Thursday, 23 June 2011

Write-a-Thon Days #3 & #4

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Day #3 Progress: 1,071
Day #4 Progress: 1,059
Objective: +3,386/+30,000

One thing is enough to chide me into never missing a blog date again. Namely, so much has changed in terms of experience, emotion and perception in the past forty-eight that I find myself recollecting yesterday morning in tranquillity, rather than jotting it down raw and visceral from the depth of my productive experience. Take this double-bill post as you may; I will not suffer it to happen again.

The feeling I am struggling to re-capture, not because it is something I would wish to ever relive – though I will – but because it marked a turning point later turned upon its own head, is the following: why bother? Let it suffice that I was directed, through this worldwide net of things wondrous and strange, to something so horrific as actually made me despair for the human race. With a sudden shock, I felt alienated and alone, a voice eager for communication shouting for attention amongst the deaf. Then just as suddenly, the depressing epiphany performed a U-turn. I think it was the infant innocence that did it.

In the gloom, from the other side of a cafĂ© which wasn’t in Liverpool in my day, a baby caught sight of the fire upon my head, and giggled. I giggled back. And just like that, my newfound misanthropy left through the door whence it came. I remembered that while there is a fundamental darkness to people, there is also an almost unlimited potential for light. That while we are capable of terrible, terrifying things we are also beings of beauty. That it is against that darkness and towards that light that I write.

So continue writing I did – extreme sports style. Undeterred by the cluttered despondence of a Midlands train at rush hour, I perched my laptop precariously atop one knee amongst a sea of bags, and typed in the last 200 words necessary to break even. Only one eyelid open and barely at that, tottering in my arrangement and quite possibly making a fool of myself, I kept the promise made to my work… the most sacred kind of vow there is, as a story for another time will tell you I have learnt the hard way.

Today was rather magnificent. My writing schedule had to be shifted forward to allow for my academic life to get a word in edgewise, yet if anything the challenge of juggling the two existences set my synapses well aflame! While I warmed up, perfectly poised between coffee shops 1 and 2, I had a rather lovely encounter with a Moleskine-toting colleague, with whom I enjoyed a good-natured rant about double living, and having to fend off accusations of writing as a hobby. There was something immensely grounding, comforting even about matter-of-factly agreeing over something which, while completely obvious to me, I more often than not find myself justifying.

It dawned on me that one of the very, very few things I miss about the dreaded capital is the fact that for the first and only time in my life, I had not just a few friends who were writers, but a whole community of writers as friends. Though I didn’t spend nearly as much time with them as I should in hindsight have done, I treasured the chance to talk craft with people whose imagination I respect.

On that note, watch this space for 1) possible news I won’t jinx, but which if true might furnish me with a collection of locals to chat shop with and 2) details relative to the imminent publication of the King’s College London Creative Writing Society 2009 / 2010 collaborative novel Fostering Guilt, to which I have contributed the chapter ‘Smoking Laurels’ – a foray into the traditional ghost story genre which once again flagged up why at heart, irrespective of current project, I am a horror writer.

Getting off the tangent and back on the marathon track, I had the kind of writing day whereby characters shove you off your chair and fashion themselves. It got to the point of fist being slammed into palm, marking victoriously the glorious moment of the penny dropping. Two people I’ve been writing about for years and was convinced I knew inside out really surprised me, one by proving a lot stronger than I’d given him credit for and the other by revealing a vulnerability I would never have thought would suit him.

A third rounded the awed displacement by adding a further layer to his motivations, making him possibly the trickiest character I’ve ever had the pleasure of chronicle. As I was explaining yesterday to a new friend down the post-theatre pub, he’s not the villain you love to hate; if you hate him at all, it means I’ve not done my job properly. Everyone is in the right, I hear Friedrich Hebbel chant in my head. In a good story, everyone is in the right. The other thing ringing at the back of my consciousness is Frank Turner’s England Keep My Bones album, which undeniably echoes in my recent writings – indulge your soundtrack I say, for chances are that when it tunes you into a particular track, line, word, the universe knows what it’s doing.

Add to that metaphysical faff the concrete wisdom of a teacher who just this morning mentioned the importance of toggling with prioritisation in the service of the grander narrative of my research, thus unknowingly green-lighting an afternoon of information remixing, paragraph jigs, sentiment shifts, and inconsistency loss. Which just goes onto prove that as I always say to anyone who will listen, writing is writing is writing, and what makes sense for academia is likely to make a certain degree of common sense for fiction … and vice versa.

On one last fuzzy note before I recharge my batteries for tomorrow’s 1K: at the intersection of a dependable brew, staff who are actually interested in my artistic journey and an atmosphere to speak of, I at last have found a coffee shop to call home.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Write-a-Thon: Day #2

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Day #2 Progress: 1,256
Objective: +1,256/+30,000

As I closed the lid on my thesis introduction draft at chirruping four o’clock this morning, my proposed 8am Write-a-Thon wake-up call struck me as suicidal. I had made a catastrophic mistake, and would pay for it with general ridicule. I'm not cut out for this, I cursed myself. The a.m. was something that happened to other people. I was going to make myself ridiculous.

Only, I didn’t.

So far from it, in fact, that I wrote 1,256 words in the allotted three hours. I also learned the following life and craft lessons while at it.

1. Follow your instincts – to an extent

Today was the day I finally stopped fawning over a couple of anciently written pages which I had hoped against all hope to salvage, rolled up the sleeves of my inner metaphor, and tackled the treacherous Chapter 8.2. An entire self-contained scene and all of two paragraphs later, I called it a day… more than halfway through a troublesome subchapter which has eluded me for more years than I care to count. Exception made for a single line of dialogue so obviously crucial I carried it over across drafts completely subconsciously, I reimagined the original scene from scratch.

Yes, it was hard, yes it was painful, yes it felt like a waste. Only for a moment, however. The harsh stab of regret was soon out-jolted by the joyful realisation that what I was writing felt indescribably – though I am trying to describe it to you now, because you never know – better in style, greater in scope, deeper in its depiction of character. Which just goes to show that the guttural voice rumbling “I know I could write this better” deep there in my gut had its good reasons. Now, if I could only choose to turn it off when it tries to tell me the whole novel needs rewriting… again.

2. Always remember to have fun

Others may see deadlines as a chore. At their core, however, they are challenges; therefore they are games; which means that they can be played with. As I got ready and set to go, I think my brain shifted into a larger-scale version of the kind of gear it employs to play Scrabble. Borderless board, infinite letter-grams and a darn big hourglass equal a pretty epic game, and as such I played it. One glance at the time and I was off, writing against time and loving every minute of it, the part of me scared of being rusty, spent and out of practice just egging on my competitive side with its constructive disbelief.

A sizeable portion of the grand old time I was having I ascribe to the fact that I didn’t have the time to be my usual nit-picky, retentive, perfectionist self. There will be a time for editing, also known as the weekend. This, however, was the time for the sheer, unadulterated thrill of writing as one should dance – like nobody is watching.

Bring on tomorrow, I say.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Frank Turner, England Keep My Bones

If questions of musical taste were relationships, and how could they be otherwise, my relationship with Frank Turner’s work would be a whirlwind romance: three months ago, I wouldn’t have known him from Adam. Having stumbled across tickets to his 1,000th gig at Strummerville, I earned bruises on my shins and a thirst for knowledge of the man’s discography. The bar was set high – Sleep is for the Week, Love Ire & Song and Poetry of the Deed had been (respectively) haunting and incessant, joyfully anarchic and punctuated with anthemic gems. In my best of all possible worlds, I expected England Keep My Bones to keep up the good work. Honeymoon periods can only last so long, surely.

Or can they?

Juxtaposing funereal and assertive classic rock sonorities, opening track Eulogy reprises the involuntarily optimistic preoccupation with mortality that had characterised The Ballad of Me and My Friends and Richard Devine. The proactive anger of those earlier songs has matured into a matter-of-fact statement of the point of being alive; the uncompromising vein of Devine, in particular, gives way in EKMB to a more emphatic approach encapsulated by Nights Become Days and Redemption, a two-part reflection on the possibility of outliving one’s mistakes.

I Still Believe, a love song to musical ideals off Turner’s Rock & Roll EP, raises the spirits in preparation for the tranquil sense of belonging permeating Rivers. Through this geo-historical exploration of collective consciousness, Turner contextualises within a strong identity the travelling troubadour’s instinct expressed in I Am Disappeared. The names of Dylan and Hemingway are not merely dropped but integral to Turner’s constant process of understanding where he comes from and is therefore going to, just as Baudelaire and Kerouac hadn’t been invoked in vain in POTD’s title track. The itinerant-versus-homecoming dichotomy meet in the playful intestine war of If I Should Stray, only to be problematized again by the pride of Wessex Boy and the restlessness of Wanderlust.

English Curse, whose a cappella arrangement showcases Turner´s pleasantly modulated rasp, single-handedly dispels all claims to low culture previously advanced in To Take You Home. Delightfully exemplary of the off-handedness with which Turner tackles high themes, One Foot Before the Other is a frenzied defence of everlasting life, secular-style, a humanistic perspective which seamlessly feeds into Glory Hallelujah. Song for Eva Mae, dedicated to Turner’s goddaughter, perfectly complements Peggy Sang the Blues, a tribute to his grandmother – together, the tracks reinforce the Turnerian tradition of celebrations of the life worth living. Balthazar, Impresario, is an ingenious little oddity of a song about breathing the theatre, and a fitting close to an album named after a line in Shakespeare’s undeservedly underperformed King John.

EKMB synthesises its author’s rock solid foundations into an offering at once as epic as the highlights from POTD and as impeccably consistent in quality as LI&S. Turner has steamrolled over the bar of his own standards with alarming ease. No “must for fans of” and “sounds like”: Frank Turner sounds like Frank Turner.

Write-a-Thon: Day #1

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Objective: +30,000

A great man once said, ‘I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.’ Good one, Douglas. I, on the other hand, love that I can’t avoid meeting them. The bigger, the bolder, the frankly sillier the deadline, in fact, the more and better I work. Come rain, shine and actual canine & feline downpours, I will re-write the Great Library of Alexandria if I have so promised. So you can imagine my heart’s double-take when I heard about the Clarion West Write-a-Thon. I have never been athletic enough to dedicate my running/climbing/[insert physical exertion here] to a good cause. But a six-week writing marathon, in aid of an organisation dedicated to supporting speculative fiction writers on the cusp of their career – where do I sign up? Oh right, I already have.

As per my profile, my slightly deranged personal goal is to get the novel (wordcount: 80,636) past the 100,000 mark by July 29th – 12,000 word dissertation or no 12,000 word dissertation. My finger-flexing regime for the next 41 days will look something like this::

Mon-Fri (a.m.) - write for 3 hours (1,000+)
Sat-Sun (a.m.) - edit for 3 hours (2,000+)
Mon-Sun (p.m.) - blog on my progress (500)

To make things more interesting (to say nothing of fact that I simply cannot resist a bet), I have set myself the further challenge of raising a minimum of $100 dollars in aid of Clarion West’s valuable work. In the name of a beautiful yet sadly stigmatised genre, for the sake of my colleagues and my own, I hereby pledge: if I reach my fundraising aim, I will reward each sponsor with a 4,000 word tailored short story, written to specification e.g. around an idea, scene, character, line, etc. I haven’t written stories on commission for over a decade – they take time and all time is time away from own imagination – so get yours while adrenaline fills me gleeful madness.

You may ask why you should sponsor mine of all tales; I shall let my idea speak for itself.

Of Men and Misfits follows a cast of monsters and other outcasts as they flee from human and divine persecution. A parable of racial and religious intolerance, it documents the escalation of hate crime culminating in an inevitable holy war. Monsters, humans and gods all get their say, demonstrating how no one is above prejudice and conflict – and no one, for that matter, is below love and friendship.

I must confess that I’ve been writing, re-writing, editing and fine-tuning versions of this story across different mediums and languages for the past thirteen years, i.e. half as long as I’ve been alive. I have always felt that the subject matter was too important to leave a single word to chance. While that still stands, it has dawned on me that an unfinished novel will never communicate much to anyone. Therefore, I am in need of a good hard kick up the backside.

Won’t you kick with me?