Nanowrimo: and here we go.

So, it begins again. It’s November, and my mind is on my wordcount and my wordcount’s on my mind.

The link to each day’s output will be up on the link above, so feel free to peruse and comment. It’s first draft, so of course it will be rough round the edges. Porcupine rough.

Also, I have a word count widget running, so you can follow along as I creep closer to my goal. Exciting, eh?

Updates will be brief over the next few weeks, but I’ll keep you updated as to my life during Nano. Such as it is.

Now, if you’ll excuse me…

The End Of The Affair

It always happens at about this time, with just under two weeks to go to the start of the funnest writing endurance exercise on the planet. I get the idea I need, or the spark, to get me going.

Last year it was as simple as a mutual misunderstanding between two friends that inadvertently gave me a title, and then a story. This year, I had a decent idea of what I wanted to do, but it was a slightly drunken trip home last week that gave me the small epiphany I needed. That, and thinking about the work of my favourite director John Carpenter. He’s been in my thoughts a lot lately, with the pointless remake of his 1982 masterpiece The Thing underway, his appearance on Mark Gatiss’ excellent History Of Horror on BBC4, and Simon Aitken coming within spitting distance of him while at the Spooky Empire festival in Florida.

So, slightly drunk, slightly dozy, the darkness outside the train window span past, and my thoughts… meshed. I knew, suddenly, how the story I wanted to tell could be told. And I could pay tribute to the siege mentality at the heart of many of Carpenter’s films.

I still have a chunk of plotting to do, and there are still gaps in the story wide enough to sail Jabba’s skiff through. But the heart and the spine of the story formed last week, and I can now tell you what I have planned.

It’s the sequel to last year’s tale of high adventure on the lunar plane, featuring the further adventures of Rory Armstrong and her family. We will find out (that’s not the royal we. I still don’t quite know how it’s gonna happen) where Arty the Artifact came from – and where her loyalties lie. We will find out that the villainous Van Hoek and the treacherous machine BOS-N may be down, but they’re certainly not out.

And above all, we will find out what happens when the people who built the cities under the moon come back to find their ancestral lands have been invaded.

This one is bigger, louder, crazier. I’ve got sequalitis, and it feels good.

It’s called GHOSTS OF THE MOON. And if you’re a Carpenter fan, you should now have a rough idea of what I have planned.

Strap in. It’s gonna be one heck of a ride.

Script Frenzy

Because I believe in making life difficult for myself, I am doing Script Frenzy this year. Hence the badge over yonder.

This is the script-based version of the Nanowrimo challenge that I’ve done for the past 4 years now. Same challenge, different discipline.

The idea is to come up with a 100 page formatted script in a month. That’s as restrictive as the challenge gets. It can be film, stage or comics based, and on any subject. As long as you get those hundred pages out, the rest is up to you, foolish writer.

This year, to add to the firsts, I’ve decided to write a graphic novel. My love and respect for the form knows no bounds, but it’s been a while since I did anything creative with it. It’s about time I put out and got some words on paper which is, after all, the ethos of Nano and Script Frenzy. Their logline should be Just Do It, but I think a plimsoll company got there first.

Just to make things even more complex, I’m trying an experiment in form. A couple of members of the Readership have been bored to oblivion already by me banging on about the transformative nature of the comic I’ll be writing, and you can probably figure out what I’m going to try if you look up my recent comics posts. I don’t want to say too much, because I think I’m onto something genuinely new here. Let’s just call it an old school response to the idea of digital comics.

It begins, appropriately, on April Fools Day. I’m prepping like mad now, working on format and structure. I did some sums last night, and realised that to do the story I have in mind properly, I will need to write 112 pages instead of the hundred required. Seven blocks of sixteen pages. I’m breaking the task down into managable bites, figuring out page counts for each day and week. This, to me, is the only way to do it. The breakdown works out to just under 4 pages a day. A hundred pages of script might not seem like much, but I’m planning on getting 25 panels into some of them. (Any comics professionals reading this just winced at the last sentence. Comics generally have between six to eight panels per page. Watchmen was notorious for sticking to a nine panel grid that is a pain to write and draw.) At some points, I think it’ll be pushing it to get a page a day done.

I’m nervous and incredibly excited about this project. It genuinely feels like a leap into the unknown. If it works, then I think I might just have hit on a new way of getting comics onto the page.
If not, then hey, it’s only a funnybook, right?

One Week Down

Yes, well, sorry about that. Nano has a way of sucking up any and all free time available for blogging. regular members of the Readership should know by now that I have a tendency to disappear at this time of the month, pop my head over the parapet to apologise and complain, and then vanish again for a while. All I can say that the proof that I’m not simply being lazy and neglectful is available for your perusal. Please, check the side bar for the daily updates.

It’s going well, I think. For the first time ever, I had the story fully plotted before I started, which has really helped me to keep things rolling along. There won’t be a moment this year when I have to stop and wonder exactly why I just painted my character into a corner from which there’s no way out.

The shift I’m on now has really helped this year’s word count. I have days off in the week that I can dedicate purely to getting the words cranked out, which is brilliant. in the first three days of November, I’d already had a weeks worth on the page, including a 4000 word day, which is a new personal best. I’m not about to brag, though. There are three people on the Oxfordshire group that I affiliate with that are already at the 50,000 word target. I cannot, would not and shall not match that kind of pace. I’m in a comfortable place now. No need to push the matter.

I’m pleased to see that X&HTeam-mate Simon Aitken has embraced Nano this year, and seems to be, typically for him, taking the challenge in his stride. Read all about his experiences here. He has some interesting points about process and methodology, and I want to talk more about the nuts and bolts of getting words down in a later post, as well as the social aspects of locking oneself in a dark room for a month.

For now… back to it.

Banksy, Time Out and NanoWrimo.

It’s time, I think, to start talking about a project that I’ve been tangentially involved in for a while. This is a short documentary that Dom, one of my best friends and filming partners, has been working on. It’s about the art and public perception of the graffiti artist Banksy. It’s an unusual project, in that Dom is claiming that he has nothing to do with it. He’s telling people that it was simply something he came across, a DVD that he found behind a lamp-post somewhere, and that all he’s doing is bringing it to the public’s attention. To the point where the working title is now “I Found A Film About Banksy”.

Fair enough then. I too have fallen down the rabbit hole, and can only tell you what I know about this film. Last Thursday, for reasons I am not at liberty to go into, I was on a slow-running train into London on my day off, with my trusty MiniDV camcorder. Dom and I were off to The Courthouse, a hotel that used to be the Great Marlborough St Magistrates Court, to interview entrepreneur Ivan Massow.

I’ve discussed the film that he’s made, “Banksy’s Coming To Dinner”, here. Dom had been keen to talk to him since he’d seen the film, and Ivan had agreed to an interview after a surprisingly short amount of nagging from my most tenacious friend. We arranged for a 10:30 meet with Ivan at the bar of The Courthouse, which has kept the holding cells it was built around and converted them into snugs. A great place for an interview about an artist whose relationship to the law is at best skewed.

As we headed in, it became clear that we were going to be late. My train was painfully slow-running, and traffic for Dom was the usual London nightmare. Also, Ivan had pulled the interview forward half an hour. We were now in danger of pissing off our interviewee with a late arrival – the most unprofessional thing to do when someone is doing you a favour. I arrived at the Courthouse at 10:15, got the bar open and quickly settled on a decent cell for a chat. Dom was five minutes after me, looking intensely harried, but with good news. Ivan was also running late.

We ran the quickest rig-up in the history of film-making ever, and were just about ready to go when Ivan finally arrived, 25 minutes late and already looking at his watch. Great. This would not be the leisurely chat we were expecting. However, we had no cause to grumble.

Ivan was great. Erudite, funny and insightful, and fully up for playing the Banksy game. In short, not admitting to anything. You might say that, but I couldn’t possibly comment. It wasn’t me, nobody saw me, you can’t prove anything. Plausible deniability. We managed 25 minutes with Ivan before he had to run, and we’re both very grateful to him for giving us that much. There is some very good stuff in that interview, and he’s added a chunk of value to the already rich mix that allegedly has been put together by someone. See, the game is addictive.

The remainder of the day was a solid chunk of decompression in various pubs, chats with friends and plotting our next move. This was a great way to relax after an incredibly panicky morning. We’d pulled victory out of the jaws of humiliating defeat, and it felt good.

So. Next. Dom will be giving Sheffield the love at the documentary film festival, and we are in prep mode for the reshoots on Time Out, which should be happening in the next week or so. Then it’s a simple case of finishing the cut on that and getting it distributed, hopefully to a slightly more interesting platform than YouTube. More news on that as it happens, obviously.

And then it’s November, and Nanowrimo again. I have a great idea, which is going to be a manic romp around some of the influences that shaped my reading as a kid. I’m really excited about this one, as is everyone that I’ve pitched it to, purely on the strength of the title, which came out of a misheard phrase when I was talking about last year’s Nano.

Ladies and gents. My novel for 2009 will be based on a very simple concept.


On the Moon.

Prepare yourselves.

Twelve Finger Boogie

Right. Here we go. Three days in, over a thousand words over schedule, and the damn story’s pouring out of me. I can barely hang on to it to organise my thoughts enough before it’s on the page. And yes, it’s cringeworthy in places, and yes, it’s all over the place stylistically, and no, I can’t spell, but holy crap, I do believe I’ve remembered why I do this to myself every year. When it works, and it’s working at the moment, flooding out a story for Nanowrimo is the greatest feeling there is.

Well, nearly.

Widget to the right for word count. And because it was asked for, yes, an actual request, here is a fat chunk of chapter one, written on Saturday between 10 and half 11 am, before we went to the brother-in-laws for the wettest bonfire party on record.

January 31st, 1872

The Basker Estate, Holme Pierrepont, Nottinghamshire.

It came at them out of the treeline, silent as death, swift as a bullet. It moved like a spider, it’s six legs blurring in a dance of geometry. It never faltered, did not have to consider it’s moves. It was not will, it was not thought. It was action, purity of form, purpose and intent.
It would have killed them all if Sam Caulderdale hadn’t turned at the right moment.
“Down!” Sam yelled, at the same time demonstrating the action by leaping at, and knocking over, Henry Baskin. The timing was impeccable. The Beagle had already committed to it’s leap, hurling itself at the target at head height. If Sam had not acted so swiftly, the creature’s speed and momentum would have sheared Basker’s head clean off his expensively clad shoulders.
The Beagle landed, and turned in it’s own circumference. The spidery legs flickered, and swung it back round into a second killing vector in a heartbeat. It’s head, such as it was, a truncated dome that housed the sonic apparatus the thing used in lieu of eyes, wagged from side to side, echo-locating it’s prey.
It did not, therefore, see Molly Hoptree as she came at it with a shovel. Molly was no gardener and useless at cricket. But she had always known what to do with a spade to a mechanical threat to herself and those that she had pledged to serve. She swung the shovel, hard and true, and cracked the Beagle with a fine upward cut to it’s left flank.
She did more damage than she imagined. Chips flew, and a crack appeared in the Beagle’s carapace. It hopped backwards and away. It began to emit a strident buzz, mixed in with the kind of low mechanical chattering that an electremegraph gave out as it spat out a message. It retreated, but slowly, and still facing Sam and Basker. It had Molly’s track too, as well. The Beagle would not be as easily fooled again.
Sam bent, and picked up one of the shards that Molly had knocked free. Molly, moving up, shovel at port arms, took one look, and nodded.
“Ceramic,” she said, aiming a stink-eyed glare at Henry Basker, who was now shakily getting back to his feet.
“Your infernal machine’s made of pottery!” Sam added. Basker, brushing dirt from his coat, shrugged.
“It’s light, strong, and much less expensive than steel. Also, the family has interests in a pottery factory in Nottingham. It seemed to make sense at the time.”
“We were told you had a rogue Beagle.” Sam stepped up to the older man, eyes aflame. “You didn’t mention any off-warrenty modifications!”
“What possible difference should that make?” Basker bent again, and picked up his homburg, which had been mashed into a pancake by the impact. He attempted to push it back into shape. “After all, whatever it’s made of, it’s still just a flaky meccanoe with a screw loose!”
Molly strode up to Basker, bristling like a furious porcupine. Basker had easily six inches height and the certainty of his manhood against the Kentish girl. But Molly was no servant girl, and had nothing but contempt for the effete landowner with the blond muttonchops. She shoved her sharp features up into them, giving Basker no choice but to retreat if he wanted to avoid a head butt.
“The difference, you blinking nonce, is that factory-issue Beagles are steel-clad and metal skeletoned. Which means that we can pick it up with the Field Megnetogram!” She pointed at the solid, heavy-looking backpack she had borne without complaint since the hunting party had set out from Basker Manor, some three hours earlier. “As your meccanoe doggy ain’t metal, the only job this thing’s good for is to batter it into pot-shards!”
“If you had told us before we had left, I could have directed Molly to bring more appropriate tools for the job at hand.” Sam’s voice was cool, but the struggle to keep it controlled was clear. “You have left us under-equipped and endangered against a dangerous foe, Basker.”
“Not to mention the Field Megnetogram weighs a bleedin’ ton,” Molly added, sliding the backpack off her shoulders. It slid to the ground with a thump, and sank three inches into the damp gorse.
“A redundant argument at the moment,” Basker sneered, moving away from the blast-heat radiance of Sam and Molly’s anger. He shored up the sinking feeling that he had indeed endangered them all by putting up a ballista of disdain. “The object of our attention appears to have done a runner.”
Sam looked around. The flat marshland around them did indeed seem to be devoid of life, organic or otherwise. Sam cast a cautious look back towards the scrubby copse from which the Beagle had previously erupted. That would appear to be the one logical hiding place. Sam cursed inwardly. Getting into an argument with the client was not only professionally foolish. It had distracted them from keeping track of the meccanoe’s movements.
“It will be close,” Sam said quietly. “It has us now, and it’s programming won’t give it the choice to retreat and tend to it’s wounds. Molly surprised it. The vile thing is simply ensuring that we have nothing more in reserve before it strikes again.”
“Can’t sit still for long, though,” Molly added. She too was checking the terrain, moving back towards a second pack that had fallen as the Beagle had attacked. This one was a long, thin burlap sack, strapped about with leather and brass. She knelt and began to unbuckle it, not once taking her eyes off her surroundings.
“The Beagle’s battery, it’s motive force, is driven by an internal flywheel,” Sam explained. “Like the automatic movement on a watch. That flywheel is topped up by the creature’s own movements. Once out in the field, it can effectively keep running for ever.”
“But if it stays still for long, it … winds down?” Basker sensed the danger that the meccanoe hunters he had enlisted had detected a long time before. He reached to his hip, and the Bax-Enfield repeating pistol he had strapped there.
“S’right,” Molly said. She had undone the parcel now, and drew out an elaborate rifle whose barrel ended not in rifling, but a flared copper bulb. “So it won’t. It’ll feel itself slowing, and run around a bit to warm back up. And as it knows we’re here, why, it’ll run straight at us.”
“Unless, of course, there are any other modifications you’ve neglected to inform us of?” Sam reached out, and took the strange weapon from Molly. There were three toggle switches on the side of the stock, and Sam flicked them on in sequence. There was a deep clunk in the heart of the device, and it began to omit a low, urgent hum. “A second battery to allow it to stalk us for a while longer?”
Basker felt a blush of anger and embarrassment coming up through his collar. Caulderdale and the frightening harpy in britches who seemed half maid and half help-meet were supposed to be under his employ. If he was therefore in charge, then why did he feel so utterly helpless before their disdain?
“Nothing,” he said, gritting his teeth.
There was a rush of movement off to the left. A blur, low to the ground, hissing through the gorse and just as instantly stopping.
“Fifty yards,” Molly said quietly. Sam adjusted a calibrated knob on the side of the gun. The hum came up in volume.
Another scurry of movement, closer, and vectoring in towards the right now. Basker drew his weapon, and clicked back the hammer. Molly watched him, not bothering to hide her amusement.
“That’s a big gun, Mister Basker,” she said. “I do hope you know how to use it.”
“Caulderdale, keep your bloody doxy in check!” Basker spat.
Sam just grinned.  The fool deserved to be wound up.
Molly stuck out her tongue, and blew Basker a juicy raspberry.
The three of them had formed a loose triangle, facing outwards. They were circling, slowly, intent on any movement or sound. It was a still day, and apart from the hush of their boot-treads on the marsh, all was silence.
The moment stretched, creaking under the pressure.
Basker said, “What if…”
And the Beagle leapt. It was closer than they had thought, and further to the right. Sam and Molly were facing in completely the wrong direction. It whirred through the air, it’s sharp-tipped legs flexing. It smacked into Basker, knocking him off his feet. As he fell backwards his gun hand came up and he yanked on the trigger. The pistol boomed, expending it’s seven-round load in a second and a half, emptying death uselessly into the thick foggy air.
The Beagle rounded on him. Basker tried to get to his feet, but could do no more than scramble backwards, half-upright. He brought up his gun again, and pointed it at the belly of the beast as it reared up to pounce. The hammer snapped uselessly on air.
The rapier points of the Beagle’s foot-tips glinted in the instant before they plunged into Basker’s chest.

…any more, anyone?