Saturday, 31 March 2012

Last Day of March

According to the adage, it should go out like a lion since it came in like a lamb.
This is the time of the year when time seems to accelerate.  Maybe it has something to do with losing that hour last weekend.  The days are longer now, and next week will be Easter.  My garden is bursting forth, especially the weeds, and birds are clamouring for food like it's going out of style.

What else does March 31 commemorate? 

In 1889 the Eiffel Tower was officially opened.

In 1942 the Japanese invaded Christmas Island.

In 1966 the Soviets launch the probe Luna 10 to orbit the moon.

Birthday of French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596), German composer Johannes Sebastian Bach (1685)and American actor Christopher Walken (1943), amongst others.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

On Colour

I'm a great lover of hue.  Who's Hue?  No, not that kind of hue.  I mean colour.  Part of what draws me to drawing and painting is the chance to pour colour onto the page.  But I'm discovering something interesting about hue.  Although it seems like the most important part of a picture, it's actually hardly important at all.  What's more important is the relationships between the colours you use.

Take an old master like Rembrandt.  His painting are set on dark grounds and with a limited palette of colours, but the secret of his lifelike portraits is the hue is perfectly chosen to convey not only form and shade but also the character of the subject.

So you don't need a whole spectrum of colour (my first mistake) in fact the more colours you use the harder your task in conveying form.  But finding just the right hue is no easy task and takes a lot of trial and error.  This weekend I have tried copying one of his pictures with pastel pencils on a ground of black acrylic. It's been a fun exercise to find which shades to use for flesh colours and I'm modestly pleased with the result.

And I can't help thinking that fiction is a lot like that too.  Hit the right note with your characters, give enough light and shade, and your story will come to life as you'd never expect.  Too much and nothing works.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Obsequious Tweet

Twitter.  What's it for?  I mean, really.

The word originally meant endless noisy birdbrained chatter, but that differs from Twitter

No, I can't see a difference. 

 OK, I know what you're going to say.  Oh, it's a great way to build a platform and promote your books yada yada yada... That's what I thought too, except with Everybody and His Auntie up on the ethernet shouting about their books all the time who's going to notice?  And what's worse, Twitter seems to be counterproductive in many ways.  If all I know about someone is they want to sell me their book I'm not enthralled, or even interested.  In fact I'm bored.  Shouting Buy Buy Buy till you're blue in the face might work on prime time tv but trust me it don't work on Twitter.

Oh, but you can follow all sorts of famous people and find out what they're really like.   I follow a few of the famous and not-so-famous-but-slightly-more-important-than-me and I admit it can be mildly diverting to find out where they buy their support hose or what they had for tea.  But some of their peccadilloes are best kept hidden, frankly.  If my favourite author is a Holocaust denier and thinks East Europeans should be repatriated it's not exactly enhancing his reputation.  Just because someone excels in their work doesn't make them a wholesome or even decent individual.

Oh, but you have to network.  What that means is sucking up big style to publishers, agents, authors or anybody who can use their influence in your favour.  It's called assmosis and it's as old as time, not a Twitter invention at all.  But there's something unsavoury about the way it is played out on Twitter for all to see, stripping all parties of their dignity.  Typical exchange:

FamousAuthor: So glad to finish pesky edits.  Time to get out of my support hose and uncork bubbly.
Asskisser: Congratulations! When will book be out?  I can't wait!
FamousAuthor:  Probably not till next year.  Sorry.
Asskisser:  Oh, please don't apologise.  You've given me a treat in store. You're the greatest writer in the world...suck..suck..

This will have to do as it's triggering my gag reflex, but you get the picture. I've seen so much of it lately it's made me wonder when these creeps get time to do any writing with their tongues so firmly jammed into so many tight crevices.

Of course it's inevitable that these feted individuals become corrupted by the attention and drunk on their power can overstep the boundaries of professional ethics.  I recently witnessed a Famous Agent post a photograph of a hand scrawled and unspell-checked letter from someone claiming to be an aspiring author.  To my jaundiced eye it looked more like an elaborate piss take, but in any case it gave her hordes of Twitter followers the opportunity to cluck such grovelling responses as:

OMG I'm so sorry you have to put up with things like that! 
With your great skill you could sell it anyway!
Can I apologise on behalf of all aspiring writers everywhere.

Not one of them questioned her motives for putting a private letter up for public scrutiny.  Some of these people have fawners, not followers.

Saturday, 10 March 2012


I've been struggling to sketch a portrait from a magazine.  Beautiful model, head tilted back, photographed from below, not too much light and shade.  It doesn't look like a hard subject but my first attempt looked like a hideously deformed dwarf.

Then it dawned on me I was forgetting about perspective.  The rules of proportion only apply when the subject is viewed straight on at a level plane.  Once you alter anything, like a turn and tilt of the head or drop below the horizon line the image distorts accordingly.  What is closer appears larger.  Like a terrace of houses, all the same size, petering away into the distance when viewed from the end of the street.

The odd thing is our brains are so accustomed to processing the images we see that they automatically allow for the effects of perspective so that we are no longer conscious of it.  I'm having to train myself to override this faculty to draw what I see rather than what I know is there.  

I think this same loss of vision happens whenever we're too close to or familiar with something.    It may explain the myopic views of some publishing professionals faced with the changes happening at the moment.  After all, it's hard to see something afresh when you've looked at it unthinkingly for many years.  

As my sketching problems clearly show.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

So Bored

I've been boring myself rigid this week.  It's a tedious job but someone has to do it.  Some time back I scribbled some chapters of current WIP into a sketch book and now, for the sake of being better organised and being able to find things (not to mention edit them) I'm transcribing into Scrivener.  Of all the many jobs a writer has to do, this is the one I find the most brain numbing.  And struggling to understand my handwriting isn't the only problem.  

Writing on the computer more or less all the time, I've become accustomed to spellchecker and the ability to quickly and easily alter a sentence virtually simultaneously.  I'll often rearrange and revise something as soon as it's on the screen.  Hand writing is a different ball game, as I'm discovering.  So much needs reworking I'm virtually rewriting the whole thing.  And it's very tiresome.

But onwards and upwards.  There are no shortcuts it would seem.  Thank God for word processors.

Speaking of which, here is a nifty free application called OmmWriter that I encountered recently.  Very simple, total blank screen and Zen-like background music to get you in the zone. Enjoy.