Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Last Day of Nano

Today is the last day of November, and therefore the last day of Nanowrimo.  For those of you who have easily sailed past the 50k word count, Hearty Congratulations.  For those of you still scribbling frantically to reach the finish line before midnight, Keep Going, You Can Do It!  And for those of you who, for whatever reason, didn't make it and gave up along the way, Don't Feel Like A Failure.  I mean it.  Nano is not about winning or losing, passing or failing.  It's about empowerment.  And the fact that you tried at all makes you a winner.  Whatever word count you achieved is so many more words better than none.

Of course Nano isn't the B-all and End-all.  Even if you make the word count you still have all the revision ahead of you, and I suspect that's what has put a lot of people off doing it.  A crappy first draft isn't much help to you if your normal style of writing is measured and deliberate.  

If you can easily achieve high word counts I would suggest Nano is probably not for you.  Speaking for myself, Nano was a useful stepping stone in my writer's development, helping me to overcome the initial anxiety of writing something longer than a short story.  I had been dreaming stories for a long time, to the point where my focus was lost.  I needed something to make me sit down and do it.  My stumbling block was fear - fear of writing crap.  What I needed to learn was first drafts are generally crap anyway and that's OK.  

But I confess Nano doesn't have the same appeal to me any more.  Once you get a bit of confidence in your ability you probably don't need all that cheerleading and camaraderie.  In fact, it can become yet another distraction.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Story Obsession

This week there has been a lot of attention on the press itself as the Leveson Inquiry garners evidence from various people, including JK Rowling, Hugh Grant, Sienna Miller and some other less well known victims of press intrusion, like the parents of a murder victim whose son committed suicide in response to tabloid stories about his dead sister.

Every day this week the evidence has been televised, giving a unique insight into how the press, or certain sections of it, conduct themselves in pursuit of story material.  The spectrum ranges from exaggeration to outright lies.  In fact the most outrageous the lie the better the story, in the minds of some.  What is most appalling is the lack of responsibility for the consequences of these lies.  It may sell a few more papers, or get more attention for  a website, but what about the aftermath?  

And why do these stories sell papers?  

As human beings we are obsessed with making up stories.  If we weren't we wouldn't be writing novels, telling jokes, penning screenplays.  Gossip is most people's favourite pastime because there's nothing more satisfying than painting the people we know into scenes.  But we can get carried away with it, as this Inquiry is showing.  Malicious gossip, filled with half truths and distortions, can have devastating effects.

So where is the line between public interest and intrusion to the point of stalking?  What is acceptable in pursuit of a story?  How do you protect an individual's privacy while allowing a free press?

It will be interesting to find out.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Nice Surprise

In the weeks since finishing latest draft of WIP I've been in a kind of doldrums.  It's a familiar pattern, but gets no easier to deal with.  By the time I limp over the finish line I am so drained and weary it's a relief to put it to bed, but with it comes the loss of confidence.  I'm not sure why this happens, or even if it happens to others as well as me.  It feels like everything I write is stilted and crap, every idea is contrived or cliche.  I feel like a complete fraud and wonder why I'm even trying.

But then a little time passes and for some reason I take a look at something I wrote and forgot about.  Last night I opened a piece I began during the summer, a couple of thousand words of an opening chapter.  I read it expecting nothing, so it was nice to find it wasn't half bad.  It drew me in.  It stirred me to want to imagine more.  It made me think, not with arrogance but astonishment,  'I really can do this'.

And this has happened time after time.  Just when I've written myself off as useless I get a nice surprise that keeps me going.  

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

What I've Learned from Eastenders

I've discovered another little gizmo to play with.  It's a handy application called Aeon Timeline which enables you to keep track of events and arcs over the course of your story.  At least that's what it says in the blurb.  I'm still trying to figure it out for myself.  Anyway, it's a free app in beta so there's nothing lost in giving it a try.

It occurred to me this morning as I was trudging the muddy forest floor with Theo that there are two elements in story telling; the context and the scene.  All the planning and research set up the context.  That's the donkey work that writers spend much of their time over, because without a proper context the scenes won't have any point of reference and the characters won't have the history and motivation to drive the story.  Once the context is decided the scenes should be plain sailing.  After all, that's where all the drama happens.  It's the easy part; people interacting. And people are basically the same in any time and place.

That's what I think I've lost sight of lately.  In my obsession with context I've let it overwrite the scenes, which should be simple and light and easily identifiable.  Scenes are the soap opera element, the bit that makes the reader stop flicking through channels and watch what's going on.  The context is there, like the Queen Vic in the background, but it's the emotion and drama viewers are grabbed by.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Living in the Material World

I don't usually do reviews, but then I don't usually find things on TV that are worth watching.  Not saying that to be cruel, it's just when you get to my age you've seen it all, or most of it, so the latest soap story line or new character in Doctor Who doesn't hold the same fascination.

But it's nice to find a programme that's so well made and says something genuinely new that you can slide into it without effort.  That's how I felt about Martin Scorsese's Living in the Material World, a two part documentary about the late George Harrison, part one of which was broadcast last night.  Part two airs later this evening so no prizes for guessing what I'll be doing then.

The appeal, for me at least, is partly nostalgia.  That's another thing about getting to my age - your distant past becomes endlessly fascinating.  I was a little girl when the Beatles burst on the scene, lighting up stuffy British culture like a Catherine Wheel.   Somehow they appealed to everyone; old ladies and little kids like me were equally smitten, not just the hordes of young women who screamed hysterically at their concerts.  These four fresh faced lads brightened post-rationing Britain and made everything seem possible as they conquered the world.

I was smitten by Paul in those days.  He seemed the least threatening of them in my estimation.  John was my older sister's crush, but not many fell for the quiet one, George.  Yet as the years went by it was George of all of them who seemed least affected by the fame they accrued.  Every interview shows the same thoughtful young man who was never afraid to speak his mind, whether it was telling George Martin he didn't like his tie, or, in a studio debate on spirituality, declaring that the only 'mysticism' in meditation was down to ignorance.  He was always content to go his own way, never looking for acclaim or the limelight, pursuing his own quest for spiritual growth in spite of popular skepticism.  And he became a hero of mine when he put up the money to fund Monty Python's Life of Brian after the film's original backers pulled out at the last minute.

Living in the Material World contains fascinating clips and interviews with those closest to Harrison, all new and giving a unique insight into this most interesting man.  And of course there's lots of music too.  Just to prove he was no slouch in that department, I've posted one of his songs below.

I'm looking forward to watching the conclusion of this film and recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in its subject matter.

Monday, 7 November 2011

New Project Planning

Well, it finally happened.  I'm starting to get an idea forming for a new project.  It's that nebulous feeling of ideas floating around in a vague soup that is at once enticing and frustrating.  But I'm determined to leave the writing as late as possible this time.  I want to get the plot worked out, the characters developed, the scenes sorted.  In the past I've rushed in with just a vague idea and a mouthy cast of characters with their own ideas and no respect for their author's opinions.  The result has been chaos and a lot of waste.  I'm hoping to avoid that this time (!).


Tuesday, 1 November 2011

November, November

November, November.  Something odd happens to the light at this time of year; the low rising sun in Scotland makes dawn and dusk particularly eerie times.  It changes perceptions.  Colours deepen; the sun, so bright on the horizon, blinds the eyes and casts darker shadows.

November is an important month for me.  My first born came into the world on 11th day, twenty-five years ago.  I remember sitting on my hospital bed, watching the brilliant sunshine illuminate stark window pane shaped rectangles on the ward wall.  Intense as search lights, with no hiding place.  

This is a time of reflection, a time of taking stock.  Yesterday, walking out early with Theo in the first light, I encountered what I assume was a crow when it collided with the back of my head as I climbed up the cliff slope of the golf course.  Stunned by this event, I was more surprised that the bird made no sound at all, before or after.  It simply flew on.

Then this morning, on the narrow metalled road that slopes up to a small car park on a vantage point beside the beach, I encountered a hare.  At first, the dazzling sunshine lighting up its cream and gold fur, I thought it was a dog.  But then I saw a black labrador in pursuit.  The hare turned and sideways on I realised what I was seeing.  It saw me and hesitated, turned away and climbed the steep grassy cliff face at the side of the road.  The lab pursued.  Both darted here and there among the gorse and rocky outcrops until the hare got the better of the terrain and reached the summit.  Within an instant the hare was gone, the dog still bouncing bewildered among the foliage.

This afternoon a magpie tapped on my living room window.  Wildlife seems to be getting in my face at the moment, don't you think?