 
Although, as Bucky never tired of pointing out, "up" is a local co-ordinate in Universe, you can only usefully say "out" (from the centre) or "in" (towards the centre) - that way, people in UK and Australia can agree...

Ahem.  Avoiding chatting on FB makes me gibber here in the blog, to soak up the nonsense before trying to write a book. 

Actually, I haven't entirely avoided reading, and picked up "Vineland" again the other day, to immediately become absorbed in the story.  For anyone who thinks of Thomas Pynchon as 'difficult' I would recommend Vineland, if you enjoyed The Great Lebowski for instance,  as Zoyd Wheeler seems like a second cousin to The Dude, and equally bewildered by the machinations of those around him.

There are PynchonWiki entries for all his books, but do you really need the cross-references for a hilarious read like Vineland?  Useful for the hard stuff like Gravity's Rainbow, maybe.

And if you have already enjoyed Vineland, I would also recommend Inherent Vice, there's a touch of The Dude in there, too.

Of course, reading a master of the language can prove a bad idea when trying to write your own stuff, but I need a break from my own wordage sometimes.

Smoking Dope with Thomas Pynchon: A Sixties Memoir

Friday, 16 November 2012

A superior ten things list...

from Debbie Millman...

Number One:
Fabulous talent is equivalent to operational excellence

Number Two:
How you lead and what you represent is as important as your ideas

Number Three:
You need to know what you believe in, whether or not it is popular.

Number Four:
Vision is easy, strategy is much harder.

Number Five:
Know what you are talking about

Number Six:
Common vocabulary is not always equate with common behavior

Number Seven:
One day working on a creative brief is worth (minimally) one week of design time.

Number Eight:
Be aware of “artificial harmony”

Number Nine:
Seek out criticism

Number Ten:
Design Matters

#Nano Day 16 - non sequiturs

You do get words of encouragement, both from accredited writers, and from the team.  Here's a halfway message from Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWrimo.
If I can't keep going in sequence, this is when I start with the non-sequiturs (shooting random scenes that we can maybe make sense of in the edit).  Scenes we'd like to see (Mad magazine) or rather I would like to write.
Of course, the actual editing time comes later, and sometimes I have had to be quite vicious in the cutting and editing...and that's the time for secateurs (you can tell I am struggling when my head just throws out weak puns...
Gotta find some free time today, gotta find some free time, gotta find some free time...

Neither Up nor Down #Nano Day 15

OK, it's the half-way point, and I have battled on to cross the 25K mark, just.

I don't mind just keeping level, although it is great to get in front, of course.  What I hate is falling behind, which is rather like being in debt, and you start running to stay in the same place.

Anyway, for all the stumbling about, trying to carry on with everyday life at the same time, I have got this far, so figure I deserve a small ripple of applause from myself, not, of course, for the quality of the words, but the sheer quantity.

I have definitely had a few good moments of writing, and like my context, locations and general idea, but it does feel very diffuse right now.  I can't tell if that comes from a lack of ideas, or having too many and not really entrenching any of them.

The 'papers' everyone is after (the MacGuffin) still puzzle me as much as they do the characters, and I can't tell if (as in Hitchcock) it finally doesn't matter - as they are merely a plot device - or whether I will ever find out, or satisfactorily invent, some  contents significant enough to justify the action.

Or perhaps, like The Maltese Falcon, all the imagined gold is long gone, and all that is left is merely a lead weight.

I forgot to mention that some people take it as an opportunity for other forms of creativity, why not?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Which side are you on? #NaNoWriMo Day14

In order to clarify the teams, to line up the opponents on the chess board, I decided to make sure each of the secret groups (real and imaginary) meet up, at least briefly, today.
It helps me decide who belongs to which group (or more than one group if someone unexpectedly turns up) and what they know or think of each other.  I am not sure it will progress the plot that much, but it will add to the complications.  Bearing in mind "The Man Who Was Thursday", and "Cat's Cradle."  ;-)
Yoko Ono's white chess set
The instructions with this chess set seem relevant: "Chess Set for playing as long as you can remember where all your pieces are."

Portmeirion  - Prisoner fan convention - human chess match
As well as the modern world, I want to draw parallels to earlier centuries...implying either that some alignments have survived that long, or that the same sort of patterns tend to re-emerge within societies and ecologies of belief, etc.
And just score another couple of thousand words, one way or another.
Current music playing for writing:

You took a part of me that I really miss
I keep asking myself how long it can go on like this
You told yourself a lie, that’s all right mama I told myself one too
I’m trying to get closer but I’m still a million miles from you

You took the silver, you took the gold
You left me standing out in the cold
People ask about you, I didn’t tell them everything I knew
Well, I’m trying to get closer but I’m still a million miles from you

I’m drifting in and out of dreamless sleep
Throwing all my memories in a ditch so deep
Did so many things I never did intend to do
Well, I’m tryin’ to get closer but I’m still a million miles from you

Day 13 - Decisions, decisions

Although the characters have done a lot of talking, they seem to still be skirting around exactly what the plot of Columbus skulduggery might have taken. I need to decide on a version soon, I think. Knights Templar (look at his sails) or Portuguese Jew (on of the feasible stories)?

 I definitely want to get back to NO8DO, the icon of Seville, and Columbus's strange sigils and signature, and the Alumbrados.

I need to know if the treasure still lurks somewhere, of it is just the story that has remained secret so long must come out? Is the link to the communal graves of Franco's time going to return? Are any of the players descendants, or ones with a separate agenda of their own?

I keep stumbling over unexpected connections, too, including real mad suspicions, like Leonardo Da Vinci putting Columbus in all his pictures, telling the story of his affair with the model for the Mona Lisa (Queen Isabella).

You couldn't make this stuff up.  Could you?     DaVinci Sfumato.  Jacques Abenaïm

Monday, 12 November 2012

Day 12 - keeping score #NaNoWriMo

I am rather dependent on dialogue at the moment but it gets me through the difficult times, just to have characters sit around chatting, and discussing what is going on.

Have turned the corner on 20k words, which is always satisfying (why do round numbers please us?) so am still on par for the course, at the moment.

The second week can be tricky, from previous experience, so the game is to stay steady, and plod on.

I have spent very little time actually on the NaNo site, in forums, etc.

Rather like Facebook, these can prove as much of a distraction as a help...

Here's my profile - and this is the part about this novel.


Sunday, 11 November 2012

Day 11 - Scribble, Scribble, Scribble...

I spent some time today with the corkboard, setting up some chapter and scenes to do.  I also did quite a bit of research, and stuck that in the folders for reference. Wrote some words, too.

The current game plan is to start revealing which team each of the players represents, in terms of secret groups, brotherhoods, allegiances, religions, politics and other alignments. Hopefully that can lead to more complications...including, perhaps, revealing people with more than one face, or mask, double-agents, and all that, so eventually we don't know whose version of the story to trust.  The unreliable narrator?

Scrivener's cork board view

Day Eleven - moving the scene to the countryside

I am only a couple of hours into Day Eleven of NaNoWriMo, so to be a few hundred words up, with several ideas bubbling is very satisfying.

I have decided to move my heroes to the country - on the run, but not in haste - so I can enjoy the Hacienda and the cork forests, and all that.  It's a contrast to the city, and a moment of tranquillity before I start confronting them again (throwing rocks).

I think the really scary baddie has to come in now, and he is going to begin as a surprisingly sophisticated beast, perhaps conning his way into the Archive using the stolen electronic pass, and a great deal of authoritarian body language.  I want him to be intelligent, not just a butcher, because I think it is scarier.
Meanwhile, on the cork farm, their host is a lapsed aristocrat, a modern, who treats all his workers as equals - but still very rich, respected, connected - a useful resource for the goodies on the run.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Day Ten - A Golden Apple

I have been cruising for the last couple of days, and wanted a temporary book cover, so am using a photo of an enigmatic door that Mick and I found in Seville all those years ago. We came across it at night, but never managed to find it again, so considered it a door to another world - something about that daunting mediaeval door, and the mystery of the missing door knocker (assuming there once was a pair).

It's still not the snappiest of titles (the generic title for this kind of conspiracy thriller has the shape "The Mozart Conspiracy", "The Aristotle Puzzle", "The Atlantis Dilemma", etc.)

Still, I might be able to weave in the theme of Eris, the Golden Apple, temptation, vanity and greed; also the fruit of immortality...

I have noticed, though the plot seems to be emerging, that I didn't choose to give my hero those skills that these type of heroes usually have - ex-SAS, or whatever.

In fact, I started with a tough female protagonist with a male sidekick, which was slightly ignoring the template, so perhaps I change her nationality, and give her a background in (say) the Israeli Army, or something.


Maybe just a hobby of martial arts.  I think it is important that the goodies have some nasty skills too - just like in wrestling - the goodies try to fight fairly, but the baddies keep cheating, so eventually the goodie snaps, fights dirty even better, and the crowd are on their feet.

A bit like life really.  Have you noticed how the goodies in war zones always blame the escalation on the others?  In asymmetrical warfare the rules go out the window, and suddenly we are torturing and maiming and all in the cause of peace.  Even Obama wants to "fight for peace" (sigh).

Anyway, forgetting real life, in this context it is crucial that the goodies finally outwit the baddies...but we're a long way from that at the moment.

In the old writing adage "Get your hero up a tree, throw rocks at him, get him down again" I have only just my heroes up a tree, and will begin throwing rocks right now.  That leads to chases, hide-and-seek, and all that.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Day Eight - NaNoWriMo with Scrivener

This year I decided to take up the challenge again, after one year off, just because I wanted to really try to do the whole thing using Scrivener.

So far I have really enjoyed the process of being able to chuck research pics and words into handy folders, to use the cork board to move stuff around, put scenes into chapters, etc.

And I am sure I haven't discovered all the bells and whistles yet, so it becomes something to do when ideas dry up. I may even be falling into the pit of playing with the toys, rather than writing the words, but I think it will pay off as time goes by.

Even if I failed to complete I will have learned something useful, which I can apply to the autobiography, and any other writings I have to do, so it is the same kind of investment as learning to touch-type was.
I am a thousand words off the pace, but I have the whole evening before me, so it is totally possible to do.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Day Seven - Steady pace

I have had a couple of great ideas, although they will need moulding into something sharper in outline, but they at least form alleys of exploration for research and stuff.

I have settled on Christopher Columbus as my 'famous person from the past' - because Velazquez just doesn't interest me enough - he's no Leonardo.  Too much religious art, and not a hint of Goya or Bosch to lighten it.  And Columbus has not only all that wealth to play with, or be challenged for, but he also has all kinds of conspiracy stories around him - claiming he is not Italian in origin but Greek, Catalan, Portugese, a Spanish Jew, etc, etc.   And he does have a rather odd signature, that no-one understands

I have managed to fill most of the roles that I outline originally, so I guess I need to get on with throwing them at each other, killing a few innocents, riling up the goodies, and emphasising how unpleasant the baddies can be.  They've been a little comic or incompetent up until now, so time to turn up the heat.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

6 - mosaic of the prosaic

When I find myself having difficulty with linear progression, I change to the film-making model.

Just to put words down - this can be the time to

  • sketch portraits of the characters and their relationships to each other
  • describe each of the locations in a little more detail
  • simply to jump to a scene you are looking forward to writing.

Fitting them all together, later, is a job for the Scrivener cork board, when you can move things around, and piece them together, and trim and fit.

As the challenge, now, is simply to write, then getting words down is the game.

Jose and me in the Poligono Sur
As ever, with these kind of writing projects, I think back to my friend Mick - and, as it happens, one of our great adventures involved discovering Sevilla, back in 1985, and totally falling in love with the place.  We visited once together, then later I returned on my own, and met Jose, who led me into the back streets, safely enough, and allowed me to glimpse the life of the Gitanos.  He loved all the magic and juggling and everything like that.

A year later, and quite a bit richer, I was back
Then I went back to the UK for some film work, which gave me enough money to return and really have a party.

Day Six - floundering slightly

Fortunately I have done this before, so I know I set off running, and get a few characters going, but the plot then seems to idle.  One of the reasons is not wanting to suddenly find oneself at the end too soon.
If you write in summary form (I'll pad this out later) then it proves all too easy to just close out.
I notice that I do third-person descriptions of the story, which seems like 'telling rather than showing' and always needs fleshing out.

Dialogue can prove a safe way to get from page to page, although quite often it is not moving the plot along, but just people chatting.  That can work in context (think Pulp Fiction):

Vincent: And you know what they call a... a... a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris? 
Jules: They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with cheese? 
Vincent: No man, they got the metric system. They wouldn't know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is. 
Jules: Then what do they call it? 
Vincent: They call it a Royale with cheese. 
Jules: A Royale with cheese. What do they call a Big Mac? 
Vincent: Well, a Big Mac's a Big Mac, but they call it le Big-Mac. 
Jules: Le Big-Mac. Ha ha ha ha. What do they call a Whopper? 
Vincent: I dunno, I didn't go into Burger King. 

My baddies have started evolving, but they don't seem mean enough yet.

I think I need to do more sensual descriptions,  to clarify who people are by the way they look, and dress, rather than just what they say, and think.I also need to evoke Seville more warmly, with the weather, the customs, the huge variety of bars, the food, etc.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Day Five - putting my thoughts in order

I didn't keep the average going on Day Four, having a pretty dozy day, what with the rain, the hangover, and all that.

I managed to put some together, and am now catching up today - although I have to resist the temptation to go back and edit, as some sort of plot falls into view, and I can't be sure all the earlier bits will entirely fit together.

However, editing for inconsistencies comes later - right now the game is to slog on, keeping the numbers up.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Day Three - cruising speed

It's early evening, and I am only a 200 words off the pace, so cruising along nicely, and with the rest of the evening to pick up the slack.

The plot seems to be emerging slowly, and I have only so far used a few of the characters planned, so there's plenty of room for expansion, still.

It's great fun browsing information about Seville, as I spent two different visits totally charmed by the place, back in 1985-6.

Of course, that was before the Expo exhibition in 1992, so much surface detail will have changed, but the feel of the place won't be much different.  We've all got mobiles, of course, when back then I used to have to arrange to meet people in a certain bar, and the internet and other options have become more crucial than they were (so cybercafes, etc) - but I haven't gone into much detail, yet, so locations do not have to be too specific - not for a rough draft, anyway.

So, if I do a little more, this evening, I will be on course - keeping a nice steady pace.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Day Two - Setting the scene

I got a little in front yesterday, which is always a good idea, and the writing flowed fairly smoothly, conjuring people and events out of the blue.

I do have a scratch plan, but no details, and giving people names and rounding out characters will have to do, to start with. And what were the Brits up to in the 14th Century, when the Muslims were creating decorations like tiles for hot weather...and water gardens everywhere...

My choice of the conspiracy thriller specifically allows me to have characters pontificate, or fill each other in on back history, however wooden it sounds: "As you probably know..."  Exotic locations allow that kind of touristy detail, too (I've chosen Seville for a variety of reasons).

So I am figuring out characters, and locations, and using research to keep the details going, although the real action hasn't begun yet.  Scrivener is proving terrific, as I expected.  I am ahead of the curve in sheer numbers of words, and still have a few scenes and ideas in my head to keep it going.

From past experience I know it is good to get in front and stay there, during Week One, because it is easy to start to lose momentum in Week Two, when the sheer size of the task hits, and you feel like you've thrown all your best ideas at it, and have a long way to go.

That's when you have to resist the temptation to go back and edit out any inconsistencies, or infelicities, and just continue to hack away at the words, using every trick in the book, lists, descriptions of places, bits of half-digested research, sheer idle wordage, dialogue, which can rattle on, etc.

Meanwhile, I am trying to get the skeleton laid down, decide on a MacGuffin, and position the characters around the city map, for which my memories, guidebooks from the library, and Google Maps are proving very useful.


Thursday, 1 November 2012

Day One...and counting

So midnight passed, and I have decided to take a Facebook Fast, so I can focus that energy on writing.  I had to stay up to keep an eye on the dog (long story) so got cracking with the first couple of scenes, because I remember how much it helps to get ahead of the 'average' count, to allow for difficult days.

Monday, 29 October 2012

NaNo second thoughts

After last year's sabbatical I thought perhaps I would not manage to get back into NaNoWriMo - having an essentially lazy temperament - but I feel like I should not let myself off so easily - having just enthused about it at talks I gave on Saturday.

So, I have a couple of days to wobble, and then it starts!  It cuts down on my trivia (FB and Twitter) and my television time. It focuses the research game and my reading.  And it can prove fun!

So I decided to go for manifesting the cliche of a conspiracy thriller I outlined in a template previously.

That at least gives me a framework, which can shape my thoughts; it will allow me to use esoteric bits and pieces of Forteana; I can always have the investigators sit down and be given a lecture by 'the professor', just as I can drift into tourist information about the famous locations (leaving a trail for readers to pursue, if they so wish), etc.   Oh, and I might get to kill people off (I've always been too nice). Not sure I can manage the torture bit too well (it's a essential ingredient) but we'll see - perhaps I'll just place that in an abattoir, so the horror of what meat-eaters ignore every day is what makes the reader squirm.  Who knows?

I have started compiling my lists (see the template in the post linked above) - choosing a main city, a MacGuffin, a few of the goodies and baddies, etc.  I have a couple of maps and guides to stimulate thought.

And I will use Scrivener this time (I've never done a NaNo on Scrivener) - and perhaps it will bump start the autobiography all over again.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Grainy flashbacks

The second year I did NaNoWriMo I had some kind of game plan, and it seriously helped to have a vague outline, a theme, and a decision to create short chapters.

The social aspect of the NaNoWriMo community meant I had already been interviewed as an "Over 50" person for their podcast - so I explored the video channel they had, as well, in which you either cheer people on, and motivate them, or maybe brag about how well you are doing, or complain about getting stuck.

As I had got ahead on words, I did the podcast, and even thought "I could make a video, I have a webcam".

The hum from the fan on my computer in 2008 really interfered with the sound, so I added some Eno sounds to baffle that a little bit, and having no lighting, deliberately did it in minimal light - which increased the lines on my face, and looked pretty sinister.  Be aware, the sound and light all seem terrible quality to me now, but I just found them again on Viddler (I didn't even remember having a Viddler account!) so I have put them here for my own amusement and embarrassment.
Here's a direct link, if you have any problem with a four-year-old embed...

So that was at the end of the first week, and the written words were going fine (the comments come from other would-be writers). A couple of days later, and still using sounds to smother the whine of the computer, I decided to make another clip, using Movie Maker to edit bits and pieces.
Direct Link
And whaddya know, ten days later, in spite of fiddling around with videos and all that, I had completed the minimum target of 50,000 words and was, in the terms of the self-challenge which is NaNoWriMo, a "Winner" - you get a certificate, and everything!
So yeah, I made a bragging video, which was not intended to demoralize people who were still struggling (as I had the year before) but just to celebrate - not something I do much - and maybe hope to display what fun it was to just complete the task, whatever the actual quality of the book.
Direct link, if it helps (?)
I went on to commission a cover from Bobby Campbell, and produce a hard copy print edition on Lulu - all for the sheer fun of it. The whole thing remains amateurish, but remember that before that word came to mean 'rubbish', it originally meant people who do things just for the love (amo) of it. I tried to find the word (when hitching around Mexico) to explain why I juggled (and they asked if it was 'my job') - I wanted to say it was my hobby, but didn't have the right words, until someone offered that perhaps I was an 'aficionado' (amateur). And that nailed it.

I have always found 'work' that I can do for the love of it. If I get paid, as well, that seems like a perk. Money ain't the object.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Impermanence never goes away

Since early childhood I have felt out of sympathy with my own culture in many ways - one of which relates to how long we get to live, and whether anything follows this life.

I have never felt entitled to "three score and ten" (70) years - but it does appear like a reasonable average, in spite of all the stories about the short lives of those in The Middle Ages in Europe.

Hearing that our dog may only have a year to live, and so profoundly changing his diet, filling him with an assortment of chemicals, and operating on him to attempt to extend his life does seem fairly extreme.  Not that I don't want him to live longer and happier, you understand, but just trying to perceive the balance.  We seem to have a horror of death.

How much is it worth?

We may assume that royals getting into their 90s relates not just to their genes, but to the quality of treatment they receive, so money can be well-spent, but I have a great distrust of the fear of death that seems so prevalent in this culture.  Especially curious, when the Christian background should have left the ghost of a belief in 'going to a better place'.

I lean to what religious people might call atheism, but I don't like to define myself with a negative.  I suspect that consciousness goes out like a candle, but I know I could be wrong. After all, I might find some sympathy with (say) a Native American saying "There is no death, only a change of worlds."

All Things Must Pass.

And in that context, the Buddhist approach has always made the most sense to me.  Not the specific religious groups with chanting, and bells, and prayers and costumes and reincarnation, and so on (Buddha seems to have maintained a noble silence when questioned about such matters).  The Buddhism that empathises with all sentient beings, but describes the inhabitants of the world as transients.

So the idea that our lovely dog may not get to live 12 years upsets me, but not a lot more than stepping on snails in the wet garden does, or accidentally sucking a spider into the vacuum cleaner.  I am sad, but helpless, and doubt I will ever attain the pure ambition of a Jain or Vegan to prove completely harmless to other beings. I will grieve (unless I go first), but I will certainly try not to let the possibility/probability of him going first spoil what time we do have left together.

I hate my friends dying 'before their time' or even relationships falling apart, but I seem to shrug rather than 'rage against the dying of the light'.  It seems somehow vain, to me, and anyway a misnomer, like the Battle with Cancer. I see everyone as 'just passing through'.  Whenever I stop travelling I fail the simplicity test of a monk (bedroll, begging bowl. book and razor) - moss gathers when you stop rolling.

We don't get a variety of chances (unless the Multiple Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics appeals to you) so who can tell how long I might have lived if (say) I had never smoked, rather than gave it up later in life?  Statistics, and insurance companies can tell you the odds, but they never relate to individuals (a 14 million to one ticket wins the lottery most weeks).  We make our choices, without all the facts. If I give up all the 'pleasures' that are bad for me, do I get to live longer or (as in the old joke) does it just seem longer?

Seeing clearly

The other aspect of Buddhism that appealed to me comes from the fact that the basic story has no supernatural qualities, no interference from God or 'gods'.  A rather spoiled man (a prince) living the kind of sheltered life that many of us in The First World occupy, finally becomes exposed to, or confronted by, disease, old age and death - and it has a shocking effect on him.

He not only abandons his luxurious life, but his beloved wife and son, to go on a quest. We have enough trouble with suggestions that Jesus got married and had children (sex and sex organs) but the idea that he would abandon them really seems shocking, selfish behaviour.  And yet:

And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.  Matthew 19:29

Funny, how most people ignore so much of the actual advice contained in religious writings.

Ahem - initially over-reacting to his luxurious history Buddha becomes a total ascetic, but eventually finds that extreme unsatisfactory, too - before finally settling for a Middle Way.

So, not clinging to life, even if not recklessly seeking danger.   That mysterious Zen detachment of the Samurai seems to turn into (in The West) a macho disregard for death (the hero of the movie never dies).

Hey ho, and yet another unfinished thought - arising from walking the dog and wondering how many more nights we have together.

[More later]

Skeptic's Annotated Bible

Sunday, 22 April 2012

What to do with my time...

I just stumbled over a wonderful online resource - The Paris Review. Well, I knew about The Paris Review, of course, because of some excellent compilations of interviews with writers that got published decades ago - as Writers At Work (ed. George Plimpton).
And now it turns out that the interviews appear online in the archives. If you want hard copy they cost quite a bit, but what a joy to have free access to these interviews! I'll start with Blaise Cendrars, I reckon (you have to start somewhere). I came across him through Henry Miller's recommendation, and only ever read him in translation (My French, in spite of those years spent at school, simply doesn't suffice).

3:AM Cult Hero: Blaise Cendrars

The hazy world of Blaise Cendrars      Lee Rourke on Cendrars

I love the deadpan style:

"My dear sir, it's a matter of language. For several years, each time that I prepare to write a book, I first arrange the vocabulary I am going to employ. Thus, for L'Homme foudroyé, I had a list of three thousand words arranged in advance, and I used all of them. That saved me a lot of time and gave a certain lightness to my work. It was the first time I used that system. I don't know how I happened onto it . . . It's a question of language."

Sadly, I find myself not writing at all - at least not contributing to anything more than the ephemera of the internet.  I really did set out with good intentions to tackle the autobiography this time, but even with the wonderful Scrivener for Windows to play with I just can't motivate myself.

So much so, that I think I might have to publish the work-in-progress under the title of Mockup (an unused title I quite like, but what the hell, you can't keep everything secret) and be done with it until I feel dissatisfied and go back to polish up edition two (these joys and temptations arise from the nature of modern, Print-On-Demand self-publishing).