R… r… r… research.

Just a quick one this week, and a new style of topic to keep you updated with.

This trimester I am teaching a module entitled “Research Practice and Society”

Why do we research? For fiction that is quite easy to answer – if I am writing in the real world, even historical fiction I must know how things are, how they work, the realities. Even in Science Fiction I need to know the physical realities so that I don’t break them and bring the reader out of the story – but in other contexts it’s more difficult. I often tell my students that it is the best way to learn something, and I honestly believe it. And, what else is academia for, but to learn?

Anyway, during the course of the module I will be asking my students to write blog posts based on discussions and research they have conducted. When they do that, I plan to do a similar blog post so that we can compare. This week I asked them to plot out a timeline out their module, including deadlines and how they would break down the work. I tried to do something similar, but as I don’t have any real deadlines I failed. Hence this blog post, which is more of an introduction to the concept.

We’ll see how it goes next week.


Book of the Week

I finished the book I was reading last week the day after I published the blog post about it, and I have to be honest, the end didn’t really redeem it.

This week I am reading another Arthur C. Clarke award nominee (I’m actually working through last years nominees and winner), The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor.

It’s an interesting concept and quite a short novel, and there are bits that I have enjoyed. However, for the most part the prose doesn’t really interest me, and in some parts I would dare say that it becomes quite annoying. The main character is an accelerated human, who is only a matter of years old, and I suspect that the prose is written to reflect this, but it often comes across as naive and basic. This is especially frustrating when the main character has supposedly read thousands upon thousands of books in her short life, but seems amazed by the smallest detail. She also seems to fixate on food, which isn’t particularly interesting as far as the story goes.

I often find first person writing a struggle to get into. I often feel more distanced from the character, rather than finding myself in this story, and this is one of those examples. I have sixty pages left, and it is enjoyable enough that I will finish it, but I am not wowed by it.

If I were to be pedantic I would describe it as more of a fantasy novel than a science fiction novel, as none of the fantastical things that happen within its pages are explained, nor related to science. (I’m fairly sure the characters even break Newtonian Physics, but we’ll let that slide)

Anyways, I’m sure as in all things other people will enjoy the novel in their own way.

Thanks for reading!

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Taking the Scenic Route

It’s mad that this is my first blog post of 2014, but then the year has started off massively busy. My New Year’s resolution was to write every day, which so far I have managed, even if only a few words, or I have done some editing. This worked out pretty well until I realised that I had a week to paint an army for a tournament in Nottingham next weekend. Life is about challenges right?

That’s kind of what this blog is about. I haven’t done any proper writing in the last few days because I’ve been knee deep in paint. I also felt that I needed to type up the writing we did in class this week as, once again, I didn’t feel like reading it out in class. (Turns out someone wrote a similar story to me, but did it better – such is life!) It’s also, partly, what the title is about; taking the scenic route to finishing my tasks for this week.

This week we had the external examiner, Carol Clewlow (I had to research that spelling!) who is a novelist in her own right, come in and talk to us. At first it seemed as if she would just talk us through the assignment, but that was only a brief introduction. What followed from that was a very interesting workshop about editing and scenes. We discussed the importance of bridging scenes – just getting a character where they need to be without boring the reader – and crucial scenes – where the detail is included – and their differences. Carol also talked about how it was quite often a shame that a scene was used as a bridging scene when it had the potential for some much more.

I just realised I’ve been typing this in silence without music. Sometimes when you get in the flow that just happens, other times I need music to help me concentrate. If you’re a writer, what do you write to? I tend to favour soundtracks as I find I often end up following lyrics if I listen to anything else. They also help me imagine the drama. I think today’s choice is Game of Thrones season 2, though it’s now making me want to watch it.

Carol gave us a bridging scene:

We left home at 6.30. Not long after turning on to the motorway we hit an accident with a long tailback. A wrecked car was still on its roof as we passed. Despite this we managed to reach dover by late afternoon and by evening we were in France.

We discussed that this scene has so much potential for detail which could add to the story. So, Carol gave us a task, turn this scene into a crucial scene. What follows is what I wrote in that task and also a later edit where she asked us to find that one part that needed more. Rather than splitting it in to two of what is essentially the same thing, I give you the finished version (I may also have cheated and added more as I typed it up – oops!):

We left home at 6.30 in a hurry to put everything into the car. The car screeched as the wheels spun off the driveway under the heavy way and we were away. Not long after hitting the motorway we hit an accident with a long tailback. It wasn’t uncommon given the circumstances. Everyone was in a rush to get away and rushing made people careless. A wrecked car was still on its roof as we passed, glass smashed across the carriageway. The poor people were still trapped inside the crumpled mess of the vehicle. The incessant cacophony of beeping horns wasn’t helping and there was no sign of the emergency services. They had enough to do right now. they would have a job getting through this crowd in time. The victims weren’t worth worrying about. No one could help them now, it was every man for himself.

Despite the crush we still managed to travel the 60 miles from Bromley to Dover by late afternoon. It’s amazing that even in an emergency most Brits wouldn’t drive on the hard shoulder. Its against the rules! But who needed rules now? The port got pretty desperate and fights were breaking out everywhere as we snuck our small car onto the ferry. By evening we were in France, a bit of money changing hands could get you anywhere. The badge didn’t hurt, but showing that around everywhere would raise too many questions. It’s a shame the ferry wasn’t going further, but I didn’t have that much money.

The crossing went relatively calmly, once people were onboard the hysteria had died down.

Driving down the ramp into the yellow ramps lights of Calais, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought about those trapped at home. Poor old Britain. For now though, we were safe.

 

Some of the group decided to completely change the original scene we were given, but I saw this more of an editing exercise. So what you can see here is a typical example of how I might edit. I’ll take a piece I have written and see if I can embellish the sentences that are already there. Sometimes I may need to take out a superfluous word and others I may need to alter the tense slightly, but as the scene we were given was already quite tight I didn’t feel any need to.

My scene could probably be edited further, but then isn’t that true of everything?

On another note, as anyone noticed that no one really talks on Facebook anymore? All that appears on my news feed is people sharing links to videos and various surveys that tell you which character from that poor remake of  that dodgy sci-fi film you are most like. What happened to people typing and having conversations, you know, social networking? Maybe it’s just my Facebook, but I was curious if anyone else had noticed a similar trend?

On that perfectly 1000 word count note, I shall leave you.

Once again, thanks for reading and any suggestions, comments or thoughts are welcome.

 

2012, Twenty-Twelve, Two Thousand Twelve.

I don’t normally do an end of year report, or I have never done one before. But they seem to be the trend of today. It’s early in the morning and I have already come across several people’s thoughts of the year.So, this year, I’ve decided to do one. Last year (2011) was an incredibly emotional year, the Christmas/New Year period was too raw and too many things had changed for me to pluck up the courage to talk about it all. It’s still a sore issue and this year has been equally emotional, but I have a long last found my voice.

2012 has been a year of huge ups and downs. One of the great things about this year is, as I say, I have found my voice. I have finally moved along the road of my great ambition to write. This blog is a part of that, and while I don’t post often I still manage to keep it alive. Meeting some other writers in November, as well as getting advice from the professionals has been brilliant. I have written a lot more this year than I ever have before. I’m very close to finishing one story (that I intend to finish today – it really must be done in 2012 or it’s taken far too long) and with some luck and hard work I may feature in an independent anthology next year. I’m really looking forward to writing that story but there is a way to go before that happens yet. I will try to keep everyone posted.

But despite that, there have been some huge downs this year for me. I’ve been to some very dark places (which I guess has influenced my need to write as well as what I write) because of personal things that have happen. I don’t want to go in to too much detail, and I don’t ever want to place blame. 2011 was a horrible year emotionally and that continued into 2012, where things have not go much better. I’m incredibly happy that I am able to be friends with my ex-girlfriend, and happy that she has moved on. But the fallout from everything that happened, 18 months later, still hurts. Lost friends and broken bridges break my heart. No matter how much I try to do the right thing, someone always ends up getting hurt, and for that I’m sorry, I never want to bring hurt to anyone. There are some people I would like to say sorry to, but have no means. As I say, I don’t want to go in to detail, it’s probably not fair. But if you ask, I will probably wax lyrical.

I know some people will probably say “Oh but you’ve had a great year, what are you moaning about?!”. But to them I say, some things in life are more important than possessions or achievements.

This year, my band played the Download Festival. Yes, it was fucking amazing, yes I’m incredibly lucky to have done it! But you know what the worst thing about it is? It was so incredible, so unexpected that it still feels like a dream. I still don’t believe I actually played, despite being there and seeing photographic evidence. And the further it gets away the more it seems like an illusion, like some fabrication of my fragile mind. Also, Download was a pretty sad time for me (again? yes I know, I moan a lot!) Seeing Metallica for the first time in years without certain company was incredibly heart-wrenching, so much so that I could barely talk to those I was with and had to go to the bar to excuse myself.

I guess I do look forward to 2013. There should be some good things happening, with some luck. But I also dread it. I dread hearing something that I knows is incredibly possible, that may well break me and I hate not knowing. I also hate not knowing if long lost friends are okay and I know that will continue in to 2013. But we will see, tomorrow is a day like any other but it is also the start of a new year and who knows what it will hold?

 

I suppose I should finish this with an album and film of the year. My album of this year is Dead End Kings by Katatonia and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone. ‘The Longest Year’ from their previous album is still my favourite song and therefore favourite song of this year. It has helped me when I’ve felt down and one of the things I intend to do next year is get the lyrics tattooed on the inside of my left arm (Nothing Else Matters lyrics on the inside of my right arm). I just need to pluck up the courage first! My favourite film by far is the Dark Knight Rises. I absolutely loved the end to a fantastic trilogy of films. The jury is still out on the Hobbit.

Let me give you a sample of the lyrics from three select songs off their new album (but all the songs and lyrics are on the album are beautiful):

The Parting

“In the weak light

I saw you becoming the lie.

Taking it all for granted, like freedom.

It’s something you’ll never have.”

Ambitions

“At night walking on the tracks
Change my perspective
Idle hands with wounds and cracks
Stale
Ineffective
But past the veil
The memories of things
Still so in love with you

So dense this strife
Kicked the life
I feel this weight upon my heart

Indecision
Sow the seed
Aspiration is never within reach
At night there is no other view
Sing a song for the ones who never made it”

Dead Letters

“Dim my lights
Time is frail
You shut my mind
But oh well
Trapped and choked
Erased my trail
Split the chest
My heart couldn’t feel more pale
Only once
Could I see clear

Vexation
Internal void
My dreams are getting darker and darker
And darker”

 

The following are the lyrics I’m thinking about getting tattooed:

“In the nights of old I always wished
In the longest year that had me down
And I would freeze if you ever asked me
That was my way”

Or at least the first two lines.

 

Well thank you for reading and I hope I haven’t depressed you too much.

Happy New Year and good luck for 2013!

 

Musicings

Today’s blog is about music in a way. D’ya like the title? Well I thought it was clever!

When I write I’ll listen to music. It’s much more conducive to work than say, putting on the telly or even the radio. Both of those are pretty distracting. (I still have Facebook open – why I could not tell you – an evil distraction in itself) but rather than say, stick an album of my favourite band on and attempt to write, I’ll listen to a soundtrack instead. I find the problem with putting a band on is that you get stuck in the music or the lyrics. If I’m trying to write a 40k piece while singing along to some Clapton, it doesn’t quite work. I also end up doing that horrible thing where you end up writing down what people say. Regular texters will know what I mean!

Soundtracks on the other hand are great. In essence they are designed not to detract from the film or series so make excellent background music. They can also instil a feeling of epicness, which is great when you’re writing. You can really get in the mood and feel every gunshot and explosion. My most recent soundtrack(s) of choice are from the Chris Nolan Batman films. I really love Hans Zimmer’s work and it really gets me in the mood for writing. I also love the films, but that’s a story for another day!

Today I put on the soundtrack from the film Moon, on recommendation from not one but two friends. Sitting here listening to it has made me think, wow, what a film! I can’t wait to watch it again (I have it in my pile of Blu-rays that need watching…) This soundtrack really puts you in the zone, just from listening to how the music is crafted you can really feel the suspense and intrigue, the feeling of not really being sure what is happening. For those of you who haven’t watched the film, I thoroughly recommend it. It’s pretty much classic science fiction, but that isn’t a bad thing, there are some nods to and a feel of 2001 in some parts. The story is about a guy who is working on a lunar facility, waiting to finish his 3 year (I think that’s right?) shift, so that he can go home and see his family. Although, not everything is how it seems and a series of accidents starts to unravel a horrible truth. If you like suspense and intrigue then go watch this film now! Plus the soundtrack is worth listening to in it’s own right.

Oh, on another music related note. A friend of mine linked me to ‘Meco – Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk‘ on Youtube. Please, for your sake go and check it out. It’s amazing, that’s all I need to say…

It is also a music related blog because my band (Lazarus Syndrome www.lazarus-syndrome.com) are playing a gig tonight. All the way in Southport and we’re not on till 11 so I’m going to need a lot more coffee between now and then! If you’re in the area come check us out at the Fox and Goose. If not, then go find us on Facebook and give us a like!

Right, I’m off to do some proper writing! Including rewriting some rather boring Music Business lectures that I’ve been meaning to do for, hmmm maybe a year?

Then listen to the Football! Woo, yeah it’s back. Come on you Gunners!

Ahem, excuse me…thanks for reading!