Sparks

The tap on the door is a regular occurance now. It always brings a little something that lightens the day. A veg box delivery from Vegivores or Geo Cafe. Beer from Loddon, cheese and beer from The Grumpy Goat. Maybe something for TLC’s craft room (she’s playing around with the Cricut she had for her birthday and coming up with wonderful results).

Yesterday, a delivery of herb plants put a smile on my face. Barbeque rosemary, French tarragon, parsley, oregano, sorrel. Planting them in the herb tower I bought last year will be a gentle treat for the weekend. Little sparks of flavour for the summer round the corner.

I have to keep thinking in terms of week versus weekend. Tracking the days, building new routines now I’m furloughed. TLC is working from home, so I’m led by her example. I make tea while she showers, maybe sneaking an extra ten minutes under the covers whle she dresses. An Aeropress coffee each before she hits the desk. Man, I’d forgotten about the simple joys of grinding beans, stirring and watching mindfully as the crema blooms in the brewing chamber. The rush of the good stuff into a favourite mug, hot and rich and fragrant. Another little spark to start the motor of the day.

I’m trying to watch less TV right now. It’s hard enough to steer clear of bad news. The Situation (as TLC and I have taken to stentorially pronounce it) gets into everything as it is. I make one exception–my 10am date with Matt Tebbutt and Jack Monroe for Daily Kitchen Live. As cooking shows go, this is a delight. Even seperated by video link, Jack and Matt have a bright and easy chemistry and are clearly learning loads from each other. It’s educational, entertaining, speaking to the everyday lives of the nation at the moment more truly and precisely than any other show on the air. And you get to learn about the joys of bottled lemon juice or how to make quick and easy pizza. A spark of foodie pleasure. I’m making this tonight.

With time on my hands, there’s room to get back to the projects that went on the shelf earlier in the year. The writing that faded away after Nanowrimo. The half-done short stories. And ever more, my happy place, WROB. It’s an indulgence, sure, and I’m very aware that I am a middle-aged male with time on his hands honking on about his Spotify recommendations. No-one needs to hear that, and frankly I’m not that bothered if they do or not. It feels good and right to me. It’s a spark that shines more brightly with every moment I put into it.

There’s a new edition up where I share the spotlight with my mysterious pal DJ Unknown on the angular joys of Aphex Twin, if you’re interested.

As far as music goes, I’ve been powered by Spotify for as long as I can remember now. Paired with a trio (that’s not mathematically or grammatically possible but I think we’re all beyond that now) of Sonos speakers, we have tunes on tap all through the house. Playlisting is easy and keeps songs rolling all through the day. I do, however, find myself relying on old favourites more often–musical comfort blankets, if you will. Bruce Springsteen, for example, is a constant cue-up these days. We even streamed his 2009 Hyde Park gig through Youtube last week. Three and a bit hours of sheer entertainment.

A new/old find is an album of covers by another old favourite, Matthew Sweet, whose power-pop stylings have long resonated in this household, and his wife.

Yeah, okay, CLANG. Sounds reductive if not downright sexist of me, but I’m holding back for dramatic effect. Come on, give me this one.

The spawny so-and-so is married to Susanna Hoffs. Yes, The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs. Yes, the Susanna Hoffs who did that side-eye in the video for walk Like An Egyptian and wore that mini-dress in the Eternal Flame video and rocks a black Rickenbacker like no-one else and hey well LOOK–

Proper badass. Power-pop royalty in her own right is what I’m saying, which makes the Sweet/Hoffs pairing all the more special.

Aaanyway, Susanna and Matthew have released a long series of cover versions, and the best of them are complied onto Under The Covers, a cracking set of tunery. Their harmonies are gorgeous throughout. There’s nothing particularly challenging here, but it’s a spark for the soul as far as I’m concerned.

While I’m on Recommendation Road, it would be remiss of me not to mention the podcast run by an X&HTeam-mate and fellow Trekkie, Keith Eyles. Let’s See What’s Out There follows the recently-finished Star Trek: Picard, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. You may too, if you’re that way inclined.

Keith and co-host Pete are knowledgable and enthusiastic without indulging in the aggressive geekery that can leak into these sort of exercises. It’s going to some interesting places now season 1 is complete. There is a danger that I may crop up on an episode at some point. Fair warning will be given so you can retreat to a safe distance. Check out an ep featuring another Team-mate, Graham Williams, below. You may find it sparks an interest.

It’s the end of my first week in furlough. There is dark talk of decorating and shelf-building in my near future. For now, I’m enjoying this quiet time, feeling my mind slowly returning to a place where the sparks can fly freely. I hope you’re all finding bright points in the day too, however and wherever you can.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have important things to do. Take it away, boys…

The Writeasy: Let’s Talk About Writing

Just the two of us this month, as Clive and Rob talk about writing. We cast an eye over the fast-changing world of self-publishing, look at some short fiction mags and answer that all important question: just what does Nanowrimo stand for?

(as I mention at the top of the ‘cast, Script Frenzy has now become open-remit challenge Camp Nanowrimo. It’s well worth a look, especially if you like the idea of a more collaborative environment. Check out www.campnanowrimo.org for more info, and to sign up for some writing fun in April!)

Nanowrimo – A Sad Announcement

I wanted to make it work this year, I really did. But the pressures of three blogs plus re-write duties on Habeas Corpus and other pipeline works means that something just had to give.

That something, alas, is Nanowrimo.

I will be buckling down and writing, sure, just not on a new 50,000 word project. It will be interesting, I think, to try and do 1700 words a day across all the projects I have on the table this autumn, and this is certainly not goodbye forever.

This will be no break for me. If anything, I will use the Nano excuse to up my game in solidarity with all the word warriors out there. Expect some big posts this November.

To everyone, and especially the Oxfordshire Nanos, good luck and be magnificent. Let’s be verbose out there.

Life After Nano: and then this happened

First things first, then.

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I hit 50, 000 words on the evening of November 29th, which is slow by my standards, but perfectly acceptable in the scheme of things. As ever, the moment when I upload wordcount to the Nanowrimo site (painfully slow on the first and last couple of the days of November, a phenomenon we refer to as “the robust nature of the nano servers”) to get redirected to the winners page is a bittersweet one.  You expect fireworks, or a party, and what you get is… well, a very nice round of applause from the Nano staff, and a couple of downloads. But then the point is not to have the world fall at your feet at the enormity of your achievement. If you’re anything like me, the end of Nano is not the end of the story. Nowhere near, in my case. Ghosts is dangling on a massive cliffhanger. The casual reader may consider that I have written myself into a corner. Not the case, kids. But if you want to find out what happens next, you’re going to have to let me know.

Work on Ghosts will now continue behind the scenes. The first draft will stay up until the new year, at which point it’s being pulled into Scrivener so I can start work on the second draft. As for the first part of the story, Pirates of The Moon – well, I have plans for that, which I’ll share with you in due course.

 

On the same subject, you can now view Simon Aitken’s brilliant Blood + Roses on a rental pass at the all new revamped site. I can’t recommend it enough, and I’m not alone. Critical Film called it “a turning point, for the better, in the constant evolution of the modern cinematic vampire”, and I agree. This is a great opportunity to support an acclaimed independent horror, and you should run, not walk (well, metaphorically speaking, as you’re no doubt reading this at home in your slippers with no intention of budging off the sofa) to the site and check it out.

 

Finally, a little self-promotion that I can’t believe slipped through the gaps. Time Out is now available to view at Raindance.TV, at significantly improved quality from the YouTube link. Those who sniff that it was only shot on Super 8 in the first place are so very missing the point it’s not even funny. Go check it out, and witness the glory. Also, we get a tiny morsel of cash for every view, so that’s nice, isn’t it?

Right, back to work. The twist I have in mind won’t write itself…

Life During Nano: The week in wordcount.

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It’s always an exciting moment. November 1st. The first day of NaNoWriMo. And let me tell you, Readership, this time I was ready. I was primed. I knew my story, I knew my characters. I was plotted up and ready to go. I stepped onto a slightly slower train than usual at Reading, all the better to get a good start on the day’s wordcount. It was perfect. There was a seat with a table for my coffee, and room to perch my netbook. I had the software I needed, I had my backup strategy sorted out. I was good, as any number of eighties action movie icons would tell you, to go.

I opened my netbook. It was dead. I’d forgotten to charge it. And of course, I was on a train with no handy power outlets. Not, I have to say, the best of starts.

I coped by using my phone. I’ve quietly refined my typing skills to the point where I can double-thumb with pleasing rapidity. But even I was surprised to see that I’d managed over 700 hundred words on that first morning. It’s not an experiment I’d choose to replicate, but it’s good to know I can do it if I need to.

What this shows is that Nano is about getting the wordcount, any which way you can, in any way that suits you. Do it on the kitchen table. Do it on your lunchbreak. Do it like me, on the train or the bus. Yes, I’m still talking about writing, mostly.

Nano does funny things to your head. It makes you write and think in much longer sentences than you would normally. It’s always there, nagging at the back of the head. Have you done your words? Why haven’t you done your words? Why are you hoovering? Shouldn’t you be writing?

And the world around you becomes fair game. That funny thing the old dear in front of you said on the bus? You can use that in the book. That silly thing that happened at work today? You can use that in the book? That book you’ve been reading? You can use that in… oh, maybe not.

There are, of course, the freaks of nature that will finish Nano in absurdly short periods of time. Four days. Although there are writers on the forums that had hit 300,000 words in a week. The mind boggles and the fingers tingle at the thought of that much writing. I’m at … well, have a look to your left. See the widget? That’s how well I’m doing. At the time of writing I’m at 17,000 words, which will get me to the 50,000 word mark a day or so early, although I’m planning on improving on that. The story has a long way to go yet, and I’m enjoying the way it’s changing and reforming under my fingers. The John Carpenter influences are coming out a lot more clearly than I’d expected, which means the story is much more actiony and horrific than I’d thought. None of this is a problem. I’d planned on a big, fast-moving story. And hoo boy, that’s what I’ve got.

A gentle reminder that I’m posting every word I write this month up in the Ghosts Of The Moon link above, so feel free to read and comment. Pointing out spelling mistakes and grammatical errors will be met with hollow laughter. This is writing in the raw, Readership. Out of my head and into your hands. Fiction doesn’t get any purer than that.

 

Life During Nano: Something for December, Perhaps

OK, this has nothing to do with anything apart from the fact that working on NanoWriMo tends to tune your brain into slightly different frequencies and you pick up on connections that you maybe wouldn’t normally notice.

Also, that you write in run-on sentences more. They normally get cut in half in the edit. But anyway.

Charlie Stross recently wrote a wonderful, curmudgeonly piece on steampunk (here it is). He made the point that the innovations of the early stories have devolved into mere set-dressing. If steampunk authors took the time to look at the worlds they were building, there would be very little glamour to be had, and a great deal of poverty and deprivation. He also cracked the joke that steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown, which made me snort tea back into my mug through my nose. He called out SF sites Tor.com and i09 as being particularly to blame for the spike in interest in the genre.

This is pretty nicely timed, as Tor have just been running a Steampunk fortnight. A lot of the critical thought and articles have been on the reinvention of the genre. Amal El-Mohtar’s piece, Winding Down The House is especially good in this regard, and successfully makes the point that steampunk’s tropes and conventions really are holding things back. If steampunk is to grow and stay interesting, it needs to move away from the Victoriana/Old West/Ruritanian bit, and find new directions.

Amal points out her frustrations neatly here:

I wrote a story in what, to my mind, would be a steampunky Damascus: a Damascus that was part of a vibrant trading nation in its own right, that would not be colonised by European powers, where women displayed their trades by the patterns of braids and knots in their hair, and where some women were pioneering the art of crafting dream-provoking devices through new gem-cutting techniques.

Once I’d written it, though, I found myself uncertain whether or not it was steampunk. It didn’t look like anything called steampunk that I’d seen. Sure, there were goggles involved in gem-crafting, and sure, copper was a necessary component of the dream-device—but where was the steam? My editor asked the same question, and suggested my problem could be fixed by a liberal application of steamworks to the setting. Who could naysay me if my story had all the trappings of the subgenre?

Syria, you may be aware, is a fairly arid country. There are better things to do with water than make steam.

Both articles are worth a read, not just as criticisms of the subgenre, but as roadmaps to a new future past.

And I have an unfinished steampunk book that could use a little attention…